With more than three weeks of training camp and four preseason games in the books, there is a decent sample size from which we can make some snap reactions. Thus, let’s discuss a few New York Knicks players who have seen their stock rise and some who have seen their stock dip.
Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez:
Hernangomez, who was acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers on draft day last June after being selected No. 35, has been New York’s most pleasant surprise during training camp and into the preseason. It was assumed Willy would be stashed in Europe for a season or two before the Knicks would consider bringing him over. However, he played better than expected in Spain last year and was eager to get his NBA career started, signing a four-year deal with the Knicks this summer. He has unexpectedly received plenty of preseason minutes due in large part to an injury to starting center Joakim Noah. Hernangomez has greatly exceeded expectations thus far, leading New York in rebounding (5.5 boards per game) and also chipping in 7.5 points per game. His per-36-minutes stats are an impressive 13.8 points and 10.2 rebounds.
However, it’s not just the stats that are turning heads. Watching Hernangomez, his high basketball IQ and innate feel for the game are immediately evident. He has already received high praise from his captain, his coach and his point guard. Over the weekend, Carmelo Anthony told reporters, “I try to not make comparisons, but I see a lot of Marc Gasol in him. That’s a great sign because Marc is a great player. So for him to have the skills knowing that he has at his age, it’s something special.” Head coach Jeff Hornacek said, “We’ve got to find him some minutes. He deserves it.” Brandon Jennings tweeted out that he “loves [Willy’s] game!” There are obvious holes in Hernangomez’s game (his defense will be a major issue), but he has made an undeniably favorable first impression.
The Knicks’ offense has been stuck in mud the last few seasons. New York’s inability to get easy buckets in transition and early in the shot clock were major impediments to scoring efficiently. NBA data tells us that shots taken earlier in the shot clock have a higher field goal percentage than those attempted later. New York finished last season ranked 29th in the league in shots made within the first six seconds of the shot clock. They have finished dead last in fastbreak points per game in each of the last four seasons, never averaging more than nine fastbreak points per contest. Unsurprisingly, the Knicks have been near the bottom of the league in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) each year since 2011-12 (when Mike D’Antoni was fired). New York’s pace last season? 95.8. In 2015-16, they were at 93.6. They came in at 92.6 and 92.3 in the two seasons prior.
From the moment Jeff Hornacek was hired as head coach, he has made it abundantly clear that his goal is to speed up the Knicks’ offense. It’s only a small sample size, but over the first four games of the preseason the Knicks are in the middle of the pack in regards to pace, averaging over 101 possessions per 48 minutes. This is obviously a step in the right direction. The last time the Knicks maintained a pace north of 100 for an entire season was 1988-89, when they were running and gunning under coach Rick Pitino.
Jennings’ preseason stats don’t jump off the page. Although he does lead the Knicks with 15 dimes over four games, he is struggling to find his shot. However, Jennings has already electrified Madison Square Garden on numerous occasions. He has dished off some beautiful passes that have left the crowd buzzing, and he has played with energy and enthusiasm that is contagious.
Last Monday, he scored 11 points and led the Knicks to a two-point victory over the Washington Wizards at MSG. In the third quarter, after several electrifying plays and getting physical with the Wizards, the crowd started chanted Jennings’ name.
“I never heard 20,000 people chant my name before,” Jennings told reporters after the game. “That was pretty awesome. This is New York, the concrete jungle. So when you walk in the Garden, it’s not gonna be sweet at all. Every night.” It’s been a long time since New Yorkers had a villain (in the mold of the 1990s Knicks) whom they could embrace. It looks like they have two this season in Jennings and Noah.
Jennings was an inefficient scorer and sub par defender even before his Achilles injury, so expecting too much from the veteran point guard would be foolish. But the reality is that the Knicks have very little depth at point guard (injury-prone Derrick Rose is the only other point guard on the roster), so the fact that Jennings has looked healthy and explosive this month is a certainly a positive development for New York.
As of the publication of this article on Wednesday afternoon, there has not yet been a resolution to Rose’s civil trial. However, regardless of the outcome, the trial has been a big distraction for both Rose and the team. This is obviously bigger than basketball. But all off-court implications aside, this has been a disaster for the Knicks since they need as much time practicing together as possible. New York has only six players returning from the 21015-16 squad. As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann has pointed out, New York is bringing back only 39.2 percent of last season’s minutes to this season’s roster. This accounts for the second-most turnover in the league, with only the Brooklyn Nets bringing back fewer rotation players (30.8 percent).
Throw in the fact that you have a new head coach installing a new offense, and being present for training camp was crucial this year. Rose has tried to stay in shape by working out in Los Angeles while defending himself against very serious allegations, but obviously basketball can’t be his primary concern right now. And from a team perspective, the Knicks have missed out on an important opportunity to build cohesion and chemistry. The Knicks will enter the regular season without having their starting five having played a single minute together in a preseason game.
In addition to a lack of depth at point guard, the Knicks are thin at shooting guard as well. Holiday had an opportunity to assuage concerns by putting together a strong preseason. However, Holiday has struggled to find his grove or locate his jumper. He is shooting just 30.4 percent from the floor and 27.3 percent from three-point territory. Holiday is averaging just 4.8 points per game and he has been outplayed by Sasha Vujacic (who’s averaging 8.2 points per game). This is not a great sign.
Randle would have been slotted securely in the “stock up” category based solely on his play this preseason, but then he suffered a left orbital fracture that will sideline him for three-to-four weeks. The question now is whether he will make the Knicks final 15-man roster.
New York already has 15 players with guaranteed contracts, which means they would have to eat a guaranteed pact in order to keep Randle. As of a few days ago, that seemed possible – even probable. Due to the aforementioned lack of point guard depth, Hornacek and the front office were leaning toward keeping Randle and cutting one of the extra big men (likely either Marshall Plumlee or Lou Amundson). But with Randle out for a month, it’s possible that the Knicks might decide to waive Randle prior to the start of the regular season and (assuming he clears waivers) assign him to the D-League while he rehabs. This would allow the Knicks to keep 15 healthy bodies on the initial roster and have a full roster of players to practice with over the first couple weeks of the season. However, Hornacek has intimated that Randle still has a good chance to make the roster, despite the injury. The Knicks unearthed an undrafted contributor in Langston Galloway two seasons ago; might Randle follow in Galloway’s footsteps?
Which Knicks have stood out to you so far? Who has disappointed early on? Leave a comment below.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN