Wednesday night NBA grades: How about that Kyrie Irving?

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while you and your friends debated canned vs. bottled beer….

source:  Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers. He wasn’t in attack mode, he was in seek-and-destroy mode. With Dion Waiters and basically everyone who can shoot outside 15 feet injured he knows he has to be the man to space the floor and he did just that — 4-of-7 from three and also 3-of-6 from the midrange on the night. Also, there was the key late-game three and a late-game and-1 on Serge Ibaka that propelled the Cavs. He finished with 31 points on 19 shots. Oh, and his crossover is still impressive.

source:  Oklahoma City Thunder late game defense. A lot of arm-chair pundits are going to say “the Thunder are 0-3 with Russell Westbrook back, they are worse with him.” That’s crap. We have years of numbers — or years of watching them if you have an eye for the game — that says they are better when both Kevin Durant and Westbrook are together on the court. It’s just going to take some time to integrate Westbrook again. They will work it out. Chill.

There is nothing really for Thunder fans to worry much about, but if you want how about OKC defense under pressure. Go read John Schuhmann’s fantastic breakdown at NBA.com that shows jump shooting teams give them real trouble. Then look at the Cavalier possessions in the final 4:30 of a game (so we are starting with OKC having a two-point lead at home):

• Jarrett Jack open corner three on Derek Fisher’s late rotation.
• Kyrie Irving left alone at the three point line early in the clock when Thabo Sefalosha fell asleep.
• Spencer Hawes gets the ball at the three point line after setting a pick and popping, nobody gets between him and the basket so he drives in for a lay-up.
• Irving short-arms a jumper but Tristan Thompson out-hustles every Thunder player to get the board, which leads to another set and a Hawes left-handed runner.
• Irving turns the ball over, his pick-and-pop timing with Hawes is understandably still a little raw.
• After struggling to get open for the ball Irving makes like he’s going for handoff from Thompson at top of key, but changes up and cuts to rim, nobody goes with him and nobody rotates quickly, one nice pass later he is driving into Serge Ibaka for an and-1.
• Jack drives left away from pick from at the top of the key, no help rotation comes until he is deep in the lane and can hit floater.
• After that it’s pretty much the foul game.

source:  Jerryd Bayless, Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens decided to start him next to Rajon Rondo and… nobody saw that coming. Bayless had 29-points and shot 5-of-8 from three (an abbheration as he shoots 28.8 percent from there on the season). I’m not really sure that’s sustainable, but give the man credit when it happens. And give him credit for taking the three rather than the long two that he often gravitates toward. Expect to see a lot more of this backcourt in the coming games.

source:  Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. This makes 18 straight games he has scored at least 20 points. He took 25 shots to get his 23 in this one, not exactly efficient, but he still was key for the team’s win. If you watched this game and still think all he can do is dunk, well, you should take up watching cricket. He showed a midrange game, a number of post moves, his handles are amazing and he still wisely gets points by being the most athletic guy on the court. Because he is. It’s simple, players should exploit their strengths and Griffin’s biggest strength is that few can match his athleiticism. But if you think that’s all he is watch again. Or, go watch cricket.

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San Antonio Spurs retire Tony Parker’s number

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Tim Duncan went up first. Then Manu Ginobili.

Monday night it was Tony Parker’s turn — all of the Spurs’ big three have now had their jerseys retired.

This is obviously well deserved.

The No. 28 pick of the 2001 NBA Draft, Parker went on to win four NBA titles, was named Finals MVP with one of those, plus was a six-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA player. He was part of core that turned the Spurs into a dynasty.

Everyone was on hand for the ceremony, with coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan, and Ginobili all speaking before Parker, and all of them talking about their bond.

It was an emotional and touching night.

The next stop for Duncan, Parker and Ginobili? The Hall of Fame.

 

Kings’ point guard De’Aaron Fox out at least 3-4 weeks with ankle sprain

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The Sacramento Kings — everyone’s League Pass favorites — have been snake bitten this season. First it was Marvin Bagley III, who broke his right thumb in the season opener.

Now point guard De'Aaron Fox will be out at least 3-4 weeks (that’s when he’ll be re-evaluated) after suffering a grade three ankle sprain in practice Monday. From the official Sacramento press release:

An MRI conducted this afternoon on Kings guard De’Aaron Fox confirmed that he sustained a left ankle sprain at the end of practice on Monday. He will be re-evaluated in 3-4 weeks and his status will be updated as appropriate.

After a breakout season a year ago, this season Fox had come back to earth a little in new coach Luke Walton’s system — his turnovers were up and his efficiency had slipped, a 52.8 true shooting percentage that is close to the league average, for example — but he was still putting up 18.2 points and dishing out 7 assists a game. He has been the focal point of the Kings’ offense.

This is a blow to the Kings and their development. Sacramento had won 3-of-4 and seemed to be finding more of a groove.

Sacramento does have depth at the point guard spot, however. It signed Cory Joseph over the summer to a three-year, $37 million contract, plus it picked up a team option on Yogi Ferrell. They have some depth at the spot.

However, those players do not have Fox’s explosiveness. The Kings just will not be the same until he returns.

Greece coach Rick Pitino plans to enter 2020 Olympic qualifying without Giannis Antetokounmpo

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) Greece coach Rick Pitino is planning on trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympics without Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Pitino officially took over as coach of the Greek national basketball team on Monday. He said he would leave a roster place open for Antetokounmpo in qualifying games but is not sure if he will be able to rely on his best player.

Greece will try to reach the Tokyo Olympics by winning a qualifying tournament. But the dates could clash with the NBA schedule, probably ruling out Antetokounmpo.

“It is a possibility he will not be playing with us in the qualifying round if he goes far (in the playoffs). I understood that coming into this situation, and that’s why it’s such a high mountain to climb,” Pitino said. “But Giannis is something, it’s a bridge we have to cross later on. But we are going to leave a roster spot even if he has to take my place.”

Pitino said he hoped to meet Antetokounmpo and his brother, Milwaukee teammate Thanasis Antetokounmpo, in March when the Bucks travel to Miami.

The 67-year-old Pitino is a veteran of the college game and the NBA, coaching the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks as well as Kentucky and Louisville. He has returned to Greece after coaching Athens club Panathinaikos last season and remains popular.

Pitino said he also felt that attachment.

“(Coaching Greece) is the crown jewel for me as a basketball coach,” Pitino said. “This is one of the greatest honors I’ve had as a coach. I consider this so special because it’s a mountain that is so worth climbing.

“And for the next eight months. I’m not American. I’m not Italian. I’m Greek. And that’s the way I’m going to carry myself. You won’t see anybody who will bleed every possession like I will bleed to try and win a game.”

LeBron James rips AAU workload: ‘AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid’

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Last week, during the pointless debate about Kawhi Leonard missing a game for load management, the most salient point came from former Suns coach Earl Watson.

He echoed a must-read story (from Baxter Holmes at ESPN) that reverberated around the NBA this summer (but for many fans got lost in the shuffle of player movement): How NBA team medical staffs — as well as just doctors working on young athletes — were noticing the extreme wear and tear on the body of AAU basketball players. The volume of games, often without enough training and conditioning to properly strengthen their young bodies or let them recover, sets young players up for injuries later in their playing career. NBA teams and doctors, with their load management techniques, are trying to make up for damage that started long before.

LeBron James, with two sons playing AAU ball right now, is in full agreement.

LeBron ripped the volume of games played in the youth basketball culture, speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

“These kids are going into the league already banged up, and I think parents and coaches need to know [that] … well, AAU coaches don’t give a f***,” James told Yahoo Sports. “AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid and what his body is going through…

“I think [AAU] has something to do with it, for sure,” James told Yahoo Sports. “It was a few tournaments where my kids — Bronny and Bryce — had five games in one day and that’s just f- – -ing out of control. That’s just too much… So, I’m very conscious for my own son because that’s all I can control, and if my son says he’s sore or he’s tired, he’s not playing.

“Because a lot of these tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids, man. I see it. It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And my kids were dead tired. My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”

It is an issue. A big issue. The NBA can talk about reducing the number of games — they are, and they should, the season is too long, but cutting the number of games becomes a complex financial issue — but it goes beyond just the NBA level.

There needs to be fundamental changes in youth basketball in the NBA, down to the AAU level. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about this.

“So, where historically it’s been an area, particularly AAU basketball, that the league has stayed out of, I think these most recent revelations (from the NCAA scandal) are just a reminder that we’re part of this larger basketball community. I think ultimately, whether we like it or not, need to be more directly involved with elite youth basketball,” Silver said a couple of years ago. Since then, the league has taken steps in that direction.

However, like shortening the NBA season, there are a lot of competing interests in a complicated situation. A lot of people are making money the way things are now and don’t want them to change.

For the health of players, it needs to.