Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs - Game Three

Kawhi Leonard: “I want to be an all-star and MVP of the regular season”

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The traditional arc for an NBA player is for them to chase numbers and try to get paid early in their career, then near the end they start making sacrifices for a team in hopes of getting a ring.

Kawhi Leonard has flipped that arc. From the beginning of his career he was on a Spurs team that was about sacrifice — Tim Duncan led the way, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili bought in fully. Four seasons in Leonard has a ring and a Finals MVP.

Now he may be looking to get some personal accolades, to go along with his winning. Look at what he told David Zink of Press Enterprise (hat tip Eye on Basketball)

“Winning just rubs off on you, once you see Manu (Ginobili), Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) wanting to win every game.”

Now that’s he’s reached a new plateau professionally, Leonard says he’s ready to make another big leap.

“I want to be an (NBA) all-star and MVP of the regular season,” said Leonard. “I’m trying to be one of the greatest players so whatever level that consists of is where I want to take my game.”

The Spurs want him to be those things. They are paying him become the franchise face and cornerstone after Tim Duncan retires, or at least to share that with LaMarcus Aldridge for a while.

Eventually, that means Leonard taking on more of the scoring load — he averaged 16.5 points per game last season, and with the added depth on the roster that may not jump much in the short-term. But if he’s going to get in the regular season MVP consideration, he’s going to have to be closer to 20 points per game and set a tone on offense.

Leonard may do all that, but he’s not going to give up team play to do it.

Friday night video fun: Best blocks of 2014-15 season

Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Mike Scott
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It’s Friday night, you can either go to a bar and watch guys get rejected by the cute redhead and her friends, or you can just watch the best rejections of the last NBA season right here. Take your pick.

Nerlens Noel and DeAndre Jordan, of course, have a couple good ones, but my favorites belong to Kemba Walker and Blake Griffin.

Bucks’ GM believes team has six-man core of the future

Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James
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Jabari Parker. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Greg Monroe. Michael Carter-Williams. Khris Middleton. John Henson.

Last season, with four of those six in place (Parker was injured most of the season, Monroe was in Detroit) the Milwaukee Bucks took a big step forward into the playoffs. They did it with great defense and the guidance of Jason Kidd.

Can they take another step this season? They should have an improved front line and offensive punch with Parker healthy and Monroe in the fold as a free agent. However, they Bucks sent veteran voices like Jared Dudley, how much will they be missed?

What matters more to GM John Hammond is continuity — he has a core in place now he thinks he can win with down the line. They just need time to grow and develop together. Look at what he said on The Baseline Podcast, as transcribed by Brew Hoop.

We’re trying to build around some kind of consistency with the nucleus of Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greg Monroe and John Henson. Those six guys are the young core that we look and say that’s kinda the future of this organization, and that’s not discounting anyone else. Other players have to step and become a part of that group with us. But those guys are the group we hope we can build some kind of continuity with.

While we can debate whether guys like Henson or Carter-Williams are part of the long-term core for them, Hammond is spot on about continuity. But more than just continuity of roster, there has to be continuity of system and style. You can keep the same players, but if you change coaches and systems as often as Sacramento, it’s not going to matter.

Let these guys grow together and see what they can become under Kidd. They are still a few years away from being a threat to Cleveland (if they get there at all, we’ll see where their trajectory takes them) but the Bucks have to be patient and let it all play out.

Then right about the time they move into that new downtown arena, this could be a very dangerous team.

You have yet to see the best Nikola Mirotic, if you ask Nikola Mirotic

Nikola Mirotic, Joakim Noah
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It’s natural for a player to make a leap between their first and second seasons in the NBA — they’ve adjusted to the style and level of play, the travel, plus they are working hard on their games.

That can be a little less consistent with European players who played at a high level overseas — their game has already been pushed to a degree. There is often improvement, but not the leaps you see in a guy turning 20.

The Bulls Nikola Mirotic could be the exception and make a big leap in production his coming second season. The reason starts with new coach Fred Hoiberg, who will likely give him real run and responsibilities from Day 1. Mirotic told Hoopshype to expect him to be improved, in the context of a question where he was asked about if the timing was right last season for him to jump to the NBA.

“So I felt the need to change. It was three years since Chicago drafted me and I waited for the right time to make the move. You can tell the timing was right by the kind of season I had. Some people may have been surprised with my performance, but those who know me know the best Mirotic is yet to come….

“Next year I guess I’m going to have more of a featured role with the team and that’s just another motivation to work extra hard so when the team needs me I’m ready to deliver.”

After the All-Star Game last season, Mirotic averaged 16 points a game with an above-average true shooting percentage of 56 percent, plus he grabbed 6.3 rebounds a game. In March, he averaged 20.8 points per game, and crawled into the Rookie of the Year conversation. Then in the playoffs Tom Thibodeau reduced Mirotic’s minutes, and he struggled shooting just 30 percent.

New coach Fred Hoiberg — with his more open, up-tempo, modern NBA offense — is going to lean on Mirotic more and more starting opening night. He’s going to count on Mirotic to space the floor (he needs to be more consistent from three) and move the ball. It should be a more comfortable setting for Mirotic.

He should improve. The Bulls are counting on little improvements and guys just staying healthy with a more reasonable minutes distribution to take them to the next level. We’ll see if that’s enough. But if it is, Mirotic is going to have a healthy sized role in all of it.

Ricky Rubio thinks Timberwolves can make the playoffs

Minnesota Timberwolves v Sacramento Kings
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Last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves won 16 games, in large part due to having the worst defense in the NBA.

This season, they’re a team that will be fun to watch. Ricky Rubio dishing at the point with flair, Andrew Wiggins improving out on the wing and finishing like a beast, Karl-Anthony Towns finding his way in the paint, Zach LaVine dunking on everyone. They will be improved and entertaining.

The playoffs? That is still a ways off.

Unless you ask Rubio, which someone did at an Adidas store in the Philippines (Rubio is on tour promoting the brand). Rubio said he believes they can do it, as reported by rappler.com.

“I always dream big, and I always put the bar level really high, I know the Western Conference is really tough. There’s a lot of good teams who can make the playoffs, but I believe. I believe in me, I believe in my team, and I think we can do it….

“If we stay healthy, there’s no doubt that we’re going to have a chance. We have to be there to do that, and dream big.”

After playing just 22 games last season due to injury, if they can get a full season out of Rubio it makes the Timberwolves that much better. They have a good young core that’s improving. They have Kevin Garnett as a mentor. There is a lot to like, a lot of potential. This is going to be a team you stop and watch on League Pass.

But the playoffs. In the West? That’s more than a big dream, that’s fantasy right now.