Five play­ers to watch in the new sea­son

Bangkok Post - - NBA -

KAWHI LEONARD (RAP­TORS)

The for­mer NBA Fi­nals Most Valu­able Player and two-time De­fen­sive Player of the Year missed all but nine games last sea­son with a right quadri­ceps in­jury, his re­la­tion­ship with the San An­to­nio Spurs de­te­ri­o­rat­ing to the point that he re­quested the trade that fi­nally landed him in Toronto.

The Rap­tors, who led the East with 57 wins last sea­son but were swept by Cleve­land in the play-offs, are bet­ting on Leonard’s fit­ness as well as their abil­ity to hang onto him when he be­comes a free agent at the end of the sea­son.

LUKA DON­CIC (MAV­ER­ICKS)

The tow­er­ing Slove­nian guard was the MVP of the Euroleague Fi­nal Four as he lead Real Madrid to the ti­tle in June.

Dal­las made a big draft-day move to ac­quire him from At­lanta af­ter the Hawks drafted Don­cic third over­all and Mav­er­icks icon Dirk Now­itzki be­lieves the 19-year-old Don­cic will prove his worth, call­ing his ball skills “in­cred­i­ble”.

BEN SIMMONS (76ERS)

Aus­tralia’s Simmons av­er­aged an out­stand­ing 15.8 points, 8.2 as­sists and 8.1 re­bounds per game on the way to Rookie of the Year hon­ours last sea­son.

His emer­gence helped the 76ers reach the Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals and now 76ers fans — and foes — will be keen to see just how much the 22-year-old has been able to pol­ish up his in­con­sis­tent jump shot.

Simmons says he won’t be a three­p­ointer pow­er­house, and that’s OK with Six­ers coach Brett Brown, who wants to see Simmons be­come more ef­fec­tive in the post and im­prove on his 56 per­cent free throw shoot­ing.

GIAN­NIS AN­TE­TOK­OUN­MPO (BUCKS)

Is the “Greek Freak” headed for an MVP sea­son? An­te­tok­oun­mpo av­er­aged an im­pres­sive 26.9 points, 10.0 re­bounds, 4.8 as­sists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocked shots for the 44-win Bucks.

The phys­i­cally i mpos­ing and ver­sa­tile 23-year-old has in­creased pro­duc­tion in al­most ev­ery sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gory per sea­son in his fouryear ca­reer. Af­ter lead­ing the league in points in the paint last sea­son, An­te­tok­oun­mpo says he’s aim­ing to show im­prove­ment from long range.

An­te­tok­oun­mpo and new Bucks coach Mike Bu­den­holzer seem to be click­ing, with Bu­den­holzer say­ing the player’s work ethic has “ex­ceeded all of my ex­pec­ta­tions”.

DEMAR­CUS COUSINS (WAR­RIORS)

The ar­rival of Cousins lends some in­trigue to the War­riors pur­suit of a third straight NBA ti­tle and their fourth in five years.

Cousins won’t be on the floor when the sea­son be­gins as he con­tin­ues to re­cover from a torn Achilles ten­don suf­fered in Jan­uary while he was with the New Or­leans Pel­i­cans.

Nev­er­the­less, the War­riors inked a US$5.3 mil­lion deal with the All-Star cen­tre, who was av­er­ag­ing 25.2 points, 12.9 re­bounds, and 1.6 blocks when he was hurt.

The some­times com­bustible Cousins can add an im­pos­ing in­te­rior pres­ence to a War­riors team that al­ready boasts two-time reign­ing play­off MVP Kevin Du­rant, two-time reg­u­lar sea­son MVP Stephen Curry, three-time NBA cham­pion Klay Thompson and three­time NBA All-Star Dray­mond Green.

Coach Steve Kerr ad­mits that fit­ting him in will be a chal­lenge, al­beit a “re­ally good one” for a team that at times last sea­son seemed to be on “au­topi­lot”.

The Rap­tors’ Kawhi Leonard.

The Mav­er­icks’ Luka Don­cic.

Philadel­phia’s Ben Simmons.

The Bucks’ Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo.

The War­riors’ DeMar­cus Cousins.

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