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The Knicks’ Potential Point Guard Problem

The Knicks’ point guard depth is concerning. Tommy Beer looks at some possible free-agent targets.

Tommy Beer

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New York Knicks president Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills effectively overhauled the team’s roster this summer. The primary focus of their offseason work was addressing the frontcourt.

They brought in Joakim Noah, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Maurice Ndour, Marshall Plumlee, and Guillermo Hernangomez. They also re-signed Lance Thomas.

Noah is the only new addition expected to start, as Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis will start at small forward and power forward, respectively. When last summer’s free-agent signee Kyle O’Quinn is also factored in, the Knicks appear to have plenty of depth up front.

Their backcourt, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as deep. The point guard position is particularly concerning.

The Knicks’ much-publicized trade for Derrick Rose generated buzz and lots of discussion. And while there are plenty of reasons to believe Rose has the potential to bounce back and play at an above-average level, the concerns regarding his durability are undeniable. Last year he remained relatively healthy, playing in over 65 games for the first time since his MVP campaign in 2010-11. In fact, Rose has actually played in more games over the last two seasons (117) than both Anthony (112) and Noah (96). Nonetheless, expecting him to stay healthy in 2016-17 may not be a prudent gamble. The reality is Rose has missed a total of 162 games since 2011.

The only other point guard on the roster with a guaranteed contract for next season is Brandon Jennings, who is also working his way back from a serious injury. He tore his Achilles on January 24th of 2014. He returned to game action in late December of last year, averaging 6.9 points (on below 37% shooting) and 3.5 assists in the 48 games he appeared in.

An Achilles tear is one of the more destructive and destabilizing injuries any athlete can suffer. The list of players that have successfully bounced back from this dreaded injury is not lengthy. Jennings is only 27, and avoided a major setback last season, which is encouraging. Still, much like Rose, the odds of Jennings playing 70 or more games next season are not high.

Thus the Knicks enter the season, one in which fans have high hopes, with their fingers crossed when it comes to the point guard position. Considering the rules currently in place and the way the game is officiated, it is impossible to overstate the importance of quality point guard play in today’s NBA. New Yorkers understand this reality all too well – the Knicks being forced to start a past-his-prime Jose Calderon torpedoed their previous two seasons.

The Knicks did sign Chasson Randle and Ron Baker after each played for the organization in the Las Vegas Summer League, but it remains unlikely that either makes the final 15-man roster, let alone contributes as a rotation player any time soon. Baker went undrafted this past summer and is not a pure point guard. Randle went undrafted in 2015 and played in the Czech Republic National Basketball League last season. The most likely scenario is both players spending the majority of the season in Westchester for the Knicks D-League affiliate.

The Knicks currently have 14 players with guaranteed deals for 2016-17; both Randle and Baker, as well as J.P. Tokoto, inked non-guaranteed contracts. Might Phil Jackson solidify their potential point guard problem by using their 15th and final roster spot on a reliable, veteran point guard?

Listed below are a handful of currently unemployed, yet established point guards that might fit the bill:

* Mario Chalmers: Arguably the most accomplished point guard still available, Chalmers was the starting point on back-to-back title teams in Miami. He was playing well for Memphis last season before tearing his Achilles in March. He isn’t a great fit in New York, as the Knicks would be investing in two players returning from similar, serious injuries.

* Norris Cole: Cole’s career got off to a promising start in Miami, but he never developed into the reliable rotation player the HEAT had hoped he would become. Cole played decently in stretches for New Orleans last season, but only appeared in 45 games after being limited by a back injury late in the year. The numbers aren’t encouraging (he has a career PER south of 10 and a True Shooting Percentage of just 47.7), but he is still just 27 years old with some experience and bit of potential upside.

* Kirk Hinrich: The 35-year old Hinrich spent the majority of his career in Chicago and has familiarity backing up Derrick Rose. He shot nearly 39% from three-point territory last season, an encouraging figure.

* Steve Blake: Much like Hinrich, Blake has been a reliable and consistent throughout his 13-year NBA career. He’s a solid locker room presence.

* Nate Robinson: The former Knick put up big numbers in Israel last year and has let it be known he badly wants to return to the NBA.

* Jordan Farmar: Farmar actually ended up starting for the Grizzlies in their first-round playoff loss to the Spurs this past April. He averaged 9.0 ppg and 3.1 assists in the 10 total games he started for Memphis.

* Andre Miller: The Professor turned 40 last season, finishing the year as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. He currently ranks ninth all-time in the NBA career assists, and while he obviously can’t be relied to play heavy minutes, he can still get by on guile.

* Lance Stephenson: While certainly not a pure point guard, Stephenson can handle the ball when needed. He also possesses far more pure talent and athleticism than any other player on this list. After disastrous stints in Charlotte and Los Angeles, Stephenson seemed to revive his career with a strong showing in Memphis late last season. He averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per-36 minutes during 26 games with the Grizzlies. However, the fact that he’s still a free agent confirms that teams still have major concerns regarding his maturity and professionalism. Coming home to NYC would be worrisome on many levels, but would Phil Jackson and company be willing to take an inexpensive flier on a reclamation project?

With training camp starting in less than a month, the Knicks will likely have to make a decision soon. One player that was originally on this list when the column was initially crafted was Ty Lawson, but he’s since signed a one-year deal with the Kings on Monday.

The worst case scenario would be having too many healthy point guards, which is obviously a “problem” the Knicks would be happy to confront should it arise. Not only would that mean Rose and Jennings stayed avoided injury, but it would conceivably allow Coach Jeff Hornacek to play two point guards at the same time. This was a strategy Hornacek successfully employed in Phoenix.

The other option New York could consider would be addressing their lack of point guard depth by trading a big for a small. Would Phil consider shipping out one of the backup forwards or centers to acquire a guard? Might Kyle O’Quinn, who is locked into an affordable contract, draw some interest if dangled around the league?

Personally, I am of the opinion that the Knicks’ plan is to earnestly pursue their “point guard of the future” next summer via free agency. Rose only having one year left on his deal was an important factor in New York’s decision to acquire him, and it’s not a coincidence that Jennings was inked to a one-year deal. As currently constructed, the Knicks will shed approximately $27 million worth of contracts with Rose and Jennings coming off the books next July. It is safe to assume they will look to reinvest that in a stud at the point. There are a number of top-tier point guards that will hit the open market next July (including ‘Melo’s good buddy Chris Paul), so if the Knicks were to trade for one, they would likely only consider for a guard with an expiring contract.

Either way, common sense seems to dictate the Knicks would be dangerously rolling the dice if they decided to enter the season with just Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings manning the point guard position.

Perhaps Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ brain trust disagree. Maybe they saw enough from Chasson Randle or Ron Baker this summer to assuage their fears? We shall see. New York’s activity, or lack thereof, in the remaining weeks prior to the start of training camp should give plenty of insight into the Knicks’ plans.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA Daily: The Young, Western Conference Bubble

The race for the West’s final playoff spot may seem crowded, but the last two months make it clear that two teams are already ahead of the pack.

Douglas Farmer

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We all jump to conclusions too quickly, this space and this scribe most certainly included. Three months ago, five weeks into the NBA season, the Western Conference playoff bubble looked like it would be a race between the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves. That has assuredly not become the reality.

While the Kings and Suns can claim to still be in the playoff race, they would have to not only make up five-game deficits, but they would also each have to jump over four other teams to reach the postseason. The Timberwolves would delight at such challenges as they initiate a not-so-subtle tank with franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for at least a few weeks with a fractured wrist.

Instead, the race to be swept by the Los Angeles Lakers has come down to a pair of up-and-comers, a perpetual deep threat and the NBA’s most consistent organization. Of all of them, it is the youngsters who are both currently playing the best and have the most control of their playoff hopes relative to their competition.

Between the current No. 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, the Portland Trail Blazers (3 games back), New Orleans Pelicans (3.5) and San Antonio Spurs (4), the next six weeks will feature eight key games. Five of those will include either the Grizzlies or the Pelicans or, in two instances, both.

That pair of matchups is still a month out, but they warrant circling already, nonetheless. Memphis and New Orleans have been playing at a high level for two-plus months now, and by the time they play two games within four nights in late March — when the basketball world is largely distracted by the NCAA Tournament — the two inexperienced teams may have completely separated from Portland and San Antonio.

After starting 1-5, 5-13 and then 10-19, the Grizzlies have gone 18-9 since Dec. 21. The Pelicans have matched that record exactly, down to the date, since starting even worse than Memphis did, bottoming out at 7-23 before finding an uptick long before Zion Williamson found the court. Winning two-thirds of your games for two months is a stretch with a sample size large enough to make it clear: Neither Memphis nor New Orleans should be dismissed in this playoff chase.

Their early-season profiles were examples of young teams sliding right back into the lottery — and there was absolutely no indication a surge was coming.

Grizzlies Pelicans
Offensive Rating 106.4 – No. 23 106.8 – No. 21
Defensive Rating 111.7 – No. 23 113.5 – No. 27

Through Dec. 20; via nba.com.

Then, for whatever reason, things changed. They changed in every way and in ways so drastically that one cannot help but wonder what could come next for the teams led by the top-two picks from last summer’s draft.

Grizzlies Pelicans
Offensive Rating 111.9 – No. 15 115.1 – No. 4
Defensive Rating 109.3 – No. 11 110.3 – No. 13

Since Dec. 21, through Feb. 23; via nba.com.

In a further coincidence of records and timing, the Blazers and Spurs have both gone 13-16 since Dec. 21.

If all four teams in the thick of things out west continue at these two-month winning rates for another month, then Portland and San Antonio will have drifted out of the playoff conversation before Williamson and Ja Morant meet for a second time. Of course, those rates would keep New Orleans a few games back of Memphis; the latter has 14 games, compared to 12, before March 21, so the gap in the standings would actually expand to an even four games.

If the Pelicans can just pick up a game or two before then, though, they have already beaten the Grizzlies twice this season. Doing so twice more that week would just about send New Orleans into the playoffs – at which point, perhaps Williamson could steal a game from LeBron James to put a finishing coda on his rookie season.

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southwest Division

David Yapkowitz finishes Basketball Insiders’ Stretch Run series with an overview of the Southwest Division.

David Yapkowitz

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We’ve hit that point in the NBA season approaching the final stretch of games before the playoffs roll around in April. The trade deadline has come and gone, the buyout market is wearing thin and most teams have loaded up and made their final roster moves in anticipation of the postseason.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at each team — division by division– at what they need to do to get ready for the playoffs, or lack thereof. Looking at the Southwest Division, this was a division that used to be one of the toughest in the league.

It still is for the most part. The Texas triangle of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs was no joke and hell for opposing teams on a road trip. Those are still a couple of formidable teams, but with the exception of the Rockets, it’s not quite near the level of yesteryear.

The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are a pair of young, up-and-coming teams that will give you 100 percent every night. While Memphis sits firmly in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on the outside looking in. Here’s a look at how each team might fare in the stretch run.

The Houston Rockets have been the best team in the Southwest all season long, and all that remains for them is playoff positioning. They currently sit in fourth place in the West, giving them home-court advantage in the first round, but they could just as easily slip a bit with the Utah Jazz essentially tied with them record-wise in the standings and the Oklahoma City Thunder a mere two games back.

The Dallas Mavericks have taken a huge leap this season behind Luka Doncic, who is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the league. They currently sit in seventh place in the West and a return to the postseason is in the cards for the Mavericks.

The rest of the teams in the Southwest is where things get a little interesting. The Grizzlies have been one of the surprises of the season, as they’ve defied expectations and are firmly entrenched in the playoff race out West. They have a three-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers and a four-game lead on the San Antonio Spurs.

Out of the Grizzlies’ final 26 games, 15 of them come against teams over .500, more than either the Blazers or the Spurs. 14 of those final 26 are also on the road, again, more than the Blazers or the Spurs. They also play both the Spurs and Blazers one more time this season. If the Grizzlies end up making the playoffs, it will be very well earned.

The Spurs are knocking on the door, and they have one more game against the Grizzlies which could prove to be very meaningful. This is a team that has been one of the standard-bearers in the league for success over the past decade. Their streak of playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.

They’ve won two of their last three games, however, and out of their final 26 games, 15 of those are at home, where they are 14-12. Based on how the Grizzlies are playing though, a close to .500 record at home probably isn’t going to cut it. They’re going to need to pick it up a bit over the next month if they want to keep their playoff streak intact. A lot can happen between now and then, and the Grizzlies do have a tough remaining schedule, but it looks as if San Antonio will miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

The final team in the Southwest is the Pelicans, boosted by the return of prized rookie and No.1 draft pick Zion Williamson. Prior to the start of the season, the Pelicans were looked at as a team that could possibly contend for the eighth seed in the West. Then Williamson got hurt and things changed.

But the team managed to stay afloat in his absence, and as it stands, they’re only three-and-a-half games back of the Grizzlies with 26 games left to play. Out of the bottom three teams in the division, it’s the Pelicans who have the easiest schedule.

Out of those 25 games, only seven of them come against teams over .500. They are, however, just about split with home and away games. New Orleans is 8-2 over their past 10 games, better than the Grizzlies and Spurs. If Memphis falters down the stretch due to its tough schedule, and the Pelicans start gaining a little bit of steam, things could get interesting in the final few weeks.

In all likelihood, the Pelicans probably won’t make the playoffs as not only do they have to catch up to the Grizzlies, but the Spurs and Blazers as well. But it certainly will be fun to watch them try.

There are some big storylines in the Southwest Division worth following as we begin the final run to the postseason. Can the young Grizzlies defy expectations and make a surprise return to the playoffs? Will the Spurs get their playoff streak snapped and finally look to hit the reset button after nearly two decades of excellence? Can the Pelicans, buoyed by Williamson’s return, make a strong final push?

Tune in to what should be fun final stretch in the Southwest.

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division

With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.

Quinn Davis

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Well, that was fast.

With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.

The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.

In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.

Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.

Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.

The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.

The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.

After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.

If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.

The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.

He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.

Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.

The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.

The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.

The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.

If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.

Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).

Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.

The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.

At least the playoffs should be exciting.

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