Wednesday NBA grades: Kevin Durant ends season exactly like you think he would

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while losing yourself in an oral history of the rap battles from 8 Mile….

source:  Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. Great stat via Royce Young at DailyThunder.com: Durant is only the fourth player to average 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game for a season. Who are the other three? Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Elgin Baylor. Durant is your MVP ladies and gentlemen, and he played like it on the final night of the season, dropping 42 on the Pistons to make sure the Thunder get the two seed and have home court against the Clippers. The Thunder were down 8 entering the fourth quarter and down 5 with 1:30 left, but Durant scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and sparked a 10-2 run to close out the game so the Thunder won. And he hit the game winner with authority.

source:  Memphis Grizzlies. They needed to win to avoid the Spurs in the first round (ever since they beat the Spurs in the playoffs a few years back the Spurs have absolutely owned the Grizzlies). Dallas also had been swept by the Spurs and wanted to avoid a trip to the Riverwalk, but in overtime the Grizzlies had Mike Conley who had 5 points in the extra period, including a head-down rim attack to draw a foul late, then sank the free throws that were the game winners. Monta Ellis had a clean look at the game winner for Dallas but it bounced harmlessly off the rim. So congratulations on the win Memphis… now go prepare for Kevin Durant.

source:  Brooklyn Nets. They stumble and look unimpressive in their final two games of the season, getting crushed by the Knicks and Cavaliers. For that they now get to face the Raptors instead of the Bulls in the first round… are you sure that wasn’t intentional?

source:   Trey Burke, Utah Jazz. The first of three rookies to make the grades on the last night of the season. He missed the start of the season due to injury and had his share of his rookie stumbles as happens, but he is learning. He dropped 32 on the Timberwolves, including nine in the second overtime, to secure a Jazz win on the final night of the season. There’s a lot of building to do in Utah, but he should be part of it.

source:   Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings. The Suns beat the Kings on the final night of the season because the Suns are a better team. McLemore struggled this season as he adjusted to the NBA, but he showed flashes and improvement as it went on, and he did that again on Wednesday with a career-high 31 points, five assists, and five rebounds. His athleticism wasn’t ever in question, but when you combine it with his jump shot falling watch out.

source:   Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons. Leave on a high note — this was easily his best game of the season. Caldwell-Pope had 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting, more importantly he was aggressive. He can play a quiet game, just trying to fit in, and Wednesday night he wanted the rock and wanted to make plays. That Caldwell-Pope needs to show up in Detroit for next season.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

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There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

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Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

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Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

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Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.