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New York Knicks 2017-18 Season Preview

This season could be a big turning point for the New York Knicks, we explore that and more in this season preview

Basketball Insiders

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Last summer, the Knicks invested heavily in veterans such as Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, hoping they would help lead a push towards the playoffs. However, after a terribly disappointing 2016-17 season, New York is now focusing on the future and developing their young core. Yet, the biggest question surrounding the Knicks is the status of their longest tenured player: Carmelo Anthony. Both Melo and the front office would prefer to part ways, but there is not currently a trade that makes sense for both parties. Thus, Anthony’s uncertain future remains one of the league’s more interesting storylines as we head towards the start of training camp.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

There won’t be any zen occupying the front office space of the New York Knicks next season, and from the looks of it, that isn’t such a bad thing.

After Phil Jackson’s departure and the hiring Scott Perry, the Knicks at the very least should have a linear train of thought next season.

Aside from Kristaps Porzingis, however, there isn’t much hope for the Knickerbockers. With Carmelo Anthony more than likely on his way out of the Big Apple, the Knicks are in a position to build around their Latvian star. That should start next season by losing as many games as possible, in order to spike their chances in next year’s draft lottery. After Anthony’s impending departure, winning games won’t be an easy task in New York, anyway.

Winning 31 games last season is going to look great in comparison to what the Knicks are in store for this upcoming year, should Anthony move on.

4th place — Atlantic Division

– Dennis Chambers

Obviously, anything the Knicks hope to achieve this season will depend on Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. As it relates to Anthony, the team has made no secret of the fact that it wishes to move on from him. The problem is that Anthony wields a no-trade clause and hasn’t shown a willingness to accept a trade anywhere other than Houston. If the Knicks are able to orchestrate a trade that returns significant assets for him, then they might have a chance at the playoffs this season. That’s a long shot, though, even if Porzingis does take the next step. While the Eastern Conference does seem a tad more open than last season on paper, unless Tim Hardaway and Frank Ntilikina form a truly dynamic backcourt, the Knicks won’t have much of an opportunity to play into May. The Celtics, Cavs, Raptors and Wizards seem to be at the top of the conference, with the Bucks and HEAT seeming probable for playoff berths, as well.

The best news for the Knicks is that they do have a nucleus of youngsters that can play, they do have Anthony and, in the long run, should be able to get some assets in return for him and they own their own 2018 first round pick. The team, however, is still a few years away from being mentioned in the same breadth as the teams mentioned above, and they’ll likely have their hands full with the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, as well. It’s difficult to figure out where the bottom three teams will land, but in the end, does it even matter?

5th Place — Atlantic Division

— Moke Hamilton

The New York Knicks had an interesting offseason. Phil Jackson no longer runs the team, David Griffin ultimately decided to pass on taking over since he couldn’t bring his staff from Cleveland with him and now Steve Mills and Scott Perry are firmly in charge. New York is still struggling to find a resolution to the ongoing Carmelo Anthony issue and it’s not clear when it may be resolved. The Knicks have actually put together a nice core of young players to build around, but the front office continues to make the same mistakes that have plagued them for so long. After signing Joakim Noah to a massive contract last summer, it would have been reasonable to expect that the franchise would be hesitant to sign another player who is anything less than a star or future player to a similar deal. Nevertheless, New York went out and signed Tim Hardaway Jr. to a huge four-year deal with a player option in the fourth year. Hardaway Jr. has shown some promise, but there was no reason to sign a player that doesn’t move the needle enough to make a significant difference to the team’s short term success to such a massive contract. The Knicks may win a decent number of games this season, but it’s discouraging to see the team repeat the mistakes of the past.

4th Place – Atlantic Division

– Jesse Blancarte

In a universe filled with train wrecks, the New York Knicks are oligarchs ruling over them all. This past summer was an all-out disaster for the franchise; it’s almost hard to figure out where to start. First, there were the insane Kristaps Porzingis trade rumors that never should have existed, then potential future Rookie of the Year Dennis Smith, Jr. slipped past in favor of the unknown and unproven Frank Ntilikina. On the bright side, Phil Jackson was fired, which looked like a great first step toward healing from the wounds he inflicted, until the new front office immediately spent $71 million on Tim Hardaway, Jr when there did not appear to be anywhere near that sort of market for him. That’s basically Joakim Noah money, which can’t be a good omen. Finally, there’s Carmelo Anthony who, despite his desire to pack up a crate full of hoodies and move to Houston, is still on the team. Everything is awful here, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better anytime soon.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Joel Brigham

With every passing day, the biggest question in New York basketball grows louder: Can the franchise finally detach themselves from the running Carmelo Anthony saga? It couldn’t be clearer that both sides would rather move on, but Melo’s specificity on his desire for a new location (Houston only, from what’s been reported) makes things difficult. If they can get a deal done and get Anthony to a new home, they can finally turn things over fully to Kristaps Porzingis and other youth like Willy Hernangomez and Frank Ntilikina – if not, both the franchise direction and the on-court product could look very different. In either case, expect the Knicks to be in the third-place or fourth-place range in the Atlantic, depending on their Melo fortunes and how healthy the 76ers manage to stay.

4th Place – Atlantic Division

– Ben Dowsett

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Carmelo Anthony

As of the publishing of this preview, Carmelo Anthony is still a Knickerbocker. Thus, he’s still the top offensive player on the squad. Last season, Anthony averaged 22.4 points, 2.9 assists, and 2.0 three-pointers per game. Even though he’s slowing down a bit, he remains one of the more lethal offensive weapons in the league. He is one of just five players to average at least 20 points in each their first 14 NBA seasons. The other four are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Michael Jordan. Melo is also one of only three players in NBA history to score at least 10,000 points with two franchises (Nuggets and Knicks). The other two are Kareem (Lakers and Bucks) and Elvin Hayes (Rockets and Wizards).

Top Defensive Player: Kristaps Porzingis

When Phil Jackson handed Joakim Noah a four-year, $72 million contract, the hope was that Noah would re-establish himself as one of the game’s most respected defensive bigs. Noah’s resume includes a Defensive Player of the Year award (2013-14) and three NBA All-Defensive Teams (2011, 2013 and 2014). He also finished in the top 10 in blocks twice. However, Noah was crippled by injuries and appears to be a shell of his former self. In addition, he’ll miss the first 12 games of next season serving a suspension due to a drug violation. If the Knicks are going to improve defensively, they will need Kristaps Porzingis to emerge as an elite defender. KP has already proven he can be a remarkable rim-protector. And, unlike most seven-footers, he is also able to adequately handle pick-and-rolls by staying in front of diminutive guards.

Top Playmaker: Ramon Sessions

The lack of a quality point guard is one of the primary reasons why the Knicks will struggle in 2017-18. In today’s NBA, it is incredibly important to have a PG that can penetrate into the paint and create scoring opportunities for himself and others. The Knicks drafted 18-year old Frank Ntilikina, but he should not be expected to captain the ship this early in his development. New York paid nearly nine million to bring back Ron Baker, but he’s more of a defensive-minded combo guard. Enter Ramon Sessions, who will likely start at PG on opening night. If the Knicks are to exceed even lowly expectations, they will probably need Sessions to miraculously enjoy a career-year at age 31. On a positive note, unlike Derrick Rose last season, Sessions will be content to feed young guns Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Willy Hernangomez the ball. Sessions has a career assist rate of 28.8 percent, which is impressive considering the Knicks recent run of point guards. The only qualifying Knick PG’s to post an assist percentage greater than 28 percent over the course of a full season since 2002 are Stephon Marbury and Raymond Felton.

Top Clutch Player: Carmelo Anthony

Again, as long as Melo is on the roster, he gets the nod here. Eventually, Porzingis will be asked to take and make big shots with the game on the line (and that will occasionally happen even with Anthony in town), but Coach Hornacek will still lean on Carmelo with the game in the balance. While not as reliable as he once was in the clutch, Melo is still one of the more feared and capable one-on-one scorers in the Association.

The Unheralded Player: Frank Ntilikina

We don’t have much to go by in regards to Ntilikina, as he averaged just 18.3 minutes per game off the bench as an 18-year old last season in the French Pro A league. However, there are certainly reasons for Knicks fans to be optimistic. For starters, he measures in at 6’5” with a seven-foot wing span. Ntilikina has been able to use his length and width, along with impressive athleticism, to establish a reputation as a stellar, versatile defender capable of guarding three positions. In addition, he has shown a solid stroke from the perimeter, knocking down 43.1 percent of his three-point attempts last season. He also shot 58.6 percent from downtown and dished out a team-high 4.5 assists per contest over six games during the FIBA U18 European championships. His fellow 2017 draft-class rookies are more advanced at this stage of the game, as it will take Frank some time to grow into his body and acclimate himself to NBA competition, but Ntilikina has an undeniably high upside.

Top New Addition: Tim Hardaway Jr.

The Knicks overpaid to bring former draft pick Tim Hardaway Jr. back to NYC, but the young sharpshooter is going to provide New York’s offense with much-needed perimeter scoring. Over the final 32 games of the 2016-17 campaign, Hardaway played the best basketball of his career, pouring in 18.2 points a night, while shooting 47.9 percent from the floor (including 37.8 percent from 3-point territory while knocking down 2.2 treys) in 32.3 minutes per contest. If he can develop into a consistent 18-ppg scorer, that will stretch opposing defenses and open up the floor for the rest of his teammates. THJ was a subpar defender during his first stint in New York but has improved on that end of the floor during his days in Atlanta.

– Tommy Beer

WHO WE LIKE

1. Kristaps Porzingis:
Porzingis is the foundational future of the franchise. If the Knicks rise to prominence, or anywhere even close to respectability in the near future, it will be due to Porzingis emerging as a legitimate superstar. Fortunately for Knicks fans, KP has the talent, mindset, IQ and work ethic to become an All-NBA caliber player. His first two NBA seasons were incredibly impressive. Porzingis, who stands 7-foot-3 with shooting touch of a guard, is ideally suited to excel in today’s space-and-pace, “positionless” NBA. He can easily shoot over smaller defenders on the perimeter, and drive past lumbering big men that attempt to close out on him. His unique combination of size and athleticism allows him to post previously unimaginable stats. Consider this: Porzingis is the only player in NBA history ever to tally at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 250 blocks and 100 made three-pointers over his first two seasons.

2. Willy Hernangomez:
The Knicks acquired Hernangomez on draft day in 2015. Willy was selected 35th overall by the Sixers, who re-routed him to New York in exchange for two future second-round selections. It will likely go down as Phil Jackson’s best trade during his tenure with the Knicks. Hernangomez was surprisingly impressive as a rookie last season. Despite playing limited minutes for most of the year, he was able to make an immediate impact. Willy was remarkably efficient, as evidenced by his incredible per-36 minute averages. In fact, over the last 30 years, only two rookies have averaged at least 15 points and 13 rebounds per-36 minutes: Shaquille O’Neal in 1992-93 and Willy Hernangomez in 2016-17. Willy needs to improve significantly on the defensive end of the floor, but his footwork and offensive skillet have Knicks fans giddy. Best of all, Hernangomez is locked into an incredibly affordable contract, where he’ll make an average of just $1.6 million over the next three seasons.

3. Courtney Lee
Lee’s standard statistics don’t jump off the page, so his many contributions can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. But make no mistake, Lee’s 3-and-D abilities are extremely valuable. And, when digging deeper into the advanced analytics, his worth becomes more apparent. Not only is Lee tasked with guarding the other team’s best perimeter scorer, but he also finished second on the team last season in True Shooting Percentage (55.9%) and second to only Carmelo Anthony in both Offensive Win Shares and Offensive Box Plus/Minus.

4. Lance Thomas
Thomas is coming off a disappointing 2016-17 season. He missed a total of 36 games due to a variety of medical issues, including a concussion and a hip injury late in the year. However, Thomas has been working out diligently this summer in NYC and appears poised for a strong bounce-back season. Like Courtney Lee, much of Thomas’ value lies in the intangible he brings to the table. He’s one of those “glue guys” that most every team in the NBA would want on their roster. Thomas is a versatile defender who can guard multiple positions and has developed into a reliable outside shooter. He led the Knicks in 3-point shooting last season, knocking down 44.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. In fact, he was one of just six players to shoot over 44 percent while attempting more than 1.5 3-pointers per game last season.

– Tommy Beer

SALARY CAP 101

The Knicks have exhausted their spending resources with their cap room spent on Tim Hardaway Jr. and their Room Exception used to re-sign Ron Baker. The team has 14 players locked in for the coming season, leaving one roster spot for non-guaranteed players Chasson Randle, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Jamel Artis and Nigel Hayes.

New York has long tried to get out of Carmelo Anthony’s salary but the All-Star forward has a no-trade clause. Anthony has one more years left on his deal but can opt out after this season – though he may not be willing to leave $27.9 million behind. If he does, the Knicks might be able to get to about $27 million in cap room next summer.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

The Knicks were near the middle of the pack offensively last season, finishing 18th overall in Offensive Efficiency. They should be better in 2017-18. Not only did they add Tim Hardaway Jr. to the mix, but they will also finally begin running a modern NBA offense. With Phil Jackson out of the picture, head coach Jeff Hornacek will not be commanded to implement the outdated “Triangle.” Due primarily to the tenets of the Triangle, the Knicks relied far too heavily on mid-range jumpers last season. Per NBA.com, 72.1 percent of their field-goal attempts were two-pointers. Contrast that with teams such as the Cavs, Celtics, and Rockets, who attempted fewer than 61 percent of shots inside the arc. New York registered 9.3 shots per game between 10-14 feet from the hoop. Only the Pistons had more. Hornacek is now unshackled and free to run a far more inventive offense. It’s safe to assume he’ll ask his troops to push the pace, just as Hornacek’s Suns teams did, and fire away from deep far more frequently.

– Tommy Beer

WEAKNESSES

The two biggest issues facing New York next season will be their lack of a legit NBA point guard and their inability to get stops. Unfortunately, this has been a common theme in New York dating back nearly two decades. Over the last ten years, the only New York point guard to post a PER above 17 over the course of a full season was Nate Robinson in 2008-09. The last Knicks point guard named to an All-Star team was Mark Jackson back in 1988-89. Defensive ineptitude has also been a consistent problem plaguing the franchise. The Knicks have finished the regular season ranked in the top-half of the league in Defensive Efficiency just once over the last 17 years. Coincidentally, that also happened to be the single season this century they finished with more than 50 regular season wins and advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Until the Knicks address those two fatal flaws, it’s unlikely they will take a significant step forward as a franchise.

– Tommy Beer

THE BURNING QUESTION

What to do with Melo?

Since taking the reigns of the franchise, Knicks new president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry have been smart in their handling of the complicated Carmelo situation. Because of his no-trade clause, Melo can choose which teams he’s willing to play for. Currently, it appears Houston is the only team on his wish list. However, to consummate such a deal, the Rockets would have to send back Ryan Anderson, who is owed $61.3 million over the next three seasons. Anderson is a solid shooter that could certainly benefit a team that is in win-now mode and needs a reliable three-point marksman. The Knicks are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They realize they are far from contention, and adding Anderson would make only a minimal difference on their win/loss ledger, while simultaneously clogging their cap space. Thus, despite the awkwardness that will ensue when Melo shows up at media day and training camp later this month, keeping him on the roster, for the time being, is the most prudent course of action. Anthony is too valuable to simply waive outright, and paying him $50 million to play for another team would understandably infuriate owner James Dolan. The Knicks should sit tight and hope that Melo is willing to expand the list of teams he’d be to accept a trade to. By the trade deadline in February, it’s possible New York may be able to flip Anthony for a draft pick and/or a promising young player. Either way, the worst case scenario would be trading Melo and taking back a bloated salary that would take up cap space and thereby inhibit the Knicks ability to improve their roster in the future.

– Tommy Beer

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reduce back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which features the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling. The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship. Why should it in the NBA?

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would get squeezed out.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1)nHouston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, and that’s a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh.

There’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, they’ve seemingly found a way to follow suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually implemented.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled

David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.

He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.

He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.

“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”

Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.

He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.

“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”

Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.

He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.

“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”

The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.

“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”

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