The Harlem Shake craze won’t go away. Everyone is doing it.
Everyone except Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler.
The Harlem Shake craze won’t go away. Everyone is doing it.
Everyone except Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler.
(This is another in a series of 30 guest columns that will run in October, when optimism reigns supreme across the NBA. The theme will be “Five Reasons to Feel Positive About … ” We encourage you to follow the authors on Twitter and visit their sites. – CS)
In the wake of the Carmelo Anthony trade and the departures of Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith – the ending of the “Thuggets” era – Denver Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and coach George Karl have done a masterful job of assembling a team of character-first players with depth at every position.
Having done so, many are thinking big things for the 2012-13 Nuggets, going as far as comparing them to the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons – the only NBA team since 1980 to win a championship without a bona fide superstar (or superstars) leading the way. And thus, expectations and optimism are more than a Mile High for the Nuggets in Denver this season.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t square with the reality of what’s happening around the Nuggets in the Western Conference. En route to the 2004 title and another NBA Finals appearance in 2005 by way of a weak Eastern Conference, the mid-aughties Pistons never had to face the likes of this season’s Lakers, Thunder or Spurs – or even the quality of this season’s Clippers and Grizzlies, for that matter.
Lest we forget that as soon as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James elevated their games to superstar status, those Pistons never made it back to the NBA Finals.
So we as Nuggets fans need to temper our enthusiasm and be more realistic with our expectations for this team. This fan in particular would be thrilled to see the Nuggets again win 50 games and get into the second round – something that has happened just once during Denver’s current run of nine straight playoff
appearances dating to 2004.
The Nuggets can and should get into the second round in 2013, and here’s five reasons why.
1. Two Starting Fives
While most teams – even the good ones – struggle to field a solid starting five, never mind a decent bench, the Nuggets go 11 deep. That’s right, 11 deep.
After assembling a solid starting five presumed to be Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried at forward, JaVale McGee at center and Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala manning the backcourt, the Nuggets have a backup point guard in Andre Miller that would start on 10 NBA teams, two backup centers in Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos (yes, Kosta Koufos) that might start on 15 NBA teams, and a backup small forward in Wilson Chandler that would start on 20 NBA teams.
Throw in a vastly improved Jordan Hamilton and exciting French rookie Evan Fournier, and the Nuggets will be able to come at opponents in waves – almost like a hockey team that changes lines throughout the game.
Basketball is an increasingly global game, and more worldwide flavor is on the way for the 2012-2013 NBA season.
One or more foreigners will soon be playing at an arena near you, and these international men of mystery shall remain enigmas no longer.
With a wide range of youngsters and seasoned veterans heading to the NBA for their rookie seasons, this year’s international rookie crop should provide some interesting additions to the league.
They come in all sizes and shapes, some are young and some are old … and all have the talent to make them worthy of competing in the best league on earth.
Here is a look at the 11 foreigners currently slated to make their debuts this year.
After a year’s wait, the Raptors will finally get their top center prospect, pairing the heir to Zydrunas Ilgauskas next to Andrea Bargnani. Valanciunas, the 5th pick in 2011, has excellent footwork in the post for a big man his age and should be ready to contribute in a big way as a rookie (after he completes his hazing from the referees who keep an extra close eye on Euro big men taking their first dip in the big pond (See Mozgov, Timofey).
Big V is very efficient in the paint on both sides of the ball, finishing around the rim at a high rate and using his length to cause disruptions defensively.
His play in the Olympics caused some to doubt what he can do in the league, but the Lithuanian national team has a lot of veterans and it is very hard for a young player to break in and succeed right away in their system. He was a monster in the Lithuanian league and in European competition, and his game is possibly more suited to be effective in the NBA.
If Toronto decides to use him as the starting center and let him loose, he has a strong chance to make one of the All-Rookie teams, or at least turn some heads in the rookie All-Star game. He has already caught the attention of Miami rapper O’Grime.
More conventional highlights below.
Shved was a big reason why Russia took the bronze medal in the Olympics, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter against Argentina. This crafty guard from CSKA is going into what looks like the ideal situation for him to make the transition to American basketball. He will be playing for a Euro friendly coach, alongside a Euro playmaker in Ricky Rubio, and will get to learn from Brandon Roy, who despite his injuries is still among the craftiest guards in the modern era. Shved’s quickness and explosiveness should allow him to get to the rim frequently, and his free throw rate should be very high for a rookie. It may take him a month or two to adjust to the American game, but this guy is ready to play and could have a rookie season comparable to Manu Ginobili’s rookie campaign.
Eurostashed since 2005, this former first-round pick should be able to make a strong impact immediately for a Trail Blazers team that has retooled their roster. His strong proficiency for offensive rebounds and putbacks should give him plenty of opportunities to see some minutes as a rookie. He was one of the few bright spots for Great Britain in the Olympics, and should be one of the pillars of that program for the duration of his career. The fact that he could be a good combination with LaMarcus Aldridge will ensure that he will see the floor often as a rookie.
The Nets offseason pickup should be able to seamlessly make the transition from Euroleague star to NBA role player. Teletovic may have been a scoring machine last season for Caja Laboral in the Euroleague, but he is a player who gets most of his points through the flow of the game, relying primarily on spot up jump shots and transition baskets. It may take him a couple of months to adjust to defending power forwards in the NBA, but his combination of shooting and speed should make him a tough matchup for the Nets second unit. Expect Teletovic play a very similar role to the one Boki Nachbar played during his time with the Nets.
Probably the only rookie in history whose main assets are veteran leadership and experience. At 35, Prigioni is well regarded as one of the best guards of his time in Euroleague and will be a nice fit as a third point guard behind Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. He may not be in the starting role he has grown accustomed to, but his knack for sharing the ball is contagious and he should be a welcome addition and solid insurance policy for the Knicks. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he has already been teammates with veterans Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola who knocked off a team that had LeBron James and Dwyane Wade when Argentina was on its way to a 2004 Olympic Gold Medal in Athens.
Motiejunas is a bit of a project, but with the Rockets clearly in rebuilding mode they can’t go wrong with someone with such astounding size and potential. He has a lot of natural ability, but will need to prove he is more focused and consistent defensively to be an impact player. Motiejunas set the Euroleague single game defensive rebounding record last year, grabbing 18 while playing for Asseco Prokom in Poland. He has the tools to be a star, with an exceptional feel for the game for a player his size, but it could take him a couple of years to put it all together.
Fournier has a natural feel for the game that should help him develop rapidly into a solid rotation player, with starter potential down the road. The first international player selected in this year’s draft, Fournier has great instincts in the pick and roll, has a strong pull-up jump shot and is able to make plays for others off the dribble. As a soon-to-be 20-year-old, it may be tough to get consistent minutes on a Denver team that should be very solid after acquiring Andre Iguodala, so expect to see Fournier plying his trade part-time in the D-League where he can get a chance to adapt to the American game. Fournier probably doesn’t project to be a future All-Star, but he very likely will be the top international player selected in 2012.
The ceiling for Claver may never be as high as many thought when he was selected 22nd in 2009 after suffering a serious ankle injury a couple years ago, but he is ready to contribute immediately. He can shoot, rebound and is a solid defender but doesn’t excel enough in one particular area to make him a standout player. He may not be a player to create for himself, but he knows how to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him throughout a game. A veteran of the Spanish National team, Claver won’t be the type of player to change Portland’s luck, but he can be relied upon to play in high pressure situations if need be.
After several summers as Tony Parker’s understudy on the French national team, De Colo is an NBA-ready talent who should fit right into the Spurs system. He has a good feel for both guard positions, is a great outside shooter, is very strong in transition and is a capable defender. While he probably won’t be the same type of steal that Ginobili was after being drafted at the bottom of the 2nd round, he will surely be another example of the Spurs eye for overseas talent. It may be difficult for him to get minutes as a rookie, since he will be competing with Patty Mills and is likely to get the rookie treatment, but if called upon he should be ready to rumble.
Shengelia was originally intended to be a Eurostash project, but surprised the team enough this summer to earn a guaranteed deal. Right now his skill set is best suited for the four spot, but if he improves his jump shot and ballhandling skills, he projects to be a nice combo forward down the road with his excellent mobility and athleticism. Since he is a high level pick-and-roll defender and is capable of switching against perimeter players due to his lateral quickness, he may sneak in some minutes in Avery Johnson’s rotation as a rookie, but look for Toko to spend a good chunk of time in the D-League while the Nets make their big splash in Brooklyn.
Kravtsov is about as big of a project as they come in the league. He has exceptional length and is a very capable shot-blocker, but will need to spend a lot of time working on his fundamentals to make a serious impact in the league. He could potentially bring some value down the road as a backup center for defensive purposes, but don’t expect to see him on the floor much this year.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working as an assistant coach for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.
What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.
Take the Las Vegas Summer League, for example. Players such as Klay Thompson and Derrick Williams are trying to parlay strong performances this summer into eventual NBA stardom with their teams.
The Las Vegas Summer League is a golden opportunity for players to earn an increased role in the NBA. For young players, their summer performance can earn them a rotation spot. For players hooping overseas, the summer is a chance to show NBA executives and coaches they belong on this side of the pond.
One needs to be put in a position to succeed, and the Las Vegas Summer League is among the primary avenues a player can take to put himself in that situation.
With 24 teams comprised of draft picks, young NBA players, D-Leaguers, international players and former pros, here is a look at the 10 players likely to benefit most from their exposure in Las Vegas. Golden State, Minnesota and – believe it or not – New York each have two players on the list:
1. Klay Thompson, G, Golden State: Thompson has been the most impressive player by far through the first four days. He proved he could roll with the big boys after Monta Ellis was shipped to Milwaukee last season but has come out slinging in Vegas. His confidence in his jumper is sky high, and he has shown far more craftiness off the dribble than he displayed as a rookie. Not only will he start for Golden State next season, he could emerge as the team’s top scoring threat by the All-Star break.
Shooters can only go as far as their confidence takes them, and there are only a handful of players in the world right now whose confidence rivals what Thompson displayed in his two games in Vegas. According to sources, Thompson will be shut down for the rest of the summer league so Frank Robinson and Kent Bazermore can get the opportunity to battle for an invitation to training camp.
2. Derrick Williams, F, Minnesota: Last season’s second overall pick looks like he has a far more polished offensive game than he displayed as a rookie. Williams was one of the players whose season was affected the most by the lockout as he wasn’t given the opportunity to get comfortable through the summer league and training camp experiences. As the leader of Minnesota’s summer league team, Williams has displayed more focus in the halfcourt to add to his excellent abilities in transition. He looks more athletic than he did last season and appears more capable than before of being a full-time small forward. If he can continue to display this type of penetrating ability, Minnesota will flourish having him next to Kevin Love.
3. Eric Bledsoe, G, LA Clippers: With one of the deepest backcourts in the NBA, it would appear tough for Bledsoe to crack the rotation in Clipperland. But if the summer league is any indicator, this kid needs to play. Despite already being one of the most well-conditioned players in the league, he appears to be even faster and stronger than before. His defensive IQ has finally started to catch up to his instincts, which will make him a valuable asset guarding the Tony Parkers of the world come playoff time. Many folks may forget about him because of LA’s guard-heavy roster, but if he keeps it up, coach Vinny Del Negro will have no choice but to give Bledsoe some burn.
4. John Jenkins, G, Atlanta: The Hawks plan on replacing one JJ for another at under 10 percent of the cost. Jenkins may not be able to fill Joe Johnson’s shoes as a leader or all-around player, but he is a better and more consistent shooter. This rookie has a knack not only for making crunch time 3-pointers, but also always seems to make shots at key momentum points. Whenever teams go on runs against the Hawks, Jenkins will knock down a bucket to keep Atlanta in the game. He can’t carry an offense like Johnson, but he is an outstanding weapon to have in your arsenal.
5. James White, F, New York: White hasn’t been able to stick in the league since becoming a second-round pick in 2006, but it appears he is finally ready to establish himself. He left for a second tour of Europe three years ago after failing to distinguish himself as more than a dunker in the NBA and really learned to understand the game in Russia and Italy.
While White may have battled it out in Russia with Gerald Green in arguably the second-best dunk contest of all time, he spent most of his time honing the art of the pick-and-roll on both sides of the ball. His overall understanding of the game has gone up tremendously, a testament to his once-questionable work ethic, as he has managed to become a far headier player without losing any of his athleticism. With Iman Shumpert set to miss a significant amount of time next season, look for White to emerge as an important player for the Knicks in the first half of the season.
6. Evan Fournier, G, Denver: Fournier displayed an NBA-style game while competing in France’s first division this past season. At just 19 years old, he seems to be far ahead of schedule. He is a natural pick-and-roll player who has no difficulty understanding angles and making quick decisions. He may struggle a bit with man-to-man defense, but his instincts in the passing lanes will give him some value as a team defender. Many viewed Fournier as a Eurostash candidate, but he has rapidly shown that his feel for the game may be at a level that already may warrant some backup minutes as a rookie.
7. Donatas Montiejunas, F-C, Houston: Despite all the uncertainty in Houston right now, one thing is for sure – this kid can play. At 7 feet and 222 pounds, Montiejunas may look skinny, but he set the Euroleague record for defensive rebounds in a game with 18 during his time with Asseko Prokom in Poland. His NBA career will benefit from the Lithuanian national team coach’s refusal to guarantee Montiejunas minutes in the Olympics, as the extra time in the U.S. now will ensure the 2011 first-round pick is ready for the upcoming season. Whether he is part of the potential blockbuster trade coming in Houston or remains with the Rockets after the dust settles, his long frame and tremendous skill level will be causing fits in the NBA for years to come.
8. Lior Eliyahu, F, Minnesota: While Eliyahu has become a known commodity in Europe during his time with Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel and brief stint with Caja Laboral in Spain, he is a relatively unknown player in America. Despite every scout, player and coach in Europe knowing that Eliyahu will attack with his awkward mid-range floaters, nobody has figured out to stop him. His game may be very herky-jerky, but in a 15-minute role off the bench playing next to Kevin Love or Nikola Perkovic, Eliyahu will be a nightmare for opponents.
9. Draymond Green, F, Golden State: How is it possible for a player such as Green to slip out of the first round? To succeed in the NBA you need to have one defined skill, and Green possesses three with his low-post scoring, ability to take you off the dribble and effectiveness on defensive switches. Add his mental toughness and you have a guy who clearly can be an NBA rotation player right away. Yes, 34 guys were picked ahead of him on draft night. Only a handful will contribute more than Green throughout their careers.
10. Chris Copeland, F, New York: The leading scorer and best player the last two seasons in Belgium, Copeland may have the best opportunity of his career to crack an NBA roster after landing a non-guaranteed contract with the Knicks. The 28-year-old can get to the basket using his bulky 6-8 frame, and he has a relentless motor. Over the last two years, Copeland played for a coach who has a knack for growing players’ understanding of the game, better preparing him mentally for the rigors of the NBA. Copeland may have gotten used to being a superstar in Europe, but he has the humility and sense of self to establish himself as an NBA role player. He may not end up sticking with the Knicks because of their roster situation but has shown that he deserves to crack an NBA squad and might even find a way to sneak into a rotation.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.
The eyes of the basketball world shift their focus now to Miami, the site of Game 3 Sunday night between the Heat and the Thunder, after the Heat picked up the win in Game 2 to even the series at one game apiece.
We’ve got some Finals news and the latest from everywhere else in the NBA.
Dan Malone just completed his sophomore year at University of Kings College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is spending the summer in Baltimore, where he covers the Single-A minor-league baseball team the Aberdeen IronBirds for OriolesHangout.com. He will be blogging for SheridanHoops this summer.
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