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NBA Sunday: There’s Reason To Be Excited About The Knicks

With its newfound dedication to youth, the Knicks enter the season with a potential diamond in the rough.

Moke Hamilton

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As usual, the noise had ceased. The tense silence was eventually broken after what seemed to be an eternity for Knicks fans.

As Commissioner David Stern announced that the club had selected Danilo Gallinari with the sixth overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft, Gallinari’s selection was met with a mixture of cheers and boos. Although Gallinari would eventually find himself as the centerpiece of the assets that the Knicks sent out in exchange for Carmelo Anthony, what remains incredible about his selection was that he and Jordan Hill (selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft) represent the last time that the Knicks exercised their own first round draft picks in consecutive years.

The Knicks’ own 2010 draft pick was traded away six years earlier in the deal that brought Stephon Marbury to New York City. The pick would eventually vest as the ninth overall and ended up in Utah. It was used to draft Gordon Hayward.

The club’s 2012 first round draft pick was traded to the Houston Rockets two years prior. The Knicks sent Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill to the Rockets in what amounted to a salary dump. The club sought to clear cap space for LeBron James, but eventually used the space to sign Amar’e Stoudemire. The 2012 pick would eventually vest as 16th and would be used to draft Royce White.

The Knicks also traded their own 2014 pick as well as the right to swap 2016 first round picks to the Denver Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony trade. Although they received the Nuggets’ first round pick in the exchange, they would eventually jettison the rights to that 2016 first round pick to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Andrea Bargnani. The 2014 and 2016 picks were used to draft Dario Saric and Jamal Murray, respectively.

In other words, over the past decade, the Knicks have traded their own first round draft picks as often as permitted. They’ve qualified for the playoffs three times during that span and have won one playoff series.

Fortunately, it appears that the club’s thinking has changed, and Frank Ntilikina may be an indicator of such.

With the New York Knicks set to begin preseason play on Tuesday, the 2017-18 NBA season immediately comes to mind as being one of the few in recent years where fans of the team aren’t expecting very much. The Knicks are a team consisting almost exclusively of young players whose true potential remains somewhat unknown, and the team owns the rights to not only its own first round pick in 2018, but, by virtue of the Carmelo Anthony trade, the rights to the second round pick of the Chicago Bulls.

For the first time in a long time, the Knicks will field a roster that only needs to play hard, play together and show signs of improvement to make patrons of the orange and blue feel as though they’re gotten their money worth.

In the middle of it all, though, stands Frank Ntilikina—one of the more intriguing guards in this year’s rookie class.

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“The one thing that is probably the ultimate sign that you’re good enough to play in this league is when you’re gaining the respect of your veteran players on your team,” Jeff Hornacek was quoted as saying by the New York Post after the club finished practice on Saturday.

“The guys are already talking about him and the plays that he’s making. When you have the respect of those older guys, you’re doing something right.”

From the time he was drafted, Ntilikina has been a topic of discussion. Through the course of last season, when the Knicks were turning in one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory, the lottery pick that awaited the club was the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Some followers of the team hoped that the club would hit the jackpot and end up with either Lonzo Ball or De’Aaron Fox, while others set their hopes on more realistic targets in Dennis Smith, Jr. and Malik Monk.

That Ntilikina was selected while both Smith and Monk were on the board was met with immediate scrutiny. The Frenchman, after all, wouldn’t be the first European player to be selected ahead of superior homegrown basketball talent. With his incredible physical tools and professional resume, the selection of Ntilikina was viewed by many as another swing for the fences. Rather than select a player like Monk or Smith—moves that could have been considered safe and conservative—the Knicks opted to go for it all.

In short order, the masses will find out if the rookie is indeed a home run or just a pop fly.

Amazingly enough, more than three months after being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Ntilikina is still an enigma. Most fans haven’t seen him play, and most of the team’s competition probably has trouble pronouncing his last name.

Still, to this point, everyone that has been around the Frenchman has had nothing but positive praise for the rookie and nothing but lofty expectations.

“I think the surprising thing for me as a coach is how knowledgeable he is about the game, and how he reads things,” Hornacek said, according to the Post.

“Coming in, you saw some of his raw talent, you saw his length on tape, but when you’re here every day watching him play, seeing the plays that he makes, finding the mismatches and getting the ball to that guy quickly… It’s just natural. Not many guys have that. That’s what’s been impressive.”

As it stands, the Knicks have four point guards on the roster that are competing for rotation minutes. Along with Ntilikina, this past offseason, the Knicks re-signed Ron Baker to a two-year, $9 million contract. Baker won favor last season with the front office and fans alike, so the extent to which minutes are invested in his development will certainly be a storyline to follow.

The Knicks also signed two veteran point guards in Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack. Sessions and Jack have each been fairly transient over the course of their careers, but each brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to New York and, without question, each has a vested interest in helping Ntilikina adjust to life in the Association.

Based on what has been seen and said of the rookie, he is the favorite to win the starting job, though all coach Hornacek would go on record as saying recently was that he would be a part of the “heathy competition” for the job.

Still, as the preseason tips off, it’s important to understand that this season, these Knicks are beginning play with no expectations and no proclamations of being great or being a playoff team. The opportunity for a young team to play free, without egos, without the distraction of any superstars in their contract years (Derrick Rose) or ones who seem out of place on the current squad (Carmelo Anthony), allows the club to actually focus on basketball.

Where the Knicks end up, of course, will depend on how Kristaps Porzingis is able to adapt to life as a go-to guy, as well as the extent to which his body can hold up to the rigors of an 82-game regular season. To a lesser extent, the immediate fortunes of the club will also depend on the progression of Willy Hernangomez, Doug McDermott, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and the seldom-discussed rookie Damyean Dotson.

Among the team’s new nucleus, though, is the 19-year-old, 6-foot-5 point guard with the basketball IQ of a true floor general and the wingspan of a small forward.

Even without Carmelo Anthony and even without lofty expectations, if you’re a fan of the New York Knicks, based on what we’ve seen and heard about Ntilikina, there’s reason to be excited. And in short order, we’ll begin to see whether or not he truly is a diamond in the rough, and just how brightly he shines.

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NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break

After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.

Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.

In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.

As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.

“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.

“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”

But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.

Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.

With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.

Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.

Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.

This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.

“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”

Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.

Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.

Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.

“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”

Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.

“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”

And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.

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NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.

Shane Rhodes

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The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.

On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.

While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.

With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.

For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.

Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.

For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.

The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.

While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.

Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.

For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.

Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.

As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.

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NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge

Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.

Matt John

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Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.

Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.

“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”

Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.

July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists

Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.

“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”

On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.

“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”

Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.

“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”

In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.

“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”

When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.

In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.

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