10 NBA players off to a hot start

The NFL is the biggest and most-watched professional sports organization in North America each October and November. Nothing the NBA does will ever alter that reality. With that said, basketball diehards could legitimately claim the Association has been responsible for the better and more entertaining storylines between the two leagues since the start of the 2019-20 campaign. 

Stephen Curry is out indefinitely after suffering a broken hand in late October, and the Golden State Warriors plummeted to the basement of the Western Conference standings. LeBron James once again looks like the best overall player on the planet. The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t a complete disaster as of mid-November. Seemingly everybody has a take on load management and what it means for the NBA now and in the future. 

Association experts, observers and fans promised the most open and competitive season of the decade, and the league didn’t disappoint as Halloween decorations made way for Christmas lights and holiday music. Granted, not every player off to a hot start this fall will be in meaningful basketball games come April. Some even may be moved before the trade deadline. But at least a few are early contenders for honors such as Most Improved Player and Most Valuable Player, and a certain 24-year-old may finally be in the infancy of a long-awaited breakout year. 

Who is off to a hot start so far this season?

Trae Young 

Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young tallying five steals during a Nov. 8 loss to the Sacramento Kings was an aberration. To put it nicely, the 21-year-old remains a liability on defense and often appears disinterested with that aspect of playing. Young also made history, per Hawks PR, by becoming the first player to ever notch at least 38 points, nine assists and seven boards across his team’s opening two regular-season contests. He drained 14-of-28 three-point attempts in four October games, and he’s shooting over 46 percent from the field. With John Collins suspended for 25 games, Young is tasked with carrying Atlanta’s offensive burden more than at any previous point of his 90-game career.

Kyrie Irving 

Nobody who has followed Kyrie Irving’s career was shocked by the report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that claimed Irving lapsed “into a funk” and was responsible for an episode that left “everyone scratching their heads as to what precipitated it” during the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason trip to China. Irving likely will always be enigmatic off the court to those outside of his inner circle, but even his detractors located in Boston and Cleveland can’t ignore his scoring over the season’s first 10 games. Irving posted 29.7 PPG, roughly seven points better than his career average, over his first stretch of contests in Brooklyn colors. As Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News wrote, Irving set a franchise record by accumulating 222 points through Brooklyn’s first seven games. The one-time champion who grew up in New Jersey says he’s happy living and playing in the Big Apple. Time will tell. 

Gordon Hayward

Basketball, like life, is often unfair. For the first time since Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome and horrific leg injury minutes into the 2017-18 season debut, the 29-year-old showed glimpses he had located his previous All-Star form. Hayward averaged 18.9 PPG and career-bests in REB (7.1) and field-goal percentage (55.5) over eight appearances. On Nov. 5, Hayward torched the Cleveland Cavaliers for 39 points while going 17-of-20 from the field. He was back. Then he suffered a broken hand on Nov. 9. That latest setback will sideline him for at least six weeks, according to Jimmy Golen of the Associated Press. 

Tristan Thompson 

Tristan Thompson and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t get the memo the team is tanking. Thompson finished Cleveland’s 10th game of the season third on the team in scoring, and he averaged career highs in PPG (16.5), REB (11.4) and BLK (1.4) over those outings. He’s even making threes for the first time in his pro career!
The 28-year-old is out of contract following the campaign, and the rebuilding Cavs have little reason to consider paying him beyond that deal. Thus, Thompson is auditioning for would-be contenders between now and Dec. 15 when offseason signees become trade-available.  
New Cleveland head coach John Beilein deserves praise for guiding a lackluster roster to a 4-6 start. The franchise nevertheless cannot exist in a state of denial. Thompson is currently worth more on the market than in the Cavs lineup. 

Thomas Bryant 

The Washington Wizards lost six of their first eight games en route to what is practically guaranteed to be a woeful season but center Thomas Bryant was one bright spot. The former Los Angeles Lakers castoff hit the 20-point mark in three of those eight outings, and he converted at least 60 percent of his attempts in three straight games from Nov. 4 through Nov. 8. Bryant began Nov. 13 averaging 2.3 BLK, 11.3 defensive rebounds and 14.8 total rebounds per 100 team possessions. If he can get back to his 33.3 percent three-point shooting from a season ago (he was at 26.1 percent after eight games), he can evolve into more than just a stat compiler for an awful team. 

Aron Baynes

During the 2019 FIFA World Cup , Boston Celtics salary cap casualty and Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes shot 52.4 percent (11-21) from beyond the arc while averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.5 REB. The 32-year-old carried that form over to the start of the NBA season. In 10 games, nine starts, Baynes averaged career-highs in PPG (16.2), REB (5.8), AST (3.1), BLK (0.9), three-point percentage (50.0), field goal percentage (59.0) and MIN (24.3). Guard Devin Booker is making those around him better en route to taking a necessary career leap, but Baynes is playing well enough to potentially keep Deandre Ayton a spectator once the 21-year-old serves his 25-game ban. 

Andre Drummond 

Can the Detroit Pistons win with Andre Drummond? The same question many within the basketball community asked on Oct. 1 hovers over the club in the middle of November. The 26-year-old center is good for 20 points and 20 rebounds whenever the mood strikes him. As of Nov. 13, nobody had scored more two-point field goals (reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had played in two fewer games heading into that evening), and Drummond led the Association in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total boards, and total rebound percentage.  As Michael Pina of SB Nation explained, however, Drummond’s inconsistent efforts and obvious offensive limitations coupled with the fact the Pistons don’t have enough horses to make anything resembling a deep postseason run raise concerns about Drummond’s future. He can either test free agency next summer or exercise a player option worth over $28.7 million for 2020-21. As cruel as it is to suggest, the Pistons may require a top-tier team to lose a starter at Drummond’s position to move the big man before the trade deadline. Both player and club could benefit from such a transaction. 

Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins was a punchline for much of his side’s season opener vs. the Brooklyn Nets, even though he made a couple of clutch shots during the overtime period. Few are laughing at the 24-year-old after 10 games. Wiggins is averaging career marks in PPG (25.5), AST (3.3), BLK (1.1) and field goal percentage (47.3), and as Danny Cunningham of SKOR North wrote, he also has drastically improved his shot selection, and the six-year pro is attacking the rim unlike at previous times during his underwhelming “empty points” periods.  Can this version of Wiggins last through the harsh winter months? Will he put forth more than half-efforts on defense minus the occasional solid outing? If “yes” is the answer to both questions, Wiggins will contend for Most Improved Player honors. 

James Harden

Houston Rockets guard James Harden heard your offseason jokes about his inability and unwillingness to share the ball with Russell Westbrook. Per Justin Kubatko of Statmuse and Basketball-Reference, the one-time regular-season MVP is only the third player in league history to average at least 37 PPG through the opening 10 games of a campaign. (Harden was at 37.3 at the start of Nov. 13.) The 30-year-old also scored the most points across 10 contests (373) than any player since Rick Barry tallied 381 points in the fall of 1966. Most frightening for opposing defenses is that several signs point to Harden heating up rather than peaking ahead of Thanksgiving. He shot under 13 percent from three-point land in three of his first five games before returning to form from long distance over the subsequent four outings. From Nov. 4 through Nov. 11, Harden averaged 40.25 PPG in four games. 

LeBron James 

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James turns 35 years old in December, but one wouldn’t know that by watching him this fall. USA Today, Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype, Nemanja Vukasinovic of Fadeaway World and Forbes’ Tommy Beer all mentioned James as an MVP candidate in early November, and the King averaged 24.0 PPG, 11.0 AST, 8.2 REB and 1.1 STL in his first 10 games. He shot 47.1 percent from the field over that period.  James isn’t a fan of load management. “If I’m hurt, I don’t play. If not, I’m playing,” he told ESPN earlier this month. Lakers coach Frank Vogel should approach the situation differently. Los Angeles is built to win a title next spring. Limiting James’ involvement in relatively meaningless games this winter is vital to achieving that goal. 

Last season, the Toronto Raptors featured Kawhi Leonard in 60 regular-season contests. Leonard entered the playoffs fresh, and he was the Association’s top two-way player throughout the postseason. The Lakers require James’ best beginning next April, not in January. 

https://www.yardbarker.com/nba/articles/10_nba_players_off_to_a_hot_start/s1_13132_30528971

By: Zac Wassink

Clippers, Hawks And Nuggets Pull Of Trade For Millsap, Gallinari

Written by Colin Ward-Henniger at CBS Sports.com

The Atlanta Hawks knew they were going to lose Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets in free agency, but at least now they’ll get something for him.

According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Clippers, Nuggets and Hawks have agreed on a trade involving Danilo Gallinari, Millsap and Jamal Crawford as the main components. From Vivlamore:

The Hawks have agreed on a three-way trade with the Nuggets and the Clippers, with a pair of sign and trades, that will return Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone, a protected first-round pick and cash, according to a person familiar with the situation. The deal was worked on into the early morning hours Tuesday and agreed upon later in the day. The deal can not be announced until after the NBA moratorium period ends Thursday.

The Clippers would receive Danilo Gallinari in a sign and trade from the Nuggets in the other major part of the proposed deal. The Nuggets recently agreed to a three-year, $90 million deal with Hawks unrestricted free agent Paul Millsap on Sunday and would acquire the four-time all-star power forward in sign-and-trade. The Nuggets would recieve a second-round pick from the Hawks, a 2019 pick acquired from the Wizards.

The big piece of the trade for the Hawks is the first-round draft pick, the top-three protected selection in 2018 that the Clippers received from the Rockets.

The Clippers will then, according to ESPN, sign Gallinari to a three-year contract worth $65 million.

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Dwight Howard Booted From Atlanta To Charlotte

Written by Nicklaus Denning at At The Hive.com

The Charlotte Hornets work in mysterious ways. Rumors almost never leak, and they operate with such subtlety that it’s almost always a shock to see their name linked with any potential trade. It isn’t glamorous, but it’s preferable to the firestorm other teams often stir.

While the likes of Dan Gilbert, Paul George, and Los Angeles Lakers collectively set the league on fire this past weekend, Charlotte silently navigated one of the most significant trades in the franchise’s history Tuesday evening, acquiring Dwight Howard and the 31st pick of the 2017 NBA draft in exchange for Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli, and the 41st pick. Given how they operate, it shouldn’t have been surprising, and yet it was hard not wonder whether it had actually happened or not.

Rich Cho managed to flip one of the worst trades he’s ever made, acquiring Plumlee last February, without sacrificing a single asset. Howard’s contract is massive — he’ll make $47 million over the next two seasons — but that last part is key: where Plumlee was under contract for three more seasons, Howard is for just two. That’s significant, because when his contract expires, the Hornets will more than likely be looking to extend Kemba Walker, and now won’t have to worry about the last year of Plumlee’s contract on the salary cap.

Plus, even though he’s aging and out of favor with his previous two teams, Howard is a significant upgrade. He’s not the All-Star center from his days in Orlando, but he averaged 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks last season, numbers not quite seen from a Hornets center since Al Jefferson. Unlike Big Al, Howard brings an actual defensive presence the Hornets have lacked for a few seasons.

There are concerns, of course. Howard’s play has declined the past two seasons, and there have always been questions as to how he gets along, or rather doesn’t, with teammates and coaches.

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Hawks Offered Pacers Four First Round Picks For Paul George

Written by Kyle Boone at CBS Sports.com

The Indiana Pacers heard offers for their All-Star guard Paul George at the trade deadline, but ultimately chose to stick by him, keeping their core intact. That may have been a mistake.

According to a report from ESPN, the Atlanta Hawks were among teams making an offer for the 27-year-old. The offer? Four first-round picks in exchange for George.

George missed out on the All-NBA team announced Thursday, which ultimately puts the Pacers in a spot where they likely won’t be able to sign him to an extension this summer. Had he made the list, he would have been eligible for a five-year deal worth $200 million-plus that would have made him the league’s highest paid player. However, now it seems unlikely he’ll sign an extension this summer, meaning he’s likely to become a free agent in 2018.

The Pacers still could offer the five-year max deal to George after next season, if they wait to see if he makes the All-NBA team. However at that point, they run the risk of potentially losing George for nothing — similar to what Kevin Durant did to the Thunder — if he chose to leave money on the table and sign elsewhere.

Rumblings around the league have linked George to the Los Angeles Lakers, as he grew up a fan of Kobe Bryant in southern California.

At the time of the reported offer from the Hawks, Larry Bird was president of basketball operations. He has since stepped down and been replaced by Kevin Pritchard, who has been Indiana’s general manager since 2012.

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Wizards Win At Home Against Atlanta To Take 3-2 Lead

Written by Candace Buckner at Washington Post.com

At times during the Washington Wizards’ season, a team video session — edited clips revealing harsh truths and Coach Scott Brooks sparing no feelings — has precipitated change. These fixes have mostly focused on defense, where the Wizards’ effort and execution has hinged on the success of their offense.

Before Game 5, the Wizards held another one of these sessions. It was another reminder that fourth-quarter defense can either sink their playoff hopes or thrust the team into the next round. The counsel took hold. The Wizards’ defense delivered in crucial moments down the stretch, and Washington defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 103-99, for a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series.

The Wizards had no problems, even though Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroder went off again (game-high 29 points) and Paul Millsap scored 21 points on 19 shots, because the overall defense held up. Atlanta made only 40.9 percent of its shots from the field and was 9 for 31 from beyond the arc.

“We had a great film session,” Brooks said, explaining how the off-day practice led to Game 5’s defense. “It was pretty direct and honest, and I think guys responded.”

Now, one game stands between Washington and the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Wizards will face their first closeout road game Friday night in Atlanta.

“Nobody has [taken] over the series because nobody has won the opposing team’s court yet,” John Wall pointed out. “We know they have an amazing crowd. They’re definitely going to come out and be loud.

“We got to see what we can do.”

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Hawks Flop A Lot, Tie Series With Wizards

Written by Sekou Smith at NBA.com

One by one they stepped into the void, providing whatever energy, effort and plays that were needed.

So what if their contributions up to this point had been spotty, at best, in this series.

The Atlanta Hawks needed Game 4 against the Washington Wizards Monday night at Philips Arena, by any means necessary. A win guaranteed at least one more home, Friday’s Game 6, and a chance to continue to fight for their playoff lives.

Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore and Jose Calderon all chipped in with huge efforts, making sure that Dennis Schroder, Tim Hardaway Jr., Taurean Prince and Paul Millsap wouldn’t have to do it alone.

The result was the Hawks’ most complete effort yet in this series, a gritty 111-101 win that sends this series back to Washington for Game 5 with the Wizards needing to find themselves on home turf, the same task the Hawks faced before Saturday’s Game 3 when they entered the building in a 2-0 hole.

“This game was very important for us and I think we came out with the right mentality from the beginning to the end,” Howard said. “This is something we needed. The first two games, we felt like we were right there. A couple of mistakes cost us. These last two games, we stayed together, played as hard as we could and got a (couple of) good wins.”

Playoff series have a way of rewriting themselves based on the ebb and flow of the games. The Hawks didn’t look like a team ready for prime time after those first two games. They got pushed around and overwhelmed by Wall’s relentlessness and the Wizards rode that wave at Verizon Center.

The tables turned here, though. Schroder settled in and Millsap bowed up. Hardaway Jr. and Prince dug in on tough defensive assignments. But it wasn’t until Howard, Bazemore and Calderon showed up Monday night, that the full scope of what the Hawks might be capable of was on display.

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Wizards Take Game Two To Lead 2-0 Against Hawks

Written by Jack Maloney at CBSSports.com

John Wall and Bradley Beal are one of the league’s best backcourts, and they proved it in a big way Wednesday night in Game 2 of their first-round series against the Hawks.

It was an ugly game, with 55 fouls called between the two teams, but in the fourth quarter Wall and Beal made sure their performances were the most memorable part of the game. The duo was impressive all night long, but turned it on in the final frame where they combined for 24 points, outscoring the Hawks by themselves, 24-23.

The big final 12 minutes from their backcourt helped the Wizards pull away with a 109-101 victory to extend their series lead to 2-0.

In addition to helping the Wizards get a big win, the performance from Wall and Beal was a historic one — in multiple ways. First, it was the highest combined scoring game from these two in the postseason — Wall scored 32 and Beal added 31 for a combined 63 points.

In addition, they were the first Wizards duo to each score 30-plus points in a playoff game since 1986, back when the team was still called the Washington Bullets.

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Wizards Handle Hawks In Game One Easily

Written by Ava Wallace at Washington Post.com

The Wizards rode a dominant third quarter to a 114-107 victory in the opening game of their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.

John Wall led Washington with a playoff career-high 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting, Bradley Beal had 22 points and Markieff Morris added 21. Dennis Schroder led four Atlanta players in double figures with 25 points.

1. The Wizards’ defense kept Atlanta in check 
For a game in which the Wizards’ offense shined, particularly in the third quarter, its defense was steady and limited Atlanta’s opportunities. The Hawks shot 43.6 percent from the floor, and made just 28 percent of their three-point shots (7 of 25).

Schroder took 16 shots, more than any other Hawks player, and Paul Millsap had three more free throw attempts – 11 – than he did field goal attempts – 8. But Washington tempered a dangerous Atlanta offense, which ranks fifth in the NBA in points per game and came into the playoffs on a hot streak.

Wizards Coach Scott Brooks made transition defense a big point of emphasis heading into the series. Washington’s defense, particularly the first unit, did its job.

Morris began the period with a 24-foot three-pointer that tied the game at 48. After that, it was the Wall-and-Morris highlight show. Fans were treated to back-to-back dunks from Morris, both assisted by Wall, then Wall faking out his defender to drive through three Atlanta players for a reverse layup, and Wall shrugging his shoulders after sinking a 25-foot three-pointer to put the Wizards up 79-65.

In all, Wall and Morris combined to make 11 of 17 attempts from the floor for 26 points in the third period, while the entire Hawks’ roster scored 28. With Wall in total control, the Wizards’ offense was at its crispest and tallied 11 assists (Wall had four) to just three turnovers, all of which happened in the final 1:13 of the period.

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Celtics Wrap Up Top Seed in East, And Preview Of Eastern Conference Playoffs

Written by Chris Forsberg at ESPN.com

The Celtics have secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Boston overcame a sluggish start to top the Milwaukee Bucks 112-94 on Wednesday night at TD Garden. With a record of 53-29, the Celtics finished two games ahead of a Cleveland Cavaliers team that prioritized rest in the final days of the regular season.

Even before the Celtics finished off a dominant fourth quarter against the Bucks, the Cavaliers lost to the Toronto Raptors 98-83 to ensure Boston’s top spot.

The Celtics will host the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls in the opening round of the playoffs, beginning Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET, TNT). The teams split their regular-season series 2-2.

“They’re the eighth seed, but they’re better than what seed they are,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said after Wednesday’s win. “They’re a really good team, especially with Dwyane Wade back [from a broken elbow]. So we have to be ready for them.”

Added Celtics teammate Al Horford: “They’ve been playing much better. I think that they have a lot of experience, obviously with Dwyane Wade, [Rajon] Rondo, [Jimmy] Butler, the list goes on. They have just a lot of guys that have been in playoff atmospheres, are familiar with them. They’ve been playing much better. It should be a fun series.”

The Bulls topped the Brooklyn Nets 112-73 on Wednesday night to secure their postseason berth.

The Indiana Pacers emerged with the seventh seed after a 104-86 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers will play the second-seeded Cavaliers in the opening round, beginning Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ABC).

“I feel very confident that we’ve got a good run in us,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “I think we’re good.”

The Miami Heat, who defeated the Washington Wizards 110-102 on Wednesday, were squeezed out of the postseason based on a tiebreaker with the Bulls. Miami was 11-30 in the first half of the season, then 30-11 in the second. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, prior to the Heat’s finish this season, the best record over its final 41 games by any team that missed the playoffs was the 1970-71 Phoenix Suns, who finished 26-15.

The rest of the East teams were already locked into their playoff positions before Wednesday: Toronto at No. 3, Washington at No. 4, Atlanta at No. 5 and Milwaukee at No. 6. The Raptors host the Bucks to begin their first-round series Saturday (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), while the Hawks will open a series at the Wizards, beginning Sunday (1 p.m. ET, TNT).

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Best Trades For Every NBA Team

Written by Nunzio Ingrassia at Fox Sports.com

Sunday’s stunning trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans is just the latest example of a woefully lopsided NBA deal. But as the basketball world rips the Kings for the move, they are far from the only organization that has gotten the short end of a trade. Not every swap has a clear winner and loser, but these transactions clearly benefited one team over another, sometimes shifting the balance of power in the league for years to come.