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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

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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: Shamet Comfortable With Steady Self Going Into Draft

With a natural feel for the game, Wichita State guard Landry Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.

Spencer Davies

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No matter what professional field a person wants to work in, there are multiple ways to show why they belong.

A positive attitude is everything, confidence goes a long way and honesty truly is the best policy.

Speaking with Wichita State product Landry Shamet this past week at the NBA Combine in Chicago, it’s clear that he has all three boxes checked off.

“It’s been great,” Shamet said of the event. “Just trying to absorb everything, soak everything up. It’s a big learning experience for sure. A lot of knowledge to be attained (at the Combine). With interviews and playing on the court, being coached by NBA guys, it’s been cool so far.”

During his three years with the Shockers, the 6-foot-4, 188-pound guard accomplished quite a few feats, but his junior season was arguably the most spectacular. Not only did Shamet lead his team in multiple ways, but he also topped out in four statistical categories in the American Athletic Conference—the school’s first year there after moving on from the Missouri Valley.

Shamet’s 166 assists (5.2 per game average) were the most in the AAC by far. In addition, his true shooting percentage (65.5) and three-point percentage (44.2) ranked number one among his peers.

From entering the program in 2015 to now, he feels that he’s grown dramatically as a player—but in what areas, specifically?

“I would say being a point guard honestly,” Shamet said. “I was recruited in as a two. But just kinda that leadership role, that accountability. Knowing that you’re gonna get a lot of scrutiny (after) a loss and you’re gonna be responsible for a win. Regardless of how the game goes, it’s your responsibility.”

Much of his development at Wichita State was courtesy of a hands-on approach with Gregg Marshall, one of the most revered head coaches in college basketball. Thanks to his guidance, Shamet feels ready, even aspects outside of his offensive ability.

“On the defensive end, I feel comfortable with my positioning,” Shamet said. “Obviously, need to get better. You can always get better on the defensive end. That’s one thing I’ve been focusing on. Trying to get more athletic. Just be better defensively. He gave me the groundwork for sure. 100 percent.”

Shamet has kept in touch with Marshall throughout the entire pre-draft process. He was told to be “smile and relax” in interviews and to be confident, which he’s certainly followed through with.

A similar message has come from Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, two former Shockers who have each made their mark at the professional level.

“Just be yourself, you know,” Shamet said of VanVleet’s pointers. “That’s really what it boils down to I think. He’s been great to have him in my corner—a guy like that who’s been through a lot of adversity on his way to the NBA, so I’m gonna listen to him 10 times out of 10.”

VanVleet’s career is already taking off with the Toronto Raptors as a part of their young and hungry bench. But with four more inches of height and a similar feel for the game, Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.

And it won’t require flash or making a daily highlight-reel to do so.

“I’d like to just say versatile,” Shamet said of his game. “Just try to stay solid. I don’t ever try to make spectacular plays all the time. Try to just do what I feel I can do—play multiple positions, both positions, on or off the ball. I’m comfortable at either spot, honestly. Whether it’s facilitating, scoring, whatever the case may be.

“I feel like I have a high IQ as well. Just a cerebral player. Not gonna ‘wow’ you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. But I feel like I’m a solid player. Pretty steady across the board.”

However, just because he rarely shows off on the court doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to do it.

“I feel like I’m a little more athletic than I might get credit for,” Shamet said. “I think I’m a better athlete than I get credit for.”

Shamet is projected to go anywhere from the middle-to-late first round of the draft in June. Whoever lands the Kansas City native will be getting a tireless worker who does things the right way and is all about the team.

But for now, he’s soaking in everything he possibly can before that night comes.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Shamet candidly said. “I’m a 21-year-old kid, man I guess. So just trying to learn as much as I can, gain some knowledge, get good feedback—because at the end of the day, I’m not a perfect player. I know that.”

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The Lakers Have Finally Stabilized

After a tough five-year period filled with loss and disappointment, the Lakers have finally put themselves back in a position to succeed.

Matt John

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On paper, missing the playoffs for the fifth year in a row would rarely be considered impressive, but for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that’s suffered pretty much nothing but misery over the last half-decade, this season was a sign of progress.

Leading up to this past season, the previous four years overall were anything but easy on the Lakers. Besides consistently being one of the worst teams in the league, some of the team’s high lottery picks, such as D’Angelo Russell, did not pan out as well as they had hoped, and management baffled the fanbase when they signed both Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to approximately $140 million combined over four years.

This season, things finally took a turn for the better. The team’s youngest players, particularly Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball, started to yield positive results. The team’s new acquisitions, specifically Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and briefly Isaiah Thomas, made a notable impact on the season. Second-year head coach Luke Walton proved himself to be up for the job with improved personnel at his arsenal. That may have led to only 35 wins, but compared to the previous four seasons’ final results, 35 wins is about as good as the Lakers could have hoped for.

And it should only get better from here. The biggest positive is that the team’s long-term outlook is now the brightest its been since Dwight Howard skipped town in 2013. Their impending return to the glory days is still up in the air, but the Lakers can finally look forward to a promising future for two reasons.

Cap Flexibility

When the Lakers replaced Mitch Kupchak with Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson to run the team, the two of them went to work right away. Pelinka and Johnson knew that if the Lakers were going to attain relevance again, they had to undo the franchise’s previous mistakes, even if it meant getting rid of some of their young talent.

It’s as the old saying goes, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”

Making said omelet started with getting rid of their albatross contracts. The Lakers found a taker for Mozgov when they traded him to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez’s expiring deal, but that deal also required trading Russell. Mid-season, the Lakers found a taker for Jordan Clarkson when they traded him to Cleveland, but that deal also required trading Larry Nance Jr.

Losing Russell and Nance Jr, and to some degree Clarkson, may have been tough cheese to swallow, but with Mozgov and Clarkson off the payroll, the Lakers have a ton of cap space at their disposal. In fact, this summer, the Lakers have only $34.5 million in guaranteed contracts, which will be the lowest payroll in entire NBA. This is a much bigger deal now that it’s been in the past for one simple reason: Hardly any teams will have cap room this summer.

The NBA salary cap’s drastic rise in 2016 caused many teams to overshoot their mark over the past two off-seasons. Because of that, quite a few teams will be paying the luxury tax while others will do everything in their power to avoid the luxury tax. This means that only a select few teams will have cap room to add a free agent on a max deal. The Lakers, on the other hand, have the cap room to add two.

Their situation only gets better given the competition in free agency. Most of the other teams that have cap room are in rebuilding mode, so the Lakers shouldn’t expect many competitors in their chase for marquee free agents ie LeBron James and Paul George this summer. The only other team that will be competing for their services with available cap space is Philadelphia, who only has $44 million on payroll this summer. Houston will also be in the race, but they will have to get creative if they hope to add a max free agent this summer plus keep Chris Paul AND Clint Capela.

Even if the Lakers whiff on LeBron and George, it isn’t the end of the world. They can afford to re-sign Thomas and/or Caldwell-Pope to one-year deals worth over $10 million because hardly anyone else can do the same. Even if absolutely nothing goes their way this summer, they’ll have flexibility again next season. While having cap space does not automatically mean free agents will come to the Lakers’ door next season, it’s better to have money available to offer than having to spend it on Clarkson and Mozgov.

Promising Youth Movement

Many knew the Lakers’ young core was nothing to sneeze at, but for the first time since they’ve started their rebuild in 2013, their youth movement’s talent finally translated into wins. They didn’t do it all on their own, but nothing makes a team’s future brighter than their young players starting to reach their potential.

That starts with Brandon Ingram. Ingram was the textbook example of raw his rookie season, but his sophomore year, he started living up to his billing as the second overall pick in his draft. Across the board, he improved his numbers, but his shining moment came when the Lakers turned to him to run the point with Lonzo Ball out in late-January. During that stretch, the Duke alum averaged 18.4 points on 52 percent shooting including 46 percent from three, 5.4 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. Ingram struggled mightily with injuries after that, but his vast improvement should be very beneficial in the long run.

Then there was the biggest surprise of the season: Kyle Kuzma. When the deal was first agreed to, Kuzma was originally a throw-in when the Lakers traded Mozgov and Russell for Lopez, but knowing Brooklyn’s luck, Kuzma may wind up being the best player in this deal. Kuzma wowed the fans at the Staples Center, as he averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. Since Kuzma is only 22 years old, there’s no telling what his ceiling might be.

Then there’s the first lottery pick the Lakers drafted in their rebuild: Julius Randle. Randle got himself in the best shape of his life in preparation for this season, and it paid off on the court. Randle averaged career-highs in both point average (16.1) and field goal percentage (58 percent), but his best stretch came in February through March. In that time, Randle averaged 21.2 points on 57.6 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Randle is a restricted free agent this year, but with the lack of available money this summer, his best option may be to stay in LA.

Finally, the biggest wild card of the Lakers’ young talent: Lonzo Ball. Ball was both injury-riddled and inconsistent his rookie year, but he showed flashes every now and again of the player his humble father said he would be. While he had his issues putting the ball in the bucket, Ball’s much-hyped passing translated in the NBA, averaging 7.2 assists a game, and his rebounding was terrific given his size, as he averaged 6.9 rebounds a game. The jury is still out on Ball, but he should be given a full season before anyone comes to judgment.

In short, the Lakers’ cap flexibility and promising youth movement give them stability that not many believed they would have had at the end of last season. Inadequacy and incompetence have plagued the Lakeshow for the past several years, but now that they’ve brought the right people aboard, they are now pointed in the right direction.

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NBA Daily: Meet Chimezie Metu, A Versatile Big Man

Chimezie Metu could end up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when it comes to the NBA draft, there always seems to a few players flying under the radar a bit. Players who are underrated or overlooked for whatever reason. This year, one of those players is Chimezie Metu from the University of Southern California.

In early mock drafts, Metu was projected to go anywhere from mid to late first-round. In some of the more recent mocks, he’s fallen out of the first-round altogether and into the second-round. If those projections hold and he does end up being selected in the second-round, then some team is going to get a huge steal.

Metu is a versatile big man who impacts both ends of the floor. He is an agile shot blocker who can control the paint defensively, and on the other end, he can score in the post while being able to step out and knock down mid-range jump shots. He is confident in what he’ll be able to bring to an NBA team.

“I think being versatile and being able to make an impact on defense right away,” Metu told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine this past week. “Being able to switch on to smaller players or guard the post, and just being able to knock down shots or make plays when I’m called upon.”

In his three years at USC, Metu blossomed into one of the best players in the Pac-12 conference. This past season, he led a solid Trojans team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.4 per game and had a team-high 59 blocked shots.

He’s taken note of some of the best big men in the NBA, some of whom he’s tried to model his game after. He told reporters at the combine that some of his biggest influences are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. He knows that there may be misconceptions about his game, or those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about that at all.

“I don’t really worry about what other people are saying about myself. I just go out there and play hard, and try to help my team win games,” Metu said. “My strength is being versatile, being able to impact the game in multiple ways. Not being one dimensional and being able to have fingerprints on different parts of the game.”

It’s been busy past few days for Metu. He’s had 13 interviews with NBA teams to go along with workouts, medical testing and media availability. Although it’s been a hectic time, part of what has made it so worthwhile is all of the NBA personnel he’s been able to interact with. What really has stood out to him being at the combine is the difference between college and the NBA.

“I can just go up to the owners and the GMs and just talk to them,” Metu said. “Coming from college you basically have to act like they’re not there, cause of the rules and stuff. Just the fact that they can come up and talk to you, you can talk to them, that’s probably the most surprising part for me.”

Aside from all the front office personnel he’s interacted with, Metu has also had the opportunity to meet with some of the most respected names in NBA history. Among the former players who he’s had a chance to meet with, Magic Johnson and Bob McAdoo have definitely stood out to him.

While he’s grateful just to have been able to meet NBA royalty, he’s used it as an opportunity to pick their brains. He’s also been able to showcase his game in front of them. He is confident that he’s been able to impress them and hopefully make an impact on their decisions come draft night.

“Just coming out here and having fun, there’s a lot of basketball royalty,” Metu said. “Being able to get a chance to shake their hands, being able to take stuff from them and what helped them become great. I’m just trying to take their advice. It feels great because never in a million years did I think I’d be here. It’s fun just going out there and showing what I can do.”

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