Lonnie Walker

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Notes from second night of Salt Lake Summer League

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz play at the second highest elevation in the NBA, 4,226 feet, or 8/10ths of a mile. The air is a little thin.

For young players working on their conditioning — and especially some young players playing the second night of a back-to-back — it showed on Tuesday. Dylan Windler, the Cavaliers standout from Game 1, looked gassed by the second half. He wasn’t alone. It led to some sloppy basketball at points, even by the sliding scale of Summer League standards.

Here’s my notebook from the second night of games in Salt Lake City.

• With three games in three nights in Utah, the Fourth of July off, then games starting at the Las Vegas Summer League on Friday, teams rested a lot of guys on Tuesday. The Spurs sat Lonnie Walker IV (who scored 20 the night before), and the Grizzlies rested Yuta Watanabe (who also had 20 on opening night). Utah rookie Jarrett Brantley, who looked good in the opener, also got a night off. Combine that with the other guys sitting for injuries, such as Darius Garland (knee), or guys not yet officially traded so they can’t suit up (Kevin Porter Jr. for the Cavs, Brandon Clarke for the Grizzlies) and Tuesday was a little thin on names you know suiting up in Utah.

• It’s gotta be the shoes!

Spurs rookie Keldon Johnson — the Spurs’ No. 29 pick in this draft, a wing out of Kentucky — scored 29 points on 10-of-17 shots, including 3-of-4 from three. But all anyone wanted to talk about was his LeBron kicks.

With Walker and others out for the Spurs, Johnson found the ball in his hands a lot, but it was his defensive effort the Spurs coaching staff — and Johnson himself — liked.

“Defense comes first, then offense will come,” said Johnson, who had questions about his defense going into the draft. “Today I felt I was more assertive and more aggressive, which I felt translated on the offensive end.”

“Expecting that [level of offense] every day is a lot, but I thought he was good,” Spurs Summer League coach Blake Ahearn said. “He made some plays.”

Among those plays was the shot of the night, this half-courter at the buzzer.

The Spurs needed Johnson to step up with all the guys resting, and he did. That’s a good start for the rookie.

• Players who have had even a taste of NBA-level basketball often have a level of competence that means they just take over a Summer League game.

Case in point, Jazz big man Tony Bradley — the No. 28 pick back in 2017, who spent most of last season playing well for Utah in the G-League but has had played in a dozen NBA games — had probably the best night of anyone in Salt Lake Tuesday.

Bradley had 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting, pulled down 16 rebounds, and Cavaliers coach John Beilein credited him for making the Cavaliers miss a lot of shots at the rim.

“After the season, [Jazz coaches] gave me a few things to work on: defensive rebounding, communicating on defense, and being loud…” Bradley said. “I think I’ve done a better job.”

He’s done an impressive job so far.

• Along those same lines, Cleveland’s Naz Mitrou-Long has had a couple of cups of coffee in the NBA — 15 games total, he was on a two-way contract with the Jazz last season — but that little bit of experience and the touch of class he brings was evident in the first two games with the Cavaliers. He had 16 points and 8 assists in the first game on Monday, and 17 points in the second game.

“Experience is definitely the best teacher,” Mitrou-Long said. “I’ve been through this twice now, this is my third time. Especially being in this building, very comfortable here. So it’s something that definitely plays a big role.”

• Spurs Summer League legend Jeff Ledbetter showed out on Tuesday night, scoring 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting from three.

Ledbetter, 31, stands out in Summer League because of his smart play, hustle, shooting — and because he’s on the Spurs Summer League team seemingly every year. He’s not an NBA guy, he has spent the last three seasons with the Spurs G-League team and may do that again, or may go to Europe and bank a little cash. He’s a guy a lot of overseas teams could use.

Whatever happens with him next season, if he’s not back with the Spurs for Summer League next year it will be weird.

• The alley-oop of the day belonged to Utah second-round pick Justin Write-Foreman, who has some hops (and 20 points on the night).

Honorable mention in this category goes to the Spurs Thomas Robinson (yes, that Thomas Robinson).

• Spurs first-round pick Luka Samanic once again showed he has a good feel for the game, once again showed his three-point range (although he hesitated on a couple he should have pulled the trigger on), and displayed some deft passing skills. Also once again showed he’s just got to get stronger — three times over two days he tried to drive and dunk on someone only to get rejected. He got pushed around a few other times on defense. There’s a lot to like, but he’s a project.

Zion Williamson on NBA spacing: ‘It gives me a lot of room to operate’

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Zion Williamson knows he has a lot to learn starting when he makes his NBA Summer League debut.

That said, he’s already picked up a few things.

The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft by the New Orleans Pelicans is in Las Vegas, where his first game on Friday is officially sold out and, predictably, a hot ticket on the resale markets. After practicing Tuesday, Williamson said he’s noticing that some of the rules of defense in the pro game seem a bit more offense-friendly than the zones he often saw in college.

“I do like the spacing a lot more,” Williamson said, in a video posted to the Pelicans’ web site. “You can’t really just stand in the paint, so it gives me a lot of room to operate. Defense is just a little different as well.”

New Orleans plays New York on Friday night in the opener for both teams in Las Vegas. The four-team leagues in Salt Lake City and Sacramento continued Tuesday, with both set to wrap up Wednesday before all 30 NBA teams – plus the Chinese and Croatian national teams – arrive in Vegas in what has become an annual convention of coaches, players, scouts and executives.

And, especially on Friday, plenty of eyes will be on Williamson.

“He’s so explosive,” Pelicans summer league coach Fred Vinson said. “You get him inside, especially create some mismatches, he can definitely be tough to handle.”

Pelicans guard Frank Jackson was in summer league last year as well, and said he’s already noticing a much different feel this year.

The Williamson effect is just part of that.

“Every guy we have here wants to win and wants to get better every single day,” Jackson said. “I think there’s an energy in New Orleans now that everyone can feel and we’re ready to get it rocking.”

TUESDAY’S GAMES

SALT LAKE CITY SUMMER LEAGUE

SPURS 99, GRIZZLIES 84

Keldon Johnson scored 29 points and made a 55-footer to end the third quarter, and San Antonio (2-0) didn’t have much trouble with Memphis.

Johnson was 10 for 17 from the floor.

“I’ve definitely got some things I can improve on,” Johnson said.

Ben Moore scored 16 points, Jeff Ledbetter had 15 and Thomas Robinson added 14 for the Spurs, who led by 22 points in the second quarter and kept control the rest of the way.

The Spurs gave several players the night off, including Lonnie Walker IV.

Dusty Hannahs scored 20 points for Memphis (1-1). Paris Lee had 13 for the Grizzlies, and Ben Lawson and Tyler Harvey each added 10.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Notes from first night of Salt Lake Summer League

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SALT LAKE CITY — At Summer League in Salt Lake, all anyone could talk about was… Kawhi Leonard. Like every other NBA fan. Jazz fans rightfully watched the moves their team made this offseason and saw themselves as threats to win the West, but the whispers of a Lakers’ three-man superteam has them spooked.

Oh, and there was actual basketball. Played by a few guys who will be on NBA rosters next season, and a lot of guys trying to make that dream a reality. Here’s my notebook out of the first night of games in beautiful Utah.

• Cleveland may have something in Dylan Windler.

Judging a player on one Summer League game is like judging a burger joint after tasting one French fry. Summer League openers at best give us the start of a baseline off which to judge players. That said, Windler turned a few heads on his way to 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-8 from three. The shooting itself wasn’t a surprise, that’s why he got drafted No. 26 out of Belmont.

Rather, it was his feel for the game and playmaking that was more unexpected.

“I just like the way he moves,” Cavs coach John Beilein said. “He instinctively has a really good feel for the game. Seems to make the game somewhat easier, just finding the open man.”

With Cavaliers’ rookie guards Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. out for Salt Lake City, Windler had the ball in his hands a lot more as a shot creator. They ran the offense through him for long stretches, with Beilein saying he wanted to see how Windler handled it. He acquitted himself well, although there were some tough lessons to be learned — twice had a defender just snuff his pass as it came out of his hands. This isn’t the Ohio Valley Conference anymore, he can’t just throw the ball over the top of guys.

“I need to be more sound on the ball for sure,” Windler said. “Coming off the pick-and-rolls they did a good job getting into me, so I need to be a little craftier with that….

“Everybody on the floor, we’re all pros now, there’s no weak links, there’s no guy you can just keep attacking… the pace of play is different, and just the spacing of the floor is a lot different.”

Welcome to adjusting to the NBA style of game. Summer League is like NBA lite — the talent and athleticism is not the same, teams aren’t nearly as dialed in, but what Windler saw in Salt Lake City Monday was a step up from what he has faced in the past. That’s why his strong performance was impressive.

“I think he’s one of those guys who will make everybody better by giving you the space, or just making the simple, easy pass to the next open man,” Beilein said.

• San Antonio would love for Lonnie Walker IV to step up and give them quality minutes this coming season.

A second-year player who can do that should be the best player on the court in a Summer League game, and Walker was that, scoring 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and using bursts of his athleticism to make plays. That said, his performance was a little hit and miss. He said he felt comfortable out on the court this summer.

“Just knowing where everybody is, taking better shots, feeling comfortable with my shots, and just knowing a lot more things,” Walker said. “Going into my rookie year, there were a lot of things I thought I knew I really didn’t know. This time, I have a lot of things [moving] like in slow motion, it’s more comfortable, and I could stay in my rhythm.”

That rhythm includes the fact Walker does not fear the pull-up midrange shot, and he drained a couple nice ones. That shot might get him in trouble on some teams, but he plays for the Spurs, so it just fit right in.

• A lot of names hoops fans might know were drafted by the four teams in Salt Lake City but are not suiting up due to injuries. The Grizzlies drafted Ja Morant second overall, but he had his knee scoped and may play in Las Vegas but not here. Also, Brandon Clarke for the Grizzlies is not playing. For Cleveland, Darius Garland (the No. 5 pick) is not playing in Salt Lake as they are careful with his knee, and No. 30 pick Kevin Porter Jr. is out, too.

• For the home Utah Jazz, second-round pick Jarrell Brantley had a nice night with 11 points, 4 rebounds (8 personal fouls)… and one serious blocked shot.

Drafted No. 50 out of the University of Charleston, Brantley was a guy who turned heads at the Portsmouth Invitational and impressed enough in workouts to get drafted. The knock was he’s not an explosive athlete, but that blocked shot made me question that a little.

• On his first drive to the rim, Spurs draftee Luka Samanic took a good first step, put his shoulder down and muscled his way to the rim, but then struggled to finish against length on the contest.

For a lot of players, that is a tough adjustment at the NBA level — the guys trying to block your shot at the rim are taller, longer, and more athletic.

• Things got better for Samanic, he picked up his first bucket in the second quarter when he pump faked at the arc, drove to his left and finished at the rim through a little contact (from a guard, but still).

Samanic finished with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, looking raw but the kind of raw the Spurs turn into a dangerous player in a few years.

• Thomas Robinson, the former No. 5 overall pick of the Kings in 2012 who has been out of the league for a couple of years now, is playing for the Spurs trying to earn his way back into the league. He had 8 points on 2-of-3 shooting in limited minutes.

• Spurs second-round draft pick Quinndary Weatherspoon had a couple of nice drives to the rim where he showed some athleticism and strength, then the touch to finish. He needs to get stronger, but an interesting player.

How Spurs’ Bryn Forbes went from afterthought recruit to NBA starter

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Bryn Forbes‘ 2014 transfer from Cleveland State to Michigan State was well-covered in the media. Nearly every article on it explained Forbes’ reasoning: The Lansing, Mich., native wanted to be closer to his son, who was born the year prior, and his sister, who was suffering from what would be a fatal illness.

And those explanations weren’t wrong. Family was Forbes’ primary concern.

But he had another reason: He wanted to better prepare for the NBA.

Forbes kept that one close to the vest. After all, he was a 6-foot-3 scoring guard with unexceptional athleticism. He ranked third in his 2012 recruiting class… at Cleveland State. He didn’t even make the All-Horizon League first team.

“People would have thought I’m crazy,” Forbes said. “They honestly would have thought I’m crazy.”

But Forbes’ self-confidence paid off. He’s now the Spurs’ starting shooting guard, averaging 12.4 points per game on 43.6% 3-point shooting.

It’s incredible how far he has come in just a few years.

Forbes worked hard in East Lansing, developing into a college star. Not bad for someone the Spartans initially offered only a preferred-walk-on spot despite Forbes playing in their backyard with Michigan State commit Denzel Valentine (now with the Bulls) at Lansing Sexton High School. Still, Forbes looked like the archetypical good shooter without the size or athleticism to make the NBA.

Leading up to the 2016 draft, DraftExpress ranked the top shooters in the draft. Forbes’ name appeared once – to note why he wasn’t otherwise included:

Please note that this is not an exhaustive study including all of the best shooters in college basketball or even in the 2016 NBA Draft Class. The only players included in this subset are those deemed to “draftable” NBA prospects. Players like Max Hooper (6-6, SG, Oakland, 3.3 3s made per game, 46% 3P%), Max Landis (6-2, SG, IPFW, 3.8 3s made per game, 46% 3P%), Bryn Forbes (6-3, SG, Michigan State, 3.2 3s made per game, 48% 3P%) for example were excluded, amongst others.

Jonathan Givony’s projection wasn’t exactly wrong. Forbes went undrafted.

He signed a barely guaranteed contract with San Antonio and quickly impressed Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich with his work ethic, coachability and 3-point shot. Against all odds, Forbes made San Antonio’s regular-season roster and earned an NBA salary.

Forbes still spent much of his first professional season with the Spurs’ minor-league affiliate playing point guard. He’s more of an off guard, but that time helped him develop his ball-handling and passing.

In his second season, Forbes became a rotation regular and spot-starter. He played 1,517 minutes on a 47-win team. After the season, he signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Spurs.

Now, Forbes is one of just six full-time starters this season who went undrafted. The other five: Robert Covington, Joe Ingles, Wesley Matthews, Garrett Temple and Rodney McGruder.

“He’s carved out an NBA career,” Popovich said of Forbes.

Though Forbes has expanded his all-around game, that merely got other facets to tolerable levels. He remains a 3-point specialist, and his 43.6% 3-point percentage ranks 12th in the NBA:

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Maybe Forbes wouldn’t be in this position if San Antonio didn’t suffer so many backcourt injuries this season. Dejounte Murray is missing the entire season. Lonnie Walker just got healthy. Derrick White was sidelined for the start of the year.

Forbes has considered similar “what ifs” in the past. What if he stayed at Cleveland State? Would he have had the platform to showcase himself for the NBA? Eventually, he decided not to dwell on that.

“I think, one way or another,” Forbes said, “I would have found a way.”

NBA Power Rankings: Warriors still on top

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The NBA season is back, and with it, so are the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings, which are put together each week throughout the season.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (Last season 58-24). If a team is the two-time defending champs and made four straight Finals appearances, they start on top. The only question is how motivated the Warriors are during the regular season — which may be less of an issue this time around, listening to the buzz around the team. Keeping Golden State healthy and not letting it build a bunch of bad habits while waiting for the games to really matter again has to be Steve Kerr’s focus. Don’t expect to see DeMarcus Cousins until after you’ve opened your Christmas presents.

Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (55-27). Don’t read too much into the preseason struggles — that was exactly what coach Brad Stevens needed to get this team’s attention and get them focused on the process. It turns out bringing two superstar players — Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — back into the fold is not simply a matter of plug-and-play, it’s going to take some work. Plus, Hayward is not all the way back yet. Still, with all this depth, the Celtics should own the East.

Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (65-17). Carmelo Anthony has blended fairly smoothly in the preseason, accepting his role coming off the bench and as more as a shooter working off the ball, now we will see if that continues when opposing defenses start to care. A lot of lineup shuffling in the preseason, which leads to a question: Who will close games for Houston? Chris Paul and James Harden for sure, but after that which two of Anthony, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, James Ennis, and Clint Capela will sit?

Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (59-23). Understandably a lot of the preseason focus has been on Kawhi Leonard, but there is another big question for this team (both early and for the full season): What kind of difference does new coach Nick Nurse make? He’s a rookie coach and he’s doing things like talking about changing the starting five based on opponent, but the hope was he would bring a less predictable offense (especially for the postseason). Nurse said he is going to be “fluid” with rotations — read: experimenting — for the start of the season, but this is a deep team that had the best bench in the NBA last season, and it could be better this year.

Sixers small icon 5. 76ers (52-30). Replacing J.J. Redick with Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup to start the season is an interesting tactic by Brett Brown (the Sixers starting lineup with Redick was +21 points per 100 possessions last season), but it should do one thing for sure: The Sixers’ defense should be better. And it was top five last season. The question becomes floor spacing on the other end: Ben Simmons is not a jump shooter, Joel Embiid can hit threes but needs to be around the basket, and Fultz doesn’t have the jumper of an NBA two-guard yet (he attempted just five shots from three in the preseason). Defenses will pack the paint on Philly. Also, teams that make the China trip in preseason tend to start slowly the next season.

Jazz small icon 6. Jazz (48-34). There are a lot of people on the Jazz bandwagon, some even suggesting they are better than the Rockets. What Utah has going for it is an elite defense (if Rudy Gobert can stay healthy) and continuity from the team that was so good the second half of last season. But after Donovan Mitchell, who is the other shot creator? Ricky Rubio can set guys up, but is he a secondary go-to guy? The Jazz bet big on Dante Exum this summer, he is a guy to watch.

Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (48-34).. Russell Westbrook is banged up to start the season (he had his knee scoped a month ago and will miss at least the opener), and Andre Roberson is out until December — that second part is a bigger blow than some fans realize. The injuries could lead to a slow start for the Thunder, which is dangerous in the very deep West. Can Terrance Ferguson step up on the wing and give them something?

Nuggets small icon 8. Nuggets (46-36).. Everyone is high on the Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray/Gary Harris starting lineup, and with good reason, especially with Will Barton added to it. The Nuggets will have an elite offense. Two big questions loom for this team: Can their defense (bottom five last season) improve, even up to league average? And, with Isaiah Thomas out who will lead the bench unit? Can Trey Lyles step into that role and thrive?

Lakers small icon 9. Lakers (35-47). The Lakers are going to run this season (they likely will have one of the fastest paces in the league) and that combined with LeBron James distributing from the elbow should lead to an impressive offense, although the lack of true shooters could hold them back a little. The question is at the other end of the court, will the Lakers get enough stops to win? They were sloppy defensively in the preseason. Portland and Houston this week start off a brutal schedule to start the season.

Bucks small icon 10. Bucks (44-38 LW 18). This may be too low a ranking for a team I am high on. While we should take the preseason with a grain of salt, the Bucks looked like a modern offense under Mike Budenholzer, leaning on three pointers and getting to the rim, avoiding midrange jumpers — and they had an impressive offense because of it. Giannis Antetokounmpo was a flat out beast, showing more confidence in his jumper but also finding a lot more room to drive on a team with genuine floor spacing. We’ll see if it carries over, but the Bucks looked more like a threat to the 76ers/Raptors in the preseason.

Pacers small icon 11. Pacers (48-34). Preseason wasn’t kind to the new players who are expected to push this team forward, Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott, nor did the man with the new contract Myles Turner impress. We’re going to overlook all that for now, this is a team on the tier behind the big three in the East (some think they can push Philly/Toronto) and they should be a tough out every night. Interesting first week game Friday night in Milwaukee.

Pelicans small icon 12. Pelicans (48-34). I am high on this team coming into the season — I predicted Anthony Davis to win MVP — but the preseason defensive performance gave me pause. It’s just preseason, but Elfrid Payton is a turnstile (that’s not new) and they were getting torched in the paint to the tune of 65 points a game. We’ll see if that continues when the games matter, but a tough opener against Houston doesn’t help.

Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (49-33). The entire NBA, and particularly the Blazers community, is mourning the passing of one of the best and classiest owners in the league in Paul Allen. Making the playoffs 23 times in 30 seasons, doing things the right way, he’s a model owner. The road forward will be interesting (the league would not allow this team to be moved, and the lease runs through 2025 anyway). The Trail Blazers open the season on national television Thursday night against LeBron James and the Lakers and can make a statement then.

Spurs small icon 14. Spurs (47-35). Injuries have decimated the guard rotation: Dejounte Murray out for the season with a torn ACL, his backup Derrick White tore his plantar fascia, and Lonnie Walker IV tore the meniscus in his right knee (the latter two are 6-8 weeks, maybe a little more. In a West with little margin for error, is that enough to keep the Spurs out of the playoffs for the first time since 1997? DeMar DeRozan is going to have to be the primary playmaker for this team now.

Wizards small icon 15. Wizards (43-39). Dwight Howard missed all of preseason (with an injured butt, insert your own joke here), but is now practicing with the team and could play in the opener, just in a more limited role. Once again we enter the season saying we like the Wizards players individually — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter — but as a team how do they really take a step forward from good to great?

Heat small icon 16. Heat (44-38). The Jimmy Butler trade saga hangs over this team a little (nobody likes hearing their name in trade talks), but this is a solid team and it’s Dwyane Wade’s “One Last Dance” so its worth tuning in to watch him put on a show. Get wins against Orlando and Charlotte the first week of the season and it will be easier to tune out all the trade chatter (which has died down a little of late anyway).

Clippers small icon 17. Clippers (42-40). Their starting five has potential — Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Tobias Harris, and Marcin Gortat — if they can stay healthy. Off the bench is the Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, plus Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who impressed at Summer League and through the preseason. Healthy, this could be a playoff team, but the Clippers are littered with players prone to injury and not living up to their potential. Brutal first few weeks of the schedule for Los Angeles, including the Nuggets, Thunder, and Rockets this week.

Grizzlies small icon 18. Grizzlies (22-60). One of a few teams in the West (along with the Clippers and Mavericks) where I can envision a scenario where they make the playoffs, but everything has to go right for them. That means Marc Gasol and Mike Conley stay healthy, Jaren Jackson Jr. plays like a rookie of the year, and Chandler Parsons gives them something (he’s looked passable in the preseason). That’s a lot of “ifs” in a conference with no margin for error.

Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (39-43). They have been penciled in to the final playoff spot in the East by a lot of pundits (myself included) based on the potential of Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, and Andre Drummond together (especially with Dwane Casey as coach). It’s also a work in progress that didn’t look very smooth in the preseason. Depth questions also are out there for the Pistons. Still, if they can be solid defensively, they should make the postseason.

20. Timberwolves (47-35, LW 13). Is this too low a ranking, much of it based on the Jimmy Butler trade drama? Maybe. With Butler in the lineup last season the Timberwolves looked like a 3/4 seed kind of squad. On the flip side, chemistry matters in the NBA and good luck finding a team with a worse locker room right now. Also, Butler is going to get booed and it’s going to get ugly Friday night in Minnesota’s first home game (vs. Cleveland). Without Butler in the preseason the Timberwolves defense was a disaster, it’s just preseason but that’s not a good sign.

Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (36-46). What will new coach James Borego bring to the table? If was can read much into the preseason it’s more three point attempts (and less long twos) and better ball movement and tempo. Rookie Miles Bridges showed some preseason promise and could play his way into the starting lineup eventually. Relatively soft schedule the first month of the season, get off to a fast start and it will keep the “will they trade Kemba Walker?” questions at bay.

Mavericks small icon 22. Mavericks (24-58). Fun start to the season Wednesday: Rookie of the Year favorites Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton face off (although the matchup to watch in that game is how Ayton handles the strength and athleticism of DeAndre Jordan). Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. started to show some chemistry in the preseason, but lets see what happens when the games matter and the defenses start to care.

Cavaliers small icon 23. Cavaliers (50-32). Kevin Love says he is ready to return to the role of a No. 1 option — and the Cavaliers are certainly paying him like one — but the game has evolved and Love has gotten older since he last time that burden fell on his shoulders. There is still potential on this roster in terms of good shooting, at least until Cavs management starts trading them for young players and picks. After opening in Toronto, pretty soft schedule to start the season.

Bulls small icon 24. Bulls (27-55).. No Lauri Markkanen to start the season (elbow, out at least a few weeks) but there is promise on this roster: Zach LaVine showed some athleticism and looked healthy and efficient in the preseason, and Wendell Carter Jr. continues to impress and is now the starting center for this team (although rough “welcome to the NBA” start in Game 1 against Joel Embiid). How will Jabari Parker look in a Sixth Man role?

Suns small icon 25. Suns (21-61). Firing GM Ryan McDonough nine days before the season started — after letting him make all the off-season moves for the team, including hiring the new coach — is a “the emperor has no clothes” moment for owner Robert Sarver. Deandre Ayton has put up numbers and impressed in the preseason, and Devin Booker will return from hand surgery and be ready for the opener. Jamal Crawford is not a point guard but may end up playing one anyway.

Nets small icon 26. Nets (28-54). Coach Kenny Atkinson has done in Brooklyn what the new coach across the bridge in Manhattan needs to do this season — develop a culture where the players go hard for him within the system. Now the question in Brooklyn is about the talent. How good is D’Angelo Russell really, is he worth a big new contract next summer (he’s a restricted free agent)? Where does Spencer Dinwiddie fit in that mix? Jarrett Allen is expected to make a leap at center, but will he. Where do Caris LeVert and Ronde Hollis-Jefferson fit in? Some potential there, but a lot of questions, too.

Knicks small icon 27. Knicks (29-53, LW 22). For new coach David Fizdale, this is a season about building the culture and getting players who will play his way and play hard. Rookie Kevin Knox needs to be part of that and will be thrown into the deep end to sink or swim for the Knicks. Frank Ntilikina has yet to impress me, but then again Emmanuel Mudiay does not look like the answer at the point guard spot either. Just my guess, we see Kristaps Porzingis return this season for the last dozen games or so, not to make a playoff push (the Knicks won’t be that good) but to hit the ground running for his summer work, and to show free agents he will be ready to go next season.

Magic small icon 28. Magic (25-57). As discussed on the PBT Podcast on teams to watch, I think Orlando will be an interesting team this season — not good, but worth watching. Specifically, when the big and athletic front line of Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and rookie Mo Bamba are paired. Can those three play together and make it work (it pushes Gordon to the three when he is better as a four)? The Orlando defense should be pretty good this season, the question is where the points are going to come from?

Kings small icon 29. Kings (27-55). Harry Giles impressed in both Summer League and preseason and could be a sneaky candidate to make All-Rookie teams at the end of the season. Marvin Bagley III showed the potential to go get buckets during the preseason, and I like using Buddy Hield more as a floor-spacing three (at least on offense, nothing worked for the Kings on defense). Rough way to start the season: Jazz, Pelicans, Thunder.

Hawks small icon 30. Hawks (24-58). It’s going to be all Trae Young all the time in Atlanta as they let him be the man and take all the shots — and that worked for a game winner against the Spurs in the preseason. It’s also going to mean some growing pains when the real games begin. Rough to have John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon out to start the season with injuries.