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NBA Sunday: The Intrigue of Derrick Rose

Phil Jackson acquired Derrick Rose when his value was low, which may ultimately benefit the New York Knicks.

Moke Hamilton

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Trailing 5-0, the raucous crowd in New York City’s Madison Square Garden was a tad surprised that the Chicago Bulls had begun the game looking rather listless. The Bulls were playing their third game in four nights, so the slow start was less surprising to them.

Three possessions in, though, Derrick Rose decided he had seen enough. Little did we know then that the next time fans of the New York Knicks would see Rose, he would be playing alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis instead of against them. And in his swan song for the Windy City, Rose showed the faithful packed inside of the World’s Most Famous Arena a thing or two.

Now, over the course of the 2016-17 season, he will have the opportunity to prove that it was more than lightning in a bottle.

* * * * * *

One can easily recall players whom, over the course of history, failed to live up to the tremendous expectations that either their pre-professional hype or early-career accomplishments created.

Tyreke Evans, unfortunately, joins a rare list of NBA players who seemingly peaked as a rookie. Evans is one of four players in NBA history who averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game as a rookie. The other three were Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. What we learned from Evans is that a bright morning sky doesn’t necessarily signify a beautiful sunset at twilight.

The same can be said for the likes of scores of others, most notably, Anfernee Hardaway, Grant Hill, Brandon Roy and Greg Oden.

In professional sports, players are like stocks or commodities. They have market values, are owned and are fully alienable, being able to be unilaterally sold or traded.

In professional sports, the values that we attribute to players are based on what they have done for us lately. In the world of stock trading, in the same way that earnings reports and personnel matters impact the trading price of a company’s stock, what transpires in real life can and does affect the perceived value of a young player.

In other words, in hindsight, free agency couldn’t have possibly come at a worse time for Stephen Curry. Because of concerns of his long-term viability and capability to endure the rigors of the NBA, he signed a four-year contract that would pay him a sum total of $44 million through the end of the 2016-17 season.

Conversely, one could make the argument that former Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas enjoyed the benefit of a confluence of events that resulted in him becoming a maximum-salaried player despite factors suggesting that he wasn’t a wise investment. Needing to retain their franchise player, Ernie Grunfeld and the front office in D.C. offered Arenas a six-year, $127 million maximum contract. Arenas would eventually agree to accept $111 million, thereby affording the Wizards a 12.5 percent “discount” on what they were willing to pay. Arenas would go on to play just two games the following season and was nowhere near the same player he was before his second knee surgery. In the 2009-10 season, Arenas managed to appear in just 32 games for the Wizards and was eventually traded.

Somehow, “disaster” would not even begin to describe the decision of the Wizards to re-sign Arenas in July 2008. Had things played out exactly the same way but Arenas became a free agent one year later than he did, his financial future and NBA earnings would have suffered dramatically.

In hindsight, there were some jarring similarities in the free agency decisions that the Warriors and Wizards made with Stephen Curry and Gilbert Arenas, respectively. The difference is that the Warriors took a cheaper risk and won, while the Wizards took an expensive risk and lost.

Right now, it’s impossible to know whether Rose will end up being the next Arenas—a player whose tremendous gifts were undercut by a body too frail to withstand the rigors of NBA competition—or whether he can at least partially revert and re-emerge as a force.

On March 24, 2016, though, he certainly gave Madison Square Garden food for thought.

* * * * * *

On the game’s third possession, sensing that his team needed a shot in the arm, Rose decided to assert himself. Receiving a wing-pass from Mike Dunleavy, Rose corralled it at the top of the key. With Jose Calderon guarding him, Rose used a screen from rookie Cristiano Felicio, created separation with one dribble to his left, and rose majestically. His 20-foot jumper found the bottom of the net. It was a sign of what was to come.

The very next possession, after recovering a loose ball, Rose did his best Usain Bolt impersonation, exploding into the frontcourt and going full-force at the rim.

When it was all said and done, Rose had turned in a vintage performance. He turned corners with the strength and speed that reminded us of Stephon Marbury and the freakish athleticism that once had us comparing him to Russell Westbrook. Despite being the smallest man on the court, Rose owned the paint and torched the Knicks with step-back bank shots, high-arching floaters, gravity-defying reverse layups and pull-up jumpers.

By the end of the night, he was 13-for-24 from the field and turned in what was only his third 30-point performance of the season.

For at least one night, he looked like the Derrick Rose of old. He looked every bit like the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history. And, at least on that night, he looked every bit like a player capable of helping Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis take the Knicks franchise to the next level.

Although just 27 years old, Rose has already had a fair number of debilitating injuries. From tearing the ACL in his left knee in 2012 to twice tearing the meniscus in his right knee (once in 2014 and once in 2015), Rose has already had multiple fairly serious knee procedures. He began the 2015-16 season handicapped, as he missed the final weeks of preseason preparation after an errant elbow in practice caused a left orbital fracture that required surgery. A sore ankle caused Rose to miss two November contests before hamstring tendinitis caused him to miss three games to begin 2016.

Though still nowhere near the player he was back during the 2010-11 season, Rose had his fair share of moments during the 2015-16 season. The explosiveness and athleticism that used to be his calling card were evident.

Following the All-Star break last season, in 21 games, Rose averaged 17.4 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from three-point territory. As was the case with his athleticism, from a macro perspective, his shooting efficiency had slowly begun to return as well.

Hallmarked by what would go down as his final appearance in Madison Square Garden in a Chicago Bulls uniform, Rose gave Knicks fans a preview of things to come.

Although ancient history at this point, recall that Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade have had prior issues with their knees, and each have been able to return to form as extremely productive players.

Usually, in the NBA, if you find yourself waiting for something to happen for more than three years, it’s gone forever. Still, there are always exceptions to the rule, and considering that the time that Rose lost during the 2015-16 season were primarily for injuries not associated with his prior knee surgeries, there is a chance that he could buck the familiar trend.

Rose’s stock has never been lower. This is true. His ongoing legal issues certainly complicate matters as well. But for a 27-year-old prideful player who is entering the final year of his contract, he certainly seems primed for a bounce-back season.

* * * * * *

The beauty and intrigue of playing the stock market is that one has no idea where the top or bottom of a stock lies. In July 2007, Blackberry Ltd. (formerly Research In Motion) stock traded at about $230 per share, while today, the going rate is about $8. Apple, on the other hand, began the 2007 calendar year being traded at about $12 per share before topping out in 2014 at around $645.

As Blackberry Ltd. attempts to find creative ways to restructure its company and debts and find new products to steal back some of the smartphone market share that Apple and Samsung have come to dominate, for Rose, the equation is much simpler.

The 2016-17 New York Knicks have a low ceiling and a high floor. Much of where they eventually land will be determined by Rose and what he is capable of providing them. Still, despite what the prevailing sentiment may be regarding the risk that Phil Jackson took in trading for him, there is some reason for optimism.

During stretches of last season, it appeared that Rose was progressing. And at this point, with Rose still just 27 years old, Jackson may have gotten his hands on a penny stock that has the potential to take off, yet again.

For the Knicks and their fans, that alone makes the 2016-17 season worth watching.

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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers

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This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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