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Six Things to Know: NBA Central Division

A look at six of the most important things to know in the Central Division, including the Bulls’ improved depth up front.

John Zitzler

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This week Basketball Insiders takes a look at six aspects of each division that may be flying under the radar. We kicked our series off with the Southeast Division, now we take a closer look at the Central Division.

The biggest news in the Central Division was of course made by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The return of LeBron James and the acquisition of Kevin Love makes them immediate title contenders. Other major headlines include three coaching changes: Jason Kidd in Milwaukee, David Blatt in Cleveland and Stan Van Gundy in Detroit. The Pacers also lost their star, Paul George, after he suffered a broken leg this summer while playing in a scrimmage for Team USA. While these events may have drawn the most attention, there are number of other items throughout that division that are worth mentioning. Here are six other things to key an eye on in the Central Division in 2014-15.

 1. The Bucks will experiment with Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard

Over the course of the 2013-14 season Bucks fans had little reason to be excited. Everything that could go wrong for the team seemingly did and they struggled all year long, finishing with the worst record in the NBA. However, despite the team’s lack of success there was one reason for optimism, and that was the performance of first round pick Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo dazzled fans almost nightly with his unbelievable playmaking ability. For a player of his size, his ability, not only to handle the ball, but to pass it as well makes him a truly unique talent.

New Bucks Coach Jason Kidd seems to be very intrigued by the unique gifts Antetokounmpo  possesses and is ready to utilize his variety of skills to the fullest. This means Antetokounmpo, who spent the majority of his minutes last season playing as a wing off the ball, will get the chance to be the Bucks primary ball handler at times this season. Antetokounmpo spoke with Basketball Insiders just a few a weeks ago about the possibility of playing point guard.

“It’s something that I feel comfortable with and I’ll play wherever Coach wants me to play, especially when it’s Coach Kidd who thinks that I can play point guard,” Antetokounmpo said. “That makes me feel like, ‘I can play it. I can play point guard.’ I’m going to try my best and just listen to Coach. I’ll do whatever Coach says to do and I’ll get more comfortable.”

It was reported Monday night that Antetokounmpo will get his first chance to start at point guard in Tuesday’s preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Antetokounmpo will reportedly get the start alongside Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Ersan Ilyasova, and Zaza Pachulia. It should be noted that Jason Kidd has experimented with a number of different starting lineups this preseason and that this certainly doesn’t mean he’ll be the starting point guard when the regular season rolls around, but nonetheless it will be an interesting first look.

2. The Bulls have a very deep frontcourt

The two most recognizable names in the team’s stable of big men will be the starters: Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. Both players are very accomplished. Gasol is a four-time All-Star and two-time NBA championships with the Lakers; he is one the better post players in the game today. Noah has been named an All-Star twice and is coming of a season where he was awarded the Defensive Player of the Year. The two will combine to form one of the most talented starting frontcourts in the league this season.

While Noah and Gasol will likely get the majority of the minutes, the Bulls have a number of impressive big men they can bring off the bench. The most important player in that group will be Taj Gibson. Gibson has developed into a terrific defender and is more than capable of putting up double digit points on any given night. He has the talent to be starter, but for now will be utilized as one of the premier bench bigs in the league.

The Bulls will also have Nikola Mirotic on their roster this season. Mirotic joins the team after a dominate stint with Real Madrid of the Liga ACB. During his time with Real Madrid he was named twice named to the All-ACB team, was chosen to the All-Euroleague two times and was named the Spanish league MVP in 2013. He is a very good shooter from the outside, shooting just over 40 percent in his last five years with Real Madrid. Mirotic is a much different player than Gibson and the two should complement each other nicely.

The Bulls also have Nazr Mohammed fighting for one of the final roster spots. Mohammed isn’t going to wow you with incredible athleticism or an array of offensive moves but he will offer a steady defensive presence when he is on the court. He likely won’t see many minutes considering the players in front of him, but if he is called upon he will be ready.

3. Stan Van Gundy is stressing conditioning with the Pistons

Stan Van Gundy has a massive undertaking ahead of him to turn the Pistons into a contender. The team significantly unperformed last season and was one of the bigger disappointments in the league. However, he isn’t taking over a team where the cupboard is bare. The Pistons have some talented players. Andre Drummond has the chance to be a truly dominant center with his combination of athleticism and size. Josh Smith has proven throughout his career that he can be an elite defensive player. Greg Monroe is back and the team added Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin, all players who can improve the team this season.

Since taking over, one thing Van Gundy has really focused on has been the team’s conditioning. He has made point during training camp to work his guys into the best shape possible with the season right around the corner. Drummond recently spoke with Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press on the topic.

“There’s one thing I can tell; we’ll probably be the best conditioned team in the NBA,” Drummond said with a chuckle. “I can tell you that right now.”

It’s clear Van Gundy is already making his mark on his new team. While they may not be a contender this year it won’t be due to fatigue. Van Gundy appears to already be making strides in getting the Pistons back on the right track.

4. Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles will both be important pieces for the Pacers

After Paul George suffered a horrific leg injury while playing for team USA, which will likely sideline him for the season, it left the Pacers with a huge hole to fill. Both CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey were acquired this offseason to help George and the Pacers make another deep playoff run. Their roles quickly changed following the devastating injury to George.

We know for certain that George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert will be in the team’s starting lineup. Those players have all been steady contributors on very good Pacers teams the last couple of years. If the Pacers have hopes of salvaging their season without George they will need Miles and Stuckey to step up and take on bigger roles than expected. Both may now have the chance to start. Stuckey has been working in the backcourt along with George Hill in practice recently. Frank Vogel spoke with Candace Buckner of the IndyStar about what he has seen from Stuckey.

“Stuckey’s a big, punishing type of guy,” Vogel said. “The two of them played a lot together today and looked really comfortable together. I was pretty excited about what it looked like. Just mixing up, who’s bringing the ball up, who’s playing off screens…and having a two-guard attack, that’s one of the things I’ve been excited about early on in camp.”

Miles is intrigued by the potential of an increased role.

“When I have played and what I have done, it’s been with the first group,” Miles said. “So, we’ll see. The next couple of days, that’s when they’ll let me do more and more. Hopefully, it’ll stay that way.”

All signs so far point to Stuckey and Miles getting the chance to start and play extended minutes. The Pacers will count on consistent production from both to help ease the loss of the team’s star. If the group can mesh together they have the chance to still be a fringe playoff type of team.

5. David Blatt may have the Cavs play some zone defense

With all the talent on the Cavs roster they should have no problem scoring the ball. LeBron James alone will make things much easier for all his teammates. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have proven that they can fill it up without the help of James as well, so expect buckets to come even easier for them this season. The biggest concern with this new and improved group of Cavaliers will be on the defensive end.

First year head coach David Blatt isn’t afraid to try something a little different on that end if it means slowing down the opposition. Zone defense is generally frowned upon  in most NBA circles, some viewing it as the lazy way out. However, Blatt who comes to Cleveland after coaching in Europe, has seen how effective a good zone defense can be if used properly. Blatt spoke with Jason Lloyd of the Beacon Journal about the idea of playing some zone defense this season.

“I like any defense that helps you gain an advantage or helps you change the way the other guy plays,” Blatt said.

It may not be a staple of the Cavs’ defense, but be on the lookout this year for Blatt and the Cavs to surprise some teams with a zone defense if they aren’t getting it done in man-to-man.

6. The Central Division has the chance to be the strongest in the East

It all starts up top with the loaded Cavaliers and a Bulls teams that has become a perennial contender over the last five years. Both those squads will battle all-season long for Eastern Conference Supremacy. The two are locks to make the playoffs and are the favorites to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Although the Bulls and the Cavs are the most highly regarded teams in the division the rest of the division shouldn’t be overlooked.

Expectations for the Pacers have fallen off significantly following the injury to George. However, don’t expect coach Vogel and company to just roll over and consider the season lost. They have spent too many years establishing a winning culture to regress back to a below-average team. It goes without saying that they won’t be the same type of threat they have been in recent years, but if Stuckey and Miles can provide consistent production the team will be OK. In Detroit Stan Van Gundy will be eager establish that same type of winning culture and has some very talented players to work with. The team figures to be much more disciplined this season and with the addition of some perimeter shooters should become a more balanced offensive unit. They have the chance to make some noise and don’t be shocked if they sneak into the playoffs. The Bucks are still in rebuilding mode, but have a lot talented young players. Jason Kidd will has a good amount of work ahead of him, but has a group hungry to improve and capable of pulling off an upset on any given night.

Make sure to follow our Six Things to Know series throughout the week to stay updated on what’s happening in each division.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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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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