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2017 World Maccabiah Games

Jake Rauchbach reports from on the ground at the 2017 World Maccabiah Games.

Jake Rauchbach

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Every four years, 10,000 Jewish athletes from approximately 78 countries descend upon the country of Israel to compete in the World Maccabiah Games. Just like the Olympic games, each country fields a team in an effort to bring home medals for their respective countries, while maintaining a larger goal of strengthening Jewish relations with foreign countries. Since its inception in 1932, athletes such as Mark Spitz have competed in Maccabiah, and throughout the Games’ storied history, basketball has gradually grown into the Games’ most visible sport. With past participants such as David Blatt, Larry Brown, Ernie Grunfeld, Nat Holman, and Bruce Pearl, the Maccabiah Games have served as a world stage for the best of the best when it comes to Jewish sportsmen and women.

This year, the USA’s Maccabi team is coached by Fox Sports Analyst and TV personality Doug Gottlieb. With the help of team General Manager Josh Schachter, Gottlieb helped to hand select the team. Gottlieb is the all-time assist leader in Oklahoma State history and was a finalist for the Oklahoma State and Tulane head coaching vacancies. Gottlieb draws upon a breadth of experience and competed as a player in the Maccabiah games on two separate occasions, in 1997 and 2001.

“I have played a game in 10 different countries, I have played professionally in three countries, and in three professional leagues in the states,” Gottlieb said. “Some of the greatest connections I have made were in Israel and with Jewish players. My golden rule for life is do onto others as you want done to you. As a coach, I try to coach them how I would want to be coached. I want to help these guys win, but also want them to have an even better experience than I did.”

Gottlieb is a player’s coach. His ability to connect with and motivate players, while also implementing a system geared towards allowing players the freedom to make basketball plays, is why many believe Gottlieb could be poised to successfully lead a high-major division-1 program in the near future.

Among the members that make up this year’s Maccabiah Team USA are Sam Singer (California-Berkely/Israel), JoJo Fallas (Cornell), Jeremy Lieberman (Cal Baptist via Wyoming), Alec Kobre (Pacific/Spain) Travis Warech (St. Michaels/Germany), Jimmy McDonnell (Temple/Israel), Joe Schneider (Amherst College), Grant Greenberg (St. Mary’s), Jordan Cohen (Lehigh), Danny Janel (Connecticut College), Robbie Feinberg (Harvard), and Marc Chasin (Ithaca College). During his first week in Israel, Singer inked a deal with Bnei Hertzliya in the Israeli first division. Like Singer, many of Team USA teammates are hoping to leverage their Maccabiah tournament performance into Israeli Basketball Premier League jobs come next season.

Kobre, McDonnell, and Warech all have professional experience, and according to several Israeli first team division coaches and general managers, virtually all of the Team USA could have the chance to play at some level once their college careers are complete.

USA has a quartet of guards all possessing differing skill-sets. Singer provides good size and great versatility in regards to his ability to shoot and facilitate for teammates. At his size, he also possesses an ability to get in the lane and shoot over the top of smaller defenders. Coming into camp, Lieberman, the former Wyoming Cowboy and current Calvary Baptist Lancer transfer established himself as an explosive guard who gets into the lane at will. Lieberman was slightly erratic when it came to his decision-making and regarding knowing when to pass and or shoot during US camp. However, his game rounded into form nicely while in Israel.

Fallas is a lead guard who started at Cornell last season. Coming into camp, he at times lacked the aggressiveness required to consistently assert himself on the offensive end and apply adequate ball pressure on the defensive end. However, this has gradually improved as he has embodied a bulldog-like mentality. Look for Fallas to be the steady hand that steers the ship for Team USA. Lastly, the youngster of the team, Jordan Cohen, a rising sophomore at Lehigh, has all of the tools to be one of the Team’s better scorers. He has a good pace to his game, which allows him to initiate his drive and/or set up his solid jump shooting ability.

Because of the ubiquity of these players’ skill-sets, they find themselves being shuffled between the point and wing positions within Gottlieb’s ball screen heavy offense. This being said, Greenberg (St. Mary’s, NAIA – Kansas), Feinberg (Harvard), and Chasin (Ithaca) are true wings who have all gotten better during the short time period that the team has been together. Greenberg scored over 3300 points in college, and is an explosive scorer who comes ready to play and gives the defense fits. Despite sometimes trying to do too much, Chasin plays all out, and with no fear on both ends of the floor. His high-energy nature adds significant value to the overall performance of the team. Feinberg, a rising junior at Harvard, has shot lights out while in Israel. Interestingly, he shoots it especially well before 9 am Israeli time. Gottlieb attributes this to time change: “He is actually shooting on West Coast time.”

The team’s sharp shooter is Kobre, who played in the Spanish B-league last season and can make shots in bunches. The team leans on Warech’s extensive professional experience, and leadership abilities. The team’s consensus captain can play multiple positions and is hoping that his international playing experience will rub off on the rest of his teammates.

“I am hoping my knowledge of the international game will provide guidance and insight into how this game is played a little bit differently overseas to put us in the best position to be successful,” Warech said.

The team is anchored down low by pick and pop guy Jimmy McDonnell (Temple), along with Schneider (Amherst) and Janel (Connecticut College). McDonnell fits perfectly into Gottlieb’s pick and pop heavy offensive schemes, while Schneider and Janel are more traditional bigs who do much of their work down low. Janel, who moonlights as an acapella singer and reportedly has broken out in song at the most random times during the team’s training camp, brings the bass down low. Gottlieb said about Janel, “He looks like he could literally be in the Maccabiah family – he is broad bone thick and is our team’s unquestioned sneaky singing sensation, our go to translator, and one of the larger cranium’s in the history of Judeah.”

Maybe the best prospect on Team USA is Schneider. The 6-foot-10 big man has blossomed over the course of training camp, per Gottlieb.

“He probably has the greatest upside of all of our guys,” Gootlieb said. “He has incredibly long arms, and good timing. He is struggling a little bit with feel and lateral quickness, but he attacks the rim when he gets in for dunks. He blocks shots without fouling and wants to be coached.”

The Maccabiah experience lasts only 3.5 weeks. First is a 2-week period through two training camps, with one held in the US at Gottlieb’s house and the other at the Kfar Maccabiah Village in the Tel-Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. Team USA must gel during this time and be ready to face off against France in the first round of pool play. The Americans will need to survive their pool and finish either first or second out of five teams in order to advance to the medal rounds. From there, the four best teams will battle it out for the gold.

In past seasons, along with Team USA, Australia, Argentina, and Israel have all been some of the favorites to capture the tournament championship. Capturing gold will likely be a challenging road, one that Singer relishes along with the overall Israeli experience.

“The goal is obviously to come here and win Gold, but the overall experience means much more than that. We have an unbelievable chance to represent our country while embracing our heritage and showing everyone how proud we are to be Jewish.”

Considering the history and over-arching mission of the games, Maccabiah USA is playing for much more than just the chance to bring home the Gold.

Jake Rauchbach is the founder of The MindRight Pro Program and has coached numerous professional and collegiate basketball players. Rauchbach serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University’s men’s basketball team. He is currently serving as Team USA’s Open men’s basketball Assistant Coach at the 2017 World Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Twitter: @mindrightpro

After playing four years of college basketball at Drexel University, Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach writes about the NBA and college basketball for Basketball Insiders and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University's men's basketball team.

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NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Losers of the NBA Draft

Shane Rhodes breaks down the losers of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2018 NBA Draft season has come to a close. And, while the actual draft wasn’t the fireworks show that it could have been, there was still plenty of surprises, both good and bad.

While Basketball Insiders’ Simon Hannig discussed the winners of the draft, not everyone was so fortunate. And, while the draft can come down to chance, some teams were worse off than others.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger losers from draft night

Mikal Bridges

Talk about heartbreak.

Mikal Bridges was going home. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the Villanova standout with the No. 10 pick. Bridges did an entire press conference, talking about what it was like to be staying in Philadelphia. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is even the Global VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the team. It was perfect.

And then it wasn’t.

It’s hard to not feel bad for Bridges, who was dropped into a dream scenario and then had it all ripped away. Going to the Phoenix Suns, an organization heading in a new direction, to play alongside plenty of young, high upside talent, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton as well as former lottery picks Josh Jackson and Devin Booker, isn’t the worst thing in the world for the rookie forward. Bridges could even flourish in Phoenix.

But it certainly won’t compare to playing under the bright lights in Philadelphia alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid come next April and for years to come.

Michael Porter Jr.

One year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was a top three draft prospect projected to go as high as No. 1 overall. However, with rumors of questionable medicals swirling throughout the draft process, he dropped all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14 overall.

While Porter will certainly welcome the chip on his shoulder, the lost earnings will definitely hurt him and his pocket. Porter is missing out on millions on his first NBA contract. Plus, the sheer amount of teams that balked at his medicals doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NBA.

It isn’t all bad for Porter; Denver has a young, talented roster and was one win away from a postseason birth last year. They can afford to be patient with Porter’s back, should he need to miss some time, as well. Standing 6-foot-11, 211 pounds and with a smooth jumper, Porter still has a great chance to be a star in this league.

Still, it was an inauspicious beginning to what, hopefully, is a long NBA career.

Sacramento Kings

This could apply to the Sacramento Kings roster as well as their fanbase.

The Kings got “their guy” in No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III. And, while Bagley is still an amazing talent, the pick just seems like more of the same for the Kings, who have a glut of bigs — Willie-Cauley Stein, Harry Giles III, Skal Labissiere, Kostas Koufos — on the roster and a distinct lack of high-quality guard or wing depth.

In steps Luka Dončić, the 19-year-old Slovenian phenom. With the Suns taking Ayton with the top pick, the Kings had their chance to shore up their backcourt for the foreseeable future alongside De’Aaron Fox and move another step closer to relevancy.

And they whiffed.

Dončić could very well end up as the best player in the class. While he isn’t the most athletic, Dončić is exactly where the NBA is going; he is a multipositional defender and playmaker that can shoot the three. Meanwhile, Bagley, who is a questionable fit in the modern game, will be hardpressed to find playing time early on in his Kings tenure. Even worse, with their hearts set on Bagley, the Kings likely could have traded down a la the Atlanta Hawks and picked up another asset for their troubles.

While it’s much too early to call it either way, this is a pick that could come back to haunt Sacramento down the line.

Cleveland Cavaliers

It was not a great night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers missed out on one point-guard prospect, Trae Young, and another, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, flat out said he didn’t want to play for the franchise. And, even though they got a guard they liked in Alabama’s Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers are still in the unenviable position of dealing with LeBron James’ third iteration of The Decision.

Sexton’s selection doesn’t exactly help them retain James’ services either.

Since acquiring the pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, it had been speculated as to whether Cleveland would use the pick or trade it to get James help. With the team opting for the former, it’s difficult to imagine the Cavaliers getting any significant help for James, in free agency or otherwise, which could push him closer to leaving than he already may be. Meanwhile, Sexton, who dominated the ball during his time at Alabama, isn’t exactly the best fit alongside James in the event that he stays.

Either way, there appears to be a bumpy road ahead for the Cavaliers.

Washington Wizards

Troy Brown Jr. is a great pickup for the Washington Wizards. That still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reach.

Brown is a twitchy wing that can defend multiple positions. But there were multiple wings that Washington could have taken ahead of Brown (e.g., Lonnie Walker II) that would have made this a better pick. Brown struggled as a shooter during his lone season at Oregon — he shot just 29.1 percent from three and has some iffy mechanics — and is a strange fit on the Wizards roster that already has a surplus of wing depth in John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre.

With the team looking to move Marcin Gortat, a big would have been a better fit for Washington at 15. Or, if management was deadset on Brown, dropping back a few spots would have made more sense.

Brown certainly has the talent to make an impact, but it’s hard to like a pick that may not crack the rotation in year one, according to the Wizards own General Manager.

Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors took a big step earlier this offseason, moving on from Dwane Casey and placing Nick Nurse at the helm in early June.

But, with zero picks in a loaded draft, the Raptors have to be considered losers.

There were plenty of difference makers available up-and-down the draft board, but the Raptors didn’t end up with any of them. While management could improve the team via trade or free agency come July, they still feature the same roster that got manhandled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by James and the Cavaliers and that isn’t good.

Not everyone can come out a winner in a crapshoot like the NBA Draft. Still, some teams found themselves worse off than others when all was said and done. Luckily, those teams still have a chance to improve themselves with free agency right around the corner.

 

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.

Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.

Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.

For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.

Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.

Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.

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