Can The Knicks Be Fixed?: No one in New York likes to blame the offensive system the team is running. It’s December and the team hasn’t been together for more than two months when you factor in training camp and preseason, but the system is part of the problem.
No one in New York likes to blame the number of new faces on the roster, it’s December and most of the teams in the league have new faces they have already adjusted to, but the new faces is part of the problem.
The Knicks don’t have one big problem; they have lots of little ones.
“I think when we are winning we are defending well and playing off of our defensive energy,” Knicks guard Iman Shumpert told Basketball Insiders. “I think when our defense collapses people get easy shots or second chance shots and it definitely affects us on the other end. So I think as long as we play good defense and make sure we rebound that first shot we should be fine.”
Shumpert is asked on a night to night basis to guard the opposing team’s top playmaker, so he sees first hand when the team breaks down defensively how much things come apart.
Knicks guard Shane Larkin is part of the second unit and is being asked to come in and bring energy. He sees a lot of the team’s problems first hand.
“I would have to say our effort level,” Larkin told Basketball Insiders. “Sometimes we go out there and play hard for the entire game and pull it out and sometimes we just have that one quarter and it can be the first, second, third, or fourth that we just don’t have the same amount of effort. We don’t have the same amount of effort and then we kind of get behind and then we pick it back up and we get back in the game and them we get really close but just aren’t able to get over the hump. We just have to find a way to keep a consistent effort every night and we will be fine.”
There is no doubt that the system the Knicks are running is creating some confusion, especially for guys that are used to playing a certain way. The Triangle Offense is built around a read and react set of philosophies. Rather than just play off of instinct, which many of the Knicks players are used to doing or having hard set rules, the Triangle creates a freer flowing concept that some guys are still struggling with, especially when things start to break down.
“Yeah it is tough and it’s a totally different way to play with each other on the team,” Larkin said. “It’s just those certain situations we are just not figuring it out yet. Going throughout the game the first through the third quarter I think the offense is getting there but it’s not where it needs to be yet. We are making a lot of strides and a lot of improvements in a lot of areas.
“I think when it gets down to crunch time we start thinking too much like ‘Alright this is a play we need to run because we need a basket’ because our offense is built on just coming down the court and being able to make reads. I think situationally we have some ways to improve and we are improving every day we just have to keep working.”
Larkin isn’t the only one that sees his team trying to force the situation to get a win.
“I don’t know if [the offense] definitely plays a factor into it,” Shumpert said. ”A lot of it is just we’ve lost so many games. Once you’ve lost so many games like that you start putting it in your mind not to lose instead of just playing to win. So everybody just needs to take a deep breathe.”
There is no doubt the team is feeling the pressure of each mounting loss and the stress that comes with it, especially in a market like New York where every game is over covered and over analyzed.
The Knicks see their issues as a team.
“We watch film all the time and see when we are just kind of flat out there,” Larkin said. “Then we see when we have great quarters and when we are playing great especially on the defensive end. We play at our best when we run and get out in transition and we see what we are capable of it’s just a matter of getting there at a consistent level for every game and at the moment we are struggling a little bit.”
Losing in the NBA isn’t easy, especially when as a team you can see why you are losing in the game film. For the most part the Knicks players understand it’s a process and they are trying to embrace it.
“Just keep on believing on what you’re doing,” Shumpert said. “Come to work early, leave work late, keep on studying the film and everyone just needs to enjoy the process. It’s a process and it may take a while but we have to keep enjoying it because we still have a lot of basketball left to play.
“We have the guys that we need to win the games and the coaching staff and we got the system we just have to keep working and keep believing in it and once we start taking care of the little things those balls will start bouncing our way and those shots will start going in at the end and will get back on track.”
The biggest challenge for any team making huge systemic changes in how they play is getting guys to stay on program when things get tough. That’s the Knicks’ biggest issue so far this season. Unfortunately for this squad it may also be tied to the underlying notion that many of the players on the team may not be there next year, so when the going gets tough, they may be looking out for their own stat line, which never works out well.
The Knicks are currently 4-16 on the season and have lost six straight games and eight of their last ten games. The good news is the team is roughly five and half games out of the playoff picture in the East and that can turn really quickly.
The message from inside the locker room was that the team is almost there as a unit and the time will turn the corner.
The Knicks don’t have one big glaring problem, they have a lot of little ones and if they can clean up a few of them, they might be able to pull out some of those fourth quarter close games that have plagued their win loss record.
Making The Most of The Opportunity: Brooklyn big man Jerome Jordan has bounced around the NBA for a number of years looking for his opportunity. So far on the season Jordan has been one of the more consistent performers for Lionel Hollins and the Nets and he may have found his chance to prove he belongs at this level.
“It’s my second time around so I’m just feeling more comfortable so I’m just trying to go out there and leave everything out on the court,” Jordan told Basketball Insiders. “It’s all about maturing a little bit and knowing that you can’t pass up things because of who’s on the team. It’s a great system, a great team, and great group of coaches so I’m just trying to do all the little stuff that I can and stay active.”
Jordan has played all over the world spending time in Serbia, Solvenia, Italy and the Philippines as well as logging time with the Knicks and three different D-League teams.
Landing with the Nets was a little unexpected, but Jordan has some history with coach Hollins which gave him the chance he needed.
“He appreciates all the stuff I’ve been doing like running the plays and the defensive stuff, rebounding, blocking shots, and all the other stuff that I’ve been doing throughout my career,” Jordan said. “[Adjusting] really hasn’t been difficult for me because the system is pretty much the same. Coach is running the same stuff he ran in Memphis so it really isn’t that big of difference.”
Jordan said practicing and playing with skilled big guys like Mason Plumlee and Brook Lopez have helped his game a lot as well.
“When you have guys like Mason who’s athletic and Brook who is really skilled it gives me the chance to go up against something different every day,” Jordan said. “It’s still a learning process for me so I’m just trying to pick up little stuff here and there from guys like Brook, KG, and even some of the guards. It’s really helped me get better with some of the stuff I can already do on the defensive and offensive end.”
The Nets are 8-9 on the season and current the eight seed in the East, having won two straight.
“We are just trying to adjust a little bit and coach is still trying to figure out some stuff but we will get there,” said Jordan.
Of the Nets’ reaming 65 games, 30 of them are against teams current with a record above .500, which is the most plus .500 games of any team in the East. Fortunately for the Nets, they have the third most home games remaining on the schedule with 33 matchups in Brooklyn.
If the NBA Playoffs started today, the Nets would matchup against the first place Toronto Raptors.
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Bobby Portis’ Time to Shine
Bobby Portis talks to Basketball Insiders about his increased role on offense, the Bulls’ young core of talent and more.
When the Chicago Bulls acquired Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in the summer of 2016, it was assumed that they were gearing up for another strong season and a playoff appearance. Fred Hoiberg had just finished up his first season as head coach and the team ended with a decent 42-40 record, albeit missing the playoffs.
They struggled the following season, however,but snuck into the postseason as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 41-41 record. They put a brief scare into the Boston Celtics in the first round, but Bulls management ultimately decided to move in another direction. They traded franchise cornerstone Jimmy Butler, bought out Wade’s contract and allowed Rondo to sign elsewhere.
The departure of their veteran players opened up minutes and opportunities for the younger guys on the team, in particular, Bobby Portis. Currently, in his third year with the Bulls, Portis was surrounded by veteran guys during his first couple of years in the league. It’s a different type of environment now in Chicago.
“We went from a veteran-led team, very experienced team, to now having guys on the team here who have never played in the playoffs,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a different team, but at the same time we’re gonna grow together and get better together.”
A McDonald’s All-American coming out of Hall High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, Portis was one of the best college basketball players in the nation during the 2014-15 season. He was named the SEC Player of the Year and he declared for the NBA Draft after his sophomore season at the University of Arkansas.
He was selected with the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 draft but having joined a team that had serious playoff aspirations, he saw only sporadic playing time as a rookie. His second year in the NBA, he started seeing increased playing time, but he still had a string of DNP’s throughout the year. His role changed this season when the Bulls front office started heading down the rebuilding path.
“I’m just playing more minutes and actually having a defined role on the team. I don’t have to come in worried if I’m gonna play or not, I know I’m gonna play,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “That’s the biggest thing for me. Also, the coaching staff having the utmost confidence in me to go out there every night and do what I do.”
This season, he’s emerged as one of the young Bulls most dependable reserves. He’s averaging a career-best 21.3 minutes per game while putting up 13 points on a career-high 10.7 field goal attempts and shooting 47.5 percent from the field. He’s also improved his outside shooting, connecting on 34.7 percent of his attempts from the three-point line.
With many of the Bulls top scoring options gone, Portis has had to take on a much bigger role in the Bulls’ offense. On Thursday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, he dropped a career-high 38 points on 57.7 percent shooting and 6-9 shooting from beyond the arc. In the Bulls’ 22 games since Jan. 1, he’s only failed to reach double-figures in scoring in seven of those games.
“I always say my role is to bring energy and toughness off the bench. Now I feel like my role has changed a little bit,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “I have to be more aggressive on the offensive end, even more so than last year. Going out there and trying to make my teammates better, moving the basketball, sharing the basketball, trying to lead by example.”
Although he’s been playing better personally, he’s also seen a change in the team as a whole as the season has progressed. The Bulls dug themselves into a hole to begin the season, losing 17 of their first 20 games. They had a much better stretch during their next 20 games, winning 11 of them, including seven consecutively.
“We’re learning how to close games out, learning how to finish games. That’s something we didn’t do earlier in the season, we let other teams come back and win,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “We’re learning some of each other’s tendencies with the basketball. Having chemistry on the court is always big.”
And as the Bulls move forward with their rebuilding project, they seem to have found at least one player in Portis who can be a part of that. He still has another year left on his contract before he can become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2019. He likes what he sees from the Bulls’ young core, and it’s something he’d like the continue to be a part of.
“Guys are going out there and getting minutes,” Portis told Basketball Insiders. “That’s the biggest thing in this league, you play more minutes you get more experience. It’s having an opportunity.”
NBA Daily: Jimmy Butler’s Potential Absence Could Doom Minnesota
Should Jimmy Butler miss an extended period of time, the Minnesota Timberwolves could lose footing quickly in the tight Western Conference playoff race.
Say it ain’t so, Basketball Gods.
In his first game back from the All-Star break, coincidentally after logging zero minutes in the glorified exhibition game, Jimmy Butler left Friday night’s game with an apparent knee injury.
If the worst comes to fruition — a season-ending injury — Butler would join a laundry list of players whose seasons have been cut short.
Butler’s Minnesota Timberwolves are in the midst of battling for position amongst their Western Conference peers for playoff spots. At the time of Butler’s injury, seeds three through nine are all separated by one game in the loss column.
Calling it a tight race out West would be a vast understatement. With a few more than 20 games to play, the seeding could land in a different order on basically a nightly basis. And for a team like Minnesota, losing their All-Star and veteran presence could be catastrophic.
But, not all hope is lost.
David Aldridge reported Friday night that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.
MRI Saturday will give final word, but there is some optimism in @JimmyButler camp that he may have at least avoided the worst—an ACL tear—on Friday.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) February 24, 2018
Given how tight the race is amongst the conference, losing Butler for any extended period of time is going to be a big blow to the way Minnesota operates. Very literally, Butler produces a drastic improvement on both ends of the court his team.
On the surface, Butler’s averages are good. They don’t blow you away, but it’s clear that his presence is felt on a nightly basis. 22.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and five assists with a 59.3 true shooting percentage is more than worthy of an All-Star selection. But to the naked eye, it doesn’t scream that he’s the team’s most valuable player by a long shot.
So, let’s dig a little deeper.
When Butler is on the court, Minnesota benefits from a 116.3 offensive rating. Houston and Golden State have 115.7 and 115.4 offensive ratings for the season, respectively. The addition of Butler creates more free space for the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to play with.
Speaking of those two, with the addition of an established superstar like Butler, they’ve been able to focus more on playing basketball than leading a locker room, allowing for growth in their games — Towns especially.
Truly coming into his own as one of the league’s best big men this season, arguably nobody on Minnesota’s roster benefits more from Butler’s performance on the wing than Towns does. On the court together, Towns sports a pretty 114.1 offensive rating, which produced a satisfying 9.3 net rating. That’s winning basketball.
Take Butler away, though, and things get ugly. Fast.
Because of his vast arsenal of offensive versatility, Towns’ offensive rating doesn’t suffer when Butler isn’t in the fold. But his defense? Well, it falls off of a cliff. Towns’ defensive rating balloons to 120.9, bringing that once impressive 9.3 net rating all the way down to -6.5. Butler alone accounts for a 15.8 point swing in Towns’ net rating. The levels of codependency from Towns to Butler in relation to effective basketball are incredibly concerning if the latter is lost for an extended period of time.
Basketball isn’t just a two-man game, though. So, while Minnesota’s younger All-Star benefits greatly from his elder counterpart, maybe the rest of the roster isn’t in such bad shape without him, right?
In fact, as you could probably assume, the production for the Timberwolves as a whole plummets when Butler grabs a seat on the bench. Shooting percentage, net rating, assist rate, rebound rate, finishing at the rim, defending and just about any other conceivable statistic you can find is worse for Minnesota when Butler isn’t on the floor.
Beyond all of the stats though, Butler represented more to the Timberwolves this season. He was the star to get the team over the hump. The veteran two-way impact player that could take just enough of the load off of the two budding studs in Towns and Wiggins to make Minnesota a threat night in and night out. Tom Thibodeau brought Butler over from Chicago because he knew the level of work ethic and leadership he would bring to a team that had talent, but needed guidance.
Up until Friday night, the pieces were falling into place.
The state of Minnesota will hold its collective breath while waiting for the results of Butler’s MRI. For the sake of Timberwolves fans, the organization and most importantly, Butler himself, hope for a clean scan.
Without it, and without Butler, the team could find itself in a free-fall amid this clustered Western Conference playoff race.
Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards Aiming For Consistency
Spencer Davies has a one-on-one talk with Otto Porter about the Wizards’ up-and-down season and why they’ve been clicking over the last few weeks.
When a team loses an All-Star point guard after dropping four out of five games while other teams continue to improve and climb up the standings, it’s usually a sign that things are headed south.
But the Washington Wizards have debunked that thanks to a commitment from literally every man on the roster to step up. Since John Wall went down with injury, they’ve won eight out of their last 10 games and are a half game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the number three seed in the Eastern Conference.
Why that is, is simple—there’s a balance.
“Everybody eats” is the mantra that Wall’s backcourt partner Bradley Beal came up with when the tide started to turn and the D.C. family has been living by it for weeks now.
The setback has definitely forced them to alter their style of play, but it hasn’t been a bad thing so far, according to Wizards head coach Scott Brooks.
“It’s definitely a challenge missing one of the best guards, one of the best players in the league,” Brooks said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “We’ve had to change definitely the way we play a little bit. We couldn’t expect our point guards to play like John. His speed you just don’t come by often.
“We have to play a little different. I think guys have stepped up defensively. We’ve played well. We definitely had some favorable games go our way with the scheduling, but the challenge is ahead of us now. We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up, but we just have to still keep playing and focus on each game.”
Otto Porter has been somebody who’s really kicked it into gear at a higher level and looks like himself again after a tough start to the New Year. Since January 30th, he’s averaging 18.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and over a steal per game. On nearly 14 attempts per game during the stretch, he’s shot above 52 percent from the field.
When asked how Washington can best fill the void of Wall while he’s on the sidelines, he said it’s not possible to. Rather than focusing on that specific facet, it’s a responsibility of the group collectively to keep trending in the right direction.
“You don’t,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “I mean you just have to, next man up. You really can’t. X-Factor is everybody steppin’ up. With the guys that we have, it’s very simple. Just go out there and play for each other.
“Getting out in transition. Getting stops. Creating points. Threes. The ball going from side to side. That’s how we play. We goin’ through adversity, so we took the challenge.”
Mind you, this is a Wizards team that was once reportedly divided in the locker room. There were rumblings of disdain among certain players. Tweets, Instagram posts, and on-air interviews fueled the fire even more as the losses continued to pile up.
However, we all know the solution to any sort of rough patch is winning games. As soon as the victories started to come, the noise started to quiet down more and more.
“That’s with any sport for real,” Porter told Basketball Insiders after inquiring whether the negativity was overblown.
“I mean you gon’ have your ups and downs. You gon’ have that. But we’re gonna stick together no matter the wins or the losses. We’re gonna stick together. We’re not gonna let anything break us apart. That’s just how we feel.”
The All-Star break came at a good time for Porter, who admitted to Basketball Insiders that he was playing through with nagging injuries in the first half of the season and getting a week to see family and recuperate “was what I needed.”
In the meantime, he kept in contact with Beal, who was experiencing his first All-Star weekend in four years, except this time around he was selected by Team LeBron as a part of the big game.
“All-Star, he said he was mad busy,” Porter told Basketball Insiders of Beal’s hectic three days in Los Angeles. “That sucks ‘cause you know you really wanna—I mean All-Star is cool, but the guys all busy during All-Star. Seeing people, events, stuff like that, so you don’t really get a break. He enjoyed it though.”
Porter raved over the season Beal has had and what it’s meant to Washington. There hasn’t been a change in mentality at all, but the improvements are evident.
“He’s always been motivated,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “Each year he’s adding bits and pieces to his game every year that make him a threat and it shows this year.”
Another teammate of Porter’s that has taken on the challenge is Kelly Oubre. This month hasn’t been kind to him so far as a shooter, but taking the season as a whole, the third year forward is hitting a career-high 36.9 percent of his threes and averaging close to 12 points per game.
Not only that, but Oubre is always locked in defensively with an in-your-face method of guarding his opponents. It’s a physical style that constantly bothers opponents and most of the time, it works.
“He’s been improving,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “He’s been putting in a lot of work. I’ve seen him put in so much work this offseason on his shot improving his mechanics and it’s paying off.
“Aggressive defensively, getting his hands on a lot of balls, deflections, steals. That’s what we want from him every game.”
Brooks has rewarded Oubre and Porter’s efforts by giving them a ton of playing time, something that he doesn’t see changing anytime soon considering the job they’ve done with the extra load.
“They’re gonna have to keep playing a lot of major minutes and keep getting better along the way,” Brooks said. “Otto’s really steady, solid. He’s started to make some shots again.
“And Kelly, he hasn’t shot the ball well in February, but we need him to break out of that and start shooting the ball better. With Kelly to me, it’s always how he’s locked in and focused on the defensive end.”
In order for the Wizards to continue scaling the ranks in the East it’s going to come down to consistency, a hurdle that they’ve tried to clear in past years and have a goal of leaping this season.
“We have to,” Brooks said. “Firstly, just takes that consistent effort to win games. This is not an easy league. Nobody feels sorry for you. Nobody gives you wins. You’ve got to go out there and earn it.
“I like the spirit of our team. We’re willing to accept the challenges. We know it’s not gonna be easy, but I like how we’re playing.”
Porter’s personal goal is to make it through 82 games healthy, but he agrees with his head coach about Washington’s top priority as a team.
“Right now yeah, it’s consistency,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “And just sticking to what we do, sticking to our character. We know what type of players we are. We know how to play the right way and play Wizards basketball, so that’s what we’re gonna focus on.”
So far, so good.
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