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

Celtics’ locker room reportedly split amid recent struggles

The Celtics’ disappointing season may have split the locker room between veterans and some of the young players who helped reach the conference finals last year, suggests Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated (hat tip to Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston).

The Eastern Conference favorites heading into the season, the Celtics are in fifth place at 25-17 as some players have been resistant to accepting new roles with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injuries.

“It does seem like there’s a divide in that locker room between the veterans on that team and the younger players on that team,”  Mannix said Saturday on the Celtics’ post-game show. “I don’t know how big that divide is, how significant it is, is it fractured? But there does seem to be kind of a chasm that exists between those two sides.”

Boston is coming off a disastrous trip to Florida that included two losses and a pair of incidents that brought the internal conflicts to light. Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown exchanged words during a timeout Thursday in Miami, and Irving was visibly upset after an unsuccessful play at the end of last night’s game in Orlando.

here’s more today from Boston:

  • Irving seemed to take a shot at his younger teammates in post-game comments Saturday, saying the Celtics are lacking the “experience” it takes to compete for a title, relays Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. “You’ve got to appreciate being out there and just competing,”  Irving said as part of a long answer on why the team has gone through peaks and valleys. “It doesn’t matter who you’re going against. It matters the type of preparation you have, what you’re going out and trying to accomplish. What’s the big picture? What are we doing here? These are things I don’t think some of my teammates have faced just every single day. It’s not easy to be great.”
  • Morris’ brand of leadership is exactly what the team needs, contends A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. In addition to being the Celtics’ most consistent player throughout the season, Morris has lived up to his reputation for being willing to confront teammates who he believes aren’t giving their best effort. “To be the team we want to be, we have to be open with each other and be able to discuss things that are going on, on the court,” Morris said. “If it leads to a little bumping, pushing and shoving … it’s nothing. You move past that type of stuff and keep going.”
  • Terry Rozier had another bad performance last night, missing all five of his shots in 17 minutes, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge may have missed his best chance to trade him, writes Keith Smith on CelticsBlog. Rozier will be a restricted free agent this summer.

Original Article

By: Arthur Hill

Gordon Hayward Fractures His Ankle

Written by Andrew Sharp at SI.com

“Oh my goodness, Hayward came down so hard,” Kevin Harlan was saying halfway through the first quarter of the TNT broadcast. And then a second later: “Hayward broke his leg. Hayward has broken his leg. Hayward has broken his leg.” Then more silence. “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. And that is how quickly a season can change.” Then Reggie Miller: “This is unbelievable. I mean…” For the next 90 seconds, the broadcast team went silent. All you could hear were murmurs from the crowd while the camera panned across stunned fans and players.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling in the building,” Harlan said near the end of the game.

Watching at home, there was the initial confusion, and then horror that set in watching everyone in the arena recoil at once. And then, obviously, as he grimaced and nodded toward LeBron James and the Cavs while being carried off the floor, everyone felt awful for Hayward.

But the whole time, there was also a kind of disbelief that any of this was really happening. Hayward’s injury would’ve been awful in any game, but five minutes into the first game of the NBA season, it seemed like some kind of alternate timeline nightmare for basketball fans. This was Paul George’s Team USA injury, with the entire sport watching, in a game that we’d all planned our week around. The injury was bad enough that announcers could diagnose him seconds afterward from 50 feet away. Various players ran off the Cavs bench. The Celtics played the next hour looking dazed and lifeless.

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Gordon Hayward Reunites With Brad Stevens, Signs With Celtics

Written by Chris Haynes at ESPN.com

Gordon Hayward plans to sign with the Boston Celtics, sources told ESPN, choosing their offer over those from the Utah Jazz, his team since 2010, and the Miami Heat.

Hayward’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, however, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that his client “hasn’t made a decision yet. We are still working through it.”

Jazz president Steven Starks tweeted that he trusts Bartelstein’s word that no decision has been made.

Bartelstein also told the Boston Globe that although Hayward initially planned to announce his decision Tuesday, he was unsure if that would still be the case.

“That was the goal, but now we’ve got to kind of regroup here a bit,” he told the Globe.

In Boston, Hayward would be reunited with Brad Stevens, who also coached him in college at Butler.

Hayward’s decision would mark the second consecutive Fourth of July that a high-profile free agent would switch teams in free agency. Last year, Kevin Durant announced that he was leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors.

It also would mark the the second straight summer that the Celtics have successfully recruited a coveted player on the free-agent market. Last year, Al Horford signed with Boston.

Boston would now need a series of transactions to create cap space for Gordon Hayward. The Celtics would have to pull the qualifying offer on Kelly Olynyk, renounce free agents Jonas Jerebko, James Young, Gerald Green and waive the contracts of Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson (or trade). The Celtics would be left with $27.6M in room and likely need to move the contract of Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart. Trading Rozier would have the Celtics short $1M of a max salary a lot.

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The Death Of The Small Market: How NBA Stars Are Heading For More Exposure

Written by Tim Bonetemps at Washington Post.com

Russell Westbrook stood on a stage in New York on Monday night, moments after winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, and began delivering a long list of thank yous. He mentioned virtually everyone who works for the Oklahoma City Thunder — many of whom were in the building — and then asked five of his teammates to join him.

It was a fitting capstone to what was a remarkable season for Westbrook and a cool moment for a franchise that was gut-punched last summer when Kevin Durant left in free agency.  It also made it seem certain that Westbrook — whose award makes him eligible for the new designated player exception, allowing him to sign a greater-than-$200 million contract extension with the Thunder when free agency begins Saturday – will stay in Oklahoma City for the long term.

But when Westbrook was asked a few minutes later about the potential of signing an extension with the Thunder, he did everything he could to avoid an answer.

“Man, tonight is so important for me, and obviously with the contract and stuff coming up, it’s not really on my mind at the moment, honestly,” Westbrook said. “I’m just overwhelmed with a tremendous amount of blessings I’ve been able to get to be able to get this award.

“Man, I’m just thinking about tonight, and then after that, I’ll move on.”

Not the most reassuring of answers for a Thunder fan.

Westbrook’s situation is one of a few fascinating ones involving star players and small market teams entering free agency this offseason, which kicks off at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. All have the potential to show whether the efforts to strengthen a team’s ability to hang onto its stars have been successful – or if the league has to go back to the drawing board.

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Paul Pierce Tells Celtics To Trade #1 Pick

Written by AJ Neuharth-Keusch at USAToday.com

The Boston Celtics are at a bit of a crossroads.

Not only are they in the Eastern Conference finals as the No. 1 seed, but they also just landed the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft thanks to a 2013 trade with the Brooklyn Nets that’s still paying dividends. The only problem? It appears, especially after Wednesday night’s Game 1 rout, that they don’t have nearly enough to get past LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Not this year, and judging by James’ continued dominance, probably not next year, either.

This dilemma, albeit a good one to have, begs the question: Should the Celtics hold on to the pick (likely Washington’s Markelle Fultz) and continue to build for the future, or should they take a more win-now approach and move the pick for an All-Star wing such as the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George or the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler?

If it were up to Paul Pierce — the Celtics legend who just completed a 19-year Hall of Fame career — Boston would go with the latter.

“You trade this pick, because he cannot help the Celtics get over the top,” Pierce said while making an appearance on ESPN’s The Jump on Wednesday. “The window is now. … You’re a 50-win team, you’re the No. 1 seed. You have to build on this momentum. If you can acquire a Paul George, a Jimmy Butler or a Gordon (Hayward) from Utah, you have to do it.”

George and Butler — whose names have been tossed around on the Celtics trade front for some time — are under contract with their respective teams. Butler has two years left until he can become a free agent, while George, who has expressed interest in joining his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, can opt out his contract after the 2017-18 season.

Hayward — who played college ball under Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler — can opt out of his contract and test the unrestricted free agency waters this summer.

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Heat Thinking About Adding Hayward In Summer

Written by Matt Moore at CBSSports.com

Most of this summer’s big-name free agents are near-locks to re-sign where they’re at. It would be at least slightly stunning to see Chris Paul or Blake Griffin leave the Clippers, and no one would ever imagine Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant leaving the Warriors. But one name who is thought to at least be somewhat available, or open to conversations, and who could have a real impact in a terrible free agency class, is Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward.

The New York Daily News, in a delightful column highlighting how much of a failure Phil Jackson has been as GM compared to Pat Riley, notes that the Heat could be one team he looks at seriously this summer.

Riley has a home court advantage because Miami is a prime free agent destination. The weather, the zero state income tax and the chance to play for a top franchise are too good for a lot of players to turn down. There are already whispers that if Utah can’t re-sign Gordon Hayward he could end up in Miami.

via Jackson still far from matching Riley’s front office success – NY Daily News.

That’s a pretty soft rumor, but it’s interesting. The Heat started out 11-30 and are now on the verge of securing a playoff spot. Goran Dragic has been great at times, Hassan Whiteside is a double-double machine, Dion Waiters has impressed, and they’ve had good players take larger roles on this team, while young guys like Rodney McGruder developed. The questions are about where they go from here.

Does adding Hayward make them a contender? No, but it gets them closer. They could use that core to build a pitch for a true marquee free agent to put them back into the title picture, at least theoretically.

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Jazz Top Knicks With Returning Hayward


Written by Tony Jones at The Salt Lake Tribune.com

The moment happened in the first quarter of Utah’s 114-109 win over the New York Knicks, the ultimate test of how well Gordon Hayward’s broken finger had actually healed.

Utah’s star small forward posted up against Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. He turned and shot a fadeaway. Whack! Anthony smacked at the basketball, but came down full force on Hayward’s finger. After grimacing in pain, and pulling at his splint, Hayward calmly walked to the free-throw line and sank two shots. Then, he turned, ran down the Madison Square Garden floor, and smiled.

He was officially back.

“It felt great to be out there,” Hayward deadpanned.

In what turned out to be Utah’s fourth win, Hayward made his season debut on Sunday afternoon, scoring a team-high 28 points and grabbing five rebounds. He shot 6 for 17 overall from the field, missing several shots he normally puts home. He made all 14 of his foul shots. Beyond his scoring, his overall presence clearly made the difference for the Jazz against a hot-shooting New York team. Hayward was Utah’s best player before he broke his finger in the preseason four weeks ago. He was certainly the best player on the floor in front of a sellout crowd at MSG.

“His return was huge,” Jazz point guard George Hill said. “Not only offensively. But getting rebounds and playing defense. He made big plays for us all game.”

The Jazz moved to 4-3 on the season, and did it behind a balanced effort and perhaps their best offensive performance of the year — no coincidence with Hayward in the lineup. They shot 50 percent from the field and got to the foul line 35 times, making 30 of them. They turned the ball over just 10 times, and they consistently put pressure on a Knicks defense that surrendered 78 points to Utah in the first three quarters.

That allowed the Jazz to take over for good in the fourth. With New York starting the final 12 minutes with its two stars — Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis — resting on the bench, Utah promptly went on a 7-0 run to turn an 80-78 deficit into an 85-80 advantage. The Jazz stretched the lead to 90-82 when Joe Johnson hit a 3-pointer that bounced off the rim, hit the top of the backboard and nestled softly into the hoop.

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