Kurt Helin

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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.

Hottest NBA ticket? Hope in Los Angeles, Philly sells, plus Kobe retirement

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“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Andy Dufresne also could have added that hope sells NBA tickets.

There has been little hope in Los Angeles for the past few years as the Lakers started to rebuild, but with Lonzo Ball in the fold there is a genuine belief that things are about to turn around and the team will be entertaining — and that has made the Lakers the league’s hottest ticket.

The Lakers are the top ticket selling NBA team on StubHub this season, the online secondary ticket market’s leader told NBC Sports. L.A.’s sales are up nearly a 130 percent from last season. Second on that team’s sales list are the always popular Knicks, with their hope invested in Kristaps Porzingis. Third is Boston, another team with a lot of hope after the additions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — the Celtics’ sales have jumped 48 percent from a season ago, when they were seventh in the league in sales at StubHub.

Fifth on the team sales list is the Philadelphia 76ers, where the fan base has had to subsist on nothing but hope for years, but now fans think they will get fed some playoff basketball thanks to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz. Sixers ticket sales are up 110 percent over this time last season on StubHub.

“While recent success and offseason moves have driven demand amongst NBA ticket buyers on StubHub for teams like the Boston Celtics, we are also seeing a sense of optimism and notable increase in demand for teams that haven’t recently been in the playoffs but have rosters boasting exciting new talent, such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers,” Jessica Erskine, StubHub spokesperson “On the road, The Warriors talent draw the highest demand with a significant uptick in ticket sales over the average NBA regular season game.”

The hottest single-game ticket this season? Dec. 18 when the Warriors visit the Lakers — Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement game, where the average ticket price is $660. Ticket prices right now range from $510 per seat in the top of the building to $7,000 or more to be in a prime location. That shouldn’t be a shock, Kobe sells. The Kobe game has generated more ticket sales on StubHub than the No. 2, 3, and 4 games on the list combined.

Second on that list is Feb. 11 in Boston, when the Cavaliers come to town and Paul Pierce gets his jersey hung in the crowded Garden rafters. The most expensive average ticket price right now is in the Bay Area on Christmas Day when LeBron James and the Cavaliers come to town for a Finals rematch (and possible preview).

Other interesting notes on ticket sales this season:

• As Erskine of StubHub mentioned above, the hottest ticket on the road is the Golden State Warriors. When the defending champions with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant come to town StubHub sees a sales increase of 425 percent over the league average per game.

• For the record, the top five best-selling teams on StubHub this season to date are: 1) Los Angeles Lakers, 2) New York Knicks, 3) Boston Celtics, 4) Golden State Warriors, 5) Philadelphia 76ers.

• The most popular rivalry this season is Cleveland vs. Boston — three of these matchups are in the top 10 most in-demand games.

• Despite the dominance of Western Conference teams on the court, Eastern Conference teams have consistently driven more ticket sales on StubHub, a trend that goes back years. Despite the fact the West loaded up on the court for this season the gap continues to grow — ticket sales for Eastern teams this year surpass those for Western teams by 59 percent, the highest difference in the last five seasons.

• That said, Western Conference teams do command the higher average ticket price at $155, 12 percent higher than Eastern Conference teams on StubHub.

Welcome to NBA Justin Jackson, C.J. McCollum breaks rookie’s ankles (VIDEO)

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Every rookie has his “welcome to the NBA” moment where they start to realize just how good the competition gets. For example, Warriors’ rookie Jordan Bell had one this summer when in a pickup game he had to guard LeBron James and found out why he’s an all-time great.

Sacramento’s Justin Jackson got his Monday night in an exhibition game against Portland.

Jackson chased C.J. McCollum out from the baseline to beyond the arc on an inbound play, but when the quick McCollum turned and made his move, Jackson went down like someone yelled “timber.” It wasn’t pretty.

Welcome to the NBA, kid.

With Stephen Currys’ help, NBA aims to aid youth basketball parents

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA is trying to help parents improve their children’s basketball-playing experience, and recruited Stephen Curry and his mother to help.

The two-time MVP from the Golden State Warriors and his mother, Sonya Curry, will take part Wednesday in a parent workshop and panel discussion for families in Walnut Creek, California, to help launch the league’s Jr. NBA Parent Initiative.

The program that began Monday aims to educate parents on the needs of young players and will feature parent forums, recommendations and age-appropriate curriculum for those who register at https://jr.nba.com/register-now/ .

Also, a new Jr. NBA Coach App will include demonstration videos with NBA and WNBA players and coaches, and 48 preloaded practice plans for various skill levels.

Sixers teammates love Joel Embiid’s new max contract

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There were plenty of raised eyebrows around the NBA when the news broke that the Sixers have given Joel Embiid a potential five-year, $148 million max extension. (I say potential because there are protections in there for the Sixers in case Embiid cannot play, we will learn more about those in the coming days.) That’s a lot of money on the table for a guy who played in just 31 games in three seasons — and played well when he did, but still he hasn’t gotten to 800 NBA minutes in his career.

Embiid’s Sixers teammates have his back — they love the deal, as they told Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Ben Simmons
“He’s a beast. As soon as he hits that court, I can’t name one person who’s going to stop him. Honestly, there’s nobody that can compete with him in his position. There’s no one.”

Jahlil Okafor
“He deserves it. I’m really happy for him. It wasn’t a surprise to me. You’ve seen how good of a player he is. He’s an even better person.”

Nik Stauskas 
“Very well-deserved. Obviously, there are going to be people who question it just because he hasn’t played that many games. But for us to see him in practice and saw him over those [31] games he played last year, if he’s able to stay healthy, I think he’s worth every single penny.”

And there are plenty more of comments just like that from other teammates. It’s what you’d expect them to say, but Embiid is genuinely loved in that locker room.

This is a contract that is impossible to judge fairly right now. If Embiid is mostly healthy and plays 65 or more games a season for the next five years, this is a great deal (and the Sixers will become a very dangerous team). If he can’t stay healthy, well, it depends on what those protections in the contract are.

But if you’re the Sixers, you have to roll the dice on this.