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NBA Sunday: What’s Next For the Knicks?

If they don’t make the playoffs, the Knicks may land a Top-10 pick, but would they trade it?

Moke Hamilton

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With less than 20 games remaining in their regular season, the New York Knicks find themselves almost seven games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Fortunately for the franchise, a lottery pick likely awaits.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that Phil Jackson will actually utilize it.

At the very least, you’ve gotta credit Phil for doing things his way. Despite appearing a bit stubborn, one common trait of successful basketball executives is confidence, and whether Jackson is criticizing Carmelo Anthony or force-feeding the triangle offense to a group of players that don’t seem too keen on running it, nobody can deny that Jackson is as long in confidence as he is in championship rings.

That’s why he’ll continue to do things his way, and here’s why that may not result in the Zen Master using his 2017 lottery pick: with Derrick Rose, the “attack guard” in the triangle experiment was a flaming failure.

Perhaps unwilling to publicly admit any sort of failure, despite being married to the triangle offense, when the Knicks traded Jerian Grant and Robin Lopez for Derrick Rose, Jackson spoke glowingly of the point guard. He spoke of Rose’s ability to attack opposing defenses as an asset that could be exploited to the benefit of Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. In a league that is dominated by point guards and spread offenses, the thought of Rose running alongside the two had potential.

Then, the season happened.

From the early goings, Rose was critical of Jeff Hornacek, openly questioning the value of the offensive system and whether or not his talents would be fully utilized in the triangle. To this point, Rose has proven to be somewhat durable and has shown some of the explosiveness and cutting ability that helped make him the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history. There was only one problem, and most people couldn’t see it coming. Asking Rose to subscribe to the triangle meant asking Rose to put the greater good of the team before his own, and anyone that knew Rose knew that wouldn’t happen.

As an offensive system, the triangle is one that features a diminished role for a point guard. Being built around options that can operate in the pinch post and low post areas of the floor, the gross majority of triangle offense possessions see a point guard pass the ball upon crossing the half court line and, in many instances, not seeing it again.

Entering this season, Rose made it clear that his primary concern was to prove to the world that he could still play. In a world where general managers hand out maximum contracts like they’re Skittles, Rose entered the season wanting to make sure he got his share of the pie. He will likely prove successful, even if he doesn’t end up getting the maximum contract he is reportedly seeking.

What the Rose experiment has reinforced, however, is the idea that asking a player to subjugate his want for flashing lights and riches is a difficult ask. Not every player is capable of being Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh or Draymond Green. And following that line of thought, it’s really not all that difficult imagining Jackson opting to trade down in the 2017 NBA Draft.

To this point, as March Madness tips off, there are two truths about what is expected of the 2017 draft class. First, it’s loaded with talent, and second, it’s loaded with talent at the point guard position. That might not whet Jackson’s appetite.

If the season ended today and the draft order remained intact, the Knicks would have the eighth overall pick. Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith, Malik Monk and Frank Ntilikina are all currently projected as lottery picks, with Fultz and Ball expected to be selected first and second. That’s obviously subject to change, but the point is this—point guard is a position of strength in the draft, and while that might be good for a team in the market for a lead guard, what it will likely mean for the Knicks is that the other position players currently projected as lottery picks—Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen and Jonathan Isaac, to name a few—may not be available when they select somewhere around eighth.

Of the teams that are likely to select ahead of the Knicks, five of them have capable point guards on their roster. The New Orleans Pelicans have Jrue Holiday (though he will be a free agent), the Orlando Magic have Elfrid Payton, the Phoenix Suns have Eric Bledsoe, the Los Angeles Lakers have D’Angelo Russell and the Boston Celtics (who will receive the Brooklyn Nets’ pick) have Isaiah Thomas.

What that likely means for the Knicks is that landing a pick somewhere in the second half of the lottery would likely leave them with a few point guard prospects. Being that this appears to be a position of weakness for the team, this would appear to be a “good problem,” but as always, there’s more than meets the eye.

During the course of the season, the Knicks were noticeably running less triangle offense, but anyone who doubted whether or not Jackson was considering doing away with the system got a resounding answer this past week. Jeff Hornacek previously stated that the Knicks will spend the final quarter of their season gauging which players fit the system, while Jackson spent time over the past week running a triangle offense clinic for the team. Most recently, Porzingis told the media that 90 percent of the recent offensive sets that the Knicks are running are from the triangle.

That doesn’t exactly bode positively for the odds of this offense going anywhere soon. In all likelihood, Jackson isn’t going anywhere soon, either.

Recently, in the aftermath of the Charles Oakley fiasco, James Dolan stated that the Knicks would not be opting out of their agreement with Jackson, and while he passively confirmed that Jackson does also have an opt-out on his current deal, it doesn’t appear that Jackson is planning an escape, even as Jeanie Buss has taken complete control of the Los Angeles Lakers organization and has cleaned house. If there was a time for Jackson to bolt back to the West Coast and reunite with his Buss, his ex-fiancé, it would be now. Instead, it appears that his resolve has strengthened.

Just follow the logic: Jackson is in New York and does not appear to have his sights set on going anywhere anytime soon.

Jackson has pledged allegiance to the triangle, and the triangle diminishes the role of an explosive point guard.

Jackson will likely own a middle lottery pick in a draft that is considered to be rich in point guards—a position he has not traditionally valued and wherein an experiment (Derrick Rose) proved to not be a great fit.

Call it crazy, but Jackson ultimately opting to trade the Knicks’ pick shouldn’t be considered to be outside the realm of possibility. Of all the things he has done wrong, Jackson and his regime, at the very least, have proven that he can find value in places others haven’t. He selected Porzingis with the fourth overall pick when he was an unknown quantity while the wise bet appeared to be selecting Emmanuel Mudiay.

Willy Hernangomez, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Justin Holiday, Chasson Randle and Ron Baker have all contributed, and in each their own right, have proven that they are NBA players. It’s impossible to argue that Jackson has failed in the realm of finding diamonds in the rough. Also bolstering his credibility are Langton Galloway, Lance Thomas and the emergence of Kyle O’Quinn as a reliable role player. Jackson signed O’Quinn to a four-year, $16 million contract in 2015—a great value.

Like it or not, Jackson is going to get his type of players and he’s going to trust his system, his vision and his process.

And like it or not, that may not include the selection of a top-flight “attack guard,” especially not after Rose and his disdain for the system.

For a team that is reinventing itself and searching for players that can fit into Jackson’s beloved triangle, on some levels, leveraging a top pick in a draft that’s deep in a position that Jackson hasn’t traditionally valued might make some sense—not necessarily to you, but to him.

And based on what we have come to know about Jackson, whether it involves taking a shot at LeBron James or needlessly criticizing Carmelo Anthony, he will continue to do things his way.

To this point, his way has been devoid of an explosive point guard. He went off course with Rose and that appears to have failed spectacularly.

Stubborn as he may be, Jackson is quite bright. And not even he is likely to make the same mistake twice.

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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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