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Team USA Wins Gold At Maccabiah Games

Jake Rauchbach highlights key contributors to Team USA’s Gold Medal run at the 2019 Maccabiah Games in Budapest, Hungary. 

Jake Rauchbach

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Every four years, approximately 3,000 Jewish athletes from 40 different nations competing in a total of 19 disciplines partake in the European Maccabiah Games for a chance to win a Gold Medal.

This year, the games took place in Budapest, Hungary. Just like the Olympic games, each country fields a team to bring home medals for their respective countries, while maintaining a larger goal of strengthening Jewish relations with foreign countries.

Since its inception in 1932, athletes such as Dolph Schayes have competed in Maccabiah, and throughout the Games’ storied history, basketball has gradually grown into the Games’ most visible sport. With past participants such as David Blatt, Larry Brown, Ernie Grunfeld, Nat Holman and Bruce Pearl, the Maccabiah Games have served as a world stage for the best of the best when it comes to Jewish sportsmen and sportswomen.

This year’s Maccabiah Team USA was comprised of eleven players: Spencer Freedman (Harvard), Grant Greenberg (St. Mary’s), Austin Lavitt (Connecticut College), Sam Iorio (South Alabama), Eli Abaev (Austin Peay), Daniel Schreier (Manhattan), Gabe Ravetz (Wesleyan Ohio), Julian Marx (Grinnell College), Jeremy Horn (Claremont McKenna), Robbie Feinberg (Harvard) and Michael Feinberg (Yale).

After a four-day training camp in Long Island, New York, Team USA headed off to Budapest, where the team needed to perform well during the pool play stage to earn the right to compete for the Gold during the medal round.

Early on in pool play, Eli Abaev established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the post, Spencer Freedman’s consummate leadership and command of the offense shined through and Sam Iorio and Grant Greenberg’s multi-faceted scoring ability helped to carry Team USA. Jeremy Horn also emerged as a key low-post contributor during the first two rounds of play.

After dispatching host country Hungary, Team USA faced off against a big and experienced Russia squad in Game No. 2 of pool play. Russia, the defending European Maccabiah Games champion from four years ago, came poised to repeat.

With size across the front line, Avi Abrili (6-foot-9), Roman Murzin (6-foot-8), Igor Shatasvidi (6-foot-6), and a potent and savvy backcourt in 6-foot-7 scoring wing Igor Lavrijenko, and point guard Andrei Shtarev, Russia presented one of the biggest obstacles to the less experienced USA squad.

Combined with a great start to the game and key contributions from the scoring duo of Abaev (17 points/16 rebounds) and Greenberg (21 points on 8-15 shooting), USA was able to pull away early and earn a key pool play win over Russia, 77-64.

Abaev, a rising junior at Austin Peay, emerged as an elite-level rebounder and low-post scoring threat, averaging 17 points and 15 rebounds per game throughout the tournament. Don’t be surprised if Abaev’s high-energy play and relentless pursuit of the ball make him an impact player in the Ohio Valley Conference this upcoming season.

Greenberg’s steady play throughout the tournament has garnered him interest from professional teams in Israel. The team relied on his leadership and scoring ability heavily. Greenberg’s experience winning Gold in the 2017 Israeli Maccabiah Games played a big part in the team’s success.

“I think my experience two years ago really gave me the fire to lead this team and help bring back a gold medal,” Greenberg said.

Led by the sharpshooting of Iorio, Marx, and Ravetz, Team USA then dispatched Germany and Israel. Iorio posted 18 points versus Israel, Marx registered 16 points on 4-of-5 three-point shooting versus Germany and Ravetz got himself into a rhythm, knocking down 3-of-7 threes en route to 14 points versus Germany.

Up next was the rematch of the 2017 World Maccabiah Gold Medal game with Maccabi France. In the 2017 game in Jerusalem, there were no less than 15 future professional players that competed. The game was hard-fought and came down to the wire.

This year’s French team was again loaded, made up of six professional players and led by professional coach Pierre Haddad. France’s athleticism, elite passing and international experience far exceeded that of Team USA.

This being said, USA came ready.

Rising sophomores Spencer Freedman, Daniel Schreier and Michael Feinberg led the way in the game. Freedman – Harvard’s point guard of the future – ran the offense seamlessly, registering 16 points and six steals. Knocking down five three-point shots, many wondered if Freedman was even aware of the three-point line, as many, if not all, of his long-range makes were well beyond the NBA line.

Battling through hypersomnia during training camp and on the flight over, Schreier broke out of in a big-time way, making the most of his opportunity and insertion into the starting lineup. His toughness and never-back-down attitude proved vital in sparking the Team USA’s defensive efforts. Feinberg, the younger of the two brothers, added 10 points and several key individual defensive stops during the game. Look for Schreier and Feinberg to step into bigger rotational roles at Manhattan College and Yale this season.

Another key contributor was Claremont McKenna’s Jeremy Horn. The rising senior big man posted 8 points and 10 rebounds off of the bench and was the consummate teammate all tournament long.

With the team locked-in for 40-minutes, Team USA rolled France 88-38, likely playing its best game of the tournament.

“This was a test of our maturity and unselfishness,” said Robbie Feinberg, the team’s captain. “We wanted to throw the first punch right away.”

With the win, it set up a rematch with Russia for the Gold Medal. Going into the game, USA knew it was going to be a battle. Connecticut College’s Austin Lavitt, who due to injury assumed a coaching staff role during the games, provided key counterpart analysis throughout the tournament.

“We knew it would be difficult to face a team full of professionals a second time around, but if there was any team capable to do it, it was us,” said Lavitt.

Going into the championship game, USA Assistant Coach Jeff Wulbrun’s scouting prioritized rebounding and adherence to personnel matchups, with Russia’s best player Igor Lavrijenko garnering much of the attention. This proved spot-on.

After USA led for most of the game, Russia crept back into it with frontline rebounding and Lavrijenko’s perimeter shooting. Lavrijenko, who torched Team USA for 23 points and 10 rebounds in the first matchup, came alive in the second half, knocking down clutch shot after clutch shot. His three-point make from the top of the key with 3:30 to go in the fourth quarter, gave Russia a three-point lead, and their first since the 9-minute mark of the first.

Enter Gabe Ravetz, one of the biggest storylines of the entire tournament. Ravetz, whose minutes fluctuated from game-to-game, never lost focus or confidence in himself. To his credit, Ravetz came through clutch.

“I was just waiting to get in the game I was ready to go out and make a play,” said Ravetz. “I was operating below the magma.”

With Russia making its push and USA’s offense stalled, Ravetz proceeded to nail three contested three-point shots in a row, scoring 12 points in the last three minutes of the game. The scoring outburst turned the tide for the USA, with the squad never looking back, capturing the Open Gold Medal for the second consecutive time in as many games.

“It was probably the greatest honor of my life to be a part of this team, not only were we playing to represent our country, but our religion and our culture,” said Marx.

With the chutzpah and passion displayed throughout the 2019 Maccabiah, and considering the history and over-aching mission of the Games, it was no surprise that Maccabi Team USA was playing for much more than just bringing home the Gold.

Jake Rauchbach is an Integrated Player Development Coach, specializing in High-Performance Mindfulness. He has coached professional and Division-1 basketball. He is the founder of The MindRight Pro® Program and consults on the Olympic, collegiate and professional levels. Follow him on Instagram @mindright_pro and twitter @mindrightpro

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NBA Daily: 6 G League Players Deserving of NBA Call-Ups

With teams around the league signing players to 10-day contracts, Tristan Tucker takes a look at some of the G League players most deserving of a call-up.

Tristan Tucker

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With most teams in the NBA G-League bubble having around 10 games under their belts, fans are getting a clearer look at which teams have a legitimate shot at winning the G-League championship and which players are stepping up. Recently, the NBA saw a flurry of action after teams became eligible to sign players to 10-day contracts, with G-League players like Justin Patton, Brodric Thomas, Tyler Cook and Donta Hall getting new opportunities.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the top performers from the G-League that deserve NBA call-ups sooner rather than later.

Henry Ellenson, Raptors 805

Ellenson, drafted 18th overall by the Detroit Pistons in 2016, is one of the feature pieces on a 7-3 Raptors 905 team that has very real title aspirations. In just over 30 minutes a night, Ellenson is averaging 19.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. One of the things that makes Ellenson so enticing as a prospect is the fact that, at 6-foot-10, he isn’t scared to unload the clip from downtown.

This season, the big man out of Marquette is shooting 37.5 percent from deep on eight attempts per night. For reference, one of the best shooters in the NBA in Duncan Robinson shoots at a 39.8 percent clip on nearly the same amount of attempts. For any team looking for immediate bench reinforcements with a refined offensive game, Ellenson is a great place to start.

Tyrone Wallace, Agua Caliente Clippers

Tyrone Wallace gets buckets. Wallace originally joined the Los Angeles Clippers on a two-way contract in the 2017-18 season, then a scrappy team that saw major contributions from Wallace and fellow two-way guard C.J. Williams en route to a 42-40 record. After averaging 9.7 points per game as an undrafted two-way contract rookie, Wallace was curiously left out to dry, bouncing around the NBA landscape before coming back to the Clippers’ G League affiliate.

This season, Wallace is averaging 18.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game and, while his three-point shooting could use some refinement, Wallace is bound to earn another call-up sooner or later.

Jordan Bell, Erie Bayhawks

Bell was a draft favorite for many after being acquired in the 2017 NBA Draft in the second round by the Golden State Warriors. Bell joined the Warriors as the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and it seemed as if he and Draymond Green were a frontcourt match made in heaven.

Ultimately, Bell’s stint with the Warriors and subsequent trip around the NBA didn’t work out, but the forward out of Oregon is proving that he deserves another shot. Look no further than the hilariously efficient rate at which he’s hit shots, 80.6 percent on just under 10 attempts, for proof of that.

Picking up his offensive game was always going to be integral for Bell to be a complete NBA player, something he’s done very well as of late while averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. However, it’s still impressive to note that Bell is hitting such a high rate of shots and is averaging 2 blocks per game at just 6-foot-8 it isn’t like he’s reaching over everyone in the paint to hit these shots.

Myles Powell, Westchester Knicks

After entering the draft out of Seton Hall, Powell was a fan favorite for his scoring antics and many New York Knicks fans wanted to see Powell get a roster spot after he signed as an undrafted free agent. That ultimately didn’t happen, but Powell is tearing it up for Westchester.

One of the things that scared general managers from taking Powell was his efficiency and consistency, both of which he has improved in the G League. Powell scored 21 points per game as a senior in college but shot 39.8 percent from the floor and 30.6 from three on well over nine attempts per game. Adversely, Powell is averaging 17.1 points a night on a 43.2/46.4/82.4 shooting split in the G-League. After seeing such a vast improvement in such little time, it would only make sense for an NBA team to take a shot on Powell, he seems to have good intangibles and is clearly committed to improving himself.

Alize Johnson, Raptors 905

Basketball Insiders took a look at Johnson earlier this season — and he’s meeting expectations while being a key part of a winning 905 team. Johnson is averaging a very impressive 13.3 points and 12.8 rebounds while dishing out 3.6 assists per game. Recently, Johnson scored 22 points with 20 rebounds and 7 assists. He followed that up with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists

There’s no reason for Johnson not to get another NBA chance this season.

Justin Wright-Foreman, Erie Bayhawks

Wright-Foreman was drafted in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, joining the team on a two-way contract. While the Jazz let him go, it’s easy to see that the 6-foot guard still has a future in the NBA after his showings in the G League bubble. Wright-Foreman had a legendary college career at Hofstra, breaking the school’s record for points in a game with 48 and scoring 27.1 points per game as a senior.

While Wright-Foreman’s box score production is somewhat hampered by the sheer amount of talent on the Bayhawks, his impact is still clear to see. The guard is averaging 11.6 points per game while shooting 40.4 percent from deep on over five attempts per game. If Wright-Foreman can improve his stamina he averages 14.5 points with one day of rest as opposed to 5.7 points on the second night of back-to-backs — he’ll have a bright future in the league.

It’s easy to be impressed with the sheer production fans see from players in the G-League on a daily basis and so many more players deserve opportunities than one article can name. One thing is certain though, NBA teams are re-tooling their rosters which will be sure to lead the way to more young players getting chances. Be sure to stay tuned to Basketball Insiders to keep up with all the latest news and rumors.

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NBA PM: What Brooklyn Needs At The Deadline

The Brooklyn Nets are rightfully among the favorites to win the NBA championship. Garrett Brooks takes a look at what the Nets need at the deadline to give themselves the best chance to win it all.

Garrett Brooks

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As they’ve acclimated to one another, the Brooklyn Nets are finding their groove on both ends of the floor recently. While that’s bad news for the rest of the NBA, there are still things the Nets need to address before making their eventual playoff run.

Winning regular-season games is one thing, winning playoff series is a whole different animal. We know the Nets have offensive firepower like few teams in the history of the NBA. Their big three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving can carry them to regular-season success.

If they want to maximize their chances to win a title, though, they have more moves to make to fill out the roster.

Another Frontcourt Option

The Nets have to be pleased with what they’re getting from Jeff Green in small ball lineups at the five, as well as the recent emergence of Bruce Brown too. That’s going to be a trend for this team moving forward, as it should be.

Still, there’s a lack of depth on the roster in terms of capable defensive big men that needs to be addressed before an eventual run at an NBA Championship. This is especially true because of the teams they could face on their way to a title, such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Lakers. Simply put, beating those teams four out of seven games with a big man rotation consisting of DeAndre Jordan and Jeff Green is just highly unlikely.

Green is a great weapon to use at the five but is far too undersized to be counted on in any given playoff series. He’ll get picked on by opposing bigs with offensive skillsets if he’s asked to play all the minutes that Jordan isn’t on the floor. While Brown has been great in his own right, asking him to defend Nikola Jokic, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol and beyond is just too big an ask.

Jordan is not the player he once was but is still a difference-maker in the right situation. Additionally, it would be ideal to add another big that has a different skill set than Jordan in order to increase the options head coach Steve Nash has with his lineups.

With a rim runner in Jordan and small ball fives in Green and Brown, the Nets need to target a versatile big man to add to the mix. Floor spacing would be ideal but isn’t necessary if they bring in someone that can make a big enough impact on the defensive end.

The ideal target will bring two key attributes to the team: The first is rim protection when called upon. The Nets don’t have a long list of strong perimeter defenders, so extra help at the rim would be much-needed. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a shot-blocker as it can also be a smart defender that mainly relies on successfully contesting shots under the rim.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the center they target needs to be capable of switching on the defensive end. One way the Nets like to cover themselves defensively is by going switch-heavy for stretches. This allows them to play the passing lanes aggressively and often forces the opponent out of their offensive rhythm. The more capable their big men are when it comes to switching, the better this strategy will work.

Kevin Durant’s versatility on the defensive end allows the Nets to search for somebody that excels in defending multiple positions even if they may not be great as the last line of defense. Durant is a strong help defender and has the length to make things difficult at the rim. This ability is proven by the 1.8 blocks he averaged during the 2017-18 season with the Golden State Warriors.

Durant can be the help side defender when asked, but how often can he be asked to bang in the post defensively? The answer is not often.

It’s important that any addition to the frontcourt can hold their own in the post against players such as Joel Embiid or Bam Adebayo. But the harsh reality is that the Nets likely won’t have the luxury to be picky with the type of big man they add. It’ll be hard to find a player that can defend most bigs and switch on most positions throughout a game.

Given their lack of assets remaining, the Nets will need to target what they can afford on the market.

Names to keep an eye on: Thaddeus Young, Chicago Bulls; JaVale McGee, Cleveland Cavaliers; P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets.

Depth At The Point Guard Position

With James Harden leading the way as the point guard and Kyrie Irving very capable of handling the offensive load as well, this is an easy need to overlook. Unfortunately, the Nets can’t afford to do that as the trade deadline approaches. If they can’t acquire a traditional point guard for depth, they’ll need to address it on the buyout market.

After Harden, Irving and Durant, the Nets’ core rotation does very little in terms of playmaking. In fact, DeAndre Jordan ranks next among players in the rotation for assists per game. The big three can certainly carry the load when it comes to getting players involved, but the Nets could use another veteran that’ll get their offense good looks.

Most notably, this type of move would aid them in finishing the regular season without riding their stars too hard – which they’ve already done. That versatility would be a great asset to Nash and his coaching staff in both the regular season and playoffs.

That’s without mentioning the always-existent possibility of injury or potentially-required quarantine. It’s always best to have depth and options, and that’s truer than ever in the current NBA landscape. The ideal addition would be a natural distributor capable of knocking down an open shot and holding his own on the defensive end of the floor.

That may seem like a tough sell, but it’s certainly a skill set that will be available for the right price. The Nets would do well in targeting a player that is underperforming due to circumstance. It’s fair to assume a lot of players would benefit from playing in the kind of environment the Nets are currently constructing.

Names to keep an eye on: Austin Rivers, New York Knicks; Quinn Cook, Free Agent; George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Nets can address these two needs they’ll be as well-rounded as any team. The added versatility and flexibility would make them that much stronger come the playoffs. While they’re finding some excellent, wonderful regular season successes, the postseason is a different beast – and the Nets, plus a rookie head coach, will need to learn how to adapt on-the-fly.

General manager Sean Marks is never truly done molding his rosters – and Spencer Dinwiddie may even be available, according to Ian Begley of SNY – so what the Nets run with today certainly isn’t final.

We know what the big three are capable of – now it’s time for the roster to be rounded out for their best chance to succeed.

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Bruce Brown Thriving As Nets’ Small Ball Center

Brooklyn has thrived with Bruce Brown playing minutes as a small ball center – and what started out as an experiment may just change the Nets’ championship aspirations for the better.

Ariel Pacheco

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The Brooklyn Nets’ trade for James Harden has proven to be worth it so far. However, their depth and size were seriously hurt as a result of the deal – so the Nets have been forced to get creative with the limited options they have. 

Enter: Bruce Brown.

Standing at a meager 6-foot-4, Brown may be the Nets’ best option at center against certain matchups. DeAndre Jordan, the starting center now that Jarrett Allen is in Cleveland, has seen his defensive capabilities decline rather drastically since his time in Lob City. He is still an elite alley-oop threat but has some lapses with effort levels. Reggie Perry is a rookie who was the 57th overall pick isn’t ready for a heavy load of minutes just yet. Nic Claxton has shown promise but has played in just two games due to injury. 

In a win against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 13, Brown started at center with Jordan out to injury. He finished the game with 18 points and 7 rebounds. It wasn’t the first time this season Brown spent time at the center position, but it was reflective of his ever-changing role on this Nets team. 

Brown arrived this past offseason and came thought as more of a point guard. Now that the Nets have three of the best playmakers in the NBA, his role has shifted. He is practically never counted on to initiate the offense – instead, he has become the guy who does the dirty work. Think of him as the Nets’ version of Draymond Green. 

Now the small ball option at center, Brown’s strengths have been accentuated. Offensively, he has become a screen-setter and roll man, thus forming chemistry with James Harden, and has played his way into a crucial part of the rotation. Brown’s minutes at the beginning of the season were sporadic and included four DNP’s. Now he’s an invaluable piece to the Nets’ puzzle. 

When teams trap or double James Harden or Kyrie Irving, Brown is often the outlet. He catches the ball in the middle of the floor, turns and has options available to him. Able to attack the basket or make the right pass to an open guy, Brown’s decision-making has been a positive for Brooklyn. 

Defensively, Brown is one of the few Nets players who is a consistent positive on that end. He can guard multiple positions due to his strength and often defends the opposing team’s best players. While his height will never allow for him to be a full-time center, being an option for coach Steve Nash to plug in for small ball lineups is a game-changer. 

“Bruce is remarkable, I mean, I believe he mostly played point guard last year and he’s playing – what do you want to call him our center?” Said Steve Nash, per Newsday. “He’s picking and rolling and finishing with two bigs in the lane. His willingness and ability to do that is remarkable.”

Really, that’s what has been most impressive. Brown is playing a role he has never been asked to do in the NBA and thriving. He scored a career-high 29 points against the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 23. That night, he straight-up shared minutes with Jordan, which speaks to his versatility. Wherever the Nets have needed him this season, Brown has been willing and able. 

Brown’s counting stats won’t jump off a stat sheet. He’s averaging just 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting just 22.2 percent from the three-point line but he’s made a living around the basket. A look at his shot chart shows how little he operates from outside the restricted area – and due to the attention his superstar teammates garner, he usually gets open looks right near the rim.

 

He’s also often being guarded by opposing team’s big men. In a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, former defensive player of the year Marc Gasol guarded Brown to start the game. The role of the small ball center is not as rare as it used to be, but Bruce Brown may be the smallest guy in terms of height to fill the role. To wit, Draymond Green is 6-foot-6 and PJ Tucker is 6-foot-5. 

The Nets traded for Brown this past offseason in what looks to have been an absolute steal of a deal, giving up just Dzanan Musa and a second-round pick. Given that the inconsistent Musa is now playing overseas, it was a trade that is already providing dividends. 

But, at the end of the day, there are championship expectations in Brooklyn. While the Nets certainly have the star power to beat just about anybody, role-players who thrive in their role can often swing a game or a series come playoff time. So far, more so than nearly any other player outside of the big three, Brown’s ability to fit in wherever needed has changed the contender’s long-term outlook in a positive way.

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