FINALLY, meaningful basketball is back! Sort of. With James Harden debuting his orthodox one-legged three-point jumper earlier this week and preseason action just around the corner, the content machine that is the NBA is once again firing on all cylinders. Of course, it can be difficult to figure out which storylines are actually worth listening too, with every team possessing an air of confidence and belief at this time of year. For one reason or another, certain players will enter the new campaign under the watchful eye of teammates, NBA peers, media members and the general fans, so I’ve pinpointed one athlete from all 30 NBA squads for us to zero our focus in on over the ensuing weeks.
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Atlanta Hawks – De’Andre Hunter
HEADING into the 2019-20 season Atlanta is spoilt for choice with their arsenal of young wings thanks to some stellar moves from GM Travis Schlenk. After trading for Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe plus drafting Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter the Hawks will juggle that quartet along with sniper Kevin Huerter in an effort to find the perfect balance to support up and coming stars Trae Young and John Collins. Out of all their talented pieces, 4th overall pick De’Andre Hunter is the one I’d be getting excited about, with the Virginia product boasting the perfect 3-and-D skill set for today’s NBA. While we don’t know exactly how much court time he’s going to see initially, I’m of the belief that he’ll play so well, ATL will find it hard to not give him a bigger role.
Boston Celtics – Kemba Walker
BOSTON’S successes in the new season hinge on Kemba Walker IMO. The bulk of the roster is the same and while Al Horford will leave a gaping hole at center, Walker’s scoring prowess can make up for some of that. Defensively the team will undoubtedly suffer, but Kemba has been thriving for Charlotte over his eight pro seasons and under Brad Stevens’ tutelage with talented wings Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to flank him, Walker’s performance will be closely watched during his first season in Beantown.
Brooklyn Nets – Caris LeVert
WHILE Kevin Durant is sidelined the Nets will lean on their second All-Star recruit Kyrie Irving to shoulder a bulk of the scoring responsibilities. However, for Brooklyn to make their upcoming season a worthwhile one, they’re going to need more helpers than just Kyrie. Enter Caris Levert, who, after an injury-interrupted past season is ready to take another leap in his development. A 13.7 PPG scorer doesn’t sound like he’ll make a significant impact, but LeVert was putting up 18.4 points a night through his first 14 games before suffering a gruesome ankle dislocation. If he can stay on the court there’s no reason why he won’t push that number again.
Image from cbssports.com
Charlotte Hornets – Nicolas Batum
NEWSFLASH Hornets fans, this season is going to be U-G-L-Y. You’d be hard-pressed to find a worse list in the NBA right now and while there are some solid prospects on the squad, I’ll have my eye on Nic Batum early on. The Frenchman compiled the highest minutes total for his nation in the FIBA World Cup this past offseason and while he didn’t capture any headlines, his veteran presence will be crucial for this young Charlotte team. With Kemba missing now, there are a lot of shots up for grabs and if Batum can return to being a 15+ PPG scorer, while it doesn’t sound like a lot, that can help the Hornets immensely. Who knows, he might even emerge as decent trade bait if this pans out.
Chicago Bulls – Kris Dunn
WHILE we’re talking about the FIBA World Cup, new Bull Tomas Satoransky showcased the talents he’s bringing to the Windy City with many of the belief that he’ll be their starting point guard come opening night. I’ve always been a believer of Kris Dunn and there’s a chance if he can’t dethrone Satoransky and become Chicago’s starter, this will be his last season with the Bulls. I’m buying Kris Dunn stock if you’re selling it and I still have faith that he can be a point guard that contributes in the league. Whether that’s in Chicago colours or not is a different story.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Collin Sexton
IT was tough to choose a Cavalier who we should monitor this preseason, with Cleveland set to be an annual cellar dweller for at least the next few seasons. With that being said, after they selected Darius Garland in this year’s draft, there are understandable questions over how their two ball-dominant point guards can mesh. There is hope, however, with Sexton making 42.8% of his shots in catch-and-shoot scenarios during his rookie campaign, including an impressive 44.3% from behind the arc, better than noteworthy snipers like J.J. Redick and Klay Thompson. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cavs utilise their two top guards and if they can co-exist it’ll certainly help to fast forward their rebuild.
Dallas Mavericks – Kristaps Porzingis
IT’S nearly been 600 days since we’ve seen Kristaps Porzingis log NBA minutes and his health is one of the biggest question marks in the entire league entering the new season. Dallas’ hopes are tied to the Lithuanian’s frail 7-3 frame after they elected to trade for the talented youngster before last year’s deadline. There’s every possibility that he and reigning Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic can form a lethal 1-2 punch in 2019-20, but Porzingis will need to string consistent games together if they’re going to even scratch the surface of their potential. His every move will be watched closely over the next few months.
Image from dallasnews.com
Denver Nuggets – Michael Porter Jr
THERE are a lot of good vibes around the Denver Nuggets right now and they are out to prove their legitimacy as title threats this year. One player that could help catapult them towards their ultimate goal is Michael Porter Jr, who after redshirting his potential rookie season is set to be unleashed. We tend to forget that MPJ was the second-highest ranked player coming out of high school, displaying elite scoring capabilities that have since been hampered by knee and back issues. If he can develop into half the player that we thought he would have been a short 18 months ago then the Nuggets will have another deadly weapon at their disposal.
Detroit Pistons – Luke Kennard
MEDIOCRITY has become Detroit’s best friend in the last decade, with the Pistons failing to achieve a hell of a lot in the 10’s. Together, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond haven’t achieved the level of success some thought they might, but it’s hard to point the finger at them, two players can only do so much. If they have another sidekick though, things could be different, hence the reason we should be keeping our eyes on Luke Kennard this preseason. He took on a greater role in Detroit’s offense during his sophomore season, shooting an impressive 42.7% on three-point tries after the All-Star break. Whether he’s best suited to a sixth man role or as a starter remains to be seen, but if he can provide some valuable shooting and help space the floor for his All-Star level bigs, the Pistons’ stock could be climbing.
Golden State Warriors – Willie Cauley-Stein
A lot will be talked about D’Angelo Russell’s fit alongside Steph Curry and how he’ll thrive when Klay Thompson does eventually return to action. Outside of that trio and the ball of energy that is Draymond Green, Dub Nation is rocking a very thin roster and they’ll have to hit on their minor offseason signings if they want to accomplish anything of note in 2019-20. One of those fresh faces joins the Warriors after four topsy-turvy seasons in Sacramento where he failed to carve out his own niche. At 26, Willie Cauley-Stein still has plenty left to give despite some of his numbers dipping last year. He’ll lock horns with Kevon Looney for the starting center role and providing the Warriors’ with a rim-running big man could be a nice plus for the reigning five-time West champs.
Houston Rockets – Russell Westbrook
LET’S be honest, the Houston Rockets’ season hinges on how well Russell Westbrook fits in at Clutch City. The Rockets have made the postseason every year since James Harden’s arrival, however, they’ve failed to overthrow the Warriors juggernaut losing to them four times to hold a 6-7 win-loss ledger over their past 13 playoff series’. Trading for Westbrook this past offseason will hopefully help them take the next step with the 2016-17 MVP eager to make up for playoff shortcomings of his own. Some have their doubts over Westbrook and Harden’s fit together and if they can flourish alongside one another and deliver the franchises third title. I have high hopes for this dynamic duo, but I’ll be watching them very closely.
Indiana Pacers – Myles Turner
THROUGHOUT the FIBA World Cup, Myles Turner showed flashes of offensive growth, but Pacers fans are tired of ‘flashes’. Entering his fifth NBA season, the former lottery pick has seen his production fluctuate when it comes to scoring the rock and he could be the key to help unlock Indiana’s potential this year. Defensively, Turner has shown that he can ball out, leading the entire NBA in blocks a game last year at 2.7, but he’ll come under the microscope for his abilities to help shoulder the scoring load with Bojan Bogdanović and Wesley Matthews departing and Victor Oladipo still rehabbing from a torn quad. Turner will instantly be given more opportunities to shine, but just what he does with those opportunities will be telling.
L.A. Clippers – Ivica Zubac
THE Clippers’ guard rotation is healthy, obviously, their wings are in good knick and Montrezll Harrell is an underrated big man if you ask me, but what can Ivica Zubac bring to the table for the younger L.A. franchise? After the Clippers acquired Zubac from the Lakers last season the Croatian showed off his worth, starting 25 games to close the year and erupting for a memorable 18 points and 15 rebounds in Game 3 of their first-round series against the Warriors. Zubac claimed a career-high nine offensive boards in that contest, an area that he can provide a lot of assistance in for the Clippers during their championship run this season. He’ll likely start over Harrell to commence the year and with the longer-tenured Clipper in the final year of his contract and bound to earn a serious payday next summer, Zubac’s growth will go a long way to determining how long the Clipper can keep their championship window open.
Los Angeles Lakers – Danny Green
NOW that DeMarcus Cousins will spend the year in street clothes and Kyle Kuzma is out indefinitely with a foot fracture, you could make the case for Danny Green being the third most important Laker on the roster. LeBron is adamant that the team will run through Anthony Davis and those two heavy hitters will dictate a lot of the Lakers’ season. However, for the Lake Show to once again return to the great heights we usually associate the organisation with, they’ll need support from their second tier. A career 40% shooter from downtown, Green helped buoy Toronto last year while they were in the pursuit of their own title and his ability to space the floor and knock down shots, allowing Davis and LeBron lanes to drive will go a long way to helping the Lakers return to glory.
Memphis Grizzlies – Josh Jackson
STUNNED, shocked and somewhat surprised were all words that entered my mind when I learnt Josh Jackson was going to start the year playing for the Memphis Hustle in the G-League. It’s been a steady fall from grace for Jackson, who is barely two years removed from being the 4th overall pick in the 2017 draft. A glut of wings in Phoenix and some less than flattering off-the-court headlines saw Jackson become the odd one out this offseason, shipped to the Grizzlies for the small price of a few second-rounders. With this step back comes plenty of opportunity for Jackson and so far he seems to be saying and doing all the right things. If this experience humbles him and helps him re-emerge as the player that starred for Kansas not so long ago, there’s no reason why he can’t be a great addition to Memphis’ young core alongside Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson and Ja Morant.
Miami Heat – Justise Winslow
ALL eyes will be on consistent asshole Jimmy Butler early in Miami’s 2019-20 season, with the new addition bound to put bums on seats in the American Airlines Arena. Popular belief surrounding the Heat is that their roster they start the season with won’t be the same one they end 2020 with, constantly mentioned in Chris Paul trade rumours with Goran Dragic’s future with the team cloudy at best. Part of the reason Miami can confidently shop Dragic is thanks to the leaps and bounds Justise Winslow took last year as the team’s lead ball-handler/distributor. Over the middle portion of the season, Winslow went close to averaging 15/5/5 while improving his three-point percentage making the most of the opportunity in front of him. Should he grow again to begin this season, not only does Winslow become a more appealing trade asset allowing the Heat to perhaps sell high on the former Duke Blue Devil, but he could emerge as a great running mate on the wing for Jimmy Buckets.
Milwaukee Bucks – Eric Bledsoe
SIGNING Eric Bledsoe to a four-year/$70 million extension during the season was a perplexing move made by the Bucks. It wasn’t completely unjustified though with Bledsoe named as a member of the All-Defense first team, emerging as an able sidekick for Giannis Antetokounmpo alongside Khris Middleton. Playing next to an MVP hampered the number of shots Bledsoe took, but there’s no reason why he can’t become the third Milwaukee player to average 20+ PPG along with his All-Star peers. Getting to the free-throw line will be key for Bledsoe after his fewest per game attempts last year in over five seasons. If he can attack the rim with more regularity and boost his scoring numbers then Bledsoe might be the guy who helps tip this Bucks team over the edge.
Image from nba.com
Minnesota Timberwolves – Andrew Wiggins
HERE we go; again. There may not be a player in the league who averages a less inspiring 20 points a night, with Wiggins’ narrative barely changing over the course of his 400 career games. For the former No. 1 pick to prove his worth alongside All-NBA center Karl-Anthony Towns, Wiggins is going to have to contribute a lot more than multiple fadeaway mid-rangers this season. Minnesota clearly saw something in him that the most of us don’t, signing him toa $148mil extension a few seasons back, but Wiggins hasn’t exactly rewarded them with his numbers dipping in both of the past two years. The Timberwolves can’t afford to have KAT go down the similar career path Kevin Garnett and Anthony Davis did, failing to find success over their first 7-8 years only to bolt for greener pastures. The clock is ticking.
New Orleans Pelicans – Lonzo Ball
FORGET the league-pass potential Lonzo Ball possesses with his new high-flying forward for a minute and strip it back to just basketball. Touted as a sound defender with shaky jump shot mechanics, Ball finds himself in NOLA with the opportunity to flourish if he can stay on the court. In each of his first two pro seasons, the son of Lavar failed to finish the year due to injuries and has played in just over 60% of his possible career games to date. Learning from a great veteran in Jrue Holiday and potentially starting alongside him, will do wonders for Ball’s career and he has come a long way from the slingshot shooting form he displayed in his time as a UCLA Bruin. Should he be able to hit a few more open jumpers and play 65-70 games then Ball will be on the path to living up to the pre-draft hype that surrounded him in 2017.
New York Knicks – Kevin Knox
THERE’s no escaping under the bright lights of MSG and entering his second NBA season, Kevin Knox will be striving to find more consistency. Too often last year Knox went missing on offense scoring nine or fewer points in over a third of his 75 games as a rookie and if he’s going to be a prospect worth keeping then he’ll need to improve on that mark this time around. Granted, the dude is only a few months removed from being a teenager, so patience will need to be expressed for him to reach his true potential, but there’s another top-10 score-first guard who’ll be eating away at his opportunities in RJ Barrett. Should Knox find that consistency he and Knicks fans so desperately crave, there’s no reason why he and RJ can’t form a compelling one-two punch years from now, but he’s going to need to show more than flashes if he wants to remain a Knick.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Andre Roberson
DEFENSIVE stalwart Andre Roberson hasn’t stepped onto an NBA court since tragically injuring himself in January of 2018. According to all reports, Roberson has a clean bill of health now, but this OKC team is very different from the one he last played for. Clearly now in rebuild mode, the Thunder will be out to cash in any meaningful players they can for future assets to build to the franchise back up and a healthy Roberson is someone that could interest a contending team. His career average of 4.6 points per won’t excite offensive-minded coaches, but the lengthy defender is exactly the type of guy you’d want to deploy against the Kawhi Leonard’s and LeBron James’ of the world.
Orlando Magic – Markelle Fultz
ONE of the greatest enigma’s entering the 2019-20 season is what will become of Markelle Fultz. Out of Washington, he loomed as an exciting score-first guard, but after battling his own personal demons and having his one-time smooth jump shot fail him, Fultz’s fate in the league is still somewhat teetering on a knifes edge. I have faith that he can retool his mechanics and be a noteworthy addition for the Magic, which, if he does, could pay off big time for Orlando. The franchise has been crying out for a reliable floor general ever since Jameer Nelson departed and while D.J. Augustin can be a decent stop-gap, if Fultz can emerge as the long-term answer the Magic will be one of the teams that could rise considerably in a short space of time.
Philadelphia 76ers – Tobias Harris
PHILADELPHIA went all-in on winning last season by trading for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris during the year, and if the basketball gods weren’t on Toronto’s side, it could have led to an NBA Finals appearance or maybe even the franchises fourth title. Now, after stewing over that heartbreaking loss for months they’re relying on growth from Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to account for their departures. Tobias Harris’ role will expand with Butler gone and his level of production will be crucial. Borderline All-Star form for the Clippers from Harris attracted Philly’s attention and they’re holding out faith that he can thrive with more responsibilities thrust upon him.
Phoenix Suns – Ricky Rubio
MUCH like the Orlando Magic, reliable point guard play has eluded the Suns in recent times, with Devin Booker forced to play de facto floor general. The arrival of Ricky Rubio could help alleviate some of those issues, with the crafty Spaniard know for his ability to find an open man, boasting a healthy 7.7 assist per game average over his eight NBA seasons. The biggest question surrounding Rubio and his new team is how well he meshes with their timeline. As it stands right now, Rubio has the most NBA experience on Phoenix’s roster with 10 of his teammates in either their rookie or sophomore season. That doesn’t mean he can’t help to accelerate their rebuild and finally drag the franchise out of the gutter, but it’ll be interesting to see just how much Rubio’s presence lifts this young nucleus.
Portland Trailblazers – Zach Collins
FOR a long time I’ve been pushing for a Kevin Love to Portland trade, with part of the reason as a Cavs fan because I wanted Zach Collins in the deal. The third-year big man was in line for a bigger slice of the pie following Jusuf Nurkic’s injury meaning his role in 2020 would steadily increase. However, after trading for Hassan Whiteside and with Collins’ foul trouble issues still plaguing him, it appears like he’ll slot back into playing just 15-20 minutes a night. There is a scenario where Collins can play himself into more opportunities in Portland, showing some ability to stretch the floor as an athletic tall with an alright outside shot. None of this will come to fruition if he can’t stay on the court though, averaging nearly as many personal fouls as he has made baskets in his career thus far. Should Collins take a step in the right direction from a fouling perspective he could be an intriguing piece of this Trailblazers rotation who are out to prove their 2018-19 achievements were no fluke.
Sacramento Kings – Harry Giles III
ONE could argue that the Sacramento Kings don’t have any bad players on their entire squad right now. The tough task though is finding the right way to deploy them and carve out a task for each player. It’s likely that the team would move on from Harrison Barnes and/or Nemanja Bjelica before exploring a Harry Giles trade, but the former high school superstar and Duke alum appears to be one of the odd men out right now. There is still plenty of promise around Giles, who increased his scoring output in every month that passed in his rookie campaign a year ago, highlighted by an impressive 16 points, six-rebound, three-block effort against the Bulls late in the season. The addition of Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes to Sacto’s depth chart, plus the continued improvement of Marvin Bagley makes Giles’ task of breaking through even tougher. Time will tell whether he can meaningfully contribute to the Kings’ climb back to respectability or if he’ll be buried at the end of a long bench.
Image from sactownroyalty.com
San Antonio Spurs – Dejounte Murray
WE tend to forget that promising youngster Dejounte Murray spent all of last season in casual wear after a preseason ACL tear. We also tend to forget that before the third year of his pro career was taken away from him, Murray was coming off a campaign in which he became the youngest player in NBA history to earn All-NBA defense honours, selected for the second team at the age of just 21. Rejuvenated and excited for whatever role Gregg Popovich has ready for him, Murray could be a massive shot in the arm for a Spurs team that has found a way to consistently win since the beginning of the Jurrasic period. If he can return as an impact player on both sides of the ball then the Spurs should make the postseason for an NBA-record 23rd consecutive season.
Toronto Raptors – Stanley Johnson
LOSING an MVP candidate from your rotation is always hard to fix and the defending champs tried to do so this offseason by signing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and former Piston, Stanley Johnson. To say the former top-10 pick in Johnson hasn’t lived up to the billing thus far is a fair assessment, with the SF traded to New Orleans at the deadline last year only to not be offered a new contract after a 5.3 PPG average over an 18-game span. While he might find himself once again expendable should Toronto look to upgrade their roster, there’s a chance that Johnson can succeed as a spark-plug of the Raptors’ bench, especially if a healthy OG Anunoby can perform well enough to start. Johnson could be on his last legs if things don’t work well north of the border and he’ll have to prove his worth if his NBA career is going to live on in 2020-21.
— edward james (@beartorius) August 21, 2019
Utah Jazz – Dante Exum
MIKE Conley’s arrival in Salt Lake City is expected to vault the Jazz into the upper echelon of teams out West, which given the talent pool in the conference is saying something. One of the issues Utah has been confronted with in playoff series’ of the past is being too one-dimensional on offense, relying on Donovan Mitchell iso-ball to get by and while Conley helps that, I’m zeroing in on another guard that could emerge as a difference-maker. Maybe it’s the Australian in me, but injuries have hampered Dante Exum’s chances of building a decent NBA career and if (big if) he can stay healthy, this season might finally be the one he excels in. With just 204 career games to his name over a five-year stretch, Exum will once again start the season in a limited capacity and should his body fail him again, he could be facing the daunting prospects of his NBA dream coming to close.
Washington Wizards – Rui Hachimura
I’LL be honest, there isn’t much of a reason to be excited right now as a Washington Wizards fan. Fear not Wiz faithful, Japanese national Rui Hachimura has so far displayed some impressive athletic traits during his time with Gonzaga and the national team at the FIBA World Cup. It would be unfair to expect him to roll in and make a huge impact as a rookie, especially given the lack of talent around him in the nation’s capital. There is a scenario where he does make a huge impact and uses his 6-8 (203cm), 230-pound (104kg) frame to appear on Sports Center’s top-10 with slight consistency, in turn giving fans hope for their future. Hachimura finished his Gonzaga career by averaging nearly 20 points in his junior season and if he could even get close to scratching that number, he’d turn a ton of heads while doing so.