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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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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA

NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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