- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie8 hrs ago
When the FIBA World Cup of Basketball tips off tomorrow, the Philippines will feature one of the most unexpected participants in the whole tournament — Andray Blatche, current NBA free agent and erstwhile host of Lapdance Tuesdays. Although Blatche is fairly reformed from his worst days with the Washington Wizards, he is still not considered to be the picture of dependability and commitment. Yet the oddity goes much deeper, because the Philippines is a country with a basketball obsession that belies its relatively minor impact on the international game. How, exactly, would a player like Blatche fit in with this culture?
Not surprisingly, the answer is that it's taking some time. In a new feature for Grantland, Rafe Bartholomew details Blatche's adjustment to his new team. Yet it's his teammates' own adjustment to playing with Blatche that could be the most interesting issue at play:
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie13 hrs ago
This week, the best basketball nations in the world are heading to Spain for the FIBA World Cup of Basketball. The tournament — known until recently as the world championships — lacks the overwhelming attention of the Olympics in the United States, but for many other countries it is considered to be nearly as prestigious. As usual, Team USA enters the competition as the favorite, although that position is as precarious as it has been for some time, with Spain serving as the strongest competition. Even if the general hierarchy of teams hasn't changed, there is no question that they appear less dominant than we're accustomed to.
The tournament tips off on Saturday, with Team USA set to take on Finland at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Here are five pressing stories to help you get acquainted with the World Cup before play begins.
1. Team USA looks vulnerable.
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie2 days ago
There is little doubt that Houston Rockets All-Star guard James Harden is an extremely talented basketball player — guys don't make the All-NBA First Team by accident, no matter how controversial there selections prove to be. But Harden gets the sort of criticism that most elite stars don't receive. Harden's lackadaisical and often just horrible defense has been extensively documented, and it doesn't help that he also occasionally makes ill-considered comments about his teammates and mocked at least one very respected member of the media. There's a not uncommon belief that Harden doesn't really get what it takes to be the top dog on a title contender, which makes it a bigger deal than usual when he, like many athletes before him, overestimates his standing in the sport.
When a team trades its franchise player, it's expected that many people surrounding the franchise will treat it as a stone-cold bummer. It's rare to get anything approaching value for one of the top stars in the NBA, and swapping an established, excellent player for a clear rebuilding project doesn't always seem like a fair deal. It's not always good form to turn the player who pushed for the deal into an outright enemy, but it's understandable that fans would be a little ticked off.
The team's owner, on the other hand, is usually expected to act with a little more decorum. On Wednesday, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor answered questions regarding the trade of All-Star power forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was not especially complimentary of Love's skills. From Derek Wetmore for ESPN1500.com:
There is no question that Team USA features the most athletic roster of any nation involved in the upcoming FIBA World Cup of Basketball. The Americans simply feature too many players with elite physical talent, from Anthony Davis to Derrick Rose to James Harden. No one can compete with their level of depth. When you watch Team USA, expect a lot of dunks, blocks, and fast break opportunities.
Of course, if Team USA's obvious athletic advantage doesn't mean other teams in the tournament are completely without their own highlight-ready players. Take, for instance, the hosts Spain, who feature Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka as one of their key players. In an exhibition vs. Argentina on Tuesday, Ibaka showed off the athleticism and skills that make him such a strong presence on the court. After blocking a layup from Andres Nocioni, Ibaka sprinted the length of the court to finish an alley-oop pass from Ricky Rubio. Check it out here (via EOB):
Every NBA game involves players jumping with abandon at or near the baseline, either to save a ball falling out of bounds or make some sort of offensive or defensive play at the basket. Such moves often put these athletes in danger, because the league and its media partners station cameramen only a few feet from the edge of the court. These people have to do their jobs, of course, but their presence still endangers the 10 players (and arguably three referees) on the floor. It's certainly difficult to juggle the needs of media members and the safety of athletes. Nevertheless, striking that balance is often the difference between a major injury and a more basic hustle play.
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie4 days ago
While top pick Andrew Wiggins was the obvious gem of the Minnesota Timberwolves' return in the now-official deal that sent Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft stands as another notable addition to the roster. The 21-year-old forward endured a very disappointing rookie year with the Cavs, posting a 6.9 PER that ranks as the worst among first-overall selections in the last 24 years, and that fact alone would seem to make his future success a longshot. But Bennett showed a few signs of improvement over the last few months of the season, particularly when playing at his preferred position of power forward, and still has enough ability as a scorer and rebounder to suggest he could carve out a place on a team in need of any help it can get — like, say, one that just traded its franchise player.
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie4 days ago
When a rookie comes to the NBA, he must adjust to a whole host of changes from college or a foreign league. The NBA has its own customs, both on the court and off, and it's understandable that it would take players a few weeks or months (or even years) to get comfortable. It can be tough to be without a known support system, to learn how to buy groceries or tell someone how to do your laundry. Plus, there's the issue of figuring out how to contribute and thrive in the best basketball league in the world.
But it's a bit surprising to learn that these adjustments can affect even the most familiar and basic parts of the sport. Miami Heat rookie point guard Shabazz Napier, a two-time NCAA champion at Connecticut, has a lot to learn and improve upon if he's going to reach the same level of success in the pros. First, though, he's going to have to figure out how to handle the NBA basketball. The literal object, not the style of play. From Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press (via PBT):
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie7 days ago
Team USA did not impress to start its final domestic exhibition game before the World Cup of Basketball tips off in Spain later this month. Luckily for them, the second half proved much more inspiring.
After a rough first half that saw them grab just a 52-47 lead over Puerto Rico at the break, Team USA dominated the second half to cruise to a 112-86 victory at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Americans came out of the locker room determined to turn a tight game into a laugher. Team USA won the third-quarter 35-20 to open up a 20-point lead heading into the final period, which ended up serving as little more than extended garbage time. That tide-turning quarter ended on this buzzer-beating three-pointer from forward Rudy Gay:
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie7 days ago
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is essentially guaranteed a spot on Team USA for the FIBA World Cup of Basketball, but teammate and "Splash Brother" Klay Thompson is still competing with several other players for the final few places on the roster. If Thompson continues to show off his excellent outside shooting and underrated defense, though, he could find himself with a ticket to Spain. It will also help if he continues to make difficult running three-pointers to beat the halftime buzzer.
With seconds left in the first half of a challenging exhibition game vs. Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Thompson dribbled up the court and launched an off-balance three-pointer right before the horn to give Team USA a 52-47 lead. Check out the shot below: