The New York Knicks are arguably the least predictable team in the NBA heading into the 2016-17 season.
If their key contributors stay healthy – and granted, that’s a big ‘if’ – New York has a chance to flirt with 50 wins and possibly secure home-court advantage in first round of the playoffs. However, there is also a possibility that injuries will cripple the Knicks and they’ll fail to even approach a .500 record. There are very few teams in the league that have such a high ceiling and such a low floor. The only thing we know for certain regarding the 2016-17 Knicks: It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 New York Knicks.
FIVE GUYS THINK
The Knicks took an aggressive approach this offseason, bringing in big names like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee to supplement Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. While Rose, Noah and Jennings have proven themselves as quality players, each has struggled with significant injuries over the last few seasons and it’s fair to say each has lost some of the explosiveness that made them so effective in the past.
Despite the obvious health concerns, Rose expressed supreme confidence in the Knicks and their ability to compete at a high level this season.
“They’re high,” Rose said when asked what the expectations are for this team. “I mean, with these teams right now, they’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams, and they’re trying not to build that many super teams, and Adam Silver came out with the statement and this and that.”
Rose’s comment drew predictable backlash among those in and around the NBA. The Warriors have put together historic seasons and nearly won a second consecutive NBA title last season, while the Knicks are restocking with players that, while talented, are past their primes or dealing with injuries.
I won’t be stunned if the Knicks are more competitive than they have been in past seasons or if they win a playoff series or two, but I also think this team has a clear ceiling despite bringing in some notable talent this offseason.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Jesse Blancarte
Good for Derrick Rose, believing with all his heart that the Knicks are a “super team” on par with the Golden State Warriors, but that’s not the way the rest of the world sees it – not even with the additions of Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee. However, it is more than fair to expect a drastically improved Knicks team, even if some of these new players can only give the team 60 healthy games a year. Noah looked like an also-ran a season ago, but that was more a result of the fire in his belly snuffing out than anything else. If he’s even remotely healthy, his chest-thumping, antagonistic style of play will help rejuvenate this squad (and the Madison Square Garden faithful) more than anything else. Rose should be super motivated to explode in a contract year, the undefendable Kristaps Porzingis will be another year along in his development and there’s little reason to believe Carmelo Anthony can’t still pour in 20+ points per game. They’re better than they were, but they’re still not a serious title contender.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Joel Brigham
If you are depending on Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to stay healthy for the balance of an 82-game season, you’re asking for a lot. For the Knicks, their thriving depends on exactly that. Sure, Phil Jackson made the offseason splash that many, including me, were looking for… The only thing is, at this point, we don’t know if it’s a belly flop or not. On paper, the Knicks look like an Eastern Conference contender, and if things break right, 50 wins and a division crown are within the realm of possibility. Still, relying on Rose and Noah to be the players they were three or four years ago doesn’t seem wise and without them each playing at a high level, the Knicks may be battling for one of the conference’s final playoff seeds once again. Of all players on the roster, Kristaps Porzingis is the one who is most capable of exceeding expectations. I’ll be interested in seeing whether he gets lost in the shuffle and stunted, or if playing with a few higher-caliber players will actually make the game easier for him. I’m willing to bet on the latter.
In the end, the smart money says that we have already seen the best of Rose and that something will go wrong in New York. I’d put the over/under on their win total at 44.5 and would expect both the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics to end up ahead by April.
3rd Place — Atlantic Division
– Moke Hamilton
There are three sides to every story; their side, your side and the truth. But what is the truth about the 2016-17 Knicks? Is this team a true playoff contender or has their best offseason in recent memory been overhyped by a fan base starving for success? On paper, the Knicks are undoubtedly better than last year’s unit that missed the playoffs, but members of the current roster are talking boldly about a return to title contention. It all comes down to how quickly the team buys into new head coach Jeff Hornacek’s system and how much usage the team can realistically count on from veteran free agent additions Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. The Knicks will punch a ticket to the playoffs, but there’s still work to be done here.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Lang Greene
I agree with my four colleagues: I see the Knicks improving after their busy offseason, but it’s hard to imagine New York seriously contending in the Eastern Conference or even contending for the Atlantic Division crown. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors seem like sure things, in my opinion, whereas this Knicks team has a ton of question marks surrounding them. Still, New York should make some significant progress this year and return to the postseason. They may even make some noise in the first round. That’s certainly a step in the right direction for this squad, who shouldn’t let unrealistic title expectations stop them from celebrating that fact.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Alex Kennedy
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Carmelo Anthony
After a significant knee injury cost Anthony most of the 2014-15 campaign, there were legitimate concerns about whether he would be able to bounce back and return to form. Anthony quickly put those doubts to rest, re-establishing himself as not only the Knicks’ best offensive option but as one of the league’s most dangerous players with the ball in his hands. In fact, last season Anthony was one of just four players in the NBA to average at least 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game, alongside LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Top Defensive Player: Joakim Noah
The Knicks have been either a “below average” or “terrible” defensive team for the better part of this millennium. Phil Jackson is hoping that Noah is a key piece in turning that reputation around. Noah has been severely limited by injuries the past two seasons, but prior to this recent slippage, he was an elite defender. In fact, Noah won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013-14. He’s been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team on three occasions (2011, 2013 and 2014). He also finished in the top 10 in blocks twice. With few defensive-minded players on the roster, the Knicks are hoping Noah can prove he is still one of the league’s most feared defensive players.
Top Playmaker: Derrick Rose
The lack of a productive point guard has been a major issue in New York the last two seasons. The sad reality is that if Rose plays at even an average level next season, he would be a huge upgrade for the Knicks. Jose Calderon was arguably the NBA’s worst starting point last year. In order to be competitive in today’s NBA, it is imperative that you have a point guard who can break down his defender and penetrate into the heart of the defense to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. Calderon scored a total of 46 points in the paint over the 2,024 total minutes he played last season. Rose scored 453 points in the paint (10th-most in the league) over the 2,097 minutes he played. For his career, Rose averages 6.2 assists per game. Other than Brandon Jennings, no other player on the Knicks’ roster averages over three assists per game over their career.
Top Clutch Player: Carmelo Anthony
There are many new faces and big names on the this overhauled Knicks squad, but it is very safe to assume that when the game is on the line, the ball will end up in Anthony’s hands. Since the moment he arrived in NYC after being traded from Denver, Anthony has taken the vast majority of important attempts late in games. Unfortunately, despite establishing a reputation as a superior clutch player earlier in his career, Anthony has been remarkably inefficient in such situations over his last few seasons in New York. It was commonly believed that Anthony was worn down by the heavy burden he’s had to shoulder offensively and the massive minutes he’s been forced to play, leaving him with little left in his legs in fourth quarters. The Knicks hope that fewer minutes, more creative offensive sets and a vastly improved supporting cast will allow ‘Melo to regain his reputation as one of the NBA’s best closers.
The Unheralded Player: Courtney Lee
The traditional “counting” stats on the back of Lee’s basketball card won’t knock your socks off, but if you dig a little deeper, the value Lee provides is nearly impossible to miss. For instance, Lee is one of only two qualifying players to shoot above 37 percent from three-point territory each and every season this decade (Kyle Korver is the other). In addition, as Basketball Insiders’ own Alex Kennedy pointed out back in July, “Last season in Charlotte, Courtney Lee ranked first among qualified players on the Hornets in offensive rating (111.4), net rating (+6), true shooting percentage (57.6 percent) and assist ratio (18.9 percent). In the playoffs, Lee contested 12.1 shots per game, which not only ranked first among all Hornets but ninth among all postseason players. Charlotte’s top three lineups in terms of plus/minus in the playoffs all had one thing in common: Lee playing on the perimeter, either at shooting guard or small forward (when they went small). In fact, Charlotte had two of the top five lineups of the 2016 postseason and both featured Lee.”
Top New Addition: Joakim Noah
Considering how much the Knicks have invested in Noah ($72 million over four years), they are certainly counting on him to be their best new addition. As noted above, Noah is a wonderful defender, but that’s certainly not the only skill he brings to the table. Even when nursing injuries, Noah is still an elite rebounder and passer. Last season, Noah led all centers in assist rate (24.2 percent). Marc Gasol was second at 18.9 percent. No Knicks point guard has averaged more than five assists per game since Raymond Felton in 2013-14; Noah averaged 5.4 assists per game that same season. The last time Noah was completely healthy back in 2013-14, he was the best center in the NBA. It’s worth noting that he is actually the last Eastern Conference player not named LeBron James to finish in the top five in MVP voting.
– Tommy Beer
WHO WE LIKE
- Kristaps Porzingis
Ask nearly any New Yorker and they’ll likely tell you it’s almost impossible not to like Mr. Porzingis. His rookie season was nothing short of a revelation. His inspiring play and put-back dunks electrified Madison Square Garden and revitalized an upset fan base. Despite last year being his first exposure to NBA-level competition, the skinny 20-year-old more than held his own. In fact, Porzingis became the first rookie in NBA history to tally at least 100 blocks, 75 made three-pointers and 50 steals in his first pro season. Still, Knicks fans are so excited because it is clear that KP has yet to even scratch the surface of his ultimate upside.
- Brandon Jennings
The fact that Jennings is working his way back to 100 percent from such a significant injury (Achilles tear) is obviously concerning, but that was also the reason the Knicks were able to secure his services at a discount ($5 million over one year). Encouragingly, Jennings is only 27 years old and avoided a major setback last season. The Knicks have very little depth at point guard, and thus would have to lean heavily on Jennings if Rose were to miss any time with an injury. His career averages are impressive (15.5 points and 5.9 assists). Can he approach those numbers again?
- Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez
The Knicks traded for Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez on draft day last summer, after the Philadelphia 76ers nabbed him with the 35th overall pick in the 2015 draft. He had one year left on his contract in Spain and played well during his final season for Real Madrid. The Knicks signed him to a very affordable contract ($5.8 million over four years) this summer. Willy is not overly athletic, which may make it difficult for him to defend quicker big men and finish at the rim in the NBA, but he is a grinder who plays hard and is willing to doing the dirty work. He’s also shown impressive improvement during the early stages of his career. If Hernangomez can develop into even a spot rotation player, he’ll provide significant value for the Knicks, as he will account for less than two percent of the Knicks’ salary cap each season through 2020.
- Lance Thomas
Thomas is one of those often underappreciated “glue guys” who end up playing significant minutes on competitive teams. Thomas was enjoying the best season of his career in 2015-16 before a concussion and other nagging injuries cost him most of the second half of the year. Still, he showed enough to persuade the Knicks that he was worth the lucrative four-year, $27 million contract they handed him. Thomas’ values lies in his defensive versatility and newfound three-point stroke. Thomas made over 40 percent of his three-pointer attempts last season, and knocked down a total of 44 three-balls in 2015-16. This is particularly remarkable because Thomas had attempted only one three-pointer over the first three seasons of his NBA career and his four years at Duke combined.
– Tommy Beer
SALARY CAP 101
The Knicks went below the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap this summer, using their spending power on players like Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Brandon Jennings and Marshall Plumlee. They also landed Derrick Rose in trade and re-signed Lance Thomas. Now fully spent, the Knicks have 14 guaranteed players with one open spot – potentially for Ron Baker, J.P. Tokoto or Chasson Randle.
Looking ahead, the Knicks project to have roughly $22.2 million in spending power next summer, with a projected salary cap of $102 million. Rose, who will be a free agent next July, will take up New York’s space if they retain his rights. Carmelo Anthony is one of the few players in the league with a true no-trade clause. New York will take their rookie-scale option on Kristaps Porzingis before November.
– Eric Pincus
The Knicks ranked near the bottom of the league (25th overall) in offensive efficiency last season, scoring just 104.6 points per 100 possessions. With the addition of Rose, Lee and Jennings – in addition to bench contributors such as Maurice Ndour and Mindaugas Kuzminskas – New York should be vastly improved on the offensive end in 2016-17. And although the downside to bringing in veterans is the potential health concerns, the upside is the experience and savvy they bring to the table. Carmelo Anthony has experienced his greatest success in NBA when surrounded by veterans who took control of the team. The Knicks have won over 50 games only once this millennium, and that was back in 2012-13 when they fielded the “oldest team in NBA history” featuring Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Jason Kidd among others. Joakim Noah establishing himself as a leader in the locker room and holding teammates accountable could pay major dividends on and off the floor.
– Tommy Beer
Two of the biggest issues in New York in years past have been inadequate point guard play and lackluster defensive effort. Phil Jackson hopes he addressed these two major flaws with his acquisition of Derrick Rose and signing of Joakim Noah. If the Knicks ever want to be considered serious contenders, they need to improve defensively. New York has allowed fewer than 108 points per 100 possessions just three times over the last 12 seasons. Noah brings defense, aggressiveness and intensity – three qualities that have been sorely lacking in New York for some time.
– Tommy Beer
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Knicks stay healthy?
Based on talent alone, the Knicks have the potential to be a special team. Consider this: Only five Eastern Conference players have finished in the top five in NBA MVP voting this entire decade, and three of those players are currently Knicks (Rose, Anthony and Noah). Last season, ‘Melo proved he is still an elite scorer and played arguably the best all-around ball of his career. Rose was frustratingly inconsistent and oftentimes inefficient, but showed flashes of his old, explosive self. Porzingis is already further along than anyone could have hoped and his upside is obvious. The issue is whether the team’s core pieces can stay healthy. If the injury bug begins to bite, the season may quickly be derailed. Here’s a discouraging fact: Rose has actually played in more games over the last two seasons (117) than Anthony (112), Noah (96) and Jennings (89). If the Knicks can beat the odds avoiding injuries, they have a legit chance to defy expectations and make some noise in 2016-17.
– Tommy Beer
NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise
The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.
He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.
He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.
Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.
The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.
“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.
“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.
So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.
As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.
In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.
But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.
So is Porzingis.
Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.
In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.
Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.
And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.
“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.
“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”
Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.
Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.
The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.
So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.
Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.
If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.
So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.
To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.
When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.
He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.
And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.
With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word.
It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.
For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.
In this town, that’s more than half the battle.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”