Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Lakers youth steps out of Kobe’s shadow

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The NBA had its first full slate of games, and PBT is back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. This is what you missed while getting arrested for blocking traffic dressed as a tree.

1) Lakers youth shows out. Rockets are what we thought they were. Last season’s Kobe Bryant farewell tour was entertaining at moments — but Wednesday night the new, young, Luke Walton Lakers were unleashed and that was a much better show. And it was show Lakers fans have longed to see. For the first time D’Angelo Russell looked like he enjoyed playing in the NBA. Jordan Clarkson was clutch and led the team with 25 points. Julius Randle used his athleticism wisely on his way to 18. Brandon Ingram showed flashes. Heck, I swear I saw Nick Young doing the dirty work on defense. Sure, it helps when the opposing defense is basically a matador waving a cape as you drive past them, still these young Lakers were attacking, playing fast — and winning, 120-114. No, the Lakers are not suddenly morphing into a playoff team in the West this season, but their young stars came out of Kobe’s shadow and basked in the sunlight for a night. This team is going to be fun. And it’s the show Lakers fans have wanted to see.

This season is so simple for the Rockets: They will go as far as their defense takes them. And that defense was a dumpster fire on opening night (the Lakers scored at a 115 points per 100 possession pace). In the second half the Lakers upped their defensive pressure and when the Rockets offense stumbled — 18 points in the fourth, just two in the final 2:55, no James Harden assists for more than 18 minutes — there was nothing for Houston to fall back on. The Rockets are going to be a entertaining to watch this season, but if their defense doesn’t improve they will lose a lot of games just like this.

2) Anthony Davis put up Jordan, Wilt numbers on opening night — and it was not enough. Anthony Davis is back. A year ago he was the guy most NBA GMs said they wanted to build around, then after one “down” season (24.3 point and 10.3 rebounds a game is down?) everyone is in love with Karl-Anthony Towns. Tuesday, Davis reminded everyone he’s a beast. A franchise player. Absolutely unstoppable when he gets going. And Wednesday night he was going — 50 points (on 34 shots), 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists, and four blocks. Only three others in NBA history put up 50 on opening night: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan. That is some serious company.

And the Pelicans still lost to the Denver Nuggets. For all Davis’ greatness the management in New Orleans has not put enough team around him to win games, not at a “make the playoffs” level anyway. Pelicans not named Davis shot 36.2 percent overall and 17.7 percent from three. This isn’t on coach Alvin Gentry, blame falls higher up the ladder. The clock is now ticking in New Orleans — Davis is in the first season of his new five-year contract (the first after his rookie deal). If the Pelicans don’t have it together around him by the time this contract is up, he’s going to bolt.

3) Myles Turner might be your Most Improved Player. When we at PBT made our award predictions for the coming season, I did not pick Myles Turner for Most Improved Player (in part because I don’t like to pick second-year players for that award — they are supposed to improve). But as NBC’s Dan Feldman told me lat night, we both should have picked him. Wednesday night Turner looked like the guy making the biggest leap — he had 30 points,16 rebounds, and four blocks in the season opener. He’s the guy who led the Pacers to an overtime win over the Mavericks. Paul George had an efficient 25, he stepped up as you’d expect in OT, but this was Turner’s night. He can score inside and has range — does this shot chart work for you?

Turner shot chart

If Indiana is going to be a real playoff threat, they are going to need this Turner regularly — and they just might get it. This guy is ready to take the next step.

Bonus Wednesday note: If you’re betting that Russell Westbrook can average a triple-double this season, opening night was a good night for you. Westbrook had 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. He is going to just be a stats machine this year.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.