Five lessons learned from the FIBA World Cup

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There wasn’t much drama — Team USA went 9-0 in the World Cup, won games by an average of 32 points, and when they turned on the energy pretty much every game felt like the gold medal game rout of Serbia.

What did we learn from all this? Well, aside the USA doesn’t have to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament next year to qualify for the Rio Olympics now? Here are five things I’m taking away from basketball in August and September.

1) The USA’s talent pool remains far deeper, bigger than the rest of the globe. Sure, basketball is a growing international game, with tons of fans in China and the Philippines. In some parts of the world its popularity is second only to soccer/futball. But we still have the best players by far. All the talk before this tournament was about who wasn’t there — and that was before Paul George got injured and Kevin Durant pulled out. Didn’t matter. Not only did we always have the best couple players on the court at every moment, we were rolling NBA All-star caliber players off the bench. No country in the world is close to matching that yet. (Well, maybe Spain, but they blew the chance to test that theory.)

2) Anthony Davis is ready to make the next leap. No doubt Kenneth Faried was the breakout star of the World Cup for the USA (and he earned himself a lot of extra bank). Kyrie Irving was the World Cup MVP and looked like a guy ready to step on the stage next to LeBron James in a couple of weeks. But it was Anthony Davis though the tournament that looked like a guy who is going to make a leap this year — and I mean leap to top five NBA player. At least, maybe third. Mike Krzyzewski put a lot on him and Davis lived up to it — he averaged 12.3 points a game on 54.9 percent shooting, plus he pulled down 6.6 rebounds a game and averaged 2.1 blocks on top of it all. Early in the tournament he was destroying teams and he forced teams to adjust their defense to account for him, which opened up scoring opportunities for James Harden, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the rest on the wings. When the season starts, keep an eye on Davis and the Pelicans.

3) Bulls fans are going to like having Pau Gasol around. The elder Gasol had looked like a guy dropping off the past couple years in Los Angeles, but that was more about Mike D’Antoni’s coaching than anything. Gasol didn’t fit in D’Antoni’s role (as a stretch four) and that led to a lack of energy. Back in his native Spain Gasol was showing off his wide arsenal of shots to score 20 points a game on 63.5 percent shooting. More importantly, he was showing passion for the game again, something D’Antoni sucked out of him. Gasol found his love of the game again and watch out for him in Chicago.

4) Speaking of Bulls fans, Derrick Rose is pretty healthy but still has a ways to go. On the bright side, Derrick Rose was moving well by the end of the World Cup. He played in five games in six days, showing he is healthy. He played some good defense, he showed some signs of a more mature game (like the six assists in the gold medal game against Serbia). But his shot was just off — he hit just 25.4 percent of his attempts all tournament. He struggled to finish inside, his jumper was erratic (he was 1-of-19 from three). Bulls fans need to hope that is just rust. For Bulls fans the good news is Rose shook off some of that rust in Spain rather than in the early games of the season.

5) There were a lot of players from around the globe who were just fun to watch. We focused on Team USA a lot but there other guys from other countries who had big tournaments. Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng looked like a guy ready for more minutes while playing for Senegal. The Nets have themselves a shooter in incoming rookie Bojan Bogdanovic of Croatia, who averaged 21.2 points a game. Don’t confuse him with Bogdan Bogdanovic of Serbia, who looked like he could develop into a player the Phoenix Suns could use in a couple of years if/when he comes over. Jose Barea led the tournament averaging 22 points a game. Andray Blatche averaged 21.2 for the Philippines while still making Blatche-like plays. Goran Dragic was great as expected but it was his unsigned brother Zoran who was catching people’s eyes. Even “Pooh” Jeter (Ukraine) was a blast to watch.

After hip surgery, Isaiah Thomas not 100 percent for start of Denver training camp

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Isaiah Thomas didn’t want to have surgery at first — he was coming up on a contract summer and the point guard who was fifth in the MVP voting just two seasons ago wanted to prove he was still the same guy. That he deserved to get paid. But after missing the start of the season in Cleveland with a torn labrum in his hip, getting traded to the Lakers, never being himself and being a below average player last season, Thomas decided to get the surgery on his hip last April. He eventually signed a minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets.

He is still not 100 percent at the start of training camp, coach Mark Malone said on Altitude TV, via Chris Dempsey. Sam Amick adds that it may be a while before we see Thomas in action.

That has the Nuggets adding to their training camp roster in the short term.

The Nuggets are a team looking to make a playoff push this season (and if Paul Millsap can stay healthy and improve the team’s defense they should make it, even in the brutal West). Thomas — a healthy Thomas — boosting the Denver bench is part of that. However, Thomas is the poster child for why one doesn’t play through injuries or rush back on the court, there is potential long-term damage that is hard on the body and can be hard on the wallet.

Denver can wait, and if Thomas can be Thomas whenever he gets back, it could be a good fit in Denver.

Lonzo Ball will not be cleared for 5-on-5 at start of Lakers’ training camp

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Lonzo Ball called having surgery on his knee this summer a “last option” — he had a PRP injection first — but ultimately didn’t have a choice. He’s spent a lot of his summer on recovery from his surgery, a partial removal of his meniscus.

When training camp opens, Ball will not be cleared to go 5-on-5, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on the Lakers’ cable station in Los Angeles, reports Mike Bresnahan.

Ball has been working on conditioning and getting stronger this summer, plus has undoubtedly tweaked his shot. However, it takes time to recover from a knee operation, and the Lakers have no reason to rush him back.

 

Things have changed this season for Ball and all of the Lakers’ young core. With LeBron James in-house, Los Angeles is a win-now team and all the young Lakers need to prove they can contribute to that today, there is now more patience for slow development. Ball needs to prove he can play well off the ball (he did that at UCLA) and that he has become more of a scoring threat, both with his jumper and finishing around the rim. His ability to move the rock and play at pace can fit with LeBron and the Lakers’ game, but the Lakers are not going to wait around while that slowly develops. It’s sink or swim time, especially for Ball with Rajon Rondo on the roster and Josh Hart looking all-world at Summer League.

PBT Podcast: Can anyone beat the Golden State Warriors?

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Can any team beat the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors this season?

It could happen, although the Warriors will need to participate in their own downfall, one way or another — an injury to Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, the lack of regular season focus finally catching up with them, or maybe they become too focused on free agency the next summer. But just how likely is any of that to happen?

Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News, and host of the Planet Dubs podcast, joins us to break down how Steve Kerr will work to keep that downfall from happening, how he will keep this team focused, what DeMarcus Cousins means to the roster, and what it will take for the Warriors to three-peat — and what can trip them up.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Brett Brown on Ben Simmons: ‘His jump shot’s not going to define him’

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are expected this season to join Philadelphia’s Big Three.

No, not as franchise cornerstones – the No. 1 draft picks were already part of that trio with All-Star center Joel Embiid.

But as long-distance shooters, Simmons and Fultz went 0 for the season on 3s; Simmons, the NBA rookie of the year, missed all 11 attempts and Fultz went 0 for 1 from 3-point range.

Sixers coach Brett Brown said both players have put in the work needed on their jumpers, though neither player will ever become defined by his work beyond the arc. Brown said Fultz took about 150,000 shots this summer under the tutelage of trainer Drew Hanlen. Simmons has worked with his brother, Liam, a former college basketball assistant coach, at 3s and shooting from the elbow.

Simmons attempted just one 3 in the postseason and he’ll have to establish some sort of long-range jumper to become a serious all-around threat in the NBA.

“His jump shot’s not going to define him,” Brown said Tuesday. “At some point, it will sure help. But I have aspirations, ambitions for him where I want him to feature on an all-defensive team. I personally want to post him more. I look forward to using him as a screener and giving Markelle the ball and let him roll out of it, that Blake Griffin-sort of half-roll and go to dunk.”

Simmons also needed work on his free throws: He made 191 of 341 for just 56 percent.

“Imagine if he can score one more point, it translates to like three to five more wins,” Brown said. “When I look at how you’re going to do that, that’s one way that interests me, let’s just get him more free throws. Can you finish, can you be a better free-throw shooter than you were in the regular season? He has to be.”

Fultz, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 draft, is bordering on bust territory after just one season. His rookie year was derailed by a mysterious shoulder injury, a broken shot and confidence issues. He played the first four games, missed 68 games because of injury, and then was benched in the playoffs against the Celtics. The most baffling moment came when he refused to answer questions about his shoulder, simply staring blankly ahead and rubbing his head.

Fultz struggled with his mechanics when he did play, and his shooting form was widely mocked around the NBA. No one in the organization could pinpoint when Fultz’s form went awry, though he started experiencing soreness shortly after he was drafted.

Brown said he was part of a “Team Markelle” formed this summer to help get the 20-year-old back on track.

“When I see him now come back into our gym, you look at his swagger, his cocky side, his mojo, he’s seeking shots,” Brown said. “He really is not bashful. When I look at the actual form, there are times, from a posture standpoint, he’s a little bit backward. When you look at him rising up, or getting the ball in his shot pocket, sometimes his head will go back and he’ll play more in a fade-type fundamental that we want to try and correct.”

But if Simmons can’t shoot and Fultz can’t shoot, then how are they going to play together on a Sixers team that won 52 games last season?

“At (some) point of the game, is it the start, is it ending, those two guys will play together,” Brown said. “There’s zero doubt we’ll go through some growing pains as everyone expects and should expect.”

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