Spain vs. Egypt FIBA World Cup 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for La Roja, Pharaohs

Coming off a dominant performance against Iran, Spain showed once again why it’s a FIBA World Cup contender with a 91-54 win over Egypt on Day 2.

Not only did Spain have home-court advantage as host, it had an undeniable edge in size, quickness and just about every major statistical category.

The team jumped out to a 15-2 lead halfway through the first quarter, and while Egypt put together a much better second period, Spain was intent on dominating the entire second half.

 

Spain Grades

Pau Gasol: B

Marc Gasol: B+

Serge Ibaka: A

Rudy Fernandez: A-

Rest of Team: B+

 

Pau Gasol: B

Following Day 1 of the FIBA World Cup, Pau Gasol was the leading scorer and leading efficiency-per-game player of the entire tournament, according to FIBA.com.

Against Egypt, he wasn’t able to reproduce the production that earned him those accomplishments, but he shot well when given the opportunity, which is all Spain needed.

Finishing with 12 points, the new Chicago Bulls big man knocked down 63 percent of his shots. He only managed to grab three rebounds in more than 19 minutes, however, but we’ll give him a pass because his team won that category by 15.

 

Marc Gasol: B+

Marc Gasol entered this contest following a 15-point, 10-rebound performance against Iran. If we’re holding him to that standard, he didn’t have nearly as solid a showing as fans would have liked.

That said, the big man’s role was slightly reduced because of Serge Ibaka‘s return, and quite frankly, he did what he needed to do to intimidate Egypt’s interior players—something that won’t go in any box score. This won’t go down as a memorable performance, but there was nothing wrong with it, either.

 

Serge Ibaka: A

Before the contest began, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann reported that Ibaka was warming up and looking OK after missing Saturday’s competition against Iran.

As it turned out, we saw that for ourselves as soon as he entered the game with a putback slam and a blocked shot late in the first quarter.

Throughout the contest, Ibaka helped spread the floor with his mid-range jumper, but people will remember this one for how often he was soaring above the rim for dunks and rebounds.

In just under 21 minutes, the big man finished with 18 points on 67 percent shooting while bringing down eight boards in the process.

 

Rudy Fernandez: A-

You could see how hard Fernandez was going to play from the opening tipoff. The ball went up, Spain masterfully tipped the ball away from the defense and Fernandez was off to the races for a quick attempt at a transition bucket.

Unfortunately for Fernandez, the rock didn’t drop, as international rules allow defenses to knock the ball off the rim.

However, this was hardly a bad omen for Spain, as Fernandez used his energy to score 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting (2-of-2 from deep) and collect two steals and a block along the way.

 

Rest of Team: B+

When looking at the rest of the roster, there were very few actual poor performances—Jose Calderon’s 0-of-4 shooting in nearly 15 minutes is the exception.

That just proves what kind of level this team is playing at, and it proves that it will contend deep into the World Cup.

During the matchup against Egypt, guys such as Sergio Llull and Sergio Rodriguez played with relentless energy and made plays on both ends that won’t go down in the box score, although numerous players fit that category at different times of the contest.

Three-point shooting was a problem in this one, as the team went just 7-of-25; however, the team nailed 61 percent of its two-pointers, according to FIBA.com, and pushed the tempo to an unmatched level from the onset of the competition.

 

Egypt Grades

Ibrahim Elgammal: B

Amr Gendy: C-

Moustafa Elmekawi: C

Ramy Ibrahim: D-

Rest of Team: D-

 

Ibrahim Elgammal: B

In spite of being down 42-24 after the second period, Egypt had one bright spot at halftime: Ibrahim Elgammal.

The 6’2″ perimeter player came alive in the second quarter, accumulating eight points by the half. His unwillingness to concede early is what made the second period competitive (14 points for Egypt, 16 points for Spain), and he ultimately went on to finish with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists.

 

Amr Gendy: C-

Although Gendy wasn’t quite the silver lining Elgammal was by the end of the first half, he was something of the sort in the first quarter.

When Egypt was struggling to put the ball in the basket early, Gendy was the only consistent option. In fact, he had half of his team’s points until the 8:25 mark of the second quarter.

The only problem is that at that point he only had six points, meaning Egypt only had 12, and he wouldn’t score again the rest of the way.

 

Moustafa Elmekawi: C

Admittedly, you have to search for small details when looking for positives from Egypt’s performance. But that’s what basketball is often about during learning experiences.

When it comes to Elmekawi, the 6’8″ guard was aggressive at the rim in the first quarter. He wasn’t able to do much against the size of Spain, but his footwork was decent, and he threatened points down low despite only scoring six on the night.

 

Ramy Ibrahim: D-

If you think we’ve been generous with Egypt’s grades up to this point considering the final score, you might be right. But that’s about to change as we discuss Ramy Ibrahim.

At 6’9″, the power forward is tied as Egypt’s tallest player, yet nearly half of his total shots were from behind the arc.

He did manage to pull down seven rebounds, but having shot 0-of-7 on the night for zero points, his size may have been better utilized if he’d been aggressive in trying to draw fouls in the paint.

 

Rest of Team: D-

In the first quarter alone, we saw Egypt shoot 0-of-8 from behind the arc. The team found slight success when it attacked the rim, but the problem is that it just didn’t have the confidence to approach the bigs of Spain.

By the end of the game, Egypt had shot just 34 percent from the field and 16 percent from downtown.

We won’t give the rest of the roster an F because there were stretches where attacking the rim seemed like an actual goal, but virtually everything else was tough for fans to swallow. 

 

Coming Up Next

Both of these teams play again on Monday, Sept. 1. Spain will take on Brazil, while Egypt will face France.

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France vs. Brazil: Game Grades, Analysis for FIBA World Cup 2014 Matchup

The 2014 FIBA World Cup got underway for Brazil and France, with the two teams facing each other in Group A action. It was a close affair, with Brazil taking a lead midway through the second quarter and not relinquishing it in its 65-63 victory. France, for its part, was able to keep things close after trailing by 10 partway through the third quarter, but it was never able to come all the way back.

Brazil Grades

Marcelinho Huertas: A

The Brazilian point guard was the most effective player on the court. He had good ball movement, finding teammates for five assists. On top of that, he also got in on the scoring action, notching a game-high 16 points and spreading the floor by hitting two of his three-point attempts, which helped open up the paint for Brazil’s frontcourt.

He had a nice fourth quarter for Brazil. On one possession he hit a three-pointer, extending the lead to eight. Then a few possessions later he worked a nice give-and-go with Nene.

 

Anderson Varejao: B+

Varejao did what he does best, which is rebound the ball. He had a game-high nine rebounds, including five on the offensive glass in the victory. On top of that, he blocked one shot and got a steal for the Brazilians, as he was one of its most effective players in the paint. While he was only 2-of-8 shooting from the field, he was effective in getting to the charity stripe for a game-high six attempts. 

 

Tiago Splitter: B

Like Varejao, Splitter did his best work in the paint. The center was a pest, especially matched up against NBA teammate Boris Diaw. He recorded six points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in a well-rounded effort. 

 

Leandro Barbosa: C

Barbosa finished the game with eight points and two rebounds. He wasn’t the most efficient in getting his points, as he only made two of his nine field-goal attempts. However, both of them were three-pointers, which helped to spread the floor and allow Brazil’s frontcourt of Splitter, Varejao and Nene to work.

 

Marquinhos Vieira: B+

Other than Huertas, Vieira was the only other Brazilian in double figures. He finished the game with 10 points. He also brought down six rebounds and nailed one of his two three-point attempts in his team-high 26 minutes of action.  

 

Rest of Team: B

Brazil also got solid efforts from the rest of its team. Nene had a nice game with five points and eight rebounds while shooting guard Raulzinho Neto notched six points, three rebounds and one steal in 17 minutes of action.

 

France Grades

Boris Diaw: A

Diaw was far and away France’s best player. He had a well-rounded game, scoring 15 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out six assists. He was also effective on defense, blocking one shot and recording one steal.

Perhaps his most memorable play came at the end of the game when he cut Brazil’s lead to one with only one minute and twenty seconds remaining. Yet he also had a nice coast-to-coast lay-in in the third quarter to get France within five at the start of the fourth.

 

Nicolas Batum: A

As he’s known to do for the Portland Trail Blazers while playing stateside, Batum was solid on both ends of the floor. No sequence displayed that better than one at the beginning of the third quarter. On the offensive end, Batum hit a corner three-pointer. Then on Brazil’s ensuing possession, he blocked a Tiago Splitter shot while coming over as a help defender.

Batum finished the game with 13 points, four rebounds and one assist in a game-high 31 minutes of action.

 

Mickael Gelabale: C

Gelabale was third on the team in scoring, finishing the game with seven points in 24 minutes. He also added two rebounds, one assist and hit his only three-point attempt of the game, as well as three of his five total field-goal attempts. 

 

Rudy Gobert: C-

Gobert‘s best work came in the paint matched up against Splitter. He did a solid job dissuading shots, as he finished with two blocks. He also tallied six points on 3-of-5 shooting to go along with three rebounds.

However, the center also committed a game-high four personal fouls in his 18 minutes of action. That’s saying something since the officials largely let the teams play, with many questionable sequences that would normally be called a foul.

 

Antoine Diot: C

Diot was a pest on defense for France, finishing the game with two steals as well as deflecting another pass. However, he wasn’t very active on offense, only scoring four points and taking four attempts in almost 19 minutes of action.

 

Rest of Team: D

France didn’t get much from the rest of its team. Evan Fournier, another NBA player, didn’t score any points or record any rebounds. His best play was using a foul to give in the closing seconds of the first half, which prevented Brazil from scoring on a fast-break opportunity.  

 

Coming Up Next: 

Both teams return to the court in short order. France takes on Serbia on Aug. 31 at 9:30 a.m. ET, while Brazil faces Iran on Aug. 31 at 12 p.m. ET. 

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USA vs. Finland FIBA World Cup: Game Grades, Analysis for Team USA vs. Wolf Pack

Following a summer full of anticipation, Team USA has finally kicked off the 2014 FIBA World Cup with a commanding 114-55 win over Finland. The tournament won’t be won because of a single good game, but the showing we saw Saturday was emblematic of what we expect to see moving forward.

As efficient as the offense was for the star-laden group of NBA players, the defensive performance is what deserves the most recognition. Finland didn’t score a single field goal in the second quarter, which translates to bad basketball no matter what country you’re from.

To Finland’s credit, the underdogs kept things close for the first five minutes of the game, but a 20-8 U.S. run to close out the first quarter was too much to recover from. Team USA went into the second period with a 15-point lead, and it never looked back, taking Game 1 of the tournament in blowout fashion.

 

Team USA Grades:

James Harden: B+

Anthony Davis: A

Derrick Rose: A-

Klay Thompson: A

Rest of Team: B+

 

James Harden: B+

Before the FIBA World Cup officially began, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo sang Harden’s praises. “Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role,” Collangelo said, via Michael Lee of The Washington Post

As it turned out, Harden was in fact that leader in Game 1 of the tournament. He came out playing efficient basketball and was the team’s leading scorer after the first quarter. His production slowed down once the game got out of hand and he was able to rest, but his seven early points and hustle on defense (he finished with four steals and one block) helped spark the team’s blowout performance.

 

Anthony Davis: A

Anthony Davis used Game 1 of the FIBA World Cup as a personal showcase. He’s the next great superstar of the NBA, and he reminded fans across the world of that fact in just 14 total minutes.

In approximately nine first-half minutes, Davis recorded 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, and he did it while utilizing his athleticism in face-up situations. He’d go on to finish with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and while his defense didn’t stick out as much as you might have expected it to on the box score, he was as menacing as ever when it came to shooing people away from the paint and adjusting shots at the rim.

 

Derrick Rose: A-

Kyrie Irving may have earned the starting spot entering this contest, but Derrick Rose reminded us why he’s on the roster when he came in off the bench: energy, athleticism and blinding quickness.

Although people will talk about Rose’s explosiveness on offense, his efforts on defense are what should have everyone raving over his performance. Along with 12 points in nearly 23 minutes, he collected one steal and blocked two shots. He was also a plus-45 in the plus-minus category (game high), according to FIBA.com.

 

Klay Thompson: A

Against Finland, Klay Thompson did what Klay Thompson does. He shot threes, and he shot them at an extremely efficient rate.

Along with going 4-of-7 from deep, Thompson played well defensively (are you seeing a theme among Team USA’s top performers?). You wouldn’t know it by looking at the box score, but his rotations were quick, and that was the perfect complement to his 70 percent shooting from the field.

 

Rest of Team: B+

Simply put: When your team shoots 59 percent from the field while only allowing its opponents to shoot 28 percent, there aren’t going to be many (if any) bad grades.

Games like this are important for Team USA because it creates cohesion on both ends of the floor. Blowouts allow the entire roster to make an appearance, which is crucial because both chemistry and experience will be more important as the tournament progresses.

Of “the rest,” give Kenneth Faried and Rudy Gay a ton of credit. Faried played above the rim with high energy the whole way, and the two combined for an efficient 8-of-12 shooting. The team didn’t see much out of the bottom of the rotation until garbage time, but the only disappointing surprise was Steph Curry’s 0-of-5 three-point shooting.

 

Coming Up Next:

Team USA’s next contest is against Turkey on Sunday, Aug. 31. Turkey is coming off a 76-73 win over New Zealand.

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Leandro Barbosa to Warriors: Latest Contract Details, Analysis and Reaction

At 31, Leandro Barbosa may not be the player he once was, but the Golden State Warriors saw a value in bringing him off the bench and adding depth to the squad this season.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported the details and added another team that was in pursuit of the 2-guard:

Brazil guard Leandro Barbosa has reached an agreement to sign with the Golden State Warriors for the upcoming season, ESPN.com has learned.

With the Miami Heat also in pursuit, Golden State has secured a commitment from Barbosa on a one-year deal at the veteran minimum, according to NBA front-office sources.

Asked about his free agency status recently, Barbosa had a simple response via Stein: ”Man, I’m just really focused on this World Cup.”

After being a major contributor for the Phoenix Suns from 2003 to 2010, during which he was named the 2006-07 Sixth Man of the Year and averaged double-digit points per game in four different seasons, Barbosa has bounced around the league.

Since 2010, he has played for the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and even Esporte Clube Pinheiros of Brazil in 2013 before returning to the Suns in January last year.

The Brazilian Blur averaged 15.9 points and 3.1 assists in eight games while with EsporteWhile he only appeared in 20 games for the Suns, he averaged 7.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 18.4 minutes per game. 

Still, many folks have fine memories of his early days with Phoenix, including Mike Wise of The Washington Post:

While Barbosa is past his prime at this stage in his career, he still can provide an injection of scoring off the bench in limited minutes. Additionally, he offers the Warriors another guard comfortable handling the rock in the backcourt, along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston and Brandon Rush.

Barbosa is an experienced player who has generally been popular with his teammates, coaches and fans alike in the past. In 2012, longtime Sports Illustrated journalist Jack McCallum talked to Justin Barrasso of WEEI.com about how beloved Barbosa was in his Suns days:

There was nobody who didn’t like LB. LB was loved. He had a kind of innocence about him, and a real work ethic with the way he approached everything. He looked at himself as kind of an open book whereas a lot of guys who come into the NBA—guys without LB’s ability or talent—think they know everything, but LB was never like that.

So no, his signing isn’t one of the sexier news pieces in the NBA’s free-agency period. Still, Barbosa could end up being an important contributor, and perhaps quite the popular teammate, too.

A career 39 percent three-point shooter and 46 percent shooter from the field, Barbosa has always had the stroke to be a reliable scorer. His efficiency will provide a boost offensively whenever he’s on the court.

 

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Shannon Brown to Heat: Latest Contract Details, Analysis and Reaction

Continuing to bolster their rebuilt core around the margins, the Miami Heat and free-agent guard Shannon Brown agreed to a one-year, $1.3 million contract Wednesday.   

Priority Sports, Brown’s agency, announced the move on its Twitter account, and USA Today’s Sam Amick provided the details:

Brown, 28, spent most of last season as a free agent after being released by the Washington Wizards. He did not link up with a team until February, signing four different 10-day contracts with the Spurs and Knicks before finishing out the campaign in New York. The high-flier averaged 2.2 points and 1.0 rebounds per game while shooting 36.4 percent from the floor.

The Knicks waived Brown in July, choosing not to pick up their second-year option on his contract. His signing comes as a bit of a surprise given the relative lack of interest Brown had received on the open market since his release.

The Heat are nevertheless a natural fit, as Pat Riley has been looking to bolster his wing depth. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported earlier this week that Riley and Co. had expressed interest in Chris Douglas-Roberts, Leandro Barbosa, Jordan Crawford and Jordan Hamilton. Douglas-Roberts and Hamilton, the latter of whom signed with Toronto, both worked out for the team in Miami.

Prior to signing Brown, the Heat had no one on their depth chart listed behind Dwyane Wade at shooting guard. With Wade a near-guarantee to miss 10 or more games next season, that was obviously a less-than-ideal situation. Brown is nowhere near an adequate replacement for a healthy Wade in the event of an injury, but there is some hope his lost 2013-14 campaign was a fluke.

An elite athlete with some interesting off-the-bounce creation skills, Brown averaged 10.7 points per game during his two seasons with Phoenix as a part-time starter and sixth man. He excelled in the Suns’ uptempo system and even flashed an improved outside shot in 2011-12 before descending back to earth a year later.

In five games with the Knicks’ summer league team in Las Vegas, Brown averaged 7.4 points per game and seemed to relish in getting back on the floor.

“I thought coming to Summer League would give me a chance to get back in the groove a little bit of actually playing basketball,” Brown told Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin.

The Heat are unlikely to be finished adding pieces even with Brown in the fold. Their roster desperately needs help in the defensive middle, and they might look into another wing player for further Wade insurance. The development of 2013 second-round pick James Ennis will probably play a large factor in how Riley chooses to move forward. Ennis signed a three-year deal this summer but it comes with only $200,000 in guarantees.

In the first year of the post-LeBron era, the Heat remain an interesting team in general. Faced with the prospect of blowing up the franchise, Riley shifted gears and chose to tread water. Signing the likes of Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts should help keep them well inside the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Should Brown come to South Beach and perform at Phoenix levels, he’ll do nothing but help the cause. If next season proves a repeat of the last, Miami’s wing depth will start looking awfully shaky.

 

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Andrew Wiggins to Timberwolves: Latest Trade Details, Analysis and Reaction

Andrew Wiggins’ time with the Cleveland Cavaliers lasted all of two months. As expected, the Cavaliers agreed to a blockbuster trade with the Timberwolves on Saturday, sending Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, a first-round pick and a trade exception to Minnesota in exchange for All-Star forward Kevin Love. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the deal:

The Timberwolves confirm the transaction and provide Flip Saunders’ comments on the new-look Timberwolves:

Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune has more from Saunders:

The deal had been the NBA‘s worst-kept secret for the last month. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Aug. 6 that the two sides had agreed on the principals. The deal could not officially be agreed upon until Aug. 23, when 30 days would have passed since Wiggins signed his rookie contract. 

Wiggins was the No. 1 overall selection in June’s NBA draft. Expected to be the next cornerstone alongside Kyrie Irving in the post-LeBron era, the former Kansas star’s fortunes flipped on a dime when LeBron James announced his surprise return to the Cavs.

While James talked openly about wanting to mentor young players in Cleveland, Wiggins’ name was conspicuously left out and rumblings began to surface about the four-time MVP orchestrating a Love-for-Wiggins deal. Wojnarowski reported James personally reached out to Love in hopes of luring him to Cleveland.

Initially, the Cavaliers balked at including Wiggins in any trade talks. Head coach David Blatt told reporters at Las Vegas Summer League that Wiggins would not be traded, a refrain that was also told to Wiggins in private

“There’s no reason or cause for worry on his part because Andrew’s not going anywhere, as far as I know and as far as the club has expressed,” Blatt said.

Wiggins played through Summer League and was impressive for the most part, averaging 15.5 points and 3.5 rebounds on 40.5 percent shooting. He at once flashed his elite athleticism and promise as a defender while highlighting some of the reasoning behind this move. His jumper was inconsistent at best from long range, he occasionally drifted offensively and looked like player one or two years from making a difference.

With LeBron having re-upped for just two years—despite his protestations of long-term commitment—the Cavs were under the gun to make a move. Using Wiggins as a trade chip for Love is the type of win-now move that should make Cleveland the Eastern Conference favorite.

Love doesn’t turn 26 until September and is coming off one of the best offensive seasons for a big man in recent history. He became the first player since the ABA-NBA merger to average 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game while establishing himself as the league’s premier stretch 4. He made 37.6 percent of his 505 three-pointers—a number that was nearly double his previous high for attempts in a season.

Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required) measured that Love ranked 93rd percentile in points per possession. He ranked in the 72nd percentile or better in all but one (isolations) of their 11 categories. Combining Love, James and Kyrie Irving gives Cleveland the best offensive trio in the league since the first season of Miami‘s Big Three.

That said, the deal also involves losing Wiggins—a move that might come back to haunt the Cavs a half-decade down the line. While his freshman season was a slight disappointment given his considerable hype, Wiggins has enough talent to be the NBA’s best two-way player someday. He’s a devastating on-ball defender, athletic enough to become a perennial dunk contest winner and has the tools to develop his three-pointer and dribble moves.

The Wolves are getting a player they can combine with Zach LaVine to create the league’s most athletic wing pair. Alongside Ricky Rubio, still just 23 years old, Minnesota will be captivating to watch in the open court. Rubio is up for a contract extension and shooting is going to be a problem when the three play together, but Flip Saunders has a promising roster in place. 

It’s a risk the Cavs had to take. After Paul George‘s gruesome injury at the Team USA scrimmage, the Eastern Conference is a two-team race between Chicago and Cleveland. The Cavs instantly become the favorite and a team that can sleepwalk its way to a 5-win regular season.  

These are the Cavs James apparently envisioned when he came back to Cleveland. Let’s see what he does with his newer, younger Big Three.

 

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Anthony Bennett to Timberwolves: Latest Trade Details, Analysis and Reaction

One year after the Cleveland Cavaliers used the first overall pick to select Anthony Bennett, they have traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a blockbuster deal for Kevin Love.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN confirmed the deal is now official after being expected for the past couple weeks. Here are the complete details of the agreement:

The Timberwolves confirm the deal and provide reaction from head coach Flip Saunders:

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports JJ Barea was not involved:

Bennett endured a rookie season that fell well short of expectations. He appeared in 52 games, starting none, while averaging just four points and three rebounds per contest. Poor shooting was a major factor in those struggles as he shot less than 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from three.

While one season isn’t enough to make any final judgments, the lack of production definitely raised concerns about his long-term outlook. He certainly didn’t look ready to make an impact for a championship contender, which the Cavs became following the return of LeBron James.

NBA.com passed along the ugly shot chart from his first NBA campaign:

Normally a team wouldn’t be in a position to move on from a top pick that quickly. Obviously Cleveland found itself in a unique position once James announced his comeback. The Cavs received an opportunity to acquire Love, and they couldn’t pass it up.

The move is a golden chance for Bennett to press the reset button. It’s a fresh start with a new team, and the pressure of being drafted first overall is alleviated, at least to an extent. He’s now just part of the package for a player the Wolves likely weren’t going to keep anyway.

Furthermore, there have been signs of progress.

He was far more involved during NBA Summer League action. He averaged 13 points and eight rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the field. Those numbers are still not what most would expect from a No. 1 pick, but it was a solid overall effort.

James Herbert of CBSSports.com passed along comments from Bennett as he worked to get back on track, and he was confident better days were ahead.

“I told them pretty much it was a disappointing season for me, but I’m not going to stop there,” he said. “I’m not going to get down on myself. I’m going to continue to work hard throughout the whole summer and do my thing in summer league.”

Ultimately, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from Bennett in his second season following a change of scenery. Though it’s unlikely he will transform into a major factor right away, Minnesota will hope he can at least become a more reliable contributor.

Plenty of untapped potential remains, but there’s a lot of work to do. If he can make steady progress over the next couple years, perhaps three or four years down the road he will become the star Cleveland thought it was getting when it drafted him.

As for now, the Cavaliers will start chasing championships with James and Love while the Timberwolves will begin focusing on growing and building around their young core.

 

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Shawn Marion to Cavaliers: Latest Contract Details, Analysis and Reaction

The Matrix had its sequels, and now The Matrix on the basketball courtotherwise known as Shawn Marion—will look to add another chapter to his own legacy with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

David Pick of Eurobasket.com talked to Cavaliers head coach David Blatt about Marion’s arrival in Cleveland:

On Sunday morning, ESPN’s Marc Stein was the first to report the 36-year-old Marion had committed to signing with the Cavaliers:

Sam Amick of USA Today weighed in on Marion’s arrival in Cleveland:

Marion’s decision to join LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (eventually) in Cleveland is a clear indicator that he is looking for another ring in the twilight stages of his career. He previously won a title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, topping LeBron’s Miami Heat.

Even at the age of 36, Marion can still stay in front of most small forwards in the league with his length and lateral quickness. He can help take the defensive pressure off James throughout the 82-game schedule, which could lead to a fresher player come playoff time.

Marion is more than just a reliable defender, though.

He averaged 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game behind 48.2 percent shooting from the field and 35.8 percent shooting from behind the three-point line for the Mavericks during the 2013-14 season.

Those numbers, especially his respectable rebounding totals and solid percentage from the field, prove he can still contribute at the NBA level. He will be given the chance to prove himself once again with this new contract.

Marion discussed his free agency after Dallas’ seven-game playoff loss to the eventual-champion San Antonio Spurs last season, via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

You know, it’s not about money right now. I’ve made a lot of money in my career and I’ve been truly blessed. You know, I take none of this for granted, and I think I’ve just got to weigh my options. I think when it’s all said and done, of course, I think we’re close here and not too far. But I think we’ve got a lot of guys here that are free agents again, so it’s going to be interesting. We’re going to see what’s out there and what’s available, and I’ve just got to weigh it out. I’m going to put it in God’s hands. 

Interestingly enough, Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram noted this was a career first for Marion:

In his earlier years with the Phoenix Suns (1999-2008) alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash, and with Mike D’Antoni at the helm, Marion was a double-double threat every time he stepped on the floor. He’s not the same player entering his 16th season, but he still offers a unique skill set.

The Cavaliers will benefit from his defense and overall length, which helps him contest shots and contribute on the boards.

He is also a capable spot-up shooter and will see open looks playing alongside James, Love and Irving.

Marion’s all-time NBA rankings are impressive: He’s 36th in offensive rebounds, 20th in defensive rebounds, 17th in steals, 51st in blocks and 75th in points, per Basketball-Reference. He is the basketball version of a five-tool player.

There will always be room for his type of production in today’s NBA.

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Greg Monroe to Sign Qualifying Offer with Pistons: Latest Report, Analysis

Stan Van Gundy’s first big personnel move as Detroit Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations had long been expected to be deciding upon Greg Monroe‘s future with the franchise. Well, Monroe is reportedly taking the decision out of Van Gundy’s hands.    

The restricted free agent informed the Pistons Tuesday that he will accept their one-year, $5.479 million qualifying offer rather than accept a long-term deal, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA TodayMonroe, 24, has played his first four seasons with the Pistons after being taken No. 7 overall in 2010. 

His decision comes after more than a month of negotiations with the Pistons about a long-term contract. Long thought of as a nuclear option—Monroe is turning down tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed cash—it’s also a bold power play by his agent, David Falk. By signing Detroit’s offer sheet, Monroe can hit unrestricted free agency next summer. He will also have the power to veto any potential trade during the 2014-15 season.

The Pistons recently presented Monroe with “an offer that’s slightly better on a per-year basis than the four-year, $54-million deal that Josh Smith signed last summer,” per Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. Their previous offer was reportedly for five years and $60 million, though Monroe publicly denied those terms were correct:

Members of the Pistons organization have mostly been supportive, albeit couching their comments with disappointment that Monroe has not signed a new deal. 

“Of course we would like him to do that, but the fact is Greg has to decide what’s exactly right for him and he has great people representing him,” owner Tom Gores told Ellis. “We’d like Greg to get on board, but he’s got time to think about it and we should give him that time.”

There was a perception around the league that the Pistons poisoned Monroe’s well a bit. Fear that the team would match any offer sheet—up to and including the max—left potential suitors wary of mucking up their cap sheets with an onerous cap hold. Monroe instead found himself in a situation similar to Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who remains without a contract. 

Whether Monroe is making the prudent decision to leave an eight-figure payday on the table is up for interpretation. 

Few question his offensive skill set. He’s a beast on the low block, equipped with brilliant footwork and a series of fakes and counter-fakes that allow him to generate good looks near the rim. His polish was his calling card when he came into the league, and Monroe is slowly developing a mid-range game. 

“I value Greg highly,” Van Gundy told reporters at his introductory press conference. “I think he’s one of the elite big men in the league. I think he’s got a very high skill level. He can pass the ball, he can score in the low post and I want them to know that, that I value him highly.”

Monroe’s per-game stats have stagnated over the last three seasons, but that’s not entirely his fault. Detroit’s spacing was brutal for most of last season, with the coaching staff attempting wizardry in making a frontcourt of Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith work. None of those three can shoot reliably, and Monroe would likely benefit from an offense where he’s the featured post player. 

The positives mostly stop when discussing the other side of the ball, however. Monroe is largely a defensive minus, slow-footed on pick-and-rolls and lacking in consistent engagement. It did not help that Detroit was one of the league’s poorest-coached teams from a schematic standpoint. The Pistons were at times an incomprehensive train wreck, defending at a bottom-10 level regardless of whether Monroe was on the floor, per NBA.com

His one strength is on the block, where opposing bigs shot 34.4 percent against him last season, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). Get him in a scheme where his lack of lateral quickness can be hidden and push better team defense concepts, and Monroe might become garden variety below-average rather than a glaring minus.

The Monroe-Drummond frontcourt is promising and far more age-palatable than Drummond-Smith. But with the former Georgetown star taking his future into his own hands, it seems the Pistons overplayed their hand.

Even if Van Gundy fixes the foibles in Monroe’s game, it’s looking more likely than not that Monroe will jet for greener pastures next summer. 

Or, at least adequately compensated ones.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Al Harrington to China: Latest Contract Details, Analysis and Reaction

After languishing two years in near-obscurity, Al Harrington has found another team to give him a shot. his time, in China. 

The veteran forward and the Fujian SBS Xunxing Sturgeons agreed on a deal that may allow Harrington to prove he should earn rotation spot on an NBA team in the future. Harrington announced the deal on Instagram, stating:

1st I wanna say that I will be Playing in the CBA League in China Next Season… Looking forward to the Challenge at hand. To help my team reach the Playoffs and WIN once we get there. Secondly I wanna say THANK YOU to the Washington Wizards Organization (Ted Leonsis, Ernie Grunfeld, Tommy Sheppard, and Randy Whitman and his Staff) for giving me the opportunity to show that I could Still Play at the highest level of NBA Action and the platform to help Lead the team back into the playoffs and be an influence on the locker room. Wanna thank all my teammates for encouraging me to get back from injury and taking me on a Wonderful Ride to the 2nd round of the Playoffs! KEEP BUILDING ON WHAT WAS STARTED LAST YEAR!!! And last by not least the AMAZING DMV FAN BASE…. You guys really made me feel at home in my one season playing there and I encourage y’all to continue Supporting the Product that’s being put on the floor at the PHONE BOOTH… It’s Gonna be some great basketball being played there for a long time to come! Anyone I left out in that Amazing City… THANK YOU TOO! Now back to WORK!!! #wizkids #dmv #china #hereIcome

Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling originally reported on Friday he would sign with the Chinese team for one year.

Harrington, 34, spent last season with the Washington Wizards. He averaged 6.6 points and 2.4 rebounds on 39.6 percent shooting in 34 appearances. He missed three months following a November knee injury and never quite carved out a niche coming off Washington’s bench.

Head coach Randy Wittman all but excised him from the rotation in the playoffs until rolling the dice with him as the Wizards’ series against the Indiana Pacers slipped away. Harrington played only 59 minutes in seven appearances, 23 of which came in one contest. 

The combination of knee issues and natural aging left Harrington largely a shell of his former heights. He’s played in just 44 regular-season games over the past two seasons, one with Washington and the other in Orlando. After more than a decade of averaging double-digit points per game, the recent downturn had many thinking he’d settle for retirement.

But Harrington has been consistent in his desire to play. Even after the Wizards signed Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair—three players who will ostensibly take most if not all of his playing time—Harrington privately expressed a desire to return, per CSN Washington’s J. Michael. That fell in line with what he said to Zwerling in April, indicating he’d like to be picked up around the All-Star break. 

“So let me have that time to take care of my body and get my leg strong,” Harrington wrote in the first-person piece told to Zwerling. “I can do 30 games; that’s nothing. Obviously I don’t have a Hall of Fame legacy or anything like that, but I just want to go out on my own terms and I feel like the opportunity is right here in front of me.”

Harrington can still be an effective player when playing the right role. A stretch 4 before it became the most desired position in basketball, he’s a career 35.2 percent shooter from three-point range whom teams consistently respect. The Wizards scored nearly four more points per 100 possessions last season with Harrington on the floor, per NBA.com.

Lineup stats can be a bit noisy, but his effect rings true. They had a higher effective field-goal percentage and true shot percentage while every other metrics remained largely the same. Though Harrington is no longer an effective defender—Wittman was often forced to stash him on the worst player on the floor—he still understands and executes team defensive concepts.

He even served as a coach on the Wizards’ Summer League staff. There is value having veterans of his ilk hanging around on the bench even if he’s not going to receive consistent playing time. Point guard John Wall took massive strides after Washington surrounded him with veterans, as did shooting guard Bradley Beal.

Now with the Fujian SBS Xunxing Sturgeons, Harrington will look to convince NBA teams that he is healthy enough to return to the league and help a team win a championship. Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post weighed in on Harrington’s future:

Though the Chinese Basketball Association does not grant opt-out clauses to players, Harrington still could join an NBA team before the end of the season because the Chinese league’s season concludes in March.

He isn’t the first high-profile player to head overseas and it is now clear that a trend is developing with aging role players. This should prove to be a great opportunity or Harrington, as long as he can stay healthy.

 

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