PBT Roundtable: Who is poised for a breakout season?

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Each week the PBT writers sit at a virtual roundtable, just like the knights of King Arthur, drink mead and discuss the NBA topic of the day. This week’s question:

Which player do you expect to have a breakout season?

Kurt Helin: After spending an entire summer pumping up Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, I’ll go with… John Henson of the Milwaukee Bucks. There’s no question the guy can block shots and rebound, but on the offensive end he grew more comfortable as last season wore on (his last 10 games he averaged 8.9 points a game on 49.4 percent shooting). At Summer League this year he was one of the more impressive big men out there and playing with a consistency rarely seen in younger players. He gets his buckets around the rim — that was true during Summer League and so far this preseason — and ultimately if he is going to co-exist with Larry Sanders up front he has to get a face-up midrange game, but his energy and talent are undeniable. He’s going to get a lot of run this season and that should mean good numbers and a chance to develop the midrange jumper.

DJ Foster: Bad news, Kurt: I’ve already planted the flag on Henson territory. Skit. Get on outta here.

For the sake of non-repetitiveness, though, I’ll gladly pump up Eric Bledsoe. I firmly believe that Goran Dragic and Bledsoe will be the second best defensive backcourt in the NBA next to Mike Conley and Tony Allen in Memphis this year, as both guys are defensive hounds who will drive ballhandlers nuts. I’m optimistic offensively as well, as Bledsoe actually played some of his best minutes next to Chris Paul. This is a guy who put up a 15-5-5 line with 2.5 steals per-36 minutes last year, and I’d expect something similar from him this season. I don’t care if he’s a point guard or shooting guard — he’s a freak.

Darius Soriano: Henson and Bledsoe and both fine choices and I see very good things from both this season. But I see legitimately great things from Anthony Davis in his sophomore campaign. Last year Davis put up 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a game while posting a PER over 20. And he did all that in only 28.8 minutes a night. Can you imagine the impact he’s going to have when Monty Williams has little choice but to bump those minutes up to around 35 a night? We could realistically see him post a line of 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks and make it look easy while doing it. And if the Pelicans surprise record wise, he could even make the all-star team and challenge for an All-NBA spot. The sky is the limit for this kid and I believe this season he takes that next step and becomes one of the elite players in the league.

Brett Pollakoff: After getting a look at him in person Tuesday night, I’m buying in to the DeAndre Jordan preseason hype machine. Doc Rivers has anointed him the Kevin Garnett of this Clippers team, the defensive anchor who will protect the rim and call out the signals. And you know what? At least early on, DeAndre is all in, embracing every expectation. He’s always had the freak athleticism, but the defensive intensity he’s showed this preseason — talking nonstop while quarterbacking the defense, calling out the other team’s plays, hedging on pick-and-rolls and then recovering to alter shots in the paint — has been seriously impressive. Obviously the huge question is whether or not he’ll sustain it throughout the course of the season, but if he can, the Clippers in my mind jump immediately to the top of the list of favorites in the Western Conference.

Dan Feldman: John Wall is my pick to win Most Improved Player, though I’m cheating a bit. Wall’s real improvement came last season, but he missed 33 games and played limited minutes upon his return. With a full season, Wall should impress voters with how far he’s come, especially with his jumper and defense. Most of the last five Most Improved Players — Paul George, Aaron Brooks and Danny Granger — received votes for the award the season prior. The other two, Ryan Anderson and Kevin Love, improved significantly from two seasons before their award to one season before. The lesson: It takes sustained momentum to win Most Improved Player, and Wall has it. My pick for actual breackout player, not someone who I think is more prepared to game the system: Jonas Valanciunas. He showed a lot of raw ability last season, and at some point, that should translate into just plain ability. I love his aggressiveness on both ends.

Pacers’ Myles Turner fined $15,000 for flipping bird at Sixers fans

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Myles Turner had to know this was coming.

Frustrated after fouling Joel Embiid under the basket and being taken out of the game, the Pacers’ big man flipped off some Sixers fans as he walked to the bench.

Saturday the league announced Turner was fined $15,000 for “making an inappropriate gesture toward the spectator stands.” The league, understandably, is not a fan of its players flipping off fans.

That fine is pretty much the going rate for these kinds of incidences.

Embiid went on to score 40 Friday night in a dominant performance, but the Pacers won the game 113-101.

Why are Lakers saving their young core? Reportedly to chase Anthony Davis.

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Anthony Davis is the target at the top of the Lakers’ wish list.

He’s also at the top of the wish list for the Boston Celtics and about 27 other teams, too. But if Davis is put on the trade block — something that is not likely until this summer, New Orleans is working to keep him — the Lakers and Celtics will be at the front of the line.

Which is why, when reports that the Lakers would not include any of their young core in a trade for Trevor Ariza came out, it fit with the Lakers’ long-term thinking. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed this on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“Here’s the line [the Lakers] have to walk: they’re not going to give away picks and their top young players in some deal that makes them incrementally better this season because they have to save all those assets for Anthony Davis, a big trade this summer either pre or post free agency…

“The absolute dream scenario, people talk about (how) they can trade for Anthony Davis or sign a free agent. The dream scenario is they do both.”

The dream is to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant and get Davis, and while that dream may be a long shot the only chance they have is if they still have their core players to throw in a package.

The larger point also is valid — the Lakers are not going to beat the Warriors come the playoffs this season (assuming the Warriors are healthy) and L.A. should keep its powder dry for bigger battles. And Davis will be the biggest of battles.

New Orleans wants to keep Davis, they are actively trying to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. Sources have told me the Pelicans’ plan is to win as much as possible this season and show Davis they are serious, then come July 1 offer Davis a designated veteran contract extension worth $230 million (or a little more, depending upon the cap). It’s roughly $40 million more than any other team can offer guaranteed. If Davis and his agent Rich Paul — the same agent as LeBron James — turn down that contract then the Pelicans will be forced to consider a trade.

If we get to that point, then all bets are off and the Lakers are all in. Until then, the Lakers are wise just to be patient.

Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Why didn’t Lakers trade for Trevor Ariza? Suns owner reportedly blocked it.

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There were eight teams (that we know of) having some level of contact with Phoenix about getting in on a Trevor Ariza trade. The Lakers were one and — as with all things Lakers — were the most talked about.

But the Lakers were never going to pull off that trade because the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, didn’t want it to happen, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Sarver — a very hands-on owner when it comes to basketball decisions — is probably still stung by buying out Tyson Chandler and watching him go to the Lakers and dramatically helping their defense (the Lakers are allowing less than a point per possession when Chandler is on the court). And certainly spiting the Lakers will play well with the Suns’ fan base.

However, the best franchises put aside petty thinking and do what’s best for them. If the Lakers had made the best offer (and we don’t know if it was) then take it. If it makes the Lakers better this season, or even the next few seasons, so what? If you’re the Suns, you’re in a rebuilding process and should be focused on the long term.

That said, the Laker trade was always going to be complicated and hard to pull off, LeBron James wasn’t going to be able to call up Suns GM James Jones and make this one happen. The Lakers wanted to land Ariza but also wanted to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and KCP doesn’t fit with what the Suns wanted (a point guard and young players or draft assets). That means a third team was going to have to get involved, maybe Philadelphia, and possibly even a fourth. The Lakers were not going to trade any of their four core young players, making this trade even harder.

What the Suns got in the trade with Washington was what they wanted: A point guard (Austin Rivers, who is not all that good, as evidenced by his 7.1 PER this season, but is better than anyone the Suns have) and a young wing in Kelly Oubre who fits on the timeline of Devin Booker and the other young Suns. Phoenix did reasonably well in this trade.

Could they have done better? Doesn’t matter, if the owner is shooting down an idea then it’s dead. That’s his prerogative.