51 Questions: Who wins Rookie, Coach of the year, other NBA awards?

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We are in the home stretch of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For more than a month (and continuing through the start of the NBA season) we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We are entering the prediction portion of the preview season, today the PBT staff is tackling:

Who wins Rookie, Coach of the year, other NBA awards?

Yesterday we talked MVP picks — and the entire PBT staff disagreed. Today, Kurt HelinDan Feldman, and Dane Carbaugh branch out into the other NBA end-of-season awards and the unanimity goes away. Here are our picks.

Rookie of the Year

Kurt: Kris Dunn (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Dan: Buddy Hield (New Orleans Pelicans)
Dane: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)

Kurt: This was Ben Simmons’ award to lose, but his injury means he’s not going to play enough games. Joel Embiid could well win the award with enough run and stays healthy, but I’m going to go with Dunn. He played well in Summer League, will get increasing opportunity and trust as the year goes on in Minnesota, and is on an increasingly high-profile team. Dunn is going to be good.
Dan: The race is wide open with Ben Simmons injured. Hield is playing well in the preseason, in line for a decently sized role and relatively polished coming out of Oklahoma. I’d take the field in a landslide, but Hield gets a slight nod over Joel Embiid here.
Dane: It’s going to be a question whether Joel Embiid plays enough minutes to garner him consideration, especially when a minutes restriction can be damaging for rookies when they inevitably hit a wall during some point of the season. Still, Embiid has looked impressive and if he stays on the floor he might have a huge impact for a team where just about any increase in wins will look like a huge improvement over seasons prior.

Sixth Man of the Year

Kurt: Enes Kanter (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Dan: Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors)
Dane: Evan Turner (Portland Trail Blazers)

Kurt: I like Sixth Man candidates who are given the mandate to come in and fire away against second units (and not worry so much about the defense). Kanter will put up points, plus is a beast on the offensive glass as well, something seen too rarely today.
Dan: I’m hedging a little. Iguodala could just wind up deserving this award. He has also proven himself an elite backup. Unless someone puts together an excellent season off the bench, Iguodala also has a path through a career-achievement award.
Dane: There are a lot of good candidates for Sixth Man in 2016-17, but the most likely player to remain a bench player while having the biggest impact for a playoff team appears to be Evan Turner. He signed a 4-year, $70 million in the offseason, and Trail Blazers brass has been explicit that Turner was brought in to relieve pressure from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Moe Harkless looks like the better fit for Portland’s starting unit, but expect Turner to play more minutes off the bench than some of the Blazers starters. If Portland finishes in the middle of the Western Conference this season Turner will be a big reason why.

Coach of the Year

Kurt: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Dan: Mike D’Antoni (Houston Rockets)
Dane: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)

Dan: D’Antoni takes over a team that under-performed last year and installs a system clearly attributed to him. That’s a setup for recognition.
Dane: If Brad Stevens can beat the Vegas over/under of 51.5 wins and take the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland he has a strong chance to win the award. No team has won fewer than 50 games and had their coach win COY since 2006-07, but playoff position for winners has been all over the place. If Stevens gets his team to a Top 3 finish in the East I’d consider him a strong contender.

Defensive Player of the Year

Kurt: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Dan: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
Dane: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)

Kurt: Leonard may well win a third straight DPOY (and he deserves the honor), but watch out for Gobert. Utah should have a top three defense and Gobert in the paint is the anchor of it. As people figure out just how good Utah is this season, Gobert will get a lot of credit for the defense.
Dan: Leonard has been the NBA’s best defender the last two seasons. I don’t see why this year will be any different.

Most Improved Player

Kurt: Clint Capela (Houston Rockets)
Dan: D'Angelo Russell (Los Angeles Lakers)
Dane: Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)

Dan: Russell came a long way last season, and he’s uber-talented. With better coaching and one fewer over-the-hill ball hog around him, Russell has all the right conditions to make a leap.
Dane: I’m extremely tempted to take Andrew Wiggins here, but Karl-Anthony Towns’ second year might overshadow some of the steps Wiggins takes in 2016-17. Meanwhile, Devin Booker looks like an absolute nightmare in Phoenix and he still isn’t even legally allowed to drink. The young Suns guard has something about his swagger — not to mention his constant, sneaky talking — that makes you believe in him. It also helps that Phoenix is pledged again to be at the bottom of the Western Conference and Booker’s scoring ability will help him shine among the darkness of the Suns.

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
Nick Falzerano/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.