There wasn’t much for New York Knicks fans to get overly excited about last season, as the team once again failed to qualify for the postseason and limped to a 32-50 record.
However, the emergence of rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis did reinvigorate the fan base and provide a much-needed beacon of hope. He is the reason many Knicks fans came back into the fold last year and are now genuinely excited about the future.
Entering year two, New Yorkers are curious to see how their young cornerstone will evolve. At the Knicks’ Media Day on Monday, Porzingis hinted about improvements to his game that he spent time refining this summer.
“My ball-handling is better now,” Porzingis said. “I just feel comfortable with the ball now, so you’re going to see some new stuff this season. You’re going to see some new stuff, and hopefully more put-back dunks.”
Porzingis also talked about how he adjusted his weight-room preparation after an arduous rookie campaign.
“Last offseason, we made a little mistake that all I did was work upper body and try to get bigger. This offseason, I really focused on my lower strength, my legs, my core, [to] make sure that it’s strong,” Porzingis said. “And that’s going to give me strength to be able to hold my ground defensively and offensively as well. My legs have gotten much stronger. When I’m driving, I’m able to stay lower. Defensively, I can be lower and quick on my feet.”
When the Knicks’ training camp kicked off on Tuesday, the early returns were promising. Those who weren’t part of the team last season and were getting their first up-close glimpse of Porzingis were particularly impressed.
Derrick Rose, who won the MVP award at the ripe age of 22, liked what he saw from his new teammate and gushed about the group’s collective potential.
“We’re very talented. The sky’s the limit for us,” Rose said. “We’re coming together as a group. Everybody’s competing from day one and that’s what you want from players, to see them competing from day one and coming together as a team and pushing themselves and each other.”
When asked specifically about how he envisions playing with Porzingis, Rose explained that he planned to push the pace offensively and expected his young, tall teammate right by his side.
“I want to make him run!” Rose said with a smile. “What is he 18 [years old]? He’s young!”
“I’m always going to find a way to get him the ball,” Rose added. “I’m not selfish at all. One of the reasons I love the position that I’m in is that it allows me to be the point guard, which I am. With the Bulls, I had to learn how to score the ball in crazy ways because I had to adapt to the league. But coming here, I have so many options. KP can pop, he can post, he can pass. He’s skilled and very talented. We can play with him in many ways.”
Rose also discussed how opposing defenses will have fits attempting to deal with a trip of Carmelo Anthony, Porzingis and Rose.
“Then you think about ‘Melo on the other side of the court, where we can run pick-and-roll. One-three pick and roll or three-one pick and roll. Give it to him in the post…” Rose said. “There so many options just with those two players. It’s kind of scary when we get everything clicking. But it takes hard work and dedication, coming in here everyday and making sure we are working our butts off.”
Rose acknowledged that this is still Anthony’s team and he’s just trying his best to contribute at a high level.
“My job is to make [Anthony’s] job easy,” Rose said. “I’m not coming in with an ego problem. I’m not coming in chasing no stats or anything like that. I don’t care about no stats. I don’t look at them after games. As long as we win, I can sleep easy at night. That’s the only thing I am worried about.”
New Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek also walked away with a strong first impression of Porzingis after the team’s initial practice.
“We want all our guys to be versatile; KP has the ability to go inside [and] if we can just get him the ball somewhere in that paint, with his length, he can just turn around and shoot it,” Hornacek said. “Depending on the match-up, if he’s setting a screen and he pops, he is shooting the ball extremely well. That’s a weapon.”
In the short portion of practice that was open to the media on Tuesday, Porzingis beat guards Courtney Lee, Rose and Sasha Vujacic in a three-point shooting drill/contest. At one point, Porzingis knocked down seven-of-eight attempts from behind the arc.
Hornacek knows that Porzingis’ adaptable skill set causes major headaches for coaches on the opposite bench.
“I think it’s going to make teams trying to make a scouting report against him say, ‘What do we do? Do we put a small guy on him? Do we put a big guy on him?’ That’s why it’s fun to have players with that versatility,” Hornacek said. “Go ahead, put a small guy on him and we’ll take advantage of him inside. And if you put a big guy on him, he’ll take them outside. KP’s got all that.”
On Monday, Porzingis talked about how he was looking forward to playing some center (as our Jesse Blancarte suggested over the weekend) and also pushing the pace with his new point guard.
“My ability to stretch the floor, if I’m at the five, the paint is going to be completely open,” Porzingis said. “So I think the style of basketball that we’re going to be playing is going to be better for the people that we have, especially with Derrick being able to push the ball up. With his quickness, he’s going to open things for us, driving and kicking out. I know we’re going to have space in the paint, as well; we didn’t have so much last season.”
Although expectations will be raised for Porzingis after his stellar rookie season, it seems his new point guard and head coach seem intent on putting him in positions to succeed.
Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17
Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.
It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.
Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.
Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.
By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.
Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.
Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.
His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.
While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.
4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)
While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.
Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.
Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.
Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.
The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.
Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.
While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.
It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.
Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.
So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.
NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17
Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.
Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.
The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.
A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.
The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.
This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.
There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.
As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.
So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland
The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.