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Five players poised for their breakout season

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Last season, it was Giannis Antetokounmpo — we all knew he was an athletic freak, we all knew he was good, but Jason Kidd put the ball in his hands and he broke out as a player to become an All-Star and an All-NBA player. Other players such as Nikola Jokic in Denver and Rudy Gobert in Utah had their moments breaking out, even if they didn’t pull in all the accolades of the Greek Freak.

Who will it be this season? Who is about to have their breakout year? Here are our top five players to watch.

1) Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves. I can hear you saying, “he’s already broken out” as a 25.1 points and 12.3 rebound per game player last season as an NBA sophomore. He’s showing up in Gatorade ads with Michael Jordan, that’s the definition of breaking out. Yes, basketball and sports fans know Towns is amazing (he just missed making the All-NBA third team), but he is exactly where Antetokounmpo was one season ago — on the cusp of greatness and blowing up into the casual sports fans consciousness. Towns can add to his offensive game (although with Jimmy Butler and the added talent on the Timberwolves roster his counting stats likely don’t climb much), but what really has to happen is he has to get better and be more focused on the defensive end. Do that, lead the Timberwolves to the playoffs (in a season Minnesota is on a lot more nationally televised games) and Towns can have the same kind of breakout year the Greek Freak had last season.

2) Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers. He’s an impressive young player about to get a big opportunity. Last season he averaged 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game — and that was with Paul George as the focal point of the offense. George is now in Oklahoma City, the Pacers are rebuilding, and they see Turner as one of their core players going forward — he’s going to get the rock a lot. Turner good on the pick-and-roll with the ability to pop out and hit a jumper, he works hard off the ball, he has a strong post game, he’s good on the glass, and he’s just 21. If he can improve, and stay efficient with all the extra touches, Turner could have a big year on a team taking a step backward.

3) Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers. He may be exactly what Portland needs. Last season he looked like it — he played just 20 games for the Blazers before an injury but averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game and the went 14-6. When he was on the floor with the Trail Blazers they a top-10 offense (110.6 points per 100 possessions) but more importantly they were decent defensively (105.4 per 100 allowed, middle of the NBA pack), and when on the floor the Blazers outscored teams by 5.2 points per 100. Can he replicate that? Can he stay healthy for a full season? If so, Nurkic could have a monster season.

4) Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz. Gordon Hayward and George Hill are gone, and someone is going to have to create offense for Utah this season. Enter Hood. Utah GM Dennis Lindsey said this summer “We believe Rodney Hood can be a primary scorer.” Two seasons ago he showed promise along those lines when he averaged 14.5 points a game and did so fairly efficiently, but that stagnated a little last season as he battled injuries. Even last season, he was very good as a pick-and-roll ball handler but he was looking to score not get others involved. Now he has to prove he can orchestrate an offense, not just get himself buckets. Bottom line is Hood is going to get the opportunity to break out, the Jazz need buckets and Hood is going to be asked to create them.

5) Clint Capela, Houston Rockets. This is a right place/right time selection. All the attention will be on the backcourt of Chris Paul and James Harden, but those guys need someone they can throw lobs to, and Capela is that — he’s very good as the role man, last season averaging 1.14 points per possession when he got the ball back. Capela also works hard off the ball. Last season, as Harden was having an MVP-level season, Capela had career-bests of 12.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, and he shot 64.3 percent. He’s going to get a lot of easy looks this season. Most importantly, the Rockets need a defensive backstop on this team and Capela can be that, the guy like Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, or DeAndre Jordan who cleans up the messes of others. Do that, on a team that’s going to get a lot of exposure, and Capela will be a breakout player.

The Warriors’ championship rings have 31 diamonds in them (VIDEO)

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Tuesday night meant the return of NBA basketball, and of course what we all wanted to see: the Golden State Warriors.

In the second game of the evening, the Warriors squared off against the Houston Rockets. Before the teams tipped, the Warriors received their championship rings in front of their hometown crowd at Oracle Arena.

Wearing special Nike hoodies with the phrase “The Champions” on the back, the Warriors received their rings to a standing ovation.

Perhaps the best part of the ceremony was finding out the official gemstone count in the rings. According to Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver, the rings have 31 diamonds in them.

Via Twitter:

Hmm. 31.

3-1.

3-1 lead.

Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.

Report: Cavaliers ditched Kyrie Irving tribute video idea vs. Celtics

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It was the first game for Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving back in Cleveland against the Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Irving spent the first six years of his career in Cleveland before being traded to the Celtics over the summer.

Of course, there was no love lost between the two teams nor between Cavaliers fans and Irving. Boston won the opening tip which Irving gathered, prompting a round of boos from the audience at The Q.

Perhaps more interesting was that the Cavaliers had a tribute video lined up for Irving but decided not to run it.

According to multiple reports, the video was set to run during a floating point in the game, but the operations folks in Cleveland never found the right time.

Another report from Cleveland.com has said that the aforementioned video had set off a few Cavaliers players.

Via Cleveland.com:

According to team spokesman Tad Carper, multiple Cavs officials, including majority owner Dan Gilbert, chose not to show the video because “we were expecting to run it at a floating opportunity based on the right moment, and we felt that moment never presented itself.”

Carper said the decision to cancel the video was not “directly” tied to the gruesome ankle injury to Celtics guard Gordon Hayward with 6:50 left in the first quarter, either.

A source with direct knowledge of Cavs’ players thinking told cleveland.com that several inside the Cleveland locker room were upset Monday upon hearing that a video was planned.

The video would have upset some inside the Cleveland locker room? I wonder which ones.

Already a question, Celtics’ depth issues tested by Hayward injury

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Tonight’s game story was probably always going to be about the Boston Celtics’ wing depth. It still is, I guess, but it reads a lot different now that Gordon Hayward is likely out for the season with a fractured tibia and dislocated left ankle.

Hayward, the biggest free agent prize this offseason, signed with the Celtics over the summer as the team moved in a new direction with Kylie Irving. In doing so, the Celtics leveraged a bit of their wing depth by sending Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons.

Tuesday’s opening ceremony was supposed to give us a better idea of how the Celtics depth would fare against the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart are slated to be a big part of the Boston playoff hopes this year. So too is Marcus Morris once he returns from a knee injury. Of course, that was when we were sure that Hayward would be anchoring the small forward position.

Now, Hayward is out for an undetermined period of time after suffering a catastrophic injury on that fateful alley-oop attempt against LeBron James. With Hayward went Boston’s hopes of a win as the opening matchup of the series went to the Cavaliers, 102–90, albeit with a bit of late excitement as a Irving took the potential game-tying shot as time expired with James guarding him.

Via Twitter:

So here we are, where we originally anticipated to start but with one less star player accounted for. While the Celtics mounted an impressive third quarter comeback, we still don’t have answers to our questions on the Boston depth chart.

It’s true that we saw some impressive play on Tuesday from the guys that were expected to complement Hayward on the way. Brown led the team with 25 points on 11-of-23 shooting in 40 minutes. Likewise, Smart showed some flashes of defensive brilliance even as he went 0-of-4 from 3-point range. Tatum, always expected to contribute the least in his first season, scored 14 points while grabbing 10 rebounds, an impressive double-double in his opening NBA game.

But this still doesn’t account for the fact that the Celtics were outplayed on the wing. The combination of Crowder and JR Smith for Cleveland proved to be too much for Boston to handle when put on the same floor with James. That is to say nothing of Kevin Love‘s performance, which undoubtedly benefited from the defensive rotational differences for the Celtics with Hayward out.

The Cavaliers outflanked Boston on Tuesday despite starting guards Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade combining for 22 points on 24 shots. Crowder himself shot just 3-of-10 from the field, although his contributions elsewhere were obvious. The Cavaliers were able to punch out Boston even as they suffered from subpar performances from major players. No doubt with more time together both sides will solidify, but now without Hayward the young players on the Celtics will have to do much more.

It will be easier for the likes of Crowder, Wade, and Rose to mold around the best player in the NBA than it is for Boston to find a rotation that gets them into the playoffs. And while one game in October won’t tell the story of the season, we had to get a hint of what the Celtics’ young players would look like against top competition. We still got that, and if there is an upside here for Celtics fans it’s that the development of those young players appears to have sparked a flame that should grow all season.

Make no bones about it, the Celtics still have some good players that should be able to shield the younger ones — especially Tatum — from having to shoulder too much of the load. That’s the kind of thing that can stunt the growth of a player. But that doesn’t mean that Celtics fans can’t be disappointed. It was always going to be a stretch to topple the Cavaliers and LeBron in the East, and without Hayward it will be impossible.

From Kyrie Irving to Jae Crowder, no love lost between Celtics and Cavs

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The first night of the NBA is here. Now you can stop pretending that you are going to win your NFL fantasy league and pay attention to something important.

Tuesday night’s opening matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics was of course one of intrigue for many reasons. The teams have new rosters after a trade involving Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder, just to name a few.

The NBA likes to open its seasons with matchups like this, and the crowd at The Q in Cleveland did not disappoint when they saw Irving once more.

There did not appear to be bad blood on the court between LeBron James and Irving, and the two exchanged a friendly fist bump as is customary before the tip.

Via Instagram:

Of course, Cavaliers fans did not hold back once the Celtics won the tip off and Kyrie handled the ball for the first time.

There was also myriad technical fouls, including one on Irving after a timeout and one on Al Horford for clapping at Crowder. The latter gave us this gem:

Is an absolute bummer that the Celtics will be without Gordon Hayward as he recovers from a broken left ankle. But, at least there will be some bad blood remaining between these teams to entertain us over the course of the regular season.