The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Five players to watch in the 2018-19 NBA season

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LOS ANGELES: Five players to watch in the 2018-19 NBA season that starts Tuesday:

Kawhi Leonard, Toronto 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 playoffs, 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, Dallas Mavericks

The towering Slovenian guard was the MVP of the EuroLeague Final Four as he led 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 19year-old Doncic will prove worth it, calling his ball skills “incredible.”

Ben Simmons, Philadelph­ia 76ers

Australia’s Simmons averaged a stellar 15.8 points, 8.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game that led to Rookie of the Year honors 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 3pointer 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, Milwaukee 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 s for the 44win Bucks.

The physically imposing and versatile 23-year-old has increased production in almost every statistica­l category per season in his four-year 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, Golden State 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 $5.3 million deal with the All-Star center 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, twotime regular season MVP Stephen Curry, three-time NBA champion Klay Thompson and three-time 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.”

 ??  ?? Leonard drives to the basket as Brooklyn Nets’ Treveon Graham defends.
Leonard drives to the basket as Brooklyn Nets’ Treveon Graham defends.

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