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FIBA World Cup Report Day 1

Nate Duncan examines some of the more interesting games from day one of the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Nate Duncan



With day one of the 2014 FIBA World Cup in the books, here’s a look at some of the notable games of the day.

USA 114-55 Finland

The story in this game was the stifling US defense.  Finland certainly was overmatched, but the Americans’ execution defensively was excellent.  It was not just pressuring for steals with superior athletes—USA consistently executed to deny the screen to pick and roll ballhandlers (known as icing, downing or bluing the pick and roll in various systems) and prevent Finland’s guards from getting into the middle of the court.  The most encouraging aspect for Team USA was how well they defended with DeMarcus Cousins on the court as the backup center behind Anthony Davis.  He did well executing the scheme and taking up space inside.

The result of that defense was absolute carnage in the first half for the Finns. At the half they had managed 18 points on 50 possessions, a mere 36 points per 100 possessions.  They had only one less turnover than points, good for a 34 percent turnover rate.  The shooting was no better, at 6/36.  The capper was an 0/17 second quarter in which they managed a mere two points.  It was never expected that Finland would challenge the Americans, but it was still a disappointing result for a team that pulled some big upsets in EuroBasket 2013 with wins against Turkey, Greece, Slovenia and Russia. As many Finns noted, the squad appeared a little starstruck against the US.  They badly bricked many of the few open shots they got, missed layups and fumbled passes out of bounds.

Nevertheless, it was stifling defense from the Americans.  It looks like Tom Thibodeau might be the most important addition the US team has made.  If only he had been an assistant eight years ago against Greece.

  • Cousins played extremely hard and provided solid defense (including getting out on shooters at times), but he is not right physically after the knee injury he sustained a couple of weeks ago in practice.  In addition to his issues finishing passes inside, he was limping around the court and barely able to dunk on one breakaway he had.  Nonetheless, the influence this team could have on him, particularly his defense, means it is probably worth it to the Kings that he keep playing.  This may be damning with faint praise, but he has looked by far the best defensively of the three backup centers on the roster.
  • Team USA’s biggest issue appears to be the offense, particularly the shooting.  They had a healthy 114 points on 90 possessions (127 point/100) for the game, but relied extensively on the Finns’ massive turnover rate to score.  Of particular concern was the three-point shooting, as they were a mere 6-18 from downtown.  That is not enough attempts to really run an efficient halfcourt offense, but playing relative non-shooters Kenneth Faried and Rudy Gay at the four has limited the bombing from outside that made the 2012 team so effective.  It does not help that Stephen Curry continues to pick up bad fouls on the perimeter, limiting his court time.  He also needs to get the ball more often as the handler in pick and roll.
  • Overall the squad has to make quicker decisions, with James Harden, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan and Gay all guilty of holding the ball too long.  Gay in particular needs to just trust his shot and fire away when open or move the ball when he gets it with an advantage on the perimeter.  At one point Derrick Rose drew the defense with a beautiful crossover and hit an open Gay in the corner for a three which he passed up, earning a talking to from the Bulls’ point guard.
  • Rose looked just fine, throwing a number of bullet passes around the floor and flashing explosion to the hoop on a couple of occasions.  He did lose his dribble a few times and also struggled to finish at the rim.  The hope is those are vestiges of rust rather than a new baseline for him.  Nonetheless, it was a bounce back game for Rose after a desultory effort in Tuesday’s friendly against Slovenia, and he finished a team-high plus 45.
  • Davis showed off his burgeoning face-up game, using quick rip-throughs to get to the basket or splashing jumpers when the defense laid off.
  • Davis and Cousins both made concerted efforts to knock the ball off the rim or tip home balls that were already in the cylinder, an encouraging sign under FIBA rules.
  • I still don’t think I’ve seen Erik Murphy make a three-pointer since college.

Brazil 65-63 France

As most would expect, this 71 possession game was a defensive struggle, as neither team eclipsed a point per possession.  French coach Vincent Collet had a rough go at game management down the stretch. His tactics started auspiciously enough, as he properly called for France to foul with 40 seconds left down four.  He got the result he wanted as Brazil made one of two, after which France got a quick two to get within three points with 33 seconds remaining.  The French were then in perfect position to just play defense.  With a stop they could obtain possession with a chance to tie the game, which is the goal of any late-game strategy when trailing.

Instead, Collet ordered an immediate foul of Marcelinho Huertas, who drained both free throws to put Brazil up five.  He then compounded the error by using his last timeout—to call a play for a not very quick two in which point guard Thomas Heurtel (who was awful all game) threw up a very low percentage floater which missed.  Down five, that shot needed to be a three. Game over.

  • Boris Diaw was excellent for the French as their only effective playmaker and best scorer in this game.  But one hilarious moment came when his Spurs teammate Tiago Splitter guarded him in the post.  Splitter knows Diaw goes to his left shoulder every time and just wouldn’t let him get there, resulting in a very rarely seen right shoulder fadeaway from Diaw that clanked.
  • France really missed injured Nando De Colo in this one, not to mention Tony Parker.  Point guards Heurtel and Antoine Diot managed one assist between the two of them all game and Brazil shut down seemingly every pick and roll.  Before a late flurry when the ball was in their hands to just chuck up shots during the comeback, they scored little as well.  Meanwhile, Nicolas Batum, with a great size advantage over the Brazilian wings, took only 10 shots.  Even more unaccountably, Evan Fournier only played eight minutes and took one shot.  He has not played well during the exhibitions, but with the French so clearly hurting for playmaking and shooting he could have gotten more of a look.
  • The French defense was solid though, as Rudy Gobert showed off his ability to move his feet against the pick and roll and protect the rim.  The problem with Gobert though is he still kills the offense due to the lack of spacing, which is why he ultimately sat down the stretch.
  • Brazil coach Ruben Magnano also had a few odd strategic decisions.  Brazil was absolutely shutting down the French pick and roll game with normal coverage, so Magnano decided to change up to a switching defense in the fourth quarter.  It wasn’t totally ineffective, but it at least gave the French a chance to get something going with Diaw postups on guards after the switch.  It did not make much sense.

Slovenia 90-80 Australia

Don’t let the generally slower pace of international ball fool you; this was a high-scoring game.  Slovenia managed 90 points on 74 possessions* (122 points/100), while Australia managed 80 on 73 (110 points/100).  Goran Dragic led the Slovenians with 21 points on only 13 shooting possessions and added four assists.  He and the other Slovenian guards drove to the basket with near impunity, as the Australian help defense was ineffectual.  Slovenia is really a tough guard, as seven players hit three-pointers.**  Aron Baynes led the Australians with 21 points on 15 shooting possessions.

* The US usually plays its games with about 85 possessions, which is usually 10 or so faster than games between other international squads.

**This is why holding Slovenia to only 83.5 points/100 was such an accomplishment for the US.

Australia gave most of the minutes at the four to David Andersen, but he may not be the best fit for what this team needs. He was never an athlete at the best of times, and now at age 34 his help defense is nonexistent.  The Australian scheme also called for quite a few switches on pick and rolls if the ball defender is beaten, after which Andersen proved rather helpless matched up against guards.  Andersen’s main advantage is his shooting, but the Boomers’ system does not seem set up to take advantage of that ability. He spent little time spotting up on the perimeter or running pick and pops from the top.  The majority of his work was performed via side pick and rolls and handoffs which had him rolling to the baseline or posting up afterward.  Neither helped much with floor spacing.  Andersen is a capable if plodding post player, but that is likely not the most efficient option. Andersen had 14 points, but was only 4-11 from the field and took only one three.  He was a team-worst -13, a performance he earned with his defense as Slovenia paraded to the basket with little resistance.

Instead of giving Andersen so many minutes, the Boomers would be better suited to go with more mobility at the four.  Brock Motum played well in his 18 minutes, providing greater activity defensively.  But the Australians should give more of a look to playing Brad Newley and Joe Ingles together at the forward spots.  This was not tried at all, as the Boomers had two traditional big men on the floor at all times.

Going small would facilitate more switching defensively and faster help defense.  Ingles can space the floor with his shooting at the four, while he won’t be any worse defending the rim or defensive rebounding than Andersen.  Unless the opponent features a solid postup four who could punish Ingles on the block (and few do on this side of the bracket) a small lineup should provide better defense and more versatility than playing Andersen at the four.  This alignment would also clear more playing time for ace shooter and former Valparaiso star Ryan Broekhoff.  He is really the only truly dangerous long-range threat on the squad.  This lineup would also give Aron Baynes (a postup monster in this game) more room to work on the block or in pick and roll.

  • Dante Exum did little today, going 0-2 with a turnover and tallying a -9 in only 11 minutes. However, he did not play poorly.  He did not have any huge defensive lapses, had a couple of nice passes and generally did not mess up.  It seems that the edict from the coaches is to take it easy and move the ball, as he eschewed several chances to attack.  But it was not at all a bad performance from him.  The only thing he could stand to work on from this game is throwing passes a little more crisply; that ability should come as he adds core strength.
  • Australians should not necessarily fret about this loss, as winning Group D may always have been a tall order. Instead, they should angle for third place.  First and third place in the group would keep them from the US (the likely winner of Group C) until the semifinal.  If the Boomers can win the rest of their games aside from against Lithuania, that result is likely.  With the Americans’ presence looming, we may see quite a bit of gamesmanship as the group stage winds down. Similar jockeying is likely to occur in Group B to avoid playing Spain, the likely winner of Group A.  First and third place are the prized positions to avoid the top seed in the other group until the semifinals.  Meanwhile, the race will be on for 2nd and 4th places in Groups A and C, which would similarly allow teams in those groups to avoid Spain and the US until the semis.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.


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NBA Daily: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors

The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.

Moke Hamilton



The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.

Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.

Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.

Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.

Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.

Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.

Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.

The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.

There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.

At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.

We may be seeing that now.

En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have.  In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.

As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.

Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.

We’ll find out in short order.

* * * * * *

As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.

Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.

On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.

A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?

With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.

If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.

Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.

While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.

For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.

Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.

Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.

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NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode

With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.

Dennis Chambers



After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.

Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.

First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.

Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.

In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having  Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.

Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?

Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.

The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.

Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.

“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”

That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.

Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.

After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.

At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.

The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.

In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.

An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.

It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.

Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.

Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.

Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.

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Fixing The Detroit Pistons

David Yapkowitz looks at how the fading Pistons can turn things around moving forward.

David Yapkowitz



We wrap this week up with another installment of our “Fixing” series here at Basketball Insiders. The next team up is the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons came into this season with playoff aspirations after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them regress instead of building on their playoff appearance the season before. To begin the season, they looked like they were on their way to accomplishing that objective. Then Reggie Jackson got hurt and the season began spiraling out of control.

They tried to inject some life into the team by trading for Blake Griffin, but it hasn’t worked out as expected. The Pistons have gone 8-12 since acquiring Griffin and the postseason looks like a pipe dream at this point.

What Is Working

Not a whole lot. Despite trading for a superstar player, the Pistons have tumbled down to the point where playoffs are looking extremely unlikely.

If there’s one thing that’s a welcome sight, it’s the bounce back of Andre Drummond. After being named to his first All-Star team in 2015-16, Drummond had a bit of a let down the following season. This season, he was once again an All-Star while putting up career-highs in rebounds (15.7) and assists (3.2). Drummond is still only 24 years old and has his best basketball years ahead of him.

The Pistons have also received encouraging signs from rookie Luke Kennard. A lottery pick in last summer’s draft, Kennard he’s been one of the few bright spots at times for the Pistons. About a week ago, his playing time had diminished some and he racked up a few DNP’s, but Stan Van Gundy has since reinserted him into the rotation.

They’ve also gotten solid production out of Reggie Bullock. When Bullock came over to the Pistons in a trade with the Phoenix Suns almost three years ago, he was little more than a seldom-used wing with the potential to become a solid 3&D guy. This has been his year, however. He’s the best shooter on the team at 43.5 percent from the three-point line. His numbers, 10.8 points per game and 49.1 percent shooting from the field, are career-highs.

What Needs To Change

Quite a bit. Acquiring Griffin was a move the Pistons needed to make. On the verge of losing control of the season, they needed to make a move to try and turn things around. It’s been a disaster thus far, however. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and although they’re in ninth place, they’re falling farther and farther away from eighth.

Who the Pistons are really missing is Reggie Jackson. Ish Smith, who has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an NBA player, just isn’t Jackson. They desperately need Jackson’s playmaking abilities to help take the pressure off everyone else. Even if he returns this season, it’s already too late. The Pistons need to focus on getting him healthy and ready for next season.

The Pistons also need to improve their offense. They’re in the bottom half of the league in both points per game (25th) and offensive rating (24th). A big part of that is Jackson’s absence, but they could also benefit from additional outside shooting. Right now they have one long-range threat on the roster and that’s Bullock.

Focus Area: The Draft

To make matters worse, the Pistons will likely give up their draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Griffin trade. The only way the Clippers wouldn’t acquire the Pistons’ pick this year is if it falls in the top four, and that’s not going to happen.

The Pistons will have a second-round pick though. The draft is never 100 percent guaranteed, and the second round is even more of a crapshoot, but talented players can definitely be found. That’s what the Pistons’ main objective in the draft should be. It sounds silly, but they truly need to buckle down and do their homework in hopes of finding that one overlooked guy in the second round. That’s pretty much all they have to look forward to come draft night.

Focus Area: Free Agency

The Pistons are going to have a couple of minor decisions to make this summer regarding their free agents. Jameer Nelson, James Ennis, and Anthony Tolliver are all unrestricted free agents. Out of the three, Ennis has given the team the best on-court production, but it isn’t necessary that any of them are brought back.

Bullock and Dwight Buycks have non-guaranteed contracts, and those are the two guys that the Pistons should work towards bringing back in the fold. Both should have their contracts guaranteed for the following season. Bullock is their only three-point threat. Buycks began the season as a two-way contract player splitting time between the Pistons and the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League. He’s since been converted to a standard NBA contract and has done enough to earn his spot on the team next year.

In terms of adding new players to the roster, as mentioned before, the Pistons need outside shooting. Marco Belinelli and Wayne Ellington are possible options that the Pistons might be able to afford. Joe Harris is another option, but it will be interesting to see what the market is for him after the strong season he’s been having in Brooklyn.

It’s tough to gauge the Pistons’ true potential without Jackson. If he returns before the season ends, it will be too small a sample size to accurately assess the team. There are only 14 games left. Although things look pretty bleak right now, it can’t be argued that injuries haven’t played a big role in the Pistons disappointing season.

The team deserves a shot at seeing how a healthy Jackson, Griffin, and Drummond trio looks on the court together. If they start off next season the same way despite all three being healthy and in the lineup, then it would be time for serious changes.

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