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.

Three Things to Know: Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder against Warriors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. As a matter of housekeeping, this will be the last Three Things of this week, as we take a holiday break. Happy Thanksgiving!

1) Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder we’ve been waiting for. Don’t make Russell Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Unless you’re a Thunder fan, then you’ll love him. Westbrook came out with an edge we haven’t seen from him this season as he has tried to play nice and integrate Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Not Wednesday night. Wednesday night Kevin Durant and his Warriors came to town, and Westbrook was not taking it from anyone.

That sparked the Thunder team we have been waiting for all season. Westbrook finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and he was joined by Anthony with 22 points, and George with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals. The Thunder used a 22-10 first-quarter run to take the lead and never looked back, leading by 26 at one point and going on to win 108-91. This was by far the best the Thunder have looked all season as they have stumbled to a 7-9 start before Wednesday. Maybe this game was the spark they needed to start playing well at the end of games — they closed out well against Golden State. Maybe this was what the Thunder needed to find themselves and become the playoff threat to the Warriors we expected.

As for the Warriors… ¯_(ツ)_/¯. We haven’t said this about them this season (only the Cavaliers), but they looked disinterested much of the night (outside of Durant). Give credit to the Thunder, physical and aggressive defenses that can overplay the Warriors (and recover) give them trouble, and OKC did that. The Warriors just didn’t care to counter. They looked like a team coasting through a road trip (2-2 in their last 4), and when they ran into a quality, motivated team they didn’t have the gear. That doesn’t mean anything long-term, but it means they may be vulnerable during the season until they find their edge again. Whenever they flip the switch.

2) Miami ends Boston’s win streak at 16. For a couple of weeks now the Celtics had been living dangerously — they had to come back from double-digits to win four of their last five games heading into Wednesday night.

Their luck ran out against the Miami Heat.

Miami raced out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, pushed that lead to 19 and were comfortably ahead most of the game, and we kept waiting for the Boston run. It came in the fourth, a 13-0 push that made it a game again. However, Miami responded with a 5-0 run of their own, Dion Waiters seemed especially motivated to take on Kyrie Irving, and the Heat held on for the 104-98 win. Goran Dragic had 27 points, Waiters 26 and 6 assists.

Boston’s streak was bound to end, but they established themselves as a strong defensive team during that run, and the squad in the East best poised to knock off LeBron James and the Cavaliers. We’re a long way from the games that matter in that push — the Cavs have won six in a row, and are playing defense again — but we know the pecking order for who gets a shot at the champs. Boston will get their shot, and early on they look like they will be ready.

3) Patrick Beverley is out for the season and the Los Angeles Clippers have some hard questions to answer. For the first four games of the season, we saw the potential of what this Clipper roster could be — four head-turning wins. Then the injuries started to pile up — Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and starting point guard Patrick Beverley — and so did the losses. Nine in a row, until they picked up a road win in Atlanta Wednesday.

Now comes a brutal blow — the Clippers have lost point guard Patrick Beverley for the season. He had microfracture surgery on his knee and will be out until next season.

That’s a real blow to the Clippers, and it means they may need to answer some harsh questions. If the losses continue to pile up and this is clearly not a playoff team by the time we get to Christmas — a reality that became a more possible on Wednesday — do they need to trade free agent to be DeAndre Jordan? Other teams are already calling and asking if he is available in a trade, if the Clippers think they can’t resign him this summer (or at least the odds are lower than they like) they have to consider the move. Los Angeles wouldn’t get a lot back for a rental, but they would get something to help the rebuild they need to consider.

The other question: How much longer is Doc Rivers the coach. The sense from many around the league is the reason he wasn’t let go when he was stripped of his GM powers this summer was he is making more than $10 million a year and had a couple of years left on his deal, and that was too much for even Steve Ballmer to just eat. Plus Rivers has shown he can coach. Whether he can coach this team still is a different question entirely. Right now, this team is not responding to him, and the sense around the league is the question is when, not if, he will be let go.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.

Heat snap Celtics’ 16-game winning streak

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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The Celtics didn’t have another comeback in them.

After overcoming a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Mavericks on Monday to extend its winning streak to 16 games, Boston lost to the Heat tonight, 104-98. The streak ends as the NBA’s longest since the Hawks won 19 straight during the 2014-15 season.

The Celtics trailed Miami by 16 in the fourth quarter then cut the deficit to only one with three minutes left. But Dion Waiters hit back-to-back 3-pointers, helping the Heat pull away.

Goran Dragic (27 points) and Waiters (26 points) led Miami, which needed a reason to feel good after losing three of four to fall to 7-9.

The Celtics, on the other hand, still have a four-game cushion over the rest of the Eastern Conference. This might help them regain focus.