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NBA Sunday: Current And Future NBA Players Shine At EuroBasket

Buddy Grizzard evaluates several current and future NBA players performing at EuroBasket 2017.

Buddy Grizzard

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EuroBasket 2017 is packed with past, present and future NBA talent, and that talent has been on full display as the tournament enters the knockout stage. Here we’ll check in on some of the top performers currently on NBA rosters, as well as a couple of the top players outside the NBA.

Goran Dragic

Dragic is fifth in scoring (21.2) and third in total points (127) at EuroBasket. However, he has shot just 46 percent overall (28th) and 31.8 percent from three (76th). His all-around contributions included 3.6 rebounds per game, ranking 17th among guards. His five assists per game are good for 14th and 1.8 steals tied for ninth. Dragic is the seventh most efficient player in the tournament according to FIBA’s overall efficiency stat.

Slovenia was fortunate to survive an off game from Dragic in the quarterfinals against Ukraine as he shot just 2-for-12 for five points with four rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes. Despite the struggles, Slovenia advances to the round of eight and Dragic will have a chance to close the tournament on a more positive note. Slovenia will face Kristaps Porzingis and Latvia in the round of eight on Tuesday.

Dennis Schroder

Dennis Schroder is EuroBasket 2017’s leader in points per game (23.2) and total points (139), but he hasn’t been supremely efficient. His 46.9 percent field goal shooting ranks well down the list at 25th, while his wayward three-pointer has connected only 33.3 percent of the time, ranking 68th. His 5.2 assists per game and 1.8 steals both tied for ninth, and he rated 13th per FIBA’s efficiency stat.

While Schroder has shown some of the same defensive lapses throughout the tournament that marred his 2016-17 NBA season, he clearly wanted it in yesterday’s round of 16 elimination game against France. Schroder dove on the floor for loose balls and consistently beat the French to 50-50 balls. Nobody could stay in front of him — not Evan Fournier and certainly not the unfortunate Boris Diaw, who got stuck defending him on several switches.

Schroder was able to find seams, pull multiple defenders into the paint and either finish through them or find teammates for dump-off passes. During one memorable sequence in the comeback win for Germany, Schroder got a steal and saved it to Robin Benzing. Schroder received a return pass and drew Diaw to the basket before setting up Daniel Theis to posterize him.

Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis is second in total points for the tournament (131) and third in points per game (21.8). He continues to show the range that makes his ceiling so high, hitting 44 percent on threes, which ranks 28th. However, you would have liked to see something greater than 5.7 rebounds per game. Porzingis does lead the tournament with two blocks per game, showing the rare combination of outside shooting and rim protection that makes him such a special player. FIBA rates Porzingis as the fourth most efficient player in the tournament.

Porzingis dropped 19 points, including two of three three-pointers and six rebounds to lead Latvia past Montenegro earlier today in the round of 16. That sets up Tuesday’s round of eight contest with Dragic and Slovenia.

Bojan Bogdanovic

Bojan Bogdanovic is seventh in field goal percentage (56.4) and three-point percentage (55.6) and is one of the tournament’s most efficient scorers. The Pacers’ free agent signing is fourth with 21.4 points per game and tied with Marco Belinelli for sixth with 107 total points. He’s also fifth among guards in rebounding at five per game. FIBA ranks Bogdanovice eighth in efficiency. However, at only one assist per game, Bojan ties for 152nd. Bogdanovic and Croatia tip off against Russia today in the round of 16.

Lauri Markkanen

There have been hugely encouraging signs for Bulls fans with supremely efficient scoring from rookie Lauri Markkanen. His 19.5 points per game are seventh in the tournament while he ranks 11th in field goal percentage. His 117 total points at EuroBasket ranked a hugely-impressive fourth following Finland’s elimination at the hands of Italy in the round of 16. At 53.3 percent field goal shooting, Markkanen is one of only four NBA players in the tournament’s top 12. He also shot 47.8 percent from three, ranking 17th. His 5.7 rebounds per game tied him for a respectable 22nd and he rated 14th in efficiency according to FIBA. Markkanen didn’t do anything at EuroBasket to quiet those who doubt his ability to defend at an NBA level, but his impressive showing is a great sign for Chicago.

Alexey Shved

One player we’ll mention that is not NBA-bound is Russian Alexey Shved, who departed CSKA Moscow for the Timberwolves in 2012, but was traded three times in three NBA seasons. Shved signed a three-year deal with Khimki Moscow in 2015 and is second in points per game for EuroBasket (23) and fifth in total points (115). He’s the only player among the tournament’s top eight scorers that is not currently under contract with an NBA team. However, his 43.4 percent field goal shooting hasn’t blown anyone away. On the plus side, he has hit 40.4 percent of his threes and ranked seventh with 5.6 assists per game. He also tied for eighth in efficiency. Shved faces Bojan Bogdanovic and Croatia today in the round of 16.

Marco Belinelli

The new Atlanta Hawk is ninth in scoring (17.8) and tied for sixth in total points (107). His 51.1 percent three-point shooting ranks 10th at EuroBasket and he joins Bojan Bogdanovic as the only other NBA player in the top 10. Unfortunately, his 43 percent overall field goal shooting ranks all the way down at 39th. His 2.8 rebounds per game were also decent for a guard, and his 2.2 steals per game ranked fourth. Belinelli led the way with 22 points, four rebounds, and two assists to move Italy past Markkanen and Finland in the round of 16. Italy will face Bogdan Bogdanovic and Serbia Wednesday in the round of eight.

Pau Gasol

Spain’s mainstay is 15th in scoring (16.8) and ninth in field goal percentage (53.7) for the tournament. He’s also hit threes at a 44.4 percent clip, good for 26th, while his 8.8 rebounds per game rank fourth. Gasol also ranked third in FIBA’s overall efficiency stat. Spain, the prohibitive favorites to win EuroBasket, tip off later today against Turkey in the round of 16.

Evan Fournier

Fournier is 17th in scoring (15.8) and tenth in total points (95) on 47.7 percent field goal shooting, which ranks 23rd. Fournier hit 37 percent of his threes, which was good for an unimpressive 52nd. He did contribute 1.5 steals per game, which tied for 16th. Fournier erupted for 27 points, including three of eight three-pointers against Germany, but it wasn’t enough to stop Schroder’s national team from coming back to advance to face the Spain-Turkey winner.

Mindaugas Kuzminskas

At 19th in scoring (15.3) and tied for 13th in total points (92), Kuzminskas also connected on 36.4 percent of his threes. The New York Knick led Lithuania in the round of 16 with 20 points, but it wasn’t enough as Greece eliminated them to advance to advance to face the Russia-Croatia winner.

Dario Saric

Croatia’s Dario Saric is 21st in scoring (15.2) and his field goal shooting (43.9 percent, 36th in the tournament) and three point shooting (31.3 percent, 78th) have not impressed. He ranked in the top 10 in rebounding, however (7.4, tied for ninth). His 1.2 blocks per game tie him for fifth, and he was tied for second in double-doubles with three. His all-around performance was good enough for 19th in efficiency per FIBA’s metric. Russia awaits later today in the round of 16.

Bogdan Bogdanovic

Bogdan has shot just 44.7 percent from the field, ranking a tepid 32nd. The recipient of the largest rookie contract in NBA history — thanks to countryman and Kings GM Vlade Divac — shot just 29.3 percent on three pointers, ranking 87th. His 3.6 rebounds per game ranked 16th among players listed as guards. The saving grace for his tournament is that his 5.2 assists per game tied for ninth and his 1.6 steals rated 13th. Somehow, despite his shooting struggles, FIBA ranks him in the top 10 in efficiency. Bogdanovic led the way with 17 points and six assists as Serbia dominated Hungary in the round of 16. Serbia advances to face Italy on Wednesday.

Cedi Osman

The Cavaliers’ new utility wing is 17th in total points with 88 and an impressive 11th in points per game (17.6). However, he’s shot just 40 percent, which ties him for 45th. He did show some range with 36.7 percent three-point shooting and contributed a respectable 5.2 rebounds, which ranked 30th. Also showing his all-around game, Osman ranked 28th with 1.8 assists per game and tied for fifth with two steals. FIBA ranked Osman 12th in efficiency. He’ll have his work cut out for him today as Turkey received an unfavorable draw and must face Spain to open the round of 16.

Luka Doncic

The projected high lottery pick in next summer’s draft has shot just 41.8 percent for the tournament, ranking 41st. Perhaps most impressively, Doncic has pulled down 7.5 rebounds per game, which ranks eighth among all players but first among players listed as guards by FIBA. He also rated 17th in efficiency. Overshadowed for much of the tournament by Dragic, Doncic showed up when Slovenia needed him. He had 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists as Dragic struggled from the field, helping Slovenia reach the round of eight.

Doncic is a multi-talented player who will be tracked by NBA draft prognosticators through next summer. With Slovenia still alive, along with most of the players on this list, EuroBasket 2017 continues to provide an early fix for NBA junkies yearning for training camp to start in a few short weeks. Dragic has been perhaps the tournament’s most outstanding player, but Schroder is nipping at his heels. If Spain gets past Turkey today, it will set Schroder up for his biggest test against a Spain roster packed with NBA talent.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, currently 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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