Kawhi Leonard

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NBA sends memo to teams informing of crackdown on tampering, increased fines

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There were a lot frustrated, ticked-off owners and front office staff at July’s for a Board of Governor’s meeting — and tampering was what had blood boiling. Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) were top free agent names who appeared to have their next teams — and maybe contracts — lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics complained the 76ers may have tampered with Al Horford, and there were questions about what steps eventually brought Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers.

“It’s pointless, at the end of the day, to have rules that we can’t enforce,” is how NBA Commissioner Adam Silver put it after that meeting.

Now the league is warning teams of a crackdown on tampering — steeply increased fines and tougher enforcement — in a memo to teams that Shams Charania of The Athletic saw.

 

The owners will have to vote on this at their September 20 meeting, Charania reports. Undoubtedly it will pass.

The memo says the crackdown is in response to the “widespread perception that many of the league’s rules are being broken on a frequent basis” about tampering and salary cap issues, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

It all sounds tough on paper.

The question isn’t the new rules but how they are enforced. To this point, the league has had a hands-off approach to player-to-player conversations and recruiting, how tightly do they want to enforce it now? More importantly, how do they implement it? Take players phones to monitor texts? (Most player conversations are not about “work” or recruiting, it’s about the things you text your friends about.) What about when players go to dinners/clubs together and talk? Spencer Dinwiddie said he started to pitch the idea of Irving coming to the Nets in a business class the two took together, how exactly does the league learn about this and stop it?

Most front offices and agents do a very good job of plausible deniability — there are not traceable emails or texts making tampering challenging to prove. Things are not done formally, it’s through back channels and casual conversations. The league is talking tough, but enforcement is going to be another issue.

Kobe Bryant hates load management: ‘I’m not ducking s—t’ (VIDEO)

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Kobe Bryant has now become A Guy Who Says Things, and this summer has been no different. The former Los Angeles Lakers star has already plastered himself onto headlines by talking about his former teammate Shaquille O’Neal.

But now Bryant has gone after current NBA players.

Speaking in an interview with Valuetainment TV, Bryant criticized the use of load management in today’s NBA. In typical Kobe form, it was unhinged from the reality of modern basketball and a naked attempt at levering his own legacy above that of his modern peers.

Via Twitter:

Of course, that’s not how any of this works. The NBA has a duty to make as much money as it can, that includes managing both players and their longevity versus the night-to-night grind of an 82 game regular season.

It’s true that Kobe didn’t miss that many regular season games over the course of his career, but it’s that anecdotal exceptionalism that allows successful players to believe that their way is the only way.

Players are being targeted younger and younger these days, and as was posited in a feature by Baxter Holmes earlier this year, the result is a potential for increased injury given the amount of miles on the joints and ligaments of incoming NBA prospects.

Intellectually, Bryant knows this. In fact, Kobe knows the exact reason why players want to be a part of load management in first place — the regular season doesn’t matter, and when it comes to galvanizing individual legacy, it’s all about the playoffs. Bryant, the most active legacy manipulator of our time, understands this fully.

But it’s also useful to Kobe’s legacy to paint himself as the kind of maniacal, sociopathic competitor that would stop at nothing to win, a la Michael Jordan. That includes trying to act as though he was present and at 100% for every possession, and that everyone else must do so in order to achieve greatness as well.

This is patently false, of course. Kawhi Leonard quite literally just won the NBA championship while under heavy load management for the entirety of the season for the Toronto Raptors. He will probably be under the same system as the championship-favored Los Angeles Clippers get underway this season, too.

And yet, Kobe keeps talking. He does so as a means to continue selling snake-themed shoes until the memory of his real impact on the NBA is long gone, replaced with whatever the public has accepted as part of the Kobe canon.

Meanwhile, until the NBA finds some way to limit the number of games without losing revenue, load management is here to stay. No doubt Kobe complaining about it will be as well.

NBCsports.com’s “50 best players in 5 years” recap: Players 25-1

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This summer, the NBA team at NBCSports.com decided to take on a thought experiment: What is the NBA going to look like in five years? Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

We put our heads together, pulled out our crystal balls, and tried to project forward who would be the 50 best players in the NBA in five years — in the summer of 2024. We took into account a player’s age, his potential ceiling and how likely he is to reach it, injury history, and more. There were plenty of disagreements (and we don’t expect you to agree with all of our list), but we came up with one.

This is a quick recap of the players in the top 25, with an excerpt from the write up of each player. Here is a link to the summary of players 50-26, and if you want more detail here are the links to players 25-21, 20-16, 15-11, 10-6, and the top five.

25. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Age in 2024: 26)
How Gilgeous-Alexander will develop from here on out will be interesting to watch. His role is changing, and the playing environment and coaching style is changing. He’s not going to be Russell Westbrook — nobody is, plus they have very different games. Gilgeous-Alexander is more traditional point guard, more game manager, not an explosive isolation specialist who gets buckets.(Kurt Helin)

24. John Collins (Age in 2024: 26)
I made the declaration earlier this summer that Collins and Trae Young could be this generation’s Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash. I stand by that. Collins may not be as strong and polished offensively as Stoudemire, but they play with the same force around the basket. Every time Collins dunks, you wonder what the basket ever did to him to deserve that assault.. (Tom Haberstroh)

23. Kyrie Irving (Age in 2024: 32)
Brooklyn will help shape Irving’s legacy — he goes to a playoff team with a strong established culture through coach Kenny Atkinson, an organization with good young players already seen on this list in Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. In a year, once healthy, Kevin Durant will join them and form a squad that should be a title contender in the East. The questions abound: How does Irving fit in? How does his game evolve? His leadership skills? (Kurt Helin)

22. Ja Morant (Age in 2024: 25)
The best comparison in that sense is probably De'Aaron Fox, another spindly guard with sprinter’s speed and a jump shot that needs fine-tuning… The difference between Morant and Fox is passing ability. Morant has yet to play an NBA game, but I firmly believe he is going to be among the ten best players in the entire NBA when it comes to court vision, passing and the ability to make plays and create shots for teammates out of ball-screens. (Rob Dauster)

21. Deandre Ayton (Age in 2024: 26)
Ayton is going to be an offensive force in five years, at age 26, especially if he adds some range to his shot and the Suns let him explore other aspects of his game. However, how high he ultimately should be on this list will depend on a couple of other things. The big one is his defense — he struggled on this end as a rookie, with his recognition and as a rim protector. Ayton needs to become a defensive anchor for the Suns. The way the NBA is evolving, an offense-only big man who is not a good rim protector has a limited role. (Kurt Helin)

20. Pascal Siakam (Age in 2024: 30)
Siakam will be in his prime the next five years, and the question now becomes just where is his ceiling? He’s a 6’9” elite athlete who is a strong perimeter defender on one end and can create his own shot on the other. There are not a lot of those around. Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse said that Siakam now has “gotta be the man” for the Raptors, can he be that No. 1 option… Siakam got a lot of wide-open looks at threes last season, with defenses often focused on Kawhi Leonard, but how will he adapt when he is the guy at the top of the opponent’s scouting report? (Kurt Helin)

19. Kristaps Porzingis (Age in 2024: 29)
When healthy Porzingis is a 7’3″ unicorn of a big man who can defend inside, run the floor, and knockdown threes. He averaged 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game over his career with the Knicks, all while shooting 36.1 percent from three. There are no other big men who bring his skill set to the game. But will we get the same Porzingis going forward? How well will he move coming back from that ACL, and can he stay healthy?(Kurt Helin)

18. James Harden (Age in 2024: 34)
The questions for evaluators in this series were, “How good will Harden be at age 34 heading into his age 35 season? How will his game age?” Probably pretty well, which is why he is still so high on this list. Harden’s game is all about craft, it’s not built on his explosive athleticism or his freakish skills for someone so tall. Harden’s unconventional, hesitation-filled game is more about throwing his defenders off-balance — he has a lot of old-man-at-the-Y in his game. That will still work well as he ages.(Kurt Helin)

17. Bradley Beal (Age in 2024: 31)
Beal is going to be one of the top shooting guards in the game the next five years as he is just entering his prime. Beal has made more threes in his career than any other player through their age 25 season (Beal has 1,071, Klay Thompson is second at 1,060, then Stephen Curry is third with 905). Beal can shoot the three (35.1 percent last season), put the ball on the floor and drive, moves well off the ball (he ran more total miles last season during games — 222.7 total, or 2.75 per game — than any player in the league), and is an active and willing defender. (Kurt Helin)

16. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Age in 2024: 24)
This kid has Chris Bosh written all over him — and he can be even better. It feels odd to call him “kid” when his game screams wily veteran. Jackson Jr. is still just 19 years old, but he already can stretch the floor and block shots like a seasoned big… Jackson’s game is tailor made for the pace-and-space era. He made 51 triples last season and converted 35.9 percent of his tries beyond the arc, making him one of the sweetest shooting bigs in the league already. He has a guard-like handle and moves fluidly on the block. (Tom Haberstroh)

15. Jamal Murray (Age in 2024: 27)
Murray averaged 18.2 points a game while shooting 36.7 percent from three last season, plus he added 4.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists per night… The key for Denver wasn’t just the scoring threat, although that mattered, but also Murray kept the ball moving and made teams pay for focusing too much defensive attention on Jokic. In the playoffs, Murray upped his game and became the offensive bellwether for the team — when Murray struggled on offense (settling for too many contested mid-range jumpers) the Denver offense stalled out, but when he was confidently draining threes and moving the ball they were hard to stop. (Kurt Helin)

14. De’Aaron Fox (Age in 2024: 26)
“I’m always looking toward the future, individually and I think everybody has to be a little selfish in that aspect,” Fox told NBC Sports. “To continue to grow, to continue to be the kind of player I can be, to put the league on notice that I’m here, I’m established, and just continue to grow as a man.”

Fox has personal goals — becoming an All-Star, to start — plus the team goal of getting the Kings to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. To get there will take more than just speed, the craft of Fox’s game needs to catch up with that pace. (Kurt Helin)

13. Devin Booker (Age in 2024: 27)
Booker is an exceptional scorer for his age. Last season, he made real strides rounding out his offensive game – converting from all areas inside the arc, drawing fouls and distributing. He’s ready to be a go-to scorer. His knockdown 3-point shooting also gives him a chance to play a secondary role on a better team if he ever joins one. Defense remains a huge shortcoming, though. That fits into larger questions about the habits Booker is developing. (Dan Feldman)

12. Jayson Tatum (Age in 2024: 26)
Boston needs Tatum to return to his trajectory as an elite player next season. Tatum had an impressive rookie season that had him looking like a franchise cornerstone (especially in the playoffs when he averaged 18.5 points a game and was a quality shot creator). However, he plateaued in his second season, likely in part due to the failed chemistry experiment the Celtics became. Tatum got hung up in that, not moving the ball and his shot selection getting worse. The USA Basketball experience and time with Gregg Popovich will help Tatum move on from last season, there’s a lot of basketball knowledge to soak up. (Kurt Helin)

11. Joel Embiid (Age in 2024: 30)
Embiid’s winding road, fairly or unfairly, makes projecting him difficult. No matter how many 30-15-5 nights Embiid puts up, it’s hard to put aside the injury variable that delayed his NBA career two years. With two surgeries on his navicular bone and nagging knee issues on that enormous frame, there’s no doubt that Embiid’s health record keeps him outside of the top-10.

Because if we look at Embiid’s age, talent and production, he should be much closer to the top, if not right at the top. At 25 years old, he’s at the front edge of his prime. He just averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists while making over 100 jumpers outside 16 feet. There’s almost nothing he can’t do on the basketball court. (Tom Haberstroh)

10. Trae Young (Age in 2024: 25)
Young can shoot with range, is a gifted passer, and is working on taking the next steps in his development. He has to get stronger (he reportedly added 10 pounds this summer), has to become a better defender, has to learn to finish better on drives (he needs a floater and to be able to score through or around contact better at the rim, ala Stephen Curry). Most of all, the Hawks need him to be a leader, to be the guy that pulls this franchise back to the postseason, and eventually all the way to heights not seen in decades in Atlanta. (Kurt Helin)

9. Ben Simmons (Age in 2024: 28)
Simmons, 23, is a special all-around talent. The 6-foot-10 point guard thrives in the open court. He quickly turns his defensive rebounds into fastbreaks the other way, attacks the basket and zips passes all over the court. His defense is stellar due both to his versatility and lockdown ability. No wonder the 76ers gave him a max contract extension so quickly. But he has a huge flaw: Jump shots… While Simmons is one of the safest bets to be a star in five years, it’s difficult to envision him becoming a superstar. There’s a ceiling on guards who can’t shoot from outside. (Dan Feldman)

8. Donovan Mitchell (Age in 2024: 27)
“Last summer was different,” Mitchell said when Team USA stopped in Los Angeles for training camp. “I’m healthy. I’ve been able to travel a little bit, but I’ve been able to put in work. And this is just another step to get better.”

Just how good can Mitchell be in five years? He will be 27, in his prime, and Utah believes he will lead the franchise back to the biggest stages, the ones they have not been on since the Stockton/Malone era… Mitchell wants the pressure — he hasn’t shied away from the responsibility of leading Team USA. He is not shy about talking about his goals for the Jazz, which go beyond just making the playoffs again next season. (Kurt Helin)

7. Karl-Anthony Towns (Age in 2024: 28)
Towns has all the tools. He’s big, mobile and skilled. The list of 7-footers who’ve shot 3-pointers and scored like him might end at Dirk Nowitzki. But for all his talent, Towns hasn’t brought the necessary intensity. He has too often failed to assert himself offensively. His defensive effort and execution are consistently lacking. There just isn’t enough force in his game. Towns started to come around late last season… Towns is just 23. There’s so much time for him to figure this out. He’s already a star with this approach. If he develops a mindset to dominate, he could become the NBA’s very best player. (Dan Feldman)

6. Kawhi Leonard (Age in 2024: 33)
This ranking is a big bet on health. The question is not, “can Kawhi Leonard be a great player in five years at age 33?” He is an elite NBA talent now in his prime, one that just led the Toronto Raptors to an NBA title averaging 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a game in the playoffs. He is as good a perimeter defender as there is in the game right now, something that will not change much as he ages. Offensively he can get his own shot, create for others, he shot 37.1 percent from three last season, but what is most impressive is his footwork and ability to get to his spots on the floor. His mechanical, physical style will age well. If he’s healthy. That remains the cloud over Leonard. (Kurt Helin)

5. Zion Williamson (Age in 2024: 24)
I’ll put it bluntly — I think Zion is the kind of talent that can redefine the way basketball has to be played in the NBA the same way that Steph Curry did, that LeBron James did, that Shaquille O’Neal did. His physical tools, his skill-set, and his basketball IQ are all that high… The big question for me is going to be how well his health holds up. He’s 270-something pounds with a vertical leap that gets damn near four feet. (Rob Dauster)

4. Nikola Jokic (Age in 2024: 29)
Jokic is a reigning All-NBA first-team player. He’s the best-passing center in NBA history. And he’s just 24… Jokic is the only second-round pick in these rankings. He’s not a great athlete. But he quickly impressed with his great feel for the game. It shows in his passing. It shows in his nose for the ball on rebounds. It even shows on his defense. That’s the area Jokic can most improve. Though his basketball intelligence translates to defense, Jokic’s athletic limitations also factor prominently. (Dan Feldman)

3. Luka Doncic (Age in 2024: 25)
Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6 assists a game in a historic rookie season that had him as the Rookie of the Year. He already makes decisions and plays like a 10-year veteran when coming off the pick-and-roll, his feel for the game is amazing. His court vision and passing were everything that were advertised, but it comes in a physically strong 6’7” package that allows him to see the court, pass over smaller players, and he showed he could handle contact… There are a few things that need to follow to reach that potential. His defense needs to improve. He needs to cut down on turnovers… The biggest issue is conditioning. (Kurt Helin)

2. Anthony Davis (Age in 2024: 31)
If we’re going to nitpick, he’s more of a finisher than a creator. That should work just fine playing with LeBron James on the Lakers. But in the long run, the NBA’s second-best player is usually more capable of manufacturing a bucket when his team needs one. Maybe Davis is just so good at everything else, he’ll still deserve this lofty ranking without improved individual-scoring ability. I’d bet on him developing that skill, though… Last season was the first time Davis shined as a passer. He’s clearly still adding to his game. That ought to terrify the rest of the league. (Dan Feldman)

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Age in 2024: 29)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (age 24) just won Most Valuable Player over James Harden (age 30) and Paul George (age 29). Just two other MVPs in NBA history have been so much younger than the second- and third-place finishers.

In 1958, Bill Russell won MVP then won 10 more championships and four more MVPs in his career. In 1972, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won MVP than won five more championships and four more MVPs in his career.

Antetokounmpo is poised to take over the NBA for a long time. (Dan Feldman)

NBCSports.com’s 50 best players in 5 years: Kristaps Porzingis, James Harden, players 20-16

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What is the NBA going to look like in five years? Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

As a fun summer project, the NBA team at NBCSports.com put our heads together, pulled out our crystal balls, and tried to project forward who would be the 50 best players in the NBA in five years — in the summer of 2024. We took into account a player’s age, his potential ceiling and how likely he is to reach it, injury history, and more. The team working on this included Dan Feldman, Tom Haberstroh, Rob Dauster, Tommy Beer, Steve Alexander, and Kurt Helin (and thanks to Tess Quinlan and Mia Zanzucchi for the design help).

There were plenty of disagreements (and we don’t expect you to agree with all of our list), but here it is.

Here is the link to here are the links to players 50-4645-41, 40-36, 35-31, 30-26, and 25-21. These are players 20-16 on our list.

20. Pascal Siakam

Last season the switch flipped for Pascal Siakam.

He went from promising young player to critical contributor on both ends for a championship team. He became a guy who could average 21.3 points per game for a month (February). What fueled the change was his jump shot started falling — the season before he shot 22 percent from three, but last season that jumped to 36.9 percent, and with that came more attempts. Coach Nick Nurse believed in Siakam, gave him some freedom and touches, and Siakam responded with a Most Improved Player season.

Siakam will be in his prime the next five years, and the question now becomes just where is his ceiling? He’s a 6’9” elite athlete who is a strong perimeter defender on one end and can create his own shot on the other. There are not a lot of those around. Nurse said that Siakam now has “gotta be the man” for the Raptors, can he be that No. 1 option (Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol will start this season in Toronto but likely are not there a year from now). Siakam got a lot of wide-open looks at threes last season, with defenses often focused on Kawhi Leonard, but how will he adapt when he is the guy at the top of the opponent’s scouting report? (To be fair, defenses focused on him more and more last season with Leonard sitting out games, but this is a new level.)

The next step for Siakam All-Star and maybe All-NBA level seasons. He’s got that in him, both in terms of raw talent and in terms of the work ethic to reach those goals. In five years, he’s going to be one of the game’s elite wings.
—Kurt Helin

19. Kristaps Porzingis

One of the ways we looked at how to evaluate players for this project, projecting out five years ahead, was to ask this question: If you were a GM who could give a player a five-year max contract right now, would you with this guy? And how comfortable would you be with that fifth year?

The Dallas Mavericks answered that question on Kristaps Porzingis with a resounding “we believe” this summer, inking the big man to a five-year, $158 million max extension. They want to pair him and Luka Doncic as the cornerstone of a contending team for years to come (their new Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki).

That’s a big bet on Porzingis as he returns from missing an entire season with a torn ACL — there is not a lot of precedent for mobile guys this size coming back from this injury. When healthy Porzingis is a 7’3″ unicorn of a big man who can defend inside, run the floor, and knockdown threes. He averaged 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game over his career with the Knicks, all while shooting 36.1 percent from three. There are no other big men who bring his skill set to the game.

But will we get the same Porzingis going forward? How well will he move coming back from that ACL, and can he stay healthy? Our evaluators think he can get back to form, or close to it at least, and that why he is on the teens in this list. But if he can get all the way back and stay healthy — two big “ifs” — this ranking will be too low.
—Kurt Helin

18. James Harden

James Harden is the greatest offensive force in the NBA right now. One of the — or, if you ask GM Daryl Morey, THE — most unstoppable offensive force the game has ever seen.

Morey could be right. Harden averaged 36.1 points per game last season, shot 36.8 percent from three, plus dished out 7.5 assists and pulled down 6.6 rebounds a night. His step-back three is the most unguardable shot in the game today. The beard is an unstoppable force right now (unless you take the ball out of his hands to make sure Russell Westbrook is happy, but that’s also a discussion for another day).

The questions for evaluators in this series were, “How good will Harden be at age 34 heading into his age 35 season? How will his game age?”

Probably pretty well, which is why he is still so high on this list (while some of his current elite contemporaries were down farther around 30 on our list). Harden’s game is all about craft, it’s not built on his explosive athleticism or his freakish skills for someone so tall. Harden’s unconventional, hesitation-filled game is more about throwing his defenders off-balance — he has a lot of old-man-at-the-Y in his game. That will still work well as he ages. Harden has logged a lot of miles on his body, and while he’s stayed healthy so far that will be harder and harder to do. Still, there’s no reason to think the perpetual MVP candidate will not still be able to go out in five years, isolate on a defender, and just get a bucket. He’s going to be able to create space and get off his shot. Which is why in five years he’s still going to have a lot of value.
—Kurt Helin

17. Bradley Beal

Right now Bradley Beal is standing at one of the crossroads in his career. The two-time All-Star — who averaged 25.6 points, 5 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game last season — has heard his name come up in trade rumors, but on the other hand the Wizards have put a three-year, $111 million max contract extension on the table in front of him, trying to lock him up.

What does Beal want to do? He has yet to take the safe route and sign the extension, but it sits there on the table if he wants it. He could say he’s not signing any extension with the franchise, essentially forcing a trade. Or — and this may be the most logical option — he can just wait, sign a four-year, $154 million extension next summer, and if he makes the All-NBA team (he was seventh in guard voting last season but there are only six All-NBA guard spots), Beal can get a $250+ million max extension from the Wizards.

Whatever he chooses, wherever he is playing, Beal is going to be one of the top shooting guards in the game the next five years as he is just entering his prime (he will be 31 in 2024). Beal has made more threes in his career than any other player through their age 25 season (Beal has 1,071, Klay Thompson is second at 1,060, then Stephen Curry is third with 905). Beal can shoot the three (35.1 percent last season), put the ball on the floor and drive, moves well off the ball (he ran more total miles last season during games — 222.7 total, or 2.75 per game — than any player in the league), and is an active and willing defender.

With John Wall out likely for the entire coming season in Washington, the Wizards become Beal’s team. He is option No. 1 on offense, the guy who gets to have the ball in his hands when he wants it. Beal is going to get to eat all he wants on offense next season for the Wizards. Providing he still wants to be in Washington.
—Kurt Helin

16. Jaren Jackson Jr.

This kid has Chris Bosh written all over him — and he can be even better. It feels odd to call him “kid” when his game screams wily veteran. Jackson Jr., is still just 19 years old, but he already can stretch the floor and block shots like a seasoned big.

There’s a reason why Kevin Garnett is one of his top statistical comps, but I like the Bosh parallel because of how he came into the league in a similar vein. Drafted No. 4 overall in a stacked draft with Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley, it’s easy to overlook Jackson Jr.’s production, especially playing in a small market like Memphis.

But Jackson’s game is tailor made for the pace-and-space era. He made 51 triples last season and converted 35.9 percent of his tries beyond the arc, making him one of the sweetest shooting bigs in the league already. He has a guard-like handle and moves fluidly on the block. On the other end, he has a great nose for creating turnovers, but there’s plenty of room to grow as a rim protector. If he can iron out his focus and court awareness on the defensive side, he can be a perennial All-Star like Bosh.

With Ja Morant in town, this could be the most promising tandem in the NBA. Jackson Jr., is so young that he still wouldn’t be in his 30s if we looked 10 years down the line instead of five. Get on board now.
—Tom Haberstroh

Team USA bounces back, beats Canada in exhibition

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SYDNEY — Order restored. After losing for the first time in nearly 13 years two days earlier, the United States rebounded to outclass Canada 84-68 in a pre-World Cup exhibition basketball game Monday.

At the same arena where the Americans won Olympic gold at the Sydney 2000 Games the U.S. never trailed, leading 20-9 after the first quarter and 46-31 at halftime.

On Saturday, Australia stunned the U.S. 98-94 before a crowd of more than 52,000 in Melbourne, a result that ended the Americans’ 78-game winning streak.

The U.S. is missing top NBA players such as LeBron James, James Harden, Paul George and Stephen Curry. It was a dour scoring game after the exciting Saturday result in Melbourne, with both teams committing numerous turnovers Monday.

Jaylen Brown had 19 points to lead the Americans, who out-rebounded Canada 55-37. Donovan Mitchell added 12 points and four assists; Kemba Walker scored 12 points and Myles Turner finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds.

“We have to speed up that learning curve,” Brown said of the Americans with less than a week to go before the World Cup starts. “We have a lot of room for growth. It’s going to be good when it comes together, the sky is the limit for this group.”

Kyle Wiltjer had 21 points for Canada, while Orlando Magic forward Khem Birch – Canada’s lone NBA player in the game – had 13 points and six rebounds.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve enjoyed our time here,” Wiltjer said. “Let’s not forget these are practice games.”

Overall, the Canadians shot just 35% from the field and 6-for-23 (26%) from three-point range.

Andrew Nembhard, who injured his knee last week, and Kaza Kajami-Keane (ankle) both returned for Canada, while Brady Heslip, a late arrival for the Canadians, played his first game in Australia.

The last time the Americans – counting major international tournaments and exhibitions with NBA players on the floor – lost a game was the semifinals of the 2006 world championships. The American program has won gold in every competition since, including three straight in the Olympics and two consecutive World Cup titles.

Canada has also been hit hard by missing NBA players, with Miami Heat’s Kelly Olynyk the latest big-name player to pull out after sustaining a knee injury.

TIP-INS

Canada: It was the third head-to-head meeting between Canada coach Nick Nurse and U.S. coach Gregg Popovich. They went 1-1 against each other in NBA play last season, Nurse’s Toronto Raptors losing in San Antonio on Jan. 3 but beating Popovich’s Spurs in Canada on Feb. 22. Canada finished 4-3 in its pre-World Cup exhibitions, starting with a split of a two-game series with Nigeria before five games in Australia.

USA: The Americans finished their four-game World Cup warm-up tour 3-1 after beating Spain and splitting two games with Australia. The U.S. is planning to stay in Sydney until mid-week, then arrive in Shanghai early Thursday.

NURSE TOUR

Nurse is getting the full tour of the other side of the world this year. The Canadians have been in Australia for a week or so, and now head to China for the World Cup. Then, Nurse will be in Japan when the world champion Raptors (albeit now without NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard) play preseason games against Houston on Oct. 8 and Oct. 10.

KUZMA DEPARTURE

Popovich was disappointed that Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma‘s left ankle injury meant he wouldn’t be able to compete in the World Cup. The Americans sent Kuzma home Saturday with the injury, a move that finalized the 12-man U.S. roster. They were in Australia with 13 finalists for 12 World Cup spots. “It’s a huge disappointment, because he was a young, energetic guy who was really learning and could play a lot of positions for us,” Popovich said. “Hopefully he’ll heal quickly.”

UP NEXT

Canada: Opens World Cup play Sept. 1 vs. Australia in Dongguan, China.

USA: Opens World Cup play Sept. 1 vs. Czech Republic in Shanghai.