Devin Booker will cut short Thanksgiving Day to prepare for Knicks

The red-hot Phoenix Suns will visit the New York Knicks on Black Friday, and there’s no one more excited than Devin Booker.

The Suns’ leading scorer, Booker, is looking forward to playing in one of his favorite arenas– the Madison Square Garden, where he once shot a game-winner in 2017.

Booker has turned the Knicks homecourt into his playground with career averages of 30.1 points on 51.2 percent shooting in six games since entering the NBA in 2015.

“That’s always my first thought. It’s a business trip,” Booker said after his 35-point game Wednesday night in Cleveland. “I’m gonna sit down with some family and friends and enjoy the day, but I’m gonna cut Thanksgiving [Day] a little early and get ready for this one (against New York).”

Last season, Booker torched the Knicks at the Garden with 33 points as he and Chris Paul carried the Suns to a 118-110 victory that snapped New York’s nine-game winning streak. Paul scored Phoenix’s final seven points, which gave the Suns enough cushion to fend off the Knicks’ late push.

New York coach Tom Thibodeau points to Chris Paul’s leadership playing a massive role in Booker’s career, and in turn, helped the Suns to their stirring NBA Finals run last season.

“When you have veterans that have been through the wars when you can couple that with a young star like Booker, I think that’s very beneficial,” Thibodeau said after Wednesday’s practice. “You want your vets to help lead the way with the young guys and it has someone that can still play and has the respect of everyone.

“I think [Chris] is the perfect guy for that when you look at how dynamic their backcourt is with those two. It’s why they have the record that they do.”

The Suns are the hottest team in the league right now, with a 14-game winning streak after a rocky 1-3 start. Meanwhile, the Knicks evened their record at home at 5-5 after a galvanizing 106-100 win over the Los Angeles Lakers last Tuesday.

The Suns have remained steady despite the ongoing investigation on Suns’ governor Robert Sarver on allegations of racism and misogyny.

The Booker-Paul backcourt has a lot to do with that.

Booker takes care of scoring with team-high 23.1 points and 4.8 assists. On the other hand, Paul leads the Suns and the entire league in assists with 10.4 per game and 14.1 points.

Knicks’ third-year wing RJ Barrett will have his hands full against Booker. The Suns’ high-scoring guard holds a career average of 27.7 points on a 48/39/92 split against the Knicks.

One of Leon Rose’s favorite clients when the Knicks president was still an agent, Booker has scored 30-plus points in three of his last four games at the Garden.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks Draft Watch: John Calipari views Tyrese Maxey as smaller version of Jamal Murray

In the 2016 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks missed out on a big-time scoring guard from the University of Kentucky, the leading producer of NBA stars.

The Knicks’ lottery pick that year was earlier sent to the Denver Nuggets as part of the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster trade. The Nuggets used the Knicks’ original pick (seventh overall) to select former Wildcat Jamal Murray.

Murray, as it turned out, is the real deal and he quickly became one of the league’s rising stars. The Denver Nuggets guard’s sensational play in the NBA Bubble has left team executives who passed on him scratching their heads.

This year, another big-time scorer under John Calipari’s program has entered the NBA Draft. One-and-done freshman Tyrese Maxey could be the answer to the Knicks’ backcourt riddle with his dynamic scoring and moxie.

“I’m trying to tell everybody when you look at Tyrese, he’s a smaller version, but he’s still 6’2”, of Jamal Murray who is 6’5”. They both have that lower release. Everybody said Jamal would never get it off,” Calipari told Empire Sports Media during his Zoom call with select media on Monday.

Murray though came into the Draft as a projected top-five Lottery pick but somehow slipped a couple of notches down because of doubts whether he was athletic enough to thrive in the league.

He proved all the skeptics wrong as his game and his low released shot translated well in the NBA.

Maxey isn’t viewed as highly as Murray was. Most boards have Maxey as a late lottery pick in a Draft that has become as unpredictable as it hasn’t been in recent years. Aside from his apparent lack of size (6’1″ without shoes and with only 6’6″ wingspan), Maxey is facing the same questions Murray had in 2016.

“Jamal played with Tyler Ulis so [people] said, is he a point guard? They’re point guards. We’re teaching them to play with the ball and without the ball. And now it becomes: do they make game-winning shots? Are they that guy? Tyrese is,” said Calipari.

With the NBA heading into positionless basketball, Calipari believes Maxey’s switchability as a combo guard could work well to his advantage. He has the skills and speed to run the point and he has the moxie and court smarts to play off the ball.

Maxey proved early on that he has the chops of Calipari’s typical dynamic guard when he dropped 26 points in his college debut at the Madison Square Garden against Michigan State.

He went on to average 14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game before the college season was cut short. He shot 42.7% from the field, 29.2% from three, and 83.3% from the stripes.

It wasn’t fancy particularly his shooting percentage from deep but the eye test suggests his impact on the game was way bigger than those numbers. Another reason for that, Calipari explained, is because Maxey played within the system just like the way Murray, and earlier, Devin Booker did that made them somewhat underrated ahead of the Draft. 

While Maxey is two inches shorter than those two former Kentucky guards, he possesses the same characteristics that make him such an intriguing prospect with a high ceiling.

Calipari pointed those out but also acknowledged the area where Maxey should focus on to reach his ceiling.

“Tyrese, physically, athletically and you know he’s a guy who’s blocking shots, rebounding the ball, has played dribble-drive and a downhill runner his whole life,” Calipari said. “He has to be more consistent with his shooting so did Jamal. But they played similar (roles) here.”

While it’s a pity that Maxey was robbed of the opportunity to show more of his wares on the big stage when the SEC and NCAA were scrapped, his body of work from high school, AAU to Team USA would be enough to tell you he’s got a chance to be special.

Before he went to Kentucky, he teamed up with Draft classmate Cole Anthony in the Team USA that obliterated the 2018 FIBA U18 Americas Championship.

Maxey averaged 8.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists against 0.5 turnovers, and 1.3 steals in 18 minutes. Anthony, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, averaged 14.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists against 2.7 turnovers, and 1.2 steals in 21 minutes.

During his short-lived stay at Kentucky, Maxey was on a tear late in the season, scoring 20 or more points five times before the stoppage.

“There are gonna be people who’ll pass on Tyrese that will regret liked how they passed on PJ (Washington) like how they passed on Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander), Jamal (Murray) and we can keep going,” Calipari said. “He’s gonna be that (type of player).”

Mike Schmitz, ESPN’s resident NBA Draft Analyst, shared the same view with Calipari when he appeared on Sports Center with Scott Van Pelt last week.

“He didn’t have eye-popping numbers at Kentucky. He was under 50 percent from 2, under 30 percent from 3, but you have to play a role there. You have to fit in. Coach Cal does a tremendous job of forcing these guys to buy into a role. It’s about winning for the team and you sacrifice there and that’s exactly what Maxey did,” Schmitz said.

But the one thing that stuck out on Schmitz is that Maxey is a big-time scorer.

“This kid is a bucket. I saw him at the high school level, I saw him with USA Basketball, and I think he’s a perfect fit in today’s NBA. You can try to poke holes in him. You can try to say, ‘He’s a 6-3 combo guard. He’s a scorer or he’s out of control.’ But it’s worked pretty well for Tyler Herro, for Jamal Murray, for Devin Booker.”

That type of dynamic scoring has been sorely lacking on the Knicks backcourt for the longest time now.

Calipari didn’t go into specifics about the Knicks’ interest in Maxey. But a  highly-placed source in Kentucky said that Calipari has been constantly talking to the Knicks.

During the course of Calipari’s interview, the well-decorated coach revealed that his travel was limited by the pandemic but noted that his only out-of-town trip so far was to New Jersey.

Knicks’ team president Leon Rose is from Cherry Hills, New Jersey while his good friend and senior advisor William “World Wide Wes” Wesley hails from Camden, New Jersey.

Calipari has strong ties with the Knicks front office, and more so with his former top deputy and key recruiter Kenny Payne who is now one of Tom Thibodeau’s assistant coaches.

Maxey should be available by the time the Knicks would pick at No. 8 based on most Mock Drafts. But he’s also a trade-down candidate as reported by Marc Berman of the New York Post.

NBA Draft analyst Matt Babcock of Babcock Hoops, meanwhile, views Maxey in a different light.

“I see (Tyrese) Maxey being a solid complementary role player at the next level, whereas (Jamal) Murray is a dynamic player and one of the NBA’s rising young stars,” Babcock told Empire Sports Media. “Murray is just in an entirely different category altogether.”

Babcock Hoops has Maxey at No. 28 in their Mock Draft. It’s going to be a big surprise if Maxey gets picked inside the Top 10.

“I do not think the Knicks should consider Maxey with the 8th pick. It would be too high in the draft for him, in my opinion. I actually think Maxey would be a more appropriate option for the Knicks with the 27th pick, if he were there, of course,” Babcock said.

Maxey has shades of Murray in his game. But there are also glaring questions that he must address.

Only time will tell if Maxey can hold up to Murray’s comparisons.

But as Murray’s game became bigger and louder in the recent NBA Bubble, it’s hard to imagine that this new front office given their link to Kentucky and Calipari would pass up on the opportunity to get a player of the same caliber.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Report: New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets keeping tabs on Zach LaVine

New York Knicks, Zach Lavine

According to SNY’s Ian Begley, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets “have been monitoring” Zach LaVine’s situation with the Chicago Bulls.

And it’s worth noting that both the Knicks and the Nets are among the teams who have been monitoring LaVine’s situation in Chicago. Per SNY sources, both teams have done background work on LaVine to be prepared for the possibility that Chicago ends up listening to trade offers on the 25-year-old guard.

The Bulls finished the 2019-20 NBA season as the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference (22-43), missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season. LaVine has two seasons remaining on a four-year, $78 million deal, initially signed with the Sacramento Kings and matched by the Bulls in the summer of 2018.

LaVine has been Chicago’s leading scorer in each of the last two seasons. Last season the 25-year-old averaged 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 45.0 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from beyond the arc.

The Knicks could potentially offer the Bulls some combination of Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and their two first-round draft selections in both the 2020 and 2021 NBA Draft for LaVine. New York has also been linked to Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker.

New York finished the regular season as the 12th seed in the East (21-45), missing the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. They’re looking to name a head coach for next season.

The Nets could potentially offer the Bulls some combination of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie and their first-round draft selections in both the 2020 and 2021 NBA Draft for LaVine. Brooklyn has also been linked to Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal.

Brooklyn is the seventh seed in the East (30-34), preparing for the NBA restart in Walt Disney World next week under interim head coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson in March.

If possible, one trade the New York Knicks should be all-in on

New York Knicks, Frank Ntilikina

Bleacher report released an interesting ‘course-changing’ trade for the New York Knicks.  It’s a trade that certainly makes sense and should have a majority of fans on board.

THE TRADE

Knicks Receive: G Devin Booker

Suns Receive: 2020 first-round pick, PF Julius Randle, G Frank Ntilikina

First off, we here at Empire Sports Media are big supporters of Ntilikina.  He has been and will continue to be one of the best defensive players for the Knicks.  Ntilikina has improved his game each season he’s been in the league.

The coaching staff and fan want him to be more aggressive offensively.  Thankfully, he brought that aggressiveness that he found playing in the FIBA World Cup to the Knicks.  It was certainly a step in the right direction for sure.

Ntilikina was a player that had Knicks fans saying ‘Who!?!’ when drafted and thought was a bust his first two years.  And while, he’s progression still hasn’t been what people thought, fans still always have faith him in.  Ntilikina is a clear fan favorite.

However, if this trade were to be serious, trading him would be a no-brainer.  If you can get an elite scorer, Booker, for a still developing point guard, you pull the trigger.  The Knicks desperately need an elite, electric scorer and who better than Booker.

As for Randle, a majority of Knicks fan want him traded anyway.  Yes, his stats are very solid but it’s the little nuances that get fans aggravated.  Maybe Phoenix would be a better fit anyway.  Smaller market with a lot less pressure similar to New Orleans.

We’ve always said the Knicks shouldn’t be trading away first-round picks anymore.  That shipped has sailed.  Even the Knicks came out and said they didn’t want to trade picks away.  However, if it’s only ONE first-round pick for Booker then you pull that trigger as quickly as possible.  But it probably wouldn’t be just one pick for a player like Booker though.

Pairing Booker with RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson would certainly be a major jump in the right direction.  Barrett and Booker at the 1, 2 positions is something to really get excited about.  Those two alone can lure free agents then add in the young, beastly Robinson.  Those are 3 players that can get the New York Knicks back on track.