Kurt Helin

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Charles Barkley says Warriors still a flawed team even with Durant

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NEW YORK (AP) — Charles Barkley didn’t want Kevin Durant to join the Golden State Warriors and isn’t sure Durant changes things now that he’s there.

In Barkley’s mind, the Warriors are still a flawed team.

“Let me say this: I still think they got some of the same issues this year with that team,” Barkley said Tuesday.

“Can they rebound the ball? They’re going to still be shooting jumpers. They’re not going to get any low-post scoring. Can that type of play hold up through the rigors of the NBA playoffs? I’m still going to say the same thing I’ve always said: No.”

The Warriors won a record 73 games in the regular season but blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals and lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Golden State then signed Durant, the former NBA MVP, in the offseason.

That’s made the Warriors the favorites to regain the title they won in 2015, though Barkley said they were “lucky” then because their road was filled with teams weakened by injuries. Cleveland was already without Kevin Love in those Finals and lost Kyrie Irving near the end of Game 1.

The Cavs were healthy last year, and Barkley picked them to beat the Warriors.

“When I told you they couldn’t play that little small ball and win a championship if everybody they played was healthy, that they’d wear down, and they did. I told you Cleveland was going to beat them and they did,” Barkley said during a lunch before TNT’s “Inside the NBA” studio team was elected to the Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Barkley and the team will host their show Tuesday night in Cleveland outside Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers will receive their rings before facing New York in their season opener. The Warriors will play San Antonio in the nightcap of TNT’s doubleheader.

Barkley, a Hall of Fame player who never won a championship, was disappointed that Durant left Oklahoma City for an easier chance at a title with the star-studded Warriors, who have two-time MVP Stephen Curry and fellow All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

If they win, Barkley said, the title won’t mean as much to Durant as it would have in Oklahoma City, where he had played since the Thunder franchise moved from Seattle in 2008 after his rookie season. Durant has been booed in rival arenas since his decision and has angered some of his former fans with what appeared to be criticisms of Russell Westbrook and his former team.

“He’s made himself a villain by taking all these shots at Oklahoma City for no reason. There’s no reason for that,” Barkley said. “He left, he’s happy, shut up. When you’re taking shots at Russell and those guys, that’s not necessary.”

Betting odds have Russell Westbrook MVP favorite, Buddy Hield Rookie of Year

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This season the race for NBA MVP is as wide open as it has been in years. In predictions from the PBT staff, we got three different answers for who would hoist the trophy — LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and James Harden.

And none of those are the betting favorite: Russell Westbrook.

Speculation about awards is part of the fun of preseason (which is why you need to listen to the PBT Podcast that drops Thursday). As of Oct. 18, one week before the season tips off, here are the latest MVP odds, courtesy the online gambling site Bovada:

Russell Westbrook 2/1
Stephen Curry 9/2
LeBron James 9/2
Anthony Davis 10/1
Kevin Durant 10/1
James Harden 10/1
Kawhi Leonard 10/1
Paul George 22/1
Carmelo Anthony 33/1
Blake Griffin 33/1
Kyrie Irving 33/1
Damien Lillard 33/1
Chris Paul 33/1
Karl-Anthony Towns 33/1

If I were a betting man, getting Harden and Leonard at 10-1 feels like good odds. Same with George at 22-1.

For fun, here are the top five from their Rookie of the Year betting lines (and if you want to see our predictions, follow this link).

Buddy Hield (Pelicans) 7/2
Kris Dunn (Timberwolves) 4/1
Joel Embiid (Sixers) 5/1
Ben Simmons (Sixers) 5/1
Brandon Ingram (Lakers) 11/2

How the Warriors’ lose the West: “They get hurt or hate each other”

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If Golden State can stay healthy, and if they can integrate a willing Kevin Durant into their 73-win system (which appears to be going well in the preseason), it’s hard to imagine the Warriors not winning the West.

The Spurs will be good but seem to lack the athleticism, and their defense likely steps back with Pau Gasol filling Tim Duncan’s shoes. The Clippers could be the biggest threat to the Warriors in the West. They have great frontline athleticism and an elite point guard in Chris Paul, but they lack both depth and they have struggled mightily to defend the Warriors the past couple of seasons. And that was before the Warriors added Durant.

We have delved into what it will take to beat the Warriors, now Howard Beck has done a long-form piece at Bleacher Report where he got some honest quotes from other team executives.

“That they get hurt or hate each other, for sure,” said the Western Conference executive. “We’re all rooting for that.”

One Eastern Conference team executive suggested something just short of groin-kicking: “The good teams with coaches that are bloodthirsty, they’re going to say, ‘Let’s go out and try to knock them around a little bit.’”

Certainly, being physical with them is going to be part of the plan for many teams. But nobody is rooting for injuries, or at least I would hope not (that’s bad karma for a team executive).

The real question is not can the Spurs and Clippers challenge the Warriors, but rather just how good will the Warriors be? The team may not chase 73 wins again, but they are going to win 65 or more just based on talent. If all that talent meshes well and the rotations are tight come to the playoffs, it’s hard to picture this team losing. Even to Cleveland in a seven-game series, and while that would be close Doc Rivers may explain best what Durant does to the Warriors:

“I don’t know how much better they’ll be for the first 45 minutes of the game,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “They’re gonna be a lot better the last three minutes of the game.”

The Cavaliers and Thunder had the athletes and defenders on their team to blitz Curry when he got the ball late in games and not get destroyed off the ball. Now, blitz Curry and Durant gets the ball. It’s nearly impossible to defend.

NBA GMs unanimously predicted a third straight Warriors vs. Cavaliers NBA Finals. Those games have been booms for ratings, with so many NBA stars gathered in one place. Whether it is good for the entire NBA is another question. And one we have all season to contemplate.

51 Questions: Who wins Rookie, Coach of the year, other NBA awards?

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We are in the home stretch of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For more than a month (and continuing through the start of the NBA season) we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We are entering the prediction portion of the preview season, today the PBT staff is tackling:

Who wins Rookie, Coach of the year, other NBA awards?

Yesterday we talked MVP picks — and the entire PBT staff disagreed. Today, Kurt HelinDan Feldman, and Dane Carbaugh branch out into the other NBA end-of-season awards and the unanimity goes away. Here are our picks.

Rookie of the Year

Kurt: Kris Dunn (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Dan: Buddy Hield (New Orleans Pelicans)
Dane: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)

Kurt: This was Ben Simmons’ award to lose, but his injury means he’s not going to play enough games. Joel Embiid could well win the award with enough run and stays healthy, but I’m going to go with Dunn. He played well in Summer League, will get increasing opportunity and trust as the year goes on in Minnesota, and is on an increasingly high-profile team. Dunn is going to be good.
Dan: The race is wide open with Ben Simmons injured. Hield is playing well in the preseason, in line for a decently sized role and relatively polished coming out of Oklahoma. I’d take the field in a landslide, but Hield gets a slight nod over Joel Embiid here.
Dane: It’s going to be a question whether Joel Embiid plays enough minutes to garner him consideration, especially when a minutes restriction can be damaging for rookies when they inevitably hit a wall during some point of the season. Still, Embiid has looked impressive and if he stays on the floor he might have a huge impact for a team where just about any increase in wins will look like a huge improvement over seasons prior.

Sixth Man of the Year

Kurt: Enes Kanter (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Dan: Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors)
Dane: Evan Turner (Portland Trail Blazers)

Kurt: I like Sixth Man candidates who are given the mandate to come in and fire away against second units (and not worry so much about the defense). Kanter will put up points, plus is a beast on the offensive glass as well, something seen too rarely today.
Dan: I’m hedging a little. Iguodala could just wind up deserving this award. He has also proven himself an elite backup. Unless someone puts together an excellent season off the bench, Iguodala also has a path through a career-achievement award.
Dane: There are a lot of good candidates for Sixth Man in 2016-17, but the most likely player to remain a bench player while having the biggest impact for a playoff team appears to be Evan Turner. He signed a 4-year, $70 million in the offseason, and Trail Blazers brass has been explicit that Turner was brought in to relieve pressure from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Moe Harkless looks like the better fit for Portland’s starting unit, but expect Turner to play more minutes off the bench than some of the Blazers starters. If Portland finishes in the middle of the Western Conference this season Turner will be a big reason why.

Coach of the Year

Kurt: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Dan: Mike D’Antoni (Houston Rockets)
Dane: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)

Dan: D’Antoni takes over a team that under-performed last year and installs a system clearly attributed to him. That’s a setup for recognition.
Dane: If Brad Stevens can beat the Vegas over/under of 51.5 wins and take the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland he has a strong chance to win the award. No team has won fewer than 50 games and had their coach win COY since 2006-07, but playoff position for winners has been all over the place. If Stevens gets his team to a Top 3 finish in the East I’d consider him a strong contender.

Defensive Player of the Year

Kurt: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Dan: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
Dane: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)

Kurt: Leonard may well win a third straight DPOY (and he deserves the honor), but watch out for Gobert. Utah should have a top three defense and Gobert in the paint is the anchor of it. As people figure out just how good Utah is this season, Gobert will get a lot of credit for the defense.
Dan: Leonard has been the NBA’s best defender the last two seasons. I don’t see why this year will be any different.

Most Improved Player

Kurt: Clint Capela (Houston Rockets)
Dan: D'Angelo Russell (Los Angeles Lakers)
Dane: Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)

Dan: Russell came a long way last season, and he’s uber-talented. With better coaching and one fewer over-the-hill ball hog around him, Russell has all the right conditions to make a leap.
Dane: I’m extremely tempted to take Andrew Wiggins here, but Karl-Anthony Towns’ second year might overshadow some of the steps Wiggins takes in 2016-17. Meanwhile, Devin Booker looks like an absolute nightmare in Phoenix and he still isn’t even legally allowed to drink. The young Suns guard has something about his swagger — not to mention his constant, sneaky talking — that makes you believe in him. It also helps that Phoenix is pledged again to be at the bottom of the Western Conference and Booker’s scoring ability will help him shine among the darkness of the Suns.

Draymond Green says Lakers’ Julius Randle has potential to be better than him

Associated Press
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Lakers’ forward Julius Randle shows a lot of potential — how many forward his size create the majority of their own shots? He has great size and ball handling, and uses his quickness to create all those looks, although he’s got to develop more of a right hand and more of a variety of shots to truly take advantage of all those gifts. Still, the potential is there on both ends of the court.

Draymond Green has seen it.

The Warriors’ cornerstone forward whose versatility is the key to much of what Golden State does said he thinks Randle has the potential to be better than him someday. Via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News/Orange County Register:

“I think he can. I also think he has the potential to be better,” Green said. “With the God-given gifts he has, he has the potential to be better. I’ll continue to grow. I’ll never stop working and I’ll continue to get better. But what is he, 21? That’s a lot of time to continue to grow.”

(Lakers’ coach Luke) Walton said he “absolutely” saw Randle and Green as a “good comparison” before praising their athleticism and playmaking. He then pointed out Green’s superior jump shooting before complimenting Randle for his offseason efforts to improve in that area. Walton then added, “that could be someone you compare to down the road.”

Randle is not Green yet. Not even close. The jumper is part of it, although the bigger issue is the defensive end — where Green is elite, and Randle is good on the boards but a work in progress everywhere else.

Still, everyone sees the potential. Green included.

Randle speaks to why Luke Walton was brought into the Lakers. Randle has great potential. So does D'Angelo Russell. And Brandon Ingram. And Jordan Clarkson. And Larry Nance. You get the idea. The Lakers have an impressive young core, but one they need to develop and add to. Walton is on board to help that group grow into the cornerstones of the next great Lakers team. It’s a process and a slow one.  Patience is required.