NBA GMs pick Brooklyn Nets to win title, Kevin Durant to pick up second MVP

Despite the threat of Kyrie Irving sitting out Brooklyn Nets‘ home games due to his reluctance to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the NBA general managers still overwhelmingly picked them to win this year’s crown.

In the annual NBA GM survey released Tuesday, the Nets received 72 percent of the votes, with the Los Angeles Lakers coming in as a distant second with just 17 percent. Defending champion Milwaukee Bucks got 10 percent votes.

The NBA GMs are bullish on the Nets primarily because of Kevin Durant, who showed no ill effects of the devastating Achilles injury he suffered two years ago. They predict that Durant (37%) will pick up his second regular-season MVP award over Dallas Mavericks’ fast-rising superstar Luka Doncic (34%).

Durant is also the second most popular choice among GMs behind Stephen Curry as the player who forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments.

Quicker and more agile than most power forwards and taller than perhaps all small forwards, Durant possesses the combination of size, talent, and high basketball IQ that tips the scale for the Nets. The NBA GMs view Durant as the best small forward and the third-best power forward behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.

Durant, who came a couple of inches away from eliminating eventual champion Milwaukee in the playoffs, was the GMs’ top choice as the player they would want to take a shot with the game on the line. He was also ranked third in the most versatile player poll and received votes for the best pure shooter in the league, a recognition that went to Curry.

Even with the looming absence of Irving, the Nets have insurance in James Harden, another MVP caliber guard. Harden was voted as the best shooting guard by the NBA GMs and also collected votes in the best passer poll.

The Nets also made several low-key offseason moves but are expected to have a pronounced impact on their championship aspirations. The addition of veterans Patty Mills and Paul Millsap, plus the return of LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin, gives Brooklyn the depth they never enjoyed last season. Nets’ GM Sean Marks’ efforts received the third most votes for the best overall moves this offseason from his peers.

The Nets are pegged to be the most fun team to watch this upcoming season.

With their Big 3 resting, the Nets were still fun to watch at the start of the preseason with their livewire rookie Cam Thomas leading the way. Last Sunday at the Staples Center, the Nets obliterated the LeBron James and Russell Westbrook-less Lakers, 123-97.

Thomas’ red-hot shooting from the Summer League spilled into the preseason as he finished with 21 points on 50 percent from the floor. The Net’s 27th selection received votes in the poll of the biggest steal at where he was selected in the Draft.

Mills, who is coming off a bronze medal run in the Olympics, was voted as the second-best underrated player acquisition in the offseason. The Australian guard also received votes in the poll of active players who will make the best head coach someday.

Steve Nash landed fourth on the list of coaches who run the best offense while he also received votes for the coach who is the best manager/motivator of people. David Vanterpool, whom the Nets added to Nash’s coaching staff in the offseason, was tied with Scott Brooks as the third-best assistant coach in the league.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Cam Thomas is eager to prove he’s more than a scorer I LSU star opens up about meeting with Tom Thibodeau, Knicks

LSU star Cam Thomas is an elite three-level scorer. Will the New York Knicks take a flier on him after a solid workout and meeting?

Cam Thomas is an irreverent scorer. He has irrational confidence reminiscent of the late Kobe Bryant, a cold-blooded scoring assassin in the NBA who went down to become an all-time great.

It’s not hard to see why he wears No. 24 because he grew up idolizing the late Laker legend. Now, he has shifted his eyes on Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker, a known Black Mamba disciple on top of his other current favorite NBA players.

“Throughout the NBA playoffs, I’ve been watching Devin Booker,” Thomas said on Monday during his NBA Draft media availability.

He’s been paying attention to his footwork, the way he glides in the perimeter, and creates space for himself and others. He watches how he launches his threes.

“I like to pick up some of his moves in the midrange and just really trying to look at his game because we play very much alike and similar,” Thomas said.

Aside from Booker, he’s watched a ton of Kyrie Irving and James Harden and a little bit of Bradley Beal. “I really watch those guys a lot and take from them the most,” Thomas said.

This draft class’ microwave scorer has paid attention to the star bucket getters while scouts have often compared him to Lou Williams, a role player whose instant offense off the bench won him three Sixth Man of the Year awards. While it has some weight to it after emerging as a prolific scorer in LSU and nothing much else, Thomas says he’s more than just a three-level scorer.

“I feel like those analyses were totally wrong. It’s just the system I was in. I feel like nobody really knows the room for [my growth] as a player. I’ll just keep going and prove them wrong. I feel like I can do that [in the NBA] because I’ve done it before,” Thomas said.

As LSU’s go-to guy, Thomas led all NCAA freshmen with a 23.3-point scoring average. It was the fourth-highest scoring average by a first-year player on the LSU team behind only Pete Maravich as a sophomore in 1967-68 (43.8), Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf as a freshman in 1988-89 (30.2), and Bob Pettit as a sophomore in 1951-52 (25.5). His 22 20-point games were the most 20-point games of any LSU player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992. He had 16 games of at least 25 points, the most by an SEC freshman in the one-and-done era or since 2006.

But despite those accolades, Thomas isn’t viewed as a lottery pick because of his perceived tunnel vision. He averaged 3.4 rebounds and just 1.4 assists.

Thomas insists he has more to show, and that was just a product of the system he was in college.

“[I wasn’t able to show] really playing without the ball in my hand. I feel like I can do that at the next level,” Thomas said. “Again, getting my teammates involved. I really didn’t show that in LSU because my role is to be the primary scorer. I feel like when I get to the NBA, I have to show that first and then build from there.”

Thomas has always been a scoring machine. He left Oak Hill Academy as the program’s all-time leading scorer surpassing Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. But buried under those eye-popping 26.2-point and 31.5-point scoring averages in his two years there were the identical 3.4 assists he dished out per game.

“I feel really good about [my playmaking],” Thomas said. “Being a scorer kind of opens up for me to make plays for others because everybody worries about me putting the ball in the basket and scoring. Me just having that skill helps up my other skills as far as making plays for others. I just try to attack and get quick buckets.”

Sure, some teams need bucket getters. One of them is the Knicks, who struggled to score when they reached the NBA playoffs for the first time in eight years.

Thomas had the Knicks’ attention. He’s one of the many prospects they invited at their Tarrytown practice facility in New York. But they’re also one of the few teams Thomas met ahead of the NBA Draft. So far, Thomas has met with the Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, and the Memphis Grizzlies aside from the Knicks.

“I met with the Knicks, which was my second workout like a few weeks ago. It went really well,” Thomas said. “I see myself fitting in with the Knicks because I was told they needed a bucket getter, a player who can make plays at the end of the shot clock in a game, it’s just a closer type so I see myself coming in, being the scorer I am, I can help the team.”

Thomas can provide an instant boost to a Knicks offense that relied heavily on Julius Randle last season. The LSU standout came away from that meeting, believing he could have a bright future with the Knicks if ever they pick him.

“Coach Thibs was in the meeting so we talked about the good stuff and it was really a good conversation. I don’t know everybody. But it was a good dialogue.” Thomas said. “I feel like I can fit in really well because he believes I can fit in his system and I feel like I can shoot so… we’ll see on Thursday.”

As he prepares for the NBA Draft on Thursday, Thomas continues to work on his game in between the teams’ workouts trying to improve on everything from scoring to rebounding and playmaking. But on top of that, he’s got two priorities.

“[I’m] just trying to get into shape as much as possible. You’re never in too much shape so I’d like to be in top shape so I can be on the court without being tired. Trying to lock in on the ball defensively, I keep working on that and just those two things. I wouldn’t call those weaknesses because it’s just mental stuff,” he said.

Thomas is a certified bucket getter, but he’s eager to prove he has more to offer.

While he has the late Laker legend’s scoring instincts, his irrational confidence comes from his strong work ethic and military discipline cultivated by his mother, Leslie Thomas, an army veteran.

“I put in a lot of work and for how much I’ve put in, I should be confident,” Thomas said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Big Ten: The Illinois Quarterback Job Falls On Cam Thomas

In the last Big Ten quarterbacks article, we looked at the Northwestern Wildcats and their QB situation. It’s only fair that in the next article, we look elsewhere in the state and check out the Illinois Fighting Illini. Unlike the other Big Ten team in the state, Illini fans can hardly be content with their team’s results.

Their two wins came against Ball State and Western Kentucky, in the first two games of the season. Every game outside of those two went down as a loss, and as you would expect from a team with a two win record, Illinois experimented with quarterbacks.

Jeff George Jr. had the most snaps and attempted 181 passes, throwing for 1,273 yards and seven touchdowns all season. However, Chayce Crouch also attempted 91 passes, ending the season with 443 yards and a single touchdown. Freshman Cam Thomas also had a bit of playing time, with 66 attempts and 375 yards. It seems like Illinois should have options going into next season.

But they really don’t.

A bad turn of events hit the Illini, and now the pressure falls on one player. After announcing in January that he was going to transfer, Jeff George Jr. picked Michigan as the school where he’ll spend his last two years of eligibility. At least Illinois has Chayce Crouch, right? Well, Crouch decided to walk away from football despite being a junior last season and having one year left during his college career.

“I don’t think there is anything left to give. I have decided to hang up the cleats and end my career as a Fighting Illini. At this point in my life, this is what is best for me and I hope you all respect my decision,” Crouch wrote. With his retirement, only one of the Illini quarterbacks to attempt a pass last season is still on the team.

Cam Thomas played in four games last season, his pass attempts increasing game by game as the season came to a close. The numbers weren’t good. 42% completion percentage, no passing touchdowns, and five interceptions. But with the team as a whole going winless in the conference, you can’t blame all of it on Thomas.

The Illini just weren’t a very good football team last season, and there was no realistic way that a freshman quarterback like Thomas would make them look better after entering so late into the season. Still, Thomas has the potential to progress his game entering his second season. The starting job will fall to him as the only experienced quarterback on the roster, and against Northwestern, he had one of the only bright moments of the game for Illinois and showed what he can do while tucking and running.

In the Illinois spring game, he showed his progress in the passing game and threw a 71 yard touchdown to Caleb Reams. “He can do everything. He’s so smart, he puts us in a great position to make good plays,” said teammate Reggie Corbin, about Thomas. During spring ball, head coach Lovie Smith emphasized that while Thomas isn’t completely ready, he’s shown potential and is moving in the right direction.

Whether or not Thomas will be starting material by the time the season rolls around remains to be seen. They really need him to be. The team has enough problems to deal with next season without worrying about whether or not the quarterback will blow games.