Biggest Early-Season Hurdle for Every NBA Team to Clear

Meaningful NBA action is on the horizon. Rejoice. Be glad. Dust off your foam fingers. Break out your unseasonably fashioned jerseys. Bid your family and conventional sleeping habits farewell.

Embrace grace periods.

Early parts of the regular season are basically an extension of preseason play. Teams are still working out the kinks and shoring up rotations, trying to clear any number of obstacles that summer sabbaticals, injuries and turnover have put in their way.

This is the story of those obstacles. The biggest ones. There are so many for every team—including the frequently flawless San Antonio Spurs—to overcome. Our sole goal is to isolate the most pivotal barriers standing between each squad and progress.

It could be injuries or lineup headaches, a complete lack of defense or an unhealthy amount of mid-range jumpers. A case of not enough Zaza Pachulia or too much LeBron James. It could be anything. And whatever it is, we’re going to find it.

Don’t work yourself into a panicked state of incontinence, though. We’re all in this together. Your linens are safe. So grab a friend, review the buddy system and let’s go hurdle-hunting.

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Bird praises Hill on eve of season (Yahoo Sports)

The Indiana Pacers need a big year from George Hill to help make up for the absence of Paul George, and Larry Bird thinks the point guard is ready for the challenge. With Indiana set to open the season on Wednesday against Philadelphia, Bird singled out Hill as one of the players who could have a bigger role this year with George sidelined by a broken right leg. ”We got some guys we think are going to step up and play well,” Bird said Saturday night at a charity event. ”I thought George Hill was excellent during training camp;

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Charlotte Hornets 2014-15 Season Preview: Roster Breakdown, Win-Loss Prediction

If you’ve been paying any attention to the Kansas City Royals’ remarkable run to the World Series, then you know that only means one thing.

Basketball is upon us!

A lot has changed since the last time an NBA game took place in Charlotte, and the Eastern Conference is going to look radically different. Some guy named LeBron James took his talents elsewhere, along with Kevin Love. Paul George broke his leg and ruined the Indiana Pacers chances of running the East again. Paul Pierce left Brooklyn for the Washington Wizards, and the Heat replaced the King with Luol Deng and Charlotte’s very own Josh McRoberts

However, the biggest change in the conference could still be coming from lovely North Carolina. Lance Stephenson came to town. P.J. Hairston and Noah Vonleh showed up as one of the franchise’s better draft hauls in quite some time. Al Jefferson fixed his foot. By some act of a higher power, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist might have learned how to shoot a basketball, and best of all, the Bobcats completely rebranded themselves as the Charlotte Hornets.

Fresh off the franchise’s second playoff appearance, (and second sweep), the Hornets are more than equipped to ring in this new era with a loud statement. After Chicago and Cleveland, this conference is presumably wide open. Charlotte came within one win of its franchise record last season at 43-39, and with good health, the Hornets should have no trouble eclipsing that number this year.

Enough speculating, let’s dive right into it. Here is the full preview with everything you need to know about your 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets.

 

Best Five

To some surprise, the Bobcats’ best statistical lineup last year came during the brief 65 minutes shared by Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Anthony Tolliver, Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson. Granted, that is a small sample size. Their most frequent lineup by far was Walker, Gerald Henderson, MKG, McRoberts and Jefferson.

Even though the 65-minute lineup played such a small amount of time together, a few things stuck out from their numbers playing together.

The unit was by far Charlotte’s best outside shooting lineup, namely because of Sessions’ ability to create helped free up Walker to light it up. Tolliver was an assassin all season, and that lineup shot 20 percent better than their opponents.

That lineup also produced the team’s best statistical group when it came to assists and field goals made and attempted. Charlotte had huge advantages in all three categories with that lineup, likely because the ball movement was much more efficient with Sessions in the backcourt, and the team ran more with Zeller in the frontcourt.

I may be digging deep into my basketball nerd encyclopedia, but there is something to be made of the virtues of ball movement, shooting and running the floor—aspects that will get more emphasis with this new Hornets squad. Because of that, Charlotte’s best lineup in 2014-15 will likely be Walker, Stephenson, MKG, Zeller and Jefferson.

Those five could dismantle teams in a variety of ways on offense by playing a brand of basketball that last year’s Bobcats displayed for really only 65 minutes all season. Stephenson provides a second ball-handler in the backcourt, as well as another distributor. He and Walker have shown in preseason that they are going to be ruthless attacking the rim and making flashy passes all over the court. Zeller‘s energy and athleticism will be much different than the fundamental style McRoberts played. A consistent MKG would just be the icing on the cake.

 

Youth Movement

When thinking of this team’s star-in-the-making, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Cody Zeller would be the first choices that come to mind. However, neither is as likely to be as a big a star this year as Lance Stephenson.

To many, this kid might have already become a star. He has been one of the driving forces the past couple of years behind the Pacers’ ascension to the top of the East. However, he just turned 24, and still has plenty of room to improve his game. His fiery style of play fits just what you’d expect from a Brooklyn guard. Pairing him with the Bronx-born Kemba Walker is sure to provide one of the NBA’s most dynamic, talented and underrated backcourtsThese two are no strangers to one another, as well.

Stephenson will act as the Swiss Army Knife that coach Steve Clifford did not have at his disposal last season. He is 100 percent different than anyone else from last year’s Bobcats roster, and if he can continue to improve in terms of attacking the rim and shooting from the outside, he could make another leap to become an All-Star.

Gerald Henderson was the starter last year, and he had a usage rate of 22.1, higher than Stephenson’s 19.4. That just shows how much more effective Stephenson can be than Henderson, what kind of upgrade he can be.

Henderson’s development has been stagnant over the past couple of seasons, whereas Stephenson is going to be more than ready to prove to the Pacers and the rest of the league why he is worthy of much more than the three-year, $27 million deal he signed this past offseason.

One might say he was even…Born Ready.

 

Team Award Predictions

Best Offensive Weapon: Al Jefferson

Big Al had his best campaign last year since he left Minnesota. He was the main reason this squad catapulted to 43 wins. Many were surprised that he took a deal to play in such a small market, but he made a massive contribution to the franchise a year ago and now has this team headed toward unprecedented levels of success.

It was a shame to see his season end with the plantar fasciitis injury in the playoffs, as his Bobcats were hanging in there with the mighty Miami Heat, for the most part. Another year in this system should only help him, and now with an improved roster around him, he could perform even better.

 

Defensive Stopper: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

His improved jumper should actually help him on defense. It will make him less of a liability on that end of the court, resulting in more minutes for MKG.. It will also help to tire out the man guarding him, resulting in said player having less energy to expend on offense. Ironing out that hitch in his shot should go a long way for him.

Having a jumper that is even somewhat respectable will boost his confidence. MKG seemed lost at times last season, and it was clear that his ineptitude on offense hampered his defense a little bit. Look for him to go from being a good perimeter defender to a great one.

 

Biggest Surprise: P.J. Hairston

He won’t be a star right away, but there is a role on this team that he can fill following the departure of Anthony Tolliver. Hairston is a fearless shooter, and so far in preseason and summer league, he has proven he can be a legitimate threat from the outside.

Hairston is not necessarily a chucker, but he could still use more discipline in shot selection. That much was evident in summer league when he was the main offensive option. On this roster, he will mostly be used in the early going as an outside shooting threat off the bench. With some early continued success, Hairston could force his way into some bigger minutes, and success on his part might even push the front office into dealing Gerald Henderson.

 

When The Dust Settles…

I’m predicting a 46-36 record for this team and the fifth seed in the conference. To me, this is tentative. I strongly believe if Hornet players mesh together that this team can surprise the NBA world and push its way higher up the standings, possibly as high as third.

Winning 46 games would be a franchise record, but this team should have bigger aspirations. It is time to make noise as one of the big up-and-comers in the Eastern Conference and get to at least the second round of the playoffs. They got their feet wet last season, and now it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make a deeper run once they get to the postseason.

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Steve Nash throughout his career

      
 

 

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3 Reasons Why Giannis Antetokounmpo Will Win Most Improved Player This Season

Entering his second season, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is poised for a breakout year. The 19-year-old boasts loads of potential and has a chance to establish himself as one of the faces of Milwaukee’s future.

This 2014-15 season will be one of significant improvement for Antetokounmpo. In fact, it is feasible for him to become a candidate for the NBA‘s Most Improved Player Award.

And if all goes well, he may just win it.

 

Summer of Growth

A big reason why Antetokounmpo will significantly improve this season is the growth he endured over the summer, both as a player as well as physically.

Not only did the 19-year-old hone his skills in the NBA Summer League, but he gained invaluable experience playing for the Greek national team in the 2014 FIBA World Cup as well.

The “Greek Freak” finished the tournament with respectable averages of 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 16 minutes of play per game. This includes an exceptional performance against Puerto Rico, when he produced 15 points and three boards on 45.5 percent shooting from the floor.

As far as summer league goes, Antetokounmpo impressed, averaging 17 points, 5.7 rebounds, 46.2 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from three.

Through it all, the forward focused on developing numerous aspects of his game, including his ball-handling skills and ability to make plays in transition.

He also increased his confidence, telling Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel that he feels “more confident and more comfortable on the court.”

This will all play a major role in the improvement Antetokounmpo experiences in 2014-15. He is expected to fill multiple roles in Milwaukee, and his busy summer helped him transform into a more versatile player.

And of course, if he plays numerous positions well, this will subsequently lead to more opportunities for statistical growth.

Mix in the fact the forward shot up in height from 6’9″ to an intimidating 6’11″, and it is clear he boasts a real chance at winning MIP.

 

Versatility

As mentioned, Antetokounmpo‘s versatility will serve as a huge factor in his improvement.

Standing at 6’11″ and possessing the skills of a wing player, the 19-year-old is capable of filling every single spot on the court, including point guard.

Bucks head coach Jason Kidd has said as much (via Gardner):

When we talk about basketball players, we try to stay away from labeling. We want them to use their natural instincts to make plays and find ways to win.

Giannis being a point guard, I think he can start the offense. He can go coast to coast, and he’s very comfortable with the ball in the open court.

In essence, Kidd plans on utilizing Antetokounmpo according to each specific situation. If this includes placing the forward at point every now and then—something that happened in both summer league and preseason—Kidd trusts him enough to fill that role.

Coming from one of the best point guards to ever play the game, this is incredibly high praise.

It’s also realistic. From cutting off-ball towards the basket to driving the lane and creating opportunities for teammates, the teenager can be productive no matter what position he plays.

Not only is Antetokounmpo flexible offensively, but with his athleticism and 7’3″ wingspan, he boasts the means to defend multiple spots as well.

Need him to contain a 2-guard? He’ll implement his lateral quickness to do so. Want him to stop a center from scoring inside? The youngster will use a lengthy, outstretched arm to block his shot.

Antetokounmpo‘s versatility will help him improve tremendously in his second season, as it will allow him to produce in a plethora of ways on both ends of the court.

The following video of the “Greek Freak” in preseason perfectly exemplifies this potential:

He utilizes his height and reach to block power forward Taj Gibson on one end, then follows it by applying his guard-like speed and explosiveness to finish with a powerful slam on the other.

If he consistently gets it done like this throughout the year, the Most Improved Player Award is undoubtedly within reach.

 

Increased Play Time

In order for Antetokounmpo to successfully increase his output, however, he must receive more minutes than the 24.6 per game he logged last season.

Heading into 2014-15, it seems the 19-year-old will get exactly that.

The Milwaukee roster consists of a young nucleus, including 19-year-old rookie Jabari Parker, 22-year-old point guard Brandon Knight and 25-year-old center Larry Sanders.

Also, the Bucks are by no means a playoff-caliber team, even in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.

A postseason appearance is achievable in two to three years time, but achieving that level of play will rely heavily on the continued development of Milwaukee’s rising stars. Consequently, Kidd and the rest of the organization will place a heavy focus on giving their youngsters on-court experience together.

Of course, the “Greek Freak” is a critical part of the Bucks’ youthful concoction, and he will get a lot of playing time as a result.

The specific number of minutes he will play is not entirely clear at this point. He is expected to start, so he will likely accumulate anywhere between 27-32 minutes per night.

By logging roughly five more minutes per game than last season, Antetokounmpo will have the chance to drastically improve upon his rookie averages of 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists.

As a result, he will place himself right in the thick of the Most Improved Player conversation.

 

(All stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, RealGM.com and Yahoo.com)

Josh Haar is a NBA contributor on Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JHaarNBA.

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Yao Ming Poses Next to Someone Who’s Actually Taller Than Him, Sun Mingming

Former NBA player Yao Ming is 7’6″ and dwarfs nearly everyone he stands next to in photos. Sun Mingming might be the only person on earth who has the ability to make Yao look relatively short.

The 7’9″ former Chinese basketball player was seen with The Rock recently and made him look tiny. For reference, Kaka, the soccer player in the middle, is 6’1″. 

[reddit]

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Kings’ Gay, McLemore cleared to play in opener (Yahoo Sports)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay and guard Ben McLemore have been cleared to play in the team’s season opener this week.

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Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Chicago Bulls 10/24/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Chicago Bulls looked to score a preseason win on Friday night when they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Bulls continued to reintegrate point guard Derrick Rose into the offense and faced a tough test from the young Timberwolves.

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Milwaukee Bucks: Rookie of the Year debate

In an article on NBA.com, there was a survey of the league’s general managers giving their opinions on who would win rookie of the year this season.
Jabari Parker was the clear favorite in the voting, getting 75% of the votes. Behind him was Andrew Wiggins with 17.9%. Nerlens Noel and Marcus Smart were the other two vote-getters.
Parker came into the league as an “NBA ready” prospect and has certainly shown his skills in the preseason so far. However, let’s take a look at the other vote getters as well to see who has the best chance to win rookie of the year.
Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker should be the go-to-guy right away in Milwaukee. In his last preseason game, Parker scored 18 points and had nine rebounds. He will be given the freedom and the playing time to be one of the team’s best players. The offense will be looking to see how they can best utilize Parker when he’s on the court. He’s already one of the most popular and recognizable players on the team, and he hasn’t even played a minute

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East previews: Southeast

LeBron James’ exit has the Wizards, Hornets, Hawks and Magic looking to dethrone the Heat.

      
 

 

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