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NBA Sunday: Knicks Facing Inevitable Rebuild

With Frank Ntilikina and Scott Perry, the Knicks appear to be embracing a slow rebuild. Finally.

Moke Hamilton



It’s been almost two months since the New York Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but it doesn’t seem as though much more is known about the 19-year-old Frenchman today than was known on the night of June 22.

With the Knicks deciding to pass on Dennis Smith, Jr. and Malik Monk—both of whom had been entertained by the Knicks—Ntilikina will be linked to the two. If Smith turns out to be the second-coming of Russell Westbrook and if Monk ends up being anywhere near as productive as Dwyane Wade, the point guard will have big shoes to fill.

For now, though, he joins a Knicks team full of youngsters. At least for now, armed with all of their future first round draft picks, the franchise appears to be embracing rebuilding.

Frankly, it’s about time.

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Traditionally, the Knicks have always been a team that’s been about splash over substance. Now that his tenure has ended, it’s fair to say that Phil Jackson’s hiring fit that description. Ditto for Derrick Rose. The signing of Amar’e Stoudemire, the acquisition of Stephon Marbury and a host of other splashy moves that the Knicks have made over the years have all had one thing in common: they were more successful at earning headlines than wins.

With Ntilikina and newly hired general manager Scott Perry, though, there seems to be a noticeable changing of the guard.

Ntilikina will join a core featuring Tim Hardaway, Jr., Willy Hernangomez and Kristaps Porzingis. Of the group, Hardaway, at 25 years old, is the senior. Like Porzingis, Ntilikina didn’t enter the league with hype, fanfare or high expectations. The hope from the front office is simply that Ntilikina can be an effective all-around point guard who can impact the game on both ends of the floor and help create easy scoring opportunities for Hardaway and Porzingis. As of this moment, there’s no guarantee that he will be the starting point guard for the club when the season opens, though he’s made it no secret that he wishes to be.

In hiring Perry to succeed Phil Jackson, the Knicks took a seemingly similar turn as it relates to their front office. The truth about Perry is that his hiring lacks the splash of Jackson, but in substance, he is exactly the type of person Steve Mills needs at the helm. Perry has an excellent reputation around the NBA and, as one agent told Basketball Insiders, would never have a problem getting an audience with any NBA player or his agent.

Although he served as a member of Rob Hennigan’s failed Orlando Magic front office, Perry’s fingerprints are all over brilliants draft picks and personnel decisions that panned out. Most noticeably, he served under Joe Dumars during the period where the franchise won the 2004 NBA Finals and hit the jackpot on a few draft picks including Mehmet Okur, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson and Arron Afflalo. In short, Perry has been around the league for a long time and knows a thing or two about building intelligently in the NBA.

If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. With the drafting of Ntilikina and the hiring of Perry, the Knicks have departed from their norm and, perhaps, will fully embrace the idea of a methodical rebuild.

That is, of course, depending on what ultimately transpires with both Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony. To this point, the Knicks haven’t been reported as being any closer to trading Anthony than they were last month. And although Irving has reportedly listed the Knicks as one of the teams he would prefer to land with as his career as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers apparently draws to a close, it’s difficult to imagine the Knicks walking away with Irving unless Anthony agrees to waive his no-trade clause to head to Cleveland—something he hasn’t given any indication to being open to.

So, in short, it appears that there aren’t any shortcuts for the Knicks. With the team toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference, it’s difficult to imagine any impact free agent signing with the Knicks next summer and it’s similarly difficult imagining them competing for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Whether the Cavaliers trade Irving or not, they will join the Boston Celtics as being the top two teams in the conference. The Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards will round out the top four, while the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami HEAT remain credible teams who seem to be ascending. The Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets are teams that also seem to be further along than the Knicks, as well. In other words, few (if any) would consider the Knicks likely to finish in the top eight of the Eastern Conference this year.

The drafting of Ntilikina and hiring of Perry combine with the decision to move on from Anthony and the growth of the conference to create a confluence of events that yield only one logical conclusion for the Knicks: embracing the slow rebuilding process.

If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. Considering that the Knicks have won just one playoff series since 2001, the change may not be such a bad thing.

* * * * * *

The Knicks will enter the 2017-18 season with about $100 million in payroll. Of that, about $44 million will be paid to combination of Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah. Anthony is entering the penultimate season on his current contract, though. Noah, on the other hand, has three years remaining on his current deal. While the dollars to be paid out to Noah can likely be considered a sunk cost, his deal, in and of itself, wouldn’t necessarily hamper the Knicks’ ability to manufacture cap space. Obviously, that determination will be based on what transpires with the likes of Courtney Lee, Kyle O’Quinn, Lance Thomas and Mindaugas Kuzminskas.

One year ago, with the acquisition of Derrick Rose and the signings of Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee, the Knicks were thought by some to have an opportunity to make noise in the Eastern Conference. Rose would eventually go as far as designating the Knicks as one of the NBA’s “super teams.” Obviously, that’s laughable in hindsight.

One year later, things couldn’t be more different. With new leadership and a new edict to embrace youth and end Anthony’s era as the team’s franchise player, the Knicks appear to be heading toward a slow, meticulous rebuild.

Based on the returns over the past 15 years or so, it should be a welcomed change.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.


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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz



Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes



The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham



Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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