Kurt Helin

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51 Questions: Will Goran Dragic thrive with offense on his shoulders in Miami?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:

Will Goran Dragic thrive with the offense on his shoulders in Miami?

The Miami Heat are Goran Dragic’s team now.

At least they are on the offensive end. Dwayne Wade took his slashing-to-the-rim game back home to Chicago. Chris Bosh will not be in the high post because he will not be cleared by Miami Heat doctors to play, leaving the two sides at an impasse.

That put’s the Heat offense in the pick-and-roll loving hands of Dragic, who along with Hassan Whiteside will be asked to lead Miami. That duo — and just re-signed Tyler Johnson — will be surrounded by a bunch of players on one-year (or one plus an option) deals such as Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, and Luke Babbitt.

Expect coach Erik Spoelstra to turn Dragic loose in an offense that may lead the NBA in drive-and-kick plays.

In the Heat’s first preseason game (which is an insanely small sample size, but it’s what we’ve got), Dragic pushed the ball in transition at every opportunity, then raced into the paint with the ball, which created open three-point looks. Dragic has to be surrounded by shooters to be successful, and in that first game the Heat were 11-of-23 from beyond the arc. The Heat were moving the ball and making the extra pass, creating good looks. Also in that game, Whiteside had 16 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks — in the first quarter. He was everywhere.

The pieces around Dragic better fit the style of play he prefers than at any point since he came to Miami, that showed in their one game. They are younger, more athletic and explosive than they have been in a few years. The question becomes can they sustain this level of play? Will they get consistent play from Waiters, Babbitt, and Williams? Will Justise Winslow show off an improved jumper? And can the Heat keep doing this when they play in meaningful games where they will see far more talent on the court (John Wall skipped this preseason game, for example)?

Without Bosh, who is the Heat’s go-to scorer?

What the Heat really need this season is the 2013-14 version of Dragic, the one turned loose by Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix who averaged 20.3 points and 5.9 assists per game. The one who shot 40 percent from three and had a true shooting percentage of 60.4 percent (well above the league average). The guy who played at an All-Star level. The one the Heat thought they signed.

That Dragic has been missing for a couple of seasons now, due to a combination of factors including having the ball in his hands less (Wade certainly required touches). At age 30, it’s fair to question if we will see that Dragic again ever.

If peak Dragic suits up in Miami this season and young players buy in, this is a team that can put up a lot of points and potentially contend for one of the final playoff slots in the East. But with so many questions in South Florida, it’s hard to bet on that happening. More than likely, they are on the outside looking in.

But Dragic may end up being a fantasy steal this season.

Stephen Curry’s handles in mid-season form, he abuses Brandon Bass before bucket

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Stephen Curry is back to being Stephen Curry.

The Warriors looked a lot more comfortable in their second preseason game (after a sloppy debut). While preseason NBA games matter about as much as vice-presidential debates, Golden State fans should take a little comfort in the fact Kevin Durant looked savage, and Klay Thompson dropped 30. The Warriors beat the Clippers by 45.

Oh, and Stephen Curry’s handles are just fine, ask Brandon Bass.

Victor Oladipo’s first game provides hope for Thunder post-Durant

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder saw exactly what they need to move on after Kevin Durant: buckets in bunches from Victor Oladipo.

The 24-year-old guard scored 34 points in his debut on Monday as the Thunder began their first preseason without Durant in nearly a decade with a 142-137 overtime loss at Real Madrid.

Getting Oladipo off to a good start was clearly the Thunder’s focus for the game in the Spanish capital. He made 14 of 24 shots in 33 minutes and dished out five assists, while Westbrook left the team in his hands. Westbrook settled for 18 points in 22 minutes after sitting out the second and fourth quarters.

“I think (Oladipo) did a good job of playing aggressive,” Westbrook said of his new backcourt partner. “That’s the most important part of going out and competing, being aggressive, and that’s what we need for him to do.”

Consistently driving to the basket against the nine-time Euroleague champions, Oladipo led an offense that coach Billy Donovan is trying to remake after the departure of Durant and his superb shooting touch from long range.

The problems for Donovan came at the other end of the court. With shot-blocker Serge Ibaka no longer defending the paint after the Thunder traded him to the Orlando Magic for Oladipo and other players, Real Madrid roared back from an early 22-point deficit by scoring 92 points in the second half and overtime.

“We are a work in progress. We replaced faces on our team,” Donovan said. “We were very good offensively, we scored an enormous amount of points, but . they nearly scored 95 points in the second half. So, to me, it’s much, much more us being able to sustain a defensive intensity for the full 48 minutes.”

Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova, the other players the Thunder acquired from Orlando for Ibaka, also played their first games under Donovan. The newly drafted Sabonis had seven points, five rebounds and four assists before fouling out.

Oladipo, taken second by the Magic in the 2013 draft, led the Thunder in scoring just ahead of forward Enes Kanter‘s 29 points, despite misfiring from distance. He hit only one of seven 3-point attempts.

Spanish rookie Alex Abrines, however, showed how important he could be to the team built around the driving duo of Oladipo and Westbrook by making four of his five 3-pointers.

“(Abrines) is going to be huge for us. We need him, the way he shoots the ball, the way he can open up the lane for me and Russ, the way he spreads the floor,” Oladipo said. “I still got room to improve there obviously. But, again, I feel that I am special in that aspect, that I can do a lot of things pretty good. So I’ve just got to keep growing, keep getting better.”

Next up, the Thunder head east to the Mediterranean coast for Wednesday’s game against Barcelona, Abrines’ team until he made the leap to the NBA in July.

It will then be back to the U.S. for four more preseason games before the Thunder’s season opener at the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 26.

Oladipo will have until Feb. 11 to prime his game for the return of Durant to Oklahoma City, this time in a Golden State Warriors uniform.

Damian Lillard says he wouldn’t join superteam: “I might have too much pride for that”

Associated Press
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Kevin Durant has become one of the NBA’s polarizing players.

Some players — and pretty much everyone in the Bay Area — support not only his right to choose to play with the Warriors, but they also note that if the goal is to win titles he put himself in the best position to do that (and still get paid).

Most fans and some players say they don’t like the formation of superteams.

Put Damian Lillard in the latter group. Here is what the Portland guard he said on SiriusXM NBA Radio Monday.

“If somebody wants to go join people and do that, it’s not against the rules. They can do it. It’s just more pressure to win when you do it. Some people say, ‘Oh, they had to do that to win it,’ but we play the game to win it. So when people do it, that’s their decision. I wouldn’t do it. That’s just not who I am.

“I might have too much pride for that or be too much of a competitor where I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but it also makes it more fun. You get to take a monster down and that’s always fun.”

I’m always a little skeptical of players who were not in KD’s shoes saying they wouldn’t make his choice. No doubt Lillard believes he would not make the same decision, maybe he wouldn’t, but for him the question is moot — with his new contract kicking in he will be in Portland for years to come.

One thing Lillard said is how I think a lot of teams are viewing the Warriors — they want to slay Goliath. NBA players are by their natures very competitive, and if you put a mountain in front of them and they want to climb it. I’m not sure any teams outside Cleveland and San Antonio have a chance in the playoffs, but the target is on the Warriors’ backs. Even bigger than before.

Ben Simmons has surgery to repair broken foot, no official timetable for return

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We knew surgery to repair Ben Simmons broken bone in his foot — a Jones Fracture — the only question was when.

That turned out to be Tuesday. Philadelphia announced Simmons had the operation and, of course, it was called successful (like every athletic surgery). The Sixers did not give a timetable for his return to the court.

“Our sports performance and medical staff was debriefed by Dr. Martin O’Malley (Associate Attending Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City) following the procedure, and we were encouraged by the positive feedback,” saidDr. David T. Martin, Sixers Director of Performance Research and Development. “Moving forward, a comprehensive return to court program will be implemented for Ben, and we will closely monitor his progress throughout the rehabilitation process.”

While there have been rumors ranging from three months recovery to his agent trying to keep him sidelined for a full season, the reality with Jones fractures is recovery times are hard to pinpoint. Simmons fractured the fifth metatarsal of his right foot, the bone that runs from the little toe up to near the ankle in the foot, and that is an area that does not have great natural blood flow. Because of that, healing can be slow, even after surgery. If we can expect one thing from the Sixers, it’s for them to be cautious bringing back a potential franchise player.

The good news is, as evidenced by Kevin Durant and other young NBA players who have had this surgery, Simmons should bounce back and not be slowed by the injury down the line. It just may take a little time.