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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Stories by Aaron Mansfield:

10 early NBA Rookie of the Year candidates

Luka Doncic

We’re a third of the way through the NBA season, and a number of players have staked an early claim for postseason hardware. Recently, we reviewed 10 early candidates for MVP.

Though no rookie will enter that conversation this season (the last rookie to win the award was Wes Unseld in 1968-69), a few first-year players look like future MVP candidates. Here are 10 rookies who have gotten off to a hot start – the leading candidates, at this point, to win Rookie of the Year.

10. Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

Bridges made an interesting decision choosing to return to Michigan State for his sophomore year. Though he had a solid season, he didn’t help his draft stock, and he may have hurt it slightly. A top prospect out of high school, he fell to No. 12 in the draft. In his rookie campaign, Bridges isn’t putting up jaw-dropping numbers — 7.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. But he’s playing 20 minutes a night for a surprisingly good Charlotte team (currently No. 6 in the East), and he’s shooting 48.4 percent from the field. Last week, he dropped a career-high 16 points and connected on three of his six three-point attempts. Look for his role in James Borrego’s offense to continue to increase.

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10 early NBA MVP candidates

Joel Embiid

The NBA season is young, but a number of fascinating storylines have already emerged. Jimmy Butler got his wish and was traded to a contender. The Warriors have managed obvious tension between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. LeBron James and the up-and-down Lakers are figuring things out on a nightly basis. The red-hot league continues to produce compelling storylines.

We are now a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 season, and a handful of players have stood above the pack as the best in the league. Who will win the top individual honor at the NBA Awards in June? Here are 10 early MVP candidates.

10. Victor Oladipo, Pacers

Last season’s Most Improved Player took a big leap when he transitioned from Oklahoma City to Indiana, and he’s taken another leap this season. The former Indiana Hoosier is back to his roots, and he’s become not only a fan favorite but also one of the most dominant guards in the league. After going toe-to-toe with LeBron and the Cavs in the first round of last postseason (it’s still crazy the Pacers didn’t win that series), Oladipo entered this season with newfound confidence. Oladipo’s two-way play makes him so impressive. Yes, he’s efficient and explosive on the offensive end, but he’s also one of the most dynamic defenders in the league. He’s averaging 1.6 steals in addition to his 21.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game this season.

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10 NBA players off to a hot start

Giannis Antetokounmpo

We’re now four weeks into the new NBA season, and several teams have come out of the gates scorching. The Raptors and Bucks look like the class of the East, the Warriors appear borderline unbeatable, and the young Nuggets have shown they’re ready to contend now.

Those teams’ impressive starts could largely be attributed to the stellar play of their stars. Here are 10 players — including at least one from each of those teams — off to a hot start.

10. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

Everyone seemed to be saying the same thing about the Blazers heading into this season: they’re toast. Portland had an impressive 2017-18 regular season, but suffered a brutal first-round postseason exit at the hands of Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Despite Portland’s regular-season success, Terry Stotts’ job security was in question. Well, Portland has started strong (10-3) yet again, and Damian Lillard is a big reason for that. He’s currently averaging 26.0 points per game on a career-best field-goal percentage (46.5), and free-throw percentage (94.0). He recently hung 30 on LeBron and the Lakers. Lillard looks poised to have a breakthrough campaign thrusting him into MVP contention. He’s on a mission to prove Portland is a genuine contender in the loaded West.

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10 NBA players off to a disappointing start

Andre Iguodala face

It’s far too early for any NBA fans to be panicking — we’re only three weeks into the season! But that doesn’t mean we should discount the start of the season entirely.

Some teams that were expected to contend for a top seed have fallen short of expectations (looking at you, Sixers, Jazz, Lakers, and Celtics). On an individual level, some players have also gotten off to a sluggish start. Here are 10 players who have struggled early in the season.

10. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies

Gasol will soon turn 34, so we had to know his decline was coming soon. Unfortunately, it looks like the 7-foot-1 Spaniard only has a couple years left in the league. He’s still getting plenty of burn (32.4 minutes per game) and his rebounding numbers (8.9 per game) are respectable, but his offensive productivity and efficiency have dropped. His scoring average has been on a gradual decline since 2016, and it’s now down to 14.4 per game. He’s shooting only 42 percent from the field, the lowest number of his career. The Grizzlies are off to a somewhat surprising 6-4 start, and they could hang around the West’s eight-seed line – but they’ll need more output on offense from the skilled big man.

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10 NBA players who could become first-time All-Stars

Donovan Mitchell

Last year’s NBA All-Star Game was the most competitive we’ve seen in years, as Team LeBron edged Team Stephen, 148-145. Something about having the two stars pick their squads, playground-style, got the competitive juices flowing.

The entertaining showdown featured five first-time All-Stars (including four from the East): Joel Embiid, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal, Goran Dragic, and Karl-Anthony Towns. So, which players could make their first All-Star Game appearance this year? Here are 10 to look out for.

10. Brandon Ingram, Lakers

The Lakers may not win the West, but adding the best player alive practically guarantees they’ll be a top-tier team. As L.A. jockeys with the Warriors, Jazz, Rockets, and company, someone is going to have to step up to complement LeBron James. Ingram is your best bet to fill that role. The lanky Duke product made a big leap from year one to two, significantly elevating his per-game averages in points (9.4 to 16.1), rebounds (4.0 to 5.3), assists (2.1 to 3.9), and blocks (0.5 to 0.7), as well as his three-point shooting percentage (29 percent to 39 percent). Though rumors are swirling that Kevin Durant may opt to join LeBron in Hollywood in 2019, Ingram has an opportunity this year to prove the Lakers already have a Durant-type star.

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10 NBA coaches on the hot seat this season

Luke Walton

The NBA is a “get wins or get out” enterprise. The business can be callous at times, spurning head coaches who have seemingly earned job security — a lesson Dwane Casey learned the hard way in May. It’s still hard to imagine Casey on the Pistons’ sideline.

It may seem ridiculous to already be speculating about which coaches could be fired this season, but the 2018-19 season is practically upon us, and before we know it, some team will be searching for a new leader. With the preseason already underway, here are 10 coaches on the hot seat.

10. Alvin Gentry, Pelicans

You could argue Anthony Davis’ impressive late-season surge saved Gentry’s job last season. The Pelicans won their first playoff series in the Davis era — an encouraging sign — but the Warriors quickly vanquished New Orleans’ momentum. This seems to be a pivotal moment for the franchise. The Pelicans didn’t have much spending money this summer, as the squad had already dished out hefty contracts to players like E’Twaun Moore, Alexis Ajinca, and Omer Asik. The team allowed DeMarcus Cousins to bolt and signed bargain-basement assets Jahlil Okafor and Elfrid Payton, in addition to Julius Randle. The Pelicans are reliant on Davis sustaining MVP-level production; if he and Jrue Holiday crash back to earth early this season, however, GM Dell Demps — left with little flexibility to add another impact player — may opt to make a coaching change.

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10 NBA players with a lot to prove this season

Kawhi Leonard

The start of the NBA season is just over one week away, with the Celtics and Hornets competing in the first preseason game Friday, Sept. 28. Odds once again favor the Warriors to win it all, while Boston has the second-best title odds.

Though Golden State is a heavy favorite, last season proved even the league’s best are vulnerable. With LeBron heading to L.A., the already-loaded West has become a verifiable murderer’s row.

Get excited – the race for the Larry O’Brien Trophy begins soon. Here are 10 players with a lot to prove in the 2018-19 season.

10. John Wall, Wizards

Last season was a rough one for John Wall. After signing a $170 million extension with the Wizards, he missed two months (from late January-March) with a hand injury. He never seemed to find a real rhythm. During the season, he was criticized for being out of shape, and tempers in Washington’s locker room boiled over. Wall said the team was “not having fun right now.” The dynamics with Wall and Bradley Beal seem to be unpredictable – good today, bad tomorrow. No one questions Wall’s talent, and he’s been electric in the postseason – but this season, he needs to prove he can lead a team for a full season and be the central figure (the leader!) on a roster that actually gets along.

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10 best 2019 NBA free agents

Kevin Durant

Just two months ago, NBA fans were talking about which stars could change teams this summer. Now that those chips have been sorted, with stars like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and DeMarcus Cousins joining new squads, the league’s power dynamics have shifted.

The Lakers are suddenly a contender. The Raptors have new life. The Warriors somehow look even more unbeatable.

It’s early, and a lot could change this season, but we’re already thinking about which big names could be on the move a year from now. Here are the 10 best 2019 free agents as it stands today.

10. DeMarcus Cousins

This is a trial year for Cousins. He signed with Golden State for a few reasons: (1) he won’t have to rush back, as the Warriors are far from desperate to get him on the court; (2) he could win a ring; and (3) Golden State’s revered locker-room culture should present him with an opportunity to rebuild his reputation, much like JaVale McGee and Nick Young have previously. But he didn’t sign with the Warriors for the money — he’ll only receive $5.3 million this season. Cousins is looking to next summer as his opportunity to cash out and land a longer-term deal.

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