51Q: The NBA’s most improved team will be…


PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

What team will be the most improved in NBA this season?

Kurt Helin: Miami Heat

There are a few good candidates which could end up being the answer to this question. Below, Dan and Sean take an excellent one up in Minnesota. Oklahoma City getting healthy (hopefully) puts them in contention. Heck, even Sacramento if everything comes together for them could make the list (not going to bet on that one, though).

However, I will take the Miami Heat, a team that won just 37 games last season and will make a leap forward this season. Or to put that another way, I’m betting on the Miami Heat staying healthy. Which may not be wise — Dwyane Wade‘s knees are a chronic issue, Chris Bosh is coming off a life-threatening illness, Josh McRoberts basically missed last season — but I’ll take the risk. Miami’s starting five of Goran Dragic, Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh, and Hassan Whiteside is the second best starting five East (for my money). Then they can bring McRoberts, Justise Winslow, Gerald Green, Amare Stoudemire and Mario Chalmers off the bench as a second unit. That’s a deep roster, which I think helps mitigate the health issues, and they get around 15 wins better this season.

Dan Feldman: Minnesota Timberwolves

They have the most room for improvement after going a league-worst 16-66 last year. They’re loaded with young talent. Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could all help a team win right now or very soon. I’m betting on now. Flip Saunders’ leave of absence could set back the team in the short term, but Sam Mitchell is a capable coach. If I had a little more faith in Dwyane Wade’s health, I’d pick the Heat. But they won 37 games last year, 21 more than Minnesota. Even if Miami gets healthy, the Timberwolves can close that gap.

Sean Highkin: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves are still a year or two away from being a playoff contender, but they’ll definitely win more than 15 games — maybe as many as 25 or 30 if everyone can stay healthy. With Ricky Rubio getting closer to returning, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine have an actual playmaker to throw them lobs, one who only played 22 games last season. Last year’s team was a talented one ravaged by injuries; their luck can only improve this year. In addition to year two of Wiggins, the rest of their young core (LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Giorgui Dieng) should all take steps forward. Add in rookies Karl-Anthony Towns and Nemanja Bjelica and what could be the final year of Kevin Garnett‘s career, and this is a team that should be a League Pass favorite while finishing with at least something better than last year’s worst record in the league.

Potential No. 1 pick James Wiseman suspended by NCAA 11 more games

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Starting on Jan. 12, James Wiseman can return to playing for the University of Memphis.

The NCAA — the self-appointed arbiters protecting the myth of amateurism — have investigated the fact that then high school coach Penny Hardaway, paid $11,500 to help Wiseman’s family move to Memphis. Hardaway, a graduate of Memphis, has since become the coach of the Tigers, and before that was considered a booster. That made helping Wiseman move an illegal benefit, and the NCAA has made its ruling to punish Wiseman for this.

Memphis reportedly plans to appeal the ruling. Wiseman had this reaction to the decision:

Here’s why fans of certain teams near the bottom of the standings — and the front offices of those teams — care: Wiseman has the potential to be elite.

He could be the top pick in next June’s draft and is a lock top-three selection. He is by far the best big man in a guard-heavy draft class coming up.

Wiseman was ranked 37th by the basketball writers here at NBC in our “50 Best Players in Five Years” project this past summer. Here is what College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster wrote about Wiseman for that project:

Wiseman has a chance to be really good. He stands 7-foot. He has the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow him to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. He is a capable defender with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And he is skilled enough where he has the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens…

If Wiseman embraces the fact that he can be a top five center in the NBA doing the four things I listed above at an elite level, then he’ll make himself a lot of money while making some NBA GM very, very happy.

Wiseman also has worked on a face-up game and wants to add some Greek Freak like skills to his game. We’ll see how that goes, but his floor seems to be a very good NBA big man. A lot of teams could use that.

Rob Gronkowski, Venus Williams dance with Laker Girls (video)

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Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said he doesn’t plan to play football this season.

How is he spending his time?

Dancing with the Laker Girls cheerleaders along with tennis legend Venus Williams. They put on quite a show. I’m sure comedians James Corden and Ian Karmel, mostly off camera, were also great.

But the most-impressive stoppage entertainment in Los Angeles last night? That might be Maxx.

Portland waives Pau Gasol as he tries to recover from foot surgery

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Portland signed Pau Gasol to a one-year contract this summer, hoping the aging Spaniard could help the team stay afloat while Jusuf Nurkic recovers from surgery on his leg.

It didn’t work out that way. Gasol suffered a foot injury that required surgery and he has yet to recover enough to get back on the court. Meanwhile, an injury to Zach Collins left Portland even more shorthanded up front. Wednesday, the Trail Blazers waived Gasol, something the player confirmed.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news and had more details.

Is this the end of Gasol’s Hall of Fame career? He’s 39 years old, and last season with the Bucks he looked like a shell of the All-NBA big man who joined forces with Kobe Bryant to win the Lakers a couple of titles. Injuries limited him to 30 games last season, he doesn’t move like he once did, and he averaged a career-low 3.9 points per game.

If so, one of the good guys of the NBA will be missed.

If not, if he can get healthy, some teams certainly would be interested in having him for depth and his locker room presence during a playoff run.

Report: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George to play first game together on Wednesday

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The way they tell it, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard wanted to play together on the Spurs in 2017.

They’ll finally share the court as teammates tonight.

The Clippers signed Leonard and traded for George this summer. But alternating injuries have prevented the forwards from playing together. That’ll change against the Celtics tonight.

Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

George dominated three games without Leonard, scoring like crazy and hitting a game-winner against the Thunder. Leonard excelled before his knee injury.

It’s scary to imagine how Leonard and George will perform together.

Boston could provide a stiff first test. The Celtics have plenty of wings – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye – to throw at the Clippers stars.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an adjustment period for Leonard and George. They have similar styles, and that can create complications. But Leonard and George are so versatile and talented. I expect them to thrive together in the long run.

There’s certainly excitement surrounding tonight’s game, but it’s only one night in what should be a long season in L.A.