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New York Knicks 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

For the first time in a while the New York Knicks have a bright future in front of them, the question is will that materialize into a playoff run this season? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Knicks in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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The New York Knicks looked like a dumpster fire two summers ago and after some savvy moves in the draft and the hiring of David Fizdale as head coach the Knicks not only look like a team on the rise, they might be one of the teams to watch this season as a sneaky play for the post-season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

For all of the criticism I have given the New York Knicks in the past, I must admit that I like a lot of the moves they made this summer. I think bringing in David Fizdale is going to make a big-time difference on the court and in the locker room for this team. New York also did well in adding on players that have actual upside without compromising its cap flexibility moving forward. New York signed Mario Hezonja to a one-year, $6.5 million contract and signed Noah Vonleh to a non-guaranteed one-year, $1,621,415 contract. I like that New York is taking a chance on young players who haven’t fulfilled expectations but still have the chance to develop and contribute. I also liked the drafting of Kevin Knox, who projects to be a very good player. With all of this in mind, New York has its eye primarily on the recovery of Kristaps Porzingis and next offseason. There are rumors that New York could land some big-time free agents next year, so making a good showing on the court this year will be particularly important.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Am I dreaming, or did the Knicks actually play it smart this summer? They uncharacteristically made wise decisions this summer, such as drafting Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Nobody said the Knicks couldn’t draft but adding young prospects like Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh for cheap? Those were smart, not typical Knicks moves. Now, pending any surprises, they won’t see much success this year with Kristaps Porzingis out indefinitely. The upshot is that if this summer is a sign of things to come, then the Knicks are taking that first step towards relevance.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Matt John

Team culture is what it’ll be all about for David Fizdale and the Knicks this coming season. While Kristaps Porzingis rehabs and hopefully returns from his knee injury, others will need to help fill the void. Rookie players Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson are going to inject some much-needed new life into this franchise. Mario Hezonja was a sneaky good signing by general manager Scott Perry as well. Besides those guys, New York would love to see Tim Hardaway Jr. build and improve on last year’s numbers, especially upping that three-point percentage. This ball club is in for a dogfight being in the Atlantic, though.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Spencer Davies

In one sense, it feels like the Knicks might finally be lifting themselves up out of the purgatory that was the Carmelo Anthony/Phil Jackson ending. Kristaps Porzingis represents a foundational star the franchise hasn’t had in years, and there’s plenty of optimism about draftees Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Add in a surprising resurgence from Trey Burke, some strong rookie stretches from Frank Ntilikina and a new head coach in David Fizdale, and there are some real reasons for optimism in the Big Apple. At the same time, though, Porzingis’ torn ACL makes one realize just how thin this current roster is after him; someone like Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. might legitimately be the star of this unicorn-less squad. The Knicks don’t expect Porzingis back until at least December, likely longer, and they’ll be one of the worst teams in the league until that point. One even wonders whether the priority with Porzingis should be complete, 100 percent health rather than rushing back to add a few wins that almost certainly won’t equal a playoff berth.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Ben Dowsett

The Knicks look like a team that could surprise the pundits and sneak into in the post-season – if Kristaps Porzingis can make a quicker than expected recovery. Keep in mind ACL tears are not what they used to be and while no one wants to risk anything long-term with KP, there is a window in all of this that suggests if KP is back by the end of December, the Knicks might have enough talent to be a 35-40 win team. That kind of production would put the Knicks squarely in the hunt for the 8th seed in the East, which would be a solid season.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Kristaps Porzingis would obviously get the nod here if he were healthy, but KP tore his left ACL last February and is expected to miss at least the first three months of the 2018-19 campaign. In Porzingis’ absence, much of the scoring load will fall onto the shoulders of Hardaway Jr. The Knicks have a lot invested in THJ, as they doled out a four-year, $71 million contract to Hardaway Jr. in July of 2017. Last season, he averaged 17.5 points per game, but was disappointingly inefficient. He shot just 42.1 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3-point territory. If he can bump up those percentages closer to his 2016-17 levels (45.5 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from downtown), his scoring average could climb close to 20 points per contest. With limited offensive firepower on the roster, the Knicks need him to step up.

Top Defensive Player: Frank Ntilikina

Despite entering the league as a teenager last season, Ntilikina quickly established himself a terrific perimeter defender. The French Prince uses his height (6-foot-5) and length (seven-foot wingspan) to terrorize opponents as they cross halfcourt. His size and athleticism allow Ntilikina to guard multiple positions, from points guards to small forwards. His Defensive Rating (104.9) was best among Knicks regulars in 2017-18. If Frank can take his defense to the next level, he may have a chance to earn some consideration as an All-NBA defender in 2018-19.

Top Playmaker: Trey Burke

Burke is one of the more intriguing players on the Knicks roster heading into the 2018-19 campaign. Despite being selected with the ninth overall pick by the Jazz in the 2013 NBA draft, Burke had fallen off the NBA radar by the end of 2017. With no team offering guaranteed money, he was forced to settle for a G-League contract with New York. Burke rededicated himself and averaged 26.6 points and 5.3 assists per game for the Westchester Knicks. He was finally called up in mid-January and posted impressive numbers right away. He eventually worked his way into the starting lineup by March and started the final nine games of the regular season, averaging an impressive 18.7 points, 7.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and just 1.9 turnovers. Can Burke come close to matching that type of production again next season? We shall see.

Top Clutch Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Until Porzingis gets back in the mix, the Knicks will likely have to lean on Hardaway Jr. late in games. Unfortunately for New York, THJ has historically been a bit too reliant on his sometimes unreliable jumper. The Knicks need to encourage him to attack the basket more frequently and get himself to the free-throw stripe, especially in late-game situations.

The Unheralded Player: Courtney Lee

Looking at Lee’s final stat line from last season doesn’t tell the whole story. After the Knicks fell out of contention after the All-Star break, New York significantly reduced his playing time and opted to see what their younger players could bring to the table. However, when receiving consistent minutes over the first half of the season, Lee proved he was still a valuable 3-and-D wing. Over the first 60 games of the season, Lee led New York in total points, made 3-pointers, steals, minutes played and ranked third in rebounds. He is a bit misplaced on a rebuilding squad featuring a pair of teenagers, but talent evaluators around the NBA respect what he can bring to a competitive “win now” team. With two years and $25 million left on his current contract, the Knicks will likely look to move him by the February trade deadline in order to create the most cap space possible for the summer of 2019.

Best New Addition: Kevin Knox

When the Knicks selected Knox with the 9th overall pick in the 2018 draft, most pundits assumed it would take a while before he acclimated himself to the NBA game. At just 18 years of age, he was one of the youngest players in the entire draft and was inefficient offensively as a freshman at Kentucky. However, Knox was spectacular during Las Vegas Summer League action. He was named to the Summer League’s All-NBA First Team after averaging 21.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 three-pointers and one steal in 32.2 minutes.

– Tommy Beer

WHO WE LIKE

1. Kristaps Porzingis

It’s tough not to like Porzingis. At the start of last season, he showed that he has the potential to be one of the more dominant two-way players in the entire sport. Over New York’s first 12 games in 2017-18, he averaged 30.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 three-pointers and 2.3 blocks. In the process, he became the first Knickerbocker in franchise history to score at least 300 points over the first ten games of a season. If he can return healthy, his upside is enormous.

2. David Fizdale

Fizdale was one of the hot free-agent coaching commodities on the market this summer. He interviewed for numerous teams and was offered the Suns head coaching gig, but said it was a dream of his to coach in New York. He won’t have much pressure on him next season in terms of wins and losses, but he will be tasked with developing the Knicks young core. With Knox, Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson all 20 years of age or younger, it’s imperative that New York’s coaching staff puts these youngsters on the path to maximizing their full potential.

3. Mario Hezonja

Scott Perry, the Orlando Magic vice president and assistant general manager in 2015, and the Magic were reportedly hoping to land Porzingis with the 5th pick in the draft. However, Phil Jackson and the Knicks snagged KP at No. 4 and Orlando selected Hezonja. Super Mario did not live up to expectations over his first two years in Florida. As a result, the Magic decided to decline hia fourth-year option on his rookie contract last October. However, due to a rash of injuries to Magic forwards, Mario was given extended opportunities to play and he made the most of it. He started 30 games last season and averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 three-pointers and 1.5 steals, while shooting 46. percent from the floor. With Porzingis sidelined, there will plenty of minutes and shot attempts up for grabs, especially at power forward. Hezonja has a chance to step in and step up.

4. Mitchell Robinson

Like Knox, not much was expected of Robinson this season. After a stellar high school career, Robinson mysteriously sat out his freshman season on the collegiate level, choosing instead to prepare for the draft by working with an individual trainer. As a result, he slipped into the second round, where the Knicks scooped him up. Like Knox, he greatly exceeded expectations in Las Vegas. Robinson averaged 13.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, one steal and (a record-breaking) four blocks per game, while shooting a scorching 66.7 percent from the field.

– Tommy Beer

STRENGTHS

When a team finishes a season ranked 24th in offensive efficiency (scoring 104.1 points per 100 possessions) and 23rd in defensive efficiency (allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions) as the Knicks did in 2017-18, it’s difficult to pinpoint many strengths. However, for the first time in a long time, New Yorkers have reason to be optimistic about the future. It looks like the Knicks may have nailed both their 2018 draft picks. Their 2017 lottery selection, Frank Ntilikina, is only 19 has flashed elite defensive potential. And New York will likely have enough cap space next summer to make a max offer to the top free agents on the market. While the short-term outlook is somewhat bleak, the Knicks should be a fun team to watch next season and could be markedly better by 2020.

– Tommy Beer

WEAKNESSES

Ever since Phil Jackson was hired as president back in 2014 and “encouraged” the head coaches he hired to run the Triangle Offense, the Knicks have been far too reliant on mid-range jumpers. Last season, even though Jackson had already been fired, former head coach Jeff Hornacek failed to fix this flaw. In 2017-18, 62.1 percent of the total points the Knicks scored came off 2-point field goals, which was the highest such percentage among all NBA teams. In addition, 73.4 percent of all New York’s field-goal attempts were 2-pointers. In today’s NBA, the 3-point shot is more important and valuable than ever, yet the Knicks have been behind the times. One of the reasons David Fizdale was hired was that he has shown an ability to get his teams to take and make shots from downtown.

– Tommy Beer

THE BURNING QUESTION

When will Kristaps Porzingis return to the Knicks lineup?

As noted above, KP is working his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee. The typical recovery time for NBA players is usually 10-12 months. There have been some rumors from Porzingis’ camp that he is targeting a return around Christmas. However, that may be overly optimistic. It’s probably safe to assume that New York won’t be competitive this season. They had the second-worst record in the NBA over the last 50 games of the 2017-18 season. Vegas sports books have set their 2018-19 win total over/under at 29. They also have a very unfavorable schedule early on. With Porzingis sidelined for at least the first two months, they will likely be well under .500 by the time he is close to being cleared. At that point, why would there be a need to rush him back into action? It would be prudent to wait until he is as close to 100 percent as possible. In addition to extra patience likely being best for Porzingis, it could benefit the Knicks as well by increasing their odds of landing a high lottery pick next summer. Having KP return after the All-Star break makes sense for all concerned. This way Porzingis still gets two months to show he is healthy, which is important for his confidence heading into the offseason, and also serves as proof to potential free agents that KP is ready to reclaim his spot as an elite NBA player.

– Tommy Beer

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NBA Daily: Trade Watch – Central Division

Spencer Davies starts Basketball Insiders’ division-by-division “NBA Trade Watch” series with the group of five in the Central.

Spencer Davies

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With only 10 days left in January, the NBA season is about halfway over—meaning trade deadline time is around the corner.

While plenty of deals have already made, most of the recent activity has come on the waiver wire and via 10-day contract signings. Having said that, February 7 is fast approaching, and talks between teams—buying and selling—are going to kick up an extra notch.

Basketball Insiders will provide a division-by-division overlook of the most up-to-date chatter with an NBA Trade Watch series. We’ll start with the Central.

Chicago Bulls

What better way to get things started than sharing some news hot off the presses?

Monday evening, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Houston Rockets agreed to send Carmelo Anthony and cash considerations to the Bulls, who absorbed the veteran’s contract and profited approximately $900,000 for doing so. According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, there was an exchange of the draft rights of international players as well.

Anthony likely won’t play a single minute for Chicago, but the organization might hold onto him through the trade deadline in an attempt to flip the 34-year-old. A player-for-player transaction is an odds-on scenario if they find a willing partner, as the Bulls won’t be able to aggregate his salary in a potential trade. If they don’t, then Anthony will probably be waived post-deadline.

As for others that could be on the move, Robin Lopez and Jabari Parker are two names we mentioned in our Buyers or Sellers series that still are floating around in the rumor mill. The former is a veteran center looking to contribute to a contender on a $14.3 million expiring contract, and the latter is also a candidate to be moved due to his contract ($20 million) acting like an expiring deal with a team option for next year.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers are floundering and a fire sale is on the horizon—though, it may not include the biggest of names. Alec Burks and Rodney Hood are arguably the two most enticing players the team can offer.

It’d be hard to envision Burks in a wine and gold uniform after the deadline passes. His $11.5 million expiring deal is one of Cleveland’s most attractive assets for a team looking to move a “bad” contract. It’s important to note that January 29 marks the date the team can aggregate Burks’ salary with another player in a trade.

As for Hood, his salary isn’t quite as large. He may elect to deny the Cavaliers a trade he’s involved in, too, as he has veto ability due to the qualifying offer he accepted in the offseason. Despite the tumultuous season in Northeast Ohio, Hood has repeatedly said he’s content where he’s at. Unless there’s a situation that blows him away in a potential trade, there’s no sense he’ll allow a deal to be made.

Another note from Cleveland—Kevin Love’s trade restriction is lifted on January 24. There are some teams reported to have interest in the veteran power forward, however—unless the team receives a return equal to what they feel his value is—there’s not much of a chance where Love gets moved. This is especially because he’s expected back in the near future and the organization wants to see what his chemistry looks like with rookie Collin Sexton.

Detroit Pistons

Things have gone south in a hurry with the Pistons. They’ve lost 12 out of their last 17 games and are struggling to put the ball in the basket. If weren’t for Blake Griffin and Reggie Bullock, you’d shudder to think where this team would be right now. Luckily for Dwane Casey, though, they are in the Eastern Conference.

Still in the playoff hunt, it’ll be interesting to see what Detroit does at the trade deadline. According to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, the franchise has received interest regarding Bullock and veteran point guard Ish Smith.

Bullock is one of the few who has consistently produced as a scorer and shooter for the club. He has an expiring $2.5 million deal, but the Pistons reportedly would like to re-sign both him and Smith in the summer. Still, if a can’t-refuse offer comes to the table, they shouldn’t shy away from considering a deal.

If the Pistons elect to stay on course and look to turn things around to get into the East’s field of eight, Ellis affirms that their interest in Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal remains high.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks have the top record in the association at 34-12. Milwaukee doesn’t need to do much else at the moment. They not only went out and got veteran help with the acquisitions of George Hill and Jason Smith in December, but also offloaded two sizable contracts in the process.

Offensively speaking, Khris Middleton has taken a slight step back, but he’s still one of the best secondary scoring options and defenders in the game. While he has a player option and will likely demand a high payday this summer, the Bucks shouldn’t even think about trading him unless it’s a home run offer.

With D.J. Wilson emerging as a popular player off the bench over the last month, maybe Milwaukee would ponder sending Thon Maker to a different destination—but let’s remember that he’s only a 21-year-old lottery pick who has yet to earn a consistent opportunity.

Indiana Pacers

There’s not much going on around the rumor mill regarding the Pacers, and that’s because they’ve won four out of five games. Nate McMillan’s bunch is one of six teams in the NBA that has eclipsed the 30-win mark.

We highlighted a month ago that Indiana could gauge the value in moving Darren Collison—and there are six expiring contracts on their books—but this seems like a group you don’t want to break up at all right now. When healthy, this Pacers squad is a real problem.

As you can see, the Central Division’s bottom three teams are likely going to be much more involved at the trade deadline than the two battling at the top. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on as February 7 draws closer and closer.

Make sure to check out the rest of our NBA Trade Watch series throughout the week.

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NBA Daily: The Time for Brandon Ingram is Now

Brandon Ingram must take advantage of what lies ahead of him if he wants to be a long-term factor in Los Angeles, says Matt John.

Matt John

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Ever since he came into this league, Brandon Ingram has had ginormous and arguably unfair expectations.

Being selected second overall in what was believed to be a two-man draft is one thing. Being selected by one of the league’s most storied franchises along with that is another. Those two combined is sure to generate a lot of pressure to be great.

Before LeBron came to LA, Ingram was supposed to be the leader of the Lakers’ next generation of success. King James coming to town changed the course a tad, but with him on the team, Ingram was believed to be his second-in-command. Considering that title was previously held by the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving, that was a tall order to ask of a third-year player like Brandon.

Thus far, the results have not been bad. They just haven’t been as substantial as Lakers faithful would have hoped. Ingram is currently scoring 16.3 points a game on 46.6 percent shooting from the field including almost 30 percent from three in 32.7 minutes a game on average. Along with that, Ingram is also averaging almost five rebounds and three assists a game.

Again, those are adequate numbers. They are just not satisfactory given where the bar was set for him this season. Compare the numbers he’s putting up to what they were last season. Ingram averaged 16.1 points on 47 percent shooting including 39 percent from distance along with 5.3 rebounds and almost four assists in 33.5 minutes a game. The expectation for Ingram was for his game to take another step forward. As you can see, he hasn’t done it.

His net rating doesn’t help his case either because right now, it’s not positive or negative. As it stands, according to NBA.com, Ingram’s net rating is zero. In retrospect, he’s not hurting the Lakers, but he’s not helping them either.

In his defense, his stagnated progress as a playmaker may have come from the Lakers adding a few too many playmakers this summer. LeBron, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson are all used to having the ball in their hands to be the most effective players they can be, and Michael Beasley is a score-first wing. It’s a little hard to reach your potential when the ball isn’t in your hands a fair amount of the time.

Ingram also didn’t ask for this. He was thrust into such an important role so early into his young career that there was bound to be some hardship. The man is only 21 years old and doesn’t boast one second of playoff experience. Now he’s expected to help a LeBron-led Lakers team fight through the basketball equivalent of a warzone that is the Western Conference.

Because of that, Brandon does not have time to wait. He has to produce consistently now if the Lakers hope to go on a lengthy playoff run. At first glance, those expectations seem unrealistic, but the reason why he has so much asked of him is that we have seen him prove himself as the jack-of-all-trades player that the Lakers have wanted him to be.

Remember when the Lakers experimented with the “Point Ingram” offense last season? Until Ingram suffered an injury that derailed almost the rest of his season, the experiment was getting favorable results. From Jan. 26 to March 1, Ingram averaged 18.4 points on 52.1 percent shooting including 46.7 percent from three as well as 5.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. The Lakers went 9-6 in that span and were plus-10.1 with Brandon on the floor, so he has shown that he can help your team win if he’s the focal point.

When LeBron’s on your team, you can’t really be the focal point. In Ingram’s case, he has to adapt to a supplementary role which he hasn’t exactly run with. In fact, Kyle Kuzma has outshined him in that regard. Recently, however, circumstances have given Ingram the chance to prove himself. Sadly, it hasn’t gone all that swimmingly for him.

Recent injuries to LeBron and Rondo have forced Ingram into a bigger role as a facilitator. With an increase in playing time and the ball in his hands more, he still hasn’t exactly taken it up a notch.

In 36 minutes per game, Ingram’s averaged 17.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting, along with 6.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. That’s an improvement compared to his numbers overall, but that stat line also includes shooting 27.3 percent from three and 3.4 turnovers on average per game. Worst of all, the Lakers have gone 5-8 in that span and have been a minus-7.9 with Ingram on the floor.

Just because he hasn’t filled the void left by LeBron does not mean that all is lost for him this season. The Lakers as we know it are going through even more changes at the moment. With LeBron and Rondo coming back within the next week or so, and Lonzo Ball out for the next four to six weeks, this is a rare chance for Ingram to prove that he can blend in with his well-repped teammates.

Ball’s absence will create more playmaking opportunities for Ingram, and this season, metrics show that he actually has played well next to both Rondo and LeBron. Currently, Ingram and Rondo paired together make for one of the Lakers’ highest two-man net ratings, as the Lakers are plus-10.2 when both of them share the floor. His net rating with LeBron is lower at plus-1.6, but that’s still positive, call it what you will.

If the Lakers are to prove they can play with the big boys, they need Ingram to step up to the plate. Right now, only LeBron and Rondo are safe bets to bring their A-game to the table when and if the playoffs come around. The veterans the Lakers have are either old or unpredictable. Their other young guys, as good as they’ve been, are inexperienced with Brandon being no exception. It’s a lot to ask for him to take on that load,

There is the possibility that Ingram just doesn’t fit with what the Lakers are trying to do. The only way to know for sure is to see how he does over the latter half of this season.

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NBA Daily: Evan Turner Helping to Stabilize Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers have struggled with key injuries this season, but Evan Turner has done whatever it takes to fill the void, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The 2018-19 Portland Trail Blazers are a talented team seeking redemption. Even though they were able to secure the third seed in last season’s competitive Western Conference, they still found themselves on the wrong end of a four-game sweep at the hands of the feisty New Orleans Pelicans. In fairness to the Trail Blazers, the Pelicans were a particularly bad matchup despite the homecourt advantage for Portland. Now near the midway point of this season, the Trail Blazers are again angling themselves for the best seed possible and are currently fourth in the Western Conference, just behind the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now in his third season with the Trail Blazers, veteran forward Evan Turner is proving as valuable as ever in this season’s campaign. Turner serves primarily as a key role player coming off the bench as a scorer, wing defender and back-up point forward. Turner spoke to Basketball Insiders recently to share his thoughts about coming off the bench and his role overall.

“The biggest thing [coming off the bench] shows is your value with how the unit does,” Turner said. “We really just have to keep it consistent and not give up the lead the starters built.”

This season, Turner has almost exclusively come off the bench. He is arguably the team’s most important bench player and serves much more as a point forward for the second unit compared to years past in Portland. Turner’s effectiveness in this role hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates. When asked which teammate has been critical to his own success, reserve guard Nik Stauskas immediately brought up Turner.

“It’s been really good playing with Evan Turner. He’s the point guard of the second unit. It’s been really cool to play with him. He’s a really great point guard. He gets guys involved. He just keeps the rhythm of the game going,” Stauskas said.

When asked about the emphasis on playing point with the other reserves, Turner made it clear that he is quite comfortable with it.

“Yeah, I guess this year we just went full force with it. I grew up doing it throughout my whole playing since I was a kid. You know, in Boston I played that position a lot, in that situation,” Turner said.

Of course, the NBA season is a grind and injuries do occur. In what has become a recurring theme, the health of starting small forward Maurice Harkless is an ongoing issue. Harkless has been in and out of the lineup as he continues to deal with issues relating to a knee injury suffered last season. In the last 11 games, Harkless has only been able to play in four. The injury puts the team in a difficult position as it again positions itself to be a contender.

Despite his health issues and any ensuing instability to the team, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts made his support for Harkless clear.

“He’s our starting small forward. He has been for two years so yeah, very comfortable with him in that spot,” Stotts said.

With the ongoing knee issues for Harkless, Turner said he would be ready to enter into the starting lineup if that’s what the Stotts decided, but expressed some hesitation about being pulled from the second unit.

“I would be comfortable playing anywhere on the court, you know I play basketball. I accept my position. It’s about what molds well for the whole team. You know, I step into the first unit, what happens with the second unit? Who’s going to distribute? Things like that,” Turner said. “Right now, I guess my perk is versatility so it is whatever it is. I’m all about whatever makes sense, in that moment.”

A few weeks ago, Harkless missed two random games and both times Turner had to step into the starting lineup. Both games resulted in a Portland win. However, during a more recent five-game Harkless absence, the Trail Blazers went back to third-year small forward Jake Layman. Layman had been the team’s starting small forward before Harkless was able to ease back into the lineup and his normal starting role.

With the starting position in flux, Turner’s versatile role and consistent play have the Trail Blazers well situated to not drop off too much. When asked what matters to him personally, Turner turned his attention to his team’s success.

“I’ve always been big on, as long as we win, whatever I can do to help, trying to be the consummate pro – that’s all that matters,” Turner said. “When you’re in the locker room, you’re around what really matters, those 15 people in the locker room, along with what your coaches ask you to do. And that’s all I really focus on and that’s what you get paid for.”

When asked about how the general fans often think about the Trail Blazers, Turner had strong words about how the rest of the team is overlooked in favor of the team’s two stars.

“In the overall scheme, when you think about Portland. There is the Dame [Lillard] and C.J. [McCollum] effect and the rest of us are the dead weight.”

Regardless, Turner’s priorities are supporting his teammates and fighting for the team’s overall success. Whatever happens with Harkless, Turner is ready to do whatever is necessary to help his team, which is again angling for a deep playoff run in a stacked Western Conference.

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