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On Basketball: International stars leaving mark on NBA

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Go back to the 1999-2000 NBA season, and there were only two foreign-born players in the NBA who averaged 15 points per game: Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

This season, there are 24 names on that list – by far the most in league history.

The NBA international imprint just keeps getting bigger, providing the sort of transformative impact the likes of which the league probably hasn’t seen since the ABA merger.

One of the MVP front-runners at this point is Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has led Milwaukee to the NBA’s best record entering Wednesday. Dallas’ Luka Doncic looks like an overwhelming favorite to become the first Slovenian rookie of the year. Cameroon’s Joel Embiid might be the dominant big man in the league, and keeps getting better for Philadelphia.

These aren’t just some guys taking up roster spots, either.

These are franchise players. At least one-third of the league’s teams have a foreign-born player who would classify as its best, or at least its most important.

“It’s been fun to watch over the last two decades, where the game started internationally and where it is now,” said Dirk Nowitzki, the German who became the biggest star in Dallas Mavericks’ history. “I think the game has grown globally, China, Australia, Africa, Europe, South America. I think we’ve got 150 international players in the league or more. It’s been fun to watch.”

Just take a peek at Tuesday’s boxscores to see the impact.

– There were six guys with 12 or more rebounds, five of them born outside the U.S.

– There were six guys with seven or more assists, all of them born outside the U.S.

– There were four guys with three or more blocks, all of them born outside the U.S.

Nikola Jokic had 19 points, 14 rebounds and 15 assists for Denver, and it might not have even been his best game of the season. Jokic is Serbian – and represents how the game is played today. He’s a 7-footer. Big, fast and skilled. He’s going to be a problem for teams for a long time, and is the biggest reason why the Nuggets entered Wednesday atop the Western Conference.

The NBA has utilized a `USA vs. The World’ format in what used to be called the rookie game at All-Star weekend since 2014, and maybe it’s time to think about doing something like that in the varsity matchup as well.

Think about this possibility: Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Embiid, Jokic and Ben Simmons starting. Select Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela and Nikola Vucevic as the backup big men. Ricky Rubio, Danilo Gallinari, Buddy Hield and Bojan Bogdanovic as backup guards and wings. Jamal Murray, Jonas Valanciunas and Boban Marjanovic would be snubbed on this 12-man mythical roster.

And that scenario even has Australian-born Kyrie Irving playing for the U.S. side in this made-up game.

The U.S. team led by LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis would probably still win. But it might be worth the NBA taking a look at this sort of format before too long.

“You’ve got guys coming from everywhere and anybody now in the world, you know if you work hard you can come play in the NBA,” said Charlotte’s Tony Parker, who was born in Belgium.

There’s a myriad of theories on why this is happening.

The one that makes the most sense is that the game is basically beamed in real time right now to every phone in the world. Young players like Doncic can see fellow Europeans succeed in the NBA while oohing and aahing over their basketball heroes – and for the Mavericks rookie, it was LeBron. Embiid went slightly more old school, saying his favorite all-timer is former MVP Hakeem Olajuwon. Antetokounmpo modeled some of his game after Scottie Pippen.

The seeds have been planted over these last 20 years.

It was only a matter of time before they bore this sort of fruit.

“We just know what this game is about,” Doncic said of the young foreign cluster of stars. “I don’t know if people think international players aren’t that good, but I think we showed up.”

NBA players roast Kyle Kuzma over outfit posted to Instagram (PHOTOS)

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Kyle Kuzma is going to be expected to have a big year for the Los Angeles Lakers. He thinks he can have the impact of a third star for L.A., a team that didn’t add Kawhi Leonard to go alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis this summer.

That’s big talk from Kuzma, but perhaps that talk has boosted his confidence a little bit. In a photo posted to Instagram this week, Kuzma could be seen wearing… whatever this is.

Via Twitter:

Twitter had a great time with Kuzma outfit, which looks like something pulled straight out of an early 2000s episode of TRL.

Kuzma’s contemporaries in the NBA thought he was getting a little wild with it, too, with several hopping onto the post to roast the Lakers big man.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know what this means for the upcoming Lakers season, but I’m sure it’s something interesting.

Draymond Green says he’s ‘at a loss for words about’ DeMarcus Cousins injury

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Everyone has been upset about the recent ACL tear suffered by DeMarcus Cousins. The Los Angeles Lakers big man just can’t seem to catch a break, and has injured his Achilles, quad, and now ACL in the span of two years.

Last year was supposed to be one of retribution for Cousins with the Golden State Warriors, but the results were disappointing. Even still, the Lakers decided to take a chance on Cousins as they tried to push for supremacy in the Western Conference.

Meanwhile folks have shown their support for the former Sacramento Kings All-Star, with Draymond Green being the most recent star to offer comment. The former Warriors teammate of Cousins told ESPN how he felt about the injury this week.

Via ESPN and Marc Spears of The Undefeated:

“One of my goals coming into this season was for DeMarcus to destroy everybody and come back and show how great of a player he is and get what I think he deserves,” Green told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears. “I’m really at a loss for words about it. It’s one that really hurt me for sure.”

Cousins is now 29 years old, and the question is whether he will ever return to any kind of form approaching what he had in Sacramento. His injuries have been devastating, and they are the kind that few have returned from to play at an elite level in the NBA.

Cousins appears to be fast approaching a spot in NBA history with other potential greats whose careers were ruined by injury. Hopefully he can find a way to avoid that track.

Rumor: Jeremy Lin, open to playing in China, now in talks with Beijing Ducks

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Jeremy Lin does not appear to be on the radar of any NBA teams at this juncture. It has been an up-and-down summer for Lin, who won a championship with the Toronto Raptors back in June but finds himself a free agent here in August.

Lin has already said that it’s been extremely tough for him to go without a contract this offseason, and it was reported that he turned down a deal with CSKA Moscow to pursue further NBA opportunities.

Now there are murmurs that Lin could be headed to China to play for the Beijing Ducks. According to Sportando, Chinese reporter Sonx Xiang is saying that Lin and the Ducks are closing in on a deal.

NBA players can go on to have lucrative careers in the CBA. Lin is still a decent enough scorer at the NBA level, and it’s most likely he would fit into the Chinese game quite well.

As a branding and personal opportunity, China could fit Lin nicely. He’s currently on his annual tour of Asia, helping kids across several countries with basketball camps and charitable concerns.

The South China Morning Post has reported that Lin said he would be willing to play in the CBA. Lin also told website Radii of his trips to China that, “When I go there, I feel the most at home.”

Make no bones about it, Lin would much rather play in the NBA this season. Looking at his numbers on Synergy, it’s sort of surprising that nobody would want him as a third point guard on a minimum deal. But in the meantime, Lin has spent a significant amount of time in China and feels a kind of purpose when he’s there.

If he’s got to be away from home — and away from the NBA — this might be the best option for Lin available right now.

Victor Oladipo says Pacers “definitely” a playoff team, maybe more in wide-open East

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With a number of new faces — Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. McConnell, Justin Holiday, T.J. Warren — and star Victor Oladipo out until mid-season, predicting where the Indiana Pacers will land in the East next season is difficult.

Oladipo himself has a good idea where, as he told J. Michael of the Indy Star.

“Playoffs, for sure. Definitely.”

And maybe more.

After Milwaukee and Philadelphia at the top, the East is wide open. Last season the Pacers were an impressive defensive team — third-best in the NBA, anchored by Myles Turner — but a middle of the pack offense (before Oladipo tore the quad muscle near his knee and was out, after that they fell off to bottom 10). The challenge was that after Oladipo the Pacers did not have a lot of shot creation options on the roster (Bojan Bogdanovic did well picking up the slack, he’s good but not elite in that role).

Ths season Brogdon can create, Lamb can create for himself, both can play off the ball, and there are just more options, especially once Oladipo returns and everyone gets on the same page.

A team that had difficulty with execution because it had a dearth of ballhandlers should score more on offense and be able to switch more on defense…

“We have the ability now to play that way. We have the personnel to play that way,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who can do things with the ball. Not only me. I don’t think we’ve had that before. It’s going to be a lot of opportunities for guys to go out there and make things happen.”

That kind of team could be very dangerous in the East.

Before that, however, there are a lot of new pieces to fit together in Indiana. Then mid-season their best player in Oladipo returns and there will be another round of adjustments, with guys needing to accept changing roles.

If it all comes together for Nate McMillan and crew, the Pacers are a playoff threat, but there are a lot of “ifs” to get to where the Pacers want to ultimately be.

For now, get to the playoffs, get healthy, and then we will see just what this team is capable of.