Walker Kessler

World Cup Notes: Team USA, Kessler, SGA, Brooks

Following Lithuania’s upset of Team USA, Bucks forward Bobby Portis said the team needs to have a short memory as it prepares to play Italy in the World Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday.

“One thing I learned about sports, nobody gonna feel sorry for you,” Portis said to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports and other media members. “Nobody gonna pat you on your back and sleep with you at night and say, ‘Hey man, it’s gonna be OK.’ Move on, get ready for the next opponent.”

The upset was fueled by Lithuania’s inside power and dominance of the boards. Lithuania out-rebounded Team USA 43-27 and had a 17-2 edge in second-chance points.

“They out-rebounded us, for sure,” Portis said. “I don’t have to look at that stat. I think that was kinda obvious.”

We have more from the World Cup:

  • Another thing Team USA needs is to get off to better starts, Fischer notes in the same story. The U.S. trailed by as many as 21 points in the first half. “We were on our heels that whole first half,” coach Steve Kerr said. “They were carving us up, and we definitely had some miscommunications.”
  • Jazz second-year big man Walker Kessler hasn’t seen much action for Team USA, though that could change, given its rebounding issues. Kessler is averaging 3.6 points and 6.1 minutes per game but he’s just happy to be on the roster, Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune relays. “I think that our team, all 12 of us are just unbelievably talented players,” he said. “All the guys are great guys. Regardless of who’s playing, we all cheer for each other. We all support each other. It just goes to show how deep we are. Anybody could have a good night on this team, and it’s a lot of fun to be part of.”
  • Canada clinched a spot in the Paris Olympics with its 88-85 win over Spain on Sunday. The victory was fueled by the Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Rockets’ Dillon Brooks, Eric Koreen of The Athletic notes. Gilgeous-Alexander had 30 points, seven assists and three steals. Brooks supplied 22 points and was also a defensive nuisance. “It’s something that’s almost indescribable,” SGA told Sportsnet in regards to Canada clinching an Olympic appearance for the first time since 2000.

Team USA Notes: Lithuania Matchup, Edwards, Kessler, Bridges

Team USA got its toughest World Cup test so far in Friday’s win over Montenegro, and another challenge awaits on Sunday against Lithuania, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. The Americans will be the de facto top seed if they can reach the quarterfinal round with a perfect record, but Lithuania is also in contention for that honor after going 3-0 in pool play and crushing Greece on Friday.

The U.S. hasn’t fared well against larger teams, which will be an issue when it faces Jonas Valanciunas and the Lithuanians. Nikola Vucevic had 18 points and 16 rebounds for Montenegro on Friday while getting Jaren Jackson Jr. in early foul trouble. Lithuania is the top rebounding team in the tournament and has six players who are at least 6’9″.

Vardon suggests that head coach Steve Kerr might consider a lineup change, starting either Paolo Banchero or Bobby Portis alongside Jackson to get more size on the court. But that would take away the advantage in transition offense that allows the Americans to get so many fast break points.

“We understand teams are gonna try to be physical and slow the game down, and (Montenegro) did a good job of that,” Kerr said. “But our whole thing is we feel like over 40 minutes, we can wear the other team down if we stay solid.”

There’s more on Team USA:

  • Anthony Edwards led the rally against Montenegro with 17 points in the second half, notes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. The Timberwolves guard has emerged as the team’s primary scoring option, but he’s not making a big deal out of the role. “It’s a team sport,” Edwards said. “If I wanted to punch my chest and do that, I’d go play golf or tennis or swimming like Michael Phelps. I’d go do something that’s an individual sport. But it takes five guys to win a basketball game.”
  • Walker Kessler thought he might be getting bad news when Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said he had a phone call for him, per Ryan Kostecka of NBA.com. Instead, it was head coach Will Hardy on the other end of the line informing Kessler that he had been selected to the World Cup team. “I was kind of freaking out, thinking I might get traded, but then he said it was coach,” Kessler said. “He then told me congrats on making the USA team. … I was definitely kind of speechless, but here I am.”
  • Mikal Bridges told Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops that the depth of talent on the U.S. roster creates difficult matchups for other teams. “It makes it so tough to beat,” Bridges said. “Even if the starters struggle, we have guys from the bench who are gonna play better than the starters.”

Western Notes: Davis, Lakers, Kessler, Garuba, Canales

While the Lakers are certainly well aware of Anthony Davis‘ injury history, they were impressed with how he battled through his foot issues last season and recognized that he spearheaded their defensive turnaround after the trade deadline, with the club advancing to the Western Conference Finals despite a terrible start to 2022/23.

“They understand AD and his work ethic has shown,” Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul told Mark Medina of Sportskeeda on Friday. “He has some injuries, but it wasn’t due to him not working. It’s not like he came into camp overweight or showed any laziness. There were just fluke things. That happens in the game.”

Paul said the two sides are still determining whether Davis will have a player option in his new three-year extension, but it will not contain a team option.

Both Medina — writing for The Sporting Tribune — and Jovan Buha of The Athletic believe it’s a win-win for Davis and the Lakers, though there’s obviously some risk involved for Los Angeles. The two authors note that Davis could potentially have earned more money had he hit free agency in 2024.

Here’s more from around the West:

  • After a standout rookie season, Jazz center Walker Kessler, who will be representing Team USA at the upcoming World Cup, has added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, according to Tony Jones of The Athletic. “A lot of the offseason has been about gaining weight and gaining strength,” Kessler said. “It’s been a lot of hard work. But I’m excited to try and put myself in a position to make a difference on the floor, so the work has been a lot of fun. I love the weight room. I love working on my body. I’m really excited to be a part of Team USA and extremely thankful that I get to be a part of this. I think the amount of talent and the amount of knowledge that’s going to be on the roster is amazing. I’m trying to learn as much as I can and use this experience to try and better myself in every way that I can.”
  • Speaking to Nacho Duke of Spanish outlet Marca, Thunder big man Usman Garuba said he hopes to spend the rest of his professional career in the NBA. “If possible, I intend to play my entire career in the NBA, and I’m going to push it to the maximum,” Garuba said, per BasketNews.com. “I do not think about another thing. Anything can happen, but I only have in mind to continue in the NBA all my professional life.” Oklahoma City acquired Garuba last month via trade.
  • Veteran assistant Kaleb Canales is joining the Texas Legends — the Mavericks‘ G League affiliate — as associate head coach, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Canales, who became the NBA’s first Mexican-American head coach in 2012, last worked for the Pacers in 2020/21. He also had stints with Portland, Dallas and New York over his lengthy coaching career, so it will be a reunion with the Mavs organization.

Trade Rumors: Maxey, Lillard, Jazz, Heat

The Sixers‘ stance so far this offseason – as conveyed to multiple reporters – has been that Tyrese Maxey is off the table in trade talks, even for a superstar player. Discussing that subject on the latest Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Tim MacMahon, and Tim Bontemps expressed some skepticism about just how untouchable Maxey really is.

“They want you to know that you can’t have Tyrese Maxey,” Windhorst said. “Prime Michael Jordan is available? Don’t call. 25-year-old LeBron James is available? Lose our number. Giannis Antetokounmpo says, ‘I want to be a Sixer’? If Tyrese Maxey is the ask, just keep walking. … I don’t trust them at all on that, but I will say to you that is what is being said.”

While the Sixers are by no means looking to move Maxey, ESPN’s trio believes the front office’s stance on the young guard would be more malleable than what’s been reported if the team has a legitimate chance to acquire a star, including perhaps Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.

As Windhorst and Bontemps observe, while Philadelphia’s plan not to sign Maxey to a rookie scale extension is ostensibly about maximizing cap room in 2024, he would also be easier to trade if he’s not extended, since he wouldn’t be subject to poison pill provision rules in 2023/24.

Here are a few more trade-related rumors and notes:

  • Although he’s not reporting that any trade discussions have taken place with the Trail Blazers or that the Jazz will make a run at Lillard, MacMahon said on The Hoop Collective podcast that he has heard Utah is “intrigued by the possibility” of acquiring the All-Star guard, confirming previous reports. MacMahon, Windhorst, and Bontemps ultimately believe the Jazz aren’t ready to make significant deal for a win-now player who’s about to turn 33, but they note that Lillard has a connection to Utah, having played his college ball at Weber State, and the Jazz’s collection of future first-round picks would dwarf what Miami could offer.
  • At the trade deadline, the Jazz‘s position was that Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, and Ochai Agbaji were their only players who were off the table in trade talks, according to MacMahon, who believes that if Utah did pursue a star this offseason, Markkanen and Kessler would be the only untouchables.
  • Appearing on NBA TV (Twitter video link), Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel says the Heat are willing to discuss anyone except their two All-Stars as they negotiate a possible deal with Portland for Lillard, who wants to play in Miami. “Put it this way, they basically have loaded up one of those PODS dumpsters in front of the Trail Blazers and said, ‘Take anyone out of here you want besides Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler,'” Winderman said. “Maybe they’ll go back and forth on Caleb Martin a little, but it’s basically, sort of, ‘Come and pick and choose. Tell us what you want. Anything else is yours.’ The Heat are all-in on this. This is their moment. There’s a reason they didn’t go hard after Bradley Beal. There’s a reason they held off on some other moves. This is their play.”

World Cup Notes: Jokic, Adebayo, VanVleet, Murray, Kessler, Powell, Simmons

After winning his first NBA title, Nikola Jokic isn’t a certainty to represent Serbia this summer in the FIBA World Cup, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Vardon hears from an international source that Jokic has a family celebration scheduled during World Cup play, which will take place from August 25 through September 10, leaving his playing status unclear.

Vardon adds that Serbia received a favorable draw in the tournament and appears to have a relatively easy path to a quarterfinals matchup with Team USA. Jokic was part of the team that defeated the Americans in the 2019 World Cup.

Vardon also questions whether Jokic will want to commit to another intense competition after a long NBA season and a two-month playoff run with the Nuggets. The tournament will end roughly two weeks before the traditional start of NBA training camps.

There’s more World Cup news to pass along:

  • Bam Adebayo may also need a break after helping the Heat reach the NBA Finals, Vardon adds. Adebayo played for Team USA two years ago and is expected to be part of the 2024 Olympics squad, so he may consider opting out this summer.
  • Team USA reached out to Raptors guard Fred VanVleet to see if he’s interested in joining them for the World Cup, a source tells Vardon. The veteran free agent has never taken part in a World Cup or Olympics competition.
  • Nuggets guard Jamal Murray made a three-year commitment to Team Canada, but his long postseason run and his injury history may put his World Cup status in doubt, according to Vardon.
  • Jazz center Walker Kessler has agreed to join the Americans in the World Cup, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The first-team All-Rookie selection was originally asked to be part of the Select Team that will scrimmage against Team USA, but he received a promotion, according to Tony Jones of The Athletic (Twitter link).
  • Mavericks big man Dwight Powell is optimistic about Canada’s chances in the tournament, per Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com. With 22 players on NBA rosters at the start of the season, Canada has a rich talent pool available. “Gold medal,” Powell replied when asked what would constitute a successful tournament. “That’s always the goal. (However), the World Cup is a stacked tournament. We got to be ready for everybody.”
  • The deadline to submit World Cup rosters is in late August, and the Australians are willing to wait as long as it takes to see if the NetsBen Simmons is available, according to a NetsDaily story. Simmons is working out with teammates in Miami and trying to overcome the nerve impingement that ended his season in mid-February.

And-Ones: Sarr, Sharavjamts, 2022 Re-Draft, Bradbury

French big man Alex Sarr is joining the Perth Wildcats of Australia’s National Basketball League for the 2023/24 season as part of the NBL’s Next Stars program, he tells Jonathan Givony of ESPN.

A promising young prospect who began his playing career with Real Madrid’s youth team in 2019, Sarr has spent the last two years with Overtime Elite. The 18-year-old – who currently projects as a top-20 pick in 2024, per Givony – told ESPN that he was seeking a “new challenge” before becoming draft-eligible next year.

“The OTE experience was great,” Sarr said. “I had all the resources in the world and improved a lot the past two years. I need to take the next step with my game now; the NBL is what I need.”

As Givony observes, the NBL’s Next Stars program has been a popular choice for top French prospects in recent years. Ousmane Dieng played for the New Zealand Breakers before being drafted 11th overall by Oklahoma City in 2022, while Rayan Rupert – a projected first-rounder in 2023 – spent this past season with the Breakers.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Dayton forward Mike Sharavjamts, who declared for the draft following his freshman year, is leaning toward turning pro but has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal so that he has an opportunity to explore his options if he decides to continue his college career, reports Givony (via Twitter). Sharavjamts is among the prospects attending this weekend’s G League Elite Camp, which should give him a better idea of where he stands in the 2023 draft class.
  • Thunder forward Jalen Williams and Jazz center Walker Kessler are among the biggest risers in a re-draft of the 2022 draft conducted by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic. Williams jumps from No. 12 to No. 2 in Vecenie’s exercise, while Kessler moves from No. 22 to No. 9. Vecenie remains high enough on Chet Holmgren to keep the Thunder big man at No. 3 despite his lost rookie season.
  • Veteran agent Kevin Bradbury, who represents players like Patrick Beverley and Robert Williams, has agreed to join LIFT Sports Management, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link). Bradbury will become the head of basketball for the agency, which was founded by Donnie McGrath and former NBA sharpshooter Mike Miller.

NBA Announces All-Rookie Teams

Rookie of the Year winner Paolo Banchero was a unanimous choice for the 2022/23 All-Rookie First Team, the NBA announced today (via Twitter).

Players receive two points for a First Team vote and one point for a Second Team vote, and Banchero received the maximum possible 200 points.

Here’s the full five-man squad, listed in order of their total points received via voters:

The All-Rookie Second Team was announced as well, with a couple of teammates headlining the group (Twitter link).

In my opinion, the most surprising omission from the All-Rookie Second Team was Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard, who received 46 points. Nembhard was actually listed on one more ballot than Eason, but Eason received two First Team votes versus Nembhard’s zero, giving him a narrow edge.

That’s not to say Eason (or anyone else) was undeserving — he had a strong season as a tenacious offensive rebounder and defender. I just thought Nembhard should have been honored because he started the majority of the season for a competitive Indiana team and was frequently tasked with guarding the opposing teams’ best player, as Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files notes (via Twitter).

According to the NBA (Twitter link), others receiving votes included Trail Blazers guard Shaedon Sharpe (36), Hawks wing AJ Griffin (26), Nuggets forward Christian Braun, Thunder center Jaylin Williams (seven), Mavericks guard Jaden Hardy (four), Spurs guard Malaki Branham (three), Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels (two), Hornets center Mark Williams (two) and Bucks wing MarJon Beauchamp (one).

In case you missed it, more NBA awards will be coming later this week. The All-Defensive teams will be announced on Tuesday, followed by All-NBA on Wednesday and the Teammate of the Year award on Thursday.

Paolo Banchero Named Rookie Of The Year

Magic forward Paolo Banchero has been named the league’s Rookie of the Year, NBA on TNT tweets.

Orlando selected Banchero with the No. 1 overall pick ahead of Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. The former Duke Blue Devil immediately made the Magic look good with a 27-point, nine-rebound, five-assist debut against Detroit.

Banchero went on to average 20.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 0.8 steals per game in 72 starts. He’s Orlando’s first Rookie of the Year since Mike Miller in 2001.

Banchero easily topped the other finalists, Thunder forward Jalen Williams and Jazz center Walker Kessler, for the award. Banchero received 98 out of 100 first-place votes, according to an NBA press release. Williams finished second and Kessler, who picked up the other first-place votes, was third.

Williams averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 75 games, including 62 starts. The No. 12 pick in the draft came on strong after the All-Star break, averaging 18.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 4.3 APG down the stretch.

Kessler was part of the Rudy Gobert blockbuster deal between Utah and Minnesota. The big man, selected with the No. 22 pick, averaged 9.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 74 games, including 40 starts. Kessler ranked fourth in the league in blocks per game.

Bennedict Mathurin, Keegan Murray, and Jaden Ivey were the only other rookies to receive votes, finishing fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively.

NBA Announces 2022/23 Award Finalists

The NBA announced its finalists for all the major 2022/23 regular season awards on Friday evening (all Twitter links can be found here).

Here is the full list of finalists for each of the awards, listed in alphabetical order:

Most Valuable Player

Defensive Player of the Year

Rookie of the Year

Most Improved Player

Sixth Man of the Year

Coach of the Year

Clutch Player of the Year

TNT will begin announcing the winners next week during its coverage of the 2023 playoffs, according to the NBA. The three finalists for each award are based on voting results from a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.

Antetokounmpo, the league’s back-to-back MVP winner in 2018/19 and ’19/20, has finished fourth and third in MVP voting over the past two seasons, respectively. He averaged a career-high 31.1 PPG along with 11.8 RPG and 5.7 APG on .553/.275/.645 shooting in 63 games (32.1 MPG) this season in leading the Bucks to the NBA’s best record at 58-24.

Embiid, the MVP runner-up in each of the past two years, led the league in scoring for the second consecutive season, posting a career-high 33.1 PPG along with 10.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.0 SPG and 1.7 BPG on .548/.330/.857 shooting in 66 games (34.6 MPG). The Sixers finished third in the East with a 54-28 record, though it’s worth noting that record is also the third-best mark in the league.

Jokic, the reigning back-to-back MVP, averaged 24.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 9.8 APG and 1.3 SPG on .632/.383/.822 shooting in 69 games (33.7. MPG). In addition to breaking Wilt Chamberlain‘s record for most assists per game by a center (8.6), Jokic led the Nuggets to the top seed in the West with a 53-29 record.

It’s long been assumed that Banchero, Brown and Fox were the runaway favorites for their respective awards. Given Embiid’s excellent play to end the season and Denver’s stumble to the finish line, it seems likely that Embiid will edge out Jokic and Antetokounmpo to win his first MVP — all three finalists are more than deserving, just as they were last year.

However, the other three awards are more up in the air. Jackson and Lopez have been considered the betting favorites for DPOY for much of the second half of the season. Mobley’s inclusion is somewhat surprising, but maybe it shouldn’t be — the Cavs finished with the league’s top defense and he is arguably the best defender on the team.

Western Notes: Kessler, Watson, Morant, KAT

Jazz center Walker Kessler will likely miss the rest of the regular season after entering the league’s concussion protocol, a source tells ESPN’s Tim MacMahon (Twitter link).

The 21-year-old sustained the injury when he was inadvertently elbowed by teammate Talen Horton-Tucker as Horton-Tucker drove to the basket, causing Kessler to fall backward. The play occurred during the third quarter of Utah’s loss at Brooklyn on Sunday.

Kessler, the No. 22 overall pick of the 2022 draft, has been one of the league’s best rookies in 2022/23. He leads the NBA in field goal percentage (72.0%), is second in block percentage (8.5%), fourth in blocks per game (2.3), and is second among rookies in rebounds per game (8.4) while also chipping in 9.2 points per game in 74 contests (23.0 minutes).

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports doesn’t expect Peyton Watson to be in the Nuggets‘ playoff rotation, but the young wing has shown in the last two games that he’s a terrific athlete with plenty of defensive upside, compiling 13 rebounds and five blocks over 47 minutes against Phoenix and Golden State. Watson, the No. 30 overall pick last year, has spent most of the season with Denver’s G League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Gold, but Wind writes that people within the organization believe the rookie could make All-Defensive teams in the future.
  • For his part, Watson says he’s not taking his opportunity for granted and believes he’s ready to contribute, according to Parker Gabriel of The Denver Post. “This is a big responsibility that coach is trusting me with,” the Nuggets rookie said. “I’m grateful for it all and I’m going to continue to work. I’m not satisfied.”
  • Due to the Rose Rule language included in his rookie scale extension, Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant would earn a projected $233,160,000 if he makes an All-NBA team again this season, compared to $194,300,000 if he doesn’t. Mark Giannotto of The Memphis Commericial Appeal takes a look at Morant’s chances of making one of the three All-NBA teams, writing that the star’s eight-game suspension shouldn’t be held against him from a merit standpoint, as he has already appeared in more games than last season. However, Morant faces stiffer competition with so many guards having strong seasons, and if he does make it, which is far from a lock, he might be the sixth and final guard selected, according to Giannotto.
  • Timberwolves power forward/center Karl-Anthony Towns has seen his status downgraded to questionable ahead of Minnesota’s next contest, Tuesday against the Nets, the team announced (Twitter link). Towns just recently returned to the club’s lineup after a four-month absence due to a Grade 3 calf strain.

Alex Kirschenbaum contributed to this report.