Seven NBA stars to watch in EuroBasket in September

Serbia v Greece - FIBA World Cup 2023 Qualifiers
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The best collection of NBA players in the world will shift this week from the Rico Hines runs at UCLA to Europe — more than 30 NBA players are expected to take part in EuroBasket, the European championships, which tip off on Sept. 1.

That group includes the winners of the last three NBA MVP awards and the favorite for next year. All the top teams in the tournament — Slovenia, Serbia and France are the early medal favorites — have high-level NBA talent leading the way. You can find a full schedule of matchups by following this link, and you can watch the games on FIBA’s streaming service Courtside 1891 (ESPN+ also will have the games).

Here are seven NBA stars to watch in EuroBasket.

1) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece)

The best player in the world has overwhelmed European defenders in recent months the way he has dominated NBA defenders for years. Nobody on the continent — nobody on the globe — can stop him and he will put up monster numbers as the focal point of an athletic Greek attack.

The Greek team is a family affair with three other Antetokounmpo brothers — Thanasis, Kostas and Alex — playing as well. Greece also has current Dallas Maverick Tyler Dorsey and former NBA player Nick Calathes, but it is not as deep with talent as the top teams in Europe. Greece will go as far as Giannis Antetokounmpo can carry them.

2) Nikola Jokic (Serbia)

Nikola Jokic may be the two-time NBA MVP, but his skill set was made for European basketball. His passing makes everyone on one of the deeper rosters in the tournament a threat to score, but when his team needs a bucket Jokic is one of the best clutch scorers in the game. Against Greece, he hit this ridiculous 3-pointer with Antetokounmpo in his face.

Serbia may not have the depth it needs to win it all — Bogdan Bogdanovic is out due to injury (he led Serbia in scoring the last two big international tournaments), while both Vasilije Micic and Nemanja Bjelica are questionable. In a surprise move, the Serbian coach cut former NBA player Milos Teodosic, a veteran point guard. Still, Serbia will be in the title mix and Jokic will be the reason.

3) Luka Doncic (Slovenia)

The last time Luka Doncic wore a Slovenian jersey, he carried his country to a top-four finish at the Tokyo Olympics. Much as he is in Dallas, Doncic is the focal point of everything for Slovenia, but he has the shoulders to carry the burden — Slovenia beat Serbia, Turkey, and Croatia in games recently, during the run-up to EuroBasket. Chicago Bull Goran Dragic, the Slovenian legend, will return and play a vital role for the team, but Doncic has to carry the load for this contender.

4) Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania)

The Kings are counting on Sabonis to lift them to the playoffs this season (for the first time since 2006), but first Lithuania is depending on Sabonis to lift his nation into medal contention. Lithuania’s chances hinge on the frontcourt play of Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas — a duo that will be a brutally tough matchup.

5) Rudy Gobert (France)

France is one of the medal favorites in EuroBasket 2022 — they finished third at the last World Cup (eliminating the USA) and won the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Much as he did in Utah (and probably will in Minnesota), Gobert does not put up the eye-popping scoring numbers of Doncic or Antetokounmpo, but he has an elite impact as the best rim protector and defensive anchor on the planet. Gobert will get some buckets, but the scoring will fall to a deep French squad led by Evan Fournier.

6) Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia)

Bojan Bogdanovic is a quality NBA role player, but his game is a perfect fit for European basketball with his ability to shoot the three, pass, and drive the lane when needed. Croatia has a lot of talent on the roster — Dario Saric (who has looked good after missing last NBA season due to injury), Ivica Zubac, Jaleen Smith, Mario Hezonja — but has never played up to that level. If things are going to change and Croatia is going to medal, it will start with Bogdanovic.

7) Lauri Markkanen (Finland)

The versatile Bulls big — or does he play the three… whatever — will be asked to carry the load for a Finland squad whose goal is to make it to the knockout round. Like some of the other bigs on this list, Markkanen’s game is suited for international play as he is more of a threat on the perimeter than inside, but he can get buckets and do some playmaking at this level. Finland also has University of Tennessee standout Olivier Nkamhoua on the roster.

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.