Mavericks star Luka Doncic and Hornets guard Devonte' Graham
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2020 PBT Awards: Most Improved Player

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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

2. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

3. Devonte' Graham, Hornets

I was slow to come around to the idea of Luka Doncic going from Rookie of the Year to MIP. For this award, I tend to lean towards guys who have not reached their potential then make a leap to All-Star status (Brandon Ingram) or guys who come out of nowhere to play a big role (Devonte’ Graham). However, when you break this down, not only did Doncic make just a big a leap as them statistically, he made the hardest leap in the league, from good to franchise-cornerstone, elite player. It was very difficult to leave Bam Adebayo and Pascal Siakam off this list, this was a deep and deserving MIP class.

Dan Feldman

1. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

2. Devonte’ Graham, Hornets

3. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

I don’t care he’s in his second year. I don’t care he was drafted highly. I don’t care some believe this was “supposed to” happen. Luka Doncic went from good for a rookie to great for anyone – an amazing jump duplicated by only LeBron James.

That narrowly outpaced Devonte’ Graham, who came out of nowhere for the Hornets. He was out of the rotation last season. This season, he was on the outskirts of the All-Star discussion.

Brandon Ingram made huge strides as a shooter and in his all-around game – just in time to get paid.

This was an absurdly deep year for Most Improved Player. Trae Young followed Doncic’s arc, though hitting lower levels last season and this season with the Hawks. Duncan Robinson spent last of most season in the minor league then became a helpful starter on a good Heat team. Donte DiVincenzo went from bad to good, giving the Bucks a much-needed boost at shooting guard. A Young-Robinson-DiVincenzo ballot would be completely reasonable in many seasons.

Special shoutout to Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who doesn’t deserve this annual award but keeps making year-over-year improvements that – in aggregate – are incredible.

I haven’t even gotten to Heat big Bam Adebayo, who didn’t make Rising Stars his first two seasons then became an All-Star his third season. He suffers from being solid the previous two years, even though he became more impactful as a versatile defender and broke out as a passing weapon.

Again, the depth of this field is preposterous.

Keith Smith

1. Devonte’ Graham, Hornets

2. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

3. Bam Adebayo, Heat

It’s usually considered bad form to give Most Improved Player to a second-year player. NBA players are expected to make a major jump from their first to second years. However, Devonte’ Graham came out of nowhere. As a part-time rotation player as a rookie, Graham averaged 4.7 points on 28.1 percent 3-point shooting and 2.6 assists per game. As a surprising starter in his sophomore campaign, Graham shot 37.3 percent from behind the arc and averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game. The Hornets weren’t good, but they were better than most thought, as they were on a 29-win pace. Graham was a big part of that.

Brandon Ingram was the centerpiece of the Anthony Davis’ trade for the Pelicans and he showed why. Ingram made the All-Star team for the first time and upped his scoring output to 24.3 points per game. He hit 38.7 percent from downtown on a career-high 6.3 three-point attempts per game. Ingram also improved his rebounding up to 6.3 boards per night, while also dishing out a career-best 4.3 assists per game.

Bam Adebayo was a first-time All-Star in 2020, as he flashed an improved all-around game. Adebayo was mostly a defender and rebounder in his first two NBA seasons. As a third-year player, he became a full-time starter and showed his box score stuffing chops. Adebayo averaged career-highs across the board with 16.2 points, 10.5 rebound, 5.1 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. He also shot 56.7 percent from the field and played in all 65 of Miami’s games.

Report: NBA group stage could include 24 teams

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Bulls guard Zach LaVine
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The initial report on the NBA resuming with a group stage presented a 20-team scenario. There’d be four groups with five teams each – one from each tier of the current standings:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

Teams would play each other team in its group, and the top two finishers in each group would advance to an eight-team tournament (effectively the second round of the playoffs, though without conference splits).

But that format could apparently include four more teams.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

In brief, per several sources who have seen the league’s proposal: The NBA could take 20 (or 24) teams and divide them into groups

The simplest way to expand to 24 teams would be adding a sixth tier then forming four groups of six. That’d mean adding:

  • Tier 6: Suns, Wizards, Hornets, Bulls

Bleh.

The more games the NBA holds, the more money the league will make. But the more people involved, the more risk of someone contracting and spreading coronavirus. It’s a fine line, and the league has sought a middle ground.

Phoenix, Washington, Charlotte and Chicago strike me as too lousy to include. Those teams are well outside the normal playoff race, and there’s no good reason to believe they would’ve made a late push.

In this environment, they might have shot, though. Coronavirus increases variability. Players have had differing access to resources and differing motivation to train during the hiatus. Once play resumes, positive tests could be scattered randomly. Would anyone view the Suns, Wizards, Hornets or Bulls as deserving of a berth in the eight-team tournament? If one of those four teams qualified, that’d probably just show the setup was flawed.

The fairest way to set the playoffs is with 20 teams, depending on structure. Resuming with just 16 teams wouldn’t be that far behind. The highest financial upside comes with all 30 teams, but that seems infeasible.

Setting the line at 24 teams seems like the worst of most worlds – including four bad teams that wouldn’t generate much interest but would threaten to disrupt everything else.

Michael Porter Jr.: Pray for both George Floyd’s family and police officers involved in ‘this evil’

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. and Knicks forward Maurice Harkless
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Several NBA players posted about George Floyd, a black man who died after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer for about eight minutes.

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. struck a different tone than most.

Porter:

Knicks forward Maurice Harkless:

Harkless, whose dismay was shared by many, is a seasoned veteran. Porter has made made rookie gaffes.

But I’m uncomfortable criticizing someone for calling for prayer for anyone. For some, prayer can be effective way to cope amid tragedy. Many believe prayer can change the world.

Porter didn’t say prayer alone should be the solution. In fact, he called the situation “evil” and “murder,” seemingly suggesting the need for criminal justice, too.

Basketball Hall of Fame delays enshrining Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Spurs forward Tim Duncan
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The Basketball Hall of Fame originally planned to induct Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in August.

But coronavirus interfered.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the board of the governors for the Hall, told ESPN Wednesday that enshrinement ceremonies for the Class of 2020, one of the most star-studded lineups ever which includes Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant, will be moved to spring of 2021.

Colangelo stressed there will be separate ceremonies for the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, even though both events will now be held in the calendar year 2021. “We won’t be combining them,” he said. “The Class of 2020 is a very special class and deserves its own celebration.”

I’m so glad each class will be honored separately. Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and the rest of this class – Tamika Catchings, Rudy Tomjanovich, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Patrick Baumann – deserve their own night.

So does Paul Pierce and whoever gets selected in the next class.

Life can end at any moment. Bryant’s death was a tragic reminder of that. But there’s no specific urgency here. The Hall of Fame should wait until it’s safe to hold a proper celebration of this class… then the next one.

NBA being sued for missed rent payments amid coronavirus shutdown

NBA Store
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The NBA has been sued by the owners of the building that houses the NBA Store, who say the league owes more than $1.2 million after not paying rent in April or May.

The league responded by saying it doesn’t believe the suit has merit, because it was forced to close the New York store due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBA Media Ventures, LLC is required to pay $625,000 of its $7.5 million annual fee on the first day of each month under teams of its lease with 535-545 FEE LLC, according to the suit filed Tuesday in New York.

The NBA entered into the lease agreement for the property at 545 Fifth Ave. in November 2014.

Counting other fees such as water, the owners of the building are seeking more than $1.25 million.

“Like other retail stores on Fifth Avenue in New York City, the NBA Store was required to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Under those circumstances, we don’t believe these claims have any merit,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. “We have attempted, and will continue to attempt, to work directly with our landlord to resolve this matter in a manner that is fair to all parties.”

The NBA suspended play on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic and faces hundreds of millions of dollars in losses this season, even as it works toward trying to resume play in July.