Giannis Antetokounmpo bucked the trend of exclusively high draft picks winning NBA MVP before Nikola Jokic took it to an entirely different level this past season.

As the 41st overall selection in 2014, Jokic became by far the lowest draft pick ever to win the award, surpassing Antetokoumpo and Steve Nash, who were both chosen 15th overall. Prior to Jokic and Antetokoumpo, the previous 10 MVPs were won by players picked between first overall (LeBron James, Derrick Rose) and seventh (Stephen Curry).

Jokic's MVP serves to further illustrate that big-time NBA talent can be found lower in the draft, and while most second round and undrafted players may not win any MVPs, they can still become regulars that make major contributions in the right situations.

This year's draft class has an elite first tier with the likes of Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs, yet it also boasts some solid depth, with potential gems lurking into the second round or later.

Here's a look at five players that could outperform pre-draft expectations:

KESSLER EDWARDS - Pepperdine

One look at Edwards' statistics during his three seasons at Pepperdine and improvement and versatility jump off the page. After averaging 10 points and 5.6 rebounds in his 2018-19 freshman season, Edwards went up to 13.8 with 7.5 boards the following year, followed by a breakout campaign with 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and a career-best 49.1 field-goal percentage in 2020-21. That also included an 87.6 free-throw percentage that ranked among the best in the nation.

He earned first-team all-WCC honours and was named CBI Tournament MVP after Pepperdine defeated Coastal Carolina for the title. Edwards was one of six Division I players this past season to average at least 17 points and 6.5 rebounds while also making 45 three-pointers.

Edwards proved to be consistent from deep with a 38.7 percentage (148-for-378) during his time with the Waves, and any 6ft 8" player that can score, rebound and connect from long range will draw the interest of NBA teams. Add in Edwards' length and high-level defence and a first-round pick would seem to be a guarantee, but he's expected to drop into the second round or possibly go undrafted, mainly because he didn't play at a Power Six school and the long-held belief is that facing lesser competition in college is a detriment at the next level.

One of the knocks on Edwards is a funky hitch in his shot that makes him look as if he's almost shot-putting the ball toward the basket. Maybe a team could alter his shooting style at some point but that should not prevent him from being drafted.

Even if his offensive game fails to develop - and that seems unlikely - Edwards shouldn't have a problem guarding multiple positions in the NBA. He is quick enough to stick with smaller guards and forwards and is lanky enough to cope with bigger post players as well.

 A minimal contributor off the bench would likely be where Edwards finds himself early in his NBA career, but he has enough upside as an on-ball defender with a developing perimeter game to potentially excel as a starter or regular rotation player in time.

JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL - Villanova

Robinson-Earl only spent two seasons at Villanova but received plenty of accolades in his brief tenure with the Wildcats. He was named Big East Freshman of the Year in 2019-20 and captured co-Big East Player of the Year honours this past season, leading the team with 15.7 points and 8.5 rebounds.

Jay Wright's program has produced a considerable amount of pro talent lately in Josh Hart, Saddiq Bey, Eric Paschall, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, with Robinson-Earl having an excellent opportunity to continue the Wildcats' success in the NBA.

While he does not project as a future All-Star due to average athletic ability, Robinson-Earl can do a lot of different things well and is a smart player with intangibles that NBA teams love to have on their roster. There may be other players with higher upsides that get drafted in the second round, but Robinson-Earl can score, rebound, guard multiple positions and plays with a relentless motor.

A more refined offensive game and the ability to shoot from long range more consistently would make Robinson-Earl a more appealing prospect, but he does have a soft touch and a smooth release from mid-range. He is comfortable playing low in the post, does not shy away from the physical side of the game and has great court vision with a knack for making the right play.

Much in the way that Draymond Green - a second-round pick himself - is utilised by the Warriors, Robinson-Earl could eventually fill a similar role for a team that has stars occupying other positions on the court.

JOE WIESKAMP - Iowa

Every year there are a few players that get a huge boost from the draft combine and chief among that group this season is Wieskamp. Before an impressive showing in Chicago, the Iowa sharpshooter was facing the possibility of going undrafted despite a stellar college career.

He averaged 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds this past season and led all players in three-point accuracy, making 49.5 percent (51-for-103) of his attempts in Big Ten play in earning all-conference second team honours. Wieskamp was the only Division I player in the nation to total at least 400 points, 200 rebounds 70 three-pointers and 25 steals. He also made five three-pointers in six games in 2020-21, second most of any player from a major conference.

More than ever, teams are putting a premium on perimeter shooting and Wieskamp is among the best available in that department, as evidenced by his 41.2 percentage (184-for-447) from deep during his time at Iowa. At 6ft 7", he can use his size to take advantage of smaller defenders that get switched onto him and his mechanics are near flawless with a high release.

One knock on Wieskamp is his relative inability to create his own shot but as a good athlete with surprising jumping ability, he should be able to overcome that with experience at the next level.

Wieskamp has the skills and ability to provide instant offense off the bench and is the perfect floor spacer for today's game. His pure shooting stroke, combined with rebounding and defensive ability should make him a valuable contributor in the NBA for years to come.

JOSH CHRISTOPHER - Arizona State

Christopher is the classic story of a player whose stock drops due to an injury. Limited to just 15 games in his only season for Arizona State in 2020-21, the 6-foot 5, 215-pound guard is a high-risk, high-reward pick that has NBA athleticism with the ability to excel at both ends of the court.

A likely first-round selection before injuries and COVID protocols ended his season in February, Christopher's value took a hit, and he could fall into the middle part of the second round. That range is often the perfect time to take a gamble on an athletic player with skills that match well in the NBA, even if other parts of his game need work.

Christopher had a few exceptional games in his one college season, including a 28-point, 11-for-17 performance against then-No. 3 Villanova on November 26 in the championship game of the Empire Classic. That 28-point display was tied for the most points allowed by the Wildcats all season. Christopher ended up averaging 14.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals, and while he only shot 30.5 percent (18-for-59) from 3-point range, he did connect on 12-of-27 over his final seven games.

Guards with size that can get to the basket are always in demand and that's what Christopher does best. He is quick with excellent jumping ability and doesn't have a problem finishing through contact. Whether in transition or a half-court offense, Christopher is always a threat to soar to the hoop and create space for himself and his teammates. His defence may not be NBA-ready just yet, but his quickness and athleticism should in time make him a very good on-ball defender.

It's difficult to be a starting guard in today's pro game unless the 3-point shot is a big part of your arsenal and Christopher would need to work on that aspect of his game from the start. His mid-range shot is solid, but NBA defenders are far more difficult to overcome than those in college. He will also need to improve his shot selection and decision-making but that comes with experience and maturity.

AARON HENRY - Michigan State

Henry is arguably the best defender available in this class with his 6-foot 10 wingspan, instincts and versatility. His ability at that end of the court alone could make him a valuable piece, but he has the necessary skills to contribute on the offensive end as well.

Henry was named to the All-Big Ten third team after averaging 15.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks as a junior. He was the first Michigan State player to lead a team in points, rebounds and assists since assists were first recorded in 1975.

As the focal point, Henry basically dragged the Spartans into their 23rd straight NCAA Tournament with limited help from his team-mates this past season. Henry is excellent in the mid-range and his 3-point shot is better than he gets credit for. After shooting 9-for-43 (20 percent) from long range in the first 14 game of the 2020-21 season, Henry knocked down 39.5 percent (15-for-38) over the last 14 games.

While he is unlikely to wow anyone with his physical skills and is not yet a polished offensive player, Henry is more than capable of holding his own against NBA competition. His ball-handling, passing and shot creation are very good and his mid-range output compares favorably to current NBA players Khris Middleton and Jamal Murray when they were coming out of college.

A smart and unselfish player, Henry is an excellent value pick in the second round and projects as a rotation player in the NBA.

After a seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference was followed by a first-round exit in the playoffs, the Boston Celtics decided it was time for change.

Danny Ainge, the long-time director of basketball operations, is out. Brad Stevens' reign as head coach is over too, though he has switched from orchestrating plays on the sideline to making deals in the front office. His replacement on the bench, Ime Udoka, is an experienced member of supporting casts who finally gets a chance to take on a lead role.

The revamp was not just restricted to team staff, either.

Kemba Walker – seen as a major addition in 2019 – was deemed expendable amid concerns over both his long-term health and salary number. The deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder came at a cost – Boston had to give up their first-round pick in this year's draft as a sweetener – but it may not be the final move for a franchise aiming to regain momentum.

For so long, the Celtics were viewed as a team on the rise. A plethora of burgeoning talents were allowed to develop under the highly rated Stevens, a graduate from the college system who steered them to the Eastern Conference Finals on three occasions between 2017 and 2020.

However, 2020-21 was undoubtedly a step back. A 36-36 record in the regular season, albeit amid the backdrop of a global pandemic, was a surprise. Losing to the Brooklyn Nets in five, however, was not. In fact, the only shock was that they managed to avoid being swept.

So what happens in the next chapter of the Celtics story? Stevens must work out the path for a team that, after playing the long game, has quickly been left behind by its rivals

Boston's double act offers hope

Capitalising on a plethora of draft picks stockpiled over time, the Celtics had sculpted a roster that appeared a step away from moving onto the next level. Major moves were made to try and tip the balance: Kyrie Irving appeared the perfect marriage only for the relationship to flame out, while Gordon Hayward endured a hugely unfortunate start and never completely recovered.

Walker has gone now too, leaving Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as the two fundamental pillars in place for Boston to build around.

Brown finished with a career-high 24.7 points per game at the end of the regular season, a figure aided by shooting 39.7 per cent from deep when averaging 7.1 three-pointers an outing. He attempted more shots in general, with his 19.2 field goals up from 15.6 in the previous campaign. There was also an upturn in assists as well.

However, a wrist injury meant he missed the series against the Nets. Tatum fought a lone hand, including a 50-point performance in Game 3. He became the third Celtic to reach a half-century in a regulation playoff game, joining a select group that also includes John Havlicek and Sam Jones.

Yet that stunning performance merely delayed the inevitable. In putting together a big three, the Nets had jumped the queue in the East. Boston were one of only two teams to have a pair of players finish in the top 20 for points per game in the regular season. The other? Brooklyn, of course.

Tatum averaged an impressive 26.8 points per 75 possessions to continue on an upward curve. Kevin Durant described the third overall pick in the 2017 draft as a "tough, tough cover" after trying to keep him quiet during the first-round matchup. Like Brown, the 23-year-old showed his all-round capabilities by setting career-high averages for points, rebounds and assists.

His usage rate of 30.8 per cent for every 75 possessions was both a sign of his growing status and also a by-product of an ever-changing cast around him. The Celtics used 37 different line-ups – only three teams topped that figure – as injuries and the added wrinkle of the NBA's COVID-19 protocols left Stevens consistently shuffling the deck on a nightly basis.

However, the absences should not paper over the cracks: Brown and Tatum - whose absence from an All-NBA team cost him $33million in his rookie extension – need help.

 

Moving on from Walker

Boston hoped Walker would be a multi-dimensional scoring guard who could also facilitate for others. The issue was he did not play nearly enough to merit holding on to that ideal any longer.

Walker was restricted to 43 appearances in the regular season, during which he averaged 19.3 points per game – his lowest total since 2014-15. The team was marginally better with him on the court – they scored at 113.2 points per 100 possessions, compared to 109.6 without – though played at a slightly higher pace when the former Charlotte Hornet was absent.

Taking into consideration the likelihood of the four-time All-Star utilising his player option for the 2022-23 season, there was over $73m left on his deal. Boston did get something in return from the Thunder, as a familiar face returned for a second spell (more on that later).

Walker's departure provides some cap relief, of course, but it also leaves a sizable hole in the roster. Marcus Smart appears the in-house option to start at point guard, yet he is heading into a contract year and is still yet to demonstrate how he can be relied upon for consistent offensive production.

His 14.2 points per 75 possessions ranked him 222nd in the league, although a player with a reputation for being a pest to opposing teams posted a defensive rating of 112.8, the highest of his NBA career. As he heads into his eighth season, Smart is a solid contributor capable of making plays without the ball, yet also someone opposing teams do not fear having possession in crunch time.

The same may well be said for Al Horford, even if the Celtics are not quite getting the same player who said farewell to Boston in 2019.

You can call me, Al

Life in Philadelphia did not pan out for Horford following his move in free agency two years ago, with him stuck as the odd man out in a crowded front court where Joel Embiid rules the roost. His time in Oklahoma was short-lived, but now he is back in familiar surroundings.

The 14-year veteran returns having become a more frequent three-point shooter since his first stint – his average of 5.4 attempts in 20 games for the Thunder was a career high, a stark contrast to the player who tried 18 shots from beyond the arc across his first six years in the league.

His playmaking abilities will help lighten the load on Brown and Tatum, while his experience should be invaluable to promising big Robert Williams, whose effective field goal percentage of 72.1 left him behind only DeAndre Jordan in the entire NBA.

Williams also showed he can be a presence on defense, with only five players averaging more blocked shots per game. The third-year center is a low usage, high-value finisher when close to the rim who is primed to take on a starting role.

In general, however, Boston's defensive numbers suffered a dip. Having ranked second in the category in 2019-20, giving up 107.3 points per outing, they fell outside the top 10 this term, their points against number finishing up at 111.2

The Celtics also have a decision to make over Evan Fournier, the trade-deadline addition who is now a free agent. Outside shooting is a must in the league, and the Frenchman was successful with 46.3 per cent of his three-point attempts in the regular season following his arrival from the Orlando Magic.

Last year's first-round selection Payton Pritchard, who shot 46.7 per cent when averaging 2.5 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, showed signs of promise, but Boston still needs more shooting depth.

 

Verdict: Evolution

The revolution may have already occurred in Boston. After over 600 games as the head coach, Stevens wasted no time in making an impact following his change of roles.

However, a full re-shaping of the team would require trading away one of the core pieces he has worked so closely with over recent years. Smart, who makes just over $14m on an expiring deal, appears the most trade-friendly asset: the Celtics know the clock is ticking.

Whether Smart sticks around or not, Boston needs more to aid their dynamic duo in Brown and Tatum. The cap situation suggests dipping a toe into the free agency waters, rather than diving right in. There is no point pinning too much faith on the draft process for help either, as their first-round selection is now sitting in the Thunder's treasure chest of picks.

Stevens will survey the landscape and acknowledge standing still is a risk. Brooklyn have their big three, Giannis Antetokounmpo is ensconced in the East with Milwaukee and the Atlanta Hawks have suddenly found their wings to make a run to the Conference Finals.

His final year saw Boston average 1.18 points per possession, behind only the Sacramento Kings, while their effective field goal percentage of 63.3 ranked fourth. There is much to like about this group, yet also a feeling that standing pat is a risk with few potential rewards.

If there is a shortcut to potentially becoming a title candidate, it could be in the form of a frustrated superstar ripe for picking off in a blockbuster trade. That, however, would require a change of mindset when it comes to how they have gone about team building in recent years.

Moving Walker was a fine start, but Stevens the GM has to get creative if Boston are to get back involved in the title race again, rather than just making up the playoff numbers.

The Memphis Grizzlies are trading up to the 10th pick in Thursday's NBA Draft but must give up Jonas Valanciunas to the New Orleans Pelicans while taking Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe in return.

ESPN reported the Grizzlies were finalising a deal on Monday that would see them trade selections 17 and 51 for the Pels' 10 and 40 as well as a top-10 protected 2022 pick via the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lithuanian center Valanciunas leaves Memphis after two and a half years, having been the team's third scorer in 2020-21 with 17.1 points per game behind Ja Morant (19.1) and Dillon Brooks (17.2).

He also averaged 12.5 rebounds but heads to New Orleans, where he will be expected to create space for Zion Williamson.

It means another offseason of flux for the Pels, who selected Williamson with the first overall pick in 2019 as former number one selection Anthony Davis left for the Lakers.

The team have so far struggled to surround Williamson with the right talent, although he was an All-Star last season with 27.0 points – the eighth-most in the league.

Adams and Bledsoe arrived in 2020 as another star performer departed, this time Jrue Holiday in a four-team trade. Holiday won the title last week with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Adams contributed only 7.6 points per game and struggled to work in tandem with Williamson, while Bledsoe's 12.2 points made for his worst scoring season since 2012-13.

Crucially, the pair were set to count for more than 21 per cent of the Pels' cap in 2021-22.

New Orleans now have the flexibility to make an offer to Lonzo Ball or to eye up other free agents, including linked Toronto Raptors great Kyle Lowry.

The Grizzlies instead take on Adams' $17.1million and Bledsoe's $18.1m, but they do also now get a look at a top-10 pick in a talented draft class.

Luka Doncic was labelled the "best player in the world" by Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez after he inspired Slovenia to an opening win at the Olympic Games.

The Dallas Mavericks star led his country to qualification for the Games and was at his remarkable best in Slovenia's 118-100 triumph.

Slovenia lead Group C after the first round of games, which wrapped up with Spain comfortably seeing off host nation Japan.

Ricky Rubio was the star for Spain, who emerged 88-77 victors at the Saitama Super Arena.


THERE'S NO DOUBT ANYMORE

Hernandez already had an extremely high opinion of Doncic, but his side's defeat at the hands of Slovenia's talisman left no question in his mind that he is the world's best.

Doncic scored 48 points, shooting 62 per cent from the field, and registered 11 rebounds in a stunning double-double performance.

Klemen Prepelic went four of six from deep in racking up 22 points, but this was predominantly a one-man show which left Hernandez in awe.

"It's really hard to analyse a game when one player just dominates everything as we saw tonight with Luka Doncic," Hernandez said. 

"We tried everything that we could and it truly sounds like an excuse but we weren't able to do much when you have such a dominating player.

"I said this two years ago: he is the best player in the world, including the NBA. If there was any doubt in my mind, there is no doubt anymore that he is the best player in the world."

RUBIO PULLS THE STRINGS

Spain will have been boosted by the United States' defeat to France as they seek a first Olympic gold medal.

And it was Rubio who ensured their quest started in routine fashion, top-scoring with 20 points and excelling as a passer in registering nine assists.

Japan improved in the second half after scoring just 14 points in each of the first two quarters, NBA duo Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe excelling for the hosts.

Hachimura scored 20 points while Watanabe finished with 19 points and eight rebounds but could not prevent Japan from coming up short in their comeback bid.

From trailblazer Luc Longley and his trophy-laden time alongside Michael Jordan in Chicago, to Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Aron Baynes, Matthew Dellavedova and Ben Simmons. There has been a healthy contingent of Australian stars gracing the NBA.

Adelaide 36ers sensation Josh Giddey is set to join the growing list of Australians in the league when the 2021 NBA Draft takes place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday.

After reigning NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball was taken by the Charlotte Hornets with the third pick of the 2020 Draft, a player from the NBL is projected to hear their name called early for the second consecutive year.

Giddey has emerged as a potential lottery pick and could be drafted anywhere between the seventh and 14th selections following his exploits for the 36ers.

The 18-year-old playmaker caught the eye of NBA executives in a season which saw him crowned the NBL's Rookie of the Year after leading the league with 7.6 assists per game, while averaging 10.9 points and 7.3 rebounds in 28 appearances.

Regarded as the best Australian prospect since three-time All-Star Simmons was drafted first by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2016, 36ers head coach Conner Henry hailed the Melbourne-born point guard.

"It's really been a rewarding experience for me as a coach," Henry told Stats Perform. "It's the first time I've had the opportunity to coach an elite talent at such a young age.

"I didn't really know what I exactly had coming in. I had seen Josh on film and in the Chicago camp a year earlier, when he was just a young, fairly tall, skinny kid who didn't play all that well. Carried himself confidently. You could see he played at a pace and made others around him better, but it wasn't like he stood out.

"Then you fast forward five-and-a-half/six months, he walks in and is two inches taller, 15kg heavier and he has really started to grow into his body. Then I knew I had something pretty special.

"It became pretty evident after a month and a half that he was going to be able to play - and play at a high level against grown men. As we went down that path with him, we were able to keep throwing more and more systems at him. He was very open to listening, to understanding what we're trying to put in play.

"Having played the position before, I was able to talk to him about angles. 'Do you see this window of an opportunity here when you turn a corner', 'how do you read the floor initially when you rebound the ball and pushing out on the break', these little things. I think he was well ahead of me already when I brought those things up. Really rewarding to see his growth and confidence grow daily."

Since 2012, Giddey's assists per game figure is only second to Cairns Taipans point guard Scott Machado – who averaged 7.6 in 2019-20.

 

"Every player when they reach a certain level of recognition or professional ranks, they're always the best of the best as they keep going in advancing on their path. Josh wasn't satisfied. He was always pushing forward and trying to get better, always trying to connect with his team-mates and that's his greatest strength because he makes everyone around him better," Henry said.

"His offensive game will continue to grow; he will be able to score more and he is going to become a very good three-point shooter eventually - the mechanics are sound. The release off the hand has improved, he is under the ball more, the rotation has improved and it will only get better.

"At the end of the day, his true strength is his size, his feel for the game and ability to find his team-mates."

While Giddey only shot 43 per cent from the field, the teenager – who was surprisingly overlooked for Australia's Olympic Games squad – frequently demonstrated his playmaking ability, athleticism and high basketball IQ under Henry's guidance in Adelaide.

Henry – a former assistant with the Orlando Magic, having played for the Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings in the NBA – likened Giddey to fellow Australian and sharp-shooter Joe Ingles.

Ingles has become an integral part of the Utah Jazz franchise since his arrival in 2014, ranking fifth in three-point percentage (45.1 – a career high) last season.

"He'll get to a point where he will have to play harder as he matures physically," Henry said of Giddey. "He won't be able to take periodic breaks in the game and that can be managed minutes wise of course. He will have to be switched on at both ends, even more so than he was with us.

"Even at 18, he was very good but there were moments when at both ends of the floor where either we had to teach or correct him on things. He'll be fine, he will be surrounded by fantastic coaches who will push him. He likes to be pushed as a player. He will have to improve on the defensive end. I think he will become a good defender.

"I look at some of the Aussies in the league right now, Ingles isn't this elite athlete that is running up and down, high flying and dunking on people. Josh is that similar kind of Ingles body type. Plays at a good, sound speed, has good strength, uses his length wisely on both ends of the floor and Josh will get better and better in that part of the game in how to adjust and play both offensively and defensively."

Henry added: "Josh has been used to be playing in FIBA rules. Now he will be playing in NBA rules. With the defensive rules in place with the NBA, you can't pack the paint like you can in FIBA, where you can really load up. That, coupled with the ability of the offensive players to have more freedom of movement, where in FIBA it's quite physical.

"In the NBL, freedom of movement can be impeded quite a bit with a hand check, body check or hold. Josh is going to have even more success in the pick-and-roll game at the NBA level. He had very good success with us.

"I think his height, ability to see the floor and ability to make team-mates better, in the NBA rules, are only going to compliment his game and help him grow."

Damian Lillard predicted Team USA's stunning defeat to France at the Tokyo Olympics would be portrayed as "the end of the world" but vowed the gold medal was still a target.

The Portland Trail Blazers star was one of a host of under-performing players in blue as Gregg Popovich's team were beaten 83-76 at the Saitama Super Arena.

France's shock win meant the US team's 25-game winning streak in men's basketball at the Olympics came to an end, raising doubts about their ability to challenge for glory at these Games.

Exhibition defeats to Australia and Nigeria ahead of the Olympics getting underway were red flags, but most expected the Americans to find match-winning form once the stakes were raised.

"I think we have a history of dominance and, maybe not always blowing people out, but we have a history of winning," Lillard said.

"It's not often that you see Team USA go out there and lose, especially to start. So, I think that's why a lot of people make it seem like the end of the world.

"But our job as professionals and this team, representing our country in these Olympics, we got to do what's necessary, and we still can accomplish what we came here to accomplish, and we got to make sure we keep that in mind."

 

Evan Fournier of the Boston Celtics starred with 28 points for France.

Fournier began the 2020-21 NBA season with the Orlando Magic and averaged 19.7 points per game, before that figure dropped to 13.0 for his outings with the Celtics following a trade in March.

Here he served up a reminder of how he can perform, and the US opposition suffered.

Lillard, who made just three of his 10 field-goal attempts, said: "You know who we see each night sometimes in the NBA, they are completely different when they play for their countries.

"They got more freedom, and the comfort level is obvious. So we put ourselves in a dogfight, and they made plays to win it."

Kevin Durant called it "a make-or-miss game".

"And we didn't hit the shots that we were supposed to late in the game in the fourth quarter, but I think we will be better next game," Durant, who scored 10 points, added.

There are Group A games to come for the Americans against the Czech Republic and Iran, and those could allow Durant, Lillard and co to find form ahead of the knock-out rounds.

Team USA have won the last three gold medals at the Olympics, and Bam Adebayo, who scored 12 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds, pointed to French desire for a slice of such glory as being a telling factor on Sunday.

"You can definitely tell they're tired of the USA winning," Adebayo said. "Everybody wants that feeling of getting that gold medal. And we can't rely on talent all the time to just bring us home."

United States men's basketball coach Gregg Popovich insists his side's defeat to France in their first outing at Tokyo 2020 should not be considered a surprise result.

Team USA have won gold in the last three Games, but they saw a 25-game winning streak in the tournament come to an end on Sunday against an inspired France side.

Les Blues, who also beat a much-fancied USA in the World Cup quarter-finals in 2019, are ranked seventh in the FIBA rankings but proved too strong for the world's top team with an 83-76 win at the Saitama Super Arena.

Despite his side's long unbeaten run in the competition coming to an end, Popovich – taking charge at his first Games – was quick to put the loss into some perspective.

"People shouldn't be surprised that we lost to the French team or the Australian team or the Spanish team or the Lithuanian team," he told reporters. 

"It doesn't matter who it is – the gap in talent shrinks every year, as there are more and more great players all over the world. 

"And you need to give the French team credit for playing well. They were more consistent than we were at both ends of the court. It's as simple as that."

 

STARS ALIGN FOR HISTORY-MAKING ZOLOTIC

Sunday was a positive day on the whole for Team USA – especially compared to Saturday, when they failed to win a medal on the opening day of a Games for the first time since Munich 1972 – as they picked up four gold, two silver and four bronze.

That haul includes a maiden gold in the women's taekwondo thanks to teenager Anastasija Zolotic, who beat Tatiana Minina of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in the final of the -57kg weight category event. 

"My eight-year-old self was running around the schoolyard saying I was going to be Olympic champion but she could never have imagined what this moment is like," Zolotic said. 

"It's unbelievable. It really hasn't sunk in yet. I can't believe it. I'm in a bit of shock. I'm just trying to wrap my head around it. It feels wonderful. I came here confident and ready to take the gold. The stars were aligned."

Zolotic's win came on the back of two-time Olympic champion Jade Jones suffering a shock elimination to Refugee Olympic Team member Kimia Alizadeh in the last 16, denying the Team GB athlete a shot of winning a historic third gold.

 

BILES BOUNCES BACK, CHUSOVITINA WAVES GOODBYE

A lot of focus has been on Simone Biles heading into the Games, though she had a rare off day as the USA finished behind ROC in the women's gymnastics qualifying.

Biles, who won four golds and a bronze in Rio, was penalised on both floor and vault but still scored a respectable 14.166 to book a spot in the final.

While Biles still has time on her side, both in Tokyo and in the long term, the 2020 Games will be the last for Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, who bowed out on Sunday after a record-setting eighth appearance at the Olympics.

Chusovitina, at the age of 46, just missed out on qualifying for the vault event and was given a standing ovation by the small number of people inside the arena.

To put Chusovitina's remarkable run of appearances into perspective, she made her debut at the Games in 1992, some five years before Biles was born.

"It was really nice. I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time," she said. "I didn't look at the results, but I feel very proud and happy. I'm saying goodbye to sports. It's kind of mixed feelings.

"I'm alive, I'm happy, I'm here without any injuries, and I can stand on my own."

KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY

Japanese pair Uta and Hifumi Abe made Olympic history as they became the first siblings to win gold medals on the same day of a Games in an individual sport, both enjoying success in judo on day two in Tokyo.

Uta won the women’s 52kg competition, defeating France's Amandine Buchard. A closely contested bout went to a golden score, with Abe crucially claiming ippon to settle the final in her favour.

The two-time world champion cried tears of joy in the aftermath, admitting: "I don't know, maybe it may not have been appropriate but I couldn't hold myself back."

Older brother Hifumi made it a family double, overcoming Vazha Margvelashvili of Georgia to triumph in the men's 66kg final.

"This has turned out to be the greatest day ever," he said. "I don't think we, as brother and sister, could shine any brighter on this stage known as the Tokyo Olympics. I'm so happy."

 

It did not end as they might have hoped, but the 2020-21 NBA season was undoubtedly one to remember for the New York Knicks.

Playoff basketball returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time in eight years, even if a typically passionate crowd could not carry their team beyond the first round. The subsequent show of strength from the Atlanta Hawks – the fifth seeds behind the Knicks – should cast a 4-1 series defeat in a slightly different light, though.

And New York's progress under Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau, led by Most Improved Player Julius Randle, can only encourage optimism. The 25.1 improvement in win percentage from the previous campaign (31.8 to 56.9) was the largest in the franchise's history.

But Thibodeau and the front office have work to do this offseason if they are to ensure the Knicks do not fall short when it really matters again next year.

Time to assess the franchise's situation with the campaign now over...

Randle raises the level

Well established as a leading defensive coach in the NBA, it came as little surprise that Thibodeau's influence was most clearly seen on that end of the floor. The Knicks had given up 112.3 points per game in 2019-20, ranking 18th in scoring defense. That improved to a league-best 104.7 last season.

 

On offense, though, Randle's ascension to All-Star selection and the fringes of the MVP debate made all the difference. The former Kentucky forward joined New York for the 2019-20 season and contributed 19.5 points per game – his total of 1,248 making up a team-high 17.9 per cent of the Knicks' points. Marcus Morris Sr (12.0 per cent) was the next most influential Knick despite leaving for the Los Angeles Clippers after 43 games.

Pessimism at that stage was understandable. Randle had also scored the most points on his previous teams across the prior two years – the pre-LeBron James Los Angeles Lakers and a New Orleans Pelicans outfit Anthony Davis decided was not worth sticking around for – and neither of those came close to making the playoffs. It was a miserable trend that seemed certain to continue.

However, Randle was determined not to let that happen and put in the work to improve his game heading into the new season, focusing particularly on his three-point shooting. "Obviously, the big thing was the three," Thibodeau said in May. "It stood out right away during the summer, but you're in the gym where there's no defenders. It looked a lot better coming off his hand, the arc was better, and he looked real comfortable with it." The Knicks' leading scorer went from shooting 27.7 per cent from three the previous year to 41.1.

Randle's free-throw percentage also improved by nearly eight points to 81.1 per cent. "I thought he would have a good year, but I didn't see this level," his coach added.

While Randle's increased output (24.1 points per game) saw him supply 22.2 per cent of his team's points – ranking sixth in the league in that sense – and his usage rate rose to 29.3 per cent, he also provoked better performances from his team-mates.

"That was a big concern, the three-point shooting for our team," said Thibodeau. "Not only for Julius, but that was huge for him and our team. All the other guys put in the extra time as well. Julius set the tone for that. You see him work on it every day. He's in early, he stays late. He comes back at night, and we have a number of guys that do that. If you put the time into it, usually you’ll get a good result."

No team improved their accuracy from beyond the arc as dramatically as the Knicks, up from 33.7 to 39.2 per cent.

With increased options around him – including RJ Barrett shooting 44.1 per cent from the field and 40.1 per cent from three in his second year – Randle also had a career-high 6.0 assists per game. Of his 427 assists, 115 were for Barrett and 117 for Reggie Bullock. Considering he was assisted by Barrett on 68 occasions and then a further 55 from Elfrid Payton, Randle was involved in the Knicks' four most common assist-scorer combinations.

Following a narrow late-season defeat to the Lakers, Davis said of his former Pelicans team-mate: "I think he's an MVP candidate, he for sure should win Most Improved, what he's doing, got this team in the playoffs right now for a team who hadn't been in the playoffs for a while. He's playing his a** off and you can do nothing but respect him."

Julius just too important?

Of course, this reliance on Randle is all well and good so long as the former seventh overall pick is delivering. Worryingly, though, a debut postseason series prompted an apparent regression to the mean – or worse.

Although that three-point practice kept his shooting from dipping below 33.3 per cent from beyond the arc, Randle slumped to an alarming career low from the midrange, a miserable 14.7 per cent. He was also 44.4 per cent at the rim as the Knicks struggled to get points in the paint – Hawks center Clint Capela averaged a double-double for the series, his 13.4 rebounds including 10.4 on the defensive end – and ended up with just 18.0 points per game in 36.0 minutes, even as the usage rate ramped up even further to 31.8 per cent.

No team can afford for their superstar to go missing in the playoffs. Randle had posted 28, 44 and 40 in three wins over the Hawks in the regular season, but he was swiftly stifled in round one. Meanwhile, Trae Young, revelling in the role of villain in New York, established himself as one of the league's most exciting scorers.

Young's 29.2 points against the Knicks set the standard for his postseason as a whole, the Hawks beating the Philadelphia 76ers and only losing to the Milwaukee Bucks after their point guard was injured, having repeatedly risen to the occasion. The contrast with Randle was stark.

 

Randle had entered the playoffs all but certain to be the subject of a hefty contract offer from the Knicks one year out from unrestricted free agency. Now, that deal is not quite so secure, with the team perhaps pondering their options.

Big spenders or big savers

As in 2020-21, when Thibodeau and the front office chose not to gamble, the Knicks are set to have the most cap space in the NBA, projected at $51.3million. With money to spend in a big market, New York will – yet again – be the subject of speculation involving the league's top free agents heading into the new season, especially if a Randle deal is delayed.

This is a somewhat underwhelming free agency class, though, with two notable exceptions. Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul both have player options – the latter an interesting name given the Knicks' issues at point guard.

Thibodeau finally lost patience with Payton after 13 playoff minutes, one point and one assist, while Frank Ntilikina appeared fleetingly in three games. That meant Derrick Rose starting at the point; although he led the team with 19.4 points per game in the postseason, they lost all three of his starts and badly missed his consistent contributions from the bench. The trio are all on expiring contracts and only Rose is likely to be retained. It is a position that must be reinforced.

Despite their repeated attempts to strike a blockbuster deal, a move for Paul or similar would represent a step into the unknown. The Knicks are far more familiar with blooding draft picks and will hope Barrett (2019), Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin (both 2020) will be boosted by getting a taste of the playoffs, albeit if the experience was brief.

Ideally, third-year center Mitchell Robinson would also have had that opportunity. He has the best career field-goal percentage on record among NBA players with 400 or more attempts all-time (70.5) but fractured his right hand in February and his right foot in March.

A rare watching brief

The free agency rumour mill might continue to churn, but Knicks fans have this year at least been spared the pain of sitting through another draft lottery.

While not be able to take Cade Cunningham, just as they were not able to select Zion Williamson in 2019, this time that is due to their own on-court achievements, rather than the luck of the draw. Two first-round picks – 19 and 21 – should still see New York able to bolster their roster.

Verdict: Evolution

Why would the Knicks do anything but build on the foundations of a popular, hard-working, fast-improving team? Whether Randle signs or not, whether a player like Paul can be tempted to MSG or otherwise, the bulk of this roster will remain the same. They have enough room under the cap to bring back a number of key pieces regardless of any expensive, eye-catching additional business.

A new man running point would allow Rose to return to leading the second unit. Another way to add scoring depth might see the arrival of a wing who can compete for minutes with Bullock, whose accuracy from the field, three-point range and the foul line tailed off in the postseason.

Up the middle, despite the team's struggles against Capela and Co, Robinson remains under a team option and both Nerlens Noel ($6m last year) and Taj Gibson ($1.7m) should be cheap and useful enough to return. In 1,547 regular season minutes, Noel had the third-best block percentage (8.7) and 23rd-best steal percentage (2.3) in the league.

New York may still be some way off contention, but this must be a patient process. Another playoff campaign should be regarded as a success, particularly if they can be more competitive. That will require tweaks, not a drastic overhaul.

The United States saw a 25-game winning streak in men's basketball at the Olympics come to an end as they were beaten by France in their first outing at Tokyo 2020.

Team USA arrived in Japan looking to strike gold for a fourth straight Games, yet their build-up had been anything but straightforward. Exhibition defeats to Australia and Nigeria raised concerns before travelling, while COVID-19 protocols ruled out Bradley Beal and Kevin Love was replaced at late notice by JaVale McGee.

Still, a squad including Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum – as well as Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday from the Milwaukee Bucks, the newly crowned NBA champions – saw the reigning champions listed as favourites.

France, though, caused an early upset at the start of the tournament. Evan Fournier starred with 28 points to help his team triumph 83-76 at the Saitama Super Arena.

There were wins for Australia and Italy too on Sunday, as well as a victory for the Czech Republic.

 

Big names come up short in shock defeat

Team USA had rounded out their build-up to the Games by beating Spain, yet there will be concerning signs for head coach Gregg Popovich following a flat performance against France.

They were successful with just 41 per cent of their two-point attempts and landed only 10 of the 32 shots put up from beyond the arc. Despite the shooting issues they still led 45-37 at half-time, only for the game to turn in a third quarter where they mustered a paltry 11 points.

Durant finished up with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, while Lillard had 11. The latter's slip that caused a turnover in the closing seconds when down by four rather summed up a disjointed performance from the entire roster, leading to a first loss at the Olympics since going down to Argentina at Athens 2004.

Devin Booker, who had helped the Phoenix Suns reach the NBA Finals, landed only one of his six attempts from the field, with Holiday (18 points) finishing as the USA's leading scorer having only joined up with the team on the day of the game.

Also in Group A, the Czech Republic recorded an 84-78 victory over Iran.

Ingles impressed, but Nigeria come up short

Nigeria had defeated both Argentina and the United States ahead of the Games, raising hopes of making an impact in Japan.

However, able to knock down just 29 per cent of their attempts from deep, they struggled to keep pace with Australia, scoring only 27 points in the entire second half as they went down 84-67.

Still, Joe Ingles – who had 11 points for Australia – praised the Nigerians for their display, particularly on defense as they forced 21 turnovers. Patty Mills was the leading scorer in the game, finishing with 25.

"You have to give a lot of credit to Nigeria, with how they played and the style they play," Ingles said. "They are up and in, they are athletic and get up the floor, and they obviously have a great coach [in Mike Brown].

"I think a lot of people underestimate the team and the country. They are a really good basketball team."

Meanwhile, Italy opened their Group B campaign with a 92-82 victory over Germany. Simone Fontecchio led the way with 20 points, including landing all five of his three-point attempts.

The first Olympic skateboarding champion will be crowned on day two of the Tokyo Games.

Ariake Urban Sports Park will be the venue for the first skateboarding action in Olympic history on Sunday.

Elsewhere, it will be the turn of the women to contest the cycling road race after Richard Carapaz produced a brilliant ride to take gold for Ecuador on Saturday.

Stats Perform picks out of some of the standout action to look out for at the end of the opening weekend of competition.

HUSTON FAVOURITE TO MAKE SKATEBOARDING HISTORY

The men's street will be the first skateboarding event, with four heats followed by a final at 12:25 local time.

Nyjah Huston of the United States is the favourite to top the podium, with 16 street skateboarding medals to his name in the X Games.

Tokyo-born Yuto Origome won gold at the World Street Championships in Rome this year and it would be a great story if he can follow that up with an Olympic triumph on home soil.

Skateboarding great Tony Hawk said on Saturday of the sport's introduction: "I'm surprised it took this long for them to figure it out.

"I believe they needed a youthful energy to the summer Games and it's overdue."

DUTCH DUO UNPRECEDENTED DOUBLE

Anna van der Breggen and Marianne Vos have already won Olympic gold medals and they will go in search of a second in the women's road race.

No female cyclist has won the event twice, but the 2012 champion Vos and defending champion Van der Breggen will start the course at Musashinonomori Park looking to achieve that feat.

EYES ON THE POOL – AND ON THE BEACH

The first swimming medals of the Games will be handed out on Sunday following Saturday's heats.

There is an open field in the men's 400 metre medley final – the first event of the day – after home favourite Daiya Seto failed to qualify.

The women's event does feature Hungary's Katinka Hosszu, though, as she aims to protect her 2016 gold, won with a world-record time that stands to this day.

Meanwhile, Australia will take to the pool confident of another gold in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay final, boasting the title, the world record and by far the best qualifying time.

A new water sport should garner some attention, though, as surfing makes its Olympics bow.

Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach – preferred to a wave pool – plays host for the first and second rounds on Sunday.

Reigning world champions Italo Ferreira and Carissa Moore will hope it is a debut to remember.

USA TO GET ON THE BOARD?

While China are sitting pretty already with four medals, the United States will hope not to have to wait too much longer for their first.

Not since Munich 1972 had they ended the first day of the Games without a medal as was the case on Saturday.

The basketball medals are a long way off being handed out, but plenty of American focus will be on Team USA's opener against France.

Preparations for Kevin Durant and Co have not been ideal and Les Bleus beat USA at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Rudy Gobert and France may have beaten the United States at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, but the Utah Jazz center is not disputing their Olympics opponents' status as Games favourites.

France face Team USA in their opening preliminary round Group A game at Tokyo 2020 on Sunday.

Both teams are expected to advance, but the fixture will bring back painful memories for the United States, who lost 89-79 to Les Bleus in the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup.

Gobert had a game-high 16 rebounds for France in that clash and will likely be a threat up the middle again this weekend, having led the NBA in boards (980) and blocks (190) as well as field-goal percentage (67.5) in 2020-21.

Only Jayson Tatum and Khris Middleton are still on the Team USA roster – Gobert is among seven who featured in both France squads – yet the Defensive Player of the Year expects the reigning Olympic champions to have added motivation for this match.

"I think there is more and more respect for international players in the United States," Gobert said.

"But Team USA think they are the favourites and they are right. On paper, they are the team with the most strength and the most talent.

"I think they respect everyone. But at the same time, they know they are the favourites.

"I know the Americans, I think they are confident. Being first is not something they just hope for. If they don't finish first, it will be a failure for them.

"I think that's their spirit, especially after what happened in the 2019 World Cup. They are the favourites and they know it."

For France, Gobert says, the game against a team containing three of the five leading postseason points-per-game scorers – Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant and Tatum – can be a yardstick.

"We know that [USA] have exceptional players," Gobert said. "They are very proud, so they will try to do something big against us.

"For us, it's a great opportunity to see where we are as a team. Of course we want to win. But if we lose, we will still have two other games to qualify [for the] quarter-finals.

"It's our main goal. We hope we will see USA again, later in the competition.

"We had a short preparation, we didn't have many games to get ready. We want to use every game to improve ourselves."

Zach LaVine did not feature in the playoffs but is another threat to France, having improved his points average for a third straight NBA season.

The Chicago Bulls guard had 27.4 per game in 2020-21 and is relishing his Olympic bow after watching past Games triumphs as a young American fan.

"I remember watching Kobe Bryant and LeBron James on the court in 2008 when I was a little kid in the sixth grade, yelling their names, and now I'm in the same position," LaVine said.

"Just to see the smiles on people's faces, how you affect them [with] what you do.

"It's a big thing and I take pride in that. I just want to set the right example of who I am and what I represent."

Joe Ingles is coming off the sort of disappointment with the Utah Jazz that perhaps only an Olympic medal could soothe.

Ingles, runner-up for the NBA's Sixth Man Award in the 2020-21 season, could not prevent the top-seeded Jazz losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the playoffs.

He scored 19 points in three successive games against the Clippers but twice in a losing cause, meaning a season that he packed with career-bests ended on a painful note.

Ingles is now chasing gold with Australia at Tokyo 2020, with an opening game against Nigeria scheduled for Sunday.

Australia have never won an Olympic medal in men's basketball, finishing fourth on four occasions, most recently at Rio 2016. 

They were also fourth at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, but Ingles says the time has come to get hold of a medal.

Gold is the obvious target, and when Ingles was asked whether silver or bronze would be a disappointment, his verdict was that anything but top step on the podium would feel like a letdown, at least initially.

"In the moment, yeah; in the long run, no," he said. "We don't talk about anything else – there's one goal in mind and that's to win a gold medal in Tokyo.

"If we wait and look 10 years down the track we'll think different but we're here to make history."

Australia's women have fared better on the big stage, winning three Olympic silvers and two bronze medals.

 

Ingles had an NBA career-best 34 points against the Washington Wizards in March, while in January he passed John Stockton to set a new Jazz record for the most three-pointers in a career with the franchise. Stockton made 845 and Ingles is now on 993.

He set career highs in field-goal percentage (48.9 per cent), three-point success rate (45.1 per cent) and free-throw hit rate (84.4 per cent) in the regular season, along with a points-per-game average of 12.1 that matched his 2018-19 best.

Now the 33-year-old small forward heads into his fourth Olympics seeking that elusive medal, and a familiar face in Brian Goorjian is leading the team.

Coach Goorjian was in charge of Australia when Ingles made his Games debut in 2008 at Beijing, and he returned to the role in November of last year.

"He's a lot older. We're both a lot older," Ingles said. "So awesome to have him back.

"I was interested to see if there would be any differences in him. He moves a bit slower and his fingers are a bit more busted up but he's the same coach."

After waiting half a century for a title, Milwaukee Bucks fans turned out by the thousands on Thursday to celebrate their team's NBA championship. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and the rest of Milwaukee's players and staff received a hero's welcome as they paraded through the city atop busses and trucks.

Two days after closing out the Phoenix Suns 4-2 in the NBA Finals for their first championship since 1971, the Bucks and their fans did not appear to have returned to earth. 

"Milwaukee, we did it, baby! We did it!" Antetokounmpo told the adoring crowd. "This is our city, man. We did it. It's unbelievable." 

Earlier, Antetokounmpo looked overwhelmed as thousands chanted "MVP!" while his bus rolled down the parade route.

"I'm proud of my team-mates, proud of the whole organisation for everything we did all year," Antetokounmpo said.

"We put in extremely unbelievable work, we believed in ourselves, we went out there ready to compete, and right now I'm extremely happy. I still can't believe this is happening, but I'm trying to be in the moment, trying to enjoy it as much as possible with you guys, with my team-mates, and with everybody." 

While Milwaukee's fans had waited a lifetime for a title, the players realised lifelong dreams as well.

None of them had previously won an NBA championship, and some, like Middleton, had lived the other end of the spectrum. 

His first season with the Bucks was 2013-14, when they went a league-worst 15-67. 

"It's just been a long time coming," Middleton said. "I've been here eight years, struggled, been through a lot of ups and downs, but we finally got the job done, for sure." 

That they did, despite losing the first two games of the Finals to the Suns - just as they had to the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference semi-finals before rallying to win in seven games. 

"Each time we were down 0-2, all we did was get closer," Middleton said. "Some teams separate, some teams point fingers. We never pointed fingers, we never quit on each other. All we did was come closer and find a way to try and figure it out." 

The New Orleans Pelicans have appointed former Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green as their new head coach.

Green's appointment was delayed due to his commitments with Phoenix, who made it to the NBA Finals before Giannis Antetokounmpo ended their hopes to claim Milwaukee Bucks' first title since 1971.

Before joining the 2021 Western Conference champions, Green enjoyed a three-year spell at the Golden State Warriors, where he worked as an assistant coach under Steve Kerr as they won back-to-back NBA Championships in 2017 and 2018.

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin praised Green for his "tireless work ethic and authenticity of character" as he announced the new head coach on Thursday.

"He brings a vast amount of basketball knowledge and experience to our team as both a coach and former player, along with exceptional leadership qualities and an innate ability to connect with players, staff and fans alike," Griffin said.

"We could not be more excited to welcome Willie and his family to New Orleans."

Green spent 12 years as a player in the NBA and appeared in 731 regular season games between 2003-15, reaching the playoffs seven times.

In his previous role with Phoenix, the Suns' defensive coordinator oversaw the NBA's sixth-best defensive rating, while he worked as head coach for the NBA Summer League in 2019, where he managed a 3-1 record in Las Vegas.

"I want to thank Mrs. Benson [Pelicans governor], David Griffin and the entire Pelicans organisation for having faith in me to lead this talented group of players moving forward," Green added.

"It's a blessing and an honour to get this opportunity in a special place like New Orleans. I look forward to getting to work and immersing myself and my family into the local community."

Green takes over from Stan Van Gundy, who mutually agreed to leave the Pelicans despite spending just the one year in charge.

Van Gundy's side disappointed last campaign as they went 31-41 to quash any playoffs hopes they may have had at the start of the year.

Green, who becomes the third-youngest coach in the NBA, may now look to build his team around first-round NBA 2019 Draft pick Zion Williamson, who has endured a tumultuous start to life in New Orleans.

 

France are expecting the United States to come out firing when the men's basketball competition at the Tokyo Olympics begins.

Team USA are favourites to win a fourth consecutive gold at the Games despite losing two exhibition games in a mixed build-up period to the tournament.

They open their Group A campaign against France in Saitama on Sunday.

France defeated the Americans in the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals and head coach Vincent Collet expects that to be on the minds of their opponents.

He said: "We also know that they want to beat us because two years ago we did it in China - so we know what to expect."

Collet is aware that France's Olympics fate is unlikely to be determined by their group game with the USA, even if it is an occasion to savour.

Asked if it was an advantage to play USA first, he said: "I don't know. It's always a very tough game. It's a special game, but for us it’s just the beginning of the competition.

"I would hope that we play a good game but whatever happens we will need to beat the Czech Republic in the second one, which is probably even more important.

"The preparation has been up and down. We didn't have a couple of players until last week so it has hurt the preparation a little bit."

Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier are two of the five NBA players in the 12-man France roster.

Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Draymond Green and Devin Booker are among the leading names playing for the USA.

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