The 2012-2013 All-Breakout Team

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Last season, Jeremy Lin coming out of nowhere (and the ensuing Linsanity) was the perfect headlining story for a crazy, compacted season. Lin was absolutely the breakout star of the year, but we also saw Ersanity (Ersan Ilyasaova) become a thing — at least in Milwaukee, anyway. And Kevin Love’s nightly performances? Just good old-fashioned insanity.

But now it’s time to move on. LeBron got his ring, and a new season with fresh storylines and a new cast of characters awaits us. Which breakout stars will take the league by storm this year? Here’s a look at the 2012-2013 All-Breakout Team:

PG: Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

Where have we seen a player like this before? Blazing speed. Killer floater in the lane. Undersized. Rough as a distributor and distance shooter, but a natural scorer around the rim. That’s right — Jeff Teague is the closest thing we’ve got to the next Tony Parker, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that both players had nearly identical numbers through their first three seasons in every way. With Iso Joe Johnson moved on to Brooklyn, more than ever Atlanta’s offense will revolve around Teague in the pick-and-roll , and he’s got two of the best dance partners you could ask for in Josh Smith and Al Horford. Add in two elite spot-up 3-point shooters to the mix with Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver, and all of a sudden Teague could be orchestrating one of the league’s most surprising offenses while still putting up big scoring numbers of his own.

SG: Paul George, Indiana Pacers

George is almost too good to be true, isn’t he? It’s like he was created in a factory. Size? George is 6-foot-9 with arms for days. Athleticism? He can jump out of the gym, even when you turn the lights off. Skills? George is so smooth and effortless with the ball that he almost looks aloof before his incredible athleticism just pops up on you, which is eerily reminiscent of another talented big wing, Tracy McGrady. If George can continue his sweet shooting from the outside this season (38.5 percent from deep) and force the action a little more, he could make a potential playoff meeting with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James very, very interesting.

SF: Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

You’ve probably seen Gallinari’s name on lists like this before, but this is the year it all comes together. The addition of Andre Iguodala (and getting Wilson Chandler back) may scare some away, but Iguodala is a natural distributor who should help free Gallinari for more open looks than he’s seen in previous years. This is also a vote of confidence in George Karl, who will have the Nuggets play at a breakneck pace and may even toss Gallinari at the 4 for extended periods, where he’ll be a foul-drawing machine with his quick first step against slower big men. Already a solid defender and scorer, Gallinari just needs to get his shot dialed in to make the leap to the next level. While the 44 percent clip from behind the arc he posted in his rookie year is probably unreachable, Gallinari may be the Nuggets top outside shooter this season — meaning we’ll see lots of 3-point attempts supplemented by the usual steady diet of trips to the line. There’s no quicker path to a hefty PPG average than that.

PF: Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors

Bargnani came out of the gates smoking hot last year, scoring over 30 points in four of his first 13 contests while — and you might want to sit down for this — putting in solid effort defensively. That’s the thing with Bargnani — his value is always hotly contested, as he routinely gets killed for what he’s not (a passable rebounder or defender) instead of praised for what he is (an incredible shot-creator) just because of his height. While those arguments won’t subside anytime soon, Bargnani is quietly gearing up to finish what he started at the beginning of last year. Fortunately, Toronto has an improved team defense (12th in defensive efficiency last year) and he’ll get lots of help with Jonas Valanciunas next to him, a true big that lives for rim runs and paint protection. Throw in Kyle Lowry, the first player Bargnani has played with who can actually draw in a defense, and the Raptors could be a playoff team. And if that happens? It’s going to be awfully hard to ignore the guy scoring over 20 points per game — shoddy rebounding or not.

C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Cousins is almost cursed with too much talent — instead of making things easy for himself at the rim, he’ll often attempt a tougher, more skilled move and as a result wind up taking a more difficult shot. With that said, quick feet, soft hands, and great vision aren’t bad things to pack on a 6-foot-11, 270 pound frame, and it’s just a matter of time before Cousins harnesses his wide set of skills to dominate the league. Cousins already does dominate in a few categories — he led the league in offensive rebounds and offensive fouls drawn, which may surprise some people who think he’s just a big, lazy lug. The opposite is true — Cousins plays the game with relentless fire and has rivalries brewing with, oh, just about half of the Western Conference. If he can simply learn to stay out of foul trouble and convert more easy chances at the rim, the “Griffin or Love?” question will suddenly have to include Cousins.

Three things to Know: Win over Clippers shows Thunder future may be now

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Win over Clippers shows Thunder’s future may be now

If the playoffs started today, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be the No.7 seed in the West, only needing to win one of two play-in games — at home — to advance to the playoffs. They are only half a game back of the defending champion Golden State Warriors for the No.6 seed and not having to worry about the play-in.

The basketball world has talked about anything but the Thunder: When will those Warriors flip the switch? What happens when Dallas gets Luka Dončić back (or if the Mavs defend a little)? What will the Timberwolves look like when whole? When will LeBron James return and how big a threat are the Lakers?

Meanwhile, the Thunder quietly have been winning — 8-of-10 after beating the Clippers on Tuesday night 101-100, behind 31 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Thunder have been solid all season — top half of the league in offense and defense, and the 10th-best net rating in the league — despite Chet Holmgren missing the year. SGA playing at an All-NBA level is a huge part of it, but Josh Giddey has developed into an impressive secondary shot creator averaging 16.2 points a night, Jalen Williams will be first-team All-Rookie because of his play, guys like Isaiah Joe and Tre Mann have stopped up, and Lu Dort is doing things like locking down Kawhi Leonard on the final play of the game to preserve the win.

OKC’s one-point win over the Clippers was aided by Kawhi Leonard getting a tight technical called on him, and when Terrence Mann complained about that call he got him ejected. Leonard said after the game the referee admitted he missed the foul call on the play where the technicals were handed out.

However, far more frightening for the Clippers than the loss was the injury to Paul George in the final minutes, a fluke collision with Dort that sent George to the ground and having to be helped back to the locker room. There are no details, but it didn’t look good.

It’s all more questions and injuries for the Clippers.

Meanwhile, the Thunder just keep on rolling and look every bit a playoff team ahead of schedule — and with a lot of draft picks coming in the next few years to stockpile that roster.

2) Knicks legend, Hall of Fame Willis Reed dies

Willis Reed is associated with one of the most iconic moments in NBA history — his dramatic entrance in Madison Square Garden minutes before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. He scored only four points and was clearly in pain and hobbled, but playing even a little sparked the Knicks to blow out the Lakers and win the franchise’s first title.

Reed passed away at the age of 80.

“Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “My earliest and fondest memories of NBA basketball are of watching Willis, who embodied the winning spirit that defined the New York Knicks’ championship teams in the early 1970s. He played the game with remarkable passion and determination, and his inspiring comeback in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals remains one of the most iconic moments in all of sports.

“As a league MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP and member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, Willis was a decorated player who took great pride in his consistency. Following his playing career, Willis mentored the next generation as a coach, team executive and proud HBCU alumnus. We send our deepest condolences to Willis’ wife, Gale, his family, and many friends and fans.”

Reed won a second ring with the Knicks in 1973 and was a two-time Finals MVP and seven-time All-Star.

Reed averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds a season over the course of his career, and he had his No.19 retired by the Knicks. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.

3) Celtics get Robert Williams back, look like Celtics in win over Kings

Robert Williams was back on the court for the Celtics Tuesday night and the Celtics held the Kings and their best offense in the league to an offensive rating almost seven points below their league average. That is not a coincidence.

With Williams back, the Celtics were back to switching everything, which slowed the motion and passing of the Kings’ offense enough to earn the 132-109 Boston win. The 36 points from Jayson Tatum helped with that.

For the Kings, it was their fifth game in seven nights in four different time zones and it showed. Still, that loss dropped the Kings 1.5 back of the Grizzlies for the two seed in the West (and the Grizzlies may get Ja Morant back Wednesday).

Boston went 4-2 on their recent road trip. While they have slumped in recent weeks, they looked like their contending selves again with Williams back, who had missed the last eight games with a hamstring issue. He played 21 minutes off the bench.

Nobody should have written Boston off after this recent slide, even if those losses did make their path through the East rougher.

Bonus thing to know: Donovan Mitchell threw down a Dunk of the Year candidate in the Cavaliers’ win.

Paul George has to be helped off court after fourth quarter leg injury

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Hopefully this is not serious, not something that changes the playoff picture in the West.

The Clippers’ Paul George went down with 4:38 left in the game Tuesday night after a collision with Lu Dort going for a rebound.

George had to be helped back to the locker room and struggled to put any weight on his leg.

After the game, Tyronn Lue said George was still being evaluated and had no update on his status. George was seen exiting the arena on the back of a cart with his right leg extended, according to the AP.

George had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists before exiting the game. On the season he is playing at an All-NBA level averaging 23.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game, and the Clippers are 6.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

The Thunder went on to win 101-100 in a game filled with drama, including a technical foul for Kawhi Leonard, an ejection of Terrence Mann, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 31 points, and Lou Dort locking up Leonard in the final seconds.

 

Grizzlies Ja Morant: ‘My job now is… to be more responsible’

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While his coach said he anticipates Ja Morant will return to the court Wednesday for the Grizzlies, Morant downplayed expectations and said things are “still in the air.”

Whether the official return is Wednesday or a few days later, Morant is back practicing with teammates and spoke to the media for the first time since his suspension. He once again was apologetic.

“I’m completely sorry for that,” Morant said, via the Associated Press. “So, you know, my job now is, like I said, to be more responsible, more smarter, and don’t cause any of that no more.”

Morant was suspended eight games by the NBA after flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.” Morant used that time to go into counseling at a facility in Florida but added he “never had an alcohol problem.”.

“I went there to counseling to learn how to manage stress,” Morant said. “Cope with stress in a positive way, instead of ways I’ve tried to deal with it before that caused me to make mistakes.”

Morant said that his treatment is an “ongoing process,” adding that he was getting off social media and letting his actions speak for him.

Morant and his associates had incidents before that caught the attention of people around the league — including a run-in with Indiana Pacers security — however, this incident in a Colorado club was the first one that hit him in the wallet. The suspension cost him $668,659 in game pay, plus one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness.

The biggest hit is Morant possibly missing out on an All-NBA guard spot. Morant could make $39 million more over the five-year extension that kicks in next season if he makes one of the three All-NBA teams. However, the guard spot is especially crowded with deserving players this season and this incident and the missed games do not help his cause.

Hart will be free agent this summer seeking new contract, ‘would love for it to be New York’

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Josh Hart‘s play since coming to the Knicks has made him a lot of money.

Already a darling of many front offices, Hart has been a seamless fit in New York, averaging 11.1 points and seven rebounds off the bench for Tom Thibodeau, playing quality defense, and being the kind of plug-and-play wing every team can use. He’s quickly become a fan favorite in New York, but the Knicks will have to pay up to keep him. Hart has a player option for $12.9 million next season that he is widely expected to decline — there’s a lot more money and years available to him on the open market.

Hart told Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape he wants to find a home, and he hopes that it is in New York.

“I want bigger things for my wife and myself,” Hart said. “Just find a home somewhere where we are valued and really like living there. And I think that can be New York. I would love for it to be New York and hopefully the organization feels the same way. Coming up, this contract is hopefully my biggest one, one where I’m making sure my family’s fully taken care of. So, I’ve also got to take that into account, too.”

That is the polite way of saying, “I like it here but you’re not getting a discount.”

While Hart will have made a tidy $33 million in his career when this season ends, his next four-year contract will be worth more than double that amount — this is the deal that sets up generational wealth for Hart’s family. This is a business and he has to make the decision best for him, as much as he may love the Knicks.

Expect the Knicks to pay up, especially as long as Thibodeau is around. This is a deal that should come together.

But first, Hart and the Knicks are headed to the playoffs, and Madison Square Garden will be rocking. It’s going to be the kind of experience that makes a guy want to stay with a team.