PBT Awards: Most Improved Player

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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

1. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

2. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

3. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

Well done, Jimmy Butler. If you’re going to have a breakout year, do it in a contract year. He will get PAID this summer (by the way Bulls, he’s not leaving).

Brett Pollakoff

1. Jimmy Butler

2. Draymond Green

3. Rudy Gobert

Butler’s breakout season makes him a somewhat easy choice, while Green has been a key cog in the Warriors’ machine, and has done so on both ends of the floor. Gobert’s massive improvement has translated to the Jazz being one of the tougher teams to deal with defensively in the second half of the season.

And though Whiteside has been impressive, he misses my cut for (a) only appearing in 47 games this season, and (b) not even being in the league last season, which technically means there was nothing to improve upon year-over-year from an NBA standpoint.

Sean Highkin

1. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

2. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

3. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Green and Butler set themselves up for huge offseason paydays, with Green becoming the Warriors’ Swiss Army knife at both ends of the floor and Butler finally becoming a consistent offensive threat in addition to his defensive acumen. If they still handed out Comeback Player of the Year, Whiteside would run away with it — not only was he out of the league, he wasn’t even on anybody’s radar to be brought back until the Heat took a flyer on him.

Dan Feldman

1. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

2. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

This was a deep year for Most Improved player with Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green also making huge strides. Butler gets the edge, because he went from good to true star – a more difficult jump – and did so when the injury-riddled Bulls really needed someone to step up. Whiteside’s improvement was more personal than on the court, but his maturation led to his breakout on the floor. Gobert barely looked playable last season, and now he’s a force.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.

Matt Barnes: ‘We Believe’ Warriors celebrated by smoking weed with Woody Allen at Don Nelson’s place

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The No. 8-seeded Warriors upset the 67-win Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs. That Golden State team had some characters, including coach Don Nelson and forward Matt Barnes.

Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times:

Woody Allen! Jessica Alba! Kate Hudson! Owen Wilson! Snoop Dogg!

(Just a hunch, that was Woody Harrelson, not Allen. But it’s Barnes’ story.)

This story is incredible!

Rick Pitino says he tried to convince Knicks to draft Donovan Mitchell

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Many criticized the Knicks for drafting Frank Ntilikina over Dennis Smith Jr. with the No. 8 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Now that New York has Smith and Smith has failed to separate himself, that chatter has quieted.

But everyone still loves to pile on the Knicks. (They deserve most of it.)

So, it’s time to second-guess New York passing on Donovan Mitchell, who was the No. 13 pick to the Jazz. Former Knicks coach Rick Pitino, who coached Mitchell at Louisville, is leading the charge.

SiriusXM NBA Radio:

Pitino:

I tried to get the Knicks to take him.

Nah, they can’t take him at that number.

Donovan, I knew would be a star in the league. I always felt he could play the 1. Can he run a pick-and-roll? Without question. Can he get other people shots? Without question. So, I always knew he could play two positions. He’s just a unique personality.

A lot of people – 7, 8, 9 – they passed on him, because they, A, they didn’t think he could play point guard, B, they questioned certain things.

Donovan is a worker. He’ll get in the gym, and he’ll perfect it. He doesn’t have a big ego, but he has an ability mentally. He wants to be the best. He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder. He has a boulder on his shoulder, because he wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school. He was ranked 55th in high school instead of top 10, top 15. And he’s always out to prove that he’s one of the better players. So, it’s a good chip. He wants to be the best, and he’s willing to pay the price to be the best.

This is the same Pitino who, when Mitchell declared for the draft, said:

I think (Mitchell) will go out there and try out. And if he can move into the post-lottery area, anywhere from 13-20, it’s something we’ll talk about, but if it’s not there he’ll come back.

Pitino’s optimistic outlook was Mitchell getting drafted in the middle of the first round. Yet, we’re supposed to take seriously Pitino knew Mitchell would be an NBA star? That’s hard to jibe.

To be fair to the Knicks, many – myself included – didn’t have Mitchell ranked that high. He just didn’t look that exceptional at Louisville. But Utah watched him dominate a private pre-draft workout then traded up to get him.

I don’t blame the Knicks for not taking Pitino’s advice (if he truly gave it that way). They can’t listen to every college coach who raves about his own player. Mitchell is likable, and that gets people around him to vouch for him. But drafting teams must assess a player’s basketball ability, not just his likability.

Mitchell had the goods, and in hindsight, New York should have drafted him. The Knicks should self-assess and learn from that mistake.

But I doubt the applicable lesson is listening more to Rick Pitino.