Tag Archives: Kristaps Porzingis

2017-2018 Atlantic Division Projections

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X-Boston Celtics 51-31 (3)

For teams in the NBA who are really serious about rebuilding, they need to sit back and see what the Boston Celtics are doing. After the Celtics won the NBA Championship in 2008, they were able to remain as a title contender until 2013 when their age began to show. And instead of hanging on to players that were over the hill, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge immediately pushed the rebuild button as his team began the process of starting over.

Danny Ainge

Ainge’s first order of business was to find a head coach who was on board with his rebuilding plan and he found his man in former Butler Bulldogs men’s head basketball coach Brad Stevens. Stevens had never coached at the profession level and his first season in Boston only saw the Celtics win 25 games. However the Celtics would quickly be ahead of schedule in regards to rebuilding as in year two of the Stevens regime, they would be playoff bound. Last season the Celtics would win 53 games en route to winning the Atlantic Division Title as well as having the best record in the Eastern Conference. Boston would reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2012, and although that they were swept there by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the C’s have served notice to the rest of the NBA that they are once again ready to be a title contender.

Heading into the summer, Ainge knew that he had a team that was a good enough to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but what could he do in order to give the Cavaliers a run for their money?

Courtesy of a lopsided trade with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, the Celtics acquired multiple first-round draft picks. And after the Nets the finished with the worst record in the NBA last season, they earned the first overall selection in the draft. However the Celtics had the option to swap first-round picks with Nets which they did. But Ainge wasn’t done wheeling and dealing as he made a deal just prior to the NBA Draft with the Philadelphia 76ers as he moved down to the third overall slot, and in the process he was able to obtain more draft picks.

Jayson Tatum

The Celtics would select Duke Blue Devils small forward Jayson Tatum who after averaging 16.8 points and 7.3 in his only collegiate campaign showed that he was ready to take his game to the next level. Tatum would add to that in the NBA’s Summer League as he was able to average 18.7 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Celtics as he gave them a glimpse of what to expect from him this season.

Ainge wasn’t done there as he pulled off a huge shocker when he was able to acquire All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving from the Cavs. Irving is just entering the prime of his career and he has been integral in Cleveland’s three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. However Irving has gotten tired of being in the shadow of small forward LeBron James.

In acquiring Irving from Cleveland, the Celtics parted with a pair of draft picks which includes a first-round pick for next year that originally was the property of the Nets, as well as small forward Jae Crowder, and point guard Isaiah Thomas. The past few years had seen Thomas morph into being the heart and soul of the Celtics due to his scoring ability as well as his fearlessness which endeared him to the Boston fans. However a hip injury put Thomas’ future with the Celtics in doubt, and when Irving was put on the trading block after letting the Cavs front office know of his desire to no longer be a member of the organization, the trade went down.

Kyrie Irving

What Irving gives the Celtics is a proven scorer who has shown that the bigger the stage, the more that he produces. For Irving’s six-year NBA career he has averaged 21.6 points per game. But Irving is not in that typical point guard mode as he is more of a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. However Irving should have no problem fitting into the offensive system that Stevens operates due to the fact that it comes down to ball movement, moving without the ball, and getting to the basket. Irving should have a big season for the Celtics as he looks to not only endear himself to the folks in Boston, but also show that he can succeed without LeBron.

Sandwiched in between drafting Tatum and obtaining Irving was the Celtics being able to sign free agent small forward Gordon Hayward. Hayward was one of the most coveted free agents over the summer after he averaged 21.9 points per game and helped the Utah Jazz reach the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2010. All signs pointed to Hayward not re-signing with the Jazz, and it appeared to be a slam dunk decision for him to join the Celtics as Stevens was his college head coach.

Hayward made his decision official on July 4 when he and the Celtics came to terms on a four-year deal for $128 million. What Hayward gives the Celtics is a point forward who has what it takes to excel in Stevens’ system. Hayward can move well without the basketball, while can also score, while making the people around him better. And Hayward’s ability to handle the basketball can take some pressure off of Irving while also allowing him to concentrate more on being a scorer.

However things would become bad for Hayward and the Celtics on opening night when he fractured his ankle. More than likely Hayward is done for the season, but luckily the Celtics do have depth in the front court, while this injury occurred at the beginning of the season as this team will still have time to gel.

Boston would also lose some depth in their backcourt when they traded guard Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons. In exchange for sending Bradley to Detroit, the Pistons received power forward Marcus Morris who provides with interior scoring as well as some toughness that they lost when they traded Crowder.

Marcus Smart

Boston still has guard Marcus Smart who has proved to be a valuable bench player, while also providing toughness to the squad. In 2016, the Celtics drafted small forward Jaylen Brown third overall and he showed flashes of his potential. And with the Hayward injury, he will be a valuable player due to his athleticism.

The Celtics also have veteran center Al Horford who will never be a player that will consistently get 20 points and 10 rebounds, but he is a guy that could give Boston 15 points and 8 boards, while his decade long experience in the NBA, as well as winning a pair of national championships collegiately with the Florida Gators should pay dividends.

It will take the Celtics some time to gel, but they should improve as the season goes along as they’ll seek to fill the void of Hayward’s absence.

Y-Toronto Raptors 50-32 (4)

The Toronto Raptors currently find themselves in their best stretch in franchise history. The Raptors have made the NBA Playoffs in each of the last four years which included making the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 2016. But after three straight Atlantic Division Titles, the Raptors finished second in the division last year due to a surge by the Boston Celtics. And as the Celtics appeared to have passed the Raptors in regards to being the team to beat in the Atlantic, will they have enough in their arsenal to keep up with them and the other top powers in the Eastern Conference?

Dwane Casey is set to begin his seventh season as the head coach of the Raptors and by far he has had the most successful tenure of any head coach in franchise history which is also a credit to team president Masai Ujiri who has put the right players in place in order for the team to have success.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan

The Raptors still possess one of the best backcourts in the Eastern Conference which consists of shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry. The confidence level of DeRozan has continued to increase throughout his eight-year NBA career. Last year DeRozan averaged 27.3 points per game which was fifth in the NBA as he has become “the guy” in Toronto. DeRozan has never been known to be a perimeter shooter as he has only shot 28% from behind the three-point line for his professional career. But what DeRozan specializes in is getting buckets as he is one the quicker players in the NBA in regards to his first step which helps him to get to the basket.

It may not seem like it, but Lowry is set to begin his 12th NBA season and sixth with the Raptors. Lowry has become a steadying force for the Raptors at the point guard position which led to him agreeing to return to the club last summer after agreeing to a three-year deal for $100 million. But as good as Lowry and DeRozan have been for Toronto, who else will step up in order to make this a championship team?

Serge Ibaka

Last season saw the Raptors acquire power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic. What Ibaka gives the Raptors is a stretch four who can knock down perimeter shots which opens up the lane for both Lowry and DeRozan. Center Jonas Valenciunas has been a project for the Raptors and he has  now turned into a player who can get 15 points as well as 10 rebounds per night. But will this frontcourt production be enough for Toronto to keep up with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Celtics in the Eastern Conference?

The schedule makers were not kind to the Raptors as they will begin a six-game road swing in late October. This stretch will see the Raptors face some of the top teams from the Western Conference which includes games against the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. The Raptors are still one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, however they are still not on the level of the Cavs.

New York Knicks 38-44

There was a time when the New York Knicks were one of the top teams in the NBA, but for their disgruntled fan base, that was a lifetime ago. Since 2005, the Knicks only have three playoff appearances, while each of the last three years has seen them lose at least 50 games. The Knicks have been the epitome of dysfunction which was further illustrated by the failed tenure of Phil Jackson as the team’s president. The Knicks have been nothing short of a circus with none of the key people within the organization on the same page, and it doesn’t appear to be that much better at Madison Square Garden heading into the new NBA season.

After Knicks owner James Dolan decided to part ways with Jackson in June, he decided to hire Steve Mills as the team’s president and Scott Perry as the general manager. Dolan decided to retain Jeff Hornacek as the Knicks head coach as he should finally have a chance to flex his basketball muscles.

Jeff Hornacek

Last year was Hornacek’s first year as the Knicks head coach and under him New York lost 51 games. A big reason for the Knicks struggles was that Jackson wanted Hornacek to operate under the umbrella of the triangle offense, while his system is more wide-open. But now with the Jackson debacle behind the Knicks, we should see a more wide-open brand of basketball being played at Madison Square Garden this season.

Another reason why this season shouldn’t be as stressful for the Knicks is that the team finally came to grips and traded small forward Carmelo Anthony. When the Knicks acquired Anthony from the Denver Nuggets in 2011, he immediately became their first true franchise player that they had since the days of Patrick Ewing. However Anthony and Jackson were never on the same page, and with the star small forward turning 33-years of age this past May, he wanted to go a team that would give him an opportunity to win an NBA Championship.

Last month the Knicks would trade Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder and in process they handed the keys to their franchise to power forward Kristaps Porzingis.

Kristaps Porzingis

In 2015, Porzingis was the fourth overall pick of the NBA Draft by the Knicks and it has not taken him that long to establish himself with the fans in the Big Apple. Last season Porzingis averaged 18.1 points and 7.2 rebounds, but with Anthony no longer in New York those numbers should increase. Coming into the NBA there were some scouts who compared Porzingis’ skill set to that of Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki. And the scoring ability of Porzingis as well as his prowess for passing will once again be a thing of beauty at Madison Square Garden.

In trading Anthony to the Thunder, the Knicks were able to acquire center Enes Kanter and small forward Doug McDermott. The last two seasons have seen Kanter used as a bench player in Oklahoma City, but he will be a starter in New York City. What Kanter gives the Knicks is a player that can score close to the basket, while also being able to consistently grab boards which was a category that New York flourished in last season as they averaged pulling 45.2 rebounds per game, and that was fifth in the NBA.

After McDermott was a three-time All-American for the Creighton Blue Jays, he has gone on to be a solid scorer coming off of the bench in the NBA. And with the scoring ability of Porzingis and Kanter, McDermott should get his fair share of open looks at the basket.

The Knicks were 19th in the NBA in assists last season and this will once again be a category that they’ll struggle in due to the struggles at the point guard position. The Knicks did sign veteran point guard Jarret Jack as this will be the ninth different NBA team that he’ll play for, but injuries have limited him over the past few years. The Knicks used a first-round pick on point guard Frank Ntilikina who was injured before he even signed a contract with contract with New York as that doesn’t bode well for him or the team.

This will be an interesting season for the Knicks as they will be good enough to take care of the also-rans in the NBA, but they will have their struggles versus the contenders.

Philadelphia 76ers 35-47

The Philadelphia 76ers are set to begin their 69th year as an NBA franchise. The 76ers have claimed three NBA Championships, while they’ve had some of the greatest players in league history such as Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, and Allen Iverson play for them. But the Sixers recent history has been marred by a philosophy which has revolved around “tanking”. Philadelphia has not made the playoffs since 2012, while they have only won 73 games over the last four years. The last four NBA Drafts have seen the Sixers picking no lower than third in the first round. However with the penchant to select injured players by former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, the turnaround in Philadelphia has taken longer than it should. But for the first time in a long time, there is some optimism in the City of Brotherly Love for this team.

Bryan Colangelo

Bryan Colangelo has one full season under his belt as the 76ers president/general manager. Colangelo knows how to build a roster as he was twice named as the NBA’s Executive of the Year during his tenure as the general manager of the Phoenix Suns, while he also helped to turn around the fortunes of the Toronto Raptors when he served as their general manager. Philadelphia went 28-54 as Colangelo set out to restore some order to the franchise last season. And as the Sixers learned how to compete, they showed that their days of being a pushover in the NBA could be coming to an end.

Joel Embiid

The brightest spot for the 76ers last season was the impact that center Joel Embiid had. Embiid was the third overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft by Philadelphia, however injuries forced him to sit out his first two seasons in the NBA. Embiid became a force for the Sixers last season as he averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks. But the injury bug once again did Embiid in as he was limited to just 31 games. However if Embiid is ever to remain healthy, he will be a force in the interior at both ends of the floor for Philadelphia.

2016 saw the 76ers use the first overall pick of the NBA Draft on small forward Ben Simmons. However Simmons would suffer a fractured foot last September which saw him miss the entire 2016-2017 NBA season. But Simmons is now healthy and ready to go which will be a huge plus for Philadelphia. Heading into the 2016 NBA Draft, Simmons was compared to Cavaliers small forward LeBron James due to his ability to pass and be an all-around player at the small forward position. At 6’10”, Simmons has the ability see over most of his opponents, while he has made the players around him better at each step of the way along his basketball journey.

Philadelphia would once again select first this year in draft, but it was after they made a deal with the Boston Celtics. Originally the Sixers were slotted to select third overall, but with the Celtics feeling that they could trade down and still get the player that they wanted, Philadelphia moved up to select point guard Markelle Fultz.

Markelle Fultz

In one season collegiately for the Washington Huskies, Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds to become a third-team All-American. And now as the first overall pick of the draft, Fultz is ready to live up to the hype.

In 2015, Philadelphia selected center Jahlil Okafor third overall. And although that Okafor has tremendous upside to score in the low post, he has fallen out of favor in Philadelphia as it would not surprise me to see him traded at some point this season.

Very quietly shooting guard J.J. Redick has become one of the better three-point shooters in NBA history. The Sixers shocked many observers during the off-season when they gave him a one-year for $23 million as his game is one-dimensional. However Redick can provide the young Sixers with a veteran presence who knows what it takes to get to the playoffs as it all about changing the culture in Philly.

The schedule makers were not kind to the 76ers as four of their first five games this season will be versus teams who reached the playoffs last season. Philadelphia should be an improved team, but there success primarily hinges on their key young players remaining healthy.

Brooklyn Nets 22-60

The spend today and not worry about tomorrow philosophy that the Brooklyn Nets have employed for the last five years has finally caught up to them in a very bad way. Several “win-now” trades by the Nets saw them part with multiple first-round picks which could have been vital for them, but instead those draft picks are being used to build other teams. In 2013, the Nets sent multiple first-round picks to the Boston Celtics for small forward Paul Pierce, power forward Kevin Garnett, and shooting guard Jason Terry. None of these players suited up for the Nets for two seasons, while Garnett and Pierce are now retired. The Nets have helped the Celtics to become a title contender as Boston has consistently been picking early on in the NBA Draft courtesy of Brooklyn. And to make matters worse, the Celtics who own the Nets first-round pick for 2018 have already traded that pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a deal that saw Boston acquire point guard Kyrie Irving. The Nets are coming off of consecutive seasons in which they lost at least 60 games and for the folks who follow the squad that calls New York City’s most popular borough home, don’t expect things to get that much better heading into the new NBA season.

Kenny Atkinson

Kenny Aktinson is set to begin his second season as the Nets head coach and he has a tall task in front of him in regards to making this team compete in the Eastern Conference. This off-season saw the Nets make a very questionable trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nets sent center Brook Lopez, along with the 27th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft to the Lakers for center Timofey Mozgov and point guard D’Angelo Russell. Lopez was coming off of one of his best seasons with the Nets, and he leaves Brooklyn as the franchise’s all-time leader in points with 10,444. In trading Lopez, the Nets parted with a quality big man for a point guard in Russell who comes to Brooklyn with question about his maturity. In two seasons with the Lakers, Russell never showed that he could be a leader for the team, and when Magic Johnson became the franchise’s president of basketball operations earlier this year, it made the young point guard expendable. And whereas that the Lakers gave up on Russell, will a fresh start with a new team be able to motivate him?

In looking at the Nets roster there is not that much optimism heading into a new NBA season as this team could once again finish with the worst record in the league and not even have a top draft pick to show for it.

X-Division Winner

Y-Playoff Berth

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Another MSG Fatality

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When New York Knicks owner James Dolan named Phil Jackson as the team president in 2014, there was a renewal of excitement for a fan base that had lacked in the category for a very long time. As a player Jackson was a part of the only two NBA Championships in Knicks franchise history, while he would go on to re-write the record book by winning 11 titles as a head coach. But there were still skeptics who were wondering if Jackson was going to be able to have that same success as a front office executive.

Jackson’s success as a head coach came on the strength of his famed triangle offense. And Jackson attempted to attach the triangle to the Knicks when he named Derek Fisher as the team’s head coach in 2014. Fisher played for Jackson when he was the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers as these two helped the franchise win five NBA Championships. Fisher had just wrapped up his playing career in the NBA and Jackson was eager to groom him in regards to being a head coach.

Derek Fisher

However Fisher would never have that success with the Knicks as his first season would see New York lose a franchise worst 65 games. For the 2015-2016 NBA season the Knicks would get off to a 23-31 start and Jackson decided to part with Fisher as his maturity was brought into question. Fisher missed practice on several occasions due to the fact that he could not make it back from Los Angeles after spending time with his girlfriend who also happens to be the former wife of current NBA player Matt Barnes. Reports also surfaced about Fisher potentially being linked to a woman who was also involved with Tim Hardaway Jr., who happened to be on the Knicks roster at the time. And as the locker room began to go against Fisher, Jackson had no choice but to fire him as it marked his first official failure as Knicks team president;however there would be more to come.

When Jackson joined the Knicks front office, he inherited a star player in small forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is one of the better scorers of this era and now Jackson was going to attempt to sell him on the qualities of the triangle offense which could potentially lead to an NBA Championship for the Knicks. However Anthony was no closer to winning an NBA Championship than he was when Jackson joined the Knicks.

At first it appeared to be a marriage made in heaven when Jackson gave Anthony a contract extension in 2014 to the tune of a five-year deal for $124 million. But things began to sour quickly as a knee injury would limit Anthony to just 40 games in the first season under his new deal. Anthony would continue to put up solid numbers, however Jackson would publicly admit that the Knicks were rebuilding which was going to limit Anthony’s chances of winning a title. Jackson took it a step further this past season when he began to publicly criticize Anthony as it was a classic “bait and switch” with Jackson attempting to irk Anthony in order for him to waive his no-trade clause. However Anthony never budged on waiving his no-trade clause which left Jackson with egg on his face.

Kristaps Porzingis

Jackson’s greatest claim to fame as Knicks team president was selecting power forward Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 NBA Draft. At first the selection of Porzingis was welcomed with many boos, but he quickly was able to win over Knicks fans as in two seasons in New York he has averaged 16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. However aside from the selection of Porzingis, Jackson’s time with the Knicks has been a train wreck.

Last summer Jeff Hornacek was hired to be the Knicks new head coach in a move that was influenced by Dolan which made people wonder if some of Jackson’s power within the organization had been taken away as Hornacek isn’t a head coach that consistently operates the triangle offense. This past season we saw the Knicks go 31-51 for their fourth consecutive losing season as the team owner, president, head coach, and star player were not on the same page. And just when you thought that things could not get any wackier at Madison Square Garden for the Knicks, Dolan decided to part ways with Jackson earlier this week.

In three years under Jackson, the Knicks never won more than 31 games in a season and they never came close to making the playoffs more less being able to win an NBA Championship as he joins a long list of basketball legends whose careers came to die at Madison Square Garden while being associated with this franchise.

As good as Jackson’s triangle was for him, it worked when he had the likes of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant playing for him. Jackson never attempted to adjust his style and in watching Anthony play during his time in the NBA, he should have known that his skill set doesn’t fit that system. Now instead of Jackson simply being revered as one of the greatest head coaches that the NBA has ever seen, he now must take with him the stain on his time with the Knicks. But as bad as Jackson’s time with the Knicks was, he does not deserve all of the blame.

When Dolan hired Jackson, he hired a man who didn’t have any previous front office experience in the NBA. At first Dolan gave Jackson full autonomy as for the first time he was going to attempt to be a “hands off” owner. But in giving Jackson free reign, Dolan allowed his team president to force his triangle on players that did not fit system. And as Jackson’s arrogance got in his way, it also prevented the Knicks from having any success. Jackson’s public criticism of Anthony got him in trouble, while the calamity of errors that is the Knicks franchise has already frustrated Porzingis in just two seasons in New York. Jackson’s idea of remedying the issues with Anthony and Porzingis was to attempt to ship both of them out of them out of town which is when Dolan finally decided to intervene.

So now Jackson will limp off into the sunset knowing that he could not attain the same success in the front office as he did on the basketball court, but it will be hard to feel sorry for him since Dolan recently signed him to an extension. And as Jackson has left New York, the question of who will fix the Knicks comes around the bend once again to which there is no answer as you simply cannot polish a turd no matter how hard that you try.

 

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The Franchise

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When New York Knicks president Phil Jackson used the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft on power forward/center Kristaps Porzingis, he received a ton of flack and criticism. At the time Porzingis was an unknown to the average American basketball fan coming out of his native Latvia. And at 7’3″, 240 lbs., most Knicks fans could only reminisce about the 1999 NBA Draft when New York selected center Frederic Weis whose basketball claim to fame was getting dunked on by Vince Carter in the 2000 Summer Olympics. On that fateful night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York at the 2015 NBA Draft, Knicks fans were ready to erupt with disgust as rumors swirled about New York possibly selecting Porzingis, and when it happened, there was an echo of boos that rained down from the rafters there.

But the skepticism for Porzingis quickly turned to optimism as he showed off his skills as a passer, along with his post game in the Las Vegas Summer League. In Porginzis’ first regular season game with the Knicks, he went for 16 points and 5 rebounds in a 122-97 victory for the Knicks over the Milwaukee Bucks. As a rookie Porzingis would average 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds which included 14 games where he scored at least 20 points, while also recording 21 double-doubles. Porzingis would go on to be named to the NBA’s All-Rookie team while he also gave the Knicks hope as the same fans that wanted him run out of town when he was drafted, were now buying up his merchandise in the boatloads.

Porzingis has gone two show that he isn’t a one-hit wonder as he has instead opted to display his talents to remain on Broadway for the coming years. This season through 15 games, Porzingis is averaging 20.7 points and 7.3 rebounds has been highlighted by a 35-point performance on November 16 against the Detroit Pistons. And even though that small forward Carmelo Anthony is the highest paid player on the Knicks roster this season at roughly $24.5 million, he is being pushed by Porzingis to be the face of the franchise.

Porzingis was 19-years old when the Knicks drafted him and Jackson, along with some international basketball scouts compared his game to that of Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki is a native of Germany and he has gone on to be arguably the greatest European born player in NBA history. Like Nowitzki, Porzingis has the potential to be a quality post player, while he is also a solid rebounder as well as a passer. And like Porzingis, Nowitzki, had his doubters when he came to the United States, but it would not take him that long to amaze folks with his game.

Porzingis has the potential to be a player that can average 25 points and 10 rebounds per contest for the Knicks, while his passing skills are ideal for the triangle offense that Jackson loves to run. Jackson has taken some heat during his tenure as president of the Knicks for his inability to turn the Knicks into a winner, but he appears to have made a slam dunk with Porzingis.

Anthony is 32-years of age and with a bad knee, the Knicks should not count on him to be an All-Star caliber player for that many more seasons. Porzingis on the other hand is young and doesn’t realize how good that he can be as the sky is the limit for him. And as the Knicks are still trying to find their identity in the early stages of this NBA season, head coach Jeff Hornacek has been running more of the offense through Porzingis. Anthony is averaging 23.3 points per game, while Porzingis is checking in with 20.7 per contest which gives you an idea that times are changing at Madison Square Garden.

Porzingis represents hope for the Knicks and their fans as he is indeed a building block for the present and the future as he stands to be the team’s most important draft pick since Patrick Ewing.

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2016-2017 Atlantic Division Standings

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X-Toronto Raptors 54-28 (3)

The past three years have seen the Toronto Raptors become the class of the Atlantic Division. The Raptors have focused on basketball fundamentals which has led to more wins and a growing fan base in Canada. The Raptors will begin the upcoming NBA season as the three-time defending Atlantic Division Championships, and after Toronto reached the Eastern Conference Finals last June for the first time in franchise history, the expectations around this team have increased.

Dwane Casey

 

Dwane Casey is set to begin his sixth season with the Raptors and in each of his campaign’s in Toronto, the team’s win total has increased. And after the Raptors won a franchise best 56 games last season, they are poised to once again be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan

The backbone of the Raptors has been their All-Star backcourt of point guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan averaged a career-high in points last season at 23.5 points per game as he continues to improve as a perimeter shooter. Lowry’s numbers have continued throughout his NBA career as he is emerging as one of the better point guards in the league. Last year Lowry averaged 21.2 points and 6.4 assists per contest and as he intends to test free agency next summer.

Around Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors have developing players such as center Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas has spent his entire four-year NBA career with the Raptors and his numbers continue to improve as he averaged 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds last season. Valanciunas is a prime candidate to average a double-double this season which could make the Raptors that more difficult to deal with. The Raptors signed center Jared Sullinger who could be a solid role player in Toronto after he spent the last four years with the Boston Celtics. And the Raptors first-round pick in center/power forward Jakob Poltl could give them another dynamic as a big man that can stretch the floor with his ability to hit he mid-range jump shot.

Size has been the one thing that has held the Raptors back in recent years, but as this team continues to get better in the front court, their chances of being a title contender are that much better.

Y-Boston Celtics 48-34 (4)

The past two years have seen the Boston Celtics become “The Little Engine That Could” of the NBA. The Celtics are not the most talented team in the league, but they scrap and claw on a nightly basis as they are a team that opponents are not excited to face. Brad Stevens is the Celtics head coach, and it is a post that he has maintained for the last three years. And in each year that Stevens has been in Boston, the Celtics win total has increased. The last two seasons have seen the Celtics make the playoffs, but they’ve been unable to advance past the first round. However will things change for the Celtics next spring?

Isaiah Thomas

Last year saw point guard Isaiah Thomas turn into a star for the Celtics. Thomas led the Celtics in points per game (22.2) and assists (6.2) as he earned his first All-Star Game nod. Thomas has solid ability as a point guard being that is able to penetrate, but for the Celtics to take that next step they are going to need a consistent low-post presence.

For the last nine years, center Al Horford has been one of the cornerstones of the Atlanta Hawks. With the Hawks, Horford was a four-time NBA All-Star as he averaged 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds during his time there. But when Horford became a free agent this past summer, the Hawks signed center Dwight Howard which made him expendable. And when the Celtics offered Horford $113 million on a four-year deal, he jumped on it.

Al Horford

Horford gives the Celtics a dependable scorer in the post, and he has already been named as one of the team’s captains which gives you an idea of the respect that he commands.

The combination of guards Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley continue to pester opponents with their frenetic play at both ends of the floor. Both Smart and Bradley are two of the better defenders at the point guard position along with each player providing a change of pace on offense which gives Stevens more options as he preaches versatility with his team.

Jae Crowder

Veteran small forward Jae Crowder should be able to feed off of Horford’s presence in the front court as he no longer has to be the Celtics primary scoring option in the post. The Celtics have high hopes for their first-round pick in small forward Jaylen Brown. But a sleeper on this roster could be rookie forward Ben Bentil who averaged 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds last year in the college for the Providence Friars. Aside from leading the Friars in scoring and rebounds, Bentil also led the team with 52 made three-point field goals, and his scoring ability will be huge off of the bench for the Celtics.

Five of the Celtics first six games this season will be at home, and a fast start could be just what they need to push the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

New York Knicks 41-41

Phil Jackson

When Phil Jackson became the president of the New York Knicks in March 2014, he brought excitement and expectations to the franchise. But in two seasons under Jackson’s regime, the Knicks have only managed to win 49 games, while the man that he was grooming to be the next “great head coach” in Derek Fisher was fired last season after the team got off to a 23-31 start. Kurt Rambis would be named as the Knicks interim head coach for the remainder of the season as New York went 9-19 under him. But what was even more surprising than the firing of Fisher was that Jeff Hornacek was hired to be the new head coach of the Knickerbockers.

The Knicks will be Hornacek’s second NBA coaching gig after he compiled a record of 101-112 in nearly three seasons as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns. Hornacek was never able to lead the Suns to the postseason, and the highlight of his time in Phoenix was when the team won 48 games during the 2013-2014 NBA season. However it is really going to be very interesting to see how the marriage between Hornacek and Jackson will work since Jackson is notorious for hiring coaches that will solely run his triangle offense which isn’t a specialty of the Knicks new head coach who prefers a more uptempo style of offense.

Jeff Hornacek

The hiring of Hornacek smells of Knicks owner James Dolan once again putting his nose into the day-to-day operations of the team which makes you wonder if Jackson’s days at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue are numbered? And even though that the Knicks can be described as the best circus in town, this group must find a way to co-exist in order to make a roster that has individual talent work as a team.

The centerpiece of any potential Knicks success is small forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has been with the Knicks since 2011 and he has given New York a face of the franchise while helping them reach the postseason on three occasions. Anthony also led the NBA in scoring during the 2012-2013 NBA season, but since then his offensive numbers have dipped. Anthony is 32-years of age with a bad knee. And although that Anthony can still fill up the bucket, the clock is ticking on he and the Knicks to win a championship together.

Kristaps Porzingis

The Knicks are hopeful that power forward Kristaps Porzingis will be able to build off of his solid rookie campaign. Last season Porzingis averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. Porzingis came into the NBA being compared to Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki, and he could be a player that could average 17 points and 10 rebounds this season under Hornacek.

This off-season has seen the Knicks bring in an array of veteran players. The Knicks signed former Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah to a four-year deal that is worth $72 million, while also signing guards Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee. The Knicks would also acquire point guard Derrick Rose from the Bulls to complete their roster overhaul. But unfortunately for the Knicks, these are moves that should have been made five years ago.

Derrick Rose

In 2011, Rose was the NBA’s MVP as he was one of the league’s brightest stars. However since then knee injuries have derailed Rose’s once promising career. Noah was Rose’s teammate in Chicago where they helped the Bulls to be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference when they were healthy. Noah was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 as his toughness and grit defined that era of Bulls basketball. But like Rose, Noah has been dealing with injuries as foot and shoulder issues have limited his effectiveness over his final two seasons in Chicago. The Knicks will be the fourth different team that Jennings has suited up for and he is seeking to find the explosiveness that he had earlier in his career. Like Jennings, Lee has bounced around the NBA as the Knicks will be his seventh different team. Throughout Lee’s career, he has been an underrated defender that should be able to provide a spark off of the Knicks bench for Hornacek.

The Knicks will look to push the pace of play more this season under Hornacek, but the most important thing for New York is to have everyone on the same page as it will be very interesting to see how this motley crew comes together as the season progresses.

Philadelphia 76ers 29-53

It’s no secret that the Philadelphia 76ers have become the worst franchise in the NBA. The 2011-2012 NBA season was the last time that the Sixers finished with a winning record and it was their only winning campaign over the last seven years. The last three seasons have seen the 76ers combine to win 47 games, and to give you an idea of how bad that it has been in Philadelphia, ten NBA teams won more games than the Sixers last year alone than they were able to accomplish over the last three campaigns. Last season was just about as bad as it could get for the Sixers as they managed to go just 10-72 which led to some wholesale changes.

Sam Hinkie was relieved of his duties as the 76ers general manager after he oversaw the worst stretch in franchise history. Former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo was brought in by the Sixers as an advisor and his first order of business was to name his son Bryan as the team’s new president and general manager. The younger Colangelo has a proven track record of putting a team together from his time as the general manager of both the Suns and Toronto Raptors as he was named as the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 2007. Now Colangelo is tasked with making the Sixers respectable once again and they could be a team on the rise.

Brett Brown

Brett Brown is set to begin his third season as the Sixers head coach and although that the man who hired him in Hinkie is no longer running the show in Philly, he will still be calling the shots on the sideline.

The Sixers will begin the upcoming NBA season on the wrong foot as they will be without the services of small forward Ben Simmons. Simmons was the first overall pick of the NBA Draft this past summer after he averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in one year for the LSU Tigers. But a foot injury will keep Simmons out of action for at least three months which will postpone his NBA debut.

The inability for the 76ers to win games in recent years has led to selecting early in the NBA Draft, but Hinkie rolled the dice on players that weren’t healthy. In 2013, the Sixers obtained the draft rights to center Nerlens Noel from the New Orleans Pelicans, but he missed the entire 2013-2014 NBA season after he recovered from a torn ACL that he suffered in college. In 2014, the Sixers used the third overall pick of the draft on center Joel Embiid, but injuries have prevented him from participating in an NBA game. Last year the Sixers first-round pick was center Jahlil Okafor. Unlike Noel and Embiid, Okafor was able to suit up as a rookie for the Sixers as he averaged 17.5 points and 7 rebounds in 53 games before a knee injury cut his rookie campaign short. However all three players are healthy and it should give the 76ers a huge advantage in the front court.

The good things for the folks in Philadelphia is that it can’t get any worse than it has already been. Colangelo is working to bring a competitive team to the City of Brotherly Love and the 76ers should be an improved team this season.

Brooklyn Nets 22-60 

Last year was a sign of things to come for the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets lost 61 games last season which was the third worst record in the NBA and the icing on the cake was that they didn’t have a first-round pick to show for their futility. The Nets are still suffering from the moves that were made by former general manager Billy King as most of their recent and future picks are now property of the Boston Celtics after the team’s failed attempt to become an instant title contender in 2013 when they acquired aging players such as power forward Kevin Garnett and small forward Paul Pierce. The Nets run at a title was short lived as they are coming off of their worst campaign since 2010 when they were still the New Jersey Nets.

Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has finally realized that winning an NBA Championship is not an easy process and instead of the quick process, he has finally decided on the slow, methodical process. Prokhorov has hired Sean Marks as the Nets new general manager and he’ll be tasked with making Brooklyn respectable.

Marks played for 11 seasons in the NBA and he won a championship as a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. Marks has spent the last four years working in the Spurs front office and he is looking to bring some of that winning formula with him to Brooklyn.

Marks’ first order of business was to hire a new coach in Kenny Atkinson. The Nets will mark Atkinson’s first head coaching gig in the NBA, but he has had stints as an assistant coach in the league with the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. And now that Atkinson is running the show in Brooklyn, you can expect him to preach ball movement for the Nets.

Brook Lopez

One of the few bright spots that the Nets have on their roster is center Brook Lopez. Lopez is coming off of one of his best NBA seasons as he averaged 20.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in 73 games for the Nets. Lopez gives the Nets a solid presence in the post, but trading him to a contending team could return draft picks to Brooklyn that will be needed in order for them to turn things around.

Aside from Lopez, the Nets are a team that is mainly comprised of youngsters that are thankful to be on an NBA roster and veterans that are attempting to hold on. This past summer the Nets signed point guard Jeremy Lin to a three-year, $36 million deal as they are hopeful than he can give them a dose of “Linsanity” as he did when he suited up for the Knicks in 2012. Rookie shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead is a native of Coney Island and he won’t be fazed by playing in front of the hometown fans as he could have a positive impact on this team.

The Nets will be fighting an uphill battle all season long as they have finally come to grips of the reality that is their rebuilding process.

X-Division Winner

Y-Playoff Berth

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Porzingis Mania Is Running Wild

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This past summer at the 2015 NBA Draft, I like many people questioned the decision by the New York Knicks to draft power forward Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks came into the NBA Draft owning the fourth overall pick, and after winning just 17 games in the previous NBA season, New York was in need of an impact player. When Porzingis walked across the stage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York to shake the hand of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, he was greeted loudly by a chorus of boos. It is very difficult for a fan of the Knicks to be optimistic about this team being that they have seen the front office in New York miss so many times in the NBA Draft as this is an organization that is still clinging to their last NBA Championship that was won back in 1973 along with the fact that they call New York City home.

When Porzingis was drafted, he gave fans of the Knicks flashbacks of Frederic Weis whom the team drafted in 1999. But Knicks team president Phil Jackson preached patience on Porzingis as he was only 19-years of age at the time that he was drafted while assistant coach Kurt Rambis compared him to a younger version of Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki. But make no mistake about it that Porzingis is making the most of his opportunity with the Knicks.

During the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas, Porzingis averaged 10.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as the slender 7’3″ native Latvian was beginning to get his feet wet against NBA-type talent. But as usual in the Big Apple, there were still skeptics about the ability of Porzingis to get it done when the bright lights of the NBA regular season were on.

But in Porzingis’ first regular season game in the NBA, he went for 16 points and 5 rebounds as the Knicks smoked the Milwaukee Bucks 122-97. And five days later Porzingis earned his first career double-double when he went for 13 points and 14 rebounds in a 94-84 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. As the season has gone along, Porzingis has continued to improve which was evident by him dropping 29 points and 11 rebounds on the Charlotte Hornets on November 17, 24 points and 14 rebounds versus the Houston Rockets on November 21, and 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Miami Heat on November 23.

For the season, Porzingis is averaging 13.0 points per game along with leading the Knicks in rebounds (8.1) and blocks (2.1) as he is a big reason why the Knicks have nearly eclipsed their win total from last season while they are also thinking about making the postseason in the spring.

Porzingis’ game is perfect for the triangle offense that the Knicks implement under Jackson and current head coach Derek Fisher. Some folks might call it the “European-style” of basketball that Porzingis plays, but you can see that he is indeed a student of the game. The triangle offense is a system that is predicated off of ball movement and Porzingis is a solid passer while also being able to play in the post as he is more of a point forward. And for the first time in a long time, the Knicks appear to have a franchise cornerstone as Porzingis appears to be the team’s best draft pick since Patrick Ewing in 1985.

Porzingis has captivated the Knicks fan base as his merchandise has been selling like hotcakes due to the fact that he has given them hope. We saw this a few years ago with the Knicks during the 15 minutes of fame in regards to “Linsanity” as the fans rallied around point guard Jeremy Lin, but Porzingis appears to be the real deal.

Porzingis is also on track to be the NBA Rookie of the Year and he would become the first Knicks player since Ewing in 1986 to win the award. Small forward Carmelo Anthony might be the current star of the Knicks, but Porzingis is the building block for the organization and he has given Jackson some options. Porzingis has a team friendly rookie deal that will run through 2019 as Jackson will continue looking to add more players who will help to transform the Knicks into legitimate title contenders. And although that Anthony is the Knicks leading scorer at 21.8 points per game this season, it is wishful thinking that Jackson could move his contract due to the fact that he is 31-years old with a bad knee. After this season, the Knicks will still owe Anthony nearly $80 million through 2019 when his contract expires and between now and then it could become dead weight.

But Porzingis’ ability to pass, score, and rebound is making him into a star in New York City and around the NBA as his game should be attractive to pending free agents as far as potentially joining the Knicks. Porzingis has also shown that he is not afraid of the spotlight as he wanted to play for the Knicks and he echoed that to the team before they drafted him last summer which is a welcoming sight due to the fact that many players cannot handle the pressure that comes with playing in New York City.

There is plenty that still has to be written in the book of Porzingis, but the first chapter has captivated basketball fans in the Big Apple while he is making Jackson look like a genius while most of us doubted his ability to get things done in the front office.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Send In The Clowns

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http://guardianlv.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/phil-650x417.jpgLast year when Phil Jackson became the new team president of the New York Knicks, he was looked at as a savior. Jackson played 12 seasons in the NBA and he helped the Knicks win their only two NBA Titles in franchise history. Jackson would then go on to win 11 NBA Championships as a head coach which is more than anyone else in league history. So when Knicks owner James Dolan appointed Jackson to his current post last year, the folks in New York City expected the Knicks to become instant winners, but that hasn’t been the case.

Jackson’s first move in New York was to name Derek Fisher as the Knicks new head coach. Fisher played for Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers and the two helped the franchise win five NBA Championships. And when Jackson and Fisher entered Madison Square Garden, they came in as if they were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as they were attempting to save the Knicks from themselves.

But in the Knicks first full season under Jackson’s regime, the team went 17-65 which was the second worst record in the NBA. And in typical Knicks fashion, the ping-pong balls didn’t bounce in their favor at the NBA Draft Lottery as they were left with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Jackson spent this past season raving about point guard D’Angelo Russell to the point that he was fined by the NBA for publicly discussing a player that had yet to declare for the NBA Draft. Jackson was so enthralled with Russell that he never mentioned any other top prospects that the Knicks would be interested in selecting. The Lakers had the second overall pick which they used on Russell. But the calamity of errors that is the Knicks would be completed when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced their pick.

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Kristaps Porzingis

The Knicks selected power forward Kristaps Porzingis this past Thursday night and the boo birds reigned supreme at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York to the point that it sounded like Madison Square Garden. Porzingis is a 19-year old native of Latvia that Jackson compares to Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowtizki. But the folks in New York were expecting the Knicks to select a more established college player from the United States as Porzingis invokes memories of Frederic Weis in 1999.

One person that is not a fan of the selection of Porzingis is Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony.

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Carmelo Anthony

As a result of Jackson’s influence, Anthony re-signed with the Knicks last summer to the tune of $124 million over five years. Jackson promised Anthony that he would build a contender around him and even though Anthony has backtracked publicly about his displeasure of the Knicks taking Porzingis, the die has been cast as he is not happy. And although that the Ringling Brothers Circus no longer comes to Madison Square Garden, Knicks owner James Dolan (himself included) has the best clowns in town working in the front office who actually believe the garbage that this team can contend for an NBA Championship in the near future.

Jackson’s famed triangle offense has only worked when Michael Jordan and current Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant suited up for him. Jackson has never drafted a player and turned him into a star and the same can be said about him building a team from the ground up. Dolan has given Jackson full autonomy with the Knicks and as long as Dolan is willing to write the checks, Jackson can care less if the folks in the Big Apple like what he is doing. Fisher is Jackson’s apprentice with the Knicks and he is already a defeated man as Jackson handed him a beaten up Trans-Am to restore in the Knicks that instead are ready for a scrap metal yard. Anthony is 31-years old and he is coming off of knee surgery. Anthony wants to win, but he should have taken less money to join the Chicago Bulls last summer as they would have given him a more realistic shot to win. Jackson may not care what people think of his moves or lack thereof, but he’ll still has to convince the media, Anthony, and the season-ticket holders in New York why this team is ready to make a push for the postseason. Training camps in the NBA are set to open in three months and already you can write the Knicks epitaph for the 2015-2016 season before it even starts. By the looks of things, Jackson is becoming just another basketball icon that associated himself with the Knicks only to realize that they are a sinking ship that is flush out of lifeboats and it is a very long swim to shore.

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