Caris Levert Drops Career high 51 in Nets comeback win over Celtics

Brooklyn Nets, Caris Levert

Through three-quarters last night, it seemed as though the Brooklyn Nets were headed for their 5th straight loss. Down 84-67 against the Celtics on the road headed into the 4th, this struggling Brooklyn squad needed a miracle. Insert Caris Levert.

Levert Brilliant in Nets Huge 4th quarter

The Nets, in dire need of a spark, were able to rally behind the stellar play of Caris Levert.  Levert became an assassin in the 4th quarter, dazzling and scoring at will against a tough Celtics defense.  Three-pointers, reverse layups, off-balanced one-footed jumpers, Levert couldn’t be stopped. The Nets put up a franchise-best 51 points in the 4th, the most the team has ever scored in any quarter in franchise history.  Levert was responsible for 26 of that 51, including 3 clutch free throws to tie the game with .02 seconds left.  In overtime, Caris scored all 11 of Brooklyn’s points, the most by any player in the past 20 seasons, and led the Nets to a spectacular 129-120 win over the Celtics.

The former Michigan star ended the game with a career-high 51 points on 17 of 26 from the field, 5 of 10 from 3-point land, 12-18 on free throws, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal in only 25 minutes of play. After the game, teammate Kevin Durant showed Levert some well-deserved love, tweeting “that 50 was beautiful Vert. Thank you for that masterpiece.”

The other unsung hero of this game was Chris Chiozza, who played 21 big minutes down the stretch and finished with 8 points, scoring some big buckets with Dinwiddie sidelined in the 4th for reasons unknown. Atkinson went with an interesting lineup in the 4th, playing Kurucs, Chiozza, Jordan, Levert, and Taurean Prince down the stretch.

Unfortunately, losing the game was the least of the Celtics concerns, as their players dropped like flies over the course of the night. Already playing without Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward suffered a right knee contusion shortly before halftime.  Jaylen Brown was seen grabbing his hamstring late in the game. And Kemba Walker, who wasn’t able to play in overtime since he was playing on a minutes restriction, didn’t look 100% in his first game back from injury. All 4 players may not travel to Cleveland tomorrow for the Celtics back to back.

The Nets will hope to carry this momentum at home tomorrow when Ja Morant and the Grizzlies come to town.

New York Knicks: Can Frank Ntilikina earn starting minutes next season?

New York Knicks, Frank Ntilikina

Most fans have seemed to write off New York Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina before the beginning of the 2019-20 season. The reality is, he’s been a lackluster scorer since entering the league two years ago. Averaging just 5.9 points per game in two seasons has thrust him to the bottom of the pecking order. He will likely start behind Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton this season as he claws for playing time.

While Ntilikina has failed to produce for the Knicks in the NBA, he has been in menace for the French national team this FIBA World Cup. He played a key role in derailing the USA basketball team and their 58-game win streak. He dominated against NBA quality players and showed that he can compete at a level high enough to succeed in the pros.

Frank is known for his defensive quality while his offensive production is reduced. However, against the USA basketball team, he looked even better than stars like Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell. The 21-year-old swung the momentum towards France in the fourth quarter, playing incredible defense and hitting a buzzer-beating dagger with two minutes and 15 seconds left to play.

The interesting thing about The Frenchman is that his stat line never jumps off the page. He recorded 11 points and five of nine shooting with one rebound and three assists. But he was +22 for the game, the second-best mark of any player on the floor.

His impressive performance begs the question:

Can Ntilikina earn playing time for the New York Knicks during the regular season?

Slated behind Smith Jr. and Payton, it will be difficult for him to crack the roster and play serviceable minutes. Despite that reality, he is still an outstanding defender and can be used in that facet.

If he can continue to hound opposing guards and shoot and even average level from the field, he could be a valuable asset for the Knicks in today’s NBA. Acting as a glorified utility player and situational point guard, Frank can be an integral part of the team, but he must play with confidence and understand his strengths and weaknesses.

New York Knicks theoretically all in on Dennis Smith Jr.

New York Knicks, Dennis Smith Jr.

The New York Knicks had a chance, a slim chance, to bring in a superstar point guard to lead the team into the future. The organization struck out on every single one except for Elfrid Payton…jokes.

Whether or not the Knicks were serious about spending top dollar for a player like Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker, the reality is, they don’t have a proven option at the point guard position, which can only mean one thing.

They’re completely confident that Dennis Smith Jr. can develop into a premier option at the position. Entering his third season in the NBA, averaging 14.5 points per game and 5 assists in his two years as a professional, Smith Jr. has the opportunity to take his game to the next level.

In fact, he’s been working all offseason to improve his perimeter shot, something he’s struggled with in the past, relying heavily on his elite athleticism to shine.

However, the expected starting PG for the Knicks stated, according to the NY Daily News:

“I think we can hit the playoffs. Everybody do a lot of talking and things like that,” he said, “I’ve never really been one to feed into it on social media and things like that. But I think we have a really good team, and especially with the way I’ve been working this summer, I think I’m going to take my game to the next level and it’s going to put us in the playoffs.”

Since this comment, the Knicks pried Marcus Morris, a bonafide starter in the league from the San Antonio Spurs on a one-year, $14.8 million deal.

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Morris improves the team instantly, and it increases the chanced of Smith’s dream coming true — a playoff berth. The $70 million in cap space the Knicks had this offseason was used to sign free agents on short contracts, which wasn’t a bad idea given the fact they missed out on every big-name possible.

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It’s clear they’re expecting to be more of an enticing destination once the youth on the team develops and proves it’s capable of winning games and making the playoffs. A good season in 2019-20 could prove to superstars looking to switch teams that the Knicks have a good thing going, and Dennis Smith Jr. could be a big part of that.

How the New York Knicks can utilize Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina

New York Knicks, Frank Ntilikina

Striking out in free agency when it comes to bringing in superstars certainly didn’t help the New York Knicks‘ point guard problem. But maybe it isn’t a problem at all with Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina featuring at the position.

The question will be — how can the New York Knicks utilize both and extract the most value?

Smith Jr. is the option with more optimism and scoring proficiency while Ntilikina is a defensive maestro that can lock down players in that facet. However, he’s a terrible scorer and hasn’t shown any growth in that respect.

How will the Knicks utilize both? I anticipate Smith Jr. will be the primary starter on an everyday basis while Frank plays a reserve role that features in defensive situations – if the Knicks are up by five with one minute left, the Frenchman will be called upon to help hold the lead.

Both point guards have been working tirelessly this offseason to improve their shooting abilities and add another element to their games. Ntilikina averaged 5.9 points per game while Smith Jr. earned 14.5 over two seasons. Both are going into their third professional campaigns and will ultimately be competing for the starting job.

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While the Knicks didn’t manage to bring in players like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, or D’Angelo Russell, they still created competition between two options with plenty of talent. One is obviously more capable when it comes to scoring and Smith Jr. working on his outside shot should add another component to his game.

There’s reason to believe he can really blossom in 2019 after learning the Knicks’ scheme last season and developing a rapport with head coach David Fizdale. Frank was reportedly on the trade block this summer and wasn’t expected to last until now, but he’s still here and ready to put the work in to find a role on the team.

“Yeah, definitely. I’m happy to be a Knick,” he said, according to Newsday. “I still take as much as I can get from every situation that I can. I’m in their jersey. I’m happy to be a Knick. I’m happy to be here. I’ll work very hard to make this situation successful.”

Add in former Pelicans point guard Elfrid Payton to the mix and we have a very interesting position battle brewing at one of the weakest spots for the Knicks.

New York Knicks can rule out Kemba Walker in point guard market

Will the New York Knicks pursue Kemba Walker in free agency?

The New York Knicks have two max-contracts available, the issue is, the superstar options are dwindling as the Brooklyn Nets have emerged as favorites in the Big Apple. It seems as if $73 million in open cap isn’t enough to lure high profile players anymore — winning is the priority, which at the end of the day is a good thing for the NBA.

With Kyrie Irving planning to take his talents to Brooklyn, the point guard market is down one elite talent for the Knicks. There’s more bad news, though, as Charlotte Hornet’s star Kemba Walker has reportedly ruled out a comeback to his native city.

For the first time in his career, Walker will be an unrestricted free agent. That rules out two points guards for a franchise in need of a truly elite player to lead their youth to the promised land. The hopes of signing Kevin Durant remain alive, but rumors have emerged that he’s keen on playing alongside Irving. The former Celtic going to the Nets doesn’t bode well for the Knicks in their hunt to land Durant.

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In 2018, cardiac Kemba averaged 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the field. He also landed 35.6 percent of three-pointers and shot 84.4 percent from the free-throw line.

All elite statistics for a point guard in the NBA — the Hornets have a solid shot of returning their best player. They have enough cap to resign him for the long-haul, putting the Knicks in a position where D’Angelo Russell could be the best option available.

All offseason the Knicks looked like the front-runners to land both Kyrie and Durant, but their obvious youth and lack of experience has become a concern for veteran players looking to win now.

New York Knicks: Will RJ Barrett lure big free agents to Big Apple?

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett

As expected, the New York Knicks selected Duke star RJ Barrett with the 3rd overall pick. After fending off the Atlanta Hawks for the Knicks’ first-round pick, it was nearly a guarantee they’ be selecting the 6-foot-7 swingman.

Barrett will bring a tenacious mentality towards success and production in New York, despite shooting just 31% from behind the arc and 67% from the free-throw line last season. Those two deficiencies will be ironed out in his rookie campaign, but his potential remains sky-high.

What does RJ Barrett bring to the New York Knicks?

An elite scorer around the rim and solid defender, RJ has the ability to take the Knicks to another level during his career. His influence alone should be a catalyst in luring max-contract players to the Mecca.

The hardest part in recruiting superstars will be convincing them to have faith in the youth agenda the Knicks are following. A majority of their players are under 20-years-old, which puts the team in a good position. If they aren’t able to bring in a player like Kevin Durant, they can simply continue forward with their young players and continue developing them.

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However, signing Durant and a high-profile point guard would go a long way in the growth of the young players and allowing them to see success early on in their careers. A devastatingly poor season in 2018 surely didn’t help them in their overall confidence, but it was essential for them to earn playing time and understand the talent they must compete against.

Barrett, though, is versed in competition, and would likely have been the consensus No. 1 pick if Zion Williamson hadn’t taken college basketball by storm. Moving forward, we should expect to see the Knicks aggressively pursue Durant and Kawhi Leonard in free agency.

With rumors of Kyrie Irving taking his talents to the Brooklyn Nets, D’Angelo Russell has emerged as a legitimate option for the Knicks beyond Irving and Kemba Walker.

Why the New York Knicks should keep Frank Ntilikina

New York Knicks, Frank Ntilikina

The youth on the New York Knicks allows them to think for the future and not the present – the reality is, the organization is at least one season away from being a legitimate contender, and that’s if they can lure in a max-contract player to help spark an accelerated sense of progress.

Keeping the already applied youth players should be a priority, but there are some on the cusp of veteranship that are considered trading pieces.

According to Ian Begley of SNY.tv, they are reportedly shopping Ntilikina for a potential trade:

“Ntilikina has been a part of trade rumors for several months. It is unclear what the Knicks would be looking for in return for a Ntilikina deal, but the New York Post, which first reported the Knicks’ willingness to move Ntilikina, says the club is looking for a late first or second-round pick.”

I don’t believe they should trade Ntilikina for one simple reason, his defense. If the Knicks are unable to sign a quality point guard in free agency, they will be left with Dennis Smith Jr. who is more versed in scoring that defensive ability. The team has only a few hours left to acquire a draft pick this year unless they are willing to move him and earn a selection in 2020.

Letting him go would deplete the roster of a solid defender and a player with plenty of potential. Extracting it has been an issue on the scoring side, but he’s working tirelessly to improve his game.

Frank is entering his third season with the club and will carry a $6.18 million option for the 2020-21 season. If the Knicks decline, they will force Ntilikina to test the waters of free agency next summer. Gaining value now by adding a draft pick makes sense, but only if they are able to bring in a point guard like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, or even Ja Morant in the draft.

New York Knicks: What happens if Kyrie Irving takes his talents to Brooklyn?

What should the New York Knicks do if they lose out on Celtics star, Kyrie Irving?

There’s a simple reality to Kyrie Irving potentially taking his talents to the Brooklyn Nets and dragging Kevin Durant along with him. The New York Knicks will have to settle for the next best thing, and that might very well be D’Angelo Russell.

The star Nets points guard had an All-Star season in 2018, averaging 21.1 points-per-game. However, he’s still the second, or even third point guard choice for the Knicks as Kemba Walker remains a possibility.

Irving has expressed his desire to join the Nets – an indicator being his signing with Roc Nation, the CEO being the brother of the Nets’ general manager.  Irving has already sat down with Durant and spoken about playing together in the Big Apple. At this point, signs are pointing towards the Nets, but ruling out the Knicks so early in the free agent window would be ignorant.

According to Ric Bucher of Fox Sports:

“I’m told Kevin Durant has moved all his stuff to New York and will spend the summer there,” Bucher said on The Herd. “He and Kyrie have met and have continued to discuss playing together… Every indication says KD is making plans to be elsewhere.”

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It’s fair to consider Russell, who’s comfortable in New York, a potential option for the Knicks given the injury to Durant and lack of confidence in Irving coming to The Garden. The point guard market will certainly dry up fast, and the draft doesn’t represent many good options aside from Ja Morant, who will likely take his talents to Memphis as they hold the No. 2 pick.

After the premium options, the Knicks would be left to choose from Ricky RubioDarren CollisonPatrick Beverley, and Rajon Rondo.

With Russell at 27-years-old, it’s fair to say offering him a max contract would be a good idea. With only one inspiring season under his belt, it would be a risk, but he’s shown that he can play at an extremely high level, and providing him with the weapons to utilize offensively should help him develop even further. It will be interesting to see where the Knicks allocate more resources this offseason.

 

 

 

New York Knicks are running out of superstar options in free agency

Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving

With the 2018 NBA season coming to a close on the backs of the Toronto Raptors and Kawhi Leanard, the New York Knicks will now begin meddling in free agency.

With Kevin Durant tearing his Achilles and expected to miss all of 2019, the premium players are dropping like flies. Add in Klay Thompson’s knee injury, Kyrie Irving’s desire to join the Brooklyn Nets, and Kemba Walker being loyal to the Hornets stating he would take less than a max deal, and the Knicks are in big trouble.

It’s possible they still pursue Durant despite his injury, but it would require them to unload a massive amount of money for essentially no value. However, his return in 2020 would put the organization in a good position to win immediately, especially if they collect another top pick and provide RJ Barrett with a year’s worth of experience.

The New York Knicks could be forced into making a difficult decision:

The scenario where the Knicks save some of their money and stick to their youth guns isn’t a bad one, in fact, it could be the only one after the smoke clears. It’s expected that general manager Scott Perry will pursue Kawhi Leonard in free agency — he believes a meeting is more than possible.

The likeliness of convincing a player like Leonard to come to the bright lights of New York is, well…unlikely. It’s not impossible, though.

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Sticking with Durant and allowing him to fully heal for a year while the Knicks continue to develop their youth isn’t a bad idea. They should stay far away from a potential Anthony Davis trade and begin to think about how they can utilize their ample cap-space to build a competent team capable of winning in the NBA.

It’s getting to a point where the organization could be deemed stagnant if they don’t make any moves this offseason.

Why the New York Knicks shouldn’t even think twice about pursuing Kevin Durant

New York Knicks, Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

After seeing Kevin Durant’s calf vibrate with what looked like a torn Achilles tendon, the New York Knicks fan base once again fell into despair. The emotions of a potential super-star coming to the Big Apple have been overwhelming as of late, but the injury to Durant shouldn’t stop us from seeing those feelings to reality.

With $73 million in cap space, enough to bring in two max-contract players, the Knicks are in a good position heading into the offseason. There are plenty of quality players to choose from, despite Durant being the most sought after of the bunch.

The pursuance of him will continue, as an Achilles tear isn’t as significant as it once was. It generally requires a 30-minute surgery that demands 4-6 months of recovery time. While the tendon may never return to full strength, Durant on a hobbled leg is still better than a majority of players.

If only the Golden State Warriors shut him down in hopes of winning a game down 3-1 in the series without him. Durant likely was the reason they won their most recent game, crawling back to 3-2. Unfortunately, they will have to push forward without him.

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What do the New York Knicks do now?

As for the Knicks, players like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, and Kawhi Leonard all present opportunity. Personally, I’m against the idea of trading for Davis, as it would require the Knicks to give up the 3rd overall pick in the 2019 draft and multiple young talents.

AD simply isn’t worth the price-tag, especially since they would have little depth left on the team and would need to utilize the rest of their money to build around Davis. The reality of a potential deal is this – the Knicks have to decide whether they want to establish around Davis or stay on the current path they’re on and instill confidence in their youth.

The vote should be simple — Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, RJ Barrett potentially, Allonzo Trier, Damyeon Dotson…all of these players represent the future of Knicks basketball.