Yahoo Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski’s piece on USA Basketball as propaganda tool for Mike Krzyzewski and Duke was a dirty bomb, sending fallout through various corners of college basketball. Said fallout reached all the way to Lexington, Kentucky, when Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim named UK coach John Calipari as the only one to complain that coaching US national teams could help land prospects.
“He’s said he thinks its an advantage,” Boeheim told Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com. “It’s a little bit disingenuous of him. I like John. We get along fine. He feels Mike is getting an advantage.”
If there’s anyone with no reason to care about other schools getting any sort of recruiting bump—especially a perfectly legal one like Krzyzewski’s summertime side gig as USA national coach—it’s John Calipari.
In the race to land top recruits, Calipari frequently appears to be driving a Formula 1 race car while his rivals puff along on bicycles. While Coach K is spending time with LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Coach Cal is getting dap from Drake and Jay-Z.
Calipari and Krzyzewski will both sport rosters loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans this season. Duke and Kentucky will each suit up nine former selections to the iconic all-star game, jointly holding the all-time record. The Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) were the only NBA team with that many former Burger Boys on the roster when the 2013-14 season ended.
The difference between the two coaches lies in their reputations. Perhaps that’s the bur under Calipari’s saddle.
Coach K has cultivated a reputation as a classic tough-love coach, in a similar—if less volatile—mold to his mentor, Bob Knight. Trained at West Point, Krzyzewski is able to demand discipline from his players while still being able to earn their unconditional love and respect. For crying out loud, Krzyzewski was even named one of Fortune magazine’s top 50 leaders in the world.
Like any other successful program, though, Duke draws plenty of dissenting voices willing to call its players and coaches out for any breach of decorum. Case in point: Coach K’s frequent berating of officials (Warning: strong language NSFW).
Calipari’s vacated Final Fours at UMass and Memphis are repeatedly held against him despite the NCAA absolving him of wrongdoing in both cases. Even Cal’s fellow coaches cast a fishy eye toward him, especially when he’s landing epic recruiting classes year in and year out.
Princeton athletic director Gary Walters bemoaned UK’s annual roster churn even while the Wildcats were marching toward the 2012 national championship. He said to USA Today‘s Steve Wieberg, “Is this the image we want to project? Is this really the image we want to project as an institution of higher education? I don’t think so.”
Just this week, the Louisville Courier-Journal didn’t miss an opportunity to take a shot at a “whiny” Calipari, tacking his head onto an infant’s body to accompany an otherwise even-handed Tim Sullivan column about coaches decrying each other’s recruiting edges.
Still, both Calipari and Krzyzewski keep winning the recruiting wars, sometimes losing only to one another. They do it by keeping themselves and their programs in the limelight for as much of the year as they can manage.
Coach K does it by leading the U.S. National Team into competitions that barely move the needle on ESPN. Calipari does it by letting recruits know which entertainers are likely to appear at Big Blue Madness. Which method sounds easier to you?
It may sound shallow to those who want recruits to choose a school based on important things like coaches’ style or playing time—if not antiquated notions like academics (#sarcasmfont)—but top 2015 guard Malik Newman made no secret of his excitement about Drake potentially appearing at UK’s season-opening event.
“(Calipari) said Drake might come this year,” Newman said to Courtney Cronin of The Clarion-Ledger. “That would be a really good event to go to. It really lets me know what they’re working with and that (Kentucky) has a lot of connections.”
Calipari’s famous associates resonate with recruits as much as, if not more than, Krzyzewski’s work with NBA superstars. Calipari demonstrates a willingness to relate to the lifestyle his players aspire to, and he displays no qualms about sending his players to the NBA the moment he feels they’re ready.
“It’s hard,” Calipari said to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein about working with annual upheaval precipitated by the NBA’s age minimum. “The coaches who want to take kids and then in one year they go pro—hey, have at it. I got no problem with that because I think it’s good for the kids.”
A group of one-and-done players led Kentucky to its eighth national championship in 2012, granting Calipari his ultimate validation.
Coach K’s recent work with one-and-dones has been decidedly less fruitful. Kyrie Irving could only lead the Blue Devils to a Sweet 16 blowout loss to Arizona. Austin Rivers presided over a round-of-64 loss to Lehigh in 2012. A Jabari Parker-led team made it no further before losing to Mercer in 2014. Kentucky played in the Final Four in all three of those seasons, with freshmen playing leading roles each time.
There is absolutely no reason for John Calipari to give a rat’s hindquarters about what Mike Krzyzewski or any other coach in America does to help their recruiting, as long as no one’s blatantly resorting to illegal tactics. If he truly is as concerned as Jim Boeheim makes him out to be, his paranoia will eat him alive and sooner rather than later.
Until the day comes when he just can’t take the stress anymore, nearly everything Calipari’s doing is working just fine, thank you.
And if you think Calipari himself is doing something untoward, Kentucky fans are only too happy to dare you to go out and prove it.
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NBA free agency kicked off all the way back on July 1, but there are five still-available players who can make an impact on the 2014-15 season.
Whether it’s a stalemate in negotiations, consideration of retirement, attitude concerns or simply an absence of the right fit, the reasons they’re available are varied.
Working around the aforementioned obstacles and signing one of these five could be a great low-risk, high-reward opportunity (except in the case of the first player in the slideshow, who will eventually command a hefty contract).
In the following slides, organized by position, you’ll read why each player is still available and what he has to offer a team this season.
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To say there’s not a lot of obvious depth at the small forward position for the Los Angeles Lakers is saying just a little. It’s a tale of “tweeners.”
Wesley Johnson is the clearest natural candidate, even if Mike D’Antoni did insist on using him as a vastly undersized power forward last season.
And then there’s Xavier Henry, a young, athletic slasher who played three positions in just 43 games last season as a point guard, shooting guard and small forward.
Kobe Bryant has stepped into the 3-spot on a number of occasions in the past, depending on lineups. And Nick “Swaggy P” Young is also capable of playing the position—although he’s clearly at his best when letting it rain from his natural shooting guard role.
Even rookie Julius Randle—a 6’10” bull in a china shop—thinks he can play interchangeable frontcourt positions, as he mentioned soon after being drafted, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com:
A lot of the league is going to small ball, but the good thing about me, I’m interchangeable. I can play small ball because I can guard multiple positions because I can really move. But I think it’s going to be an advantage for me to be able to take a smaller guy inside but also take a bigger guy on the outside.
But as Darius Soriano for Forum Blue and Gold points out about Randle, there are inherent problems with tall trees lineups that pack the frontcourt with size:
Put a 6’10” player on the perimeter and tell him to defend a like sized player who just so happens to be able to put the ball on the floor with skill and quickness and the advantage will almost always lie with the player who possesses the ball. Big players normally lack the needed lateral quickness to stay in front of such players. Add in the advantages that come with drawing that bigger defender away from the paint and the benefits to an offense only increase via better spacing for the entire team.
During the wild and woolly D’Antoni era, even 6’11” Ryan Kelly got to try his hand at small forward.
But the small-ball innovator has moved on now, and there is a new sheriff in town. It’s hard to see Byron Scott, with his fondness for traditional interior fundamentals, playing footloose and fancy-free as guys like Randle or Kelly try to make like Lamar Odom.
There is, of course, another wild-card factor. With only 13 players on the roster, the Lakers are likely to go into the regular season with another body—especially someone who could fill an obvious positional need.
This leads us to the rumor that won’t go away until it finally, and mercifully, does go away—that Michael Beasley, who has worked out twice with the Lakers, could somehow wind up as their starting small forward.
This is a recipe ripe for disaster.
Because what would happen if a rash of injuries were to hit and you were suddenly left with Swaggy and B-Easy playing alongside each other? Lots of buckets and unintentional hilarity for sure—but solid basketball? That’s highly unlikely.
Or, as The Great Mambino recently wrote for Silver Screen and Roll, “It’s a really stupid idea.” He elaborates further:
Michael Beasley isn’t a lottery ticket. He is a skunked bottle of wine. He’s 25 years old, sure, but has alienated himself from his last three teams in six seasons. He couldn’t stick with a Minnesota squad hurting for shooting swingmen, a rebuilding Phoenix club looking for any semblance of talent or a Heat team desperate for an explosive scorer off the bench. He would come to the Lakers needing to beat out a dozen other guys for a spot at either of the forward positions. Bringing him on isn’t just an indictment that the Lakers aren’t hitting on their reclamation projects, but an indictment of incompetence.
So take away all the positional musical chairs and the idea that Beasley could somehow shoot his way into the heart of a hardliner like Scott, and what do you have left?
It comes back full circle to Johnson—the most obvious choice for the starting small forward role. He’s got the size and the natural ability, can alter shots at the rim and is a decent perimeter defender as well.
He also has support from Scott, per Mike Trudell for Lakers.com: “I think the kid is so talented, I’m really hoping it can be a break out year for him. Now, obviously, he has to come to camp and win that spot, and that’s on him.”
As I recently noted for B/R, Johnson has been working out with the Mamba this summer. This is not a new development—per Jonah Ballow for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ official site, the former No. 4 pick met Bryant during predraft workouts in 2010 and has been mentored by him ever since.
Still, there continues to be a need for improvement. Johnson’s 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season aren’t markedly different from his nine points and three boards during his rookie campaign.
This season will be his last best chance to prove himself as a solid contributor in the NBA. If he can’t do it with the support and encouragement of Bryant and Scott, then it really will be time for Plan B.
Just as long as the “B” doesn’t stand for Beasley.
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If the Suns are thinking of signing a point guard to a max deal, it should be Dragic
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Chicago Bulls PG Derrick Rose says he’s ready to go. Not that it matters in the record books, but Derrick Rose should have a solid preseason for a number of reasons. Let’s take a look at a couple of the reasons here.
Rose and the Bulls will begin their preseason at home against the Washington Wizards on October 6th. John Wall is a handful, but the crowd will be jacked up to see Rose play for just the second time in 10 months.
The next night, the Bulls head to Detroit. Despite the quick turnaround, the Pistons will be running out Brandon Jennings and D.J. Augustin. Jennings is very good defensively, but Rose should have a solid day if he shoots even 40% from the field. If Thibs is smart, he’ll keep Rose from trying to finish strong at the rim, due to Monroe and Drummond regulating the Pistons’ paint.
The Bulls then get a break until the 11th when they travel to the Chicago suburb of Milwaukee. This could be a game Rose really struggles in, depending on minutes and matchups. If Jason Kidd ke
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He’s a solid 2-guard who makes it rain from long range, and he’s morphed into the Warriors’ best perimeter defender. An argument could be made that he is the best two-way guard in basketball.
In addition, Thompson will only be 24 years old when the season tips off, and he established himself as one of Team USA’s best players during the FIBA World Cup.
Thompson’s always been able to shoot the ball, as evidenced by his career 41 percent mark from downtown, and he’s showed some growth during international play. The sharpshooter is putting the ball on the floor and finishing in traffic, which has never really been his forte.
By adding this layer to his game, Thompson could very well become the league’s premier 2-guard. As much as the Golden State front office will appreciate this development, it has to scare them a little given what it means going forward.
Dollar signs for Thompson.
USA Today’s Sam Amick offered this nugget in August:
Meanwhile, Thompson’s agent, Bill Duffy, has been seeking a max deal in extension talks with the Warriors as well. And while Golden State would surely prefer that the stance eventually softens and leads to a more palatable deal, the fact that he is younger means a max for Thompson would start at $15.7 million and still allow for more flexibility in the Warriors future than a [Kevin] Love deal.
It’s one thing for Thompson to seek a max extension, but should the Warriors oblige?
Theoretically, they could play hardball and try to sign him for roughly four years at $9 million annually. However, that seems unlikely.
As Amick mentioned, a max deal for Thompson presents a lower figure than Love. During the offseason, the Warriors had discussed a swap involving Love prior to the Minnesota Timberwolves trading him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The framework of the transaction centered around David Lee, Thompson, Love and Kevin Martin, per Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears. However, members of the Warriors front office were split on whether to part with Thompson, according to a report by Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne posted over at ESPN LA.
Ultimately, Golden State held firm and kept Thompson because he better suited the defensive culture of the franchise. Amick added:
Their recent refusal to include guard and Timberwolves target Klay Thompson in the deal is rooted in this reality. Losing Thompson not only would leave [Stephen] Curry overexposed defensively in the backcourt but also is compounded by the fact that Love — much like incumbent power forward David Lee, who would head to Minnesota if this deal got done — isn’t exactly known as a two-way player.
The Warriors valued Thompson enough to pass on arguably the best power forward in the league. Golden State essentially said Thompson was more important to them than Love, who happens to be a max-level player.
I’m not sure the Dubs have any leverage at all here. Curry, the team’s best player, needs Thompson around to take on his assignments, and the offense seems smoother with Thompson on the floor because he stretches defenses thin.
Thus, Golden State will drop suitcases of cash on him without question, right? Well, not quite.
The Warriors have until October 31 to agree to an extension that would kick in for the 2015-16 campaign. If all the player and team options are exercised, Golden State would likely exceed the luxury tax line based on Sham Sports’ salary data.
The tax line is $76.8 million for the 2014-15 season, and the Dubs probably exceed it with the extension. Being a tax team means it becomes harder to add players because there are less salary exceptions available and harsher tax penalties on every amount owed to a Warrior.
It’s not ideal, but Golden State can probably manage for a year or two under these conditions. It’s worth mentioning, his teammates might have a small problem with it.
In the event management signed Thompson to a max deal, he would become the highest-paid Warrior.
Let that sink in for a second.
Thompson would earn more than Curry and Andrew Bogut. One could rationalize on some level that Thompson brings more to the table than Bogut, but it’s not exactly an open-and-shut case. Thompson is younger, healthier and more offensive-minded.
On the flip side, these Warriors haven’t been out of the first round sans Bogut.
As it pertains to Curry, he signed his current deal while dealing with lingering ankle issues during the 2011-12 season, which explains why he will “only” make $11.4 million during the 2015-16 campaign.
With that said, Thompson can’t make more than Curry. It could create a situation where the team’s best player feels undervalued and, worse yet, disrespected (also applies on some level to Bogut).
What other options do the Dubs have?
Instead of signing Thompson to an extension, Golden State could allow him to play out his contract and then extend a qualifying offer in the 2015 offseason. He would become a restricted free agent, which gives the Warriors the right to match whatever contract offer Thompson signs with another team.
On the surface, this seems advantageous. But the issues previously outlined with respect to player salaries would take effect. Chemistry might suffer, which means the team would take a step backward.
Worse yet, Thompson might want out due to Golden State’s refusal to settle the situation early. That could prompt Thompson to sign a one-year qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent the following year (a la Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons). Once the 2-guard hits free agency, he can go to any team of his choosing.
The other alternative is simply to trade Thompson, which seems unlikely. By dealing him, maybe Golden State receives a young, promising player or a first-round pick in return.
Such a transaction would shake the foundation given that the franchise would be turning its back on the culture it’s created in the last few seasons. Keep in mind, the Warriors would be getting rid of a productive 24-year-old 2-guard.
It bears repeating that management chose him over Love, which means they can’t just ship him away now, as CBS Sports’ Zach Harper noted.
Golden State is lucky enough that Thompson loves his surroundings. When the San Jose Mercury News’ Marcus Thompson II pressed him on the fact he wasn’t traded for Love, the sniper offered:
The Warriors believe in me. That makes me want to work that much harder. They believe in me and Steph, they believe in the team we have. I believe in us, too. I think we have all the ingredients to win a championship.
Maybe that appreciation for not being dealt, and the fact the team has an intriguing roster, gets Thompson to back off from his initial asking price. If the Dubs can get him at about $11 million per year, they will have won the negotiation.
However, if Thompson is resolute in his demand, the Warriors will have to acquiesce. I realize that the extension comes with landmines, but ultimately, the team cannot let him walk.
A long-term commitment here becomes a loaded proposition, though. Curry and Bogut’s deals expire at the conclusion of the 2016-17 seasons, but the Warriors should immediately set their sights on discussing their next contracts once they’ve obtained Thompson’s signature.
Thus, whatever negative impact Thompson’s new contract will have, it will be mitigated by the front office’s ability to immediately discuss future compensation with its top players. It’s the best option available for the Dubs, and it’s the route the organization needs to take.
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Not that most San Antonio Spurs fans need reminding, but in the 2013 Finals, the then-Miami Heat shooting guard completed a miraculous Game 6 comeback with a three-pointer that extended the series, which Miami would go on to win.
So, when news broke that the Spurs were interested in Allen, a free agent searching for a home to spend the coda of his career, it initially came as a bit of a shock.
But San Antonio, with one final roster spot to fill, is smart to give Allen ample consideration. A talented player who fits the system, Allen would join a championship roster in search of his third ring with a third team.
With the mutual benefits too glaring to ignore, the Spurs front office should take the next step and extend Allen a contract offer before his services are snatched by a competing contender.
In 2014, Ray Allen is not the player that he once was.
Long gone are the days where Jesus Shuttlesworth—complete with a unique blend of skill and athleticism—averaged upwards of 25 points for the Seattle Supersonics. But even in his final years in the league, the 39-year-old Allen has managed to stay relevant.
Though aspects of his game have faded with age, his staple skill—his three-point shot—remains very much intact.
And as Spurs fans know all to well, this makes him very dangerous.
Like San Antonio veteran Tim Duncan, Allen has compensated for any deficiencies brought about by age by maximizing the aspects of his game that are unaffected by declining athleticism.
A sniper from beyond the arc, Allen last averaged 37.5 percent from deep for Miami, with averages of 42, 45 and 44 percent in the three years prior. He can create his own shot, can get open with ease and possesses a quick release that can punish even the most talented defenders.
He’s also an above-average passer with a point guard’s court vision.
Throw in excellent offensive mechanics from elsewhere on the offensive end and Allen represents everything that contending teams desire from a veteran role player.
Of course, his defense—though he’s never been noted for excellence on that end, his capacity to defend is rapidly declining—is a legitimate reason for worry, but that hasn’t stopped championship rosters from utilizing him down the stretch in crucial games.
In short, you’re not going to see Jesus Shuttlesworth trotting out onto an NBA court anytime soon.
Instead, you’ll see a seasoned veteran who has made the seamless transition to role player in his later years—a position that he has thrived in, thanks in no small part to his everlasting perimeter weapon.
Perhaps no NBA team bore more resemblances to the San Antonio Spurs than the Miami Heat squad with whom they clashed in 2013 and 2014.
Both teams boasted superstars at the top, but deep benches overflowing with capable role players.
So, it serves as a good sign that Allen thrived in an atmosphere similar to the one he would enter in San Antonio.
The Spurs play a perimeter-oriented style of basketball that capitalizes off of unparalleled ball movement to create openings along the arc and within the paint. Allen, should he join San Antonio, would find himself beside a supporting cast that has excelled due to lethal three-point shots.
Take Danny Green, for example. The starting shooting guard is inconsistent, but when he’s on from deep, San Antonio’s offense is borderline unstoppable. The same holds true for other Spurs like Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli.
However, Mills—coming off a breakout year in which he set the tone for one of the league’s most successful second units—is set to miss the majority of the regular season with a shoulder injury.
With Manu Ginobili likely facing more minute restrictions than ever before and Boris Diaw eyeing a spot in the starting lineup, the team’s top bench sparks might not be able to carry the second unit.
The need for another offensive playmaker has opened up with Mills’ injury, and Allen—with his perfect skill set—could not be a better fit.
And beyond his ideal repertoire that would put San Antonio into a prime situation to succeed in the upcoming year, the marriage would have significant long-term benefits as well.
Though other potential roster additions might require a multiyear investment, Allen’s retirement is looming. Should he enter a deal with the Spurs, it would likely be for one season, freeing up the contract books for the post-Duncan era in which the franchise will have the necessary funds to rebuild through free agency.
No matter which way you look at it, Allen to the Spurs makes sense. He thrived in a comparable environment in Miami, and his services mesh well with San Antonio’s short-term roster needs.
Though it may be difficult for some to accept Allen in black and silver garment, it’s time to forgive, forget and move on. In the battle between Ray Allen and the San Antonio Spurs, the Spurs got the last laugh.
Now, it’s time for them to join forces.
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Everyone has an opinion when it comes to the Atlanta Hawks and Danny Ferry. That includes league commissioner, Adam Silver. While in Spain for the FIBA World Cup, Silver was asked his thoughts, by USA Today, about the whole situation and […]
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California is suffering through its worst drought since 1977, which is why the Golden State Warriors really can’t afford for the FIBA World Cup to dehydrate the Splash Brothers.
If that sounds like a long stretch for a not-so-clever intro, that’s because it is.
But if that sounds like an overstatement of the dangers facing Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry as they pursue gold with Team USA in Spain, rest assured it’s not.
Risky International Business
International play cuts into the valuable and increasingly scarce recovery time players need after the grind of the NBA season—a grind we simply can’t underestimate.
ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh (subscription required) has been writing a lot lately about the physical toll of the NBA schedule and discussed it most recently in terms of sleep deprivation:
A season of 82 games will yield 578 brutal back-to-backs in 2014-15 where teams are forced to travel overnight, severely inhibiting sleep habits. To recap, studies have shown that a sleepless night or roughly a week’s worth of little sleep has the impairment effect of becoming legally drunk. Another study shows that getting four or fewer hours of sleep a night in a week’s span—something that can occur when a team is forced to play four games in five nights—can deplete a man’s testosterone levels as if he’s aged 11 years.
Flying halfway around the world and playing five games in a six-day stretch isn’t ideal for sleep patterns or physical recovery in general—especially when it comes after a long season. Remember, it’s not just the World Cup games that are taxing Thompson and Curry; they’ve been practicing since July.
The risk of injury is obviously real, as Paul George‘s broken leg demonstrated. Though less catastrophic, old-fashioned fatigue is no joke either. Kevin Durant addressed that issue proactively, pulling out of the World Cup before the U.S. hopped a plane to Spain.
Physical breakdowns that show up after the fact are another problem. And though it’s difficult to make a definite causal connection between international play and subsequent injury, we’ve seen some examples that are hard to ignore.
When Dirk Nowitzki underwent the knee surgery that kept him out of the opening weeks of the 2012-13 season, his international mileage was suspected as a factor, according to the Associated Press (via USA Today): “Nowitzki said doctors didn’t find anything ‘that was crazy or anything unexpected’ during the surgery. He figures 14 NBA seasons, and playing on the German national team during the summers, just took its toll on his knee.”
Manu Ginobili missed the first dozen games of the 2008-09 season (and another 19 straight between February and March) following an ankle injury that his participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics prevented from healing.
Ginobili told reporters at the time: “My plan was to be part of the Olympic Games, and I knew that if I suffered from pain they would have to operate. This isn’t something that took me by surprise.”
Maybe Nowitzki, Ginobili and other players who broke down after international play would have suffered the same fate without busy summers. But we can say this for sure: Every player has a finite number of miles in him, and though we don’t know what that number is, using up some of those miles over the summer cuts into the overall supply.
If we look at Curry specifically, we should acknowledge that the frailty narrative that once defined his career is a thing of the past. He’s played 78 games in each of his past two seasons.
Collapsible ankles were Curry’s major physical issue and the reason the Warriors were able to sign him to such a team-friendly four-year, $44 million deal in 2012.
The uncertainty surrounding his future health, at the time, was very real.
Even if Curry has proved his durability, few players spent the past two years under more defensive pressure than he did. Opponents paid him uncommonly physical attention—pushing, trapping, tripping and generally trying to wear him down. Treatment like that adds up, and the Warriors should be concerned that the lack of an offseason break could set Curry back when the year tips off in late October.
The worries pertaining to Thompson are different.
He’s big for a guard, dishes out more physical punishment than he absorbs and plays a style that subjects him to very little wear and tear. Floating on the perimeter and rarely attacking the basket is a good way to stay healthy on offense.
Thompson has missed just one game in his three-year career.
But that cuts both ways. Durability is good. Three-plus seasons without a break isn’t.
Like Curry, Thompson has endured two-straight seasons extended by tough playoff series. And unlike Curry, Thompson’s dogged work on defense in the World Cup subjects him to quite a bit of contact.
Klay is a critical piece of the Warriors’ future, something the organization made abundantly clear by refusing to include him in any trade for Kevin Love. Knowing that, even the small risk of losing him to fatigue, overuse or injury cannot be ignored.
At the same time, the benefits of playing for Team USA are significant.
Curry is honing his skills among elite competition, leading the U.S. in assist-to-turnover ratio while hitting nearly 46 percent of his triples. Kyrie Irving has been a better scorer, but you could make the case that Curry has established himself as the best overall point guard on the roster.
The confidence he’s building in Spain should be a major positive for the Warriors this year.
The same is true of Thompson, who joined Team USA as a specialist but has seen his role grow substantially. Through the Americans’ first seven World Cup games, nobody has played more minutes than Thompson, who has taken the second-most shots on the team and converted at a 50 percent clip overall.
For a guy looking to make the difficult step between “very good player” and “star,” playing with Team USA is an invaluable experience.
In a diary entry penned with Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, Thompson wrote:
I’m super-excited to be playing in this tournament. I’m not playing 45 minutes. I’m playing 20 really-hard minutes. It’s cool playing for the other guys and for your country. It’s going to help me so much going into the season, because I’m playing with guys who are better than me.
Thompson may say he’s playing with guys who are better than he is, but he’s conducting himself like a player who genuinely believes he belongs in their company. That’s huge.
We can look to players of the past who parlayed international competition into career breakouts as well. Derrick Rose won his MVP award the season after he starred for Team USA in the 2010 World Championships, and Durant took a leap after that same tourney.
Carmelo Anthony reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time in the 2008-09 season after shining in Beijing. Kobe Bryant won his fourth ring (and somehow played all 82 games) that same year after serving as the veteran heart of Team USA’s gold medal squad in China.
Consider, too, that guys like Curry and Thompson probably wouldn’t be sitting on the couch with their feet up if they weren’t in Spain right now. NBA players work out and play plenty of hoops over the summer, and logging 20 minutes per game against good competition is a good use of that offseason time.
Ultimately, Curry and Thompson are putting themselves at risk by playing for Team USA. Golden State is depending on its backcourt for production, a playoff berth in the upcoming season and perhaps most importantly its identity.
The Dubs were actually a defense-first outfit last year, but to the casual basketball fan, they were best known for their sweet-shooting backcourt. With new head coach Steve Kerr implementing an offensive system that should free up the Splash Brothers for more shots and even bigger roles, we could see them become even more important to the team’s success.
The Warriors should be worried. It’s only natural.
But they should also be excited because they might be watching their two key players take the steps needed to lead the Warriors to the next level.
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This past offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves got two rookies with a lot of potential and extreme athletic ability. Andrew Wiggins is the big name that the Timberwolves got in the Kevin Love trade, and was one of the most hyped prospects to come out of college. Zach LaVine was the Timberwolves 1st round draft pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and was an electric player for UCLA last year.
Wiggins dunks over TCU while playing at Kansas (Photo Credit: Brandon Wade/AP)
Both Wiggins and LaVine are set to be key players in the Timberwolves future. The question is what happens in the present? Wiggins and LaVine are extremely raw players with a lot of fundamentals to work on before becoming complete players in the NBA. The Timberwolves will surely give both LaVine and Wiggins a lot of playing time, but it remains to be seen how Saunders will construct the lineups, especially if Saunders is trying to create a team that will be in the playoff hunt.
With Wiggins, I believe he will be starting opening day. Although Corey Bre
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