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NBA PM: Who Are the League’s Next Superstars?

Which players will emerge as the next superstars in the coming years? A look at five players who have a legitimate shot.

Alex Kennedy

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Who Are the League’s Next Superstars?

The NBA does a terrific job of marketing its superstars. Athletes like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul among others are household names and extremely marketable.

With no helmets, hats or visors blocking faces on the court, basketball players are easily recognizable. This can lead to players becoming huge celebrities and being extremely visible even when they’re not playing the game that made them famous. Even during the NBA offseason, you will still see these superstars constantly on your television screen – some examples include Griffin pitching GameFly, Paul endorsing State Farm, James selling McDonald’s and Durant repping Sprint.

Of course, before one gets to that point, they must experience success on the hardwood. The players mentioned above are all in their prime, with Durant and Griffin being the youngest at 25 years old, and they’ve solidified themselves as the league’s elite players.

Who are some of the players that will be part of the next wave of NBA superstars? Here’s a look at five players who seem poised for superstardom:

AnthonyDavisInsideOnly1Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – The 21-year-old Davis has quickly become one of the league’s best two-way players. Despite being just a few years removed from high school, he is an All-Star and one of the most productive players in all of basketball.

Last season, Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals. He ranked 14th in the NBA in points per game, 10th in rebounds per game and first in blocks per game. His efficiency rating (26.5) was fourth in the NBA behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love.

Yet, it still seems like Davis has room to improve. Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen that he’s capable of being even more dominant, like when he averaged 24.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.4 blocks in the month of March last season. It’s likely only a matter of time until Davis is in the Most Valuable Player discussion each season. Few players can make an impact on both ends of the floor like Davis, especially 21-year-old players who only have just two years of NBA experience under their belt.

With so many key players withdrawing from Team USA before the World Cup in Spain, Davis seems poised for a huge role with the national team. He was a member of the 2012 Olympic team in London as an injury replacement for Blake Griffin, but he was at the end of the bench and didn’t contribute. He had just been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and was just happy to be there.

Now, he may be Team USA’s most important piece. People know that Davis is good, but the World Cup is his chance to make a statement and show that he’s one of the best players on the planet. In Team USA’s first exhibition game against Brazil over the weekend, Davis was the squad’s leading scorer and he finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. The World Cup could be his coming out party.

The Pelicans don’t play on national TV much, so Davis hasn’t gotten the exposure and recognition that he deserves for his impressive first two seasons in the NBA. That will likely change very soon, and all eyes will be on Davis as he emerges as one of the league’s marquee players. He should continue to make huge strides in his third professional season and, if the Pelicans can remain healthy, he might also make his postseason debut in the 2014-15 campaign.

AndreDrummondInsiderOnly1Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – In case there was any lingering doubt, Drummond proved that he’s a beast during the final month of the 2013-14 season when he averaged 18.4 points, 17.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. He was unstoppable, and he’ll likely pick up right where he left off when the 2014-15 campaign gets underway.

The Pistons realize just how good Drummond is going to be, which is why they’re building around him and clearly making him the face of the franchise. Drummond just turned 21 years old last week, which is a terrifying thought for the rest of the league. Averaging 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for a season is impressive for any player, but it’s remarkable when that individual wasn’t even old enough to legally order alcohol.

Now, the Pistons have hired Stan Van Gundy as their new head coach and president of basketball operations. This should be excellent for Drummond’s development, as Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the league and understands how to use a dominant interior presence. Keep in mind that he coached Shaquille O’Neal in Miami and Dwight Howard in Orlando, and experienced success with both.

Based on Detroit’s offseason moves, it seems that Van Gundy wants to use Drummond like he used Howard in Orlando – surrounding him with shooters, running the offense through him and forcing teams to pick their poison. If you double-team Drummond, you’re leaving a shooter open. If you stay on the shooters, you’re leaving a poor defender alone in the paint with Drummond. The Magic used this strategy – coupled with great defense – to win many games throughout Van Gundy’s tenure in Orlando and went all the way to the 2009 Finals even though they weren’t the most talented team on paper.

With Van Gundy, an increased role and the continued development expected from a 21-year-old, Drummond certainly seems poised for a monster season. It’s amazing that Drummond slipped to No. 9 in the 2012 NBA draft. The Pistons clearly got a steal, because their young big man has the physical tools and freakish athleticism to eventually be a superstar.

There aren’t many dominant centers in the NBA these days so when Drummond realizes his full potential and reaches his prime in a few years, he’ll be a headache for opposing coaches and big men.

KyrieIrvingInsideOnly1Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers – It’s easy to forget that Irving is just 22 years old. After all, he has already made the All-Star team twice (winning the MVP award in last year’s game) and he’s widely regarded as one of the league’s best point guards. He’s also one of the more exciting players in the NBA, as he can humiliate opposing defenders with his crossover, speed and ability to get buckets from anywhere on the court.

Entering the 2014-15 season, expect Irving to be even better. With LeBron James and Kevin Love joining the Cavaliers, Irving’s job just became much easier and he may take his game to another level. In his first three seasons in the NBA, he was asked to do an awful lot in Cleveland without much help.

Now, he goes from never having played with an All-Star to teaming up with James and Love, who were ranked second and third among all NBA players in efficiency rating for last season. For a point guard, it doesn’t get much better than running down the court with James on one side and Love on the other. Any floor general would love to play with those two stars, and James and Love are excited to play with Irving as well since he’s the best point guard either has played with in the NBA.

Irving should thrive alongside James and Love, improving as a distributor and putting up points with ease now that defenses can’t focus their attention solely on him. Cleveland is going to get out and run much more under new head coach David Blatt and their fastbreaks are going to be a thing of beauty.

Irving’s points per game may go down a bit since he’ll be sharing the ball with his new teammates, but he should be more productive overall and (barring an epic collapse) he’ll make the playoffs for the first time in his career.

Irving is a special talent, and now he has the weapons around him to really show what he can do. Cleveland will play on national television 29 times during the regular season, which should help Irving build his brand and win over casual fans who may not have been as familiar with his game.

In recent years, there was a lot of speculation about Irving’s future and whether he was happy in Cleveland. Now that he has signed a five-year, max extension with the Cavaliers over the summer, that talk will go away and it’s one less distraction that Irving has to worry about. This was an excellent offseason for Cleveland, and Irving should benefit greatly from the sudden influx of talent. He’ll finally have help and he’ll get to perform on basketball’s biggest stage since all eyes will be on the Cavaliers.

DamianLillardInsideOnly1Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – Lillard has exceeded all expectations in his first two seasons in the NBA. A few years ago, Lillard was playing for little Weber State, toiling in obscurity in Ogden, UT since he didn’t receive any scholarship offers from major programs when he was in high school. Now, he has taken the league by storm and become a household name quicker than even the most optimistic Blazers fans expected.

Last season, Lillard made his first All-Star appearance and averaged 20.7 points, 5.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 82 games, which earned him a spot on the All-NBA Third Team. Lillard helped Portland win 54 games and make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference.

Lillard further elevated his game in the postseason. In the Blazers’ upset victory over the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, he filled the stat sheet, averaging a remarkable 25.5 points, 6.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals. Not to mention, he hit the incredible series-ending shot in Game 6, which helped make him an even bigger star.

The 24-year-old has been outstanding in his first two professional seasons and his best basketball is likely still ahead of him. Lillard works extremely hard and he’s one of the most humble players in the NBA thanks to his upbringing and the fact that he flew under the radar for so long. He has always had a huge chip on his shoulder, and he is determined to become one of the most productive players in the league.

Prior to last season, he told Basketball Insiders that his goals for the 2013-14 campaign were to lead Portland to the playoffs, make the All-Star squad and make an All-NBA team. Some critics felt this was unrealistic and mocked him, but he silenced his doubters when he achieved all three goals.

Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge form an excellent one-two punch for Portland, which should keep the team in the postseason for years to come as long as they remain in town and stay healthy. If his first two seasons in the NBA are any indication, Lillard’s future is extremely bright and it’s safe to say he’ll be a superstar in no time.

JohnWallInsideOnly1John Wall, Washington Wizards – Wall made huge strides last season, averaging 19.3 points, 8.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals while leading Washington to the postseason for the first time in five seasons.

He was one of the best point guards in the league statistically, finishing the season ranked first in the league in total assists (721), sixth in total steals (149) and 13th in field goals made (579).

Wall made his first All-Star appearance last season and started to receive recognition as an elite-level floor general. He showed that he could take over games with his scoring ability, make his teammates better with his playmaking skills and lock down the opposition with his perimeter defense.

The Wizards were able to upset the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs and steal two games from the Indiana Pacers in the Conference Semifinals, and Wall was a big reason for the team’s success.

Wall still has room to improve, but that’s expected since he’s only 23 years old. He needs to do a better job protecting the ball, as he averaged 3.6 turnovers per game last year. That number must go down, and it should as Wall has said that the game is slowing down for him and he’s more in control as a floor general these days. Wall is one of the fastest and most athletic guards in the NBA, and he’s still learning how to use that to his advantage without being reckless and out of control.

Also, he must continue to work on his three-point shot. He made significant progress from beyond the arc last season, hitting a career-high 35.1 percent of his three-point attempts after shooting 29.6 percent in his first NBA season, 7.1 percent in his second season and 26.7 percent in his third season. Wall needs to keep that number up, because the long-range threat certainly helped him elevate his game in 2013-14 since it made him much harder to guard.

Last season was huge for Wall and he made the leap from good player to All-Star, which the Wizards were banking on when they gave him a max contract extension last summer. He proved that he’s worth every penny and he should keep improving as he continues to develop.

Last year, Wall put up numbers very similar to Chris Paul (who averaged 19.1 points, 10.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals for the Los Angeles Clippers). This shows how far Wall has come as a floor general and he’s not even in his prime yet, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Honorable Mention – Players like Bradley Beal, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Andrew Wiggins could eventually develop into superstars, but they’re currently a notch or two below the players listed above and are bigger question marks. These players have a ton of potential and have shown glimpses of brilliance, but it remains to be seen how good they’ll become.

Beal is one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA and the position is relatively weak compared to the past, so it’s possible that he could become one of the league’s elite two-guards at some point in the future.

He’s only 21 years old, so the sky is the limit for Beal and he and John Wall should give Washington one of the league’s best backcourts for years to come. However, whether he’ll emerge as a franchise player or superstar is still up in the air.

Beal did play very well during the Wizards’ postseason run last year, elevating his game and averaging 19.2 points, five rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals. However, it’s still too early to put him on the same level as the above players and label him a superstar-to-be.

Antetokounmpo is obviously still very raw and his stats don’t jump off of the page. He averaged just 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, .8 blocks and .8 steals as a rookie, partially because he was adjusting to the NBA competition and partially because he only played 24.6 minutes a night. It seems that head coach Jason Kidd plans to use Antetokounmpo much more and increase his role during the 2014-15 season, so Milwaukee’s main one-two punch will be Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker this year (and for many years to come, if all goes as planned).

During the Las Vegas Summer League, Antetokounmpo was a monster. He has grown to 6’11, but that didn’t stop him from playing point guard for the Bucks – something that Kidd is experimenting with and plans to continue. Antetokounmpo averaged 17 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, one steal and one block in Vegas, and he made his presence felt all over the court. He’s a matchup nightmare since he’s ridiculously tall, long and skilled.

Giannis has an incredible work ethic and he has the potential to be one of the best two-way players in the game. Keep in mind that just two years ago Antetokounmpo was in Greece playing against very weak competition and receiving little guidance. Earlier this year, an NBA executive told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that in Greece Antetokounmpo was essentially playing at the “YMCA level, playing against 35- and 40-year-old guys a lot of days.” It’s why he slipped to No. 15 in the 2013 NBA Draft, and it makes the fact that he held his own against the best players in the world at 19 years old even more impressive. Antetokounmpo has all of the physical tools to be great. The question is, will he realize his full potential and be able to make the leap to stardom?

Wiggins has been labeled a potential superstar since he was in high school. He was the most hyped up prep player since LeBron James, and he wowed talent evaluators with his amazing athleticism and ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor.

In his lone collegiate season at Kansas, he showed flashes of greatness and averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and one block in 35 games. However, he was inconsistent and didn’t always dominate the competition as expected. He could have 41 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four blocks against West Virginia one night and then four games later have just four points and four rebounds in Kansas’ opening round NCAA Tournament loss to Stanford.

With that said, there’s no doubt that Wiggins has a ton of upside and he played well enough to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. It looks like Wiggins will be dealt from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Minnesota Timberwolves later this month, but that actually may help him become a star. In Minnesota, he’ll have the chance to emerge as the face of the franchise, whereas he would’ve been a role player in Cleveland as he deferred to James, Irving and Love. Wiggins will have every opportunity to succeed and put up huge numbers with the Timberwolves.

However, it’s far too early to consider him a future superstar just yet, as he hasn’t played a single minute of NBA basketball. The potential is there, but he has a lot of developing to do before he is on the same level as the five players mentioned on this list.

Catching Up With Kyle Lowry

Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler chatted with Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry recently at the 2014 adidas Nations. Lowry talked about his offseason, how the Raptors can build on last year’s success and much more in this exclusive video interview:


 

 

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers

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This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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