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.

Lakers hire Kardashian trainer Gunnar Peterson

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LOS ANGELES (AP) A celebrity trainer known for getting the Kardashian clan into shape is going to work for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gunnar Peterson is the Lakers’ new director of strength and endurance training, the team announced Wednesday.

Peterson has been a favorite trainer among entertainers and athletes for many years while running a well-regarded private gym in Beverly Hills. His client list has included Sylvester Stallone, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and Pete Sampras, along with most of the Kardashian family.

Peterson will develop a strength and conditioning program for the Lakers, general manager Rob Pelinka says.

The 16-time NBA champion franchise has replaced several key members of its internal staff since Magic Johnson and Pelinka assumed control of basketball operations earlier this year.

Report: Bucks interested in Cavaliers GM David Griffin

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The Magic hired Jeff Weltman, and the Hawks are reportedly close to hiring Travis Schlenk.

In other words, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin – who’s still without a contract for next season – lost his leverage with other teams.

But to the rescue are the Bucks, who will not necessarily promote assistant general manager Justin Zanik to replace Orland-bound general manager John Hammond.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Multiple sources told cleveland.com that the Bucks, who lost general manager John Hammond to the Orlando Magic this week, have interest in Griffin, 47.

Griffin and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert have spoken about continuing their partnership in recent days, sources said, though no agreement was reached.

I still think Griffin stays in Cleveland. He helped assemble a championship contender, and he has LeBron Jamesendorsement. Plus, the Cavaliers can afford him.

But whomever gets the Milwaukee job will inherit a roster stocked with promising young talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. The Bucks wouldn’t be a bad fallback option for Griffin – if he can’t use them to get a deal with the Cavs.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors’

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With the Cavaliers up 3-1 on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, most basketball observers are focused on Cavs-Warriors III in the NBA Finals.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is more concerned with Boston, which scored surprisingly well in Games 3 and 4 after losing Isaiah Thomas to injury.

Lue, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“I don’t even think about them,” Lue said of the Warriors to a small group of traveling Cleveland beat writers following the Cavs’ Game 4 win on Tuesday. “We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me, as far as the actions and all the running around and all the guys who are making all the plays, so it’s a totally different thing.”

Wait, the Isaiah Thomas-less 53-win Celtics are harder to defend than the Kevin Durant-supercharged 67-win Warriors? Come again, Coach?

“Like, they hit the post, Golden State runs splits and all that stuff, but these guys are running all kinds of s—,” Lue said of Boston coach Brad Stevens’ schemes. “I’ll be like, ‘F—.’ They’re running all kinds of s—, man. And Brad’s got them moving and cutting and playing with pace, and everybody is a threat. It’s tough, you know, it’s tough.”

I think Lue means in a very specific way – getting his players into proper position. And in that regard he might be right.

I also think the Warriors will take this in the broadest, most offensive way possible. That’s just the nature of this rivalry.

Without Thomas, Stevens has been forced to diversify Boston’s offense. The Cavaliers, who prepared for a very different scheme, were caught off guard and are adjusting on the fly.

That’s a real challenge. But framing it as the central issue sells Golden State short.

Even if it’s harder for Lue to get his players into proper position against the Celtics, the Warriors’ surplus talent – including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – more than makes up for it. And it’s not as if Golden State runs a basic scheme.

So why did Lue say this?

He didn’t think the travelling Cleveland beat writers would publish his candid remarks? He didn’t convey his thoughts clearly? He naively didn’t consider how this would motivate the Warriors? All are plausible.

Another theory: Lue is trying to plant a seed that acting Golden State coach Mike Brown, whose known (fairly or not) for his simplistic offensive schemes, is holding back the Warriors. If Steve Kerr doesn’t return, resentment of Brown is one of the few things that could tear apart a dominant Golden State team.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.