On Tuesday night, the NBA will begin its 75th season with the Milwaukee Bucks opening their title defense against the Brooklyn Nets in a rematch of last season's thrilling playoff series. It's fitting that this will be the first matchup in a season expected to have many teams contend for a championship. Over in the East, all eyes will be on the Bucks and Nets while the door is wide open for any team to contend in the West.
Regular Season Awards:
MVP - Luka Dončić
Defensive Player of the Year - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Rookie of the Year - Cade Cunningham
Sixth Man of the Year - Derrick Rose
Most Improved Player - Micheal Porter Jr.
Coach of the Year - Michael Malone
Eastern Conference Western Conference
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4
#8 Bulls 0 #8 Grizzlies 1
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4
#4 Hawks 1 #4 Jazz 3
#4 Hawks 4 #4 Jazz 4
#5 Heat 3 #5 Clippers 1
#1 Bucks 2 #2 Nets 4 #1 Suns 1
#2 Nets 4 #3 Nuggets 1 #3 Nuggets 4
#3 Knicks 4 #3 Nuggets 4
#6 Celtics 1 #6 Warriors 1
#2 Nets 4 #2 Lakers 2
#3 Knicks 2 #3 Nuggets 4
#2 Nets 4 #2 Lakers 4
#7 Sixers 1 #7 Mavericks 2
It has been over a week into the NBA transaction period and the offseason has already been wild. Many teams have already been active in the market whether it's through trades or free agent signings. And while there are still high profile moves that might take place, here are my four teams that improved this offseason.
After an offseason that backfired in their quest to repeat as champions, the Lakers decided to go in a different direction: trade Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and a first round pick to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been one of the top point guards in the league for a long time thanks to his athleticism and playmaking ability. He's the all time leader in career triple doubles. His decision making is another story. He has the tendency to force shots or passes in the closing moments. These flaws can be avoided if Westbrook would be willing to defer to a guy like LeBron James or even Anthony Davis in crucial moments down the stretch. If he does this, he could finally win his first championship In addition, they signed another future hall of famer in Carmelo Anthony. While Anthony might not be the dominating scorer he once was, he's still a reliable asset who remains dependable in clutch situations. The only question about this team will be their age. They have a record five players 35 or older on an NBA roster, which could catch up later in the season. Nonetheless, any team led by LeBron has a chance to win it all and this is one of the more talented rosters he's been a part of.
The Heat went into the 2020-2021 with high hopes after a surprising run to the Finals in the previous year. However, they had a down year and were swept in the first round by the eventual champion Bucks. Going into this offseason, they wasted no time taking advantage of the available cap room they had. They signed P.J. Tucker who's a rugged defender and solid three point shooter for only $17 million, but their big move was signing all star point guard Kyle Lowry from the Raptors via a sign and trade. While he lost a step last season Lowry is still a stellar floor general who can create his own shots and set up his teammates. On the defensive end, Lowry's a scrappy defender who puts his body on the line and should form a tough defensive backcourt with Jimmy Butler. Speaking of Butler, Miami awarded him with a $184 million contract extension along with a five year $90 million extension to Duncan Robinson. While both were key contributors in their run to the Finals, Butler will be 32 years old going into next season and Robinson, while an excellent 3-point shooter, isn't a great defender or passer so it will be interesting to see how both deals work out.
Following a season in which the Knicks made their first playoff appearance in eight years, many wondered if they would be able to re-sign some of the upcoming free agents who got them in that position. When free agency began, they wasted no timing re-signing Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Derrick Rose. Bringing back Rose in particular was a smart move since there were other teams who recognized his value and wanted to sign him. While they did lose Reggie Bullock, their short term replacement is Evan Fournier who can score in off the dribble and from three. He's not as good a defender as Bullock is but that could be improved under Tom Thibodeau. They also acquired Kemba Walker after he reached a buyout with the Thunder. Although Walker was clearly not 100% last season, he's usually one of the more crafty point guards in the league and is a good fit for the Knicks since he stabilizes their point guard rotation going into this season. Finally, they extended their best player Julius Randle for four years and $117 million. Although Randle had a subpar postseason, he helped get them there and he's worth every penny. In fact, Randle actually took less money to allow the team to improve other areas of the roster.
The Bulls entered the offseason with money to spend on improving their roster and wasted no time in doing so. They added two skilled perimeter players in DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball via sign and trade. While they already have a talented scorer in shooting guard Zach LaVine, Ball and DeRozan both bring useful skillsets to the table. Ball is a strong defender who's averaged over one steal each year of his career. On offense, he brings playmaking to the Bulls. His scoring has slowly progressed, but his passing will most likely be the difference. Since entering the league, Ball has had 40 games with 10 or more assists; thirteen more games than anyone on the Bulls roster combined throughout that span. DeRozan might not be the player he was with the Raptors, but he's still a solid player. He converted 49.5% of his shots and averaged a career high seven assists. How he'll fit next to LaVine is going to be interesting given that they play the same position and still need time to develop chemistry.
These are the moves that I believe will pay the most dividends this upcoming season. As mentioned earlier, the offseason isn't over yet and there might be major moves in the making as we speak. However, these teams that I mentioned have had the best off-seasons and fans should feel good about their situation.
Last Wednesday, the Knicks' dream season came to an unfortunate end against the Hawks in game 5 of the first round in the NBA playoffs. As tough as it was, the team gave fans a reason to smile for the first time in years. They went from being one of the worst teams in the league over the last five years, to winning more games this season than the last two combined. Let's look at how successful their season has been.
Despite the praise the Knicks received for hiring head coach Tom Thibodeau, expectations were low to begin the season. It looked like the losing would continue when the Knicks lost their first two games. But then they showed signs of what was to come with a stunning blowout over the Milwaukee Buck, which set the tone the season. Every game, the Knicks looked like they might've peaked, only to prove fans wrong and go on another winning stretch. In early April however, it seemed as though their magic was out after losing five out of six games. But like earlier in the season, New York wasn't done yet and proceeded to go on an amazing nine game winning streak. Even after their streak ended, they ended the season on an impressive note, winning three straight games to clinch the fourth seed before Atlanta ended the dream.
There are many people who deserve a ton of credit for the Knicks' success, starting with president Leon Rose. He made some smart, low-profile free agent signings, such as Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel, that significantly helped the team. Trading draft bust Dennis Smith Jr. as well as a second round pick for Derrick Rose was another fantastic move that brought more scoring and leadership to the team. His best move however, was hiring this season's Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, the primary reason for New York's success. Night in and night out, Thibodeau always got the Knicks to play hard through working together on offense and defense. Their defensive in particular was amazing all season because all five players worked together to stop their opponents rather than one guy making a defense better. It's why they were the number one defense in points allowed. Thibodeau also got the best out of his players, most notably Julius Randle. After a rocky first season with the Knicks, Randle responded by leading the team in points, rebounds, and assists. He was rewarded with his first career all star appearance and the Most Improved Player award. RJ Barrett became a more polished player in his sophomore season, upping his scoring average from 14 to 17, while improving his shooting percentage from 32 to 40. Derrick Rose was a great midseason acquisition who gelled immediately and added more scoring. Other players were key contributors such as Noel, Burks, Immanuel Quickly, and Reggie Bullock.
As for the team's future, they don't have to rely on the draft lottery anymore. They have two first round draft picks, and with Quickley looking like a reliable scorer, fans can trust management to draft wisely. In addition they have lots of cap room to sign free agents. While most upcoming free agents have been extended by their teams, there are still some available free agents such as Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley, and Demar Derozan who could make a difference.. They should especially be interested in signing with the Knicks after the Garden crowd was rocking in every home playoff game. The Knicks can also use the money they have to bring back Rose, Noel, Burks, and Bullock among others. Giving Julius Randle an extension is another important priority. While they don't have to rush it, and his play fell off in the playoffs, he deserves the money for getting the Knicks in that position to begin with. The only exception might be giving him the max, but any other deal would work for both sides. Randle has previously said that he wants to stay in New York so there seems to be little obstacles in the way.
Although the Knicks season came to an end, this teams has a lot to be proud of. They finally look like a competitive team with players who play for one another, and got more out of this season than anyone could've thought. Fans have also taken notice and are excited to watch a good team for the first time in awhile, with celebrities such as Spike Lee. Fat Joe, Tracy Morgan, and Chris Rock filling the front rows. Although the Knicks didn't win a playoff series, the fact that some people predicted they'd win says a lot about their season. This team was fun to watch and more importantly, they have the foundation to be a great team.
This year has been a exciting surprise for Knicks fans, as the team finally holds a strong spot in the standings. One of the main contributors toward their success is Immanuel Quickley who should be mentioned among league's top rookies. Despite being drafted at 25, he is a big reason why the Knicks are in this stellar position, and here's how he got them there.
Quickley is already good at running the floor in the early stages of his career. He knows how to set his teammates up for assists or make the pass toward an assist. Perhaps the most impressive skill he has, is his ability to get in front of his man. He usually puts some kind of move on his opponent and once Quickey gets a step, he getting back in front of him by putting putting his on his hip pocket. By doing that, Quickley has the option to kick it out, which he's not bad at doing, but he's better at drawing the foul or shooting his floater. In addition, Quickley runs the pick and roll better than most guards. That's when his passing is at its best. https://www.instagram.com/p/CKKLt3PHHly/ utm_source=ig_web_copy_link. His kind of play style has been a major reason why he's one of the top rookies.
When it comes to scoring, Quickley can get the job done in numerous ways. His floater game is his bread and butter. As previously mentioned, Quickley will usually rely on his floater once he gets in front of his man, which is something he has practically perfected only four months into his career. https://twitter.com/sny_knicks/status/1355951688159526913?s=20. He also knows how to get to the foul line. When it comes to shooting free throws, he's money foul line, demonstrated by his 89% free throw shooting. Quickley's outside shooting is also a strong aspect of his game thanks to his respectable three-point shooting. He can shoot off the catch or create for himself as shown below. https://twitter.com/MikeVorkunov/status/1374516153544962060?s=20.
On top of that Quickley sometimes gets the defender jumping and then drive where to the basket where he can use his floater.
Quickley's game is resulted in a significant amount of production on the offensive end for a team that mainly wins through defense. He averages 12 points in only 20 minutes. His three point shooting is respectable and hovers just under 40%. Per 36 minutes, his stats jump up to 23 points and 4 assists, which is really impressive for a rookie drafted late in the first round. His play has earned the respect of peers such as Lou Williams and Paul George following a 26 point performance against one of the league's toughest defenses. Perhaps the greatest thing to come out of Quickley's season, is the fact that the Knicks are in the fifth seed as one of the league's most surprising teams.
Whether or not the Knicks will be able to persevere through the second half of the season, Quickley has established himself as a fan favorite through his positive energy. He has already had a terrific start to his career and should only go up from here.
While this year has been unusual in many ways, it isn't an excuse for another abysmal year of New York Sports. With basketball not starting until December, the Jets and Giants - both at the bottom of the standings - are the only option for fans to watch. Here are all the teams we'll be looking at: the Jets, Giants, Knicks, Nets Yankees, and Mets.
New York Jets - The Jets have been so bad this season that fans are just hoping for the team to tank for a higher draft pick. Head coach Adam Gase is at the center of this storm, not only for how terribly the team is playing, but for Sam Darnold's regression. In addition, Gase's lack of adjustments during halftime and failure to take responsibility after losses hasn't sat well with players. The team is currently in line to select Clemson's phenom quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but they have many more improvements to make, starting with a new coaching staff.
New York Giants - Despite Head Coach Joe Judge making a solid impression, it hasn't translated to wins, as the Giants are in the midst of another rough year at 2-7. Their franchise cornerstone Saquon Barkley is out for the season with a torn ACL, which hasn't helped Daniel Jones in what has been a disappointing sophomore season. General Manager Dave Gettleman will likely get axed at the end of the year, leading the Giants to find a new GM to pair with their rookie coach.
New York Knicks - This upcoming season will likely be another rebuilding year, as the Knicks are still far away from contention. They do have some bright spots such as R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, who are both building blocks for this franchise. To become a playoff team, they must trade for a proven leader such as Chris Paul to really give some of their young players a boost of confidence. However, their owner James Dolan, who's responsible for the team's dysfunction over the years, has most recently been blamed for his refusal to condemn systematic racism which could make players reluctant to join.
Brooklyn Nets - This team and its fans have many reasons to be excited for next season. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving poised to share the court for the first time following injuries, hopes for a possible championship are high. They also have a new coach in Hall of Fame point guard (and Durant's friend) Steve Nash, who knows a thing or two about winning dating back to his playing career. Brooklyn's only issues, are Durant's sensitivity and Irving's occasional criticism towards teammates, which could lead to a tumultuous season.
New York Yankees - As of now, there is still a sour taste of disappointment stemming from the team's loss against the Rays in the divisional series. In what was another season filled with injuries, they weren't able to adapt this time compared to last year, leading to a roller coaster season. There's no question that it would've helped if the team adjusted better to baseball's new environment this season, like other teams with high expectations such as the Dodgers. Fortunately with the strong possibility of MVP candidate DJ Lemahieu resigning, they will likely have a chance to run it back next season.
New York Mets - For the Mets, this season was very disappointing. With optimism heading into the season, they never came close to sniffing the playoffs. They do have talented players such as Jacob DeGrom, Pete Alonso, and a couple of impressive rookies in David Peterson and Andres Gimenez, who could have important future roles. Their biggest and most recent change is Steve Cohen's purchase of the team, which may be the fresh start this team needs.
Although there are some reasons for fans to be positive, most New York sports teams still have ways to go before a championship is on the horizon. When the Yankees, who are the city's best team, exit early in the playoffs, that just doesn't add up to a good year. Whether these teams are losing because of their ownership, coaching, or players, disappointment is the perfect term to sum up New York sports.
Events of the past several weeks have shown that there is profound social unrest in our country. Over centuries, African Americans have been discriminated against in many different ways, recently escalating with incidents of police brutality and violence. At least three African Americans - Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd - were killed by either the police or white civilians earlier this year. Thousands of protests are happening all over America as a way of responding to the injustice. As a result, many athletes have been using their social platform to create change, take a stand, and call for action.
Notable athletes have been vocal for change, using their platform to speak out. One of those players has been none other than LeBron James. He has made many social media posts expressing the difficulties of being an African American, letting people know the reasons for his activism, and stating that white people always command African Americans what to do. He made an emotional video with the sound of a basketball hitting the floor and as the ball hit the floor, a new white command would pop up. The captions went from "Shut up and dribble", which Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham told him back in 2018, to "Shut up and lay still." James concluded the video saying, "This is why we can't just stick to sports. Do you understand now?" Colin Kaepernick has probably earned the most praise from other athletes and coaches since he kneeled for the national anthem during the 2016 NFL season. His purpose was to draw attention to all of the racism and police brutality against African-Americans. He's now became a symbol of resistance to the unfair treatment of African Americans. Recently, he created a legal defense initiative called Know Your Rights Camp "for victims of excessive force by police terrorism and civil rights violations."
NFL and MLB players have created group videos for their own respective leagues condemning racism. The NFL video featured Patrick Mahomes, Michael Thomas, Deshaun Watson, and others. All of the players pushed the NFL to make a statement condemning racism, saying "What will it take? For one of us to be brutally murdered by the police?" They named numerous African Americans who were killed, that could've been them. The video concludes with all of them stating, "On behalf of the National Football League this is what we, the players would like to hear you state: We the National Football League condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We the National Football League admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We the National Football League believe Black Lives Matter." www.instagram.com/p/CBN8b4Kn4S0/
As for baseball, Giancarlo Stanton tweeted a video which included him and other players such as Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts. They used #Players4BLM while vowing to make their voices louder toward creating change. Their message was, "We've been told that our peaceful pleas were not made at the right time, at the right place, in the right way. We've been told to 'wait.' But we remember when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that the word 'wait' has almost always meant never. We will wait no longer. We will make our voices louder for all of us who can and for all of those who could not." www.instagram.com/p/CBeefY6lNeu/
Former NBA player Stephen Jackson was a longtime friend of George Floyd. After hearing the news of his death, he flew to Minneapolis, where he's spoken at rallies about Floyd's story to bring attention to the police brutality that still occurs. Soon, he became an unforeseen spokesman for the family and the Black Lives Matter movement which has gained momentum around the world. He also gave a passionate speech on May 29 during a news conference at Minneapolis City Hall. At Floyd's funeral in Houston, he sat next to Floyd's daughter Gianna and later held her up on her shoulders at a rally. Jackson not only promises to take care of Gianna, but to bring justice for the family. His work earned lots of praise from many players, commissioner Adam Silver, former teammates, and coaches.
Despite the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is still controversy over some methods of protesting. Drew Brees said in an interview that he will never agree with anyone who kneels during the National Anthem. Many people such as James and even Brees's teammates spoke out against Brees. Even though Brees is well-liked within the football community, his comments show the lack of understanding he and many other Americans still have about racism. The responses from many fans and players who were upset by his comments shows the increase in their support toward protests against discrimination. Shortly after the interview, Brees issued an apology pledging to be an ally for the African-American community in fighting for racial equality and social justice.
This is the first time that athletes of all sports are using their social platform to create change. LeBron James recently created an initiative called More Than a Vote with the goal of standing up against racist voter suppression by educating, energizing, and protecting communities. Other athletes and entertainers have teamed up together to reach out to communities. Within one month, the organization has already identified major cities in key states in hopes of having an impact.
During this month, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace spoke out against the Confederate flag, saying it was a symbol of hate, not heritage. He successfully used his platform as the the only full-time African American driver at the top level to call for Confederate flags to be banned at NASCAR events. His viewpoints have caused him to give up sponsorships, but he has always put his beliefs over money. Shortly after he took this stand, a rope was found in his garage which was thought to be a noose. After investigations, it turned out not to be a hate crime, but the support he received was encouraging. This included an emotional procession of other drivers following Wallace who was driving his car to the front of the pit road.
This is a unique time for our country. It's important that athletes contribute to society in other ways besides just playing sports. Those ways may be varied, but recently many have come together with the purpose of working toward racial equality. It's time for the rest of the world to not just approve the work that athletes are doing, but rather make our own effort to make a difference in some way.
Here are some links to organizations founded by and supported by athletes:
Last year's offseason for the New York Knicks was one of the most disappointing ones in recent memory. With high hopes of getting Zion Williamson, the number one pick, along with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency, it looked like their bad fortunes would finally change. Instead, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The Knicks lost out on Williamson, although R.J. Barrett was having a good rookie season. Even worse, Durant and Irving decided to sign with the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets. So as the Knicks' troubles continue, how can their fortunes change this upcoming offseason?
The first move that Knicks General Manager Leon Rose should make is to hire a coach. While their interim coach Mike Miller wasn't awful, he's clearly not the answer to their problems. There are going to be a lot of available coaches who have impressive resumes, such as former Knicks' assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, and former Knicks' head coach Jeff Van Gundy. The guy who should be their first target is Mark Jackson, a Queens native who was a point guard for the team in the late 80s and early 90s. As a coach, he deserves a lot of credit for helping begin the Warriors' dynasty. He allowed Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to develop under a coaching environment that had both of them as the focal points of the offense. The team improved in his final two years, making the playoffs twice before Steve Kerr eventually took them to the top. His ability to develop players, as well as his New York roots, make him a good fit for the Knicks.
For the draft, the Knicks' top position need is point guard. Frank Ntilikina and Elfrid Payton have their moments and earned roles on the team, but not as starters. In the draft, point guards such as LaMelo Ball and Cole Anthony will probably be available for the Knicks to select. For Ball, his defense is questionable and his 3 point shooting needs work. However, his scoring and passing make him a top prospect. Another notable option for them is Cole Anthony, who posted an impressive 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists at North Carolina. He could be a big steal if his shot improves. The Knicks' first choice should be Anthony, based on the fact that he was the only bright spot on a talent-starved team and they would avoid Ball's volatile father Lavar.
Since Leon Rose was hired, the Knicks have been monitoring big name players, but the main person they should target is Chris Paul. Though he's 35 years old, his leadership and playmaking are the reasons why the Oklahoma City Thunder were overachieving this season. The Knicks wouldn't have to give up one of their young players or a high draft pick to acquire Paul. The Knicks should also target Paul because he'd be re-united with Rose, who was his agent. On the court, Paul's playmaking should help the Knicks win more games in the short term. In the long term, his leadership will help the development of players such as Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. More importantly, he's a guy who can bring a winning culture to a losing franchise, something the Knicks desperately need.
Every Knicks' offseason has some plan to revive the franchise. Most of the time, their plan fails and they have to start all over again. The focus of this year's plan is to make their young players better. Hiring a coach known to get the best out of his players, drafting well, and getting one of the best point guards of the millennium can give these guys a boost of confidence to succeed in the long term. Winning may not come immediately, but by making all of these moves, it can establish a winning culture.
Throughout his 17 seasons, Carmelo Anthony has been one of the NBA's top scorers. Using some of the most the most basic moves, he's regarded as one of the best players of his generation as well as of the best scorers in the league.
Until the pandemic, Melo was enjoying a comeback season with the Portland Trail Blazers. I think that if there was a Comeback Player of the Year award in basketball, it would be given to him. He started his career with the Denver Nuggets in 2013 where he enjoyed seven successful seasons, including an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. But heading into the 2010-11 season, Melo had a change of heart, and wanted to be traded to the New York Knicks. He was traded in February, 2011, and he took them to the playoffs for three straight seasons. The 2012-13 season was arguably his best, as he won the scoring title and took the Knicks beyond the first playoff round since 2000. Melo continued to ball out, but the Knicks missed the playoffs in his final four seasons, before he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since getting traded by the Knicks, he's been on four teams, only playing for two of them. Melo was out of the league for one year before signing with the Trail Blazers. He's been a great fit for them, averaging 15 points per game and making every executive think twice about not signing him.
So how is Melo still the great scorer that he is, even after a year out of the NBA?
Anthony's scoring isn't complicated. He can score using 12 simple moves. From the perimeter, he can attack the basket using a rip and go, dribble hesitation, pump fake, or spin move in the post. His jumpshot can come from a pull up off the dribble, hesitation outside or inside the three point arc, pump fake, turnaround, or in transition. Perhaps his most devastating move is his jab step, which I'll explain through a simulation of three possessions.
On the first possession, Anthony gives you a jab step. It has you thinking about whether he'll shoot it or drive. He then drives to the basket with ease and scores.
On the second possession, Anthony gives you a jab step. You immediately think that he's going to drive to the basket and you move with him towards the basket. The only problem, is that he's still in the same spot with the ball and you can only watch him make another basket.
On the third possession, Anthony gives one jab step. You're not hesitant at all. He gives you another jab step. You back up. A third jab step now makes you think that he's going to shoot. Then with a simple pump fake, you go flying by and then it's just a matter of whether he scores on a jump shot or at the basket.
With those moves, Melo has a scoring average of 24 points in the regular season and playoffs, a scoring title, and over 25,000 points in his Hall of Fame career.
It's a shock that Melo was out of the league for such a long time. His defense is questionable, but he can score at ease in a way that's rarely seen. Even after being out of the league, his scoring ways still makes him one of the best scorers in the game.
The NBA's season may be on hold, but there are rising stars who have a bright future ahead. There are a lot of top tier players who, despite having played in the NBA for around 5 years, are still very young. Unlike established players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Anthony Davis, who are mostly in their mid to late 20s, I'm instead going to talk about the best players who are currently in their rookie or sophomore season. So here we go:
1. Luka Dončić
This one was an obvious choice. Though Luka Dončić recently turned 21 years old, he's playing like a veteran. From his rookie season, he bursted into the spotlight averaging 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists while leading the Dallas Mavericks to statement wins over teams like the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics, and Thunder. After the season, he was awarded the Rookie of Year. But what he did last year feels like an afterthought compared to this year. His averages have all gone up to 28, 9, and 8, he is number 1 in the league with 14 triple doubles as well as in franchise history with 22, and he has the Dallas Mavericks in position to make their first playoff appearance in 4 years. They actually might not have to clinch if the NBA chooses to start the playoffs as soon as their coronavirus hiatus is over. Getting back to the subject of Luka, his unique ball handling and passing at 6'7 allows him to be one of the craftiest guards despite his lack of athleticism. By the way, his clutch performances aren't too bad either. Don't be surprised if he wins an M.V.P. award in the future.
2. Ja Morant
Though this guy was picked at no. 2 by the Memphis Grizzlies, he was definitely playing like the no. 1 pick during the time that Zion was out. His stats of 17 points, 7 assists, and a shooting percentage that hovers around 50 are good; his highlight reels are even better. Morant's name continues to pop up on basketball highlights all over the internet and for the right reason. Take for instance his putback dunk over the Rockets' P.J. Tucker, beating Sun's Aron Baynes to the hoop to seal a win in Phoenix, or his stare down after breaking the ankles of the Clippers' Jermey Robinson before knocking down a 3 pointer. When he's not making highlight plays, he's earning praise from peers like LeBron James who labeled him "Super special" earlier this month. Most importantly perhaps, is how in one season Morant has transformed Grizzlies into a playoff team (unless the NBA choses to resume the season and they end up collapsing). No matter how the season ends, he has established himself as the face of this franchise.
3. Zion Williamson
If it wasn't for an injury that kept him out until late January, Williamson would've probably been ranked higher than Morant. But unfortunately, the unexpected happens, and that was the case with Williamson. When he came back, though, he didn't just ease back into basketball. He came with a purpose. He debuted with a 17 point 4th quarter outing and didn't look back. Pretty quickly, he regained all of the strength and athleticism that he displayed in college. Williamson's successful recovery is impressive considering he's 6'6" and 284 lbs. He may have only played 19 games this season, but 19 games was enough for him to dominate, bring a vibe, and show leadership. He may not be going to the playoffs like Luka and Ja, but he'll have Pelicans' fans going into the offseason very optimistic about their future.
4. Trae Young
It's kind of hard to believe that a guy who is so scrawny, plays so well. That's the case for Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks. In just 2 seasons, he's already one of the best shooters, ball-handlers, and passers in the NBA. His defense needs work, but those three other abilities I just mentioned make other NBA players look like they're still in high school. Young's impact didn't happen immediately, as he went through a bumpy first half of his rookie season. In the second half, however, he went on a tear and although he didn't win Rookie of the Year, it didn't stop him from carrying his momentum into this season. His averages of 29 points and 9 assists per game, which include 11 40-point and 1 50-point night, shows his massive leap. Unfortunately most of those 40-point games have tended to be a losing effort throughout his young career. Hopefully the Hawks will build around him this offseason so his performances can finally result in more wins.
5. R.J. Barrett
Though the New York Knicks failed to win the lottery for Zion, it allowed them to take a good consolation prize in R.J. Barrett. He hasn't posted the stats or made as many highlight reel plays as the previous four players, but he deserves credit for handling New York's spotlight while playing for a franchise that's earned the reputation as a laughingstock. After some impressive performances to start the season, Barrett started to show growing pains, which can be expected from a 19 year old. However, his play and confidence has improved throughout the season. The game that stands out was against the Houston Rockets, where he dropped 27 points as well as a tough layup in the closing moments that stretched out the Knicks' lead en route to an upset win. The improvement of Barrett's stats and confidence gives Knicks fans something to be hopeful about during a very rough stretch. These are the first steps Barrett has taken toward becoming the face of this franchise.
These players were all drafted with high expectations despite the fact that their average age is only 20 years old. Guys like Luka have taken massive strides while others like R.J. have shown some signs of progression. Nonetheless, it's very impressive to see another group of young players make a name for themselves while playing against grown men with experience. It's unfortunate that we don't know when we'll see these players in action again, but we do know that as long as the players I've talked about keep improving, the NBA will be in good hands for the future.
Sorry, but as much as all of us Knicks fans want to see owner James Dolan sell the team, it's unlikely to happen. All of the Knicks problems have came from Dolan. Since trading their Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing, they've missed the playoffs in all but five seasons and have won only one playoff series. In the other fourteen seasons, they continue to show their incompetence in the most impossible ways. While some of their problems aren't directly on Dolan, all of their problems stem from him, whether it's come to bad acquisitions or his management decisions. If the Knicks don't want to remain an embarrassment, they must make three more changes.
Before Dec. 6, they needed to make four changes, but they already made the first major change with the firing of head coach David Fitzdale. He was recommended by star players such as LeBron James and Dywane Wade to be a head coach so that definitely brought up some good feelings for the Knicks and their fans. However, he wasn't hired to develop a roster of young players. He was hired to manage star players that the Knicks were planning to get in the next free agency class such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving among other players. They even traded their promising, but injured big man Kristaps Porzingis, along with other high priced players midway in the season to create more cap space for free agency. There was one problem: they didn't get the best free agents. Yet they still assembled a roster that seemed like a playoff caliber team. Rookie guard/forward R.J. Barrett and center Mitchell Robinson look like building blocks for the team in the future. But Fitzdale wasn't making the best out of a roster of young players.
That was only one out of four changes that need to happen.
President of Operations Steve Mills has varied his approach season by season with the Knicks and it hasn't been helping at all. His latest bad move was hiring Fitadale. It wasn't about Fitzdale being a good or bad coach. What made the hiring so bad, was that Mills was so sold on the Knicks getting free agents, that he wanted a guy who could successfully deal with those star players in Fitzdale. Even with an injury to their best player Kristaps Porzingis that would keep him out for all of 2018-2019, they still had a roster that was worth developing. Yet, he really didn't want to go with a coach that could develop some of their players such as Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, or Mike Budenholzer. They did produce a solid 2018 draft class in Kevin Knox, Robinson, and Alonzo Trier who all showed promise during different phases of last season, but instead of developing them, they were more focused on getting a high pick that would complement their star free agents. But in the end, all of the losing hurt them from getting a free agent. Look at the Los Angeles Lakers before they got LeBron James; they didn't make the playoffs but they showed enough development in their players to help lure him. But since the Knicks put their young players in a bad situation, they lost a lot of games and it turned off free agents from joining them. In comparison the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets focused on developing their players. Their reward was a playoff appearance, which appealed to Irving and Durant. Therefore, Mills deserves to get fired without question this off-season.
After they clean house this off-season, they should replace Mills with the president of the Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri. Ujiri, constructed a Raptors team that went from being a contender for four years, to a champion last year. While people think of him as the guy who made lots of high risk, high reward moves such as trading for Kawhi Leonard, he also deserves lots of credit for drafting players that have greatly progressed over time such as Pascal Siakam. Despite losing Leonard in the off-season to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Raptors are still one of the top teams of the East. His best move however, may have been hiring a coach that could really get the best out of his players in Nick Nurse. If the Knicks can hire Ujiri, he should do a lot to hire current ESPN analyst Mark Jackson. Besides his city roots and the fact that he was a point guard for the Knicks early in his career, he's praised for his work with the Golden State Warriors from 2011-2014. He didn't win a championship, but he reached the playoffs with them twice, where he won his first and only playoff series. His most impressive work is that he developed the Warriors championship core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. He has previously expressed interest of taking the head coaching job. It's definitely realistic that hiring Ujiru and Jackson will help develop the Knicks young core and lead them to lots of success. But for all of that to happen, they must put both of them in a good situation to succeed.