The Washington Wizards, according to Bradley Beal, are the Eastern Conference’s top squad. Beal, 24, believes Washington can challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for supremacy in the conference: “I feel like we’re the best team in the East, I really do. That’s how we feel coming into the season. We love the matchup against them and why not? I said it and JR didn’t like it too much, some of their other guys didn’t like it too much. But I felt that way. It’s not disrespect with them, I’m not saying we’d have won the series, but I feel like our competition level and matchups would’ve been better. I’d have loved to see it, but at the end of the day you tip your hat to them. They’ve been in the Finals for the last three years.”
Chris Paul isn’t concerned his pairing with James Harden in Houston is going to create problems with distributing the basketball. He knows both are called ball-dominant, but he has no concerns with playing on the court at the same time as his new teammate. Paul said: “I hate to say this, but somebody who says that, they obviously don’t watch enough. Somebody will say, ‘ball-dominant,’ but at the end of the day, you’re called on to do what your team needs you to do. If you’re a 3-point shooter, and the coach puts you in to shoot 3-pointers, are you going to say, ‘He’s just a 3-point shooter?’ The thing is, having the ability to have a guy who can create off the dribble and stuff like that is nice. And great.” Paul is closing in on 10,000 career assists while Harden has been the runner-up to the MVP award each of the last two seasons. Harden led the NBA in assists per game in 2016-17 with 11.2 while Paul was sixth with 9.2. It’s natural to think those numbers will go down with another high-assists guy on the court, but in a system like Mike D’Antoni’s there is always plenty of scoring to go around as well as assists. This season Paul hopes that he will be able to spend more time off the ball like he did in Olympic play: “I know how hard that can be, coming down, having to create so many plays on a nightly basis. That’s something me and him talked about; being able to deviate some of that pressure.” Paul left the Clippers after six seasons and zero Western Conference Finals appearances. In his time there, he got the reputation for being very controlling on the court and he said: “It was definitely time for a change. It was definitely time for a change”.
Before he was selected 27th overall in the 2017 NBA draft, before he averaged 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game in the NBA Summer League, before he teamed up with Lonzo Ball to form “the lightskin connection,” before Lakers fans yelled “KUUUUZZZ” whenever he touched the ball, Kyle Kuzma knew he was the best player in town.
Growing up in Flint, saw it all, and basketball was the way out: “I didn’t want to go back there, I wanted to explore the world and explore life. I wanted to have more to life than Flint.” Before Kyle could even walk, Karri bought her son a Little Tikes basketball hoop. Dunking on that hoop, and using a strip of tape as a free-throw line, remains one of Kyle’s earliest memories. As a junior, he’d averaged 17.9 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.4 blocks per game for Bentley High, so before his senior year, he sent tapes of his shooting at the Y to prep schools, catching the eye of Vin Sparacio, then the head coach at Rise Academy in Philadelphia. Sparacio saw a 6’6″, 175-pound, raw player who had a great feel for the game, and immediately brought him in. The coach saw immediate improvement, and Kuzma ended the season averaging 22 points and seven rebounds and receiving calls from Division I schools. Offers came in from Connecticut, Iowa State, Tennessee and Missouri, among others, before Kuzma decided on Utah. Kuzma steadily improved for the Utes under head coach Larry Krystkowiak. After averaging 8.1 minutes a game his freshman year, Kuzma joined the starting lineup his sophomore season, averaging 10.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and shooting 52.2 percent from the field. In the months before his junior season, Kuzma told himself if he could average close to a double-double and finish his degree in three years, he’d declare for the NBA draft. After posting averages of 16.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and finishing his sociology degree, Kuzma declared.
On draft night, while at a party with 80 friends and family members, Kuzma became a member of the Lakers, who acquired him in the trade that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets. LA’s “other” rookie quickly made a name for himself in summer league, developing a chemistry with No. 2 overall pick Ball before exploding in the early parts of the preseason. The shock hasn’t stopped for his mother. Kyle recently moved her into a nice apartment with his first paycheck. For her, it finally put things in perspective. Her son had left Flint. He had made it to the NBA. His plan was finally a reality.