Toppin for Turner? What a Knicks-Pacers deal could look like

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With one month to go before the February 10 trade deadline, the New York Knicks have been linked to Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner and Detroit Pistons’ Jerami Grant, per Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Between the two, Turner is the more intriguing option.

In theory, Turner is the prototypical modern big man that the Knicks need to open up the defense for Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

The ugly loss in Boston over the weekend exposed the Knicks’ weakness of not having a floor-spacing big man next to Randle. While Mitchell Robinson had a perfect night at the field, shooting 5 of 5 for 11 points and eight rebounds, he doesn’t possess a deep offensive bag which Turner has at this point of their careers.

The Knicks fell apart starting in the latter part of the second quarter. The Celtics’ swarming defense with the shot-blocking monster Robert Williams as their last line took away the Knicks’ driving lanes to generate shots at the rim and kick-out passes.

“They’re long and athletic,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said of the Celtics. “In the first half, we drove the ball and made the right rim reads. It was better, and we got easy shots. But if you hold on to [the ball] and you try to shoot over the sides, and you’re putting up tough shots, you’re not going to win that way.”

The Celtics employed four players with at least 6’11 wingspan to disrupt the Knicks’ offense — Robert Williams – 7’6, Al Horford – 7’1, Jaylen Brown – 7’0, and Jayson Tatum – 6’11.

A center like Turner, a 36-percent three-point shooter and has the third-most three-pointers (61) among centers this season, could have helped pull Williams away from the paint. On defense, Turner is on pace to lead the league in shot blocks (2.9 per game this season) for the third time in his career.

Theoretically, Turner would fit seamlessly next to Randle, forming a formidable inside-outside tandem in the Knicks’ frontline. On top of this, they already have an existing bond working out together under trainer Tyler Relph as the trio are all from Dallas.

So, it’s not surprising the Knicks are interested in Turner. But what’s the price of prying Turner away from Indiana?

In December, ESPN’s Zach Lowe discussed the best recent comparison for a potential Turner trade on his podcast with NBA front office insider Bobby Marks.

“The comp I’m trying to make is Nikola Vucevic,” Lowe said referencing last season’s Orlando-Chicago trade deadline deal. “The Magic got Wendell Carter Jr., who has been maybe better than Vucevic this season, two first-round picks, one of which you were sure would be a decent lottery pick (Franz Wagner) and no long-term money. That’s the comp.”

Based on Lowe’s parameters, Nat Newell of Indy Starproposed a Turner trade to the Knicks in exchange for Obi Toppin, Nerlens Noel, and a future first-round pick.

“Toppin has had a solid second season — 8.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 53% in 15.9 minutes per game — but this trade likely comes down to the protections on the pick. The Knicks have struggled this season (12-15) so an unprotected pick could easily put you in the lottery but will the Knicks offer that? Toppin hasn’t shown 3-point range (26.7% in his career), making him less of a fit next to Sabonis. The Knicks have extra picks from Charlotte (lottery protected) and Dallas (top 10 protected) that could be included or the Pacers could demand Immanuel Quickley (9.6 ppg, 2.5 apg, 32.8% on 3s),” Newell wrote.

Of the four teams, only the Knicks have the deepest chest of draft assets to entice the Pacers to break up their core and rebuild.

While Turner is not a clear-cut superstar, he is only 25 years old and represents an immediate upgrade at the center position. A Turner trade will not instantly catapult the Knicks to the upper echelon in the East. But it would help Randle and Barrett unlock their offense and boost the Knicks’ chances of becoming a perennial playoff contender, which is the new front office’s plan to entice superstars to come to New York.

If it doesn’t pan out, Turner, at the very least, could serve as another trade piece in a package for a coveted star.

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Myles Turner, Pacers show Knicks what they are missing

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After the New York Knicks lost to the Toronto Raptors, coach Tom Thibodeau talked about losing to a team playing with an edge.

Earlier, they responded to an unexpected loss to a rebuilding Orlando Magic team by playing with an edge against a hobbling Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers. He was expecting the same when they traveled to Indiana. But to his surprise, it was Myles Turner and the Indiana Pacers who showed up with an edge on Wednesday night at Gainbridge Field House.

Turner repeatedly hurt the Knicks inside and out as the Pacers buried them early in a 111-98 road loss for their first losing streak of the young season. It was another painful reminder of what the Knicks are missing.

The 5-1 start somehow swept the Knicks’ inconsistency and defensive deficiency under the rug. In Tom Thibodeau’s oft-repeated refrain, “When you feel good about yourself and let your guard down that’s when you get knocked down.”

The trade off between a supercharged offense and last season’s stout defense is rearing its ugly head.

The Knicks team that the fans fell in love with last season played with an edge and climbed their way up to the standings with a blue-collar defense anchored by a strong rim protection, perimeter closeouts and selectively allowing outside shots from weak outside shooters.

Turner fits the profile of a weak outside shooter. In three games against the Knicks last season, Turner managed to only hit 4 of 20 three-pointers. Entering Wednesday’s matchup, Turner was just 32-percent outside shooter, hitting 11 of 34 threes in the Pacers’ first eight games.

But against the Knicks, Turner turned the corner.

In what became a familiar sight to Julius Randle, Turner’s confidence notched a level higher every time the Pacers big man hit a three-pointer.

“We missed some shots. Myles got hot early. You know with him [when] he gets [his] confidence early, he’s good and he’s gonna be able to hit shots for the rest of the game,” Randle said.

Randle knows it too well having worked with Turner under the same trainer in their home state in Texas last summer.

Tyler Relph, Randle’s long-time trainer who was responsible in helping him grew into a 41-percent three-point shooter last season, is also doing the same to Turner to expand his game and become a modern big man. It’s a development that could push the Knicks to try harder in teaming him up with Randle.

Turner’s summer work with Relph was on full display against the Knicks. Turner connected on 7 of 10 threes that opened up the driving lanes for the Pacers guards and wings. He drained two triples and made a putback in the Pacers’ 11-0 start that floored the Knicks.

Indiana shot 16 of 41 from the outside and 26 of 50 inside the arc.

Turner’s backup Goga Bitadze added two threes as they dragged Mitchell Robinson and the returning Nerlens Noel out of the paint on defense. The Knicks’ woes were exacerbated by Indiana’s 18 transition points.

The Knicks know where teams are hurting them. Their transition defense is all about effort. They talked about it openly during Tuesday’s film session.

But it’s easier said than done.

The Knicks never had a chance against the Pacers whose starting unit is long, big, mobile and versatile. They came as close as three points twice later in the game but Turner and the Pacers always punched back harder. New York was a step slower on defense. And their newfound weapon — the three-point shot — betrayed them on this night. They woefully shot a conference-low 5 for 24 from deep.

If not for RJ Barrett’s 12-point third quarter explosion in another strong offensive showing, it could have been worse for the Knicks. Though Barrett had his worst performance over his last four games. He needed 20 shots to get to 23 points.

Randle finished with a monster double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds but was only 6 for 16 from the floor. Evan Fournier only hit 1 of 5 threes and Kemba Walker had his worst shooting night, going 0 for 5 from deep and 2-for-11 overall for four points.

“My thing is I don’t like to pin the blame on any one player,” Thibodeau responded when asked about Walker’s discouraring stats line. “As a group, we didn’t play well. We’re all part of it— coaches, players. And [struggle] is a part of the season. How do we navigate it?”

Six Indiana players finished in double figures led by Turner’s 25 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Malcolm Brogdon was solid in his return from sickbay as he thoroughly outplayed Walker. Brogdon produced 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

“The East is loaded. So every night you got to bring it. And an important part of winning is playing with an edge,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks simply did not have it in the past two games. They lost to two teams who were beset with COVID-19-related issues and injuries last year. Even in their wins save for their off-the-charts shooting in Orlando, there were signs of cracks in their defense as they could not hold on to  double-digit leads.

With the Raptors now back in Toronto after an uninspiring wandering in Tampa Bay, they are off to an impressive start. Their current five-game winning streak is something special as they played with their star Pascal Siakam on the sideline and rookie stud Scottie Barnes joining him in the last two games. The Pacers are starting to round off the edges as they get healthier under a chammpionship-level coach Rick Carlisle.

These two teams are part of the second tier where the Knicks would be competing for a spot in the playoffs and avoid the play-in tournament. Miami Heat’s 6-1 start may have catapulted them to the first tier along with the Sixers, Brooklyn Nets and defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, who are on deck for the Knicks on Friday night.

The Knicks may have reloaded with better talent but it will not matter if they don’t get their acts together on the other side of the ball. Shooting will come and go. But as the cliche goes, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. The Knicks need to return to outworking and outhustling everybody.

“We got to pick ourselves up and have a determination about it. I always say, you have to be mentally tough when you’re facing adversity, and that’s where we are right now,” Thibodeau said.

They are in the same exact spot (5-3) through the first eights games as last season. What followed next was a five-game losing streak.

We’ll see what this new iteration of Knicks are made of after next week.

It only gets tougher from here as their next five games include the Bucks on Friday, the rejuvenated Cleveland Cavaliers and the Sixers on a back-to-back home-and-away schedule on Sunday and Monday. A rematch with the Bucks and a faceoff against the high-flying Charlotte Hornets complete a trechearous next week for the Knicks.

It’s still early in the season. But adversities like this is something Thibodeau would want to have now rather than later when the stakes are higher.

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Knicks: Randle believes Walker-Fournier addition makes them more versatile

The New York Knicks have supercharged their offense with the acquisition of four-time All-Star Kemba Walker and Frenchman gunner Evan Fournier.

Walker and Fournier are essentially replacing the ineffective Elfrid Payton and the Knicks’ top perimeter defender but limited offensive player Reggie Bullock.

Payton has since hooked up with the Phoenix Suns while Bullock jettisoned to the Dallas Mavericks.

In theory, the Walker-Fournier tandem that played beautiful music together, albeit briefly, in Boston, is bringing more offensive punch that was sorely lacking when they fell to the Atlanta Hawks, 4-1, in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Walker and Fournier had a combined average of 36.4 points and close to 10 assists last season, a huge upgrade compared to the 21 points and close to five assists that the Payton-Bullock provided in the previous season.

When healthy, Walker is one of the better point guards in the league. A maestro in pick-and-roll who packs a deadly pull-up game and a decent outside shot (36-percent three-point shooter in his career), Walker will command the respect of the defense, which Payton never had last season.

Meanwhile, Fournier is a more dynamic playmaker and shot-creator in the wings that the catch-and-shoot specialist Bullock will never become.

Their addition is expected to lessen the offensive burden on Knicks’ All-NBA second team forward Julius Randle, who was shackled in the playoffs.

“It means a lot. Those guys are, obviously, very versatile players. They can do a lot of different things on the court. They can really shoot the ball. I’m excited about that. I think they are gonna make us more talented,” Randle said in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated. 

While the Knicks have addressed their glaring weakness on offense which was exposed in the playoffs, the perception around the league is that the Knicks’ top-four defense (107.8 defensive rating) would take a hit.

Payton ranked fourth among point guards in ESPN’s defensive real-plus minus with 2.5 DRPM (DRPM is the player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions). Walker was ranked 30th with -0.30 DRPM.

Bullock was the second-best among all small forwards with 3.74 DRPM behind Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Harris (4.00 DRPM). Fournier ranked 26th among shooting guards with 0.16 DRPM, with RJ Barrett at third with 3.00 DRPM. Barrett is expected to slide to small forward and replace Bullock as the Knicks’ top perimeter defender.

“With Reggie, Elfrid, and all those guys, what they brought to our team was tremendous,” Randle said. So, obviously, [Walker and Fournier] gonna add a lot of offensively for us. But for us, as a team, our main thing has to be the main thing. And that is we come in every night and play with tremendous energy and defend. So as long as we do that, we’ll be fine.”

There is no doubt that the reigning NBA Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, will not let their vaunted defense dip. Collectively, the Knicks are still one of the best defensive teams on paper with the re-signing of Nerlens Noel and the return of Mitchell Robinson from injury.

With more shooting and talent around him this time, Randle worked on his rim attacking and off the bounce game this summer with his trainer Tyler Relph as he expects less double team.

“I think we’ll see great improvement so we just have to make sure that we’re coming in locked in and play defense, get stops because the rest of the league doesn’t like doing that. Offensively, honestly, that’s really the easy part,” Randle said.

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Knicks: Julius Randle aims to come back as a completely better player

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Even after becoming $140 million richer, New York Knicks’ All-NBA forward Julius Randle continues to put in the work.

Summer is Randle’s favorite season of the year, not because he can enjoy rest and recreation under the sunny weather. He loves it because of the grind.

Randle credited his All-Star and All-NBA season to the offseason work with his long-time personal trainer Tyler Relph and new conditioning coach Melvin Sanders last year.

After a disappointing end in the playoffs to his breakout season, Randle is back in his hometown in Dallas, reconnecting with Relph and Sanders.

“There’s a lot that I can improve on to become a better player and help my team win some more games. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I love the process,” Randle said on The Jump on the day his new backcourt mates —Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier — were formally introduced at the Garden.

A couple of weeks earlier, Randle agreed to a $117 million, four-year extension with the Knicks that elevated his current contract to $140 million and five years.

Right after the news broke out, Relph tweeted out a congratulatory post accompanied by a photo of Randle working on his game.

”Agree to $140 million and get straight to work! It’s been different! Nothing changes,” Relph said in the caption.

Relph’s Instagram account provides a window to Randle’s offseason work. One video shows Randle working out with Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner, who hails from nearby Bedford, Texas. Another footage shows Randle working on his three-point shot. His latest Randle workout video shows the Knicks leader working on his perimeter shot off the dribble.

Last summer, Relph made it their goal to improve Randle’s outside shot as his downhill threat would open up those opportunities. Randle outpaced their goal of 1.5 3s per game as he hit a career-high 2.3 per game on 41 percent. It was a big jump from just one three-pointer on 28 percent shooting during Randle’s first season with the Knicks.

With Walker and Fournier coming in, Randle is expected to see less double or triple-team coverage he frequently commanded last season. His downhill threat and the three-point shot will always be there, and so is his signature corner mid-range jumper. Now, he’s adding a pull-up threat from the top of the key.

Last season, most of Randle’s shots were pull-up jumpers with a frequency rate of 43.4 percent, a big jump from the 20.5 percent rate the year before. His pull-up jump shot accuracy also increased from 35.3 percent to 50.3 percent in his second season with the Knicks.

Next season, Randle wants to improve from 46.3 percent accuracy on his shot after two dribbles and 45.4 percent after three to six dribbles.

“I love the grind and everything. So, I’m enjoying it right now. And I’m looking forward to coming back as a completely better player and help my team win,” Randle said.

His work ethic, as Relph described, is legendary. Randle got it from the late Kobe Bryant, who took Randle under his wings during their time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

”If you have never seen it and you see it for the first time, you’re in shock at how hard this man works. When I think I’ve won, he looks and says, ‘let’s go again’ … Some run to work, others run from it… It’s really that simple,” Relph posted on Twitter.

The Knicks are reaping the reward of that legendary work ethic. In return, they have rewarded Randle by extending him with the maximum offer they can give this offseason and surrounding him with better overall talent than what he enjoyed last season.

Randle repays their trust by continuing to take on the challenge of leading the once laughingstock franchise with another legendary summer grind that hopefully becomes the bedrock of another playoff run for the Knicks.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo