Tuesday’s game between the New York Knicks and Portland Trail Blazers at the Garden came down to the wire. There were over 20 lead changes, as momentum swung back and forth. The outcome wasn’t decided until the final possession, as the Knicks ended up pushing past and holding off Portland for a 107-103 victory.
One of the most interesting aspects related to the Knicks’ strong performance down the stretch on Tuesday was the lack of clutch contributions from Carmelo Anthony. In the second half, Anthony was just 2-of-12 from the floor and 0-of-5 from three-point territory. He didn’t score a single point in the fourth quarter, as he missed all three of his field goal attempts.
In years past, there was very little likelihood that the Knicks would have been able to register wins in close games without Anthony taking and making the vast majority of clutch shots. However, if Tuesday night was any indication, we are currently witnessing a changing of the guard in New York City.
Anthony arrived in New York on February 22, 2011. He’s been the best player on the team since the moment he held up that Knicks jersey in his introductory press conference. In his first game, he sealed a Knicks victory over the Milwaukee Bucks with a driving dunk past Carlos Delfino and a short, corner jumper in the waning seconds. Right from the very start the Knicks franchise, which had been desperate for a true superstar since Patrick Ewing left town, was his. The city adored him. The future was bright.
There have been plenty of ups-and-downs during Anthony’s time in the Big Apple. There have been drastic shifts in the front office and multiple head coaching changes. The roster has been turned upside down, and then flipped over again for good measure.
There has been only one constant since that February day in 2011: Carmelo Anthony was the face of the franchise and the team’s best player. Point guards and general managers and coaches have come and gone, but ‘Melo remained.
When was the last time Anthony wasn’t the best player on his basketball team? He was one of the top talents in America and obviously the best player on his high school squad at Oak Hill Academy. In fact, the year prior to that, he was the Baltimore Catholic League Player of the Year at Towson Catholic before he transferred to Oak Hill for his senior season.
In his one season at Syracuse, he averaged 22.2 points and 10 rebounds while leading the Orangemen to their first ever NCAA tournament title. Anthony was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award.
He was Denver’s top gun from the moment he was drafted, leading the Nuggets in scoring his rookie season. Anthony averaged 21 points per game in 2003-04. No other Nugget averaged more than 14 points per contest. He continued to grow and improve as a player, and remained the alpha male in Denver until they dealt him to the Knicks.
Kristaps Porzingis was amazing once again in Tuesday night’s victory over the Blazers. He poured in a game-high 31 points, including a dizzying array of dunks and step-back three-pointers.
Porzingis has exceeded even the loftiest of expectations early in his career. After the first few weeks and months, it was clear that he was uniquely gifted. However, considering he was so slight of build and was still adjusting to living in America and playing in the NBA, most believed it would take him years before he grew into his game and his body.
It was assumed that Anthony would remain the team’s focal point and face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. Eventually, as his career was winding down toward the back end of his contract, Porzingis would have hopefully improved enough by that point so that ‘Melo would feel content passing the torch to his young protege.
However, there is an uncomfortable truth that New Yorkers have to now confront: Carmelo Anthony is no longer the Knicks’ best player.
While Anthony has slowed a bit (Carmelo’s regression is most painfully obvious on the defensive end of the floor), Porzingis’ game has developed at warp speed.
Porzingis is clearly the best all-around player in New York right now. KP’s intoxicating blend of length, athleticism, confidence and incredible skill has him playing at a truly elite level, despite the fact that he’s only 21 years old.
It’s his ability to contribute, and at times dominate, at both ends of the floor that truly separates Porzingis from his peers. He is the currently the only player in the NBA leading his team in both made three-pointers and blocked shots. And consider this: Last season, Steph Curry became the first player in NBA history to shoot above 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point territory and 80 percent from the free throw line, while attempting more than five three-pointers per game. Porzingis is currently shooting 50.2 percent from the floor, 39 percent from downtown and 78 percent from the charity stripe, while averaging 5.5 three-point attempts per game.
Over the Knicks’ last 10 games, Porzingis is averaging 23.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 three-pointers, 0.9 blocks and 0.8 steals, while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor.
Over the Knicks’ last 10 games, Anthony is averaging 23.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.3 three-pointers, 0.4 blocks and 0.7 steals, while shooting 46.6 percent from the floor.
The advanced metrics show an even greater divide. Porzingis’ 2016-17 PER currently sits at 22.2. ‘Melo clocks in at 20.1. Porzingis’ Real Plus/Minus of 3.43 ranks 15th best in the NBA this season. ‘Melo is 35th at 2.03.
A couple of other stats to consider: Over the Knicks first nine games this season, Porzingis averaged 50.3 touches per game, which ranked fourth on the team. New York was 3-6 through their first nine contests. Over the Knicks last five games, KP is averaging 75.2 touches per game, which ranks first on the team. New York is 4-1 over those five contests.
In 12 minutes of “clutch time” (which the NBA defines as the final five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five points or less) this season, Porzingis has attempted just one shot. He made it. He also has no turnovers and no free-throw attempts. Cumulatively, he has a 4.7 percent usage rate and 100 percent True Shooting Percentage in the clutch. In contrast, Carmelo Anthony has attempted six shots in clutch situations this season and, according to NBA.com, he has missed them all (0-for-6). Melo’s usage rate in the clutch is 30.6 percent, or roughly five times greater than Porzingis.
Everyone from fans to the front office to the coaches and the players knew that Porzingis passing Anthony in the pecking order would occur at some point down the road. It was widely acknowledged that ‘Melo was the present and KP was the future.
Only that’s no longer true. Porzingis is both. It’s all happened sooner than we expected.
Now, it will be fascinating to see how this all plays out. If the Knicks goal is to win games this season, do they need to make more of a concerted effort to get the ball to their most efficient scorer more frequently, especially late in the fourth quarter with the game hanging in the balance?
With that said, don’t expect any fireworks. One of the reasons New Yorkers have fallen head over heals in love with Porzingis is his unselfish attitude and modest, self-effacing personality. Porzingis has almost always said the right thing since responding to draft days boos with a smile and an innocuous quip about being happy to have the opportunity to win over New Yorkers. For a kid that could now easily view himself as the new ‘King of New York,’ he’s bashful even being mentioned as a potential prince.
Porzingis has also unfailingly deferred to Anthony, both on and off the court.
After Sunday’s win over the Hawks, Porzingis was quick to correctly credit ‘Melo as a crucial component to his own individual success.
“Without Melo, it would be much more difficult for me to get those 30 points, or 28,” Porzingis said. “People don’t realize that. But that’s how it is. He draws a lot of attention, and he’s the main focus for the other team. That opens up stuff for me. So without him, it would be much more difficult.
“I’m happy to have him and D-Rose and guys who are really aggressive driving to the basket, who draw so much attention for me to be able to get those wide-open looks and then attack. It’s good sometimes that we have that. Without them, it would be much more difficult.”
And he is 100 percent right. In many respects, Porzingis is blessed to not only play alongside a terrifically talented player in Anthony, but also a person who is comfortable in the bright lights of the big city. Anthony is the player whom reporters will run to for a quote when Phil Jackson says or does something that draws negative attention to the team. Anthony will be the one forced to face the music and will be asked the tough questions about unmet expectations if the Knicks fail to advance to the playoffs. Porzingis will eventually have to shoulder the responsibility that comes along with being the face of the franchise, but delaying this inevitability for as long as possible likely only benefits him and the Knicks long-term.
And to his credit, Anthony, by all accounts, has been a trusted and respected mentor to Porzingis. He’s taken the young Latvian under his wing since inviting Porzingis to his personal gym for workouts last summer. Recently, ‘Melo has been effusive in his praise of Porzingis. Earlier this week, Anthony acknowledged Porzingis turns him into a fan on a nearly nightly basis.
“I’m still in awe of kind of some of the things he does on the court. Like yesterday, he made a move and I’m like, ‘Damn.’ You know what I mean? I’m still like a fan of kind of his talent and his skill level,” Anthony said. “I always thought it would kind of take longer to get acclimated. He’s doing a great job with just kind of taking it day by day, still getting a feel for the game and figuring it out on the fly.”
Nonetheless, as Porzingis’ game continues to grow, so will his fame. How will Anthony handle the attention slowly shifting away from his side of the locker room? When the NBA universe starts recognizing Kristaps as the Knicks’ top talent, how will it impact Anthony? At some point, the Knicks will have to seriously consider running plays for KP on the final possessions of close games. Will it be a tough pill for the prideful Carmelo to swallow? It would be only natural for him to have a tough time adjusting to a new role, and a lower ranking in the team hierarchy.
Still, there are obvious advantages for Anthony and reasons he should embrace KP’s accession. ‘Melo is the most efficient and effective version of himself when is set up as a catch-and-shoot scorer. The offense tends to grind to a halt when he dribbles seconds off the shot clock in isolation attempts. He should embrace the space-and-pace brand of basketball espoused by Jeff Hornacek and powered by point guards Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings, as well as Porzingis. As we have seen in summer’s past, “Olympic ‘Melo” is a force to be reckoned with.
There is no denying that ‘Melo remains an incredibly skilled player – one of the best offensive players on the planet. Still, playing alongside an emerging superstar in Porzingis will require a recalibration on his part.
After all, it’s been a very, very long time since Carmelo Anthony wasn’t the best player on his own basketball team.
NBA Daily: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
An inside look-in at the early frontrunners for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
In this fresh edition for Basketball Insiders, there are a few players that should be finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Of course, this prestigious award is given to the contributor who makes the biggest impact on the floor for their team on the defensive side of the ball. In two out of the last three seasons, the award has gone to Rudy Gobert, the rim-protecting center for the Utah Jazz. This past season, Giannis Antetokounmpo won both the DPotY award, as well as Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. Over the past few years, the trending group of finalists for the award has been consistent no matter what the order ends up being.
Can anyone new break in this year?
Anthony Davis will always be in the conversation for this award as he has shown throughout his career that he is one of the league’s most ferocious game-changers. Despite never winning the award before, he has made four NBA All-Defensive teams as well as being the NBA’s leader in blocks on three occasions. Davis’s block numbers are a little lower than they usually are at 1.9 blocks per game this season – compared to 2.4 for his career, per Basketball-Reference. This could be due to the addition of Marc Gasol to the Lakers’ frontcourt, a move that has boosted the team’s rim protection. If Davis can raise his numbers again, he should be in consideration for the award purely based on his defensive presence on the court – but he should still finish among the top five in voting.
The center for the Indiana Pacers – the former potential centerpiece of a Gordon Hayward trade with the Boston Celtics – has continued to show why the team would not package another one of its top players with him. Turner is the current league leader in blocks with 4.2 blocks per game, elevating his game beyond any doubt in 2020-21. He is one of the more underrated rim protectors in basketball, as he has only one top-five finish in the DPotY voting in his career. Turner has also improved his steals metrics this season by averaging 1.5 per game, thus providing a strong defensive presence alongside All-Star frontcourt mate, Domantas Sabonis. Turner should be the frontrunner for the award as things stand right now, but that could change as the season progresses, especially as his injury impacts proceedings.
The reigning two-time MVP should always be in the conversation for the DPotY award as he revolutionizes the defensive side of the floor at an elite level. Currently, Antetokunmpo is averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game to go along with a 106.5 defensive rating, per NBA Advanced Stats. It goes without saying, but Antetokounmpo is a chase-down block artist, always there to contest shots around the rim with his long frame. The 6-foot-11 power forward is one of the league’s top five players due to his exceptional play on both sides of the ball and will always be considered for the DPotY award as long as he in the NBA.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar has been arguably the best defensive small forward in the game over the past few years. He first gained major recognition for his defense during the 2014 NBA Finals against the LeBron James-led Miami HEAT. Since then, Leonard has racked up six All-Defensive team nominations to go along with two Defensive Player of the Year awards. This season, Leonard remains an elite defender for the championship-hopeful Clippers with 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game – but his defensive rating is the highest of his ten-year career at 107.8.
The current league leader in rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers is having a monster season thus far. In a contract year, Andre Drummond is currently putting up 19.3 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 1.7 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game. He also has a very stellar defensive rating of 105.0, a culmination of points allowed per 100 possessions. Drummond is not on a very good team, but that should not take away from the impact he makes when he is on the floor. As a pure rim protector and rebounding machine, he should finish higher up in the voting results than usual, even if his season doesn’t end with Cleveland.
Honorable Mention: Tobias Harris
The Philadelphia 76ers have started the season on a very high note at 9-5, all despite loads of COVID health and safety protocols preventing their full team from taking the floor. Tobias Harris has played a major part in their early-season success leading the NBA in defensive win shares among starters who have played at least 10 games with 0.184, per NBA Advanced Stats. Along with that, Harris is also second in defensive rating among qualified starters at 99.6. The veteran forward has averaged 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. So if the 76ers want to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, Harris’ overall play will be a huge reason for that success.
As the old saying goes, defense wins championships – and these players are the type of players that can change the result of a game every night. Keep an eye on these players as the season moves along as they should garner consideration for both All-Defensive team nominations and the DPotY award.
NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – Jan. 21
Basketball Insiders’ Tristan Tucker provides an update on some of the rookies around the league and which are truly in contention for the Rookie of the Year award.
Through the NBA’s first month, the rookie class has continued to show what they can do on the court. While some have faltered or succumbed to injuries as the games have piled up, others have shone bright and even cracked their team’s starting lineups as the race toward the Rookie of the Year award heats up.
With that in mind, let’s take a third look at Basketball Insiders’ Rookie of the Year ladder stands and see where they stand.
1. LaMelo Ball (Previous: 2)
Through the first month of play, Ball has been, undisputedly, the Rookie of the Year. With numbers that could rival some NBA veterans — 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game — Ball has found a way to impact winning for the Charlotte Hornets without starting a game thus far.
While much of the hoopla around Ball has come from his offensive, he’s been pretty solid on the defensive end as well; his 1.5 steals per game are good for 13th in the NBA, while his 21 total steals tie him for 10th.
On Jan. 9, Ball also made history as the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. An eventual move to the starting lineup should only further promote his game.
He could stand to improve his efficiency, as Ball has shot just 40.3% from the field, 33.3% from three and 67.9% from the free throw line. That said, the sky’s the limit for the young rookie. With Ball at the helm, Charlotte and their fans should feel pretty confident about their group going forward.
2. Tyrese Haliburton (Previous: 1)
Haliburton’s late-lottery selection was a surprise, as the point guard that reportedly shot up draft boards late in the process had always played with a hardworking and winning mentality at Iowa State. Still, he hasn’t missed a beat with the Sacramento Kings and paced the Rookie of the Year race from the start.
His 11.1 points, 5.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game, along with his 51.6% mark from the field and 51% clip from three (on over four attempts a contest) are mightily impressive. Meanwhile, lineups that have featured Haliburton with the Kings’ usual starters have fared exceptionally well; when he’s replaced Marvin Bagley, the Kings are a plus-10.6 and play at a torrid pace.
Haliburton and Ball have comparable stats, with Ball being a better rebounder and Haliburton being a better shooter. But Sacramento’s 5-10 record has kept him out of the top spot for now, as leading his team to a positive record — and a potential playoff spot — will almost certainly work in Ball’s favor when voting commences at the end of the season.
3. James Wiseman (Previous: 3)
After taking a year away from competitive basketball, the fact that Wiseman has been able to contribute at such a high-level right away has come as a pleasant surprise for the Golden State Warriors. Wiseman’s 10.7 points per game place him fifth among rookies, while his 6 rebounds per game place him second.
Fresh off a career-high 20 points against the San Antonio Spurs, Wiseman has continued to learn more each day. Draymond Green’s role in Wiseman’s development could also pay some extreme dividends for the Warriors, as the young center might prove unstoppable were he to incorporate Green’s court vision and handle into his own game.
With numbers comparable to Kevin Garnett’s and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s age-19 seasons, Wiseman has helped put the Warriors in prime position to push for a playoff spot despite the loss of Klay Thompson prior to the season.
4. Tyrese Maxey (Previous: Not Ranked)
With a move into the starting lineup, Maxey has rapidly climbed the board as he’s earned more and more praise. He was always going to be an impressive piece for the Philadelphia 76ers — in fact, Maxey was seen as so crucial to Philadelphia’s future success that he was held out of any potential James Harden trade package — but his 39-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets has seemingly sparked more trust from the team in Maxey early on.
For the season, Maxey has averaged an impressive 11.4 points on 47.7% shooting from the field. But his numbers have spiked since he moved into the starting-five: in six starts, Maxey has averaged 16.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and assists and has shot 46.7% from the field.
If he can sustain that kind of productivity as the 76ers’ health improves, Maxey might be a lock for the All-Rookie First Team. Likewise, expect him to hold down a spot on this list for the foreseeable future.
5. Patrick Williams (Previous: 5)
Despite his late rise, many saw Patrick Williams’ selection by the Chicago Bulls as a reach. But, so far, Williams has proven the doubters completely wrong, as he’s started every game in which he’s made an appearance for the 6-8 Bulls.
That isn’t to say Williams hasn’t been perfect, as many of Chicago’s groups that feature the young forward are net negatives by a good margin. But, so far, Williams has already brought the confidence and energy that you want to see out a top pick. He hasn’t shied away from tough matchups, either, as Williams took to the task of guarding both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in the Bulls’ recent games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, valuable experience that should only further improve his game.
His 10.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 48.5% field goal and 87% free throw percentages are nothing to slouch at, either. So, while it may be a while before he reaches the height of some of his classmates, Williams has look of a special NBA talent.
6. Anthony Edwards (Previous: 4)
Edwards has put up some incredible scoring numbers off the bench for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he’s averaged a rookie-leading 12.2 points in 25 minutes per game.
However, Edwards’ shooting splits have disappointed, while he hasn’t been able to do much to turn around the Minnesota Timberwolves 3-10 season in the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns.
Edwards’ placement on this ladder is contingent on how the Timberwolves both fare in Towns’ continued absence and how different they look upon his return; they showed plenty of promise when he was on the court and Edwards’s standing could improve drastically if the team can turn it around and win some games.
Each year, it would seem as if that the next group of young talent is more exciting than the last. And, with so many talented rookies in the fray, almost any of them could crash the Rookie of the Year party. Make sure to check back on our next update to see who might do just that.
NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises
The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.
Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.
While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.
The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.
The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.
The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.
Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.
Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.
Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.
Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.
Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.
Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.
When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.
Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.
The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.
Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.