By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

After four days of practices the World Team seems to be getting into a little bit of a groove and the players have better relationships.  The comfort level has obviously increased and hopefully most of the jet lag has worn off.  They are becoming an actual “team” as players learn to play with one another and trust one another.  It’ll be a distinct advantage when the ball is rolled out Saturday against the USA Team.

Practice Drills

Practice has been a series of drills and usually ends in a 5 on 5 scrimmage.  Coach Rana has focused a lot on spacing and getting open looks off the ball.  This team overall is very unselfish, especially considering the all-star like circumstances. Some different drills have been working on driving and kicking, as well as reversing the ball for an open shot.  Here is a quick look at the scrimmage today in the practice held at the Rose Garden.

Point Guard Battle 

No one can stay in front of Dennis Schroeder.  Dante Exum, Nikola Ivanovic, Tomas Dimsa, or anyone else that tries to get in his path is put in the dust.  He’s very confident on the drive and his first step is ultra quick.  Although he doesn’t shoot from deep much, Schroeder’s jumper is viabile and creates even more space for him.  

But at his size and weight, once Schroeder gets by the initial defender, he’s been a little bit contained.  He doesn’t have a floater or quick pull up jumper in the lane quite yet and usually tries to take the ball all the way to the rim.  With his quickness and wingspan (6’7″ aka LONG) Schroeder does have some advantages in the paint but he needs to attack with more of a plan.  He has had a handful of nifty bounce passes to bigs off the drive but is still learning everything he can do off the bounce.

Note: Schroeder interview below is totally in German.  A lot of the guys this week have given some generic answers trying to speak in English, so I tried to get guys speaking in their native tongue for some more original answers.

Dante Exum with his real lanky frame has been floating between the point and shooting guard this week.  Exum hasn’t really been electric in anything he’s done since the first practice I saw.  His jumper has looked solid all week but not spectacular, he’s been able to drive but rarely deep into the defense, and his passing game hasn’t been very creative.  He is a unique talent and one I really like but he’s relying on his jumper a little too much.

Nikola Ivanovic brings toughness and defense to this group.  He was over-dribbling and trying to do too much earlier in the week but after hitting a couple three’s and picking a few pockets in the scrimmage yesterday, his confidence looks up.  With Schroeder and definitely Exum seemingly a little more comfortable in a scoring role, Ivanovic could get minutes running the point with the second unit during the game if more ball movement and defense are needed.

With his experience and steadiness so far, I’d expect Schroeder to get the bulk of the minutes at the point come Saturday.  He really be able to pester the USA point guards and even though he has blazing speed, he always seems calm with the ball.

Last year people keep saying Leo Westermann was the leader of the team, always leading the squad in stretching to start practice and being very vocal on the court.  It’s been a different guy leading stretching here every day and the vocal-ness has increase but the communication hasn’t been that great.  Karl Towns Jr and Exum have been the most vocal so far with Ivanovic sometimes stepping up, but it’s a role that someone should of snatched up at the beginning of the week.

I Can Go Get A Shot Whenever I Want

Both Andrew Wiggins and Sergey Karasev have been the go-to scorers this week.  They get their points in different ways but these are the two best scorers and the two smoothest players here.

Wiggins can do a little bit of everything.  He can get to the basket in just a couple dribbles, uses his deadly spin move to get a shot whenever he wants it in the lane, and has a developing jumper.  Believe the hype, this guy athletically and offensively is really gifted and he seems to play the game so fluidly.

Karasev is all about the stroke.  A sugary, sweet, swish-worthy stroke.  It’s so potent that it makes the lefty’s jab step very effective.  He often gets the ball and just lines up a jab step like he’s about to shoot, gets the defender moving upward and takes a quick dribble in for an even cleaner shot.  There are little wasted movement in his game.  He cuts to the hoop when the lane is open, takes his man off the bounce when he sees space, and moves around the perimeter looking for his sweet spots.  As he said in his interview, he needs to get his body ready for the grind of the NBA, but similar to a guy like Bojan Bogdanovic, you could put Karasev on an NBA team right now and he could shoot himself into the rotation.

Making Role Players Fashionable

As a devotee to the throne of role players, my two favorite players this week have been Tomas Dimsa and Livio Jean-Charles.  Both have been a pleasure to watch in this type of setting because they are constantly working hard and are always having an impact.

Dimsa plays tight coverage on his man but always has an eye and an arm out ready to jump a passing lane.  He never wastes a dribble unless it’s used to attack the rim, otherwise that ball is caught and then reversed.  One skill of his I’ve thoroughly enjoyed is his passing off of the dribble drive.  It’s one of the toughest things in basketball to do, find the open teammate when amongst the tall trees, but Dimsa always has his head on a swivel.  In this highlight video courtesy of City League Hoops, you can see two passes in a row (00:53-00:58) Dimsa (#13) has in the lane that show off his creativity.

Livio Jean-Charles can play either the three or the four but has the feel of a guard.  What makes him special are all the guard and hustle skills he posses for a 6’9″ guy.  Whenever a ball is rolling around half court, someone saves a ball going out of bounds, an offensive rebound hits the floor, or a pass is deflected; Jean-Charles ends up with the ball.  Working a lot from the high post he has an excellent feel for hitting cutters and has a knock down elbow jumper.  He could challenge Wiggins and Karasev for most minutes played on Saturday.

Gabriel Deck needs to be mentioned in this category but he’s a step or two below Dimsa and Jean-Charles.  With his wider frame and inside-out play, Deck can do a variety of things.  He has been pretty timid this week but has done a good job setting screens, digging in on defense, and has a nice feel for passing the ball.  He hasn’t been that much of a threat to score but has been able to get others open shots off of quick ball movement.  If you watch the scrimmage video at the top you can see he attempts an over the shoulder in the lane pass to a cutter, a creative pass few have tried this week.

Note: Deck interview below is totally in Spanish.  A lot of the guys this week have given some generic answers trying to speak in English, so I tried to get guys speaking in their native tongue for some more original answers.

My Big is Bigger

Mouhammadou Jaiteh has started to really come on.  He isn’t anything like big man counterpart Karl Towns Jr.  He’s an old school defensive, hang in the paint center.  He has bulging muscles to go with a quick jump ability and long arms.  The one constant in his game this week has been his offensive rebounding.  He just pushes and fights for position and then go gets the ball as it’s coming off the rim.  No one has been able to keep him away from the rim yet.  His jump shot takes years to get in the air but occasionally goes in leaving the hope that he could play some power forward someday, but I like Jaiteh as close to the basket as I can get him.

Karl Towns Jr. is a prospect most fall in love with.  Tall, long, athletic, who can shoot from deep, run the floor, block shots, attack the rim, has a couple moves in the post, and just overall oozes offensive ability.  He’s in many ways the opposite of Jaiteh, who has a defined role.  I’m not even sure where to peg Town Jr. right now but during the game he’s going to have at least a couple plays where your head just starts spinning with the possible ways to use him on offense.

In Joel Embiid you can see the athlete that’s ready to just jump out at you.  In the big man drills no one explodes at the rim harder.  He just can’t do a whole lot else right now.  He did shoot three treys in yesterday’s scrimmage, granted he made one, but it just wasn’t cool.