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28 Things to Know from the 2015 NBA Combine

Go inside the 2015 NBA Draft Combine, as the prospects share information and facts about themselves.

Jessica Camerato

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Throughout the course of last week, NBA hopefuls gathered in Chicago for the 2015 NBA Draft Combine. They competed in scrimmages, ran through drills, recorded measurements and met with teams for what is essentially a job interview. Learn about this process with firsthand accounts from those chasing their basketball dreams (and check out all of Basketball Insiders’ video interviews from the Combine here).

1. Willie Cauley-Stein was asked a lot of personality-based questions in his team interviews, ranging from, “What kind of person are you going to be in the locker room?” to, “Why do you have so many tattoos?” When asked why he dyed his hair blonde, he replied with a laugh, “Young, dumb. You live and you learn. It was cool for 30 minutes and then had to live with it for the rest of my life.”

2. Playing in the Big Ten prepared D’Angelo Russell for the NBA. “It’s not the NBA but it’s almost there,” he said. “You never know who you’re going to get every night, the coaches are trained to prepare for players like myself every night, so it’s an adjustment at the age of 18, 19 years old.”

3. Justise Winslow attended a New York Yankees game with Carmelo Anthony where he picked his brain about the NBA, not the Knicks specifically. “It was more about trying to help me adjust to the pro game, just kind of being a mentor for me,” Winslow said.

4. Cameron Payne didn’t hold back when asked by a team which guard shouldn’t be ranked in front of him. “I said Tyus Jones, even though we’re really right there together,” Payne said. “He was on a great team and he got a lot of exposure through that team. He didn’t have to carry his team like I did. I felt I went through a lot of adversity and he had one of the best big man that played college basketball around him, so he wasn’t the focal point.”

5. One area Stanley Johnson is working on improving is his decision making. “I’m not talking about turnovers,” he said. “I’m talking about whether to shoot a layup or to pass, or a jump shot or a floater, or a three or drive the ball, maybe not try to thread the needle all the time, stuff like that.”

6. Frank Kaminsky is preparing to adjust his shot selection according to the 24-second NBA shot clock, compared to 35 seconds in college. “That first look you get that’s open, you’ve got to let it go,” he said. “There were a lot of times in college where I passed up a good shot to try to work for something better. In the NBA, you can’t necessarily do that.”

7. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has already received advice from a handful of NBA players, including Jabari Parker, Tyreke Evans, Jameer Nelson and Nick Johnson. “(They told me) be ready to work, be ready to go hard, whatever a team needs you to do, whatever you’ve to do to succeed at the end of the day, you’ve got to do it,” he said.

8. In spite of the long list of University of Kentucky alum who have gone on to the NBA, Andrew Harrison plans to keep his advice seeking to those close to home. “To be honest, I just lean on (twin brother) Aaron,” said Andrew. “He’s the strongest person I know besides my dad and my grandfather. I just lean on those three. Although they’ve never been on that level, they definitely are wise.”

9. R.J. Hunter doesn’t forget those who recognized him on the way to the NBA. Hunter, who played high school basketball in Indiana, gave a shout out to former Butler University head coach/current Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He was the only Indiana school besides my Pops who recruited me, so I always have respect for Brad,” said Hunter.

10. Terry Rozier has improved the arc on his jumper, explaining he is shooting the ball “up instead of out.” To help with the process, he watched film of Steph Curry and took note of his fluid shooting motion.

11. Cliff Alexander said has been drawing comparisons to Amar’e Stoudemire since he was in high school. Alexander likes the versatility of Stoudemire’s game, including his abilities to “shoot the 15-foot jumpshot, can attack the rim, can score off either block, can score over either shoulder.”

12. George de Paula took high school English classes in Brazil, but the NBA Draft combine was only the second time he had conversations in the United States. “I’m trying to learn English as fast as I can,” he said. “It’s a long process for me.”

13. Christian Wood is looking forward to defending Kevin Durant in the NBA. “I know the guy is a killer, but I really actually kind of want to guard him to see what it’s like,” Wood said. “(I would ask him), ‘How do you do it?'”

14. Kelly Oubre strives to be a two-way guard in the NBA. When it comes to the offensive end, he sees similarities between himself and James Harden, noting, “I love his game actually.” So can Oubre drop 50 in a game like Harden? “I’ve had that in me since I was young,” he said. “It’s going to come back out.”

15. Myles Turner has set his sights far beyond being drafted. He doesn’t just want to be an NBA player, he wants to be a winner. “I consider myself a student of the game, a visionary,” he said. “I won’t settle for failure, I want success. I want NBA championships. Teams need to know that.”

16. Even though he weighs 242 pounds, Richaun Holmes has been told he has a “thin build.” He believes he plays stronger than some may think. “I can hold my own against fours or fives as well,” he said. “I’m not going to just back down, not going to get bullied.”

17. Sam Dekker emphasized his versatility, saying he can see himself playing the two, three and four positions. “I have the ability to get up and down and run like a guard and handle the ball, but I like playing on the wing and as a four,” he said. “But sometimes I don’t realize enough that I’m 6’9 and I can play inside. That’s one thing I’m really trying to add to my game.”

18. Jarell Martin considers his ability to attack the basket as his biggest asset for an NBA team, which he described as “being able to use my ball handling skills and my quickness to get past other bigger defenders and finishing by the rim.”

19. At 22, Jerian Grant is one of the older players in the draft. He sees his age as an advantage over his younger counterparts. “Me being this old just means I’m more ready right now,” he said.

20. Having older brother Dorell in the NBA has helped Delon Wright avoid being overwhelmed by meeting basketball greats during the interview process. “I’ve kind of been seeing all these guys within his 11 years,” he said. “I’ve seen Pat Riley for six years straight, so I think I’m kind of accustomed to seeing him and not getting star struck.”

21. Corey Hawkins plans to stick to his game and what has gotten him to this point. “You just work on the things you’re good at,” he said. “I don’t try to do anything out of my comfort zone or outside of my game. I stick to my floaters, things like that, making plays for other guys, and just being a good teammate.”

22. While many NBA prospects model their games after star players, Rakeem Christmas has been influenced by a glue guy. “I try to model myself after Taj Gibson,” he said. “He just goes out there, he gives it his all, he does whatever it takes for the team, he does all the little things, rebounding, blocking shots, and just being a good teammate.”

23. Quinn Cook has already picked out his Draft Night attire. He will be watching from his home in Washington, D.C. with his family, where he isn’t going the flashy suit route. “I’ll have some Duke sweats on probably, a National Championship shirt, and some flip flops,” he said with a smile.

24. Anthony Brown considers himself an underrated passer. “I’m going to bring it every day,” he said. “I’ve been in college long enough to know how to play this game. I have a high basketball IQ and I can space the floor.”

25. Larry Nance Jr. was asked why a manhole is round instead of square during the interview process. “That one kind of threw me for a loop. I didn’t know what to say,” he said. “My guess is they’re looking for me to stay level-headed, stick to my guns. I’m a good kid. I’m a high character kid, that’s really what you’re going to get.”

26. Brandon Ashley wears number 21 for Tim Duncan. “Just for the simple fact that he may not necessarily be the most athletic guy, especially now in his old age, but he’s always been able to get it done with his skill set,” said Ashley.

27. Even though Treveon Graham played the power forward in college, he wanted NBA teams to know he can also play the guard position. “I played more two than anything (during games at the Combine), showing I can shoot from outside and be consistent and also guard big men and guards,” he said.

28. Chris Walker approached the interview process as an open book. “It was an easy to do,” he said. “I just looked them in the eyes and I told them straight up everything they wanted to know.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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NBA Daily: Biggest Disappointments — Southeast Division

Chad Smith breaks down the Southeast Division in the latest installment of Basketball Insiders’ Biggest Disappointments series.

Chad Smith

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Over the last few weeks, Basketball Insiders has highlighted the biggest surprises of the young NBA season. And, breaking down each division, there seemed to be a fantastic story about to unfold around every corner.

But, now, has reality finally started to settle in?

The pleasant surprises throughout the season are always welcome, but there have been plenty that aren’t so spectacular. Whether expectations were just too high, or unforeseen circumstance led to an awkward shift, some players or teams just haven’t had the greatest time to start the 2019-20 season.

It’s important to remember that the season is but weeks old, November its first full month. And things can change very quickly in the NBA. Still, there are a few situations of note to keep an eye on. That said, here are three of the Southeast division’s biggest disappointments so far this season.

Orlando’s Not So Magical Offense

After they were the darling team of the Eastern Conference last season, the 2019-20 iteration of the Orlando Magic have struggled to find that same consistency.

Orlando has proven especially bad on offense, as they currently rank 30th in total offense, 30th in field goal percentage and 30th in three-point shooting. The fact that they are dead last in every category is even more baffling when you consider the fact that they returned largely the same roster from a year ago.

The Magic were the last team to score 100 points in a game this season and, as of this writing, they average a league-worst 99 points per game. Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier have struggled to find a groove, while DJ Augustin has dropped back into a reserve role. Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic have looked mediocre-at-best.

Case-and-point, it isn’t difficult to pinpoint why the Magic have struggled to a 5-7 record to start the season, no matter how disappointing it may be. There is hope, however; Orlando has put forth a strong defensive effort, while their schedule is expected to lighten up after contests against the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors, among others.

They also have some nice young pieces that have thus far yielded positive results: Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac.

After such a fun postseason run, it’s incredibly disappointing to see Orlando’s 5th ranked offense from a season ago stumble to such depths. We can’t say for sure whether it’ll turn up at some point but, fortunately for the Magic, they have another 70 games to figure it out.

John Collins Suspension

The 2019-20 season has been a roller-coaster for the Atlanta Hawks. Trae Young has looked like a star, but missed time due to an ankle injury. And, despite their 4-7 record, the team has, at times, looked strong on both ends of the court.

But, now, they face a 25-game stretch without John Collins, lost to suspension.

Collins is a remarkable talent, and it’s easy to see how his absence has hurt Atlanta on the court. In the midst of a road trip, Atlanta has struggled against the Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers, teams with solid options at the five-spot Collins used to occupy.

As spectacular as he is, it’s unfair to expect Young to carry the day for the team on his own. And, like other teams — see Aron Baynes behind Deandre Ayton in Phoenix — the Hawks just don’t have the depth at the position persevere through the loss of Collins.

If they’re to turn it around, Atlanta will need Jabari Parker, Cameron Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and others to step up and make a big impact. Unfortunately, given their lack of experience (or, in Parker’s case, the fact that he’s a known commodity) it’s hard to imagine that that’ll be the case.

At the very least, it’ll take some time for those players to grow into their game and help turn the season around, time the Hawks may not have given such poor start

Where’s Miles Bridges’ Breakout?

On the whole, things have actually been better than expected in Charlotte, as the team has carried a 5-7 record through 12 after many expected them to be one of the worst in the NBA. But, after a rookie season where he flashed, the 2019-20 regular season was set to be Miles Bridges’ introduction to the national NBA audience.

With Kemba Walker gone, and veterans like Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams populating the roster, Bridges was supposed to establish himself as the Charlotte Hornets’ best player and lead the team into the next phase of their rebuild.

And, to be fair, Bridges hasn’t been horrible this season. He just hasn’t been what many had hoped for or expected.

Through Charlotte’s 12 games, Bridges has averaged 12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. His shooting percentages — 47.6 percent from the floor, 39.2 percent from three — are good as well. But Bridges has yet to really take the bull by the horns and assert himself as the Hornets’ top-dog. Of course, there is plenty of time for him to change that, but the fact that he hasn’t already is disappointing nonetheless.

Bridges is vocal on the floor and can communicate with others on Charlotte’s roster, both the veterans and the up-and-comers. He could prove exactly the leader this team needs as they transition into the post-Walker phase of their franchise.

Again, the season is young, and these disappointments could quickly flip on their heads and become surprises. But not every team can be so lucky, and these teams may just have to accept them and adjust.

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NBA Daily: Aron Baynes’ Three-Point Revolution

Aron Baynes took just six three-pointers over the first five years of his career. But he’s an elite floor-stretcher now, though, a development that’s changed everything for both him and the Phoenix Suns.

Jack Winter

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Aron Baynes attempted a grand total of six three-pointers over his first five years in the NBA.

When he first ventured beyond the arc in 2017-18 — during his debut campaign with the Boston Celtics — Baynes’ newfound stretch seemed more like a novelty than a development that could significantly alter the course of his career. He took just 21 triples, but 13 of them came from the corners — a spot at which more and more players experimented with the long ball as the league’s emphasis on space reached a new zenith.

The evolution that initially pushed Baynes and other non-shooters like him to the perimeter is ongoing. Thirteen teams are taking at least 35 percent of their shots from deep, up from nine last season, while the number of teams with a three-point rate above 30 percent has jumped from 23 to 27, per Cleaning the Glass.

The NBA’s three-point revolution, obviously, is still in its heyday. But more frequently and easily identified with that reality is a player like James Harden — an annual MVP-worthy candidate — whose three-point rate has risen to a ridiculous 57.2 percent. Or, take Andrew Wiggins, who has revitalized his career by launching 6.7 triples per game – a number that would have ranked among the league’s the top-10 as recently as 2015-16, but currently sits outside its top-20.

Still, it would be foolish to overlook the influence of role players that continue pushing their personal boundaries as long-range shooters, a group for which Baynes has become the poster boy.

Any chance that the three-ball would be a more complementary aspect of his game as opposed to a driving force behind it vanished last season. Baynes shot a solid 34.4 percent from three-point range, just below league average and nearly double his accuracy from the previous season. But his shot chart hinted at even further growth to come as 50 of Baynes’ 61 three-point tries were from above the break. He wasn’t just a stationary safety valve to make opponents pay for ignoring him in the corner — but a shooter with numbers indicated that needed to be guarded all over the floor.

Baynes’ red-hot start to 2019-20 has ensured that defenses must treat him with the respect he deserves, and the Phoenix Suns are taking full advantage.

It’s safe to say Baynes won’t shoot 46.8 percent on three-pointers all season long. Danny Green and Joe Harris were the only players in basketball to connect on even 45 percent of those attempts last season, and it’s not like Baynes has been shy getting them up, allowing for the possibility of a small sample size to artificially inflate his numbers. He’s launching 4.3 triples in only 23.8 minutes per game, hunting them with the vigor of a veteran frontcourt marksman.

Baynes doesn’t care where he is, how quickly he needs to set his feet or how much time is on the shot clock. Only three of his long-range efforts last season came as a defender was within six feet of him. Less than a month into 2019-20, Baynes has doubled that total, even taking three shots from deep when being closely defended, per NBA.com.

He doesn’t just get his shots in pick-and-pop or scramble situations, either. The Suns believe so much in Baynes’ viability as a three-point shooter that they sometimes run a baseline out-of-bounds play to get him an open look from the wing.

Baynes has been one of the best screeners in basketball for years. He’s massively built with broad shoulders and a thick chest, thus allowing him to make contact with defenders trying to avoid a pick when most bigs couldn’t. His keen understanding of angles and timing regularly provides unencumbered runways for ball handlers that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Even so, Baynes is far more dynamic as a screener now that he’s an imminently-dangerous three-point shooter. He mixes in a steady diet of dives to the rim with more frequent pops to the arc, and Phoenix ball handlers have increasingly made a habit out of drawing two defenders by creasing the paint, only to kick back out to Baynes for an open triple. The result is Baynes averaging 1.56 points per possession as a roll man, fourth-best in the league, on the strength a 77.8 effective field goal percentage, per NBA.com.

Monty Williams hasn’t just empowered Baynes as a three-point shooter, either. The Suns’ head coach consistently takes advantage of the mere threat of Baynes’ presence, too, producing easy scoring opportunities elsewhere on the floor. Phoenix loves clearing the lane for quick Booker post-ups at the charge circle against overmatched defenders and Baynes, an underrated passer, routinely finds others with backdoor dimes when the defense overplays dribble hand-offs.

The Los Angeles Lakers, sporting the league’s best defense, were eventually so spooked last week by Baynes, Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky raining threes that they resorted to switching across five positions. While Los Angeles hung on for a hard-fought win in a delightfully hostile environment, it still speaks volumes about the Suns’ offensive attack that a defense led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis felt the need to junk-up its scheme.

Baynes isn’t a high-usage post player and never will be. But when defenses feel compelled to switch to combat the long-range shooting of he and other bigs, the Suns should remember that he was able to exploit James on the block with ease.

Baynes is no star, even if there’s data suggesting otherwise. Phoenix’s offensive rating is almost 15 points better with him on the court, but that number aligns closely with that of other starters. His presence makes almost no affect on the Suns’ team-wide shot chart, either. But any sweet-shooting, screen-setting, backdoor-passing big man would be an abject offensive plus, and it’s telling that Phoenix’s effective field goal percentage ticks up 6.3 percent with Baynes in the game, according to Cleaning The Glass.

Deandre Ayton will take Baynes’ place in the starting lineup upon his suspension ending and rightfully so. But if the Suns take a step back offensively with Ayton active, don’t be surprised.

Baynes isn’t quite the engine behind the league’s third-best offense, but he’s certainly a crucial cog – and his rapid growth as a shooter is the reason why.

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NBA Daily: Biggest Disappointments — Atlantic Division

Basketball Insiders’ Biggest Disappointments series continues with Drew Maresca examining the Atlantic Division’s start to the 2019-20 season.

Drew Maresca

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The NBA season is still very young, but some disappointing starts are just that – disappointing. Meaning that they can exist on their own without knowing the end result. Certain players and teams around the league surprised us with their unexpectedly strong play, and others have left us scratching our heads and wondering what’s went wrong.

And with that being said, let’s continue our series on early-season disappointments, shifting our attention to the Atlantic Division. The Atlantic is always home to controversy thanks to its large media markets and (mostly) historic franchises. So let’s examine who has underachieved thus far and how they can turn it around. 

Nets Surprising Defensive Struggles

Defense is presenting early problems for the new-look Brooklyn Nets; they’re 4-7 after entering the season with fairly high expectations. Now, this writer was burned last season after forecasting a Nets’ demise following a poor start, so we won’t be making any kind of long-term predictions. But it’s been problematic enough to get Kenny Atkinson’s attention in recent postgame press conferences.

Sometimes their defense has lapses in the final minutes of close games (e.g., a five-point loss to the Jazz this past Tuesday), and other times it fails them earlier in the game (e.g., a blowout loss against the Suns on last Sunday).

But one way or the other, the Nets have to improve defensively. They are allowing 119.5 points per game, which is good for 27th in the Association. And sure, they’re averaging the seventh-most points per game in the league (116.8), but they’ve posted the sixth-worst defensive rating in the league so far and a -2.4 net rating. That’s not going to cut it for a team with aspirations of making a deep postseason run.

The bright side is that it’s never surprising when a team struggles to find continuity on defense after an offseason of turnover. The Nets returned only seven players from 2018-19, and each of their three most frequently used lineups features multiple new players. There is plenty of time left for the Nets to build synergy and improve their defense. And Atkinson is an incredible motivator, so there is little reason to worry about long-term implications. But as far as this season is concerned, they should get to it quickly because every win (and loss) affects their seeding and/or chances of making the playoffs.

Knicks Offensive Woes

The Knicks’ lack of success is well-documented. And despite the team signing a number of established veterans who many felt would propel them to respectability, the losing has continued.

And much of the reason for their continued disappointments is their offensive struggles. NBA teams are getting more shot attempts and scoring more points than ever before. The Knicks never received that memo. Through 11 games (not including their game Thursday night vs. the Mavericks), the Knicks are one of only two teams averaging less than 100 points per game, and they rank dead last in points per 100 possessions. And what’s worse — they are tied for the third-least assists per game (20.3) and their coach recently kind of, sort of defended their isolation-heavy offense by mentioning the Houston Rockets proclivity to play isolation-heavy basketball (although he later acknowledged that the Knicks don’t have the same level as do the Rockets and that they must move the ball to succeed).

Looking ahead, someone is going to pay for this. Franchise owner James Dolan recently met with the team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to articulate his frustrations. That prompted an unexpected press conference from the two to discuss their dissatisfaction with the early failures. Ultimately, this is going to fall on Fizdale, whose coaching seat has become white-hot. But Perry, and maybe even Mills. could both be looking for work, too. Dolan is rumored to be smitten with the idea of luring Masai Ujiri to New York, again — potentially with the goal of signing Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021.

But regardless of what happens in the future, it looks like there’s no way out of the current mess this season. But one thing the Knicks can do to soften the blow is move the ball. Too often, the Knicks settle – or prefer – to isolate with their opponent while the four other Knicks stand idly by and watch. They must move without the ball and screen away from it. More pick-and-roll action would benefit them, too. Getting back to the basics is the best recipe for a team that has appeared to lack an offensive system, or at least an understanding of it.

The Struggles of Dennis Smith Jr.

Since a midseason trade from the Dallas Mavericks last year, Smith Jr. has had a difficult time adjusting to New York, at least on a consistent basis. And before going into this, experiencing a personal tragedy such as what he just went through takes a strong person to push on.

Strictly from an on-court perspective, however, beginning with his first three games of the season, Smith Jr. totaled only three points and three assists on 0-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc in 26:12 of play.

Now,  he tweaked his back sometime prior to the beginning of the preseason, which caused him to miss preseason games, a number of practices and – in turn – threw off his timing and conditioning. It’s understandable how that affects a player. It’s also understandable that his mental state could’ve been significantly affected by personal matters. Why was Smith Jr. playing, then? Was it out of fear of losing his place in the rotation? Was it pressure from the team? Was it his own stubbornness?

On the bright side, Smith Jr. looked more like his old self last night in a victory over the Mavericks. Smith Jr. posted 13 points and 8 assists on 5-for-12 shooting in 29:58 minutes of action. While Smith Jr. has been far-less effective through the Knicks’ first 12 games than they’d hoped he would be, they can take some solace in his most recent performance.

But more importantly, they must demand that he rehab fully so he can demonstrate exactly what he’s capable of doing; Smith Jr. could be seen occasionally limping around the court as recently as last game. Otherwise, the Knicks are not only hurting Smith Jr. and his future earning potential, but they’re also hurting themselves by not getting a clean look at a talented young player. Sure, they exercised his fourth-year option for 2020-21, so they have next season to evaluate, too; but every game is important in assessing a young player’s potential output, and you’d prefer to do so by examining healthy performances.

Celtics’ Continuous Injury Bug

This one hasn’t necessarily affected the team’s play since the Celtics entered Thursday night with the league’s best record (9-1). But still, the Celtics – and more specifically, Gordon Hayward – have had some bad luck as far as injuries are concerned in recent seasons.

Hayward suffered a devastating foot injury two seasons ago. He spent the entirety of last year getting back his confidence and rhythm. He came out this season and looked dangerously close to his old self, averaging 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists in eight games.

And then, the unthinkable happened – Hayward suffered another injury that would ultimately require surgery.

Fortunately for Hayward and the Celtics, the broken hand — which required surgery — shouldn’t be season-ending. Also fortunate is the fact that Boston maintained its depth at the wing this offseason, opting to hang on to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

Still, it must be incredibly frustrating for Hayward, the Celtics and their fans to see the team’s fourth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder miss extended time – again –  to another injury. Hopefully, this is the last major injury Hayward suffers, and hopefully the Celtics’ entire roster can remain relatively healthy for the foreseeable future – because no one wants to see seasons decided by injuries.

We are only slightly more than 10 percent of the way through the 2019-20 season, so every team and player mentioned above has a chance at redemption. Still, each of the above disappointing starts is a cause for concern. And every player and team should begin preparing countermeasures to combat the possibility that the above-mentioned disappointing trends linger longer than expected.

But one thing’s for sure: When we’re talking about teams from the Atlantic Division, each and every aforementioned storyline will play out as loudly as possible.

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