The End of 2017 Awards
Given that the new calendar year is upon us, its only seems fitting to do something campy and end of the year themed, so lets spend a few minutes and hand out some end of 2017 awards.
Keep in mind, we’ve already seen the 2016-17 award winners, so those are done, but who are some of the notables so far into the 2017-18 season as we end 2017?
Executive of The Year
There are a few names to mention in this discussion, some that pulled off incredible roster moves, some that stole value in the draft and some that have simply put together dominating rosters.
You can make a case basically every year for Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. This summer he convinced basically the entire team to come back and keep the championship train rolling, and when you look at the Warriors league-leading 29-8 record, it hard to argue against the results.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey deserves a nod here, despite their recent struggles, the Rockets have been impressive all year. When you consider Morey turned roster parts into Chris Paul and the Rockets are still one of the elite teams in the NBA; Morey deserves a lot of credit.
New Cavalier GM Koby Altman deserves a nod as well. The Cavaliers have assembled arguably the most complimentary roster to surround and amplify LeBron James as any they have had in modern history. Not only are the Cavs and James surging, but their second unit has found some defense that was sorely lacking for the past couple of seasons.
While there are several deserving candidates, it’s hard to argue that Celtics president Danny Ainge doesn’t deserve the award this far. Not only did he flip roster parts into guard Kyrie Irving in trade, but he also lured in free agent Gordon Hayward, drafted rookie of the year candidate Jason Tatum, and has seen recent draft wildcards blossom into bona fide NBA stars like Jaylen Brown and reserve point guard Terry Rozier.
The Celtics stand at 29-10 on the season and are as good as anyone in basketball on both ends of the floor.
Most Improved Player
This award is always tough, because of how subjective the nature of measuring Most Improved.
There are a few players to mention in this discussion.
Boston’s Jaylen Brown is a deserving candidate. If you look at his progression as a player and his role on the team with Gordon Hayward going out to injury, he has seen his numbers jump up but more importantly his efficiency as a player on both ends of the floor has improved dramatically.
Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie deserves a nod as well. Dinwiddie was a castoff just a season ago and with the injury to Jeremy Lin he has found himself not only starting games for the Nets but really leading the team as a floor general. Dinwiddie’s production is up all over the board, and his efficiency is impressive as well.
There are a number of qualified candidate for the award all over the NBA from Chicago’s Kris Dunn to Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb to Houston’s Clint Capella, but its hard to argue the biggest leap so far has to be Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.
Not only has Oladipo emerged as Indiana’s go-to guy, he posting career bests from the field and the three-point line while averaging almost 25 points a game. Oladipo is making a solid case for All-Star consideration, and that’s a huge jump for after-thought player in Oklahoma City a season ago.
Sixth Man of the Year
Again, there are some notable names to put into this crowded and always contentious discussion.
There are the mainstays of this conversation like Minnesota’s Jamal Crawford, and Clippers reserve turned starter Lou Williams. Both are having solid seasons. However there are a few new names in the field that seems to be getting better as the season moves on.
Memphis’ Tyreke Evans has seen a resurgence in his career in Memphis. Evans is posting his second-best scoring season as a pro for the Grizzlies while posting career highs from both the field and the three-point line. The problem for Evans is he has played so well he’s been in the starting line-up and may start his way out of qualifying.
Denver’s Will Barton has been in this discussion for the past two seasons, but this might be his most convincing season. He is averaging a career high in points and field goal percentage and his second best from the three-point line. Barton has become a force for the Nuggets and has started just eight games on the season.
Brooklyn’s Caris LaVert is also posting a pretty impressive case for the sixth man, although his numbers are not nearly as impressive as some others in the discussion.
The name that continues to be interesting in this discussion is Cleveland’s Dwyane Wade, mainly because the Cavs were a dumpster fire before Wade moved to the reserve role and anchored the second unit. Wade has started just three games for the Cavs and is posting 11.2 points per game on 44.5 percent field goal shooting and 36.5 percent three-point shooting. His raw numbers are not nearly as impressive as say Evans or even Barton, but its hard to argue with the results in Cleveland. That combined with the fact that Wade has the clout as a future Hall of Famer to force his way into the starting lineup if he really wanted to, makes him the award winner at this point in the season.
Coach of The Year
This one is also tough because there are three or four coaching jobs this season worth talking about in this context.
Indiana’s Nate McMillian is doing a tremendous job this season and it hard to argue with the results considering most expected this to be a rebuilding season.
Chicago’s Fred Hoiberg has found a groove in Chicago despite Bulls fans wishing for losses. Hoiberg’s system has allowed Kris Dunn to flourish, along with rookie Lauri Markkanen.
Neither are really the coaching award-winning kind of storyline but absolutely worth acknowledging.
You can toss Warriors coach Steve Kerr into this discussion virtually every year, but this year more so because of the injuries and slow start. What the Warriors have done so far is impressive but easy to dismiss because of the quality of the roster. But it’s not easy to keep that many star players happy and focused, and Kerr does not get nearly enough credit for how seamless he makes it look.
Houston’s Mike D’Antoni won this award last year and is posting an equally impressive campaign to be a “back to back” winner. The Rockets, despite their recent struggles, have been lights out offensively and have steadily improved defensively (which no one gives him credit for).
Toronto’s Dwane Casey is justified in this discussion as well. The Raptors have gone 13-1 at home which is tops in the NBA. They are third in the NBA in point differential. Fourth in the NBA in points per game and they have a 24-10 record. He may not win the award, but he should be mentioned in the discussion.
While there are several worthy and justified candidates is there really anyone who’s done a better coaching job than Boston’s Brad Stevens? He was a legit candidate for the award last year, and given all that played out in Boston, the job he has done is remarkable.
Not only are the Celtics 29-10 on the season, but they are also allowing the second-fewest points in the NBA while leaning on a roster loaded with players on rookie scale contracts. When you factor in losing Gordon Hayward 5 minutes into the season and the way the team has rallied, it might be one of the best coaching jobs of the decade, and as such gets the award at this point in the season.
Defensive Player of The Year
Normally there isn’t a lot of star power on the defensive side of the ball, or at least they don’t get a lot of credit for it. Normally any defensive player list is filled with specialists or centers that block a lot of shots or carry the title “rim protector.” This season might be the first time in a while that several of the NBA’s brightest stars could be in serious consideration for Defensive Player honors.
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is making a pretty good case to be in this discussion in a serious way. The big challenge for Embiid is the minute restrictions and the games the team seems to be forcing him to miss. His defensive production is incredible when he is in games, however, if others play more, it’s going to be hard to justify giving him the award, but he is absolutely in the discussion.
Lost in the struggles to find their way offensively is the pretty impressive season Oklahoma City Thunder swingman Paul George is posting defensively. George has been a monster in the deflections per game category leading the NBA with 4.9 per game. He also among the league leaders in loose balls recovered at 1.9 per game. The Thunder have one of the best defenses in basketball and George is a big reason why.
The Warriors could have two players in the running for Defensive Player this year with last year’s winner Draymond Green again making a case for DYOP honors, but the winner at this point in the season has to be Kevin Durant. Not only has Durant held things down in the Bay Area while Steph Curry recovered from an ankle injury, but he is also posting some of his best stats defensively.
Durant on the season has become one the more effective isolation defenders, as well as putting up some impressive defensive field goal percentages. There is a strong case for a number of players in this category, but what Durant has done this far earns the nod.
Rookie Of The Year
This award is 76ers guard Ben Simmons to lose, so there may not be much to debate on this one.
That said there are a couple of other rookies posting crazy seasons worth mentioning, even though Simmons seems to be the far and away winner.
Utah’s Donavan Mitchell continues to bring it at an incredible clip, leading all rookies in points per game. Mitchell has quickly become the Jazz’s go-to guy on a lot of fronts, and he delivers night after night. Not only is Mitchell breathtaking to watch at the basket, but he’s also becoming an interesting defender as well. We’re not putting him in the DYOP discussion, but for a player drafted 13th overall, he’s been extremely impressive.
Lakers swingman Kyle Kuzma has also been explosively impressive in his 33 games as a Laker. He is the second leading scorer in the rookie class and has been posting pretty insane numbers for a player drafted 27th overall. Kuzma on the season has posted 17.7 points per game on 47.9 percent field goal shooting and an impressive 38.4 percent three-point average on better than five threes a game.
Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen is also making a compelling case for the Rookie of The Year race. He is the fourth leading scorer in the rookie class at 14.7 per game. Among the rookie class leaders, Markkanen is posting the lowest field goal percentages and three-point percentages, but he is still a name to mention when talking ROY.
While the award has to go to Simmons, there is a real case for Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum too. Tatum has emerged not only as being highly productive; he’s doing it on a winning team. Its one thing to post crazy stats on a team going nowhere that is building around you for the future, it’s another thing to be posting 14.2 points per game on a team that’s leading a conference.
Tatum is also producing the highest field goal percentage and three-point percent of any of the players in this discussion while having played the most games in the rookie class.
This race needs to be a lot closer than it seems at this point in the season.
The Must Watch Player of 2017
There are a few players that have become must-watch on a nightly basis. While this isn’t a traditional postseason award it is a designation worth talking about in this regard; there are a lot of NBA games in the regular season and to stop and watch all of them for any one team or player takes something special.
Its hard to argue that Boston’s Kyrie Irving hasn’t lived up to everything said about him this summer when news of him asking for a trade out of Cleveland broke. He has been breathtaking with the ball, incredible offensively and for all of those people who said he wasn’t a quality defender he’s on the team with the second-best defense in basketball.
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has become one of “must watch” players too. Unfortunately, he misses a lot of games, but when he does play he not only posts incredible numbers, he has become sensational at making each matchup a personal score to settle. His Twitter and Instagram handles have become epic, and he backs it up on the court.
The season LeBron James is having in Cleveland is unbelievable for a player that just turned 33. The notion that this might be his best season as a professional isn’t too far off when you consider he is posting 37.8 points per night which is 3rd best in the NBA and fourth most in his career. James has become the poster child for poise, power, and control all in one player and his sheer dominance this season is breathtaking.
But the winner for must-watch has to be Golden State’s Steph Curry. Maybe its because he missed so many games, but watching a healthy Curry drop 38 points in a single game while making it seem so effortless, it is impressive. The Curry show isn’t anything new, but the way he can create offensively is uncanny. While you can easily throw James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo in this list for the same reasons, there may not be a better show in basketball than Curry.
The Most Valuable Player
This award is always highly contested, and in recent years the quality of play at the top of the NBA has made picking just one player increasingly more difficult. This year is no exception.
It’s easy to talk about the front-runners. Houston’s James Harden was arguably the leader last season and again has posted a season that is so MVP worthy it’s hard not to see him gaining a lot of votes when the end of the season award ballots is cast. The Rockets and Harden’s recent struggles may put something of a dent in his campaign this season, but its hard to imagine that Harden isn’t going to find his groove again and remain towards the top of the list.
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is posting an incredible season for the Bucks too, and his 29.1 points per game put him second in the NBA behind Harden’s 32.1. He is also posting a scorching 54.7 percent field goal percentage and leads the NBA in minutes per game at 38.1. Antetokounmpo may get lost in the hype on this award when its all said and done, but he is deserving of mention.
Golden State’s Kevin Durant should also be in the discussion, not just because of his 25.9 points per game or his 39.5 percent three-point average, but because his team is at the top of the standings again and he’s lead the way with Steph Curry being sidelined without missing a beat. Durant’s defensive prowess has put him in the discussion as one of the game’s best two-way players. Durant will forever be dinged in the MVP talk because of the strength and depth of his team, but the truth of the matter is he’s posting as MVP worthy a season as anyone.
As for the winner at this point in the season, can you really argue that it’s not LeBron James? Maybe it’s the drama of him turning 33. Maybe it’s the romance some want to place on the situation, but the numbers paint a very real picture. Among the top ten scorers in the NBA, James ranks third in points, second in field goal percentage and second in minutes played among the top scorers. His team is 24-12 on the season.
You may not agree, but for my money, James has been the MVP so far, this season. We’ll see what the balance of the season brings, but that’s who gets the vote.
From all of us here at Basketball Insiders we thank you for spending your time with us. We know there are dozens of places to get NBA news and insight and the fact you give us your time and attention is never lost on us.
We hope that 2018 brings you and your family prosperity and joy and we look forward to sharing the NBA season with you in 2018.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .
Fixing The Chicago Bulls
Spencer Davies says the Bulls have a long way to go, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all they can ask for.
Next up on Basketball Insiders’ “fixing” series is a stop in the Windy City.
In spite of the criticisms over last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it feels like the Chicago Bulls at least have a sense of direction. Many members of the media—including this one—expected them to finish dead last in the NBA, yet they have 23 wins, with seven other teams worse off.
Obviously, the goal for the organization this season was to establish an identity and see what they had with their new cornerstone pieces. To a good extent, there’s optimism regarding those players because of the potential they’ve shown.
There’s still a good chunk of the year left, but the Bulls are 12th in the Eastern Conference standings with 15 games to go.
What Is Working
If it weren’t for the spectacular seasons by Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons, Chicago stretch big man Lauri Markkanen might be the Rookie of the Year. Even with some second-half struggles, the entire body of work is impressive.
The 7-foot Finnish forward continues to stay aggressive with a high usage and great mentality in snatching up those boards. It’s normal for a first-year player to go through those ups and downs. Add in a back injury that’s been bothering him as of late and the slump make a little more sense. Markkanen has shown the skill and consistent effort that it takes to be a mainstay in this league.
Bobby Portis is another member of the frontcourt who’s made a noticeable impact off the Bulls’ bench. In his third year, you can see the confidence continue to grow as a versatile offensive threat with a ton of touches. He’s taken a responsibility upon himself to lead the second unit and the proof is in the pudding. According to Cleaning The Glass, the team is a net plus-11.5 per 100 possessions with him on the court.
Second-year swingman Denzel Valentine has filled the stat sheet in multiple games as one of the most unselfish players on the roster. David Nwaba’s role from the beginning was to be a defensive menace and he’s come through for the majority of the year. Even two-way contract rookie Antonio Blakeney has shown flashes as a volume scorer in stretches.
Recently, Chicago has given a couple of cast-offs opportunities to display their skills. In 10 games, Cameron Payne looks as comfortable as he has in quite some time coming off a major foot injury. Noah Vonleh has been an effective late addition playing next to Portis and filling in for Markkanen. Let’s not forget that these two were lottery picks and are still in their early 20s.
What Needs To Change
Looking at what Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine have done, it’s been a mixed bag. With that being said, there’s clearly untapped potential between the both of them.
Dunn proved in very little time that the narrative of him being a lost cause was far from the truth. Hoiberg’s trust in him to be Chicago’s floor general has gone a long way. He’s been in attack mode with the ball in his hands, has seen his outside game get better and has been bothersome with his length defensively. It hasn’t resulted in wins, but remember—it’s this group’s first season together.
As for LaVine, it’s difficult to judge where a player is using a 23-game sample size. Yes, it’s a good amount of playing time, but let’s not forget he’s coming off a devastating left ACL tear. His defense has been subpar, but the bounce seems to still be there. The jumper is on and off, but he hasn’t been bashful at all. Starting the year off fresh in 2018-19 will benefit him.
Speaking of next season, the goal for the front office of Gar Forman and John Paxson should be simple—get younger. Currently, Robin Lopez is the highest paid player on the Bulls and he’ll have one year left on his deal going into the summer. The same applies to Justin Holiday. These are two veterans who could contribute on teams ready to win now, and it would be logical to part ways considering the direction the franchise is going.
Focus Area: The Draft
Due to the Nikola Mirotic trade on February 1st, Chicago acquired a first-round draft pick from the New Orleans Pelicans. That gives them two chances to add to their young talent pool in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.
Typically you’d go with the best player available when you’re slotted in the top ten, but the Bulls should feel good about their backcourt and the power forward position. What they really are lacking are reliable shooters and perimeter defenders, as well as a player with a bulldog mentality.
Chicago doesn’t get to the free throw nearly enough and they don’t convert looks that they should. Considering a true wing is amiss, it’d be the ideal scenario for Michael Porter Jr. to fall right into their lap. The Missouri freshman just returned after missing basically the entire season with a back injury. He was a top name coming into the class because of his size and could be a steal with the eighth selection.
If Porter Jr. doesn’t make it to them, Miles Bridges would make for a heck of a consolation prize. Unlike Porter, he has a more muscular frame at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds that allows him to bully the opposition. There’s a relentless nature and fearlessness about him that will translate to the next level.
Using that Pelicans pick, the Bulls would be happy to see Duke sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. fall to them in the early-to-mid 20s, but that seems more unlikely with Anthony Davis continuing to carry New Orleans to new heights. If they end up selecting towards to the back end of the first round, Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier could end up being a good fit as well.
Focus Area: Free Agency
Entering the summer, Chicago doesn’t have too many decisions to make on the contract front.
The trade exception from the Butler deal expires on June 22nd. If it’s not used by then, the amount will be renounced if the team goes under the salary cap. The deadline to present Noah Vonleh and David Nwaba a qualifying offer is June 29th.
Everybody’s going to keep an eye on LaVine because of restricted free agency, but the Bulls have indicated they prefer him to be a part of their core. They’ll in all likelihood look to bring him back on a long-term contract. If he doesn’t approve of the terms, he can always choose to play on his qualifying offer and bet on himself.
Chicago has to decide whether or not to guarantee Paul Zipser’s $1.5 million salary for next season by July 18th. The extension deadline for Payne, Portis, and Grant is the day before the first day of the 2018 campaign and team option deadlines for Dunn and Markannen come on Halloween.
There probably won’t be too much activity on the Bulls’ part regarding free agency. The focus will lay on improving their young core and getting guys who are just getting on the upswing in the pros. There are talents out there who fit the bill. It just all depends on what comes from the draft.
All in all, Chicago has a long way to go to get back into the postseason conversation, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all you can ask for.
NBA Daily: 76ers’ Ben Simmons Enters Rarefied Air
Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons passed Magic Johnson for second in rookie triple-doubles.
As the Philadelphia 76ers continued their playoff push with a come-from-behind victory over the woebegone New York Knicks Thursday, rookie Ben Simmons joined some NBA legends in the record book. With his eighth triple-double of the season, Simmons passed Magic Johnson for second all-time in triple-doubles among rookies. According to ESPN’s Ian Begley, Simmons is only the third rookie to record 1000 points, 500 rebounds, and 500 assists.
After the win over the Knicks, Simmons told reporters that the process for him has been to disregard the expectations thrust upon him as a scorer and focus on his ability to contribute in a variety of ways.
“I try not to get carried away with what people say,” said Simmons. “People want me to be a scorer or a player that I’m not right now. I can score the ball, but I can also rebound and pass the ball. I’d rather do that and do what I’m pretty good at than force things.”
Simmons was clearly aware of the gravity of what he had accomplished in the postgame locker room. He spoke with reverence of the legendary players his name will always be associated with, including Oscar Robertson, whose record of 26 triple-doubles as a rookie may never be challenged.
“It’s surreal knowing the game’s been played for a long time,” said Simmons. “So many greats have been through. I’ve set a record with Magic and Oscar Robertson, which is surreal to me.”
Before the game, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek described how Simmons’ combination of size, speed, and court vision make him especially difficult to guard.
“He’s got the speed, he’s got those long strides and he’s got the vision as a passer to pick you apart,” said Hornacek. “You’ve got to kind of collapse and kind of create a wall to not let him get in [the paint], but then he goes ahead and throws it out to the shooters that they have on his team.”
Begley also quoted 76ers coach Brett Brown during the pregame discussing how Simmons’ assignment to the point guard position was debated within the organization.
“I’m so pleased that the organization, he, the coaching staff, had the courage to try him as a point guard,” said Brown. “Because, let’s face it, that was highly scrutinized.”
It seems it was the right decision, as Simmons’ 507 assists easily leads all rookies. Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball is second with 325 while Dallas’ Dennis Smith follows with 289, De’Aaron Fox of the Kings has 262 and fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz has 236. Simmons leads the 76ers with 7.7 assists per game and is third in scoring with 16.2 points, trailing leading scorer Joel Embiid (23.6) and veteran shooting guard J.J. Redick (16.6). His 7.8 rebounds per game trails only Embiid (10.9) for the team lead.
The 76ers are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference, but could easily move up with only three of its final 15 games coming against teams in playoff position. Philadelphia trails the third-seed Pacers by a mere two games, so home court advantage in the first round is definitely in play. Meanwhile, Simmons said at a practice over the weekend that he hasn’t experienced a rookie wall.
“I don’t think there’s a wall,” said Simmons. “I wake up every morning and I love what I do. You’re going to have great games and you’re going to have some bad games, but that just comes with it.”
With history notched into his belt and no signs of slowing with the playoffs looming, Simmons’ All-Star snub could look even more ridiculous as time passes. Magic posted an eerily-similar 18 points, 7.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game as a Lakers rookie. He was an All-Star starter and became the first rookie to be named NBA Finals MVP.
Fixing the New York Knicks
How can the Knicks build a contender around Kristaps Porzingis?
The City That Never Sleeps. The Big Apple. The World’s Most Famous Arena. All home to the New York Knickerbockers.
When the Knicks are competitive, the basketball world is better for it. The NBA thrives when the Mecca is packed night in and night out. However, that’s not the reality of this rendition of the Knicks.
Sitting at 24-44, the Knicks are without their best player for the rest of the season, and are plummeting down the standings. On the bright side, with a star player already in-hand, a home run in June’s draft could move past the Knicks’ misfortunes into the next era of competitive New York basketball.
So, without further ado, let’s fix the New York Knicks.
What is Working?
To reach the point the Knicks have this season, it means not much of what they planned coming into this campaign is working. Granted, New York didn’t account for a season-ending injury to Kristaps Porzingis.
In a season that’s over before it’s actually over, the most important thing for that particular club is evaluating what they have for the next season. In that regard, certain players for the Knicks are helping their case as being fixtures for the future in New York.
After signing Trey Burke from the G-League, the former lottery pick is proving himself more than capable of contributing quality NBA minutes off of the bench. In-season finds and rediscovering talent like Burke is a positive note for new Knicks brass Steve Mills and Scott Perry can hang their hat on during an otherwise disappointing season.
Along with Burke, the development of last year’s lottery pick Frank Ntilikina is crucial. Ntilikina’s season has had its ups and downs, as most teenagers experience in their first go around with an NBA year. But the Frenchman currently leads his team in steals and has shown flashes of being a future elite wing defender in this league.
Jeff Hornacek, despite not having a full arsenal of talent at his disposal, is still taking this season to implement his system. Predicated on winning the rebounding battle and moving the basketball, two of the lone categories the Knicks actually rank in the top half of the league, Hornacek’s style of play should become more effective upon Porzingis’ return (much like their early season success).
It’s been a rough year in New York, but take away the franchise player from almost any team in the NBA and the results would surely be disappointing. Not all hope is lost for the Knicks.
What Needs to Change?
The Knicks need to evolve with the rest of the NBA.
Simply, they take too many two-point jumpers. That’s not where the rest of the league is trending. Today’s game is based on the three ball, and simple math proves three points beats two points every time.
A lot of that comes down to personnel. The Knicks only have three players who attempt three shots from deep a game — Porzingis, Courtney Lee, and Tim Hardaway Jr. Porzingis is effective when he’s on the court, Lee shoots 41 percent from downtown, but Hardaway Jr. shoots below the league average at 31 percent.
While the Knicks aren’t built right now as a team who can fire away from beyond the arc, they need to address that the best they can moving forward, or risk getting left behind in the rapid change of the game.
Equally, learning to take care of possessions needs to be a point of emphasis for New York as well. In fouls and turnovers, the Knicks rank 20th and 22nd in the league, respectively. For a team that doesn’t possess the firepower that many of the teams around the league do, making the most of their chances is going to go a long way.
Focus Area: The Draft
Thanks to Phil Jackson, the Knicks already have their franchise player in Porzingis.
And because of Porzingis’ injury this year, the Knicks have another chance in the draft lottery to add a big piece next to their star.
Ntilikina has shown signs of growth this season, but there’s no indication thus far that he’s a star caliber player capable of being Porzingis’ second option. If the season ended today, the Knicks would be picking ninth in the draft (barring some lottery magic). But New York is just two games out of jumping into the top-seven and having a chance at nabbing one of the projected elite talents in the draft.
Because of the Knicks’ situation of having just one star player, they aren’t in a position to be drafting for fit. Their game plan heading into the draft process is to identify the best talent available for where they will be drafting, and take that player regardless of position.
In other words, despite drafting a point guard last year in Ntilikina, should a talent like Trae Young or Collin Sexton be available when the Knicks are on the clock, they should take a long, hard look at selecting a player of that caliber.
To take the Knicks to the next level, Porzingis needs star caliber help. New York’s next best chance at getting their unicorn that player is in June’s draft.
Focus Area: Free Agency
The biggest elephant in the room this summer comes in the shape of Joakim Noah’s contract.
On the hook for $18,530,000 next season, the Knicks need to figure out how to shed the big man’s even bigger cap hit.
Back in January, the team and Noah came to an agreement that he would no longer be involved with the club in any basketball-related activities. While that’s a plus for the on-court production, Noah’s still collecting a paycheck. If the Knicks want to have cap flexibility to make productive moves when it comes to filling out the rest of their roster for the future, addressing Noah is the first priority in doing so.
After Noah, the Knicks have a few boisterous contracts that don’t allow them much maneuverability come summertime. Lee is on the hook for over $12 million, and Hardaway Jr. is going to cost over $17 million. While Lee has been productive this season, he’s 32 years old, and that type of price at that age isn’t ideal for a team that’s rebuilding.
Shedding some of the bigger cap hits with an eye on future summers to use the New York draw as a pitch to free agents may be a crucial decision Knicks’ brass will have to make if they want to field a more talented roster around Porzingis, Ntilikina, and whichever college star they come away with in June’s draft.
While this season is a wash for the Knicks, they have a star player already on their roster, which is more than a lot of teams in a similar position can say. That alone could help speed up their rebuild should they execute the other areas they need to effectively.