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The Starting 5: Hapless Hornets Hampered by Harmed Hero

Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports

The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet 

1. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Injury Means Lost Season For Hornets – Chris Barnewall, BBALLBREAKDOWN

Life in the NBA has been rough for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist since he was drafted second overall in 2012. Not only did he have the misfortune of being picked by the then-Bobcats, he was selected between superstar Anthony Davis and rising star Bradley Beal, rough comparisons for a defensive genius with a broken jump shot. Now, as Grantland’s Danny Chau pointed out, the torn labrum he suffered in Charlotte’s first preseason game means he’ll miss more games than he did last season for the fourth year in a row. He’ll be sidelined for six months, and since we know from the games he’s missed in the past just how bad the Hornets are without him, things don’t look great in Charlotte. Barnewall here details just how essential MKG is to the team, and how bad things look without him. The Nicolas Batum for Noah Vonleh trade in particular has the chance to blow up in Michael Jordan’s face if Batum chooses to leave in unrestricted free agency after what could very well be a lost season.

2. Rookie Point Guard Cameron Payne Could See Playing Time Sooner Than Expected – Anthony Slater, The Oklahoman

The Oklahoma City Thunder have a proven ability to develop players, and it seems to already be paying off for rookie Cameron Payne. According to Slater’s piece, Payne has been living in the Thunder’s practice facility this summer in an attempt to make up for missing Summer League with a fractured finger. He was also given personal attention by Mo Cheeks, who mentored Russell Westbrook in his first stint as an assistant coach for the Thunder. While results from a friendly scrimmage have to be taken with a grain of salt, the combination of extra effort and expert advice seems to have paid off. If he continues to play well, Payne’s easy confidence – this is the player who told ESPN, “There is no ceiling for Cameron Payne” moments after being drafted – could see him challenging D.J. Augustin for minutes as Westbrook’s backup.

3. Scotto: Dragan Bender’s Rising NBA Draft Stock – Michael Scotto, Sheridan Hoops

It usually seems a little aggressive to start talking about the 2016 draft two weeks before the season even starts, but when one of the top European prospects comes to Chicago and New York to play out the latest chapter in an almost 40-year-old rivalry, exceptions must be made. While he unfortunately bears no relation to Firelord Zuko, Bender still projects to be a valuable player in the new NBA. Scotto’s breakdown of the Croatian forward’s skills suggests he’ll be a staunch defensive presence, which seems insane when you consider the 7-footer also has the offensive versatility to play some small forward. Scotto’s reporting indicates multiple NBA teams are salivating at the prospect of drafting Bender, with one anonymous GM even willing to offer up the obligatory Pau Gasol comparison at this early date.

Bonus: Marc Stein of ESPN.com did play-by-play for the Maccabi vs Olimpia game at United Center in Chicago, and has a pretty funny account of how he fared in his first-ever trip to the announcer’s table. There’s some good Bender tidbits in there as well, so definitely worth a read.

4. Tweaks: Blazers looking to leverage the shooting ability of Meyers Leonard – Erik Gundersen, Blazer Banter

Overtime in preseason basketball games is undeniably silly, but if getting to watch a few extra minutes of the Kings and Blazers on Monday helped Gundersen write this excellent piece, it was well worth it. To highlight the ways Terry Stotts is adapting to life without LaMarcus Aldridge, Gundersen carefully breaks down two different offensive sets Portland ran for Meyers Leonard. Finding play-by-play analysis that is well written is difficult enough, so the fact that this piece is also understandable and easy to learn from is nothing short of incredible. It’s also a reminder of how interesting the situation in Oregon is this year. Damian Lillard and exciting young players such as Leonard and Noah Vonleh are unlikely to win that many basketball games, but watching them stitch together a post-Aldridge identity on the fly should be fascinating.

5. How Will Damian Lillard Perform As Portland’s Main Offensive Star? – Jacon Rosen, Nylon Calculus

While the young players in Portland are exciting, there is no question that the Blazers are Damian Lillard’s team. As Rosen says, there was a bit of backlash against Dame last year, when a shooting slump made his lackluster defense seem even more inexcusable. It is at least semi-justified to worry that we have already seen his best, that while his development in college let him take the league by storm as a rookie, it also left him little room for further growth. Rosen’s analysis is fairly rudimentary, simply examining the on/off court numbers for Lillard without Aldridge and vice versa, but more in-depth examination would be only marginally more useful. This year, the Trail Blazers become Lillard’s team, and as their play style is redesigned to highlight his skill set, we’ll get a chance to see just how great he can be.

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