PBT Roundtable: Who is poised for a breakout season?

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Each week the PBT writers sit at a virtual roundtable, just like the knights of King Arthur, drink mead and discuss the NBA topic of the day. This week’s question:

Which player do you expect to have a breakout season?

Kurt Helin: After spending an entire summer pumping up Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, I’ll go with… John Henson of the Milwaukee Bucks. There’s no question the guy can block shots and rebound, but on the offensive end he grew more comfortable as last season wore on (his last 10 games he averaged 8.9 points a game on 49.4 percent shooting). At Summer League this year he was one of the more impressive big men out there and playing with a consistency rarely seen in younger players. He gets his buckets around the rim — that was true during Summer League and so far this preseason — and ultimately if he is going to co-exist with Larry Sanders up front he has to get a face-up midrange game, but his energy and talent are undeniable. He’s going to get a lot of run this season and that should mean good numbers and a chance to develop the midrange jumper.

DJ Foster: Bad news, Kurt: I’ve already planted the flag on Henson territory. Skit. Get on outta here.

For the sake of non-repetitiveness, though, I’ll gladly pump up Eric Bledsoe. I firmly believe that Goran Dragic and Bledsoe will be the second best defensive backcourt in the NBA next to Mike Conley and Tony Allen in Memphis this year, as both guys are defensive hounds who will drive ballhandlers nuts. I’m optimistic offensively as well, as Bledsoe actually played some of his best minutes next to Chris Paul. This is a guy who put up a 15-5-5 line with 2.5 steals per-36 minutes last year, and I’d expect something similar from him this season. I don’t care if he’s a point guard or shooting guard — he’s a freak.

Darius Soriano: Henson and Bledsoe and both fine choices and I see very good things from both this season. But I see legitimately great things from Anthony Davis in his sophomore campaign. Last year Davis put up 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a game while posting a PER over 20. And he did all that in only 28.8 minutes a night. Can you imagine the impact he’s going to have when Monty Williams has little choice but to bump those minutes up to around 35 a night? We could realistically see him post a line of 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks and make it look easy while doing it. And if the Pelicans surprise record wise, he could even make the all-star team and challenge for an All-NBA spot. The sky is the limit for this kid and I believe this season he takes that next step and becomes one of the elite players in the league.

Brett Pollakoff: After getting a look at him in person Tuesday night, I’m buying in to the DeAndre Jordan preseason hype machine. Doc Rivers has anointed him the Kevin Garnett of this Clippers team, the defensive anchor who will protect the rim and call out the signals. And you know what? At least early on, DeAndre is all in, embracing every expectation. He’s always had the freak athleticism, but the defensive intensity he’s showed this preseason — talking nonstop while quarterbacking the defense, calling out the other team’s plays, hedging on pick-and-rolls and then recovering to alter shots in the paint — has been seriously impressive. Obviously the huge question is whether or not he’ll sustain it throughout the course of the season, but if he can, the Clippers in my mind jump immediately to the top of the list of favorites in the Western Conference.

Dan Feldman: John Wall is my pick to win Most Improved Player, though I’m cheating a bit. Wall’s real improvement came last season, but he missed 33 games and played limited minutes upon his return. With a full season, Wall should impress voters with how far he’s come, especially with his jumper and defense. Most of the last five Most Improved Players — Paul George, Aaron Brooks and Danny Granger — received votes for the award the season prior. The other two, Ryan Anderson and Kevin Love, improved significantly from two seasons before their award to one season before. The lesson: It takes sustained momentum to win Most Improved Player, and Wall has it. My pick for actual breackout player, not someone who I think is more prepared to game the system: Jonas Valanciunas. He showed a lot of raw ability last season, and at some point, that should translate into just plain ability. I love his aggressiveness on both ends.

Report: Orlando hires Toronto GM Jeff Weltman to be president of basketball operations

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In Toronto, Masai Ujiri is the head of basketball operations and the guy with the hammer on deals. Jeff Weltman was his right-hand man and team GM.

Make that was his right-hand man, Weltman has been hired by the Orlando Magic to run its basketball operations, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Orlando Magic have hired Toronto Raptors general manager Jeff Weltman as the franchise’s president of basketball operations, league sources told The Vertical.

Weltman met with Orlando CEO Alex Martins and ownership on Monday, finalizing a five-year deal, league sources said.

Orlando officials had been intrigued with Cleveland GM David Griffin, but moved steadily toward Weltman as they became further engaged with his candidacy in recent weeks, league sources said. Weltman has been deeply involved in every aspect of the Raptors’ front office under president Masai Ujiri as Toronto became a perennial Eastern Conference contender.

Making a move now is smart in this sense: The Magic have the No. 5 pick in this draft and would want the guy making the big picture decisions about this roster on board to make this selection.

That roster already has some quality pieces — Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, maybe Elfrid Payton — but has underachieved. There were questions about the culture and a lack of accountability, and that blame ultimately fell on GM Rob Hennigan and he was let go. Frank Vogel is locked in as

Frank Vogel is locked in as coach, so how well Weltman and Vogel work together — and share a vision — will be key.

Weltman is well-respected around the league. He spent five seasons as an assistant GM in Milwaukee, and has been with the Raptors since 2013 as that team has risen up the Eastern Conference standings and had its best run in franchise history. He also has worked with the Clippers and in Denver. He’s been one of those guys expected to get a chance in the big chair for a few years now.

He’s got it, and it’s an interesting challenge in Orlando.

Celtics’ Guerschon Yabusele has foot surgery, expected to be ready for training camp

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When the Boston Celtics head to training camp next fall, all eyes will be on Markelle Fultz whoever the Celtics take with the No. 1 pick. He will be the guy expected, in a few years, to lead the Celtics to the top of the mountain in the East (assuming LeBron James ever leaves that space).

But they will have another high first round pick coming in: Guerschon Yabusele, a 6’8” power forward out of France. The Celtics drafted him No. 16 a year ago, then had him go get a year of seasoning in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Yabusele is having foot surgery but is expected to be ready for training camp, reports Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

Guerschon Yabusele, a 2016 first-round pick of the Boston Celtics, underwent surgery recently to remove bone spurs from the top of both feet and will not participate in summer league, according to a league source.

Yabusele, the 16th overall pick in last year’s draft, spent much of his first professional season stashed in China. He came stateside in March and latched on with the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s D-League affiliate.

For a team that lacks rebounding, Yabusele could be a fit in Boston. He has the build of an old-school power forward, but he has a face-up game on offense, a quicker first step than people think, and he can shoot the three.

The Celtics also have Ante Zizic, last year’s No. 23 pick, who played last season in Turkey. The Celtics are a deep team, will they have a roster space for Yabusele or Zizic next season? Or will at least one of them play another year overseas, stashed away and waiting for their chance? There are a lot of questions about the Celtics’ plans this summer, that is just one of them.

Could Game 4 Monday be Manu Ginobili’s last in the NBA? He hasn’t decided.

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If the San Antonio Spurs fall to the Golden State Warriors Monday night, their season comes to an end. A frustrating one because of the “what might have been?” questions if Kawhi Leonard had not rolled his ankle.

It also could be the last time we see Manu Ginobili play.

The Argentinian with the clever passing and high IQ game will turn 40 before next season starts and has hinted at this being his last year. He’s also not thinking about that right now and told the San Antonio Express-News he has yet to make a decision on his future.

“I’m going to go game by game,” Ginobili said. “We’ll see if (Monday) is the last one of the season. We hope that it’s not, and that we have a few more. Once it’s over, then I’ll start wondering what the future brings.”

Of course he said that, what else would he have said?

The question for athletes at his point in their careers becomes this: Do I want to still put in the extra work it takes to get my body ready to play at this level? Listen to the greats that left the game recently — Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett — and that’s the common theme. They were ready to move on, they didn’t want to be working out at 7 a.m. all summer long and avoiding trips to In-n-Out (or Whataburger for Duncan) because they had to prepare for another long grind of a season.

Does Ginobili want to put in the work? It didn’t sound like it over the course of the season, but who knows. He made $14 million this season, that’s a lot of motivation to come back.

If he does leave, he will be missed. There hasn’t been anyone quite like him in the game.

 

Death threats may prompt Thunder’s Enes Kanter to become US citizen

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Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter said Monday he routinely received death threats for criticizing the government of his native Turkey, and he may seek an expedited process toward becoming a U.S. citizen.

Kanter was detained at an airport in Romania over the weekend, with border police there saying they did so because Turkish authorities canceled his passport. Kanter eventually was allowed to leave for London and then New York, after he said officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and others intervened on his behalf.

Kanter held a news conference in New York on Monday and said he was the target of two more death threats earlier in the day.

“This is definitely crazy right now,” he said.

Kanter has long been a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he has likened to Adolf Hitler on multiple occasions. Kanter contends, among other things, that a failed coup attempt last year was actually staged by the Erdogan-led government.

“I call it the fake coup attempt,” Kanter said. “Last year, they did a fake coup attempt themselves, so they can control everything. So right now, the Erdogan government is controlling the army, controlling the police, controlling judges, controlling journalists, everything.”

Kanter makes no secret of his support of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who opposes Erdogan. Kanter said that when he was detained in Romania, he feared he would be sent back to Turkey.

Kanter said he has not spoken with his parents and other relatives in Turkey in more than a year.

“There’s no democracy. There’s no freedom of speech, freedom of religion. It’s definitely been crazy,” Kanter said. “Right now, even if I tried to communicate with my parents, my mom, my dad, my brother or sister, they would probably right now listen on their phones and as soon as they are in contact with me they’ll put them in a jail. And the jails are not fun, of course.”

Kanter has a green card for entry to the U.S. but no passport, which is problematic on several fronts. He had several international trips planned this summer on his foundation’s behalf, and he also likely would not be able to enter Canada without the passport – a problem considering Oklahoma City plays once each season in Toronto.

Romanian Border Police Spokesman Fabian Badila told The Associated Press that Kanter arrived Saturday at about 1 p.m. from Frankfurt at Bucharest’s Henri Coanda Airport, traveling on a Turkish passport.

“My colleagues discovered … that the passport had been canceled by Turkish authorities, and legally he is not allowed to enter Romania,” Badila said.

Kanter has been in the NBA for six seasons. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds this season for the Thunder. He said it’s his understanding that the process to become a U.S. citizen can take five years, though he hopes that can be accelerated in his case.

“I feel like this is my home now,” Kanter said.