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NBA PM: Ranking the 70 Greatest Knicks of All-Time (Part 1)

To commemorate the Knicks’ 70th anniversary, Tommy Beer, in a two-part series, ranks the 70 greatest Knicks of all-time.

Tommy Beer

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The 2016-17 season marks the 70th anniversary of the New York Knickerbockers franchise. To commemorate seven decades of Knicks basketball, Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders, in a two-part series, has ranked the 70 greatest Knicks of all time. Here, we cover the first half of these rankings:

70. Jeremy Lin
Lin played fewer than 1,000 minutes, appearing in just 35 games, including only 25 starts, in his entire Knicks career. Nonetheless, few players have matched his impact, both on and off the court. “Linsanity” not only took over New York City in the winter of 2012, but it also became an international phenomenon. During the peak of Linsanity, a ten game stretch in February, Lin averaged 24.6 points, 9.2 assists and 2.4 steals. He scored a combined total 136 points in his first five starts, which is the highest point total in the first five starts of any player’s career since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976. Only three other players had scored more than 100 points: Shaquille O’Neal (129), Michael Jordan (116) and Allen Iverson (107). Yes, the flame didn’t last long, but it sure was fun to watch it burn while it lasted.Another tidbit: There are only two players in Knicks history who have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated multiple times: Patrick Ewing and Jeremy Lin.

69. Len Chappell
Chappell played three years in New York. His first season, 1963-64, was his best. Chappell was named to the All-Star team that year, averaging 17.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest.

68. Chris Childs
Childs was a starter on the 1996-97 squad, and a valuable reserve the following three seasons. He may be best known (and most loved) for clocking Kobe Bryant.

67. Xavier McDaniel
He only played one full season with the Knicks, but it would still feel wrong not including him on this list. The X-Man averaged 13.7 points and 5.6 boards in 1991-92 and was phenomenal in the postseason that year as he averaged 18.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. He earns bonus points for bullying MJ and Scottie.

66. Dean Meminger
Dean the Dream was a playground legend in NYC before ever suiting up as a professional. He played four seasons with the Knicks and was a reliable contributor off the bench during the team’s title run in 1973. During the postseason that year, Meminger played in all 17 games, making 31 of 56 field-goal attempts — good for a team-leading 55.4 shooting percentage.

65. Kenny Walker
After starring at the University of Kentucky, Walker was selected with the fifth pick in the 1986 NBA draft. He ended up playing for five coaches in his five years with the Knicks. Sky Walker won the 1989 Slam Dunk Contest. He wasn’t even supposed to appear in the contest, but was asked to be a last-minute replacement and agreed. Competing in the memory of his father, who had just passed away a few days earlier, he took home the title.

64. Raymond Felton
Felton had two separate stints with the Knicks. In total, he started 189 games and averaged 13.4 points and 6.6 assists.

63. Nate Robinson
Always entertaining, Robinson was one of the greatest all-around athletes to ever wear the orange and blue. Nate was an All-American in high school in both football and basketball. He won the NBA Slam Dunk contest three times.

62. Dave Stallworth
“Dave the Rave” had two solid seasons in New York before suffering a heart attack in 1967, which sidelined him for two years. He rejoined the team in 1969-70 and was a valuable contributor off the bench. When Willis Reed was injured early in Game 5 of the 1970 NBA Finals, Stallworth had the unenviable task of trying to stop Wilt Chamberlain. But Stallworth held his own, and the Knicks managed to secure the incredibly important victory.

61. Eddy Curry
Unfortunately, due to the way his career ended, Curry is remembered as a disappointing underachiever. However, he had some productive seasons in NYC. From 2005 through 2008, Curry averaged 15.7 points and six rebounds per game. In December of 2006, he averaged 21.6 points and 7.9 rebounds. How about this factoid: Over the last 35 years, only three Knicks have scored at least 20 points and grabbed five rebounds in 10 or more consecutive games: Patrick Ewing, Amar’e Stoudemire and … Eddy Curry.

60. Tom Gola
Played four years for the Knicks and made the All-Star team in both the 1962-63 and 1963-64 seasons. In 1968, Gola was elected to the Pennsylvania State House. He was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 26, 1976.

59. Rory Sparrow
Sparrow established himself as a starting shooting guard for the Knicks in 1983-84 and averaged 10.4 points and 6.8 assists in the regular season, and then contributed 11.2 points per game in the playoffs. He tallied a career-high 7.1 per assists per game the following season.

58. Howard Komives
Komives was named to the NBA’s all-rookie team as a Knick in 1965 and had his best professional season in 1966-67, when he averaged 15.7 points and 6.2 assists. He was also part of the package NY sent to Detroit to acquire Dave DeBusschere.

57. Louis Orr
Orr played six seasons in New York, qualifying for the postseason three times. In 1984-85, he posted career-highs in points (12.7 ppg) and rebounds (4.9 rpg).

56. Hubert Davis
Yes, Scottie Pippen did foul him. Hue Hollins made the correct call. Let’s move on.

55. Vince Boryla
Boryla played five seasons for the New York Knicks in the 1950s and averaged 11.2 points. New York went to the NBA finals in 1952 and 1953, losing both times to George Mikan and the Lakers. At age 28, after he had retired as a player, Boryla later took over as the Knicks coach for three seasons.

54. Trent Tucker
How many guys can claim they have a rule named after them? Tucker’s three-pointer to beat the Bulls with one-tenth of a second remaining would force the NBA to mandate that the game clock and shot clock must show at least three-tenths of a second for a player to secure possession of the ball to attempt a field goal. Among all Knicks, Tucker ranks seventh in career games played and ninth in three-point percentage (40.9).

53. Kristaps Porzingis
Figuring out where to place Porzingis on this list is extremely difficult, considering he has played only 130 games in his career thus far. However, he has already posted some eye-popping numbers and infused much-needed hope into a depressed fanbase. Believe it or not, Porzingis already ranks eighth in franchise history in blocked shots! Porzingis also has knocked down at least three three-pointers and blocked six shots in the same game three times in his young career. No other player in Knicks franchise history has done that even once.

52. Johnny Newman
Newman was a starter on a successful Knicks teams. New York went to the playoffs in each of his three seasons in NYC, advancing to the second-round twice. However, that was one of the very few stops in his NBA career in which he was a part of a winning team. Newman lost 664 games over the course of his 16-year NBA career, which are the most losses by an individual player in the history of professional basketball.

51. Charles Smith
He’d rank higher if not for the infamous final moments of Game 5 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals.

50. Marvin Webster
Webster gets bonus points for having the coolest nickname on the list: The Human Eraser. He blocked 542 shots over six seasons as a Knick, the third most in franchise history.

49. Dick Van Arsdale
Van Arsdale was selected by the ‘Bockers in the second-round of the 1965 NBA draft. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team in 1966, along with his identical twin brother Tom Van Arsdale. Dick averaged 12.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in his three seasons as a Knick.

48. Toby Knight
Knight played four seasons in New York. In 1979-80, he posted career-highs in points (19.1), steals (1.4) and blocks (1.1), while shooting over 52 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the charity stripe.

47. Jamal Crawford
Crawford was (and still is) an incredibly gifted scorer. He appeared in a total of 299 games for the Knicks, averaging 17.6 points and 4.4 assists. Crawford would later find his groove coming off the bench in subsequent NBA stops. He won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2010, 2014 and 2016, becoming the first three-time winner of the award in NBA history.

46. Wilson Chandler
Chandler is the only player in franchise history with at least 200 blocks and at least 200 made three-pointers. (And they used to play the “Willllsssssooooonnnn” sound effect from the movie “Cast Away” when he scored at MSG.)

45. Max Zaslofsky
Zaslofsky helped lead the Knicks to two consecutive NBA Finals in 1950-51 and 1951-52. He was named to the All-Star team in the 1951-52 season and he led New York in scoring with 14.1 points per game (13th in the league).

44. Bud Palmer
Palmer is widely credited with popularizing the jump shot in the late 1940s. He was the Knicks first captain and their first leading scorer. Palmer played three seasons with the Knicks, averaging 11.7 points per contest. He increased his scoring to 14.4 points in 14 playoff games.

43. Ray Felix
Felix spent six seasons in New York, from 1955 through 1960. He averaged 12 points and 9.1 rebounds as a Knick.

42. Derek Harper
One could make a very strong argument that Derek Harper would have been named MVP of the 1994 NBA Finals had Hakeem Olajuwon not gotten a fingertip on John Starks’ three-point attempt in the closing seconds of Game 6. Harper averaged 16.4 points, six assists and 2.4 steals in that series. He also hit a ton of big shots and played spectacular defense, locking up Kenny Smith.

41. Cazzie Russell
Few players arrived in New York with higher expectations than Cazzie Russell. The Knicks selected Russell with the first overall pick in the 1966 draft after a standout career at the University of Michigan. However, Cazzie never quite lived up to the hype, averaging a solid, if unspectacular, 13.3 points and 3.7 rebounds during his five seasons as a Knick.

40. David Lee
Not much was expected of Lee after the Knicks took him with the last pick in the first-round of 2005 draft. However, Lee would go on to post some incredible stats during his five seasons in New York. In his final year, 2009-10, Lee averaged 20.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He’s one of only four Knicks to average at least 20/11/3 over a full season. The other three are Ewing, McAdoo and Bellamy. Lee’s stats benefited greatly from playing in Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offense.

39. Gerald Wilkins
Which is a worse fate: Sisyphus being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill for all of eternity, or being tasked with guarding a young Michael Jordan in his prime?

38. Spencer Haywood
Compared to his days as a superstar in Seattle, Haywood’s numbers in New York are not nearly as impressive. Nonetheless, he still averaged 17.1 points and 8.6 rebounds during his four-year stint with the Knicks. Also, he enjoyed his time in NYC. According to Haywood’s bio on NBA.com: “In the Big Apple he led the life of a star. He married glamorous fashion model Iman, and the celebrity couple were regulars on the social scene.”

37. Charlie Ward
Ward, who won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship for Florida State in 1993, appeared in 580 games over 10 seasons in New York. That’s the most by any player since Patrick Ewing arrived. He was a gritty, steady point guard for some very good Knicks teams. He ranks fifth in franchise history in made three-pointers, fifth in steals and seventh in assists. Amazingly, Ward is the last Knick draftee to sign a multi-year contract extension after his rookie deal expired.

36. Phil Jackson
Action Jackson earned NBA All-Rookie Team honors in 1967-68, along with two other Knicks: Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley. He was a key contributor on the 1972-73 championship squad, averaging 8.1 ppg and 4.3 rpg in 17.4 minutes. The following season, 1973-74, Phil averaged a career-high 11.1 points. He ranks fifth on the all-time Knicks career list in games played. As you may have heard, he’s done some other stuff in the NBA since retiring as a player.

35. Kenny Sears
Drafted in 1955, Sears led the Knicks twice in scoring. He poured in 18.6 points per game in 1957-58 and a averaged a career-high 21 in 1958-59. Sears also led the league in field goal percentage in back-to-back seasons, 1958-59 (.490) and 1959-60 (.477). He made two All-Star teams.

*****

Be sure to stop by later this week when we will release the rankings for the top-35 Knicks of all-time.

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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NBA Daily: Breaking Down The Bubble’s Race For 8th

Ben Nadeau analyzes the race for the No. 8 and 9 spots in the Western Conference – who will make the cut?

Ben Nadeau

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As the NBA inched toward its inevitable rebirth, the instant drama surrounding the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed became a conversation wildfire.

Was the league rolling out the red carpet in hopes of a Zion Williamson-LeBron James showdown in the first round? Could the healthier Portland Trail Blazers make another historic run toward history? De’Aaron Fox, the Sacramento franchise cornerstone, took umbrage over a lack of Kings-related faith, while the Memphis Grizzlies had more than enough ground to protect their standing in the current hierarchy.

Three or so games in to our bubbled adventure, everything has changed – and fast.

The Pelicans, still worrisome over Williamson’s health and conditioning, played him about 15 minutes in each of their first two contests – coincidently, New Orleans went 0-2. With their backs against the wall and slowly losing traction in a muddied race, the Pelicans played the future superstar for 25 minutes, where he racked up 23 points, seven rebounds and used a personal 6-0 run to clinch a much-needed win. Not only did the victory signify an important swing in momentum for the veteran-laden squad, but it was another crushing defeat for Grizzlies, who fell to 0-3 and further loosened their once-gridlocked hold on the final playoff seed.

Long perceived to be a five-team fight for the right to face Memphis in the play-in game(s), the Grizzlies’ early struggles have now nearly opened both spots up. All the more interesting, the San Antonio Spurs have begun 2-1, alongside the Phoenix Suns’ 2-0 effort. Although invited without much media afterthought, both the Spurs and Suns – who boast two of the most reliable constants of the bunch, Gregg Popovich and Devin Booker, respectively – are within the four-game window needed to force a play-in too.

So then: Thanks to the Grizzlies’ scuffles, who’ll be the two franchises to reach that play-in showdown?

Let’s start with the Pelicans, a team that’ll be better the more Williamson is allowed on the floor, obviously. While that variable remains up in the air, New Orleans’ remaining schedule is not. They’ll finish with the Kings twice, plus winnable matchups against the Spurs, Wizards and Magic. Although that opening day loss versus Utah stings, there’s no shame in falling to the Clippers, so the opportunity is certainly still there for the Pelicans to reach Nos. 8 or 9 in the coming days.

The Spurs, following a hard-fought effort against Philadelphia on Monday, unfortunately, have a much harder path forward: Denver, Utah, New Orleans, Houston and Utah. No Magic, no Nets, no Kings, even. Just New Orleans and three teams currently fighting for ‘home court’ advantage in the first round. Of course, betting against Gregg Popovich is beyond stupid and that is a lesson some select few must re-learn every spring – but they still seem like the least likely of six to leapfrog into a spot.

Likewise, it isn’t much better for Phoenix. They’ll conclude with the Clippers, Indiana Pacers and T.J. Warren’s supernova act, Miami HEAT, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks. Thankfully, Mikal Bridges’ efforts in Orlando and Ricky Rubio’s trusty playmaking have served as great foils for Deandre Ayton and the aforementioned Booker. Overall, their offensive rating just cracks the top half (15th, 110.4) and their defense remains in the lower half – but stars win games and Booker fits the bill.

Even the Kings, losers to the Spurs and Magic to open their bubble campaign, get the Pelicans twice but also a downright bad Brooklyn Nets squad and a potentially-resting Los Angeles Lakers team in four of their final five games – so don’t count them out either. With their destiny firmly in hand, expect the Kings to make a run of their own. Fox put up 39 points against San Antonio before tallying just 13 versus Orlando – and, in the latter, Sacramento’s only scorer above 15 went to Harry Giles’ 23. Given the context and a very winnable schedule, the next week or so bodes well for the Kings’ hopes.

As for Portland, the squad with the most bankable 1-2 punch of the collection, have an impossibly-tough Rockets-Nuggets-Clippers-76ers run-in before ending with the Mavericks and Nets. Worse, that stretch of difficult opposition will come fast and furious – a classic three games in four days slog. But above all, their defense leaves too much to be desired, even with the return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. Before the shutdown, Portland’s defense was only better than the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards at 113.6 in the ratings department.

In the two games back, well, it’s actually been even worse and their putrid 132.0 defensive rating is a whopping 7 points behind the Kings’ 29th-rated unit. It’s early and the sample size is certainly small – but with only six games left, they’ll need to figure it out in the against some of the league’s best. Still, Damian Lillard is a big-moment killer – he did, after all, break up the Thunder core on his own last April – and he’s capable of hot streaks that few others are.

Lillard and Nurkic put up 30 points apiece against Boston – plus 17 from CJ McCollum and 21 notched by Gary Trent Jr. – and totaled 124 as a team… yet it still wasn’t enough. The heroics of Portland’s stars will be relentless, but if they can’t stop the opposition – they’ll come up short.

In the end, even guessing at Nos. 8 and 9 is a fool’s errand. The Bubble has provided shock after shock already – and the added hurdle of rested players for locked-in seeds are soon to come – but six teams will be whittled down to two before long. Despite the slow start, Memphis remains in the driver’s seat – if they can pick up a win on Wednesday versus a seriously-slumping Jazz side, it’ll go a long way toward clinching their place.

And they’d better hope so: If they don’t, they’ll need to hope for some load management with the Thunder, Raptors, Celtics and Bucks to end the mini-campaign. It’s one of the tougher schedules left in the Western Conference, but their cushion, no matter how rapidly it is shrinking, is still reason to believe they’ll limp into the do-or-die scenario.

As for the second spot, it still feels like the Pelicans’ to lose. Between Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram and, duh, Williamson, there’s too much firepower here to completely struggle through an easier-than-most schedule.

But, sure, bet against Gregg Popovich, Damian Lillard, De’Aaron Fox and Devin Booker at your own risk – conventional wisdom suggests that at least one of them will crash the party, no matter how unlikely it seems today.

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NBA Daily: The Bubble’s Biggest Dark Horses

With the NBA’s restart underway and the postseason around the corner, Shane Rhodes looks at a few teams that could make some noise and prove the league’s biggest dark horse title contenders.

Shane Rhodes

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It’s official: basketball is back.

It may have taken 142 days, but the NBA has returned and seeding games are underway in Orlando. Better yet, and while the heightened intensity of these first few games may make it seem like we’re already there, the postseason is just around the corner.

But what are the playoffs going to look like, exactly? Aside from the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, the field is wide open — even teams that struggled during the regular season have a real chance to make some noise.

In fact, the lead up to the postseason has afforded those teams a clean slate, a fresh start and the opportunity to tweak with the formula that failed them in the regular season.

Of course, some rosters are simply too depleted to make any noise. But others, if they can pivot and put their best foot forward, have the chance to emerge as dark horse title threats.

So, which teams have the best chance to come out of nowhere, surprise everyone and, just maybe, punch their ticket to the NBA Finals?

Philadelphia 76ers

The regular season wasn’t exactly kind to the 76ers. And, staring down a 10-24 road record pre-restart, the move to Orlando may only prove worse for them.

But their talent is undeniable, and there’s too much of it on the roster to just cast the team aside.

Despite that abysmal record, the 76ers proved they could dominate with their collective head in the game — their 29-2 record at home was the best in the NBA. They sport a stingy defense and two of the NBA’s best on that end with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Meanwhile, their size — Raul Neto and Zhaire Smith are the only two on the roster shorter than 6-foot-5 — should give them an advantage in almost any situation.

It may even make them the best potential matchup for the top-dog in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks.

Yes, they are a bit of a clunky fit on offense. But Embiid and Simmons represent two of the brightest young stars — they can make it work, adjusting as needed on a series-to-series basis. Paired with Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson, among others, they shouldn’t lack for help, either.

An early-season favorite to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals, Philadelphia no doubt disappointed this season — for some reason, it just didn’t click for them. It may never.

But on paper, the 76ers have enough talent to compete with anyone. If they can fit the pieces together and hit their stride in the first round, don’t be surprised if they go on a lengthy postseason run.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Currently the sixth seed out West, can the Thunder even be considered a dark horse?

But since they never should have been there in the first place – most definitely.

With Paul George gone to Los Angeles and Russell Westbrook to Houston last summer, nobody expected Oklahoma City to be relevant in 2020. With an aging star in Chris Paul — who, at the time, looked like he wanted nothing to do with the team — and a bunch of players that looked more like trade bait than contributors, they looked dead in the water and stocked up on draft picks.

And yet, here they are, giant slayers in position to snag a top-four seed.

Paul, in a bounce-back year, has elevated the entire roster. Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari, quality veterans in their own right, have been strong, uber-efficient contributors. Dennis Schroder has emerged as one of the league’s best sixth-men, while Sam Presti’s diamond-in-the-rough, Luguentz Dort, has grown from a raw defensive specialist into a surprise starter and arguably their best defender.

And, most importantly, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seems to have leaped toward stardom. The Canadian guard was a stud as a sophomore, averaging 19.3 points, six rebounds and 3.3 assists on strong shooting splits.

They don’t have a legit star to carry them — Paul, despite the resurgence, isn’t the player he once was and Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t quite there yet. But come the postseason, it may not matter. The Thunder are one of the most balanced teams in the NBA; they spread it out on offense — Gallinari, Gilgeous-Alexander, Paul and Schroder averaged at least 17 points for the season — and are a top 10 defensive unit returning one of the league’s best on that end in Andre Roberson.

It’ll be ugly, for sure, but the Thunder don’t care. They’ll scratch and claw their way to wins as they have the whole season. They may not make the Finals, but they are a lock to make life difficult for some other team(s) looking to bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland has yet to punch their ticket to the big dance, and they have a long road ahead of them before they can. But should they sneak in, they may prove the most dangerous team in the postseason.

Just a season ago, the Trail Blazers were a top-four seed and, despite the loss of Jusuf Nurkic, a Western Conference Finals participant. Unfortunately, it all seemed to come crashing down in the regular season. Already at a disadvantage without Nurkic at the center spot, the team lost Zach Collins to a major shoulder injury just three games into the season and, later, Rodney Hood to a torn left Achilles.

Had the season gone on as scheduled, no one would have blamed the Trail Blazers for throwing in the towel. An ugly 29-37 before the shutdown, there just wasn’t much the team could do to bolster their postseason odds.

But now they’ve been gifted a second chance. The stoppage in play allowed every team to rest and recuperate, yes, but arguably no team benefited more from that time than Portland — and teams are starting to take notice.

The threat presented by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is obvious. But with the roster back near 100 percent health, the team may pose a legitimate threat to the Western Conference crown. Collins’ presence on defense was sorely missed, to say the least. Nurkic, meanwhile, has played as if he hadn’t missed the last year and change. In two bubble games, the Bosnian Beast has averaged 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and 3.5 blocks.

Both players should significantly alleviate the burden placed on Lillard’s shoulders as well, further enabling him to crush opposing defenses.

At the moment, the Trail Blazers are the Western Conference’s ninth seed, just two games back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot. If they remain within four games, Portland could earn themselves a play-in and potentially jump the Grizzlies (or whomever the eighth seed might be) and steal the last spot in the postseason.

And if they force their way in? The NBA better watch out.

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NBA Daily: Scattered Bubble Thoughts

Four days into The Bubble, Matt John relays some of the observations he’s made since the 2019-20 NBA season has resumed play.

Matt John

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It didn’t sound possible back in March, but the 2019-20 NBA season has finally resumed! We should enjoy the rest of the regular season while we can because, before you know it, we’ll be entering the playoffs. Though Major League Baseball definitely has some more kinks to work out, the NBA has had no issues to speak of since continuing the season in Disney World and its Bubble.

We’ve only had four days of NBA games so far, and we’re going to learn a lot more in the coming weeks, but in the short time we’ve had basketball back, there’s plenty that may have an impact on the final result of the 2019-20 season.

“Defense? What’s that?”

Let’s face it: The NBA is more fun to watch when there are more points on the board. Thanks to the three-point revolution, we’re more likely to get high-scoring games than in the past because of every team’s emphasis on spreading the floor. Thus far, we’ve seen a lot of high scoring games. A lot. More so than we would expect during a typical season.

It’s still early, but in the 19 games we’ve had so far, only two boasted a team being held to less than 100 points – both were on Aug. 1 when the Utah Jazz put up 94 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers put up 92 against the Toronto Raptors. Besides those rare instances, every team has scored 100+. In fact, on Jul. 31, the lowest scoring output for a victorious team was when the Milwaukee Bucks hung 119 on the Boston Celtics.

Honestly, none of this should have come as any surprise. Many suspected that while players have been working earnestly on their games, both individually and with their team, getting their defensive timing back was going to take some time. This should clear up when everyone gets their legs back, especially when the pool of teams shrinks from 22 to 16 and beyond that. Over time, anticipate lower scores, or at least scores to not be nearly as consistently high

Kemba’s Knee – So Far, So Good

There was a lot of justified concern surrounding whether Kemba Walker’s ailing knee would be ready for when the season started. The fact of the matter was that the injury coincided with him tallying some putrid numbers before the season was put on pause. And given his need to still rehab it four months after that is a flag so red you may as well call it scarlet.

In spite of his insistence to play more, Boston has been conservative with their All-Star point guard since the league resumed play. In the 41 minutes total that he’s played in Boston’s first two games, Walker looked more like his old self than he did in February and March.

In Boston’s first game against Milwaukee, he put up 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting which included hitting three of the six three-pointers he attempted in all of 19 minutes. The next game against Portland, he put up 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting from deep in only 22 minutes.

Even when Walker was slumping, he still had a couple of 20+ scoring performances – so why are these so encouraging? Because, besides the fact that his burst looks back to normal, the last time Walker shot better than 40 percent was on Jan. 26. Efficiency was never really Walker’s strong suit to begin with, but barely shooting over 30 percent is definitely not something you expect to see from him. So this, even in spurts, is worth celebrating.

What is yet to be seen is if Walker can do this when his workload increases or, better yet, when the stakes get higher – but Boston has to be excited to smoothish sailing so far. If these numbers aren’t a fluke and the Celtics get Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker at their individual peaks this season, then they become just as dangerous as they were potentially feared to be. If not more so.

Two Playoff Teams Trending In Different Directions

Utah and Oklahoma City squared off on Aug 1, and even though the Thunder won by 16 in the end, the game was pretty much never in doubt. OKC controlled the pace from the very start and led by as many as 29 at one point. Despite Utah remaining in the thick of the playoff race, this was another in what seems like a long line of frustrating losses during an overall underwhelming season. At least now, Bojan Bogdanovic’s season-ending wrist injury gives them an excuse they didn’t have before.

Jazz fans have probably heard all about what’s gone wrong for the boys in Salt Lake so there’s no need to harp over the issues they’ve had both on and off the court. What’s really stood out about their game against the Thunder was the opposing team’s roster design. That bunch is currently led by the likes of:

  • An aging but very experienced/skilled All-Star point guard (Chris Paul)
  • One of the league’s promising young guards (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander)
  • A monster defensive presence on the interior (Steven Adams)
  • A secondary scorer capable of shooting from anywhere (Danilo Gallinari)

Hold on, wasn’t this who the Jazz were supposed to be this season? A playoff contender that may not have boasted the most star power, but the lack of holes in its roster should have made them incredibly hard to topple? We did get to see that team after all. It just wasn’t in Utah. The Thunder have become one of the league’s most entertaining underdogs, while the Jazz have mired in disarray and uncertainty.

Despite that the two’s records are neck-and-neck – Utah (42-24) has a half-game lead over Oklahoma City (41-24) – the former seems stuck in the same rut they were before the season halted. While the latter has been deceptively better than we’re giving them credit for even though they were already exceeding expectations in the first place.

About That Last Spot In The West

Remember the whole conspiracy everyone had that the NBA constructed these temporary playoff rules in The Bubble as just an excuse to get Zion Williamson into the playoffs? Well, whether it’s true or not, New Orleans doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of it. They’ve restricted Williamson’s minutes pretty strangely thus far. With him being off the court for the majority of the game, the Pelicans flat out don’t look ready for the big time just yet. They lost a very winnable game against Utah in the first game back, then got flat-out embarrassed by the Los Angeles Clippers. A lot of rookies don’t usually single-handedly alter a team’s fortunes, but we all know Williamson is a rare breed.

Lucky for them, their schedule eases up a lot following those two games. They then face Memphis, Sacramento (twice), Washington, Orlando and San Antonio. Those are among the lower squads in the 22-team bubble, but they still have to get through a fair amount of competitors for that last spot. San Antonio and Phoenix have won its first two games, and, of course, they’re dealing with Portland now too.

The Trail Blazers, as we are all being reminded, are a much different animal with Jusuf Nurkic back and healthy. Nurkic’s smarts and girth make him such an intimidating presence on the floor that it opens up much more of the floor for the two backcourt stars. He’s primarily the reason why they beat Memphis and were one basket or two away from defeating Boston. Zach Collins’ return also makes a difference, but Nurkic alone makes Portland so much better than their current record is.

It really is such a shame that Portland never had its full squad healthy this season. Imagine what this team could have been with Trevor Ariza and Rodney Hood, too.

After losing its first two games, Memphis is going to have its hands full trying to stave off rivals for that last spot. Many thought the Pelicans were going to be the team to overthrow them, but the Trail Blazers won’t be going down without a fight.

Of course, there have been more noteworthy instances that have come up but we can only talk about so much. There’s plenty of basketball left to be played, so many of this scenarios could be turned on their head in the next week. Still, the early signs are of overall success for the NBA – but there’s rust to kick off around the league.

What has stood out to you since the NBA resumed in The Bubble?

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