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

LeBron’s 51-Point Outing a Reminder of What James, Lakers Are Capable of

It wasn’t so long ago that Lakers forward LeBron James was running alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat. From 2010-2014, the trio had its way with any competition that happened to step on the American Airlines Arena’s court. When James departed for the Cavaliers in the summer of 2014, he maintained his statistical dominance at the venue over the four-year span, but came up on the losing end each of his four visits. So Los Angeles’ 113-97 win over the Heat on Sunday night was a sort of triumph for James in itself. Perhaps most importantly, for his current squad, it was a glimpse into the past through the lens of the present with a focus on the future.

James’s 51-point uproar was nothing short of spectacular. He scored on 19-of-31 field goals attempts, including a scorching 6-for-8 from three-point range. The performance marked the 13th 50-point outing of his career, something that, at his age, is significant. At 33 years old, he’s the second-oldest Laker to ever score 50 in a single game. (The oldest was Kobe Bryant, who, at 37, dropped 60 in his final career game back in 2016.) Sunday’s total marked his second 40-point effort of this season, making him the third player to produce such a score in their 16th season or later (he joined Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, according to ESPN Stats & Info).

When James puts together performances like Sunday’s, there’s little that can prevent his side from coming away with the winning result. While LeBron was a member of the Heat and paired with Wade, Bosh and the rest of their cast, it was almost assuredly true. With Cleveland, it was mostly true. With Los Angeles, it’s still unknown, however, it is encouraging that each of his 40-plus nights has resulted in victories so far (the other came against the Blazers two games ago).

On Sunday night, James wasn’t alone. Forwards Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram added 15 and 13 points apiece, respectively. Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 19 off the bench, draining 3 of 5 treys. Center Tyson Chandler’s impact was felt on the glass, where he collected a game-high 11 boards. The win was collective, even as Lonzo Ball (two points on 1-for-6 shooting, seven assists, six rebounds) and Lance Stephenson (zero points on 0-for-4 shooting, four rebounds) were ineffective as scorers. The formula to victory wasn’t desirable, but compliant.

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By: Kaelen Jones

KD Drills OT Game Winner Over Lonzo Ball To Win On Kobe’s Jersey Retirement Night

Written by Drew Garrison at Silver Screen and Roll.com

The Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors put on an exciting game on a night all about honoring Kobe Bryant, but the Warriors would pull away 116-114 in overtime. The Lakers once again pushed the Warriors to the brink, but once again couldn’t close things out in extra time.

Kevin Durant put the finishing touches on the Lakers in OT, but overall the defense did a good job keeping him in check. Durant finished the night with 36 points, but shot 10-of-29 from the field. Klay Thompson added in 17 points, but on 6-of-24 shooting.

Overall the Lakers did a fairly good job of disrupting the Warriors’ offense, holding them to 40.2 percent shooting from the field. Once again it was horrific free-throw shooting (22-35) and turnovers (12) dooming an otherwise-solid effort from the Lakers.

The Warriors were without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, but even 25 points off the bench from Kyle Kuzma — putting on a show in front of Kobe — weren’t enough to take advantage of Golden State being shorthanded.

Lonzo Ball scored 16 points with six rebounds and six assists. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continues racking up the attempts, going 4-of-17 on the night.

The Lakers are off Tuesday, traveling to face the Houston Rockets on Wednesday before bouncing back up to face the Warriors again on Friday. The game, ultimately, served as the backdrop to a much bigger night honoring one of the greatest professional athletes ever.

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Luol Deng Seeking Out of LA, Wants To Play

Written by Ramona Shelbourne at ESPN.com

After Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. broke a bone in his left hand last week, there was a brief possibility the team might replace him in the starting lineup with veteran power forward Luol Deng.

Instead, the Lakers started rookie Kyle Kuzma, who proceeded to put up double-doubles in both of his starts. Kuzma has played so well, he might never come out of the starting lineup — even when Nance is ready to return in four to six weeks.

Deng remained right where he has been for most of the season — on the inactive list while the Lakers prioritize developing their younger players over getting value out of the man they signed to a four-year, $72 million contract in the summer of 2016.

“It definitely hurts,” Deng told ESPN on Monday after the Lakers practiced. “But the only answer for me now is to prove myself away from L.A. I’m not asked to play, I’m not in the rotation, so I can’t prove myself here.

“Most of these young guys don’t understand the business of basketball, so if I come in here and I’m angry every day, I’m taking something away from them. I have to be smiling, I have to be in the best mood I can be in, because they’re living their dream of being an NBA player.”

Deng said he and his agent, Jeff Austin from Octagon sports management, have been working with the Lakers to resolve the situation, either via trade or buyout. He understands it may take weeks, months or even years to settle, as he has two years and nearly $37 million remaining on his contract after this season.

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Wizards Fall To Lakers, And Lavar Ball Was Right

Written by Dan Steinberg at Washington Post.com

“Never question LaVar Ball again,” a forlorn Steve Buckhantz said well after 1 a.m. on Thursday morning, as Ball rejoiced over a Lakers victory. That wasn’t how this night was supposed to end.

Basketball’s baldest provocateur somehow turned an October game between the Washington Wizards and the Lakers into an actual Event by warning the Wizards to beware their trip to L.A., since his son wouldn’t dream of losing twice in a week. Then came Marcin Gortat’s social-media prediction that John Wall would torture young Lonzo, and Wall’s promise to show “no mercy,” and Paul Pierce’s repeated claims that Wall was the best point guard in the game, and Wizards fans swooning over Wall’s $1,100 pregame Angry Cat Gucci sweater, and a general anticipation of calculated annihilation delivered by a veteran at the height of his powers upon an overmatched rookie whose father wouldn’t stop writing verbal checks for made-up amounts.

It didn’t start that way, but even well into the (very very) late night, you could still sort of imagine a recovery. As sloppily as they played through three quarters, the Wizards still led by 10 in the fourth, when NBC Sports Washington — the team’s broadcasting partner — put LaVar on the air. He offered up a few more laughers.

About Wall: “I don’t care if he was a 12-time all-star; he gotta play,” the elder Ball said. “You can get beat on any given night. So all that all-star stuff don’t count unless you out here today doing your thing.”

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Lakers Butthurt that John Wall Is Going to Dominate Lonzo Tonight

Written by Ohm Youngmisuk at ESPN.com

Brandon Ingram said Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers did not take kindly to Marcin Gortat’s tweet about how John Wall “will torture” the rookie point guard when the Washington Wizards visit L.A. on Wednesday.

“Yeah, of course we did,” Ingram said when asked if he saw Gortat’s tweet on Monday. “Everyone has social media, definitely saw it. The competitor in Lonzo, of course he didn’t take it so well and, with his teammates behind him, we didn’t take it so well.”

The Wizards center was responding to a video of LaVar Ball saying, “Washington is coming in Wednesday? They better beware because Lonzo ain’t losing again [this week].”

Asked about Gortat’s bravado toward his matchup, Wall said he plans to bring his A-game on Wednesday.

“Nah, no mercy,” Wall told The Washington Post on Monday. “Certain matchups you really get up for. Like when you play [Golden State Warriorsguard] Steph [Curry], you definitely want to have a good game. I’m playing against [Ball]. [Gortat] said what he said about me. I didn’t say anything. His dad has been talking … that makes me want to go out there and lead my team and play the best I can play.”

The unflappable and low-key Lonzo Ball said, “I don’t pay no mind to it” when asked about what Gortat tweeted.

“I already know my teammates have my back,” Ball added. “So we’re going to go out there, we’re going to play and hopefully get a win.”

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Lonzo Ball Had A Rough Debut

Written by Colin Ward-Henniger at CBS Sports.com

The highly anticipated NBA debut of Lonzo Ball is in the books, and it was … well … at least it’s over. The Lakers were blown out by the Clippers, 108-92, in the season-opener for both teams Thursday night.

Ball had a rough start to his NBA career, finishing with three points, nine rebounds four assists, a steal and a block in his first game. Here are some takeaways from his performance.

It can only go up from here

Lonzo probably came into this game with the most unrealistic expectations of any rookie in NBA history. This isn’t LeBron James, a 6-foot-8 powerhouse who looked like he was 30 when he was 18. Ball isn’t the type of player who can go out and physically dominate a game with his athleticism, so it’s going to take a while for him to find his place in the league.

That being said, the debut was rough. Three points on 1-of-6 shooting just isn’t going to cut it if this team is going to be successful — he needs to be at least somewhat of a scoring threat. The low assist number was as much a product of his teammates not making shots as his lack of vision. He also didn’t really get a chance to showcase his talent in transition, where he tends to thrive.

Lonzo’s first points

Considering how poorly he shot from deep in the summer league and in preseason, it was a bit surprising to see Lonzo connect from 3-point range for his first (and only) NBA points with just under five minutes left in the second quarter.

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Lakers Charged $500k for Tampering with Paul George

Written by ESPN News Staff at ESPN.com

The Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday were fined $500,000 for violating the NBA’s anti-tampering rule after general manager Rob Pelinka was found to have had contact with Paul George’s agent after the team had already been warned.

The league said Pelinka’s contact with George’s agent “constituted a prohibited expression of interest in the player while he was under contract” with the Indiana Pacers.

The fine followed an investigation, conducted by an independent law firm, after the Pacers filed tampering charges.

According to the league, the anti-tampering rule prohibits teams from interfering with other teams’ contractual relationships with NBA players, including by publicly expressing interest in a player who is currently under contract with another team, or by informing that player’s agent of your franchise’s interest.

The league said the punishment stems from Pelinka’s contact with George’s agent after the NBA had already warned the team about tampering following Lakers president Magic Johnson’s nationally televised comments about George on April 20.

“We respect and accept the NBA’s decision regarding this matter,” Pelinka said in a statement. “On behalf of the Los Angeles Lakers, I want to express our regret over this unfortunate incident to both our fans and the NBA.”

The Lakers’ outside counsel, Adam Streisand, also said in the statement, “The Lakers organization is pleased that this thorough investigation has been brought to a close — and we can assure the fans that the Lakers will be hyper-vigilant going forward to make sure this is never an issue again.”

George informed the Pacers in June that he planned to opt out of his contract in 2018 and intended to sign a free-agent deal with the Lakers. He was then traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in a deal that was finalized on July 6.

The possible penalties for the Lakers included a loss of draft picks, fines up to $5 million, future restrictions on acquiring George and possible suspensions of offending officials.

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Lamar Odom Believes He’d Still Be Playing If Not Traded From Lakers

Written by Adi Joseph at FTW.com

The downward spiral that put Lamar Odom in a Nevada hospital on kidney dialysis in 2015 formed through the complicated tapestry of Odom’s personal history and life at that time. Many blamed his relationship with the Kardashians or his difficult and often tragic upbringing.

But few individual events in the years leading up to his fall seemed to impact Odom quite like being traded by the Los Angeles Lakers. In December 2011, coming off a Sixth Man of the Year-winning season, Odom was dealt along with a second-round pick to the Dallas Mavericks for a future first-rounder. The Lakers essentially wanted to get his $8.9 million salary off their books.

Six years later, having made it all the way through those scary days on a hospital bed and getting himself and his life back in shape, Odom still seems as rankled by that trade as he did when he broke down on his former TV show, Khloe & Lamar, over it at the time. He spoke recently with The Vertical’s Shams Charania:

“That trade from the Lakers basically ended my career and purpose,” Odom told The Vertical. “I was never really myself ever again. Being in L.A., the structure, the people I knew, it hurt leaving. I had great memories with the Lakers, with Kobe and Pau. That was a special time in my life.

“I got traded the season after we lost to Dallas in the playoffs, and I had won Sixth Man of the Year for the team. To trade me after winning Sixth Man of the Year … what else do I got to do? Why?

“I think about it all the time, about how much I had left in the tank. I had issues going on. But barring injury, could I play in the NBA today? I could play. I should still be playing.”

Odom, 37, wouldn’t be the oldest player in the NBA if he were still playing. Fellow 1999 draftees Jason Terry, Metta World Peace and Manu Ginobili played in the league last season, as did 1998 picks Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter — the latter three all have deals for next season.

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Pacers Filed Tampering Charges Against Lakers

Written by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne at ESPN.com

The possibility of impermissible contact between Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and four-time All-Star Paul George is at the crux of an NBA probe into possible tampering, league sources tell ESPN.

The Indiana Pacers filed tampering charges with the NBA against the Lakers, and the league issued a statement Sunday saying that a probe is underway.

The Lakers are denying the allegations filed by the Pacers, insisting that there is no evidence of tampering, and they expect to be cleared in the matter, a team source told ESPN.

“As the NBA’s statement made clear, we cannot comment about the specifics of any ongoing investigation,” the Lakers said in a statement. “We can confirm, however, that we are cooperating fully with the NBA in the hope of clearing our name as soon as possible.”

If the league office’s probe can prove the Lakers were guilty of tampering with George while he was under contract with Indiana, Los Angeles can be punished in several ways, including a loss of draft picks, financial fines up to $5 million, future restrictions on acquiring George and possible suspensions of offending officials.

If the NBA were to find evidence that the Lakers had engaged in a side agreement with George, he could be prohibited from signing a free-agent deal with Los Angeles or being part of a trade to the Lakers.

Nevertheless, it is unclear if any evidence exists that could incriminate the Lakers or Johnson. The NBA is using the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to probe the matter, the NBA said.

The story on the tampering charges involving George was first reported by Peter Vecsey.

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