Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings

The 2012-2013 All-Breakout Team

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Last season, Jeremy Lin coming out of nowhere (and the ensuing Linsanity) was the perfect headlining story for a crazy, compacted season. Lin was absolutely the breakout star of the year, but we also saw Ersanity (Ersan Ilyasaova) become a thing — at least in Milwaukee, anyway. And Kevin Love’s nightly performances? Just good old-fashioned insanity.

But now it’s time to move on. LeBron got his ring, and a new season with fresh storylines and a new cast of characters awaits us. Which breakout stars will take the league by storm this year? Here’s a look at the 2012-2013 All-Breakout Team:

PG: Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

Where have we seen a player like this before? Blazing speed. Killer floater in the lane. Undersized. Rough as a distributor and distance shooter, but a natural scorer around the rim. That’s right — Jeff Teague is the closest thing we’ve got to the next Tony Parker, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that both players had nearly identical numbers through their first three seasons in every way. With Iso Joe Johnson moved on to Brooklyn, more than ever Atlanta’s offense will revolve around Teague in the pick-and-roll , and he’s got two of the best dance partners you could ask for in Josh Smith and Al Horford. Add in two elite spot-up 3-point shooters to the mix with Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver, and all of a sudden Teague could be orchestrating one of the league’s most surprising offenses while still putting up big scoring numbers of his own.

SG: Paul George, Indiana Pacers

George is almost too good to be true, isn’t he? It’s like he was created in a factory. Size? George is 6-foot-9 with arms for days. Athleticism? He can jump out of the gym, even when you turn the lights off. Skills? George is so smooth and effortless with the ball that he almost looks aloof before his incredible athleticism just pops up on you, which is eerily reminiscent of another talented big wing, Tracy McGrady. If George can continue his sweet shooting from the outside this season (38.5 percent from deep) and force the action a little more, he could make a potential playoff meeting with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James very, very interesting.

SF: Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

You’ve probably seen Gallinari’s name on lists like this before, but this is the year it all comes together. The addition of Andre Iguodala (and getting Wilson Chandler back) may scare some away, but Iguodala is a natural distributor who should help free Gallinari for more open looks than he’s seen in previous years. This is also a vote of confidence in George Karl, who will have the Nuggets play at a breakneck pace and may even toss Gallinari at the 4 for extended periods, where he’ll be a foul-drawing machine with his quick first step against slower big men. Already a solid defender and scorer, Gallinari just needs to get his shot dialed in to make the leap to the next level. While the 44 percent clip from behind the arc he posted in his rookie year is probably unreachable, Gallinari may be the Nuggets top outside shooter this season — meaning we’ll see lots of 3-point attempts supplemented by the usual steady diet of trips to the line. There’s no quicker path to a hefty PPG average than that.

PF: Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors

Bargnani came out of the gates smoking hot last year, scoring over 30 points in four of his first 13 contests while — and you might want to sit down for this — putting in solid effort defensively. That’s the thing with Bargnani — his value is always hotly contested, as he routinely gets killed for what he’s not (a passable rebounder or defender) instead of praised for what he is (an incredible shot-creator) just because of his height. While those arguments won’t subside anytime soon, Bargnani is quietly gearing up to finish what he started at the beginning of last year. Fortunately, Toronto has an improved team defense (12th in defensive efficiency last year) and he’ll get lots of help with Jonas Valanciunas next to him, a true big that lives for rim runs and paint protection. Throw in Kyle Lowry, the first player Bargnani has played with who can actually draw in a defense, and the Raptors could be a playoff team. And if that happens? It’s going to be awfully hard to ignore the guy scoring over 20 points per game — shoddy rebounding or not.

C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Cousins is almost cursed with too much talent — instead of making things easy for himself at the rim, he’ll often attempt a tougher, more skilled move and as a result wind up taking a more difficult shot. With that said, quick feet, soft hands, and great vision aren’t bad things to pack on a 6-foot-11, 270 pound frame, and it’s just a matter of time before Cousins harnesses his wide set of skills to dominate the league. Cousins already does dominate in a few categories — he led the league in offensive rebounds and offensive fouls drawn, which may surprise some people who think he’s just a big, lazy lug. The opposite is true — Cousins plays the game with relentless fire and has rivalries brewing with, oh, just about half of the Western Conference. If he can simply learn to stay out of foul trouble and convert more easy chances at the rim, the “Griffin or Love?” question will suddenly have to include Cousins.

Warriors would show historic perseverance with Game 7 win over Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Warriors went an NBA-record 73-9.

And the Thunder massively outplayed them in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals.

No, Golden State wasn’t at full strength. But Oklahoma City reached a level the Warriors hadn’t all season. Even if Golden State had hit peak performance, I’m not sure that would’ve been enough. The Thunder were that good.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were their superstar selves. Steven Adams defended inside and out. Serge Ibaka hit timely shots and moved well defensively. Andre Roberson made open 3-pointers and cut. Dion Waiters read the floor to make the right shot or pass. And everyone rotated correctly throughout entire defensive possessions.

Oklahoma City was awesome, handing the Warriors 28- and 24-point losses.

But Golden State rallied to force a Game 7 tonight. If the Warriors win, they’ll become just the eighth team in NBA history to lose multiple games by more than 20 in a series and still win it. The seven to do it:

  • Houston Rockets lost to Los Angeles Clippers by 25 and 33 in 2015 second round
  • Atlanta Hawks lost to Miami Heat by 29 and 26 in 2009 first round
  • Houston Rockets lost to Phoenix Suns by 22 and 24 in 1995 second round
  • Philadelphia 76ers lost to Boston Celtics by 40 and 29 in 1982 Eastern Conference finals
  • Denver Nuggets lost to Milwaukee Bucks by 31 and 28 in 1978 Western Conference semifinals
  • Los Angeles Lakers lost to Milwaukee Bucks by 21 and 26 in 1972 Western Conference finals
  • Minneapolis Lakers lost to St. Louis Hawks by 34 and 30 in 1959 Western Division finals

The Warriors never stopped believing in themselves, even when getting routed. That mentality has them one game from a comeback for the ages.

Masai Ujiri: Raptors No. 1 goal is to re-sign DeMar DeRozan

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 12:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors runs up the court during the first half of an NBA game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre on April 12, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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DeMar DeRozan sounds like he wants to re-sign with the Raptors.

But does Toronto want to give max money to someone who 39% from the field and 15% on 3-pointers in the playoffs?

Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

This is probably the right course. I don’t know whom the Raptors could get if they lets DeRozan walk, but if he signs elsewhere, they would have just about $19 million in cap space – less than a max salary. I doubt they could land a better replacement.

I’m not sold on DeRozan as a playoff player, though he legitimately took the next step this regular season. But I’d rather keep him, hope he learns to handle the challenges of the postseason and possibly use him in a trade down the road. It’ll cost a max salary if DeRozan isn’t willing to take a discount, but that beats the alternative of losing him for nothing but cap space.

Report: Tyronn Lue urged Cavaliers GM not to fire David Blatt

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 17: Cleveland Cavaliers Associate Head Coach Tyronn Lue (L) talks with Head Coach David Blatt (R) against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of their game on December 17, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Thunder 104-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
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At 30-11, the Cavaliers had the best record ever while firing a coach during a season. Cleveland was the first team in a decade to fire a coach that took it to the NBA Finals the year prior.

Maybe firing David Blatt was the right move, but on the surface, it seemed outrageous.

Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” cleveland.com learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

I’m not sure I buy all this. It’d look bad if Lue undermined Blatt in any way.

But the Cavs asked for this situation when they hired the runner-up in their head-coaching search to assist the winner. Lue didn’t have to do anything for that call to happen. The situation opened the door for it.

And it worked out. Lue has done a masterful job guiding the Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals. We’ll never know how Blatt would’ve done if he remained on the job, but Lue has set an excellent bar. I’m not yet sold Lue is a great head coach, but for this team – and the difficult task of communicating with LeBron James and elevating Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, who’d be featured stars on many teams – Lue has been aces.

Seven questions that will shape Game 7 between Thunder, Warriors

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder defends against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the third quarter of game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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There are no more secrets. There are no major adjustments — at this point both teams know what they want to do and what the other team will try to do, it’s a simple matter of execution. Except it’s not going to be that simple. Here are seven questions that will shape the outcome of Game 7.

1) Are the Thunder moving the ball or relying on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook too much in isolation? Don’t take my word for it that the past couple of games the Thunder have fallen back into bad habits, listen to coach Billy Donovan from after Game 6: “That hasn’t been us the last month and a half. Thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.” The Warriors are a good a defensive team — with good man defenders like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — and if you’re predictable you’re defendable. The Thunder have become predictable and isolation heavy, especially when games get tight. That works during the regular season — they have Westbrook and Durant after all — but they need to do better in Game 7. The Thunder must move the ball, the best barometer of that is whether Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson are getting touches and points. If so, the Thunder are much harder to guard and much more likely to win.

2) Are the Warriors’ threes falling?
Look at the Warriors’ shot chart from Game 6.

Warriors Game 6 shotchart

Golden State shot just 48.1 percent at the rim and were 2-of-16 from three feet to the arc. The Thunder blocked 10 shots and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds — on a lot of levels did a lot of what they needed to do to win. The Warriors three-point shooting — particularly Klay Thompson and his record 11 threes — wiped that out. If Golden State is hitting from deep, they are next to impossible to beat. The Thunder need to chase Warriors’ shooters off the arc, then say a little prayer the Warriors don’t just keep hitting from deep anyway.

3) Which small ball lineup wins the battle? For most of this series, the Thunder had out Warriored the Warriors — Oklahoma City’s small lineups (where Durant plays the four) had outplayed Golden State’s small lineups. It seemed foolish to call the Warriors small ball lineups the “death” lineup, except that it was getting them killed. Golden State needs Andrew Bogut this series. That said, in Game 6 the death lineup — Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Green — was +12 in 11 minutes. It worked again. Both teams are going to go small for stretches, whichever team has more success doing so will have a huge leg up in this game.

4) Which team controls the glass? Oklahoma City is the naturally better rebounding team, arguably the best rebounding team in the NBA, with a big front line of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Enes Kanter (plus Westbrook is a great rebounder for his position, as is Roberson). However, in the Warriors three wins they are +4 total on the glass — they have either hung with or bested the Thunder on the boards. Golden State needs to have that rebounding focus again (while still finding a way to get out in transition) and limit the Thunder’s second chance points — if OKC can dominate the glass they will be flying to Cleveland for Game 1 Thursday.

5) What random role player steps up with a huge game? It’s a Game 7 tradition: Some player nobody expects ends up immune to the pressure and has a big game. Stars can get tight standing in this bright a spotlight, and role players can win the game for their team. Will it be Iguodala making it happen on both ends for the Warriors? Will it be Waiters knocking down threes? Will Shaun Livingston have the game of his life? Maybe it’s Kanter’s night. Somebody is going to step up.

6) Is Stephen Curry the MVP version of himself? Is Kevin Durant? In Game 6, Curry was just okay in the first half, and the Thunder were up by double digits and seemed in control of the game for much of the first 24 minutes. In the third quarter Curry scored 11 straight Warriors points in one stretch, then in the fourth he had a couple of key threes and had the ball in his hands making plays when the Warriors pulled ahead and won. That Curry needs to show up again, and not just for part of the game. Credit the Thunder defense for making Curry struggle — their smooth switching on defense with long and athletic players — has given him fits. But no defense can contain Curry when he’s on (and healthy, which I’m still not convinced he’s 100 percent).

Kevin Durant was 10-of-31 shooting in Game 6 — he was off, and like any shooter that did not stop him from firing away. That’s the mentality he needs to have, that also cannot happen in Game 7. The Thunder need the MVP Durant (and the good Westbrook) to fuel their offense — he has to be scoring, he has to be passing when the double comes, he has to play great defense. He has to be an MVP.

7) Can Oklahoma City get over the disappointment of not closing out the series at home? Game 6 was a punch to the gut of the Thunder. That was their chance to close out the Warriors at home, Oklahoma City controlled the game early but never could put Golden State away, then got beat in the fourth when Klay Thompson got hot and the Thunder became predictable. Durant said Sunday that if they enter the building Monday acting like it’s a funeral, they will lose. He’s right. But can they forget about Game 6 and get back to the things that got them a 3-1 series lead, or is their head still going to be in Sunday night, especially the first time something goes wrong?