We all knew the New York Knicks desperately needed to upgrade their backcourt this summer. Phil Jackson decided he’d rather not wait until free agency to address the point guard position.
On Thursday afternoon, the Knicks officially announced they had traded center Robin Lopez, guard Jose Calderon and guard Jerian Grant to Chicago in exchange for guard Derrick Rose, guard Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick.
It’s an interesting and confusing trade, in which there does not appear to be a clear-cut winner – at least not at first blush. Let’s dig into the pros and cons from the Knicks’ perspective.
Increased Cap Space in 2017
Before we discuss Rose, let’s first acknowledge that the Knicks currently have just three players on their roster whose contracts extend beyond the 2016-17 season: Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle O’Quinn. That’s it. Other than those three, the books are bare. Of course the Knicks still have to flesh out their roster this summer, but it’s possible that Phil Jackson may be planning on completely revamping the roster and swinging for the fences in the summer of 2017, which will feature an incredible free agent class including the best PG crop of all-time.
If the Knicks play their cards right (i.e. trade for additional expiring contracts and/or sign a number of players to one-year deals), New York would be looking at upwards of $60 million in cap space next summer. And that’s not just cap space and a barren, empty roster. That’s with the salaries of ‘Melo and Porzingis included, with another $60 million to lavish on top-tier free agents. That’s enough to offer two max contracts. Would Phil be able to entice the combo or Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to relocate into the Eastern Conference to play alongside a rising superstar like KP as well as Anthony? The free agent class of 2017 will also likely include Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Gordon Haywood, Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry, Danilo Gallinari, Serge Ibaka and many others. Certainly a gamble, but is it one worth taking?
A Possible Rose Revival Inside the Garden?
Will Rose stay healthy and bounce back in NYC? Will a change of scenery benefit him?
Depending on how you dissect the data from last season, you can convince yourself either way. The fact of the matter is he was inefficient offensively. There were 40 NBA players who attempted over 1,000 FGs last season, and Rose ranked 39th out of those 40 in terms of True Shooting Percentage. Kobe Bryant was the only player with a worse TS%. However, Rose’s overall numbers were dragged down by his horrendous start to the season, which was due largely to an eye injury sustained in training camp. Rose had his orbital bone fractured by an errant elbow from a teammate in practice on September 29 and had surgery the next day. Rose admitted he was literally seeing double during games and would play with one eye closed at times.
Over his first 20 games of the 2015-16 campaign, Rose (playing through that eye injury) averaged 12.9 points per game in 32.4 minutes, while shooting under 37 percent from the floor, 23 percent from three-point territory and 72 percent on free throws.
However, Rose turned a corner and began playing much better in late December. Beginning on the day after Christmas and extending into mid-March (a total of 28 games in the middle of the season), he averaged 19.4 points per game in 31.4 minutes, while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor, 35.5 percent from three-point range and 87 percent from the free-throw line. Those are impressive numbers.
Rose came back down to earth toward the end of the season. He missed six of the final 19 games of the year. In the 13 that he played, he averaged a respectable 15 points while shooting 42.8 percent, 31 percent on threes and 70 percent from the stripe. Rose’s on/off splits last season weren’t encouraging: Chcicago’s Offensive Rating with him on the court was 104.6; it was 105.2 with him off.
His defense is an issue. Chicago’s opponents scored 108.5 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor. They scored 104.4 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the bench
Still, Rose was able to avoid a serious injury to his knees and look fresher and more athletic at times that he had in years. Rose will never be his “MVP-caliber” self of 2011, but he showed encouraging flashes of the burst and athleticism that thrust him to stardom.
Knicks Desperately Needed to Improve at PG
The sad reality is that if Rose plays at even an average level next season, he would be a huge upgrade for the Knicks. Jose Calderon was arguably the NBA’s worst starting point last year. In order to be competitive in today’s NBA, it is imperative that you have a point guard who can break down his defender and penetrate into the heart of the defense, thus creating opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Calderon scored a total of 46 points in the paint over the 2,024 total minutes he played last season. Rose scored 453 points in the paint (10th most in the league) over the 2,097 minutes he played. And even though his defense leaves a lot to be desired, Rose is obviously still a massive upgrade over Calderon on that end of the floor as well.
It is also important to note that there were very few attractive free agents PGs on the market this summer. Mike Conley is the only top-tier PG available, and he is going to get max money. Rose, while no longer as good as Conley, is a year younger and actually played in 10 more games last season than Conley (who suffered a significant Achilles injury). It could easily be argued that one year of Rose is a far more prudent decision than spending $110 million over four years for Conley.
The Knicks now get an up-close look at Rose for an entire season, and can then decide if they want to sign him to be Porzingis’ running mate for the rest of the decade. If not, they will have $21+ million coming off the books to go shopping for a new PG.
A Playoff Team in 2017?
If the goal is to revamp the roster next summer, it would presumably benefit Phil Jackson’s sales pitch if the Knicks are coming off a season in which they showed tangible improvement and advanced to the postseason.
Even with oodles of cap space and the promise of Porzingis, if the Knicks entered next offseason having missed the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, that losing stench may be hard for prospective free agents to ignore. If New York can make strides in 2016-17, elite FAs may be sold on the idea that the Knicks are just one or two pieces away from making a major jump.
More Porzingis at Center?
Losing Robin Lopez hurts, but one possible bright side of Lopez being out of the picture is that this might lead to increased opportunities for Kristaps to play the five, where he can use his incredible athleticism and versatility to overwhelm slower opponents. Spread the floor out and let KP run high pick-and-rolls with Rose all day.
You also can’t help but wonder if part of the reason Phil and company felt comfortable trading away Lopez was because they feel confident they will be able to sign center Willy Hernangomez, their 2015 second-round pick who played well in Spain last season. Hernangomez’s contract with Real Madrid expires at the end of this month and he expressed an eagerness to come overseas and play in New York, alongside his former teammate Porzingis. (*Note, if the Knicks do something stupid like sign Dwight Howard to a big contract then the previous paragraph will self destruct and this was all was naught).
The Knicks Have Their 2017 First-Round Draft Pick
The worst case scenario is Rose suffering a major injury and the Knicks slinking to another season in the Atlantic Division basement. However, even in that situation, the silver lining is the Knicks still have their first-round pick next year. They would shed Rose’s contract prior to free agency and have a lottery pick in a strong draft.
Why Give Away Valuable Assets For Rose?
When Ian Begley of ESPN initially reported that the Knicks were entertaining the idea of trading for Rose last week, it made some sense for the points outlined above. Rose would keep ‘Melo, James Dolan and the fan base happy by improving the team’s prospects for next season, while also serving as a salary cap placeholder until 2017. In fact, many pundits reported that most other teams dealing with the Bulls demanded that Chicago throw in a pick or another player in order to take on Rose’s cumbersome contract.
Not only did Chicago not have to sweeten the Rose package with a first-round pick, they got Phil to fork over Lopez and Grant. Lopez was an underrated defensive stalwart for New York, and Grant, despite being unwisely buried on the bench for much of the season, showed flashes of promise late in the year. In the six games he started at the end of the season, Grant averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.2 three-pointers and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from three-point territory. It also would have been interesting to see if he flourished under new head coach Jeff Hornacek in an offense more suited to his strengths.
Lopez and Grant Are Inexpensive
Robin Lopez certainly wasn’t a star, and $13 million a year doesn’t seem cheap. However, check back with me in a couple weeks, right after the first few waves of free agents have signed throughout July. With the salary cap spiking to $94 million, that means that the salary floor will jump all the way to $84 million. Consequently, every team is going to have to find a way to hand out an immense amount of salary this summer. Relatively unappealing mid-tier free agents will be making upwards of $15 million per season. And $13 million for a legit starting center will be a solid value.
Players signed to their rookie contracts will also be especially valuable. Jerian Grant will only make $1.6 million next season. He’ll be paid just $1.7 million in 2017-18. That’s less than two percent of the salary cap. Grant likely projects as an average career backup, but having dependable rotation players that account for such a small percentage of the cap is how winning teams are constructed.
Defense Is Now a Major Issue
The Knicks allowed fewer than 108 points per 100 possessions last season. That’s below average relative to the rest of the league, but for the Knicks that represented a major step forward. In fact, it was just the third time in the last 12 years that the Knicks had a Defensive Rating south of 108.
Lopez was obviously a significant reason for their improved defensive intensity. Lopez led the Knicks in rebounding and was second on the team in blocks. Phil has $30 million to spend this summer to round out the roster, but with Rose and Carmelo as the team’s two highest paid players, defense certainly appears as if it will be a season-long problem.
Downside to Cap Space and a Rose Rebound
The negative aspect of Rose hitting free agency next summer is that even if he stays healthy and rediscovers his game, the Knicks will have to pony up in order to keep him long-term, which would obviously be a major gamble.
In addition, with the cap space the Knicks cleared out by trading Lopez and Grant, will Phil be able to better allocate those resources? Will he find a better use of $15 million combined than RoLo and Grant? If he can somehow convince a superstar to come to New York, then the roll of the dice pays off. If he can’t, it’s difficult to imagine he’ll find a better value for role players with the cap jumping up to $108 million in 2017.
As is the case with most deals, we will likely have to revisit the entire picture a few years from now to truthfully determine which side “won” or “lost” this trade.
NBA Daily: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
An inside look-in at the early frontrunners for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
In this fresh edition for Basketball Insiders, there are a few players that should be finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Of course, this prestigious award is given to the contributor who makes the biggest impact on the floor for their team on the defensive side of the ball. In two out of the last three seasons, the award has gone to Rudy Gobert, the rim-protecting center for the Utah Jazz. This past season, Giannis Antetokounmpo won both the DPotY award, as well as Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. Over the past few years, the trending group of finalists for the award has been consistent no matter what the order ends up being.
Can anyone new break in this year?
Anthony Davis will always be in the conversation for this award as he has shown throughout his career that he is one of the league’s most ferocious game-changers. Despite never winning the award before, he has made four NBA All-Defensive teams as well as being the NBA’s leader in blocks on three occasions. Davis’s block numbers are a little lower than they usually are at 1.9 blocks per game this season – compared to 2.4 for his career, per Basketball-Reference. This could be due to the addition of Marc Gasol to the Lakers’ frontcourt, a move that has boosted the team’s rim protection. If Davis can raise his numbers again, he should be in consideration for the award purely based on his defensive presence on the court – but he should still finish among the top five in voting.
The center for the Indiana Pacers – the former potential centerpiece of a Gordon Hayward trade with the Boston Celtics – has continued to show why the team would not package another one of its top players with him. Turner is the current league leader in blocks with 4.2 blocks per game, elevating his game beyond any doubt in 2020-21. He is one of the more underrated rim protectors in basketball, as he has only one top-five finish in the DPotY voting in his career. Turner has also improved his steals metrics this season by averaging 1.5 per game, thus providing a strong defensive presence alongside All-Star frontcourt mate, Domantas Sabonis. Turner should be the frontrunner for the award as things stand right now, but that could change as the season progresses, especially as his injury impacts proceedings.
The reigning two-time MVP should always be in the conversation for the DPotY award as he revolutionizes the defensive side of the floor at an elite level. Currently, Antetokunmpo is averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game to go along with a 106.5 defensive rating, per NBA Advanced Stats. It goes without saying, but Antetokounmpo is a chase-down block artist, always there to contest shots around the rim with his long frame. The 6-foot-11 power forward is one of the league’s top five players due to his exceptional play on both sides of the ball and will always be considered for the DPotY award as long as he in the NBA.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar has been arguably the best defensive small forward in the game over the past few years. He first gained major recognition for his defense during the 2014 NBA Finals against the LeBron James-led Miami HEAT. Since then, Leonard has racked up six All-Defensive team nominations to go along with two Defensive Player of the Year awards. This season, Leonard remains an elite defender for the championship-hopeful Clippers with 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game – but his defensive rating is the highest of his ten-year career at 107.8.
The current league leader in rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers is having a monster season thus far. In a contract year, Andre Drummond is currently putting up 19.3 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 1.7 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game. He also has a very stellar defensive rating of 105.0, a culmination of points allowed per 100 possessions. Drummond is not on a very good team, but that should not take away from the impact he makes when he is on the floor. As a pure rim protector and rebounding machine, he should finish higher up in the voting results than usual, even if his season doesn’t end with Cleveland.
Honorable Mention: Tobias Harris
The Philadelphia 76ers have started the season on a very high note at 9-5, all despite loads of COVID health and safety protocols preventing their full team from taking the floor. Tobias Harris has played a major part in their early-season success leading the NBA in defensive win shares among starters who have played at least 10 games with 0.184, per NBA Advanced Stats. Along with that, Harris is also second in defensive rating among qualified starters at 99.6. The veteran forward has averaged 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. So if the 76ers want to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, Harris’ overall play will be a huge reason for that success.
As the old saying goes, defense wins championships – and these players are the type of players that can change the result of a game every night. Keep an eye on these players as the season moves along as they should garner consideration for both All-Defensive team nominations and the DPotY award.
NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – Jan. 21
Basketball Insiders’ Tristan Tucker provides an update on some of the rookies around the league and which are truly in contention for the Rookie of the Year award.
Through the NBA’s first month, the rookie class has continued to show what they can do on the court. While some have faltered or succumbed to injuries as the games have piled up, others have shone bright and even cracked their team’s starting lineups as the race toward the Rookie of the Year award heats up.
With that in mind, let’s take a third look at Basketball Insiders’ Rookie of the Year ladder stands and see where they stand.
1. LaMelo Ball (Previous: 2)
Through the first month of play, Ball has been, undisputedly, the Rookie of the Year. With numbers that could rival some NBA veterans — 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game — Ball has found a way to impact winning for the Charlotte Hornets without starting a game thus far.
While much of the hoopla around Ball has come from his offensive, he’s been pretty solid on the defensive end as well; his 1.5 steals per game are good for 13th in the NBA, while his 21 total steals tie him for 10th.
On Jan. 9, Ball also made history as the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. An eventual move to the starting lineup should only further promote his game.
He could stand to improve his efficiency, as Ball has shot just 40.3% from the field, 33.3% from three and 67.9% from the free throw line. That said, the sky’s the limit for the young rookie. With Ball at the helm, Charlotte and their fans should feel pretty confident about their group going forward.
2. Tyrese Haliburton (Previous: 1)
Haliburton’s late-lottery selection was a surprise, as the point guard that reportedly shot up draft boards late in the process had always played with a hardworking and winning mentality at Iowa State. Still, he hasn’t missed a beat with the Sacramento Kings and paced the Rookie of the Year race from the start.
His 11.1 points, 5.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game, along with his 51.6% mark from the field and 51% clip from three (on over four attempts a contest) are mightily impressive. Meanwhile, lineups that have featured Haliburton with the Kings’ usual starters have fared exceptionally well; when he’s replaced Marvin Bagley, the Kings are a plus-10.6 and play at a torrid pace.
Haliburton and Ball have comparable stats, with Ball being a better rebounder and Haliburton being a better shooter. But Sacramento’s 5-10 record has kept him out of the top spot for now, as leading his team to a positive record — and a potential playoff spot — will almost certainly work in Ball’s favor when voting commences at the end of the season.
3. James Wiseman (Previous: 3)
After taking a year away from competitive basketball, the fact that Wiseman has been able to contribute at such a high-level right away has come as a pleasant surprise for the Golden State Warriors. Wiseman’s 10.7 points per game place him fifth among rookies, while his 6 rebounds per game place him second.
Fresh off a career-high 20 points against the San Antonio Spurs, Wiseman has continued to learn more each day. Draymond Green’s role in Wiseman’s development could also pay some extreme dividends for the Warriors, as the young center might prove unstoppable were he to incorporate Green’s court vision and handle into his own game.
With numbers comparable to Kevin Garnett’s and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s age-19 seasons, Wiseman has helped put the Warriors in prime position to push for a playoff spot despite the loss of Klay Thompson prior to the season.
4. Tyrese Maxey (Previous: Not Ranked)
With a move into the starting lineup, Maxey has rapidly climbed the board as he’s earned more and more praise. He was always going to be an impressive piece for the Philadelphia 76ers — in fact, Maxey was seen as so crucial to Philadelphia’s future success that he was held out of any potential James Harden trade package — but his 39-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets has seemingly sparked more trust from the team in Maxey early on.
For the season, Maxey has averaged an impressive 11.4 points on 47.7% shooting from the field. But his numbers have spiked since he moved into the starting-five: in six starts, Maxey has averaged 16.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and assists and has shot 46.7% from the field.
If he can sustain that kind of productivity as the 76ers’ health improves, Maxey might be a lock for the All-Rookie First Team. Likewise, expect him to hold down a spot on this list for the foreseeable future.
5. Patrick Williams (Previous: 5)
Despite his late rise, many saw Patrick Williams’ selection by the Chicago Bulls as a reach. But, so far, Williams has proven the doubters completely wrong, as he’s started every game in which he’s made an appearance for the 6-8 Bulls.
That isn’t to say Williams hasn’t been perfect, as many of Chicago’s groups that feature the young forward are net negatives by a good margin. But, so far, Williams has already brought the confidence and energy that you want to see out a top pick. He hasn’t shied away from tough matchups, either, as Williams took to the task of guarding both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in the Bulls’ recent games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, valuable experience that should only further improve his game.
His 10.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 48.5% field goal and 87% free throw percentages are nothing to slouch at, either. So, while it may be a while before he reaches the height of some of his classmates, Williams has look of a special NBA talent.
6. Anthony Edwards (Previous: 4)
Edwards has put up some incredible scoring numbers off the bench for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he’s averaged a rookie-leading 12.2 points in 25 minutes per game.
However, Edwards’ shooting splits have disappointed, while he hasn’t been able to do much to turn around the Minnesota Timberwolves 3-10 season in the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns.
Edwards’ placement on this ladder is contingent on how the Timberwolves both fare in Towns’ continued absence and how different they look upon his return; they showed plenty of promise when he was on the court and Edwards’s standing could improve drastically if the team can turn it around and win some games.
Each year, it would seem as if that the next group of young talent is more exciting than the last. And, with so many talented rookies in the fray, almost any of them could crash the Rookie of the Year party. Make sure to check back on our next update to see who might do just that.
NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises
The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.
Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.
While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.
The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.
The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.
The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.
Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.
Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.
Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.
Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.
Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.
Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.
When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.
Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.
The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.
Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.