Knicks: Taj Gibson returns, Nerlens Noel doubtful to play vs Magic

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Taj Gibson is expected to make his season debut for the New York Knicks Sunday night against the Orlando Magic.

Gibson missed the Knicks’ first two games after becoming a first-time father last Friday. Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel remains doubtful to play against the Magic. Noel has been nursing knee soreness though coach Tom Thibodeau hinted that he’s near to returning to the active lineup.

But even without their top two backup centers, the Knicks were too much for the rebuilding Magic. The Knicks set a franchise-record 24 three-pointers in a 121-96 victory over the Magic for their first 2-0 start in nine years.

“This is a very good Knicks basketball team. A very tough, physical basketball team,” Magic’s rookie coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday’s embarrassing loss to the Knicks. “We got spread out a little bit too much… because (the Knicks) spread the floor so well. We talked about the guys that they have that are individually very talented. And they were, early on, were making the extra pass and knocking down shots.”

The Knicks’ offense had been juiced up by the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier and their small-ball lineup during non-Mitchell Robinson minutes.

It will be interesting to watch how Thibodeau will balance his rotation once Gibson and Noel return.

Julius Randle and the much-improved sophomore Obi Toppin have played together for 23 minutes during the Knicks’ impressive 2-0 start. The Randle-Toppin lineups have outscored their opponents by 21.

Robinson has also been stellar since his return from a foot injury. The 23-year old center averages 8.5 points on a staggering 80 percent shooting from the field, 13 rebounds, 1.5 assists, one block in 31.5 minutes.

Against the Magic, the third-youngest team in the league whose roster’s average age is 24.7 years, there is no rush to bring back Noel.

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Knicks big men Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson out vs Magic

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New York Knicks‘ centers Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson will not play against the Orlando Magic Friday night, coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters before tipoff.

Noel is still nursing a sore left knee, but Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said he’s close to returning. He has now missed six straight games dating back to the preseason.

According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Gibson, who became a father last Tuesday, made the trip to Orlando but will not play for the second straight game.

Thibodeau will likely start Mitchell Robinson, who had a monster season debut (11 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks), at center with rookie Jericho Sims backing him up.

Against a very young Orlando team that will start Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter, Jr. in the paint, Thibodeau will have another chance to experiment with the small-ball lineup that was effective against the Boston Celtics.

The Knicks have outscored the Celtics by 12 points during the 16 minutes Julius Randle, and Obi Toppin played together.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic will be missing four players led by key players Markelle Fultz (knee) and Jonathan Isaac (knee), who are still recuperating from their injuries. Joining them in the sickbay are Chuma Okeke (hip) and Michael Carter-Williams (ankle).

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No ‘MotorCade’ in the Garden: Cunningham will sit out Knicks-Pistons game

After two impressive preseason victories, the New York Knicks will head into Wednesday’s game as the overwhelming favorites when they host the Cade Cunningham-less Detroit Pistons.

Cunningham, the No.1 overall pick, has yet to see action for the Pistons in the preseason after suffering a mild ankle injury during the training camp.

Pistons coach Dwayne Casey earlier said there’s no timetable on Cunningham’s return. And it remains that way heading into a preseason matchup against the rampaging Knicks.

“We’re not gonna rush Cade back,” Casey said after Tuesday’s practice. “When he comes back, it doesn’t mean he’s ready to go & throw him out there and see what happens. He’s too valuable for us. Whatever it is, we’ll sit down with his team, the medical team, myself, and Troy (Weaver) & map out a plan.”

The Pistons will be missing seven players, including Killian Hayes, who is out due to concussion protocol. Saddiq Bey (ankle) and Rudy McGruder (hip) are questionable, while Hamidou Diallo is probable.

Without Cunningham, the Pistons have split their first two games.

On the other hand, the Knicks are already in mid-season form. Buoyed up by hot outside shooting, the Knicks have picked up easy wins in their first two preseason assignments with an average 19.5-point margin.

The Knicks are averaging 17.5 made three-pointers, the second-best mark in the preseason behind the Golden State Warriors’ 21.5 per game.

While the other teams in the East are missing their key players due to injuries and COVID-19 protocols, the Knicks are relatively healthy.

In addition to the Pistons’ situation, elsewhere around the league, the Boston Celtics are missing Al Horford and Jaylen Brown, who tested positive for COVID-19. Gordon Hayward of the Charlotte Hornets also entered the health and safety protocols. Philadelphia 76ers have yet to resolve the Ben Simmons saga, although the disgruntled star showed up Monday at Wells Fargo Center before the 76ers-Brooklyn Nets preseason game. The Nets have also announced earlier today that they are keeping Kyrie Irving away from the team until he gets the vaccine in accordance with New York’s mandate.

“That’s the beauty of sports,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after Tuesday’s practice. “When you think about it, it’s like you go into a season and you don’t know how it’s going to unfold.”

“Things can change very quickly in this league. They can go from being bad to going really well very quickly and they can do the opposite. So, you could be sailing along smoothly, and then all of a sudden, you can get derailed by one injury. And so, that’s part of sports. The idea is to practice, improve and play your best down the stretch. And then you let the chips fall where they may once you get there.”

Only Mitchell Robinson is listed out for the Knicks. But he’s progressing in his recovery timeline, participating in some contact drills at practice after more than six months since undergoing surgery to repair a fractured foot.

Nerlens Noel, who missed the first two preseason games due to soreness on his right knee, has practiced in the last two days. His status for Wednesday’s game is questionable.

“I think it’s more of a hamstring than knee (issue),” Nerlens Noel said after Tuesday’s practice. “But making sure we tread lightly, making sure there are no setbacks. The most important part of the season is [Games] 1 through 82 so I’m going to lock it in.”

Julius Randle will also be back after skipping the Knicks’ road win in Washington over the weekend after his wife Kendra delivered their second child Friday night.

If Noel remains unavailable, Taj Gibson will again start with rookie Jericho Sims backing him up. The backup bigs were outstanding in their first two outings.

Taj Gibson is norming 11. points and 6.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Sims, who is on a two-way contract, has impressed Thibodeau. The rookie big man out of Texas is averaging 9.5 rebounds (seventh in the league during preseason) and 1.5 steals (fourth among centers) to go with 7.5 points.

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Knicks center Nerlens Noel gets license to shoot

New York Knicks center Nerlens Noel has only attempted 10 three-pointers and made two during his first nine seasons in the NBA. Last season, he was 0-of-3 from the three-point zone. That is about to change as Noel said he had received the green light to expand his game.

“It’s something that I’ve been working on. Being on one-year deals, you never know how much you can really do. Getting this comfortability with the situation even the day when I signed the contract, they told me to make it a conscious effort to make it a game shot and not just after practice,” Noel said Tuesday at the start of the NBA Training Camp.

Noel is entering the season for the first time in his career with his job and bag secured. After an ill-advised fumble in 2017 that led to an ongoing lawsuit and a series of one-year deals that came after, Noel re-signed with the Knicks on a three-year deal that could be worth up to $32 million if he hits bonuses and the last year getting picked up.

“It’s the best free agency I’ve ever experienced. I knew everything that’s going on. It’s beautiful. A good way to sum it up—the best one,” Noel said.

The stability has emboldened Noel to be a little adventurous this summer. And a part of it is for him to stay afloat beyond his current contract in the league that is constantly evolving.

As the modern game continues to cater to offense, shooting has become premium. Traditional big men are becoming obsolete. And despite possessing one elite skill set—rim protection, Noel doesn’t want to be left behind by the three-point revolution.

Last season, at least 10 centers averaged one three-pointer, per ESPN stats. Nikola Vucevic led all big men with 2.5 threes made on 6.3 attempts while splitting his time with his former team, Orlando Magic, and his new team, Chicago Bulls. Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, a former Tom Thibodeau player, was not far behind with 2.4 threes per game on the same 6.3 attempts despite being limited to just 50 games.

Former Knick Kristaps Porzingis, who has the same lean frame as Noel, averaged 2.3 threes on six attempts with the Dallas Mavericks last season.

But the top three three-point shooting big men were either the focal point or the secondary offensive option in their teams while averaging over 30 minutes per game.

It will be a stretch to say that Noel, who is likely the Knicks’ starting center while Mitchell Robinson is being eased back into the rotation, will enjoy such a shot diet with the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

Noel attempted only 3.5 shots per game last season and made 61.4 percent of them, the bulk of it coming around the rim (68.5 percent, which was above the league average of 58.5 percent according to Stat Muse).

So an occasional three-pointer from Noel would be the more plausible scenario—the last option in the offense as much as he’s the last line on defense. Making him an outside threat could draw the opposing team’s last line of defense to come out.

“I’m trying to expand my game to that corner three. I’m definitely going to tread lightly coming in and seeing what it’s like but you know, I got the green light for the most part. So I just gotta keep getting the reps up and make sure it falls by game time and I’ll be able to implement that,” Noel said.

The three-point shot became an important weapon for the Knicks last season on their way to a surprising playoff run. But while they were the second-best team in three-point shooting accuracy (39.2 percent), they also threw the second-least attempts with just 30 per game, 13 fewer than the league-leading Utah Jazz.

According to Derrick Rose, the Knicks plan to bring that up to at least among the league’s top five.

“I think our staple [last season] was defense. Now that I feel like we got better on the offensive side of the ball, it’s about adding little things. Last year, we only shot 30 threes. This year, now we have three-point shooters. We gotta get up to 37 to 40 attempts,” Rose said Monday.

But Rose was quick to add that they will not take a three-pointer just for the sake of ramping up their shot attempts. That’s not Thibodeau’s style.

“I’m not saying we gotta force threes, but take the right threes and don’t pass up any good looks. Push the ball. I felt like last year, we didn’t push the ball. We needed to (push the pace) to get easy buckets and easy looks for Julius (Randle) to get him downhill or to get RJ (Barrett) going downhill to open up the floor for everybody,” Rose said.

The Knicks crave shooting in all positions.

Noel and Robinson provided elite rim protection to the Knicks last season.

Noel was third with 2.2 per game behind Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner (3.4) and Jazz’s Rudy Gobert (2.7). Robinson was ninth with 1.5 and could have climbed up the ladder if he played in more games.

Turner also landed in the top 10 three-point shooting big men in the league. The Pacers center averaged 1.5 per game on 4.4 attempts, joining reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks’ Brook Lopez (1.4 threes on four shots) as the only big men in the league who offered elite rim protection and outside shooting.

Curiously, the Knicks were heavily linked to Turner in the past though nothing materialized. Perhaps the grand plan is to develop one if they couldn’t trade for a modern big man.

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How Rich Paul’s alleged misrepresentation led Nerlens Noel to Knicks

Nerlens Noel proved to be a valuable piece to the New York Knicks last season, especially after starting center Mitchell Robinson went down with two significant injuries.

The Knicks went 25-16 when Noel took over the starting spot over the injured Robinson. Noel’s career-best 2.2 blocks per game anchored the team’s defense which boasted the league’s best rim protection (60.5 percent in opponent’s rim field goals) that helped them made the playoffs for the first time in eight years. He added 5.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 24.2 minutes, his most playing time since his sophomore year.

Noel’s efforts got rewarded with the biggest contract yet of his career – a partially guaranteed three-year, $32 million deal to remain with the Knicks. But that contract pales in comparison to what Noel could have earned back in 2017 free agency.

Noel, then a restricted free agent, turned down a $70 million, four-year extension offer from the Dallas Mavericks after super-agent Rich Paul allegedly told him that he was “a $100 million man” during Ben Simmon’s birthday party in 2017. He claimed that Paul induced him to sign the one-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer instead and seek the max contract in 2018 free agency.

Noel’s 2017 fumble remains one of the league’s cautionary tales, and it is the bone of contention in a messy legal battle between the Knicks center and Paul.

The decision to reject the Mavericks’ $70 million offer “placed Noel at serious professional and financial risk,” claimed the 2017 cease and desist letter issued by the legal counsel of Happy Walters, Noel’s previous agent, to Paul and Klutch Sports.

The letter claimed that it was contrary to Walters’ advice alleging that Paul’s motivation was the desire to collect lucrative commissions from a future deal.

It was one of the salacious details of the amended lawsuit Noel filed against his former agent. The move was in response to Paul filing a grievance to the National Basketball Players Association claiming that Noel failed to pay him $200,000 in commission from his previous one-year, $5 million deal with the Knicks in 2019. 

Noel said in the lawsuit that Paul virtually played no role; hence he is not entitled to his commission. Noel claimed that on the second night of the 2020 free agency, Leon Rose, the Knicks president, called Steven Dorn, Noel’s friend, and adviser. Rose asked Dorn who was Noel’s agent as the Knicks were interested in signing him. Dorn directed Rose to Paul and eventually agreed on the one-year deal that proved to be a smart move that led to his current multi-year contract.

Noel is seeking financial damages after losing $58 million in total salaries between 2017 and 2020, allegedly due to Paul’s lousy advice and gross negligence as his agent. In the lawsuit, Noel claimed that Paul and Klutch Sports have a history of mismanaging and ignoring smaller clients and are only focused on their marquee names citing Norris Cole and Shabazz Muhammad as examples.

Cole had an $8.4 million career earnings in six seasons, while Muhammad collected around $10.5 million in five seasons in the league.

Noel claimed that Paul started to sour on him when he suffered a thumb injury that limited him to a career-low 4.4 points in 30 games during his second season with the Mavericks.

Noel said he entered the free agency with Klutch Sports failing to provide any plan or strategy. He was left with no choice but to sign a two-year minimum deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The former lottery pick claimed that Paul allegedly ignored calls from other teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers (which he learned from his former coach Brett Brown) in 2019 and the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets in 2020.

In 2019 free agency, the 76ers traded for Al Horford and gave him a partially guaranteed four-year, $109 million deal. They also signed veteran center Kyle O’Quinn to a one-year minimum deal.

Noel signed another minimum deal with the Thunder.

In 2020 free agency, the Clippers signed Serge Ibaka to a two-year, $19 million deal while the Rockets added DeMarcus Cousins for the $2.6 million veteran minimum deal.

The Knicks snagged Noel for a $5 million deal which proved to be a bargain for what he provided last season.

If Noel had stayed with Walters, he would have accepted the Mavericks’ $70 million offer in 2017 and formed an interesting frontcourt tandem with former Knick Kristaps Porzingis. But Paul’s alleged poaching and misrepresentation somehow steered him towards the Knicks. And Noel’s misfortunes finally ended in New York.

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No Shortcuts: Ex-Knick Pete Mickeal owes legendary Euroleague career to Tom Thibodeau

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Pete Mickeal was dejected. Even after a solid showing in the NBA Shaw Summer Pro League in Boston, Mickeal still couldn’t make the cut.

Jeff Van Gundy, then New York Knicks head coach, told him to wait for his turn. The Knicks, coming off an NBA Finals appearance in the previous season, were loaded at the wings with Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, and Glen Rice.

Mickeal, an All-American honorable mention in his senior year, already felt embarrassed when he ended up as the last pick of the 2000 NBA Draft after a productive two-year stint with the Cincinnati Bearcats, one of the best teams in the country at that time.

The Dallas Mavericks used the 58th pick on him but quickly shipped him to New York along with Erick Strickland for John Wallace and Donnell Harvey.

So the news of being relegated to the reserve list was another dampener.

It was Tom Thibodeau, a Van Gundy assistant at that time, who kept his spirits up.

“I was disappointed, and Thibs was always positive, and he said, ‘Listen, man! Just keep working.’ And I would work with Thibs that year,” Mickeal told Empire Sports Media on the phone.

Thibodeau and Mickeal forged a good relationship as they were inseparable that year. Mickeal became Thibodeau’s project. They hit the weight room early in the morning before other Knicks players showed up in their old practice facility in SUNY-Purchase.

“Then he takes me to the court and worked me out hard. So once practice comes, I’m really, really ready to go. And after the two-hour practice, Thibs will work me out again. He was always positive. He said, ‘Keep the right mentality. Don’t worry about not playing. Just work your ass off.’ That’s all I remember him saying,” Mickeal recalled.

That laid the groundwork for Mickeal to flourish in a legendary career overseas. His NBA career never took off, but thanks to another Summer League stint under Thibodeau, other doors opened for him.

“You always take a little piece of every coach you had during your career, and you take that mentality as a player, so I was fortunate to have a coach like Thibs,” Mickeal said. “I played for Thibs in the Summer League for two years. Those games helped me get attention in Europe. I was averaging 18 pts per game, and Thibs played me for 30-35 mins per game. So I had a chance to show what I can really do.”

Mickeal spent 15 years overseas playing in the Philippines, Korea, Greece, Spain, and Argentina, where at the tail end of his career, he faced a young Luca Vildoza.

“I knew Vildoza was good. I know his agent very well. And he’s played for the coach that’s most similar to Thibs in Europe. His name is Dusko Ivanovic,” Mickeal said.

Ivanovic, a multi-titled Euroleague, and Liga ACB champion coach, was Vildoza’s mentor in Baskonia.

“He and Thibs have the same mentality when it comes to coaching,” Mickael said. “They are coaches who you have to play defense, or you won’t play. So (Vildoza) played for tough coaches. He can play. If he’s healthy and he gets a chance, let’s see what happens.”

Mickeal won a dozen Liga ACB crowns and a Euroleague title, making him the winningest American player in Europe.

When his legendary overseas career was over, Thibodeau again gave him the opportunity to return to the NBA.

Mickeal reached out to Thibodeau, the head coach and Minnesota Timberwolves team president at that time.

“Right now, we don’t have a coaching opening, but we got something that you might like it better,” Mickeal said, recalling his conversation with Thibodeau. “It turned out to be true. I love being in the front office. I love scouting.”

It was like 2000 all over again, albeit the coaching and the development were off the court. Mickeal absorbed everything like a sponge as he got his feet wet into the NBA front office.

“Working for Thibs is great being your first job coming out of playing. It will really teach you the work ethic you need to be a great scout. Because the type of work you do when Thibs is your boss is tripled compared to any other team,” Mickeal said.

His familiarity with Euroleague players and NBA players playing overseas helped him seal the deal. The job taught him to become innovative and go the extra mile to get the intel on the players. He scouted not only in Europe but also players in the NBA, G League, and even in Asia. He was in meetings with coaches and other front office staff that made him appreciate how rosters are constructed in the NBA.

Nerlens Noel was one of the players he scouted extensively when the beanpole center was still playing in Oklahoma City Thunder. The former lottery pick has been on Thibodeau’s radar as far back as 2018. So he was not surprised the Knicks targeted Noel last summer.

“Obviously, I’ve been in the front office, so I can appreciate why teams are put together the way they are, like Nerlens Noel, for example. When I scouted him when he was with OKC, I’ve always liked him. I’ve always thought he’s a really good backup center,” Mickeal said.

“It’s very difficult to find a backup center that can give you rebounds and points every game and can switch screens who can move his feet well on the perimeter. It isn’t easy with all the switching the NBA does. And his body type fits today’s NBA. He’s got the long, slender body type, but he’s got a huge wingspan. So that really helps in deflection and playing straight-up defense with your hands in the air, showing your length. That’s difficult to find in the NBA — a mobile backup center,” Mickeal said. “I thought they did a great job in finding a guy like that. And the contract they got him for, I thought that was great.”

After Noel’s solid play last season, the Knicks locked him up to a $32 million, three-year contract this summer, with the last year as a club option making it a team-friendly deal.

Noel’s scouting report was just one of the hundreds Thibodeau received each week when Mickeal was scouting for the Timberwolves.

“We write all these (scouting) reports each game, and a hundred reports are coming in each week, and the guys in the office told me that I make this list, and Thibs read every single report every week. And I was like, okay, he’s the coach, and he’s reading all these reports? That story sums him up,” Mickeal said.

”He reads the reports every scout has written, and he was also in the meetings that I was in, and he’s coaching at the same time. That’s a level of commitment that’s unearthly. It’s not normal. But that’s a great tribute to him because everything he got in his career was through hard work.”

Thibodeau has made a career transforming losing teams into playoff contenders. He made solid rotation pieces out of fringe players. He developed All-Stars and All-NBA players at every stop. Derrick Rose became the league’s youngest MVP under his helm and resurrected his career in Minnesota.

“Thibs’ player development is underrated. They’re not giving him the credit he deserves. They always say Thibs plays his guys too many minutes,” Mickeal said. “But the truth is he’s developing players.”

Mickeal himself largely benefited from Thibodeau’s developmental coaching on and off the court. He parlayed Thibodeau’s teachings into a successful overseas career and later on as a scout and now as a sports agent.

After two years with the Timberwolves, Mickeal moved on to scout for the Washington Wizards until he decided not to return last year and bet on himself. He put up the Miami-based Mickeal Sports Group, a sports agency specializing in sending American players to Euroleague and identifying young NBA prospects around Europe.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to get into the sports agent business,” Mickael said.

Mickeal prepared himself for his post-playing career by getting directly involved in all negotiations of his playing contracts from 2008 until he retired. While he thought coaching would have been great, he was grateful Thibodeau steered him towards the front office, which equipped him with the additional skill set and network necessary to set up his dream sports agency.

“Thibs gave me that opportunity to start with. Then I branched out from there. It worked out really well. It’s a really good business which I want to do for the rest of my career. I work with a lot of smart, analytics people. We got a marketing firm behind me, and we’ve hired some really, really experienced agents. After one year, it’s already exceeded expectations,” Mickeal said.

Mickeal is a Thibodeau lifer who, unlike the Derrick Roses, Jimmy Butlers, Taj Gibsons, never found success in the NBA. But he’s earned a seat at Thibodeau’s table because of his motto: being the hardest working guy in the room.

“I didn’t have long experience with him like other players have, but the short time that I’ve been with him, I can honestly say he doesn’t take shortcuts. If you work the way he works, he’ll give you the respect,” Mickeal said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ Nerlens Noel will have shot at starting center job

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Heading into the 2021-22 season, the expected starter at center for the New York Knicks is Mitchell Robinson, but don’t rule out the scenario where Nerlens Noel makes a mad dash at the job himself. Noel was a godsend for the Knicks last season for a variety of reasons, but none more important than his defensive attributes that lead him to his most productive year yet.

According to Michael Scotto of USA Today, the defensive-minded big man will have his fair shot at the starting gig:

In bringing Nerlens Noel back, I was told Nerlens wasn’t promised the starting center spot, but he’ll have a chance to compete for it, and he’ll definitely play meaningful minutes in New York’s rotation.

The Knicks think so highly of Noel, they rewarded him with a three-year, $27.7 million deal this off-season. Considering he’s earning about 10-times as much as Robinson going forward, the only realistic assumption is that he will be gunning for starting minutes. However, Robinson has a heroic return planned, with the Defensive Player of the Year award as his primary objective.

Robinson has been vocal about his increase in muscle mass, which should provide more physicality in the paint against power forwards and scoring centers. Nerlens, though, averaged 2.2 blocks per game last season over 64 games.

The 3-year veteran is capable of even higher block percentages, recording 2.4 during his rookie season in 2018. Since then, he hasn’t played in over 61 games in a season, featuring in just 31 last year before suffering a broken hand. Shortly after his return, Mitch fractured his foot, ending a hopeful season prematurely.

Last year’s numbers saw him post 8.3 points, 1.5 blocks, 8.1 rebounds, and shoot 65% from the field. He played a career-high 27.5 minutes before the injuries began to take over. He has a clear-cut path to be the Knicks’ primary big man, but his success relies entirely on health. Robinson has the tangible traits and capabilities to be a fantastic center in the NBA, but he just needs to remain healthy and available. Noel proved to be a warrior last year, and there’s no question he will give Robinson a run for his money, which could end up being a positive factor to bring out the best in both players.

Grading the New York Knicks free agent acquisitions

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The New York Knicks spent an exorbitant amount of money this off-season to solve multiple positions of weakness. Having secured the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference last season, the team did more than enough to increase their odds of placing even better during the 2021-22 season.

Their free-agent acquisitions will play a big part in taking a step forward this upcoming year, including the retention of three familiar faces that were preparing to hit the market.

Grading the New York Knicks free agent signings:

1.) C: Nerlens Noel

With Mitchell Robinson playing in just 31 games last season, Nerlens Noel was forced into a more significant role. Averaging 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and shooting 61.4% from the field, Noel had one of his best years to date. However, his biggest impact came on defense, where he blocked 2.2 shots per contest and stole the ball 1.1 times on average. He was a maestro in the paint, meeting players at the rim to reject shots.

While Noel’s stats don’t stand out, a lot of his value doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. The Knicks seemingly overspent a bit on his retention, extending him on a three-year, $27.7 million deal. However, it is essentially a two-year contract with the third year not guaranteed. Paying him nearly $10 million is quite a lofty amount for a backup center, but the value he provides cannot go unnoticed.

Grade: B-

2.) PG: Derrick Rose

The very moment the Knicks acquired Derrick Rose from the Detroit Pistons at the deadline, the team took a massive step forward. It is clear that Rose is more than capable of being a starting point guard in the NBA, but age has certainly taken its toll on his stamina. With Elfred Payton offering little to nothing during the postseason, Rose was forced to play more minutes, picking up small injuries that impacted his production and efficiency.

Nonetheless, he averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 assists, and shot a career-high 41% from three with the Knicks last season over 35 games.

After realizing how much gas Rose has left in the tank, president Leon Rose elected to re-sign him on a three-year, $43.56 million deal. This is another contract that has no guarantees for the third season, and pairing ham with Kemba Walker should mitigate fatigue for the most part.

Grade: B+

3.) SG: Alec Burks

One of the Knicks’ top scorers last season was Alec Burks, who played an essential role off the bench. Serving as a shooting guard and small forward, the former first-round pick from 2011 averaged 12.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and shot 42% from the field. He also hit on 41.5% of his shots from three, representing another high percentage shooter who curates immediate offense when called upon.

Burks isn’t the most stout defender, but his ability to play multiple positions and rotate in different combinations was enough to convince the front office to keep him on a three-year, $30 million deal. Burks’s contract also has an out after the second season, as the Knicks eye a potential big-name free agent with the opening of more salary space.

Grade: B

4.) SG/SF: Evan Fournier

One of the Knicks’ more lucrative free-agent acquisitions was Evan Fournier, formerly of the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic. Replacing Reggie Bullock as the team’s primary shooting guard, Fournier averaged 17.1 points last season over 30 minutes per game. Attempting 6.7 3-PT shots per game, he hit on 41.3%, a solid clip. The difference between Fournier and Bullock is that the former is able to create shots for himself, which should take pressure off power forward Julius Randle, who also signed an extension this off-season.

The Knicks landed Fournier on a four-year, $73 million deal. The team has an out after the third season, giving them a bit of flexibility down the road.

Grade: B

5.) PG: Kemba Walker

One of the biggest surprises of the off-season was the signing of Kemba Walker. Having landed him on a two-year, $17.9 million deal, the Knicks couldn’t imagine in their wildest dreams he would be available at such a great price point. Having struggled to stay healthy last season with a degenerative knee issue, Walker was only able to play in 43 games.

After the All-Star break, his statistics skyrocketed, but the injury lingered and eventually forced him to miss more time. At 30 years old, Walker was most recently an All-Star in 2020.

The veteran point guard averaged 19.3 points, 4.9 assists and shot 42% from the field last year. Finding an efficient way for Walker and Randle to play cohesively will be a challenge for New York but can’t be any worse than Payton running around aimlessly like a chicken with its head cut off.

As stated above, the duo of Rose and Walker should be great for limiting minutes and keeping both healthy for a full 82 game season.

Grade: A

6.) Taj Gibson

Gibson’s role on this team falls into two categories, extra reserve, and leadership. Gibson is an all-effort type of player who contributed valiantly during the postseason after Noel picked up an ankle injury. His value as an offensive weapon is next to none, but Taj plays relentless defense and sets the tone for the rest of the team. He signed a two-year, $10.1 million deal with the Knicks, but the 2nd year is non-guaranteed.

Grade: B-

Knicks’ Nerlens Noel raves about ‘close-knit team,’ but how does Mitchell Robinson change his role?

nerlens noel, knicks

The New York Knicks rolled into the 2020-21 season with a Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson at center. However, Robinson suffered two fractures last season, including a hand and foot injury. Noel was forced into a far more significant role, averaging 24.2 minutes per game, playing in 64 contests, and starting in 41.

During his unexpectedly involved season, Noel averaged 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and posted a career-high 2.2 blocks per game. He was one of the leading patrons on defense, which led him to sign a fresh three-year, $27.7 million deal, including $18 million guaranteed. There is a kicker, though, as Noel doesn’t have any guaranteed money in the third season of the deal, so the Knicks can move on and save the salary space if need be.

Despite rumors that teams were intrigued by Noel and his skill set, his desire was always to stay in New York based on the performance of the squad last year.

“Everything we built last year,” he said on MSGPM with Kaz Famuyide and Monica McNutt. “It was a really close-knit team that I wanted to stay involved with. All the opportunities I got last year I tried to seize. Coming into this new year, I want to build on that. I want to help this team get to the next level of the playoffs.”

Bringing back Noel provides a big shot-blocker in the paint, but he lacks the offensive efficiency somewhere hoping to find in free agency. The Knicks will be gaining back Mitchell Robinson, who has been working hard this off-season to rehabilitate his foot.

Robinson has one year remaining on his contract at $1.8 million. The front office must make a decision this upcoming season regarding his future with a team. Given how affordable he currently is, the Knicks felt good retaining Noel on a slightly above-market contract for his qualities.

The expectation is that Robinson will be the starting center to open the 2021-22 season. Over 31 games, Robinson averaged 27.5 minutes, posting 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per contest. With a career-high of 2.4 blocks during his rookie season, Robinson has the potential to be one of the best shot blockers in the NBA.

The team wants him to be their long-term solution paired with Noel to mitigate fatigue over a full 82 game schedule, but he hasn’t played over 61 games in two years. By all standards, Robinson played below his potential last season in several categories, recording a below-average (in relation to his first two years in the NBA) defensive rebounding percentage at 12.2% and free throw rate. He did enjoy a 1.8 steal percentage, and a 12% blocked percentage — both career highs.

Nonetheless, Thibodeau loves his defensive-minded players, and having two traditional big men in the paint should open up the floor for the Knicks’ shooters, including Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Immanuel Quickley, and a bevy of quality point guards.

BREAKING: Knicks agree with Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel on three-year deals

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the New York Knicks have agreed to bring back Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks on individual three-year contracts.

Burks will stay with the Knicks for three years, $30 million, and Noel, three years, $32 million, signing very similar contracts that provide offensive and defensive proficiency on both ends of the floor.

Last season, Burks averaged 12.7 points, 2.2 assists, and shot 42% from the field. He impressively connected on 41.5% of his shots from range, averaging 5.0 attempts per game. Alec is a quality offensive play-maker, coming off the bench and giving the Knicks immediate point production when they needed it most. He can play both small forward, shooting guard and fill in at point guard if necessary.

They clearly value the former first-round pick, as his contract will expire at 33 years old. Continuity remains a priority for New York, as they also brought back Noel, who posted a career-high 2.2 blocked shots per game during the 2020-21 season. While he doesn’t offer much on offense, averaging 5.1 points, he is a solid complement to Mitchell Robinson, who will earn $1.8 million after the Knicks picked up his club option.

Expect the Knicks to be very active over the next few days, if not hours. They have approximately $17 million remaining in cap room with $15 million tied up in cap holds for Derrick Rose, Reggie Bullock, and $3.3 million in non-guaranteed money with Luca Vildoza.