Coal or Candy: 10 Christmas gifts for good players and bad NBA teams

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It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means: Annoying TV jingles that make you a brand adversary rather than a loyalist. Plus, NBA basketball!

Yes, Christmas truly does belong to the NBA in the sports world. We all should be ready for Monday’s slate of games, all of which should provide for an interesting way to ignore your extended family (no promises for that Timberwolves-Lakers game).

This also means that we should be making our list, and checking it twice to see who has been naughty and who has been nice during this young NBA season. Let’s get our trusty quill out and head to the scroll to see what NBA teams and players will be asking for come December 25.

A clean bill of health for Joel Embiid

At this point, it seems as though there’s a faction of fans — mostly outside of Philly, it would stand to reason — that want “The Process” to fail. That means actively rooting against Embiid (which he predicted, naturally). I don’t think the 76ers need Embiid long-term to succeed. They have a great core that can grow, and continued diligent draft decisions, trades, and free agent signings should get them where they need to go. But why wouldn’t you want to see Embiid play?

A resolution on officiating from the NBA

Originally, when this article was planned I had this written down on my list as “some explanation for what’s going on” but we sort of got that from the NBPA an NBRA. We don’t know what’s going to come of the two associations sitting down to talk, or even if they will announce anything if they come to some sort of resolution. But we should start hoping to see some kind of change soon. Guys can’t be getting tossed on one technical foul.

Playing time for Jahlil Okafor

As of writing, Okafor has played in just one game for the Brooklyn Nets after being traded to the team from the 76ers in early December. The talk — outside of Okafor and his former coaching staff going back-and-forth — has been that Okafor needs to get into game shape and learn the new system in Brooklyn. Still, this feels weird and has to be more than we’re being let on. One of the best ways to get into game shape would be to play in games, and it’s not like Brooklyn could do any worse. They’re on a four-game losing streak and aren’t a playoff team.

Confidence in beating the Warriors for the Houston Rockets

Houston GM Daryl Morey says the team is obsessed with beating Golden State, and as we’ve seen in the past, the best way to gain confidence is to beat them over and over again. The Rockets already beat the Warriors in the first game of the year, and they play twice more in 2018 before the playoffs. Still, will that be enough to bolster them before what everyone is assuming will be a Western Conference showdown?

Shooting confidence for Lonzo Ball

The guy did block James Harden the other day, but he’s still shooting just 34 percent from the field. No, his shooting form isn’t going to get corrected over the course of the season. Most coaches wouldn’t try to do that, and it’s doubtful his father even lets anyone suggest as much next summer. But his long release is secondary to his clear reluctance to even let it fly. That’s a good thing for most rookies, but Ball is crucial to his team’s success and he’s not exactly Boston-era Rajon Rondo on defense. Let it fly, young buck.

A gameplan for the Oklahoma City Thunder

Watching the Thunder is weird enough, but looking at their stats really confirms the tale of the video. Oklahoma City is 26th in the NBA in terms of pace, which feels right considering the ball-stopping nature of their offensive weapons. It’s also a huge step back from last season, when the team finished 9th thanks to Russell Westbrook running at full speed at all times. They’re also No. 2 in defensive rating, another surprise. But it hasn’t yielded them returns. They’ve recently jumped into a playoff spot, and that could be them settling. But any confidence of them in the playoffs would be misplaced at this moment.

Some kind of promise to pursue a team for Seattle fans

There’s a memorandum of understanding for remodeling Key Arena, which is good for the city overall. It will probably net them an NHL team, and a better arena was what former SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz was going for back before the team moved to Oklahoma City. It’s unlikely any NBA team ever calls Key Arena home, but if the Oak View Group at least makes an effort to feign a pursuit of a team it would be a step in the right direction. Seattle is too great a basketball city to have no NBA squad.

More Michael Beasley for Knicks fans

Beasley went HAM on Thursday night, scoring 32 points in a winning effort over the Boston Celtics. He’s been a double-digit scorer for the entirety of December, save for two games. Beasley has also been a key bench player for New York, but that’s not why he’s interesting. B-Easy is still just 28 years old, and getting more fun game out of the former No. 2 overall pick is exactly what basketball twitter needs in the middle of these long, winter weeks.

A playoff spot for the Pacers

Seriously, how great is this Pacers story? They get their legs swept out from under them by Paul George, and when the time came to trade him, Indiana somehow makes out like a bandit. Victor Oladipo looks much different, which is a relief for those of us who were down on the former No. 2 overall pick from 2013. The team currently sits at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, and all of us are hoping they make it to the finish line both for the longevity of the Pacers and to make things interesting come spring.

A Lakers jersey for LeBron James

Like, maybe just as a white elephant gift (but also maybe for real).

Five players poised to make first NBA All-Star game this season

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Who is ready to make the leap?

Every season there are players on the cusp of becoming an All-Star — not only has their game improved to be one of the top 24 players in the league, but their stature has risen to the point fans (voting for the starters) or coaches (voting for the reserves) want to see them in the game.

Here are five players on the cusp of making that leap and getting the chance to suit up in Salt Lake City this February for their first All-Star Game.

1. Tyrese Haliburton (Pacers)

He was the centerpiece headed to Indiana in the trade that sent Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento — and a lot of executives around the league were shocked the Kings gave him up. After the trade, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists a game with a 62.9 true shooting percentage — and this season he’s going to be asked to do even more on a team that is rebuilding (but still has Myles Turner and Buddy Hield on the roster… what exactly is Indiana doing?).

The Pacers will take a step back this season (which doesn’t help his All-Star chances) but Haliburton himself will be unleashed. He will draw the attention of fans and opposing defenses — coaches know and like his game, which is why he stands a good chance to be an East All-Star reserve this season.

2. Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)

Edwards has made the leap in popularity and stature — he is trash-talking Kermit in Adam Sandler’s Hustle — and he probably should have been an All-Star last season averaging 21.3 points a game.

Edwards has the explosive, highlight-factory game and has the big personality fans love (although his homophobic social media post over the summer does not help his cause). He will be in the spotlight more on an improved Timberwolves team — he will be the outside to Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert inside — that should be in the mix for the playoffs in the West. Anthony Edwards has a lot of All-Star Games in his future, this season should be his first.

3. Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)

As a rookie, Mobley was already a top-flight defensive big man who averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game — and he came back this season stronger and ready to make a leap on the offensive end. He finished a close second in the Rookie of the Year voting and took that personally, hitting the gym hard and coming out with a chip on his shoulder this season. He flashed potential last season with the ball in his hands, a guy who could beat his man and be a playmaker. Expect to see more of that, more of Mobley out on the perimeter as a creator this season (maybe even grabbing the board and bringing the ball up in transition himself).

He’s going to get noticed on a Cavaliers team with an All-Star backcourt of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, and if he has added to his game this year it’s Mobley’s turn.

4. Tyrese Maxey (76ers)

Maxey got thrust into the starting point guard role last season when Ben Simmons never suited up for the 76ers (and played like the guy the 76ers hoped Markelle Fultz would be). Then he thrived after the trade, working a little more off-ball and being a secondary shot creator off James Harden. Maxey averaged 17.5 points and 4.5 assists a game last season, and he is in a position to have those numbers jump again this season.

Maxey is quick with the ball and can get downhill, with the skill set to finish at the rim or pull up and nail the jumper. He shot 42% from 3 last season, although that may be unsustainable (he can shoot, but over 40% every year may be a big ask). Maxey is adding to that game on the court, but it’s his maturity and decision-making — this is his third year in the league — where the biggest leaps are coming.

The 76ers are going to be in the spotlight a lot and should win a lot of regular season games, and with Maxey shining in that light, the All-Star game is a real possibility.

5. Jalen Brunson (Knicks)

Brunson burst out of Luka Doncic’s shadow last season in Dallas and averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists a game last season — now he’s going to have the ball in his hands every night on the biggest stage in the NBA. Tom Thibodeau will hand Brunson the keys to the Knicks offense, which means the guard’s counting stats should climb — and with that his All-Star chances go up.

There are questions about how the Knicks’ offense will fit together with Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, but Brunson is going to get the chance to prove he can be a No.1 guard. In that spotlight, a trip to Salt Lake City is in the offing.

Steve Nash on Ben Simmons: ‘I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot’

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The last season he played, Ben Simmons took just 9% of his shots from beyond 10 feet — he did not space the floor at all, which meant Joel Embiid had to at times. That lack of a jumper he trusted has always been one of the knocks on Ben Simmons’ game.

Steve Nash doesn’t care. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

“That’s why I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot for the Brooklyn Nets. He’s welcome to, but that is not what makes him special and not what we need. He’s a great complement to our team, and he’s an incredible basketball player because of his versatility.”

In an offense with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving setting the table — particularly in the halfcourt — Simmons is going to be asked to play more of a role: Be an elite defender, push the ball in transition, work in some dribble-handoff situations where he can drive the lane as an option, be a cutter off the ball, and be a distributor in the halfcourt. It’s why Simmons’ ideal role with the Nets often gets compared to Draymond Green — it’s a Draymond-lite role. There will be far less of him as lead guard running pick-and-roll.

Will Simmons settle into that role? Also, it should be noted that peak Green (2016 for example) shot better than 30% from 3 and had to be respected out there (last season 29.6% on 1.2 3s per game) — he had to be covered at the arc. Simmons does not. Also, Green did not avoid getting fouled and getting to the line.

Nash has the task of meshing Simmons into the system and figuring out the rotations — can he play Simmons and Nic Claxton together, or is having two non-jump shooters on the floor at once clog the offense? Is Simmons going to play center at points? There is championship-level talent on the Nets roster, but so many questions about fit, defense, and grit.

There’s no question about Simmons taking jumpers, but Nash doesn’t care.

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.