New York Rangers: The Taxi Squad Players Have Been a Great Surprise

Colin Blackwell, New York Rangers

The New York Rangers‘ 2021 season has been a rollercoaster. From blowing a lead in more than half their games, waiving a player for fighting a teammate, and beating one of the best teams in the NHL, they’ve seen it all. And yet, despite all of the early-season speed bumps, they find themselves at 4-4-2, good enough for sixth place in the East division. Those 10 points have not come from the superstars of the team, though. Minus Artemi Panarin, who has a team-leading 15 points, the top-liners have underwhelmed. Luckily for the Rangers, members of the taxi squad have stepped up and capitalized on an opportunity to make a name for themselves.

The Rangers’ Taxi Squad Players Have Been Excellent

For those unfamiliar with the term “taxi squad,” allow me to explain. For the 2021 season, all NHL teams will have a squad of six players that practices separately from the team, travels to each game, and are ready to suit up in any moment. It is an insurance policy in case a team is missing a player or two due to COVID-19 protocols.

Miraculously, the Rangers have gotten outstanding production from their taxi squad players. In six combined games, the members have a +3 plus/minus, while the Rangers as a team are 3-2-1. Three players, in particular, have made the leap in stride: defensemen Anthony Bitetto and Libor Hajek, and forward Colin Blackwell.

Anthony Bitetto

A former sixth-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2010, Long Island native Anthony Bitetto has appeared in two games so far for the Blueshirts. He has been nothing but quality in each. On the defensive end, he has blocked two shots, registered four hits, and is sporting a +1 plus/minus. The Rangers would be perfectly satisfied if those were his only notable stats. But Bitetto has outperformed all expectations – largely due to his jaw-dropping goal in Thursday night’s win against the Washington Capitals.

In the video above, it is important to remember Bitetto is a defenseman, not a forward. The way he avoids multiple hits showcases his stick-handling, and flicks the backhander into the net is remarkable. Based on that lone play, it’s hard to believe he wasn’t on the active roster a month ago.

Not only was it one of the best goals you’ll see this week, but it was loaded with meaning for Bitetto. He had not scored a goal since November 18, 2017, back when he was a member of Predators. It ended a 111-game goalless streak for the kid from Oceanside, NY. Simply sensational.

Libor Hajek

While Libor Hajek does not have a highlight-reel goal to flex like Bitetto, he does have plenty of solid defense to boast about. A former second-round pick of the Tampa Lightning, Hajek appeared in his first game of 2021 during Thursday’s win over Washington. He played well given the circumstances, blocking a shot and communicating well with Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin. He was also on the ice for Bitetto’s goal.

Unfortunately, his +1 plus/minus turned to zero when former Ranger Carl Hagelin scored in the second period.

There’s not much Hajek could’ve done in the situation above. He gets caught in a two on one, attempts to block the shot by Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway, and Hagelin taps in the rebound. If Shesterkin manages to cover the puck up, or Hagelin isn’t in perfect position to tap the puck in, Washington doesn’t score there. Hajek played very well otherwise.

Colin Blackwell

The original taxi squad success story, Colin Blackwell made the most of his first three games. Game four didn’t go as planned, though, as he was injured early-on against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has been out since January 30th with an upper-body injury.

Prior to his injury, though, Blackwell was unbelievable. He scored a goal in his first game with the team and followed it up with an assist in each of the next two. His presence gave the Rangers fourth-line a much-needed spark. He, like Bitetto and Hajek, greatly exceeded expectations.

The success story of the taxi squad has undoubtedly been one of the best stories of the Rangers season. Let’s hope it continues for the next 46 games.

How the New York Rangers can fix their issues in net

New York Rangers, Igor Shesterkin

Blown leads, last-minute goals, and painful overtime losses have become a staple of the 2021 New York Rangers. They have held a lead in all but one of their eight games this year, yet they’re only 2-4-2, giving them sole possession of last place in the East division. There are a variety of reasons why they continue to give away games, but the biggest is obvious – poor play from their goalies. The struggles at the position have led the coaching staff to try unconventional ways of fixing the issue, yet all of their methods have failed thus far. In a 56-game season, every game matters. Here’s how the Rangers can fix their issues in net, and as a result, get their season back on track:

How the New York Rangers Can Fix Their Issues in Net

Make Igor Shesterkin the Full-time Starter

Very few Ranger players had as much offseason-hype as goalie Igor Shesterkin coming into 2021. The 25-year-old player from Moscow, Russia, had been advertised as New York’s goalie of the future last season, and in 12 starts, he looked the part. He went 10-2 as the starter, stopped 93.2% of the shots he faced, and surrendered 2.52 goals per game. Heading into 2021, it looked as though the Rangers, and Shesterkin in particular, were going to be a real force in the division.

Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, that offseason-hype has not translated to the ice this season. Shesterkin has struggled mightily this year, allowing 2.73 goals per game, stopping a measly 89.4% of shots faced and posting a 1-2-1 record. All of those numbers are bottom 10 in the NHL among qualified goalies. Because of those struggles, the team has shown no hesitation to put in their other goalie, Alexandar Georgiev. In most cases, this move would make sense. But not for the Rangers.

Georgiev has been even worse than Shesterkin so far in 2021, and he has shown no signs of improvement. He’s stopping only 88.6% of shots faced, giving up 3.27 goals per game, and has posted a 1-2-1 record so far this season. Yet despite his poor play, the coaching staff continues to give him opportunities. And in turn, they’re greatly halting the growth of their true No. 1 goalie – Shesterkin.

Get Shesterkin Consistent Reps

A number of NHL teams have adapted the goalie 1A/1B system over the years, and for some, it has worked very well. Dallas goalies Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger have both been among the best at their position so far, and their team is 4-1-0 through five games this season. The Stars had success using the same game-plan last year as well, but with Ben Bishop instead of Oettinger.

The Rangers are not the Stars, however.

New York is preventing Shesterkin from getting into any rhythm by swapping him out every single game. He had his best game of the season last Thursday night against Buffalo, allowing only two goals on 25 shots in a 3-2 OT victory for the Rangers, but what did he get as a reward for his stellar play? A seat on the bench for the next game. To make things even worse, Georgiev played terribly in said game, allowing five goals.

Help the Defense Build Some Confidence

There’s more to the goalie position than stopping pucks, though – and it appears head coach David Quinn has forgotten that. One of the most important aspects of the position is communicating with the defense and building relationships with your defenseman. It’s impossible for Shesterkin to do that successfully while sitting on the bench every other game. And as a result of Quinn’s inability to decide on a full-time starter, the defense as a whole is underperforming – particularly in big moments.

New York has blown a lead in five of their games this year, losing four of them. In each of those instances, it is clear the defense is not performing to their maximum potential. They haven’t had any opportunities to build chemistry with a goalie, and it would benefit them greatly if they got to play with Shesterkin for multiple games consecutively. Coach Quinn needs to recognize this before the season is too far gone.

There’s a reason Shesterkin was named the starter out of training camp – he is the future in net, after all. The Rangers must let him build confidence and rhythm if they wish to make the playoffs. The clock is ticking.

New York Rangers: Colin Blackwell making the most of his opportunity

Colin Blackwell, New York Rangers

When the New York Rangers called up forward Colin Blackwell from the taxi squad to replace Brendan Lemieux, they were looking for a spark to ignite a struggling group of forwards. And so far, albeit only two games, it looks as though coach David Quinn made a great decision – a rarity for the Rangers’ head coach. In each of his first two games with the team, Blackwell has tallied a point. He scored his fourth career goal this past Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and notched an assist in Tuesday night’s loss at Buffalo. Though a very small sample size, the Harvard-graduate has been exceptional.

Colin Blackwell is Making the Most of His Opportunity:

How He Got to Broadway:

When drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft No. 194 overall, the odds were against Blackwell. On average, a draft class produces around 60 NHL players, with the majority of them being drafted in rounds one or two. The difficult road to the big-leagues was no exception for Blackwell, who didn’t play his first games in the NHL until 2019 when the Nashville Predators called him up for six games.

The next year, he spent the first half of the 2019-2020 season with Nashville’s AHL team, the Milwaukee Admirals. While in Milwaukee, Blackwell impressed the organization by tallying 23 points in 26 games and earned another shot at the NHL. In 27 games with the Predators in 2019-2020, he accounted for a modest 10 points. Those 10 points weren’t enough to earn a contract extension, though, and he entered the 2020 offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Over the course of the offseason, Blackwell garnered the interest of multiple teams and eventually chose to sign a two-year deal for $1.475 million with the Rangers.

His Rangers Career:

Blackwell knew he had an outside chance of making the roster out of training camp when he signed, but a little adversity was obviously nothing new to him. He took the challenge head-on and fought for a roster spot during training camp. Despite a strong showing in camp, the large number of skilled forwards on the Rangers’ roster left Blackwell on the outside looking in – again. He was placed on the taxi squad and stayed there for the first four games of the season.

Game Number One

After a slow start to the season for the Blueshirts, the stars aligned, and the Harvard-alum was granted an opportunity to make his mark. Blackwell wasted no time to make said mark, scoring a goal on one of his first shifts with the Rangers.

To score a goal in your first game with a new team is impressive in its own right, but to get it via tip-in off a slap shot is extraordinary. The concentration and hand-eye coordination that is required to perform a tip-in successfully is remarkable.

Game Number Two

Heading into the next game, expectations were conservative for Blackwell. Very few believed he’d be able to make a big contribution for a second consecutive game. But all odds were defied once again, as he assisted on the first goal of K’Andre Miller’s career.

While his second point with the Rangers wasn’t as impressive, it’s still worth recognizing. Blackwell does exactly what he needs to do to give Miller a chance. He locates the open man, slides the puck over softly, and lets the rookie do the rest of the work. Exactly how you draw it up.

No one expected Colin Blackwell to be making contributions for the Rangers when he signed with the team a few months ago. Most viewed him as a depth-piece with a bit of upside. But here we are, watching a player make the most of his opportunity.

New York Rangers: Filip Chytil Deserves More Praise

Filip Chytil, New York Rangers

The New York Rangers have one of the most talented, young teams in the National Hockey League. Big-name players such as Igor Shesterkin, Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, and Alexis Lafrenière have garnered more media coverage than most veterans – and rightfully so. Shesterkin was outstanding in the first NHL games of his career last season, sporting a 10-2 record and a .932 save percentage. Kakko was the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, and in his rookie year, he tallied 23 points. Fox racked up 42 points last season, tied for the fourth-most among rookies. Lafrenière, to put it simply, is the most highly touted prospect in years. Each of them are huge pieces of the Rangers’ future, but there’s another young guy who hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves – 2017 first-round pick Filip Chytil.

Why Filip Chytil Deserves More Praise:

His Hot Start to 2021:

Chytil has been on the third line for each of the Rangers’ four games this year, and with each of those games has come improvement. He’s currently riding a three-game point streak, including a goal in two straight. His goal on Friday night against Pittsburgh was nothing short of spectacular, as he flexed his magnificent stick-handling to tie the game at 1-1 in the second.

The Rangers should be ecstatic that the center on their third line is able to make a play like that. Depth is a vital aspect of a successful hockey team, and Chytil provides that.

His Chemistry With Kakko and Di Giuseppe:

Head Coach David Quinn has struggled mightily this season to find the best line combinations for his team. He is yet to send out an identical lineup card for two consecutive games. But luckily for him, it appears his third line is ready to be set in stone. In three games for the New York Rangers, the line of Phillip Di Giuseppe on the left, Chytil at center, and Kakko on the right has an impressive +4 scoring differential. That is the best plus/minus of any line combo on the team this year.

It’s clear that Chytil is benefitting from his new linemates, but just as impressively, Kakko is finally starting to look like the player he was supposed to be when he was drafted in June 2019. He looks significantly more confident on the ice now than when he was playing alongside Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome earlier this season. That’s not a knock on Panarin or Strome, but it’s clear as day.

The fluidity of the sequence above is beautiful. Chytil senses Di Gieuseppe to his right, and Kakko knows he’ll be getting a clean pass to try a one-timer. Textbook hockey. The chemistry between the three is striking.

His Continued Growth Over The Years:

Since playing his first game in 2018, Chytil has done nothing but develop. It took him 15 fewer games in 2019-2020 to notch the same number of points (23) he had in 2018-2019. His efficiency improved as well, scoring three more goals on 19 fewer shots. Now in his third full season on Broadway, the 21-year-old is playing the best hockey of his life – and he’s only going to get better. It’s time Filip Chytil gets the respect and praise he deserves.

 

New York Knicks: Is it time to rotate Elfrid Payton out of the starting five?

New York Knicks, Elfrid Payton

New York Knicks guard Elfrid Payton struggled against the Cleveland Cavaliers during a painful loss on Friday, January 15th. The Knick point guard finished with 9 points after shooting 4-7 from the field. Payton had 3-rebounds and 3-turnovers. The most glaring and disturbing stat category Elfrid Payton possessed was accumulating 0-assists for the entire game.

Cleveland did what many other teams will continue to do, play zone defense while Payton is trying to run the point- guard position for the New York Knicks. Payton struggled against the length of Cleveland’s team, leading to sloppy turnovers by himself and his teamate RJ Barrett.

Many Knick fans have lost confidence and patience with a few Knick players. However, Payton is leading the race as the most hated Knick by simply frustrated Knick fans. Some fans went as far as mentioning Elfrid’s ability to stay locked-in even when he’s struggling. There are whispers going around stating that Elfrid Payton mentally checks out if things aren’t going right for himself and the squad.

Rumors are circulating about Isaiah Thomas’s availability after a long period of being away from the NBA. Some chatter in Knicks universe states that the Knicks should give Isaiah Thomas a chance due to lack of shooting depth.

Overall, the Knicks are depleted by injuries. The players earning minutes currently are banged up. However, Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks must continue digging deep on defense in order to give themselves a chance for victory. Offensively, the Knicks need a starting point-guard who can shoot the basketball. Many are calling for Quickley to start. There’s definitely a possibility, however time will tell what these Knicks are really made of.

The Giants should consider tagging and trading Leonard Williams

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The New York Giants have a lot of key decisions to make this offseason, and one of them is what to do with their star defensive linemen Leonard Williams.

After acquiring Williams from the Jets via trade midway through the 2019 season, which was largely seen as a controversial move amongst Giants fans, general manager Dave Gettleman ended up using the franchise tag on Williams for 1-year and $16 million dollars after failing to come to terms on a long-term contract.

Looking back on it now, the Giants probably regret not locking up Williams long-term, as he went on to have a monster year this season. Williams was a Pro Bowl snub after racking up 57 total tackles and 11.5 sacks for the Giants and is sure to command a massive contract on the open market as a free agent.

There is no doubt that the Giants want to keep Williams in blue, but it might be difficult for them to do so. As good as Williams was this season, it was the first season in his career where he’s had more than 7 sacks, and that was back in 2016. In the three seasons between his 2016 season and this season, Williams only manages to put up 7.5 sacks total.

The questions surrounding whether Williams can maintain this elite level of play going forward could and probably should cause the Giants to have some reservations about how much they would be willing to pay him. If they can sign him for around $17-$18 million dollars per year, then they should bring him back. But, even with the shortened salary cap this offseason, it’s entirely possible Williams will command $20 million dollars per year, or maybe even more.

If the number goes that high, it would make more sense for Giants to let go of Williams. However, an alternative to simply letting him walk away for nothing is to tag and trade Williams, which is something that hasn’t been talked about much but would make a lot of sense for the Giants.

It remains unclear what the franchise tag salaries are going to look like this offseason and whether or not Williams would get tagged as a defensive end or a defensive tackle. A year ago, Williams got tagged as a defensive tackle, but that could change this season. Either way, the franchise tag salary isn’t likely to increase from last season and might even decrease due to the limited salary cap. Even if does increase, it likely won’t reach $20 million, so it would be worth it for the Giants.

Another huge bonus in tagging and trading Williams is the ability to get a potentially great draft pick in return, one that’s better than the third-round compensatory pick they would receive by letting him walk, which is basically a fourth-round pick in disguise. Williams will definitely draw interest around the league after the season he had, and if a team is willing to offer a second-round pick or even a first-round pick, it’s a no-brainer for the Giants.

This is probably an unlikely scenario for the Giants, even though there’s no reason for them not to do it if the opportunity presents itself. They would likely either pay up for Williams to keep him long term or let him walk for a compensatory pick.

But, tagging and trading Williams would be a creative and smart route the Giants could potentially take in order to add another early draft pick and spread out their cap space across multiple players rather than tying most of it to one player.

Leonard Williams had a phenomenal year and has earned himself a massive payday, whether that’s from the Giants or someone else. We shall see what the Giants choose to do in the coming months, but they would be wise to consider going in the direction of tagging and trading Williams if his price tags exceed what they’re willing to pay.

These final two games will decide a lot about the Giants going forward

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

With Christmas behind us and the new year just days away, the NFL regular season is winding down very quickly. There are two weeks left to go, and the New York Giants find themselves in a unique position.

Despite having a 5-9 record and suffering through their seventh losing season out of the last eight seasons, they are still in the race for the division title due to the futility of the 2020 NFC East.

However, with two difficult games coming up against the Baltimore Ravens and the Dallas Cowboys, who both have caught fire the past couple of weeks, it’s very possible that the Giants could lose out and finish 5-11, finding themselves with yet another top 10 pick in the draft.

These next two weeks will say a lot about the state of the franchise both in the short-term and potentially the long-term as well. The fate of general manager Dave Gettleman will most certainly hang in the balance, and possibly quarterback Daniel Jones as well.

Head coach Joe Judge seemed to suggest that Daniel Jones is not going anywhere in 2021 during an exchange with NFL Network’s Kim Jones on Wednesday. Judge mentioned how Daniel Jones has earned his respect throughout the course of the season, especially with all the challenges the team was faced with. Judge even went as far as to say, “Daniel Jones is our quarterback,” when asked a follow-up question about him.

Now, of course, we need to take everything with a grain of salt because what Judge said was expected, but it seems to be a safe bet that Jones will at least will be the starting quarterback at the beginning of next season, especially if Gettleman sticks around.

If Gettleman gets fired and a new general manager is brought in, however, the quarterback question definitely gets more interesting. Judge will, without a doubt, have a big say in who the next general manager is, and then the two of them will have to decide where to go at the position. It’s possible that the new general manager would want to bring in his own quarterback, and he’ll be able to convince Judge to get on board, but it’s also just as likely they’ll stick with Jones.

If Jones is healthy enough to play these final two games, his performance can help his chances of staying if he plays well and finishes the season on a high note. If he remains out, there’s also the chance that could hurt his standing a little bit. The best availability is availability, as Giants fans have been harshly reminded of.

There’s no doubt Jones is talented and had a promising rookie season, but there’s also no doubt he’s regressed badly in his second season. Now, a lot of that is due to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and his horrible scheme that does not play to Jones’ strengths, but Jones certainly isn’t blameless. Garrett’s fate is probably already decided, and he’s the most likely person to be gone after the season, but Jones still needs to play better and prove that he’s taken the next step in his development, which he has yet to do regardless of the other factors that may play into it.

At the very least, the Giants would be wise to get themselves a backup who can give Jones some legitimate competition and give the team a better chance of winning games when he’s in. No disrespect to Colt McCoy, who’s solid and well-respected around the league, but he’s not going to cut it.

When it comes to Gettleman, he’s on much thinner ice than Jones, and the rest of the season could singlehandedly decide whether he keeps his job or not. Despite having a 14-32 record over his close to three seasons as general manager, if the Giants win the division and even go on to win a playoff game, John Mara could see that as enough evidence that the team is going in the right direction and keep Gettleman.

If the Giants go 1-1 or 0-2 and finish no better than 6-10, then it becomes more likely that Gettleman will go, and Judge will bring in his own guy. This past offseason was a successful one for the Giants in both free agency and the draft, with several key role players being added to the roster, but a lot of that is due to the coaching staff getting the most out of the players.

The fact of the matter is that this roster still lacks a lot of talent in critical areas, talent that even the best of coaching staffs need to achieve success. That’s on Gettleman, who’s had more than enough time to solve that problem by now, but his misses have just greatly overweighed his hits. Other teams that were in similar situations to us when Gettleman took over, such as Cleveland, Buffalo, and Arizona, have turned it around while the Giants have been stuck in a cycle of losing. I know that each team’s situation is different, but it should show you that rebuilds don’t have to take as long as they have for the Giants.

The point is that these final two games carry a lot of weight for the Giants. They are both very important and will have lasting implications one way or another, no matter where the team finishes. They could define what the offseason looks like for the Giants while also providing answers to some critical questions surrounding the team.

Grading the New York Knicks draft picks and UDFA signings

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

With the 2020 NBA Draft finally, in the books, the Knicks had themselves a busy and productive night. After all the trades they made, they came away with two draft picks and one undrafted free agent. I’m going to offer my grades and analysis for each of the three acquisitions.

NBA Draft Round 1 Pick 8: Obi Toppin, PF, Dayton

The Knicks started their draft off with a bang by taking the Consensus First Team All-American and John R. Wooden Award winner in Dayton’s star big man, Obi Toppin.

When they were on the clock, there were a number of intriguing options available. Aside from Toppin, Iowa State guard Tyrese Halliburton, Israeli forward Deni Avdija, and Florida State wing Devin Vassell were all still on the board. The reaction amongst the media and Knicks fans at the selection of Toppin was mixed as usual. I would have preferred Halliburton, but you can’t really criticize the Toppin pick.

Toppin is an electric and explosive player with great athleticism. He is capable of scoring all over the floor and possesses a smooth jump shot as well. He is a human highlight-reel who dominated college basketball last season at Dayton, finishing with a stat line of 20 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 70% from the field and nearly 40% from three. Toppin should become an instant fan-favorite and provides the kind of box-office appeal that can make the Knicks a fun team to watch again.

There certainly are criticisms with Toppin’s game, which is why he fell to the Knicks. He isn’t a very strong defender, although he’s already spoken about how excited he is to work at and improve his defense under Tom Thibodeau. He also is 22 years old, which is pretty old for a rookie, but that hopefully means he’ll need less time to develop and will be ready to make a big impact immediately.

It wasn’t a secret that the Knicks wanted Toppin badly, probably stemming from his CAA connection. They were trying to trade up to draft him, but fortunately, they didn’t have to. Toppin is a very good player who should help this Knicks team on day one. Getting the best player in college basketball last season at number 8 is a steal, and Knicks fans should be happy about the pick.

Grade: A+

NBA Draft RD 1 Pick 25: Immanuel Quickley, G, Kentucky

After originally packaging picks 27 and 38 to move up to pick 23, the Knicks then made a savvy move by trading pick 23 for pick 25 and 33. So they essentially turned picks 27 and 38 into picks 25 and 33. With the 25th pick, the Knicks selected Kentucky sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley.

While this selection may have come to the surprise of some, as most people had Quickley listed as a second-round pick, there’s a lot to like with Quickley.

Arguably the Knicks’ biggest team need was shooting, and Quickley brings that. He was a sniper for John Calipari last season, putting together a solid stat line of 16.1 points, 2 assists, and 4.2 rebounds en route to being named the SEC Player of the Year.

His shooting percentages were phenomenal, as he shot nearly 42% from the field, 43% from three, and 92% from the free-throw line. Quickley also has shown promise on defense, averaging a steal a game. He is limited in other areas of his game, but Quickley’s ability to space the floor and shoot at a high level is a perfect fit for the Knicks and helps fill a big need.

As for those saying the pick is a reach, that might have some truth to it, but how many late first-round picks really pan out in the NBA? Not a very high percentage. Quickley also has a skill set that should translate well to the NBA, and the familiarity is there with the Knicks coaching staff through Knicks assistant coach and former Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne. Therefore, considering all those factors, is getting Kentucky’s leading scorer and the SEC Player of the Year with the 25th pick really that much of a reach at all? A solid pick for the Knicks.

Grade: B

UDFA Signing: Myles Powell, G, Seton Hall

After trading pick 33 for a 2023 second-round pick, which was a questionable move, the Knicks were done drafting after the Quickley pick.

Once the draft ended, however, they ended up snagging arguably the top undrafted free agent available in Seton Hall’s star guard Myles Powell.

Powell was one of the most dynamic players in the country over his four years as a Pirate, with this past year being his best. He averaged 21 points, 3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.2 steals as he lead Seton Hall to a Big East championship. He also won the Big East Player of the Year, was a Consensus First Team All-American, and won the Jerry West Award for the best shooting guard in the country.

Many were surprised to see Powell go undrafted, which might have to do with him being a senior and the fact he is undersized for the shooting guard position, but he is an electric scorer who has a legitimate shot to make the roster. At the very least, he can be the type of player who provides instant offense off the bench for the Knicks. If he can improve his shot selection a bit and strengthen his defense, he has the chance to be a huge steal.

This was a fantastic pick-up by the Knicks, as they grab an experienced, talented player who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Powell also has plenty of familiarity at Madison Square Garden, having played there many times in college. This is the kind of under-the-radar move that can pay off in the long run for the Knicks.

Grade: A

Overall, the Knicks had a very productive draft night, adding two talented players who will help right away and can be foundational pieces going forward. Throw in a dynamic undrafted free agent in Powell, and Knicks fans should be feeling very good about the three players they added to the team. Hopefully, this group can help the Knicks compete for a playoff spot this season and beyond.

Overall grade: A-

Knicks should only be in on Westbrook for the right price

New York Knicks, Russell Westbrook

The NBA offseason is officially underway. Trades officially can be made as of Monday at noon, and the NBA Draft is Wednesday, which is then followed by the start of free agency on Friday. It’s going to be a jam-packed and super exciting week that will have NBA fans glued to Twitter trying to keep up with everything. As for the New York Knicks, there has been the usual influx of trade, draft, and free agency rumors, and one big name that they are reportedly interested in is star point guard Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook has quickly become the center of Knicks chatter over the past couple of days, especially after seeing long-rumored trade target Chris Paul land in Phoenix.

There are positives and negatives to bringing in any player, especially one of Westbrook’s caliber. The 32-year-old is a future Hall of Famer with nine All-Star appearances and one MVP award under his belt. He is still playing at a very high level and has shown no clear signs of regression, averaging a stat line of 27.2 points, 7.0 assists, and 7.9 rebounds per game for Houston last season.

Westbrook is also one of the fiercest competitors the game has ever seen and plays with an unmatchable level of energy every second he’s on the court. He is a player whose work ethic and toughness would fit right into the kind of culture that Tom Thibodeau wants to build in New York, and he brings the kind of star power to Madison Square Garden that the Knicks haven’t had since Carmelo Anthony.

With all that being said, it would only be logical for the Knicks to make a move for Westbrook, or anyone for that matter, for the right price. As many positives as there are with Westbrook, there are negatives as well. His game is centered around his explosiveness, and that kind of playing style has resulted in multiple knee surgeries throughout Westbrook’s career, which will only increase as he continues to get older in age.

There’s also the issue of his massive contract. Entering the third year of a 5-year, $206 million dollar deal, Westbrook will be due over $41 million this season, $44 million in 2021, and $47 million in 2022. That’s a hefty price to pay for an aging point guard with some injury concerns.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Knicks shouldn’t entertain the possibility of a Westbrook trade. Westbrook is still one of the best point guards and overall players in the league, and he’d fill a huge need in a massive way. If they can acquire him and keep important assets like RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and the 8th overall pick in Wednesday’s draft, then they definitely have to consider it.

If they have to give up one or more of those assets, then it would be best to hold on to what they have and explore other ways to improve the team. After all, the Knicks giving up everything for an aging, oft-injured star is all too familiar for Knicks fans. Giving up all their assets for Westbrook would show that the Knicks haven’t learned anything over the past 20 years and keep making the same mistake over and over again.

So, while Brodie in the Mecca would be must-see TV and a hot commodity, the Knicks shouldn’t value that as reason to blow up everything they have been building and accumulating over the past few seasons.

New York Knicks: Divisional front office tweaks could indicate that ‘risk is the new safe’

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

There are a few significant coaching personnel and front office tweaks for New York Knicks fans to keep an eye on in the Atlantic Division, possibly. The Philadelphia 76ers hired Doc Rivers as Head Coach, then went on to hire Daryl Morey as Team President. The Brooklyn Nets hired Steve Nash as Head Coach, then went on to add Mike D’Antoni, Amare Stoudemire, and Ime Udoka to the assistant coaching staff.

76ers have their cornerstones in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, while the Nets will finally have their stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving share the court. Of course, none of this matters if injuries keep occurring. Front office positioning also wouldn’t matter if there isn’t an improvement on the basketball court for the Nets and 76ers.

However, improvement to two playoff teams in Brooklyn and Philadelphia could rightfully steer the New York Knicks into an even stronger player developmental stance along with a maintained focus on young talent acquisition.

The Knicks won’t win anything now in the Eastern Conference, therefore, why not put all the emphasis on solidifying the foundation for the near future and long term? With fans being away from the game during the pandemic, Knicks have time to build without Madison Square Garden’s infamous fan and media impatience pouring pressure on the franchise and its young players.

Atlantic Divisional front office tweaks mentioned above could indicate that “risk is the new safe” for the New York Knicks moving forward, especially in the upcoming draft on November 18th, 2020.

The New York Knicks did their own coaching personnel and front office adjustment earlier this summer with the hiring of President Leon Rose, Executive Vice President/Senior Basketball Advisor William Wesley, former Utah Jazz Vice President of Player Personnel Walt Perrin, former Utah Jazz Assistant Coach Johnny Bryant, former ten-year Assistant Coach of the Kentucky Wildcats Kenny Payne, and a new, yet seasoned Head Coach in Tom Thibodeau.

Leon Rose has plenty of connections due to his time as an agent with Creative Artists Agency. William Wesley, also known as “World Wide Wes,” is basically the most connected man in the entire basketball world period. Bill Simmons of The Ringer wasn’t afraid to touch on a rumor circulating the NBA regarding all the connections Leon Rose and “World Wide Wes” have in the entire basketball landscape.

Recently on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Simmons talked about NBA insiders having legit fear about the New York Knicks becoming the “Kentucky pipeline team.” Bill Simmons states the following on the podcast along with Kevin O’Conner:

 

 

There’s also a real fear in the NBA. I’m fine talking about this. It’s rumor, heresy stuff. But it’s just a fact. Kentucky, Worldwide Wes had a great relationship with John Calipari. CAA’s got multiple Kentucky guys and there’s a real fear in the league that the Knicks are going to become the Kentucky pipeline team.

 

 

Devin Booker is a great example of that, right? Even though he’s on a big deal right now, at some point if he wanted to move out of there…

 

 

The league is kind of watching the Kentucky factor with that team.

 

 

I think even [Anthony] Davis, if the Lakers hadn’t won the title this year, who knows? Right? Are we positive he would have stayed? I don’t know. All of the signs, all of the dialogue was like ‘LeBron and him love each other’. But who knows what would have happened?

Simmons believes there’s a CAA client that the Knicks love due to assumed access to extra intel and information on draft prospects as a result of Leon Rose and “World Wide Wes” CAA connections. Bill Simmons believes the Knicks will take advantage throughout the draft process.

With that being said, the Knicks are positioned for the future, whether it’s long-term or short-term. The focus is on player development, however, team development is the ultimate goal, and it could happen very soon with the help of Leon Rose and “World Wide Wes.”

In the upcoming draft, there are plenty of young prospects the Knicks could take a big home-run swing at. Knicks have many avenues available to them in terms of acquiring young talent. Whether it’s trading down in the draft or acquiring more draft picks on a contract dump from another team, the possibilities are exciting and endless. This points to an opportunistic approach for the Knicks to take on draft night. They may take chances on young prospects with very high ceilings. “Risk is currently the new safe” for the New York Knicks thanks to Leon Rose and “World Wide Wes.”

Kira Lewis, Isaac Okoro, Devin Vassell, Precious Achiuwa, Patrick Williams, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyrese Maxey, amongst others, are prospects suitable for the current Knick player developmental staff to hone into potential stars for the future of Knick basketball. A potential late first-round candidate to keep an eye on as a pure upside pick is the 6’10” 7’0″ wingspan 200 lbs Jaden McDaniels out of Washington University in Seattle, Washington.

November 18th will be a very interesting draft date due to so many scenarios involving all NBA teams in the lottery as well as salary cap implications. My advice, have your popcorn ready that night.