Kurt Helin

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 16:  NBA player Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on September 16, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Willie Mays gave Kevin Durant first pitch advice before Giants game

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If Kevin Durant breaks out an over-the-shoulder catch playing for the Warriors this season, we’ll know who coached him.

Durant — who signed with Golden State this summer — threw out the first pitch when the Cardinals visited the Giants Sunday. He got some pregame advice from one of the greatest to ever play the game, Willie Mays.

Then KD got in a little practice.

The results? A strike.

After that, the Giants promptly went out and were shut out by the Cardinals (two teams in the middle of the wild card chase). So maybe Durant doesn’t get invited back for a while.

51 Questions: Which rookies will impress? Which will disappoint?

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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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. Today:

Which rookies will impress? Which will disappoint?

There may be no trickier bit of NBA prognostication than predicting rookies — seeing what they did in college and Summer League is like predicting the results of a horse race after the first 100 yards. We don’t know what they can do when they settle in and get to run over a course of ground.

The PBT staff is going to give it a shot anyway. We are going to name the players we expect to impress us as rookies this season, then to disappoint us. First the good news:

Which rookies will impress?

Kurt Helin: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers. This is the obvious call — predicting the No. 1 pick will be good is boring. But after watching Simmons at Summer League I had to pick him here — he has a gift for seeing the floor and passing that only a few other NBA players possess (Ricky Rubio, LeBron James, etc.). His teammates will play hard alongside him because of that. Plus, Brett Brown and the Sixers are going to give Simmons the opportunity to play 30+ minutes a night and a chunk of that time as the defacto point guard. He’s going to get the opportunity. If you want a good darkhorse in the impressive rookies category, take Denzel Valentine with the Bulls, who was probably the most NBA-ready player in the draft and will get run behind Dwyane Wade.

Dan Feldman: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers.
I overthought it last year when picking Emmanuel Mudiay over Karl-Anthony Towns for Rookie of the Year. Simmons was the best player in the draft. The 76ers, without an impressive true point guard, will give him every opportunity to succeed as a point power forward.

Sean Highkin: Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves. Tom Thibodeau doesn’t usually give rookies a lot of playing time, but Dunn is a four-year college player who Thibodeau loved and targeted aggressively in his first draft as president of the Timberwolves. Dunn’s shooting ability and defensive mentality are a perfect fit for both Thibodeau’s well-established style and attitude, and for the roster he joins in Minnesota. He’s ready to contribute right away, and he could become the full-time starter at point guard if Ricky Rubio gets moved at some point.

Which will rookies disappoint?

Kurt Helin: Thon Maker, Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, I know Maker averaged 14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game at Summer League, and that included a 17 and 17 game (which I was at). I think it was a mirage. He may develop into a good player in a few years, but it is going to take time. A lot of time. What he has going for him is a good motor and a nice shooting touch when left open, but he’s going to find that the defenders in the NBA are longer, more athletic, and close out much faster than in Vegas in the Summer. He will not have the strength to battle and pull down a ton of rebounds yet, nor to establish good post position. On what should be a good Bucks team with Jabari Parker and Mirza Teletovic at the four, I’m not sure Maker gets much run. Maybe he develops into a good player (I’m far from sold on that outcome, either), but as a rookie he’s not going to impact the Bucks.

Dan FeldmanJaylen Brown, Boston Celtics. Brown will show flashes of elite play, but the gap between his athleticism and production was so wide at Cal. I doubt he’ll be ready to reliably contribute to the very-good Celtics, though his long-term potential remains high.

Sean Highkin: Joel Embiid, Philadephia 76ers. The hype around Embiid has never been higher, with a steady stream of impressive workout videos hitting Instagram and Sixers head coach Brett Brown calling him the “crown jewel” of their new defense. He’s one of three highly anticipated rookies expected to debut for the Sixers, with the other two being Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, and he’s seen as an integral part of the team’s future after three infamous years of losing. But it’s worth tempering these high expectations by remembering that Embiid hasn’t played basketball competitively against other people in almost three years, and even if his foot is healthy, it’s going to take some time for his conditioning to reach the point where he can take on the kind of workload the Sixers envisioned for him. If he can stay on the floor, he’s going to be very good eventually. It’s just not going to happen as quickly as fans are hoping.

Report: Knicks didn’t pursue Jeremy Lin in free agency because of defensive concerns

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11: Jeremy Lin #7 of the Charlotte Hornets looks on in the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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If this report is accurate, it shows the Knicks front office is thinking like it’s still 2011.

The Knicks certainly needed to upgrade at the point guard position this summer, and they did that — but at a cost — in trading for Derrick Rose. The Knicks focused on Rose and didn’t go after some of the name free agent point guards on the market, in particular former Knick Jeremy Lin, who signed with the Nets.

Why? Defensive concerns, according to a report by Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

“If my life was done by what everyone else expected of me, I would’ve been done with playing a long time ago. I don’t really care what anyone else has to say,’’ said Lin, whose struggles on defense left the Knicks uninterested in a reunion, a source told The Post.

Let’s be clear: Today, Jeremy Lin is a better defender than Derrick Rose. That wasn’t the case five years ago, but it is now. Look at figures like defensive win shares or ESPN’s real plus/minus and you can see it in the stats, or better yet watch them both play within their systems and it’s clear.

Peak Rose was a good defender, thanks to his exceptional athleticism. Put him in Tom Thibodeau’s system where he had great help and rim protection behind him and Rose made plays. But for today’s Rose that athleticism isn’t there anymore, his effort is inconsistent on that end, and without that rim protection backing him up last season Rose was exposed defensively at points.

Lin has a reputation as a poor defender, and he once was, but he’s developed into someone decent on that end of the floor. He’s a big point guard and he’s learned to use that size to frustrate smaller guards, plus that size allows versatility, he can be put on a two guard at times as well. Lin can still get beat off the bounce — Dwyane Wade did it to him plenty in the playoffs — but he recovers fairly well. He’s become a solid defender. Charlotte coach Steve Clifford, a defense-first guy, praised Lin last season defensively, and the Hornets were three points per 100 possessions better defensively when Lin was on the court.

There can be a variety of reasons the Knicks thought Rose was better suited to run Jeff Hornacek’s system than Lin. Plus, Rose is in the final year of his contract and is as healthy as he’s been in a while so maybe the Knicks see a return to glory — or something close to it — coming this season.

But if the Knicks didn’t go after Lin because of his defense, they remember the Linsanity version of him, not the player he’s become.

Jerry West on free agency: “if I had an opportunity to leave the Lakers I would have left”

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 31:   Golden State Warriors executive board member Jerry West sits on the bench by NBA logos before the game the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on March 31, 2015 in Los Angeles, 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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Jerry West, the Laker icon with a statue in front of Staples Center who is now part of the brain trust of the Golden State Warriors, has been defending the choice of Kevin Durant to come West this summer. As you might expect from one of the guys who helped recruit KD to the Warriors.

This week during The TK Show, a podcast hosted by San Jose Mercury News sports columnist Tim Kawakami, West took that a step further and said that if free agency had been around when he played he would not be the same Laker icon.

“I remember years ago, if I had an opportunity to leave the Lakers I would have left, for one reason: because I did not like an owner that was not telling me the truth. It would have made no difference what they would have offered me, I would have left. It’s easy to say after the fact, but players have earned the right to go where they want to go.”

The Lakers were owned at the time by Jack Kent Cooke, who was not exactly loved by the players. To put it kindly.

Today, if a player is frustrated with the direction the owner is taking the team, that player can leave as a free agent. Back in West’s day, there was no free agency as it exists now. West was essentially locked into his Laker contract and wasn’t going anywhere unless the team wanted to trade him.

This is not to say that Durant left Oklahoma City because of ownership. There were a number of factors that moved him.

Many players we consider franchise icons from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s would have had very different careers if they had the freedom of movement today’s players have. Free agency in the form we would recognize today didn’t arrive in the NBA until 1988. To suggest those older icons wouldn’t have used that power — or wouldn’t have teamed up with other stars — is to live in a fantasy world. Given the chance, those players would have bounced around just like today’s players do.

Unlike a lot of older players, West understands that.

 

 

John Wall shows up for Redskins home game in Cowboys’ jersey

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 21:  John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards looks to drive against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on March 21, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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John Wall is a Dallas Cowboys fan. Always has been. He was born in North Carolina but has said the Cowboys were his mother’s team so they became his.

Even after he was drafted by Washington, a city where the Cowboys are as unpopular as campaign finance reform. Wall was not changing who he is.

Wall was on the sidelines in Washington Sunday — the Cowboys sideline, and he was wearing a throwback Emmit Smith jersey.

Wall left a happy man as the Cowboys won 27-23.