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NBA AM: The Under-24 Olympic Team

Some believe Team USA should only have players age 24 or younger. Here’s how this year’s roster might look.

Joel Brigham



All the way back in 2012, before Paul George broke his leg in the most gruesome way possible during a Team USA exhibition, NBA owners had concerns about their best players putting themselves at risk for injury in international play. For those who don’t recall, the owners were in then-Commissioner David Stern’s ear so much that a movement started to gain some traction in which FIBA would only allow American players under the age of 24 years old into the Olympic Games. It gained so much traction, in fact, that FIBA actually had to put the kibosh on the idea publicly right in the middle of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

“The NBA has come up with the idea to go with under-24 and at the same time to promote younger athletes,” said FIBA chief Patrick Baumann back in 2012. “My feeling is that we will not be proposing a 23 age limit for the 2016 Olympic Games.”

That, of course, didn’t happen (literally every player on the current Team USA roster is over the age of 23 years old). But when George—who is on this current Olympic roster, by the way—broke his leg back in 2014 during a meaningless exhibition, owners’ mumbling about the issue grew even more sincere and severe.

Dallas’ Mark Cuban’s voice was, as usual, the loudest. He made a lot of great points about who profits from the Olympics and these superstar assets that technically “belong” to other organizations. Care to guess how much money Cuban makes when Dirk Nowitzki represents Germany for some international tournament or another? Zilch. So when a star like Nowitzki is at risk of a potentially career-ending injury (or even just a serious season-ending ailment, for that matter), it’s easy to understand why Cuban – or any other owner – would want to keep him safe and healthy rather than put more miles on his career odometer.

There hasn’t been much talk about a 23-and-under Team USA roster in a couple of years, but in an alternate universe where such a thing did actually come to fruition, what might that team look like? The following is an exercise in determining not only which young American NBA players would be good enough to make the Team USA roster, but which 12 of them would represent the best opportunity for the U.S. to remain the best international men’s basketball team in the world.

Spain and France and Lithuania aren’t putting age limits in place any time soon, so this is the roster that would have to stand up to that stiff competition despite their relative lack of strength and experience:

Guards: Bradley Beal, D’Angelo Russell, Devin Booker, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield

Forwards: Anthony Davis, Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ingram, Justise Winslow

Bigs: Andre Drummond, Karl-Anthony Towns, Myles Turner

Snubs: Kyle Anderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Stanley Johnson, Zach LaVine, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Jabari Parker, Otto Porter, Bobby Portis, Julius Randle, Josh Richardson, Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo.

There aren’t many “true” point guards who are both elite and of the appropriate age for this team, but Dunn probably would play that role about as well as any eligible player in the pool. Russell can bring the ball up the court, as well, and both he and Dunn represent pretty diverse backcourt scoring options. Beal and Booker can shoot it from all over the floor, as well, and Hield would be another three-point specialist for the team who, as the best player in college basketball last year, would be a fairly likely “college kid” to make the team, anyway.

The forwards are an incredibly varied group, with Gordon and Ingram representing athleticism and scoring ability and Winslow representing strength and defensive ability. Davis, of course, would be the team’s best player by a mile, as he does just about everything well except stay healthy. He’d be the cornerstone on which the entire team was built and would be just about the only unstoppable offensive player against the field’s best defenders.

As for the bigs, Drummond and Towns are the rest of the team’s star power, with Drummond anchoring the interior defense and Towns playing that pretty inside-out game that helped him win unanimously win the Rookie of the Year award. Turner wraps it up, though the team might not need his size with so many other talented bigs on the roster and could instead opt for another swingman or forward (or take a flyer on another young point guard) to fill the 12th spot.

Top-to-bottom, that’s still a team with enough to talent to handily dispose of most of the world’s top competition, but it’s also a team that might have struggled with a big, strong, experienced Spain team that has won the last two silver medals in men’s basketball. While Marc Gasol has had to sit out this year’s Olympics, the Spanish team still features Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Nikola Mirotic, Juan Carlos Navarro and several other players with years and years of tough international and NBA experience. France, which features the likes of Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert, would be no walk in the park for this under-24 team either.

Still, Team USA would have every opportunity to compete with the best teams in the world. But, then, what if Anthony Davis opted not to participate? Losing just him completely changes the outlook of the team to one that, with a few exceptions, essentially is made up of amateurs.

Thankfully we don’t yet have to realistically consider what an under-24 U.S. Olympic basketball team would look like or how they’d fare because the demands for such a thing have simmered down in the two years following George’s grisly injury. For now, the Olympics remain an opportunity to showcase the best athletes in a given sport rather than just the best up-and-coming ones.


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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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