Five top candidates for NBA Rookie of the Year

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Eight of the last nine NBA Rookie of the Year winners have fit the same mold: A player on a bad team where the coach puts the ball in his hands and asks him to make plays and put up numbers. Michael Carter-Williams did it last year, Damian Lillard the season before that, Kyrie Irving the season before that and so on (Blake Griffin being the exception).

This season we may see another exception — the guys in the best position to win are a lot of big men who play inside.

Here are the five most likely players to win the Rookie of the Year Award.

1. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers. Consider the Blake Griffin effect — an entire season to work out, add muscle, improve your game, and an entire year to watch the NBA game up close and learn. Griffin admitted it was an advantage for him, Noel has that advantage now. Add to that the fact Noel was the most impressive player I saw in limited minutes at Summer League in Las Vegas and you have a real candidate. Noel is on a bad team and going to get plenty of shots, plus the runs the floor well on a team that will play at one of the fastest paces in the league. Noel could put up both impressive numbers and a lot of highlights. That said he’s not been great in the preseason and has battled through some minor physical issues.

2. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks. This is the guy 75 percent of general managers picked to win the award (and more than a third think he will be the best player in five years from this class). Parker entered the draft with the most mature offensive game of anyone in the lottery (he can score in a variety of ways and has a nice first step), now he goes to a young Bucks team that is going to give him the rock a lot. In the preseason that has meant some impressive nights (21 and 11 against the Timberwolves, for example). I don’t know about five years from now, but I think he will have an impressive rookie season on a Bucks team that will be very entertaining.

3. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves. Wiggins is the No. 1 overall pick, a heralded pick, a freak athlete, a guy who has shown a nice midrange game, and he seems to learn quickly. There’s a lot to like, and he’s going to put up some decent numbers as well as some real highlight dunks. The question in Minnesota is how much run does Flip Saunders give Wiggins, that team has solid veterans on the wing like Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Ricky Rubio is going to throw Wiggins some sweet lobs but Rubio is going to have the ball in his hands most of the time. Wiggins’ personality is to fit in with teammates, not just take charge all the time. Combine all of that and I wonder if he’s really going to get enough touches to win the award.

4. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers. He’s going to come off the bench behind Carlos Boozer in Los Angeles, but the Lakers bench is going to be more fun to watch than the starters most of the time anyway. Randle should get a lot of touches on what will not be a good team, but will veteran-friendly coach Byron Scott really let the kid loose. Randle has been up and down in the preseason. Kobe Bryant says Randle could win it if he would just %$(*#% listen to him and not blow it.

5. Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets. The guy can shoot the rock and Lionel Hollins likes guys that can shoot the rock, he may well start and certainly will get plenty of burn in Brooklyn. That said, with his years of international experience, I’m not sure voters will want to vote for him as a rookie, plus with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez on that team there just are not a lot of touches left.

Honorable mentions:

• Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics. I put him here because one GM gave him one vote in the GM survey, and him winning is about as likely as any of the other dark horses. Smart can defend but his offensive game is a work in progress, and he’d going to spend most of the season behind Rajon Rondo anyway (unless Rondo is traded).
• Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls. A lot of fans like him, and I like his game and fit with the Bulls, but he’s just not going to get enough run — if you think Thibodeau is going to lean heavy on a rookie I’m not sure what Thibs you’ve been watching.
• T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns. If you’re looking for a rookie who can score, Warren is your man. He showed it in Summer League and preseason, he’s strong in transition and the Suns like to run.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”