Five Takeaways from an NBA Tuesday: Por-zing-is! Por-zing-is! Por-zing-is!

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A seven-game slate Tuesday saw a series of upsets across the NBA Wednesday (although not of Golden State, which remains undefeated at 12-0), huge performances, and a couple of surprises. In case you were busy chasing zebras around the streets of Philadelphia, here are five things you need to know from an NBA Tuesday.

1) Knicks’s fans treat emergence of Kristaps Porzingis as greatest thing to hit city since pizza slices. New Yorkers have long been known for their even keel, their measured reactions to things. So the fact that rookie Kristaps Porzingis has emerged as a legit player and a ray of hope for the franchise in his first month in the league — much faster than even his most fervent supporters back at the draft expected — has been greeted in the rational manner you’d expect.

For example, some Knicks fans have taken to calling him “Godzingis.”

Porzingis dropped 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting, plus grabbed 11 rebounds on the Hornets Tuesday night, leading New York to a 102-94 win with his best game to date. He’s the first Knick rookie to put up 27-and-10 since Patrick Ewing — and Porzingis isn’t even 21 yet. While there wasn’t one of his signature putback dunks he showed off a varied and impressive offensive arsenal against Charlotte, scoring on jumpers from the elbow, pull-up jumpers, left-handed floaters, quick-hit elbow jumpers, pick-and-pop threes, baseline moves and jumpers, and most importantly he showed toughness finishing through contact. That was the concern back when Knicks fans booed the pick on draft night — they feared Phil Jackson had drafted a soft Euro. Andrea Bargnani 2.0. But Porzingis has a lot of grit to his game — he wants to defend, to hit the glass, he doesn’t shy away from physical play. He had five double-doubles this season, and while his game has a lot of room for improvement, still he can contribute right now.

He’s a piece the Knicks can use to start really rebuilding with (throw in Langston Galloway and Jerian Grant and you have a few pieces of what could become a good Knicks team in a few years). Which is why the “Por-zing-is Por-zing-is” chants that rang through Madison Square Garden Tuesday night may become a regular thing. New York loves him today.

2) Beasting Andre Drummond leads Pistons come-from-behind win over Cavaliers. Detroit had dropped four straight on a West Coast road swing, but they looked far more comfortable back in the Motor City Tuesday, coming from behind to beat the Cavaliers 104-99. That starts with Andre Drummond, who dropped what seems a routine 25 points on 10-15 shooting, plus grabbing 18 rebounds. The Cavs tried to go hack-a-Drummond, he hit three-of-four free throws and squashed that (intentionally fouling backfired on the Cavs in this one). Drummond also played some good defense down the stretch switching onto LeBron James when the Cavaliers’ tried to post him up. Reggie Jackson  returned to form for the Pistons, outplaying the Cavs mix-and-match point guards down the stretch. Cleveland had their chances late in this one but Kevin Love just missed a couple clean looks, and they had a turnover in there when LeBron thought he knew where Mo Williams would be but was wrong. The Cavs did not impress late, the Pistons did and got the W.

3) LeBron James passed Jerry West for 19th on NBA all-time scoring list. With a wide-open corner three late in the first quarter Tuesday, LeBron moved past Jerry West into 19th all-time on the NBA scoring list (LeBron finished with 30 on the night). Next up, Reggie Miller (LeBron is going to move up the ranks fast this season, he could get up to 11 or 12 this season).

4) Anthony Davis suffers apparently minor shoulder. Because the Pelicans didn’t have enough injury issues, their best player in Davis was clearly bothered by his shoulder and had to leave the game in the first half not to return (he just missed another Pelicans loss). Not good, but apparently not as bad as it could have been. After the game coach Alvin Gentry said that Davis will travel with the team to Oklahoma City and he is questionable for Wednesday night. I’d be surprised to see him that soon — the Pelicans will be cautious a year with their star — but it doesn’t sound serious. If Davis sits, expect Alexis Ajinca to get the start (he did in the second half Tuesday).

5) Brook Lopez‘s defense, Thaddeus Young free throws lift Nets over Hawks. Brook Lopez is not a guy with a great defensive reputation… okay, that is far too kind. He’s not seen as a good defender at all. But this season he’s been improved. He showed that at the end of the Nets win over the Hawks — with the game tied 88-88 Lopez twice nicely shut down the Dennis Schroder/Al Horford 1/5 pick-and-roll the Hawks wanted to use to start their play, which forced Schroder to try to create on his own. He slipped, got up, had to force up a shot and missed, but Paul Millsap got the rebound and what looked like an easy putback — and Lopez blocked it. Great defensive sequence by Lopez. All that led to a Nets fast break where Thaddeus Young drew the foul, eventually hit the free throws, and the Nets got the win.

Don’t look now, but the Nets have played better of late — wins over the Hawks and Rockets, with close losses to the Kings and Warriors. Not a bad last four games.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.