It’s not a good time to be a young lawyer in the ole U.S. of A. but when it comes to rising basketball stars, the future couldn’t be brighter. Team USA had an internal scrimmage yesterday that had the country’s best up-and-comers vying for a spot on Coach K’s (Mike Krzyzewski ) 2014 World Cup team. Monty Williams coached Team White and Tom Thibodeau Team Blue, with White ultimately being the victor.
It’s daunting to think how the foreign competition will match up against a team that can blowout its own b-unit, and this on a group of reserves. Team White was absolutely dominant even if a look at the rosters suggests the sides were evenly matched. Despite turning the ball over more (18 t0 11), the Kyrie Irving-lead White squad pummeled its sister team 128-106. In terms of categories, Team Blue only outdid its opponent in its taking care of the ball, steals, and field goal attempts. In everything else, the Monty-coached White team reigned supreme: field-goal percentage (51.1%), 3-point attempts and percentage (10 of 21 0r 47.6%), assists (27), rebounds (59), and blocked shots (7).
Without much room for doubt, Irving was the player of the game—beating defenders off the dribble, getting into the paint at will, shooting perfect from deep (2 for 2), dishing the ball for seven assists, and scoring the game-high total with 23. Anthony Davis was also impressive, both in his defense and improved jump shot, but he ultimately couldn’t will his team to a victory.
CRYSTAL BALL PREDICTIONS
It’s relatively easy to crunch numbers. For example, Ty Lawson was looking to get his teammates involved as he made the most assists despite playing less minutes than all other point guards. But it’s another thing to try to predict his coming season assist average based on the 21:06 he played in the scrimmage. It’s certainly possible and mostly involves a lot of crystal ball predictions but that’s how the talent is being scouted nowadays in the league (of course, with a lot more time investment, statistical minds, and history of casting predictions at play).
After watching the Team USA scrimmage we have a number of our own looks to the future.
1. Led By Irving, The Cavs Post Better Record Than Celtics, Hawks, Bucks, And Wizards – Apart from his slothful defense, Kyrie Irving’s fragility is what threatens to keep him from top-five player status in the NBA. If based off of speed, wizardly dribbles, and late game heroics alone, he’d be a shoe-in, but that’s clearly not the case. It never has been.
But Irving has proved once again that when it comes to holding his talent to the light of his contemporaries’ he always comes on top. He severely outplayed last year’s Rookie of the Year, while sharing court with an All-Star (Holiday), last year’s MIP (George), and talent asunder. With Jarrett Jack serving as a quality backup, Earl Clark as a reliable SF, Waiters and Thompson a year older, and Mike Brown putting down the clamps on defense, the Cavs will be better than all four teams listed above, which means they end up with the No. 6 seed out East, behind Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn, and New York. Even if Andrew Bynum is out all year.
With teams being able to focus less on him, especially if Jack gets put in at the 2 at intervals, Irving will be more efficient, allowing him to get more open looks, unobstructed lanes to the basket, and breathers to help retain some energy for an improved defense (hopefully on that last one).
2. Anthony Davis Becomes All-Star This Year – The New Orleans Pelican showed off a much improved jump shot which means he’s on a path to new heights. He looks extremely healthy, which bodes well for him, as he was still the most efficient rookie last year despite a long spurt of injuries. In addition, he looks incredibly mobile and confident, and like Irving, severely outplayed players with many more years of experience on their belts.
With a newfound shooting stroke, he’ll fit in well with a team that has two new paint-drivers in the mix, and it’ll help ease any feelings of pressure he might still be experiencing as a No.1 Draft Pick. If all goes well, I expect the Bill Russell prototype to post a 15.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.3 BLKPG year. Numbers that should nab him an All-Star nod.
3. Mike Conley Helps The Grizz Find Their Shooting Stroke – The Memphis Grizzlies needed outside shooting as much last year as the Knicks needed a post-up player, the Bulls a third unit, and the Lakers some time with Dr. Phil. By signing Mike Miller they help that area but it will be another Mike that puts them in contender status.
Conley has always been a good three-point shooter, shooting 37.5% for his career, but his attempts took a major jump last season. That willingness to take the outside shot more didn’t translate to a better percentage but that’s because the Grizzlies are so offensively challenged. With Miller on the floor, Conley will feel less pressured to force threes, and can become a very good, if not great, spot-up shooter. His 3-for-5 from deep in this showcase, when he wasn’t the center of a defense’s attention, proves that.
4. The New Orleans Pelicans Are A Playoff Team This Year – Of course, this one depends as much on #2 as it does on the Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Jrue Holiday experiment working out. But a lot of Western Conference teams have regressed. By that token, teams like Golden State and Houston have improved, but I don’t see the Lakers, the Timberwolves, the Jazz, the Mavericks, the Nuggets, the Kings, the Trail Blazers, or the Suns playing better than the water birds will. That might mean that NOLA gets in by a hair, but I do see them becoming a low-seed playoff team in 2013-14.
Holiday, Anderson, and Davis proved that they can hang with the youth class and the added talent might convince Eric Gordon to buy into a team mentality finally. Evans and Gordon tend to hog the ball, but Holiday is a willing passer. With Jrue’s All-Star resume and Davis’ growing leadership skills, both Evans and Gordon might learn how to fit within a system if they know what’s good for them.
5. Damian Lillard Has A Sophomore Slump – It doesn’t help Lillard’s efficiency that he had to play alongside Dion Waiters in the backcourt, but 4-14 in a semi-relaxed exhibition is atrocious. Unfortunately, I feel like this is a sign of things to come for Lillard this season as he undergoes a sophomore slump. With new recruit C.J. McCollum on the roster, Lillard will have to share the floor at times with another high-scoring guard. Not to mention that the addition of Robyn Lopez, the growth of Meyers Leonard, and the expected rise of Thomas Robinson should take the ball out of his hands more. Don’t see him responding well to that.
6. Dion Waiters Averages Less Points Than Earl Clark – Waiters’ bonehead shot selection is already almost legendary. You can blame it some on a history of poorly-shooting rookie guards, his having to draw attention away from Kyrie Irving, his having to live up to Irving’s adjoining talent, and a myriad of other things, but it doesn’t change the fact that he shot like the ball was ticking to blow.
In light of his abysmal 2-for-10 display yesterday, it seems like Waiter’s second year won’t be all that better. To think that he was being guarded by a point guard, on lax defense, only makes it worse.
With Jarrett Jack in tow, Mike Brown will have a serviceable mid-range guy he can turn to, who can play the 2, and who will steal plenty of Waiters’ minutes if he has off-nights. Meanwhile, Earl Clark doesn’t have much talent behind him (sorry Alonzo Gee), to worry about a loss of floor time. Mike Brown might also be more inclined to put the ball in Clark’s and Tristan Thompson‘s hands as he prepares to service a system that keeps Anthony Bennett and Andrew Bynum in mind. In almost all scenarios, Waiters might be the weak link in the Cavs’ starting lineup.
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