Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor say post-playing big men can still be effective in today’s NBA

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NEW YORK — The players expected to be taken with the first two picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft have the potential to be franchise-changing big men, even in a league that seems to be moving away from their style of play and into a new era of basketball.

The Golden State Warriors just completed an historically great season, and did so by having versatile players in the lineup who used their high level of athleticism to play stifling team defense. On the offensive end of the floor, the three-point shot was the weapon of choice, and a shift to a smaller lineup was what gave the Cavaliers fits in the later stages of the NBA Finals, and allowed the Warriors to take control and secure a title for the first time in 40 years.

But despite the shift in how plenty of teams will look to operate because of the success we’ve seen in Golden State, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor both believe that the back-to-the-basket bigs will continue to have a place in the league for years to come.

“I think [post play] can be effective because it’s still an art,” Towns said. “It’s still something that needs to be done. You still need the big man to do the dirty work, and also change up the philosophy of the defense. Everything’s a chess match. Everything has a counter. Having a player play with his back to the basket changes up the game, because it changes up the way you look at the offense and the way you have to play defense. The spacing it creates, also, is awesome.”

In the Finals, the winning move on the chess board was to bench Andrew Bogut, who had started in all but two of his 166 appearances for the Warriors over the last three regular seasons. Okafor, however, sees that as the exception, and not the rule.

“Because it’s always been effective,” Okafor said, when asked why he believes post play can still be featured offensively. “It was one series of Golden State playing small ball. Big men have always been effective in the NBA.”

“I have no doubts about my scoring ability in the NBA,” he added.

If league-wide changes are in store, Towns believes they’ll be based on genetics rather than teams simply choosing to move toward a style that was proven to be successful most recently.

“For me, I don’t see the league changing, I see us as humans changing,” Towns said. “I’m watching the other day, seventh-graders are putting their heads at the rim dunking. I didn’t see that when I was back in my day, which is not too long ago.

“When I was back in seventh grade I had never seen a kid put his head at the rim dunking with ease, windmills, through the legs. Humans are changing. We’re getting quicker, faster, stronger — more precise. The league isn’t changing, but this new crop of talent, this new generation of talent is changing the way the league is played because of how explosive, how fast, how quick we are all becoming.”

Both Towns and Okafor have done the majority of their damage inside to this point of their budding careers, and both are expected to make an immediate impact at the professional level. Okafor is seen as already having an elite offensive skill set, but will need to improve defensively. Towns is viewed by most as having better all-around tools, and his passing and shot-blocking ability make him a two-way threat with more upside, which gives Minnesota plenty of reasons to have him slotted in as a potential number one overall selection.

But Towns wouldn’t get caught hyping his own chances.

“It’s not about why do I believe I should be [the No. 1 pick],” he said. “I just know that I’ve put a lot of work into the game, a lot of hours of quality, great work, working on my body and on my craft. No matter where I go, I know that I have the confidence in me that I feel that I’d be (the one) helping my teammates the most.”

LeBron James finishes Rajon Rondo alley-oop to close out half (VIDEO)

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One of the reasons LeBron James leads the league in assists — other than the fact he can do anything on the basketball court he wants — is that he was the Lakers’ only quality playmaker to start the season. He had to set guys up.

Until Rajon Rondo returned recently from injury.

Now Rondo is setting up everyone — including LeBron for this monster alley-oop just before the half Tuesday night.

LeBron can still finish with the best of them.

Just don’t ask him about doing the dunk contest.

 

New Orleans spoils Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut in 115-104 Pelicans win

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jrue Holiday had 22 points and 10 assists, Brandon Ingram added 21 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans spoiled Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut with a 115-104 victory over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Anthony finished with 10 points while Portland leading scorer and four-time All-Star Damian Lillard missed his first game of the season with back spasms.

Starting at forward and playing across the street from where he led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship over Kansas, Anthony scored the Blazers’ first points of the game on a 3-pointer from 26 feet out. However, he wound up missing 10 of 14 shots in what was the first game of his 17th NBA season.

Ingram looked spry in his return from right knee soreness that sidelined him four games, particularly on an authoritative, driving, one-handed dunk that got the crowd roaring in the opening quarter.

J.J. Redick hit 4 of 9 3-pointers and scored 14 points for New Orleans, which has won two straight and three of four. Kenrich Williams, who got the start at forward, filled the stat sheet with hustle plays, grabbing 14 rebounds to go with three steals and a blocked shot. He also scored eight points.

Holiday highlighted his night with a spinning dribble around Nassir Little for a driving dunk. In the second half, he scored on an unusual play in which he remained under his own basket, re-tying his shoes while his team advanced 4-on-5 into the offensive end. Holiday then came sprinting down court, took a handoff from Nicolo Melli near the 3-point line and exploded toward the rim for a layup.

C.J. McCollum led Portland with 22 points, while Hassan Whiteside added 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Anthony wasted no time getting his first shot off. His miss from 20 feet came within the opening 30 seconds and was Portland’s first shot of the game. Anthony also took Portland’s second shot, hitting his first of two made 3s.

But when Anthony tried to rise for a two-handed dunk in the first half, he was met with resistance by a member of the NBA’s rookie class when eighth overall draft pick Jaxson Hayes rejected the attempt.

Hayes closed out the half with his third block, swatting away a driving floater by Anfernee Simons to keep Portland’s lead at 54-53.

New Orleans seized momentum in the third quarter, going up by 13 on a sequence that began when Melli hit a 3 and then got the ball right back in a largely vacated Portland back court after Nickeil Alexander-Walker dove to swipe the ball away from McCollum. Melli went straight in for a dunk that made it 83-70.

Portland responded with three quick 3s — two by Kent Bazemore — during a 9-2 run that trimmed New Orleans’ lead to six before Alexander-Walker, who had hit 11 3s in his previous two games, ended the period by banking in a straightaway 3 to make it 88-79.

Watch Carmelo Anthony’s first bucket as a Trail Blazer

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That Carmelo Anthony started the first game he played for Portland speaks to why they signed him in the first place — this team is so shorthanded along the front line that the guy they just signed got thrown into the fire.

Anthony responded with a solid level of play. His first bucket was a wing three where both defenders went to CJ McCollum and left ‘Melo wide open.

Anthony played 12 minutes in the first half and had 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, and three fouls. The team was looking to keep him at around 20 minutes for his first game back.

Portland led New Orleans 54-53 at the half.

How a single computer folder and dogged HR official exposed former Kings executive’s $13.4M embezzlement scheme

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Just how close did Jeff David come to getting away with embezzling $13.4 million from the Kings while working for them? He already secured a new job with the Heat and was in the process of moving from Sacramento to Miami.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

On this Monday, walking through the Davids’ new front door is a dizzying procession of cable guys, utility workers and movers. Amid all of this, Jeff receives a phone call from a former co-worker with the Kings. Her name is Stacy Wegzyn, and she works in HR. Jeff last remembers sitting in her office in Sacramento just months earlier, being told that the Kings were going to eliminate his position. After a few pleasantries, she gets down to business. She tells Jeff she’s been going through his old files, and in doing so she found one labeled “TurboTax” that references an entity called Sacramento Sports Partners.

“I was just curious what that is and if those are documents that should go to somebody else,” Wegzyn says.

It’s a seemingly innocuous inquiry from an HR lifer. But it’s one that will dictate the rest of Jeff David’s life. If he knows that — or senses it — he doesn’t let on.

“No, no, no,” Jeff responds. “That was a … man, this is taking me back. Maybe 2015?”

Wegzyn presses on. She asks Jeff whether the documents contain anything that anyone with the Kings needs to see. Jeff assures her they can trash them because the entity isn’t around anymore. A few minutes after he hangs up, his mother-in-law, Nancy, is standing at the front door when an FBI investigator appears, asking to speak to Jeff.

If you like the NBA or true crime – let alone both – I HIGHLY recommend reading Arnovitz’s full piece. It’s riveting!