Kurt Helin

PBT Extra: Giannis Antetokounmpo running away with Most Improved Player

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Before the season tips off, the Most Improved Player award is the hardest to predict — the point of it is to rewarded the guy who made big strides we didn’t see coming.

Nobody has strides as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks’ point forward has run away from the field with this award, and now with Zach LaVine injured for the season it’s hard to see anyone catching him. Antetokounmpo is an All-Star and deserves a little end-of-the-season hardware.

Jahlil Okafor just trying to enjoy New Orleans, have some gumbo, not worry about possible trade

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 09:  Jahil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles the ball during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on November 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — Jahlil Okafor was out of the Sixers lineup, a lineup already without Joel Embiid, because he was close to being traded. Or the Sixers were trying to drum up trade interest. Either way, he is a guy who very well may be playing in a different city and in a different uniform after the All-Star break.

He will be on the court for the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night, playing for Team USA against The World, but he said the trade rumors and the possibility of a new home are on his mind.

“I’ve thought about it, it’s hard not to, you hear all the rumors, some are absurd, but the organization has been really straight with me,” Okafor said Friday morning.

He added he is just trying to not think about it for a few days, and being in New Orleans can help with that.

“Everybody’s here enjoying themselves, I’m just trying to enjoy myself this weekend without having to worry about what’s going to happen,” Okafor said. “I got some gumbo last night.”

The question becomes what are the Sixers willing to accept for the No. 3 pick. Okafor has one valuable skill — he can score the rock inside. He’s averaging 11.6 points a game this season in Philly, shooting 51.3 percent, and 78 percent of his shots come within 10 feet of the rim. The problem is he doesn’t fit the modern NBA — he can’t space the floor, he doesn’t defend well, and he’s not strong on the boards for a big. Which means teams are not going to give up much to get him.

Will the Sixers find a deal they will take? Okafor’s just trying not to think about it for a few days.

Isaiah Thomas on Celtics loss to Bulls: “A bad call cost us the game”

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Down one with 8.4 seconds left and the ball, Chicago’s play was “get it to Jimmy Butler and let him win it for us.” Butler got the ball beyond the arc, drove a little, spun, and put up an elbow jumper.

And drew a foul on Marcus Smart. Despite the fact there was no contact.

Isaiah Thomas didn’t hold back after the game, as you can see above — “A bad call cost us the game.”

I will channel my high school coach here — one call does not cost you the game. There were a lot of plays before that — 47 minutes worth — where Boston could have played better and earned the win and didn’t.

But that was a bad call. We will see what the Two Minute Report says, but if it says that’s a foul, they’re wrong.

Also, Thomas might as well write the check to the league for his fine now, because it’s coming.

Shane Battier returns to Heat, to lead analytics department

Former Miami heat player Shane Battier gestures to his former teammates before an NBA basketball between the Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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Shane Battier has returned to the Miami Heat.

Battier is now a member of the Heat front office, assuming the newly created role of director of basketball development and analytics. The Heat announced the move Thursday, describing Battier’s new job as one where he will develop analytics to evaluate talent – including college players, free agents and members of the existing roster.

“My goal, as is the entire organization’s, is to bring another championship back to Miami,” Battier said.

Battier played 13 seasons in the NBA, the last three of those in Miami and helped the Heat win championships in 2012 and 2013. He and his family have continued to call South Florida home since, and has maintained ties with the organization.

He has been close with Heat managing general partner Micky Arison and CEO Nick Arison since his playing days at Duke, when Nick Arison was the Blue Devils’ manager.

“I am thrilled to be joining the front office of the Miami Heat,” Battier said. “I look forward to working with the Arison family, learning from a Hall of Fame executive in Pat Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg and of course my old coach, Erik Spoelstra.”

Battier was enormously popular among fans and teammates in his tenure with the Heat. He was a key part in the second and third championships won by the Heat, and now he’ll be asked to help them win a fourth.

“We believe Shane is an incredible example of our Heat program, not only for the present, but also for the future,” said Riley, the Heat president. “He embodies everything that we are looking for in our players and staff. We feel he will help us tremendously with his experience and knowledge of the game. Shane is an out-of-the-box thinker and will bring a fresh expertise that can help us evolve as a franchise.”

The Heat went to the NBA Finals in all three seasons that Battier played in Miami. He won the Twyman-Stokes NBA Teammate of the Year award in 2014 and the Magic Johnson Award for excellence on the court with cooperation with media and fans in 2013, both of those coming during his Heat tenure.

He retired with career averages of 8.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 44 percent shooting.

Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry betting favorites to be All-Star Game MVP

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stand on the court in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Predicting the NBA All-Star Game MVP is like predicting a roulette spin, it could land anywhere. Everyone in the game is talented and knows how to score, nobody plays any defense, so whoever wants it has the chance to go get it.

However, of course, there are betting odds.

And gamblers are leaning toward the obvious choices of Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry to win the All-Star Game MVP. Here are the latest odds for the top 10, via Bovada.lv.

Russell Westbrook (WEST) 7/2
Stephen Curry (WEST) 6/1
Anthony Davis (WEST) 13/2
Kevin Durant (WEST) 7/1
James Harden (WEST) 7/1
LeBron James (EAST) 7/1
Kyrie Irving (EAST) 15/2
Giannis Antetokounmpo (EAST) 11/1
Kawhi Leonard (WEST) 15/1
Isaiah Thomas (EAST) 15/1

Of course, we’re talking gambling, and you can bet on anything. Here are the odds for the Saturday night events:

Slam Dunk Contest
Aaron Gordon (ORL) 5/8
Derrick Jones Jr. (PHO) 5/4
DeAndre Jordan (LAC) 8/1
Glenn Robinson III (IND) 9/1

Three-Point Contest
Klay Thompson (GSW) 11/10
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 4/1
CJ McCollum (POR) 8/1
Eric Gordon (HOU) 9/1
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 9/1
Nick Young (LAL) 9/1
Wes Matthews (DAL) 11/1
Kemba Walker (CHA) 11/1

Skills Competition
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 2/1
John Wall (WAS) 9/4
Devin Booker (PHO) 4/1
Gordon Hayward (UTA) 8/1
Anthony Davis (NO) 10/1
Kristaps Porzingis (NY) 10/1
DeMarcus Cousins (SAC) 15/1
Nikola Jokic (DEN) 15/1