Five leading candidates for Rookie of the Year

Associated Press
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Rookies are unpredictable. How they will handle the athleticism and speed of the NBA, how ready they are the long grind of the season, how they handle pressure situations, and how tough they are (and become) mentally, they are all unknowns entering the season. It’s why guys like Malcolm Brogdon can catch everyone off guard and win Rookie of the Year (in what was a down year).

Predicting this year’s Rookie of the Year race is especially tough because a number of players will meet the traditional criteria — skilled players who will get a lot of minutes and touches on a team willing to ride their ups and downs. Here are the five guys we predict have the best chance.

(No, Celtics fans, Jayson Tatum is not on the list. He’s got skills as a scorer and will be solid, but in a limited role this season on a team that will win 50+ games and wants to challenge Cleveland. He’s not getting the same minutes, or the same make-mistakes-and-we-leave-you-in opportunities as these other players.)

1) Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers. He sat out last season due to injury, but like Blake Griffin he qualifies to win the award this season — and he should be the favorite. He is a 6’10” point forward who will have the ball in his hands and has shown through the preseason that he is a gifted passer who with his height can see and make dishes others can’t. Plus, he’s got shooters like J.J. Redick around him now to open things up and collect him dimes. If he (and Joel Embiid) can stay healthy and the Sixers start to look like a playoff team in the East with Simmons racking up 7ish assists a night, Simmons could be hard to beat. Will he put up much in terms of scoring numbers, however?

2) Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers. His ROY case will be as much about culture change as raw numbers — the Lonzo Ball effect is real. He pushes the ball ahead and finds the open man, and the result is the rest of the players — bigs in particular — run the floor, and everybody starts to share the rock. If Ball can help change the Lakers into the kind of team Luke Walton dreamed about, he will get serious ROY consideration. He will put up assist numbers, but will he score enough to keep defenses honest (and have the numbers to win the award)?

3) Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks. He slid down the draft board last June, then came out in July at Summer League and blew everyone away with his explosiveness. He’s going to put up scoring numbers as a shoot-first point guard with the ball in his hands in Dallas — they think he can be special and he’s going to get a lot of rope. His efficiency will be an issue, he has to improve there. Dallas has other talented scorers — Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes — that Smith has to develop some chemistry with, Smith has to show he can be a floor general, too. Still, he will have a very legitimate shot at ROY.

4) Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers. The No. 1 pick with the all-around game is going to be playing off the ball more for the Sixers — Simmons will often have the rock — but he’s going to get a lot of run and opportunity. It’s a little concerning that he is shooting less than 30 percent in the preseason, he’s going to have to figure out how to fit his game into the NBA, but he’s got all the tools to do it. Just give him time, watch him improve as the season wears on.

5) Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns. Incredibly athletic (and the guy NBA GMs picked to be the best in this class in five years), he will run on the wing next to Devin Booker, with Eric Bledsoe feeding them (for now) and he should be able to get some buckets basked on that. Part of Jackson’s case is that he should be the best defender of this rookie group and the Suns will test him on that end. Another player who is going to get a lot of minutes and a lot of chances.

Just missing the list: De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento), Jayson Tatum (Boston).

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.