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Knicks Should Steer Clear of Kemba

The Knicks should not spend draft capital or youth to acquire Kemba Walker, writes Tommy Beer.

Tommy Beer



Kemba Walker is better than any point guard the Knicks have had in a decade. He’s dynamic, disruptive and exciting on the offensive end of the floor. Last season, Walker was named to his first All-Star team and was one of just four players in the entire league to average at least 23 points, five assists and three made 3-pointers per game (James Harden, Steph Curry and Isaiah Thomas were the other three). Kemba is also a New York native, born in the Bronx back in May of 1990, and has had some incredibly memorable performances inside MSG.

Yet, with all that said, the Knicks should not trade away draft picks or young players for Kemba Walker.

Last Friday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Hornets had made Walker available in trade discussions. This created a buzz in New York, as Knicks fans weighed the pros and cons of trading the homegrown star.

Although many overzealous fans are willing to abandon a patient approach at the first opportunity to add a high-profile player, the Knicks would be foolish to even consider such a move.

Despite a hot start fueled by a favorable early-season schedule, New York is currently six games under .500 at 21-27. They are four games back of the eighth-seeded Sixers. Based on the current standings, the Knicks are just as close to having a top-five pick in the 2018 NBA draft as they are to the qualifying for the postseason (New York is four games ahead of the Phoenix Suns, who currently have the fifth worst record in the NBA). Despite the recent struggles of the squads atop the Eastern Conference (the Cavs and Celtics are a combined 3-10 over their last 13 games), the Knicks are nowhere near being competitive with the top teams in the league. New York won’t be close to that elite level next season either. The addition of Walker would not change that fact.

Instead, it would merely push the Knicks closer to the middle of the pack, the NBA’s dreaded no man’s land: Not good enough to advance past the first round of the postseason, but not bad enough to land a top lottery pick. It’s a situation the Knicks have found themselves in far too often over the last two decades. At times, New York has talked about rebuilding, but they have been unable to remain patient enough to rebuild the right way.

Here’s a sobering fact: Dating back to the start of the 2001-2002 season, the Knicks have the been the worst team in the sport. Yes, with a cumulative record of 549-795, their winning percentage (.408) ranks dead last among non-expansion franchises. The only team with fewer wins over the previous 17 years is the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats, who were re-established in 2004.

The primary reason for the Knicks’ continued failure is their refusal to commit to competently constructing a roster. In the past, even after they had taken a couple of steps in the right direction, they would scrap the plan and change direction mid-course. We’ve seen it time and time again; trading away the future for a big-name player, or spending far room much of the salary cap on an offensively gifted free agent.

The Knicks are currently on relatively firm footing, and could be on their way to building a competitive team. For starters, they have Kristaps Porzingis. He is the foundation, the building block upon which a contender can be created. You need at least one All-NBA caliber player to be a truly elite NBA team, and KP has that potential. The Knicks also own all of their future first-round draft picks. As we know, that hasn’t always been the case in New York. In fact, the Knicks haven’t been able to use first-round picks in back-to-back drafts since 2008 and 2009. It is imperative that the Knicks hold onto their future selections. Especially with the stagnating salary cap, it’s crucial to be able to have rotation players locked into rookie-scale contracts.

Speaking of the salary cap, the contracts that the Hornets want to attach to Kemba Walker in any potential deal is another major reason why the Knicks should stay far away. Walker is the carrot Charlotte is dangling in order to get another team to swallow the bloated salary of Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Nicolas Batum.

The Knicks need to keep their cap clean going forward, so they can flesh out the rest of the roster around Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina.

Yes, keeping Frank Ntilikina in New York should be a priority as well. Ntilikina has struggled mightily on the offensive end over the first few months of his rookie campaign, and there is no denying that. His inefficiency has been staggering; his percentages are horrendous. However, his mechanics are solid and his body of work in France and international competitions suggest that it’s only a matter of time before his shots start falling. Plenty of stars have struggled as rookies transitioning into the NBA, especially those that have entered the league as teenagers. Keep in mind, Frank is the second youngest player in the league this season.

Moreover, Ntilikina’s defense has been impressive since he first stepped foot on an NBA court. His combination of length and athleticism on the perimeter are already giving opposing point guards headaches. As he puts on weight and strengthens his core, he will become an even feared defender. There will be plenty of bumps in the road, but Ntilikina’s upside is undeniable.

Trading away a young, promising, defensive-minded point guard for Kemba Walker would provide a short-term benefit, but wouldn’t serve the best interests of the franchise in the long run. Arguably the most appealing aspect of trading for Walker is having him at an under-market salary through the end of the 2018-19 season. However, as noted above, the Knicks aren’t going to make noise next season even with Kemba. Then, come July of 2019, they would have to re-sign him with a significant raise. The thought of handing $100-plus million to a 29-year old Kemba Walker is not appealing.

Instead of trying to trade away young players or draft picks for veterans, the Knicks should be trying to trade their veterans for young players and picks.

Incredibly, New York has not received a first-round draft pick in a trade since 2005, when they agreed to take on the bloated salary of Malik Rose from the Spurs. Over the last seven years, the Knicks have traded away four first-rounders, the maximum allowable amount under the league’s “Stepien rule.” They have not owned the rights to both their first and second-round picks in the same draft since 2003.

Fortunately, it appears the Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry are taking a prudent approach to the upcoming trade deadline. According to Ian Begley of ESPN, “opposing executives have gotten the impression that the Knicks are opposed to trading draft picks or taking on a significant amount of salary unless it brings back a transformative player.”

Kemba Walker is not a transformative player. The Knicks would be wise to sit tight, protecting their picks and cap space so they can properly build around Porzingis.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.


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Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance

Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.

David Yapkowitz



Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.

The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.

As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.

For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.

“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”

Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.

He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.

The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.

“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”

Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.

He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.

“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”

Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.

Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.

If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.

For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.

“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”

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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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