Two years ago, Knicks fans were ecstatic about the idea of potentially landing one of the best players in the history of the sport, Kevin Durant. Despite coming off a serious injury, Durant has made a full recovery, earning an All-Star appearance last season with Brooklyn.
Over 35 games, Durrant averaged 27 points, 5.6 assists, 7.1 rebounds, and shot 43.7% from the field. He also connected on 45% of his shots from range, averaging 5.4 attempts per game. As one of the most elite scorers in NBA history, Durant also carried Brooklyn during the postseason, postings several games with 40+ points.
The Knicks could’ve used his prowess and production last season paired with Julius Randle. However, they were forced to take a more developmental route, plugging holes with journeyman players like Alec Burks and hoping that veterans like Derrick Rose could elevate the roster via trade.
The Knicks nearly had it all:
According to Marc Berman of the NY Post, the Knicks were ‘pretty close’ to landing both Kemba Walker and Kevin Durant during the 2019 offseason. Durant obviously chose the more quaint option in Brooklyn, nestling in the outskirts rather than taking on the big city lights of Manhattan.
Walker desperately wanted Durant to join him at MSG, filling the two max contract placements the Knicks had available. Unfortunately, Durant had his eyes set on Brooklyn, an up-and-coming team with a bit more swagger. Since Kyrie Irving decided to take his talents to Brooklyn, Durant quickly agreed on the same choice.
However, Walker evidently ended up with the Knicks on a two-year, $17.9 million deal this off-season. Taking a significant pay cut, Walker is looking to resurrect his career after playing in just 43 games last season due to a degenerative knee issue.
Kemba did average nearly 20 points last season, 4.9 assists, and shot 42% from the field. As a four-time All-Star, Walker is more than capable of leading an offensive playing elite level point guard. It’s just a matter of stay healthy and consistent throughout the entire 82 game season, and the Knicks assisted him with retaining Rose for three years as well.
While the team might not have a player as great as Durant, they have awesome depth with plenty of starting talent. If they can play together and balance out their strengths, there’s no question they can be a solid team that competes with Brooklyn next season.
LSU star Cam Thomas is an elite three-level scorer. Will the New York Knicks take a flier on him after a solid workout and meeting?
Cam Thomas is an irreverent scorer. He has irrational confidence reminiscent of the late Kobe Bryant, a cold-blooded scoring assassin in the NBA who went down to become an all-time great.
It’s not hard to see why he wears No. 24 because he grew up idolizing the late Laker legend. Now, he has shifted his eyes on Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker, a known Black Mamba disciple on top of his other current favorite NBA players.
“Throughout the NBA playoffs, I’ve been watching Devin Booker,” Thomas said on Monday during his NBA Draft media availability.
He’s been paying attention to his footwork, the way he glides in the perimeter, and creates space for himself and others. He watches how he launches his threes.
“I like to pick up some of his moves in the midrange and just really trying to look at his game because we play very much alike and similar,” Thomas said.
Aside from Booker, he’s watched a ton of Kyrie Irving and James Harden and a little bit of Bradley Beal. “I really watch those guys a lot and take from them the most,” Thomas said.
This draft class’ microwave scorer has paid attention to the star bucket getters while scouts have often compared him to Lou Williams, a role player whose instant offense off the bench won him three Sixth Man of the Year awards. While it has some weight to it after emerging as a prolific scorer in LSU and nothing much else, Thomas says he’s more than just a three-level scorer.
“I feel like those analyses were totally wrong. It’s just the system I was in. I feel like nobody really knows the room for [my growth] as a player. I’ll just keep going and prove them wrong. I feel like I can do that [in the NBA] because I’ve done it before,” Thomas said.
As LSU’s go-to guy, Thomas led all NCAA freshmen with a 23.3-point scoring average. It was the fourth-highest scoring average by a first-year player on the LSU team behind only Pete Maravich as a sophomore in 1967-68 (43.8), Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf as a freshman in 1988-89 (30.2), and Bob Pettit as a sophomore in 1951-52 (25.5). His 22 20-point games were the most 20-point games of any LSU player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992. He had 16 games of at least 25 points, the most by an SEC freshman in the one-and-done era or since 2006.
But despite those accolades, Thomas isn’t viewed as a lottery pick because of his perceived tunnel vision. He averaged 3.4 rebounds and just 1.4 assists.
Thomas insists he has more to show, and that was just a product of the system he was in college.
“[I wasn’t able to show] really playing without the ball in my hand. I feel like I can do that at the next level,” Thomas said. “Again, getting my teammates involved. I really didn’t show that in LSU because my role is to be the primary scorer. I feel like when I get to the NBA, I have to show that first and then build from there.”
Thomas has always been a scoring machine. He left Oak Hill Academy as the program’s all-time leading scorer surpassing Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. But buried under those eye-popping 26.2-point and 31.5-point scoring averages in his two years there were the identical 3.4 assists he dished out per game.
“I feel really good about [my playmaking],” Thomas said. “Being a scorer kind of opens up for me to make plays for others because everybody worries about me putting the ball in the basket and scoring. Me just having that skill helps up my other skills as far as making plays for others. I just try to attack and get quick buckets.”
Sure, some teams need bucket getters. One of them is the Knicks, who struggled to score when they reached the NBA playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Thomas had the Knicks’ attention. He’s one of the many prospects they invited at their Tarrytown practice facility in New York. But they’re also one of the few teams Thomas met ahead of the NBA Draft. So far, Thomas has met with the Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, and the Memphis Grizzlies aside from the Knicks.
“I met with the Knicks, which was my second workout like a few weeks ago. It went really well,” Thomas said. “I see myself fitting in with the Knicks because I was told they needed a bucket getter, a player who can make plays at the end of the shot clock in a game, it’s just a closer type so I see myself coming in, being the scorer I am, I can help the team.”
Thomas can provide an instant boost to a Knicks offense that relied heavily on Julius Randle last season. The LSU standout came away from that meeting, believing he could have a bright future with the Knicks if ever they pick him.
“Coach Thibs was in the meeting so we talked about the good stuff and it was really a good conversation. I don’t know everybody. But it was a good dialogue.” Thomas said. “I feel like I can fit in really well because he believes I can fit in his system and I feel like I can shoot so… we’ll see on Thursday.”
As he prepares for the NBA Draft on Thursday, Thomas continues to work on his game in between the teams’ workouts trying to improve on everything from scoring to rebounding and playmaking. But on top of that, he’s got two priorities.
“[I’m] just trying to get into shape as much as possible. You’re never in too much shape so I’d like to be in top shape so I can be on the court without being tired. Trying to lock in on the ball defensively, I keep working on that and just those two things. I wouldn’t call those weaknesses because it’s just mental stuff,” he said.
Thomas is a certified bucket getter, but he’s eager to prove he has more to offer.
While he has the late Laker legend’s scoring instincts, his irrational confidence comes from his strong work ethic and military discipline cultivated by his mother, Leslie Thomas, an army veteran.
“I put in a lot of work and for how much I’ve put in, I should be confident,” Thomas said.
The NBA Playoffs’ most talked about sliding door moment never entered Kevin Durant’s mind when he watched Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy from his room in Tokyo, Japan.
Durant and his Brooklyn Nets were reduced to being a footnote of the Bucks’ title run this season.
Kyrie Irving sprained his ankle. James Harden played hurt. Durant came a couple of inches away from eliminating the Bucks. But alas, the basketball gods smiled on the Greek Freak.
“I’m not really [thinking about what could have been],” Durant said on Wednesday after Team USA practice. “You don’t play for moral victories. You only want to be the last team standing in the NBA Finals. We understand how good we are and not just go push the Bucks [to seven games].”
“Our goal is to win it. Unfortunately, we didn’t. Congrats to the Bucks, an amazing team who fought through a lot the last two years to get to this point. I have a lot of respect for them.”
The super team in Brooklyn, which was supposed to steamroll its way to the Nets’ first NBA championship, could not be healthy enough to stay together on the floor.
Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo bucked a hyperextended knee in the playoffs and capped off his dominant NBA Finals run with a 50-piece and five blocks.
Seven years ago, Antetokounmpo promised he would not leave the city without winning a championship. He followed through by signing the supermax extension. The Bucks’ front office repaid his loyalty with boom-or-bust moves, including the botched trade for Bogdan Bognadovic that cost them a second-round pick. The Jrue Holiday trade paled in comparison to the Nets’ all-in move to acquire Harden. But they beat the Nets to the draw in trading for Harden’s former Houston Rockets teammate PJ Tucker.
“It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else,’’ Antetokounmpo said. “I could go — I don’t want to put anybody on the spot — but I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship. But this is the hard way to do it, and this is the way to do it and we f—–g did it.”
Durant was never asked to react to Antetokounmpo’s postgame remark. But he came away impressed with how the Bucks build their championship team.
“It was good to see Milwaukee forming some sort of a dynasty with that team,” Durant said. “I know it’s the first championship. I know a lot of people will call you a dynasty after a few [titles]. The continuity of that team is something that is impressive. How they continue to keep building and adding and now they’re a champion. So you can appreciate that.”
The Bucks are guaranteed to have Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Holiday, and Brook Lopez together until the 2022-23 season. Durant will have another shot at the Bucks next season, provided Brooklyn’s Big 3 will be healthy.
But in a couple of days, he will have to set aside the rivalry and join forces with Middleton and Holiday at Team USA and welcome Phoenix Suns’ rising star Devin Booker, who could still be reeling from that stinging loss, squandering a 2-0 lead, to the squad.
“We got respect for these guys. That experience doesn’t happen to just anybody. You respect those guys that went through that journey,” Durant said.
“You see a young team like Phoenix, who everybody has been counting out in the last five to six years. And now they made themselves into a contender and hopefully become a contender moving forward in the West,” he added.
Durant has been both on the opposite side of the spectrum. Before becoming a multiple NBA champion with the Warriors, Durant, like Booker, lost a young team in Oklahoma City. So he knows the feeling.
But they need Booker to recover quickly. They need Middleton and Holiday to chill down from the euphoria of winning their first championship. They have a mission in Tokyo. A goal that looked vulnerable at the onset with the missing players due to COVID-19 issues and different circumstances.
“I think there will definitely be adjustments just with the quick turnaround. But those guys know what they’re getting into themselves when they made the commitment a few weeks back,” Durant said. “They had an understanding of what this journey is and they have an extra couple of weeks added on to their postseason now. We’re looking forward to those guys coming in and we understand that it will take a while for them to take their legs back under them, calm down from all the hype of the NBA Finals but we can’t wait to incorporate them.”
Durant has already moved on from a lost NBA season. His eyes are set on a different prize.
Despite winning the “Most Improved Player” award this past season, New York Knicks’ power forward Julius Randle didn’t earn much consideration from Team USA to qualify for the Olympic squad.
Randle earned himself his first All-Star caliber performance this year, averaging a career-high 24.1 points, 6.0 assists, and 10.2 rebounds per game. He shot 45.6% from the field and 41% from range, proving to be a bonafide star for a team that desperately needed a leader and dominant force.
There’s no question that Randle deserved an opportunity to play for Team USA, who instead rolled with center JaVale McGee, who offers more defensive prowess. Randle was also adequate on defense this past season, with the capabilities to play center, averaging nearly a steal per game and 0.3 blocks. While offense was obviously his MO, he averaged 37.6 minutes and played in 71 games, a reliable figure that deserves more praise.
“KD texted his dad: What you think about Brooklyn?” Sullivan wrote in his new book. “Like his agent, KD’s occasionally estranged father, Wayne Pratt, was a Knicks fan. When Wayne told his son that he’d taken a video-conference call from the Knicks executives Steve Mills and Scott Perry, and that the Knicks were trying to turn away KD’s interest from Brooklyn before free agency had officially begun, the father-son text chain blew up with expletives. KD didn’t think it was on anyone to mess with his personal freedom.
“Plus, this Knicks meeting seemed to be a violation of the NBA’s rules against tampering, to “entice, induce or persuade” one player under contract to sign somewhere.”
After a frustrated Durant confronted his father, it led to a heated exchange.
“Let me explain one f****** thing to you, his dad responded,” Sullivan wrote. “Don’t you ever question my integrity. There’s nobody more important in this world when it comes to you THAN YOU.}
Well, why can’t I do something different?
The Knicks is Mecca, KD’s dad declared. If you want to do it, do it big! If you want to be a New Yorker, be a Knick!”
Despite Durant’s obvious desire to play for Brooklyn, it was the bright lights of MSG and prominent platform that scared him away from being a Knick.
“New York City was the Mecca of basketball, and KD wanted to live there. But he felt like Brooklyn was his vibe: “chill, on the low, all-black everything.” He’d been eyeing the Nets for years now, and they him,” Sullivan added. “Dad shot back: Are you doing this just for Kyrie cuz he your buddy?
No, KD replied. He was making this decision for himself.”
If Durant had chosen to sign with the Knicks two years ago, they would’ve had a fantastic duo with Randle and the perennial All-NBA. This season, he averaged 26.9 points, 5.6 assists, 7.1 rebounds, and shot 53.7% from the field and 45% from range over 5.4 attempts per game. Of course, Durant is one of the best players to ever live and arguably the best offensive weapon to ever step foot on a basketball court, but his desire to stay low-key and off the grid clearly played into his decision.
Hopefully, President Leon Rose can draw attention from big names this off-season, especially with plenty of money to throw around and a playoff appearance to present a convincing factor.
Ben Simmons missed an entire season. Brook Lopez missed 100 games. Kevin Durant only played 27 games during the 2014-15 season.
History suggests that New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson could be facing an uphill climb in his recovery from his latest injury.
Lopez, Simmons, and Durant were the latest NBA players standing 6-10 and above who successfully recovered from a fractured fifth metatarsal in their foot or most commonly known as Jones fracture, which Robinson suffered last week.
Likely done for the season
On Monday, the Knicks announced that he had a successful surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. The team did not offer any timetable for his recovery.
Dr. Martin O’Malley, HSS’s noted NBA players’ orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery on the three players mentioned above and likely on Robinson, begged off to comment on this story.
But a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist offered a bleak forecast of a Robinson comeback this season.
“If [Knicks] were being cautious, then yes [Robinson is likely done for the season]. Of course, it depends on the severity, but to undergo foot surgery this late in the season is typically season-ending. If he plays, it may be restricted play (minute restriction/load management). However, I don’t know if they’d want to do that with a young, dynamic player,” Dr. Ernest Eusebio told Empire Sports Media.
The recovery can take an entire year, according to Dr. Eusebio, the founder of the Jersey City-based Wolves Performance & Lifestyle Collective, an all-encompassing high-performance consultancy providing solutions in Professional Sport, Entertainment, & Fortune 500.
“It could very well be 9-12 months until he returns to the court unrestricted, pending success of rehab & player’s ability to return to NBA shape,” he said. “[Knicks] said his surgery was successful, which could mean at best he may be back for the offseason in 4-6 months, but that does not necessarily mean playing time due to the nature of the game,” Dr. Eusebio said. “Full recovery is typically a 6-9 month window.”
Dr. Eusebio, who has worked with NBA, MLB, NFL athletes, and Olympians, is not discounting the possibility of a postseason return for Robinson, giving him a 3-4 month time frame for recovery.
“It would be amazing to see him late in the first round of the playoffs, and it wouldn’t surprise me with [Tom Thibodeau]. But I believe it’s more likely that he plays in the second round if the Knicks make it which will be a huge asset,” he added.
Pau Gasol was another 7-footer who had the same injury when he was 26. He returned in four months in 2006. But Memphis put him in a 25-minute restriction. Former Washington Wizards’ 6-11 forward Andray Blatche also broke his foot in late June of 2010 and was back in early October for the training camp.
What is Jones fracture?
Dr. Eusebio, who earned the “Best in Patient Care” award from the American Health Council in 2018, explained that the regional blood supply in that area isn’t the greatest. That’s why a surgical repair is necessary to return to high levels of performance.
“A fifth metatarsal fracture that requires surgery is more often than not a Jones fracture, which hints that a break may have occurred along the shaft of the bone, proximal to the base,” explained Dr. Ernest Eusebio.
“This is an unfortunate injury to deal with as an explosive player due to the foot’s vital role in jumping and running. Rehab is usually initiated non-weight bearing, and as pain decreases and bone healing occurs, Mitchell [Robinson] should be progressively loading his foot and sports specific movements accordingly – which can take some time,” Dr. Eusebio added.
The average missed time in the NBA for this type of injury is roughly 39 games, according to sports injury expert and certified athletic trainer Jeff Stotts who operates the website instreetclothes.com, which breaks down typical sports injuries for the fans. But as history suggests, the recovery period is longer for big men.
If there’s one thing going for Robinson, it’s his age. The 7-foot-center just turned 23 Thursday.
Simmons was 20 when he broke his foot. Durant was 26 when he had Jones fracture and was coming off his MVP season. Lopez was the same age as Robinson when he suffered the injury.
The injury’s timing couldn’t come at the worst possible time as the Knicks are in the thick of a playoff hunt, and Robinson is eligible for a contract extension this summer.
Robinson, who has been durable in his first two seasons —only missing a total of 21 games—has already undergone surgery twice this season. The Knicks went 9-6 without him earlier in the season while recovering from a broken hand. They have lost their last two games since he went down with his latest injury, which he suffered in Milwaukee ironically against Lopez.
The Knicks have signed Norvel Pelle to a 10-day contract for their 14th roster spot as insurance if Nerlens Noel or Taj Gibson misses time. They have pivoted from Andre Drummond, who eventually signed with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, because they are still holding out hope on Robinson.
While it may take longer to recover, there’s no evidence to suggest that Robinson will not return his old form.
Lopez, Durant, and Simmons all survived and thrived after the injury. Only Rasheed Wallace, who was 38 and at the tail end of his career in 2013 with the Knicks, was forced to retire because of the same type of injury.
A study on NBA players who suffered Jones fracture from 1994 to 2013 has encouraging results for Robinson.
“Four of the 26 (15%) players did not return to play in a subsequent NBA game after the season in which a Jones fracture was sustained. Twenty-four of 26 (92%) athletes were treated with operative fixation, and three players (12%) underwent secondary reoperation. Recurrence of the injury was experienced by five players (19%),” said the study published online in 2015 in the national library of medicine.
Lopez and Durant were the fourth and fifth NBA players who had re-surgery. Durant even had a third surgery. Simmons avoided it after he underwent a bone marrow injection.
Robinson’s value takes a hit
Robinson has a $1.8 million team option, which the Knicks will likely exercise next season to make him a restricted free agent and buy them some more time to evaluate him.
Some teams were interested in trading for Robinson at the trade deadline, according to Begley. Those teams will likely take a wait-and-see approach after this latest setback in the young big man’s career.
Certainly, Robinson’s market value has taken a hit with his latest injury. But that should be further from Robinson’s mind as he needs to focus on his recovery. His performance after this injury will dictate his next contract—whether that will be with the Knicks or another team.
With Randle leading the way, the Knicks led from start to finish. The first-time All-Star already had a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds) in the first half alone as the Knicks sat on a 13-point halftime lead, 59-46.
New York extended the lead to 19, heading into the fourth quarter. The undermanned Pistons put up a token resistance in the final period cutting the lead to nine, but RJ Barrett quickly restored a double-digit lead with a three-pointer.
Randle bullied his way to 27 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists, becoming the first player in Knicks history to have 800 points, 400 rebounds, and 200 assists at the All-Star break, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Aside from that milestone, the 26-year old forward also recorded his 10th game with at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, the second-most in franchise history. He needs five more to tie the franchise record held by Bob McAdoo, which he did during the 1977-78 season.
“We’re growing as a team, growing as a unit,’’ Randle told Rebecca Haarlow after the game. “We got to go into the break and stay ready because the second half will be a beast. The first half was great for us, but we know we can keep improving and get better as a team, and we will.’’
The Knicks took care of business in the first half of the season, winning 12 games against losing teams and scoring victories against some playoff-caliber teams. They routed Golden State and Boston on the road and Milwaukee at home while beating Indiana twice.
But it will get tougher after the All-Star break.
The Knicks will play 26 of their last 35 games against playoff-contending teams, starting with a tough road trip in Milwaukee next Thursday followed by visits in Oklahoma, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia.
But before they get tested, this night was all about the Knicks punctuating a terrific first half of the season, which pundits never saw coming.
The Knicks’ turnaround wasn’t only about Randle. Collectively, this team emerged from the long years of dysfunction and incompetence.
They learned to play for each other under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau. Thursday night’s encore against the Pistons was another testament to that.
Derrick Rose missed his second straight game due to COVID-19 health and protocols, but Elfrid Payton returned to the starting unit with aplomb.
Payton directed the Knicks’ offense which became stagnant in their 119-93 loss to the Spurs earlier. He was active on both ends of the floor, collecting 20 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals, and a block in a complete performance. Payton tied Reggie Bullock, who had 12 markers, for the night’s highest net rating with +17.
All five starters finished in double figures, with Barrett scoring 21 points on 9-of-13 shots. The Canadian swingman, chosen as one of the Rising Stars for the second straight year, added four boards and five dimes.
Nerlens Noel continued to provide a defensive spark with Mitchell Robinson (fractured hand) and Taj Gibson (ankle injury) still sidelined. He stuffed the stats sheet with 12 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, four steals, and two blocks while shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the field.
Dennis Smith, Jr. returned to New York for the first time since he got traded for Rose and scored 12 points in a starting role. Another ex-Knick, Wayne Ellington, who spent last season in New York, led the Pistons with 17 points.
It was a fitting send-off for Randle, who was selected and praised by one of the All-Star captains, Kevin Durant, also the leader of the championship-caliber team in Brooklyn, just across the borough.
Bannering Team Durant are starters Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal, and Durant’s replacement Jayson Tatum.
Randle joins James Harden, Devin Booker, Zion Williamson, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and Donovan Mitchell as reserves.
Randle will also compete in the Skills Challenge while Knicks rookie Obi Toppin hopes to end his dull first half with a bang in the Slam Dunk competition as a springboard to the second half of the season.
The trade which Harden pushed so hard since the offseason escalated quickly after his zoom interview last night.
“We’re not even close, honestly, to, obviously, the defending champions (Lakers) and all the other elite teams out there,” Harden said. “I mean, you can tell the difference in these last two games.
“Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It’s clear. I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. It’s crazy. I don’t think it can be fixed. Thanks.”
The Rockets eventually caved in to his trade demand.
Reunion in Brooklyn
Harden is now reunited with Durant, his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate.
The Nets got much-needed firepower after losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending injury. An uneven start forced the Nets to mortgage their future for the present. It didn’t help that Irving also went on leave due to personal reasons.
The trade, though, left the Nets’ bench gutted.
They have three more spots to fill. Look out for Jamal Crawford’s name to be linked to the Nets anew. Crawford played for the Nets in the Orlando bubble.
The Rockets, meanwhile, can now move forward from the drama that engulfed the team up to this point.
Oladipo will team up with John Wall at the backcourt.
The Rockets endured a volatile offseason with Harden instigating a ‘holdout’ in the training camp. That caused him to miss the beginning of training camp and their first two preseason games. He was subsequently fined for violating the league’s health protocols.
On the other hand, the Cavaliers got an emerging young center in Allen. He will serve as their center of the future with Andre Drummond set to hit free agency.
In 2020, we learned just how small sports were on the grand scale. Even so, these New Yorkers brought hope and joy to the beleaguered area.
Ah, 2020…we knew ye too well.
“Auld Lang Syne” will hit a little differently this New Year’s Eve, as the country and the world entire prepares to bid farewell to one of the most brutal 366-day cycles in recent memory. The year even took away sports at one point in time, which might’ve almost been seen as a merciful act considering the modern endeavors of New York sports. Metropolitan athletics have consistently fallen far short of their inflated expectations. Save for the New York Islanders’ surprise trip to the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals, each of New York’s teams either endured early postseason exits or missed out entirely.
Yet, there were several names in the sports world, before and after the period of pause and reflection, that gave the metropolitan area hope in this brutal season. ESM bids farewell with 20 legends…
So brutal were metropolitan affiars this season that we had to turn to our friends in Western New York. But, unless you’re a Jets who has two annual meetings with Allen to dread for the foreseeable future, it’s hard not to appreciate what Allen has done for the Bills’ franchise, defying draft day expectations out of Wyoming and playing a vital role in ending their 17-year playoff drought and turning them into Super Bowl contenders. Entering Sunday’s regular season final against Miami (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Allen has broken Jim Kelly’s record for most touchdown passes in a single season of Bills football (34) and is within striking distance of Drew Bledsoe’s yardage record of the same variety. Allen has also taken home six Offensive Player of the Week Awards in his career (four this season), second only to the ten earned by the aforementioned Kelly.
As the New York Islanders go through a period of both transition and prosperity…being one of the rare metropolitan teams to experience postseason success in 2020…Barzal has evolved into a face of the franchise, taking over from the Toronto-based John Tavares. Appropriately, it was Barzal that informed the hockey world that the Islanders were going to be a problem in the bubble, scoring the game-winning goal in the their 2-1 win over Washington in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, a tally that gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead in the series. Ironically, Barzal’s moment of glory came in Tavares’ current stomping grounds of Scotiabank Arena.
The New York Jets have a lot of questions to answer once the calendar officially flips. But Becton, the Jets’ first-round choice (11th overall) out of Louisville is crossing one need off their offseason shopping list. Called upon to protect Sam Darnold’s blindside, Becton has become one of the most dominant young blockers in football, ranking at or near the top of several analytical rookie lists. The Jets aren’t quite sure who their quarterback is going come next September. They do know, however, that Becton will be serving as his security.
Formerly under general manager Dave Gettleman’s watch in Carolina, Bradberry came to New York with relatively little fanfare. He has since gone on to become one of the biggest reasons why the Giants have a shot at anotherwise inexplicable playoff spot. Bradberry has done his part to make sure that Big Blue is at least well represented in the SportsCenter Top 10, making several acrobatic interceptions that led to his first Pro Bowl nomination.
A lot of adjustment was required to make it through 2020, but the Mets remained their same disappointing selves, tying with the defending champion Washington Nationals for last place in the NL East. But, thanks to new owner Cohen, there’s legitimate hope in the organization for the first time in ages. The Great Neck-born hedge fund manager has immediately endeared himself to fans with promises to use his surplus budget in free agency (which manifested early with the signing of James McCann), his willingness to clean house shortly after his arduous purchase was completed, and his lighthearted interactions with supporters on Twitter.
The shortened seasons denied Yankees fans the full Cole experience in the early going, but it’s safe to say the newly minted $324 million man lived up to the hype. He saved the best for last, earning a 1.00 ERA over four starts in September and later struck out 13 without a walk in the Yankees’ Wild Card Series win over Cleveland. Such a feat had been accomplished since Tom Seaver’s endeavor in the 1973 NLCS.
The trade for Diggs feels like it happened years ago, as do all the tweets and thoughtpieces that claim the Bills gave up too much for the former Minnesota Viking. But the Minneapolis Miracle worker has made the four-pick exchange worth it, even erasing the fact that the Bills missed out on rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. Like Allen, Diggs is rewriting the Bills’ record book, breaking Eric Moulds’ former marks for single-season for receptions (120) and yardage (1,459). Both of tallies lead the NFL entering the final week of the regular season.
Brooklyn Nets fans received a bit of a special Christmas gift this year, as they were finally treated to Kevin Durant’s debut in black and white. Teamed up with Kyrie Irving, the ten-time All-Star hasn’t lost a step, putting 28.3 points and 5.8 rebounds over his first four games. Durant apparently saved the best for first, torching his former compatriots from Golden State for 22 points on opening night before scoring 29 in a Christmas win over Boston.
The draft lottery has turned into a cruel custom for the blue and orange hardwood representatives in New York, but the Liberty hit the jackpot with the drafting of Ionescu in April. The city didn’t get the full Ionescu treatment in her rookie season, with an ankle injury limiting her metropolitan antics to three games. But the Oregon alumna is on pace to be a true face of women’s sports in the area, with her jersey sales ranking fourth in the WNBA this season. Ionescu gave her new Brooklyn fanbase something to be excited about before fate stepped in, scoring 33 points in only her second career contest.
Irving’s 2020 heroics likewise required patience. He partook in only 20 games during the shortened 2019-20 campaign (none of them during the Nets’ endeavor in Disney World) but managed to drop 54 points (on 19-of-23 shooting from the field) in a January win over Chicago. Irving likewise emerged as one of the most vocal voices in social change alongside his basketball brothers and sisters. He was more than willing to carry on his basketball antics on the court once he was ready to get rolling again, torching the Celtics for 37 points on Christmas.
Perhaps no one defined the 2020 New York Liberty sense of resiliency and development better than Jones. Bookending the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft with Ionescu, Jones took full advantage of relatively consequence-free basketball, making herself essential when the Liberty’s plethora of veterans potentially return in 2021. The Louisville alumna took over point guard duties after Ionescu went down, resuming a role she last played during her high school days at Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School. She put up 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, earning a spot on the league’s official all-rookie team.
Signer of a six-year deal to remain an Islander before the season started, Nelson became one of the team’s most reliable and clutch performers during their run to the conference finals. He scored three game-winning goals and finished second on the team in postseason points with 18.
New York Guardians Defense
The second attempt at XFL feels like an endeavor from years ago, but briefly took over the February calendar with a slate that wound up lasting five games. It allowed MetLife Stadium to enjoy at least some form of victorious football, as the local Guardians won each of their two games at the venue. Their defense was particularly strong, as Cavon Walker led the league in sacks (4.5) and six different defenders earned at least one interception.
If there was ever a year to not take risks, 2020 was certainly at, or at least near, the top of the list. Despite Panarin’s many talents, many saw the Rangers’ seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the former Blue Jacket (a smaller price tag after Panarin spurned the Islanders) as too much dedication to a single player. But Panarin lived up to the massive deal, finishing off the shortened season with a career-best 95 points (good for a third-place tie on the NHL ledger).
As a Rutgers alum, New Jersey native, and the man who took Tom Brady’s final New England throw back for a touchdown, Ryan seemed destined for a metropolitan collaboration. The Giants took the plunge shortly before the season began, and Ryan has rewarded them with a strong showing that has included good coverage, 91 tackles, and an interception that clinched the season sweep against Washington (which will come up big if the two sides tie for the NFC lead after Sunday). It has been an emotional season for Ryan, whose wife Ashley endured an ectopic pregnancy. Ryan later inked a three-year deal to stay with the Giants on Christmas Day.
The National Women’s Soccer League was the first North American team sports league to make its return this summer, staging its annual Challenge Cup festivities in Utah. Sky Blue FC, their debut season at Red Bull Arena pushed back due to obvious reasons, had struggled in recent years but put on a strong showing with a fourth-place finish. Sheridan was the driving force behind the effort, winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award to the tune of three shutouts. Sky Blue also had a respectable showing in the NWSL’s fall showcase, earning a matching fourth-place mark.
Wishing someone association with the James Dolan-owned sounds like a punishment one would avoid giving their worst enemy…at least their worst hardwood enemy. Thibodeau, however, returns to the ranks of head coaching to face what’s his toughest challenge yet. But, unlike his predecessors, it appears Thibodeau has a plan for the Knicks moving forward, seeking to change the culture and build a team-centered atmosphere. So far, it’s played in the Knicks’ favor. The team has played competitively in the infantile stages of the season, sitting at 2-2 after the first four games (including a dominant win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee). They’ll have chance to end the season on the right note on Friday night against Toronto (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG).
The jokes against Islander goaltending officially ended, or were at least put on hold, through Varlamov’s efforts. He came up with several big saves during the playoff trek and was one of only six goalies inside the Canada bubbles to record multiple shutouts. His 2.14 goals against average was also fourth amongst goalies with at least 10 playoff starts.
Williams retook control of the narrative surrounding his career, as many felt he was destined to be a bust after struggling in his rookie season (and with Pro Bowler Josh Allen going shortly after him). But Williams responded with a stellar sophomore season, leading all interior defensive linemen in both traditional and analytical categories as one of the most consistent backfield invaders in the league.
Zibanejad is perhaps responsible for the most dominant one-man effort of the 2020 sports season, tallying a jaw-dropping five goals, including the overtime winner in a March win over the Capitals. The yield from one of the biggest robberies in New York sports memory (the biggest loss being Derick Brassard to Ottawa in the trade), Zibanejad again put up his best numbers despite a shutdown, scoring 41 goals (fifth in the league) in 57 games.
The Brooklyn Nets may not be undefeated, but after going 2-1 in their first three regular-season games, Nets fans should be extremely excited about what they’ve seen thus far. The first two games were a breeze. Their game on Sunday night against the Charlotte Hornets? Not so much. Let’s take a closer look at how the Brooklyn Nets have performed this early in the season and what they will need to do moving forward in order to win the East and potentially an NBA title.
In their first two games against Golden State and Boston, the Nets averaged 124 points while limiting their opponents to less than 100. We can get into the offense in a minute, but their smothering defense allowed them to pull away in both games. Against Golden State, they held Steph to 7/21 from the field and held the Golden State Warriors to 30% from 3pt land and 37% from the field. The Nets shot 32 free throws compared to the Warriors 23, and the game was over by halftime. All 5 starters were a +20 or more, and the Kyrie (26 points) and KD (22 points) tandem on offense were virtually unstoppable. Caris came in and poured 20 off the bench, and every single player that saw the floor scored, with the exception of Tyler Johnson.
Against Boston, the story was much of the same. While the 1st half was much closer than the Golden State game, the Nets held Boston to just 23 points in the 3rd and 18 points in the 4th before pulling away in the 4th quarter. The Nets’ length on defense made life miserable for Jayson Tatum, who finished 9-22 from the field with 20 points. The only other two Celtics players in double figures were Jaylen Brown with 27 and Marcus Smart with 13. The Nets held the Celtics to 29% from three-point range. On offense, Kyrie and KD continued their dominance, scoring respectively 37 and 29. LeVert was the only other Net in double figures with 10, and Joe Harris finished with 9. The intensity and execution the Nets demonstrated from start to finish prompted an extremely complimentary quote from Marcus Smart, who said:
Marcus Smart on the Nets: "They force you to be almost perfect."
Obviously, as talented as this Nets team is, nobody believed they would go 72-0. It was only a matter of time before they lost a game and truly showed us some of their flaws. Many just didn’t think it would come against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday night. From the jump, the Nets looked a step behind and lacked the intensity they played within the first two games. The Nets had 19 turnovers compared to the Hornets 12, lost in the rebounding category by 6, and failed to score more than 30 points in any quarter. The Hornets not only out-played the Nets, but they also out-hustled them, too, getting to almost every loose ball and grabbing 13 offensive boards. The Nets were unable to slow down Hayward, who led the Hornets with 28 points going 12-30 from the field, and P.J. Washington was a nightmare on the glass, grabbing 12 rebounds to go along with 14 points. Even Kyrie’s former teammate in Boston, Terry Rozier, finished with 19 points and a highlight-reel slam dunk over Kevin Durant.
Down 16 points in the 4th quarter, Brooklyn showed their resilience by cutting the deficit to just two points with less than 20 seconds remaining. Durant, who finished with 29 points, had a chance to tie the game off a baseline mid-range jumper over Biyombo, but much like the rest of the game, it didn’t go the Nets’ way and rimmed out. Kyrie poured in 25 points and 6 assists but had 4 turnovers as well. Joe Harris, who the Nets have gotten involved in the offense very early on in their first three games, finished with 13 points going 5-12 from the field and 3-7 from the three-point range. Brooklyn’s 2nd unit, led by Caris LeVert, who was a -12 on the court, was extremely disappointing in this one and let the Hornets take a commanding lead early in the 4th. To sum it up nicely, the Nets didn’t show up for this one.
No professional sports season goes the exact way a team plans it will. Unforeseen events occur, and the coaches/GM/players make adjustments throughout a season. Heck, if you want a good example of this, just look at the NFC East in the NFL! The Brooklyn Nets are no different and are in the midst of seeing several unexpected events play out.
Easily the worst post-game news to come from their game against Charlotte was the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie. After going down in the 3rd quarter, it was announced shortly after the game that Dinwiddie had suffered a partially torn ACL in his right knee, requiring surgery, and he would be out the rest of the season. This is a huge blow for the Nets, as Dinwiddie had started each game this season as the #2 guard next to Kyrie, and it seemed as though he was started to play better in his new role.
With Dinwiddie getting hurt, that led to an opportunity for a Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot or “TLC,” who had been buried on the depth chart and hadn’t even received much time with the second unit. TLC got Dinwiddie’s minutes in the 4th quarter and was fantastic, playing great defense and going 4-4 from the field (3-3 from three-point range) and finishing with 11 points. If anything good could come out of this awful news regarding Dinwiddie’s knee, it is that TLC might be a guy Nash will want to give more minutes to, especially since Taurean Prince and Landry Shamet have both struggled mightily in the first three games.
What we have learned so far:
-KD and Kyrie are BACK. There is not a better duo in the East than those two. They can each get to wherever they want on the court and complement each other’s games very nicely. On the last play of the Charlotte game, fans saw a Kyrie/KD pick and roll, resulting in KD’s miss to tie the game. That play may become deadly as the two become more familiar playing with one another.
-The Nets 2nd unit isn’t as dominant as we assumed it would be. LeVert has had 2 back-to-back mediocre games and needs to do a better job of leading the team when KD/Kyrie is not on the floor. Taurean Prince has been flat out awful, and Shamet has been disappointing. Jarrett Allen has been the most consistent player in the 2nd unit.
-When the Nets don’t play with urgency and focus on defense, they could be beaten by any team in this league.
-Head Coach Steve Nash has not quite mastered these rotations just yet
What we still don’t know:
-Who will start in Dinwiddie’s place; will it be Caris LeVert? Landry Shamet? Or did TLC earn the chance to start?
-Are the Nets still interested in trading for James Harden?
-Will Deandre Jordan eventually get demoted to the 2nd unit so Jarrett Allen can start?
-Will the Nets begin to rest KD and Kyrie soon to manage their playing time?
The Nets (2-1) play the Memphis Grizzlies (0-2) at home tonight at 7:30 pm EST. Kevin Durant will be sitting out this game.
If you’re a follower of Brooklyn Nets news, then you have probably seen the video of Kyrie Irving burning sage prior to the Nets’ final preseason game against the Celtics last night. Irving explained after the game, his “smudging” was meant to cleanse the energy in the arena but to0 many Nets fans, it may have had a slightly different meaning; a fresh start. Not since the early 2000s have Nets, fans had a team with this much hype and excitement around them. With a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, returning key contributors in Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen, and adding Landry Shamet and Jeff Green in the offseason to round out this roster, stakes could not be higher for the Brooklyn Nets as we approach the regular season.
Breaking Down the Nets Final Preseason Game
Kevin Durant Shows Out
While the first preseason game belonged to Kyrie, Durant stole the show against the Celtics last night, scoring 25 points on 9-16 from the field in 27 minutes of action. Whether it was the pull-up three, blowing by his defender for the dunk at the rim, or the un-guardable mid-range shot, Durant showed to everyone last night that he hasn’t lost a step. But elite offense wasn’t the only feature Durant showcased last night; he also led the Nets with 3 blocks, several of them coming at the rim. If this is the Kevin Durant Nets fans will get this season, barring any health setbacks, then there aren’t many teams in the East who can claim their #1 is better than Brooklyn’s.
Kyrie Continues to Lead
There have been several instances throughout the first two pre-season games where Kyrie Irving has shown his leadership among teammates. Yesterday, there were two specific scenarios. One came shortly after a Spencer Dinwiddie drive to the basket, of which there was contact with his defender but no call. This became a reoccurring theme for Dinwiddie throughout the night, as there were not many fouls called on his behalf. After a particularly physical drive, Dinwiddie was visually frustrated on the ground after not receiving the call, and an encouraging Kyrie Irving came over to him to pick him up. Seems subtle and small, but those are the types of actions that good teammates and leaders exhibit on a nightly basis.
The second moment came from Irving leading by example. After the Celtics went on a mini-run midway through the game, Tatum had just finished a sequence in which he had scored 5 straight points and rejected Spencer Dinwiddie on his drive to the rim. With the Nets only leading by 9, the smallest lead since the beginning of the game, Irving demanded the ball with Tatum covering him, immediately took him to the lane, and scored on a beautiful floater. You could feel the Celtics’ momentum vanish as the Nets would go on a scoring run of their own after that moment. These are the types of momentum swings that leaders like Kyrie and KD have to execute in order for the Nets to be dominant. Kyrie finished with 17 pts, 5 assists, and 7 rebs in 28 minutes.
Role Players who Impressed
There were several Nets outside of KD and Kyrie who performed exceptionally last night. Joe Harris had a huge “remember me guys?” moment early on in the game and finished with 14 points. Dinwiddie looked efficient with the starters, despite a 1-7 shooting night, picking his spots on when he should attack and when he should defer to the two stars on the team. And Jarrett Allen continued his excellent play in backing up Deandre Jordan (will return to shortly) with a stat line of 9 pts and 11 rebs. As for the two newcomers in Jeff Green and Landry Shamet, they have given Steve Nash some excellent minutes thus far. Shamet has looked sharp with the 2nd unit and moves well without the ball. Green, playing at the 5, has given the Nets a small-ball lineup with all 5 players on the court capable of hitting a three. TLC gave the Nets 11 solid minutes off the bench and has fought hard this preseason to crack this Nets rotation.
Preseason Summary & Remaining Roster questions
Obviously, the biggest story out of the Nets’ two preseason games has been how great Kyrie and KD have both looked. There needs to be something said about the fact that these guys complement each other’s games very nicely. KD can play with anybody, and Kyrie now feels he has an equal scoring counterpart on his team (sorry, Lebron). The supporting cast has looked exceptional, and Nash has done a great job of mixing and matching rotations in hopes of generating an optimal five players throughout the game. The Nets have dominated their opponents in both preseason games, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions about this team headed into the regular season.
For example, who will start at the center position, Deandre Jordan or Jarrett Allen? In two preseason games, Coach Nash has yet to insert Jarrett Allen into the starting lineup. Now, this is where many Nets fans have disagreed with Nash; anyone with eyes can see Allen has the ability to contribute much more than Jordan, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, the narrative is that because Jordan has a close-knit friendship with KD and Kyrie, he will continue to start over Allen. This is something that may change if the Nets go on a losing skid early on in the season.
Another question Nash will have to answer is who will start alongside Kyrie, Spencer Dinwiddie, or Caris LeVert? Yesterday, we saw Dinwiddie get the start, who seemed to mesh well with Kyrie and KD despite the off shooting night. LeVert led the 2nd unit and eventually would get some time with KD and Kyrie in the 3rd. While it seemed as though Nash’s strategy worked as LeVert managed to score 18 points in 21 minutes, the Nets are still unsure on who will start and who will come off the bench between the two.