Kobe: ‘I would go 0-30 before I would go 0-9′ from the floor

The Kobe documentary is shaping up to be must-see TV, especially if we are going to get more quotes like this. Gotham Chopra, the director of “Kobe Bryant’s Muse”, an upcoming documentary on Bryant, told a story about being with Kobe and watching the Nets and the Heat play. Recounts Chopra, “Deron Williams went like 0-9. I was like, ‘Can you believe Deron Williams went 0-9?’ Kobe was like, ‘I would go 0-30 before I would go 0-9. 0-9 means you beat yourself, you psyched yourself out of the game, because Deron Williams can get more shots in the game. The only reason is because you’ve just now lost confidence in yourself.’” Did you expect Kobe to say anything differently? Even if you disagree with the point, you can understand the thinking.  Kobe has always been a going doing swinging type of player (except when he gets pissed and stops shooting to prove a point in playoff games).  Even if he goes 0-30, he thinks shot 31 going to be nothing be net. Off topic, remember when there was a debat

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Healthy Al Horford Would Push Atlanta Hawks to Next Level

Al Horford is a legitimate NBA star.

Even though he hasn’t made an All-Star Game since 2011, the Atlanta Hawks center has a versatile skill set possessed by very few big men in the league. 

Horford’s team missed him sorely last year after a torn right pectoral ended his season in December. With its star center in the lineup, Atlanta won 16 games and lost 13. But with him out, the Hawks were only 22-31 and stumbled into the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 slot.

Unfortunately, Horford’s shoulder troubles last year were not an isolated incident. He tore his left pectoral muscle in 2011-12, keeping him out of 55 regular-season games.

But the center believes he should be good to go for training camp this fall, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore

If Horford is completely healthy for the duration of the 2014-15, the Hawks will go from first-round doormats to a legitimate conference contender.

Now, let’s find out why.

 

How Much Did Horford Produce Last Year?

In 2013-14, Al Horford posted career highs in points (18.6) and blocks (1.5) per game, as well as field-goal percentage (56.7) and player efficiency rating (22.0). His numbers put him on par with every All-Star big man in the Eastern Conference, including his own teammate, Paul Millsap.

From a pure production standpoint, getting Horford back will be a huge upgrade from what the Hawks got at the starting center position to finish last season. Pero Antic, Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon each began games at the 5 for Atlanta in 2013-14, but none of them averaged more than seven points or five rebounds per game.

The Hawks won’t have to deal with starting a bench-level player at the center position if Horford is healthy in 2014-15 and therefore won’t have a real weak link in their first string. Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Millsap and Horford are all average or better-than-average players at their respective positions.

 

How Does Horford Impact the Hawks On Offense and Defense?

Note the players in the above table. Each one of them (except for Millsap, of course) played for a team that was one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14.

In almost every case, the best teams in the NBA have at least one All-Star-level player on the interior, and a healthy Horford gives the Hawks two. 

Horford also has a unique skill set that fits Atlanta perfectly on both ends of the floor. 

The Hawks’ offense relies on screen action and frequent ball movement. But without good floor-spacing, it’s hard for an offense heavy on ball movement to thrive.

Part of what makes the 28-year-old center so special is his ability to take the most inefficient shot in basketball and make it a lethal offensive weapon. Horford nailed a remarkable 49.6 percent of his long twos (shots from 16 feet to the three-point line) last year. More than one-third of his field-goal attempts came from that area, often on pick-and-pop plays. 

If that seems like no big deal, think again. 

Horford’s soft touch from mid-range forces rim-protecting big men to leave their comfort zone in the paint to ensure the Hawks don’t get two points on a wide-open jump shot. Horford can hit the shot in big moments against good defense, too, as shown by the below game-winner against the Dallas Mavericks and his buzzer-beater against the Washington Wizards (both highlights courtesy of YouTube). 

And if Horford is covered too tightly, so what? He’s a great passer for a big man, with an average of 2.6 assists per game over his career.

Defensively, Horford is not a stopper by any means. He is, however, a decent defender with good fundamentals. According to ESPN.com, Horford would’ve placed No. 4 in blocks per foul last season (0.79), trailing only Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis and Serge Ibaka. The ability to avoid fouls is a trait none of the Hawks’ other centers possessed in the team’s most recent campaign. Antic, Brand and Ayon all averaged at least 3.9 fouls per 36 minutes in 2013-14.

Horford’s scoring touch from anywhere inside the three-point line and heady defense will require adjustments from opponents that didn’t have to be made most of last season.

 

How Much Can a Healthy Horford Improve the Hawks?

Quite simply, a lot.

With Horford on the court in 2013-14, the Hawks outscored their opponents by 3.4 points per 100 possessions, according to 82games.com. When Horford sat, Atlanta’s efficiency differential was negative-1.9 points per 100 possessions. The former differential was better than all but three Eastern Conference teams (the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors).

Considering how much Teague and Millsap grew as players after Horford injured himself last season, the Hawks should have a legitimate Big Three in 2014-15. The trio, each of whom is an All-Star candidate, is perhaps only exceeded in the East by LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

With the Hawks’ young core and a budding mastermind like head coach Mike Budenholzer on the sidelines, Atlanta is a lock for the playoffs and has the potential to be the third-best team in the Eastern Conference with a healthy Horford in 2014-15. 

 

Note: All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise indicated.

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Saunders wasn’t sure Love trade would happen

Flip Saunders sits down with KARE 11′s Dave Schwartz to talk about the uncertainty of trading Kevin Love and the future of Timberwolves.

      
 

 

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Derrick Rose Would Be Wise to Sit out Team USA’s Wednesday Exhibition

Until we see Derrick Rose play an entire NBA season and return to something resembling his MVP form, there is going to be panic whenever he misses a practice or game.

That’s just a reality now for Chicago Bulls supporters and basketball fans everywhere. After all, he missed the vast majority of the past two seasons and three playoffs for the Bulls, and we were potentially robbed of some classic showdowns between Chicago and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.

The injuries may be in the past, but caution should still be the operative word with Rose (especially in August) with an ever-important future looming. 

Some of that natural worry popped up again Tuesday, and Comcast Sportsnet Chicago pointed out why:

The United States takes on the Dominican Republic Wednesday in an exhibition contest at Madison Square Garden. For now, Rose is still scheduled to play in that contest, although he may not start like he did against Brazil in the first exhibition because his knee soreness forced him to miss practice.

For all the concern that surrounds Rose’s health, the man himself didn’t seem particularly worried, via Tim Casey of the Chicago Tribune (subscription required):

There’s nothing wrong with rest. It ain’t like it’s the season. I’m not worried about it.

I’m really, really happy with where I’m at right now health-wise (and) recovering very quickly. I’m just trying to take my time and get rest because we have a long schedule ahead of us — just try to get as much rest as possible. 

Jerry Colangelo added more context to the situation, via John Schuhmann of NBA.com:

Rose and Colangelo are exactly right, there is nothing wrong with rest right now. He looked explosive but rusty in the 24 minutes he played against Brazil and clearly needs some live action, but his overall health is much more important.

Both he and the coaching staff (that just so happens to include Bulls head man Tom Thibodeau) should recognize this and sit him out Wednesday. After all, it’s just an exhibition game against an Al Horford-less Dominican Republic squad and ultimately has no bearing on the actual World Cup.

Plus, the United States is not going to lose, even if Rose does miss the game. It still has Kyrie Irving to fill in, and he would probably be the best player on the vast majority of the other teams competing in the event.

The risk versus reward ratio is balanced far too heavily toward risk if Mike Krzyzewski plays Rose Wednesday. There are still more exhibition games down the road before the event begins that Rose can play in.

It is much more important that the Bulls point guard is ready to go for the actual World Cup and the 2014-15 NBA season. He is one of five projected starters for the squad alongside Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis and will be asked to carry much of the load.

Once the World Cup begins, the Red, White and Blue play five games in six days before the round of 16. With so many marquee players either injured (Paul George) or no longer on the team (Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love) and a loaded schedule, there will be a heavy burden on Rose.

He brings valuable international experience to the table after playing in this event in 2010 and will be seen as one of the team leaders.

What’s more, Rose’s place on the Chicago Bulls is more important than ever this year given the chaotic NBA offseason. LeBron James left Miami and George unfortunately suffered a gruesome leg injury, which puts the Bulls right near the top of the Eastern Conference with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Chicago added Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic to a frontcourt that already features Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. Still, it ultimately needs a healthy Rose spearheading the effort if it wants to knock James and the Cavs out in the playoffs. 

With an incredibly important NBA season and a physically grueling schedule in the World Cup on the horizon, there is no need for Rose to push his knees just for an exhibition game Wednesday. There is just too much at stake.

 

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Why Kevin Durant Would Be Foolish to Leave Oklahoma City Thunder

With shorter contracts and greater movement in free agency shuffling personnel across NBA rosters, speculation about potential player moves is beginning earlier than ever. Kevin Durant is the latest subject of such chatter, with rumors spreading of his eventual return to his hometown Washington Wizards when his contract expires after the 2015-2016 season. 

Put aside the money he’d be turning down from the Oklahoma City Thunder and the relationship he has built with the city and team, both of which are certainly factors in free-agency decisions. From a pure basketball perspective—in terms of Xs and Os and his role on the floor—any move away from OKC makes little sense. 

The growing trend of superstars forcing their way to certain teams has kicked up significantly in the last few years. The idea, of course, is simple: Put multiple great players on the same roster and you’ve got an instant contender. But basketball, unlike baseball or football where players can fill specific roles independent of other positions, is completely interconnected. 

How one player positions himself on offense, dominates the basketball or swings it around has a direct impact on the effectiveness of other teammates. It’s why Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, two of the three best players in the NBA when they teamed up in 2010, still looked disjointed and inefficient well into their second year together. 

Despite different body sizes and weights, they essentially played the same on-ball guard position, commanding the offense from the top of the key as its centerpiece. Neither had ever truly played off the ball, and they seemed to be taking turns more than playing with and off each other. 

One of Durant’s greatest assets is that he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to score efficiently. He’s a better player when he’s able to work off of a creator, hitting jumpers off screens and attacking defenders who aren’t totally keyed on him—which is to say Russell Westbrook helps Durant just as much as Durant helps Westbrook. 

Because at heart, Durant is a shooter. Since he entered the league, his ability to penetrate and break down defenders off the dribble has improved tremendously—to the point that his 1.113 points per possession on isolations was actually best in the league among all players with at least 50 isolations last year, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). 

But the telling stat isn’t in his isolation efficiency; it’s that he ranked 19th in the league in isolation percentage, or the percent of his possessions that were isolations. Other scorers such as Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Joe Johnson, LeBron James, Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans and James Harden were all ahead of him, indicating that he found alternative methods of scoring in which the ball wasn’t simply placed in his hands to create two points.

Looking at his scoring distribution, Durant produced points relatively evenly throughout the traditional methods of scoring: 20.2 percent of his points came as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, 16.2 percent in isolation, 15.8 percent in transition, 13.4 percent off screens, 9 percent in post-ups, 8.7 percent off spot-ups and the rest collected through cuts, offensive rebounds and rolls to the basket in the pick-and-roll. 

Now compare that to another elite wing scorer, like Harden: 26.8 percent in transition (largely due to Houston‘s style of offense), 23.5 percent in isolation, 21.6 percent as the pick-and-roll ball-handler and 9.5 percent as a spot-up shooter. 

Of Harden’s scoring distribution, 45.1 percent of his baskets came when he was relied upon to create (pick-and-roll and isolation). Only 36.1 percent of Durant’s points came that way, whereas the other nearly two-thirds of his points came by working away from the primary action. 

It’s not that you can ignore star players when they don’t have the ball, but most scorers become significantly less threatening on the weak side of the floor. A lesser willingness to cut or a coach’s attempt to use them as a decoy keep them in standstill positions, reducing their worth to that of a spot-up shooter. 

Durant, however, is arguably the best shooter in the league and cannot be ignored no matter how far away from the ball he is. But he’s also fantastic on the move, and OKC head coach Scott Brooks does a great job keeping him active even when he’s not in the primary action. 

Take this set here against the Phoenix Suns, in which Kendrick Perkins and Durant set a “double drag” screen for Westbrook. This dual pick-and-roll action forces Westbrook’s defender to fight through two screens while putting extra pressure on Phoenix’s Miles Plumlee to corral both the ball and two possible rollers to the rim.

Brooks, however, adds an extra wrinkle by having Perkins immediately set a quick little screen for Durant so he can pop to the three-point line. Now Plumlee is in a real dilemma: Does he stay with the ball in a help position, or lunge out towards Durant who might come free at the three-point line? 

He decides to stay home at the free-throw line and protect, but Durant is able to knock down the open shot. 

This is the choice defenses face between Westbrook and Durant. Their skills so wonderfully complement each other, with Westbrook’s world-class explosion to the rim stopping bigs from venturing too far out of the paint, and Durant’s world-class shooting doing the exact opposite. 

On this next play, we have a similar “double drag” which folds into a double stagger screen for Durant out of the corner. This time Westbrook attacks himself, hitting a pull-up jumper from the elbow. But notice how Blake Griffin and Reggie Bullock of the Los Angeles Clippers are both completely occupied with the secondary double screening action.

This keeps their focus off the ball and puts DeAndre Jordan on an island with Westbrook. To account for his speed, he backs up after the pick-and-roll. But Westbrook seizes the space and knocks down the jumper. 

There are plenty of players that can score throughout the NBA, but few are as versatile as Durant. Even fewer have the luxury of playing with someone who can exploit the exact components of a defense that are stretched by a particular offensive player, and that’s the type of relationship Westbrook and Durant have. 

It’s not that the Wizards don’t have talent, and it’s not that John Wall, Bradley Beal and Durant can’t form their own Big Three. It’s that this Durant—a Durant that can and does cede shots to a complementary and unrelenting sidekick—is the best and most efficient version of himself. Any other situation is a risk that is not worth taking. 

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Paul George: ‘I would love to play this year’

Paul George knows he could miss the entire season but is trying to maintain optimism.

      
 

 

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George ‘would love to play this year’

Paul George knows he could miss the entire season but is trying to maintain optimism.

      
 

 

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Would Cutting DeMarcus Cousins Be Huge Mistake for Team USA?

There’s an old saying in sports that goes something like this: It’s when you’re thinking about hurting yourself that it’s most likely to happen.

We can’t be sure whether DeMarcus Cousins was thinking about Paul George when the Sacramento Kings center injured his right knee after falling awkwardly during a Team USA scrimmage Thursday afternoon, per USA Today’s Nancy Armour.

Still, to even have that scare—tests showed Cousins suffered no structural damage—might be reason enough to reevaluate whether playing in next week’s FIBA Basketball World Cup is even worth it.

However, it might be Team USA pulling the plug for him.

For his part, Cousins told the Sacramento Bee’s Ailene Voisin as recently as August 8—just one week after George’s gruesome injury—that he’d be “crushed” if coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t keep him on the 12-man roster.

“Everyone knows how much I want to do this,” Cousins said. “This is my third year here (two with Select Team), and I don’t run from any challenge. I would be crushed, but I’m not a quitter. I would come back and try again.”

With Kevin Durant having withdrawn from the competition, Krzyzewski can use all the offense he can get. And Cousins, with his excellent passing and deft touch around the rim, certainly provides that.

But with a team bursting at the seams with perimeter firepower—Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard being just the team’s point guard crop—it’s possible Krzyzewski will adhere more to a “four out” offensive system bolstered by more traditional paint protectors like Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee.

SI.com’s Jeremy Woo underscored precisely this point on Friday:

Coach K has been hinting we might see a lot of three-guard lineups, and without Durant that became a near-certainty with this team now highly backcourt-centric. Expect Team USA to open its games with the high-scoring Rose-Curry-Harden trio to drive much of the offense. Curry’s shooting ability will play well off the ball, Rose continues to display a much-improved perimeter game and Harden is the best pure scorer on the roster. As a group, they’ll cause a lot of problems for opponents.

For all his undeniable offensive talent, Cousins has never been a reliable defensive presence.

Whether that alone will be reason enough for Krzyzewski to give the mercurial big man the proverbial axe—particularly with pivot-laden teams like Brazil and Spain on the horizon—will be an interesting development indeed.

As Cousins himself admitted in the Voisin interview, being cut wouldn’t deter him from trying his hand again two years from now, when Team USA will try and snag its third straight gold medal at the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.

Still, it’s worth wondering whether bringing a player into the international fold this many times only to bid him bitter adieu once again might make for a crisis of confidence.

This is a player, after all, known for pinning heart to sleeve.

Sometimes, the results are positively inspired. When Cousins is at his apex, it’s hard to not see him as the best all-around center in the NBA.

Other times, you wonder how many more tantrums or sideways scowls it’ll take before Cousins loses it for good.

His reputation has long preceded him, and this summer’s showcase was no different. However, it didn’t take long for Krzyzewski to notice what many in NBA circles had long taken note of: Cousins is growing up.

“All the coaches were really pleased with DeMarcus and how he played,” Krzyzewski said during an August 5 teleconference. “Look, his attitude is tremendous because he wouldn‘t keep coming back to be a part of Team USA if it didn‘t mean something to him. We recognize that.”

Laudatory as Coach K’s comments were, one can’t help but read a tinge of guardedness in those last two sentences. No coach conducting a tryout wants to tip his hand, of course—particularly at this level.

All the same, it seems not even a dearth of positional power has made Cousins’ spot safe.

At 24 years old, Cousins still has plenty of time to make hay with Team USA. If he can somehow continue to improve—a scary thought, given the numbers he put up in his fourth NBA season—he might even have a pair of Olympic appearances ahead of him.

Then again, Thursday’s injury, regardless of its extent, could make the whole exercise moot.

With Cousins already confirmed out of Friday’s exhibition showdown with Brazil, calls for him to withdraw are bound to get louder. And not just from Kings fans, either.

That Team USA offers up-and-coming stars a chance to hone their games against the globe’s best is, 22 years after the Dream Team’s marauding march to Barcelona gold, a practical truism. For all the extra wear and tear, the collaboration and competition of international play—like any study-abroad program—is bound to yield a fuller basketball perspective.

That, in turn, is good for the NBA. And so the cycle continues, with more regular competition contributing to better play, better players and, most important of all, a better, more dynamic game.

Can Team USA survive without Cousins? It’s possible. Should it lose, it certainly wouldn’t be for his loss alone.

Still, if/when he’s fully cleared to play, Cousins stands to gain as much as anyone—in knowledge, team-building experience and tricks of the international trade—over the next month.

Even if he remains a mostly bench-bound spectator, the sheer act of osmosis would pay tangible and lasting dividends, both for the Kings and Team USA itself.

For as much as we criticize some stars for skirting FIBA for the sake of quadrennial gold, Cousins gives us an endlessly compelling counterpoint: a player long lambasted for his on-court antics doing everything in his power to prove he belongs, USA emblazoned across his chest, with the game’s best.

Even in injury, Cousins is willing to take a chance. It’s time for Team USA to respond in kind.

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Free Agents the Lakers Would Do Well to Target to Improve Their Odds in the 2014-15 NBA Season

The Lakers dreamt big this offseason. Like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony teaming up with a returning Kobe Bryant to form a Dream Team in Tinseltown kind of big. But as the free agent frenzy came and went, none of those dreams came to fruition, and the Lakers were left with the likes of Ed Davis, Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer.
As a result of their failure to land the big fish in free agency, the Lakers will not be titles contenders again this season. In fact, the L.A. Lakers haven’t been labelled with NBA Championship odds this low in recent memory.
The Lakers figure to be bad again this upcoming season, but they’ve still got a chance to be less bad if they can fill some of their glaring holes with a couple of smart free agent signings.
One such signing could be Shawn Marion. “The Matrix” averaged 10.4 PPG and 6.5 RPG for the Dallas Mavericks last season and was a solid contributor in their return to the playoffs. The 36-year old veteran is still a sought-after commodity because of his solid wing de

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Michigan State Basketball: How Bryn Forbes Would Change 2014-15 Outlook

As far as shooters and scorers are concerned, Bryn Forbes is about as pure as they come—and luckily for Michigan State, the former Lansing Sexton star decided to return home and play for Tom Izzo.

Next year, though, he’s not supposed to be eligible until 2015-16. But the 6’3”, 175-pound transfer from Cleveland State is worth the wait.

However, according to Spartan Mag’s Paul Konyndyk, Forbes could debut earlier than anticipated. The well-respected insider communicated with program officials Thursday, confirming that there is a decent shot of Forbes clearing hardship waivers and suiting up in 2014-15.  

Yes, this year.

“I assume he’s going to get a waiver,” Konyndyk said during an interview with Sports in the Mitten. “I just don’t see how he can’t. He’s got as good of a case for a waiver as anybody that’s appealing for one…I think he’s going to play this year.”

Of course, the intimate details of Forbes’ waiver process haven’t been made public and probably won’t be for weeks. But he does present a compelling case to the NCAA, one that would make it difficult to deny his request: He has a nearly one-year-old son and an ill family member in the Lansing area.

During an interview with MLive.com’s Mike Griffith posted on July 23, Forbes said: “I’m still waiting to hear; hopefully next month.”

Well, Bryn, if you’re reading this, it sounds like things could be a go, so plan on getting ready to run with your former Sexton teammate Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson, Lourawls “Tum-Tum” Nairn, Matt Costello and, among others, Travis Trice.

 

What Forbes Brings

The word “sweet” immediately comes to mind when analyzing Forbes’ shot. He’s smooth. His mechanics appear nearly flawless—although there is no perfect shooter—and he has a wonderful release. Basically, he’s a model specimen, all the way down to elbow and hand placement, lift and weight distribution.

“Bryn is one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen, hands down,” Trice told Griffith. “That ability he has to shoot the ball will really space the floor.”

In 2013-14, Forbes averaged 15.6 points per game, putting him at No. 5 overall in the Horizon League. He also shot .826 from the line (No. 5) and .424 from long range (No. 4). Whether or not he can do that in the Big Ten remains to be seen, but people aren’t raving about him without ample cause. 

His scoring ability and range could, in part, make up for the loss of Kenny Kaminski, who was recently dismissed because he didn’t want to follow team guidelines. Of course, Forbes won’t fill Kaminski’s role on the glass—that just means he has to make more shots to avoid that issue all together.

He’s nimble enough to be a great option on the run, too. Imagine a Trice-led charge with Forbes and Branden Dawson on the wings. And since he can drive, defenses will have to respect him inside as well. Slashing, darting, screening and ducking, Forbes is the type of guy who pops up from thin air and knocks down shots. 

Personnel-wise, Forbes is already somewhat familiar, giving him a leg up on the standard transfer. Much like Brandon Wood, who transferred from Valparaiso in 2011-12, Forbes has friends who play for Michigan State. Of course, he knows Valentine, but he’s also acquainted with other members of the team. 

He’s switching one green jersey for another, and that’s about it. It doesn’t sound like he’ll experience culture shock. Quite the opposite really. In all likelihood, it’ll be similar to a homecoming. And he’s a great fit for the backcourt, which just lost Keith Appling and Gary Harris. 

Far from the typical, all-around threat, there are weaknesses in Forbes’ game. Not many, but there are one or two, with the primary knock being strictly physical—as in, he needs to gain weight and strength so he can play better defense. He’s not a bad defender, but he needs to stack on a few pounds in order to take beatings in the Big Ten.

And in Izzo’s practices, which have been known to get football-ish.

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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