NEWS

Around the NBA: Koufos still learning the pro game

Chris Beaven

Nothing falls one night. Almost everything goes in a few nights later. And the head coach wants to see significant improvement on the other end of the floor.

Welcome to life as a rookie in the NBA -- which is pretty much how Kosta Koufos expected it to be.

The 7-footer from Ohio State is going through the usual ups and downs of a first training camp. The Jazz’s No. 1 pick shook off an 0-for-5 shooting performance to open last week by going 5-for-7 three nights later. That looked good on the stat sheet. But that doesn’t mean he met the expectations of coach Jerry Sloan, who did not care for Koufos getting confused a couple times.

“I think everybody’s pulling for him, but he’s got to be held responsible for not knowing where he’s supposed to be after a while,” Sloan told the Deseret News. “He’s got to learn how to get to the right spots, know what play we’re running, know what we’re doing defensively. That’s part of being a basketball player.”

Koufos has played in four of the five games, missing one because of a hamstring strain. He is averaging 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 8.8 minutes a game, shooting 7-of-14 from the floor.

In his most extended run, 20 minutes against Denver, he had the 5-of-7 shooting, hitting his only 3-pointer he tried. He had 11 points and seven rebounds, but also uncharacteristically missed all four foul shots.

Koufos was not about to get down on himself after the 0-for-5 game.

“I’m young, I’m still learning the game, and I know what I did wrong and I'm going to correct it,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune.

As unhappy as Sloan was over mistakes made by Koufos, his critique to the Deseret News included some praise: “He’s got a lot of work to do to get better. But he’s willing to work.”

Clinic time

Koufos is giving back to his new community. He will join teammates Carlos Boozer and Morris Almond in hosting a basketball clinic for children of Utah National Guard personnel Tuesday.

More time

The Dallas Morning News reported that the Mavericks reworked their contract with Keith McLeod to give him more time to prove himself as a backup point guard to Jason Kidd.

McLeod has been hampered nearly all of training camp by an injured right hamstring and has yet to appear in a preseason game. Under his original deal, McLeod likely would have been cut loose before the season began so the Mavs could avoid his deal becoming guaranteed on Oct. 27. Under the new terms, McLeod’s contract cannot be guaranteed until Jan. 10, giving him more time to get healthy and prove himself.

“I was kind of glad it happened,” McLeod told the Dallas Morning News on Saturday. “I got on the treadmill (Friday), so I’m hoping to get back on the court soon. But I don’t want to get out there too soon and re-injure it.”

The other Buckeye big man

Othello Hunter played in the shadow of Koufos last year and Greg Oden the previous season. But after signing with the Hawks as a free agent, Hunter is earning the respect and praise of his new teammates.

The team’s first and second units argued over who gets Hunter during scrimmages in practice. Coach Mike Woodson loves his work ethic and compared the 6-foot-8 Hunter to Cavs forward Ben Wallace.

“Like Ben at the same stage of his career, Othello does things you don’t think he can do because he doesn’t look that physical,” Woodson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “but he’s stronger than what you think.”

24-second-clock

- Highly regarded Knicks rookie Danilo Gallinari could open the season in the D-League because of his lingering back problems. Gallinari has been out since the summer league in July when he looked good in a game against the Cavs. The versatile Italian 7-footer has been limited to running on the side and doing some drills and will not appear in a preseason game.

- Patrick Ewing Jr. had a nice preseason moment Friday in essentially the town his father first gained fame in. The Knicks rookie made two big plays late to help his team beat the Celtics in Boston. His dad was a prep All-American in nearby Cambridge. Ewing Jr. came up with a big tip-dunk, a steal and two free throws in the final 3 1/2 minutes to help secure the win.

- The Hornets left an impression on Wizards coach Eddie Jordan after the teams played in Europe. “They're a team to beat for the NBA championship,” Jordan said.

Reach Repository sports writer Chris Beaven at (330) 580-8345 or e-mail chris.beaven@cantonrep.com