Last Monday officially marked the end of an illustrious career for Carmelo Anthony. The future hall of famer announced his retirement via social media after sitting out this season as a free agent. Although it would've been nice to see him compete for one last title, Anthony seemed content with his decision. While I've had the privilege of watching a few great athletes, Anthony stands alone, and here's why.
All of the playoff seasons the Knicks enjoyed from 2010-2013, can be attributed to the arrival of Carmelo Anthony. It's true Amare Stoudemire was propelling the Knicks in the right direction prior to Anthony, but injuries would ultimately keep him from reaching his full potential. However, Anthony made an immediate impact, leading the Knicks to the playoffs in his first three years. The 2013 season saw the Knicks have their best season in almost 20 years, and their first playoff series win in 13 years. Having been dreadful before, those were some of the best seasons Knick fans could remember for awhile. Even in the dark years, Anthony still proceeded to give fans something to cheer for despite being maligned by management.
But if there's one thing anyone could agree with when debating Carmelo Anthony's legacy, it's that he was one of the few athletes who embraced playing for a tough sports market like New York. Many athletes might want to play for a New York City-based team, but they're not prepared for the pressure that comes with being in the Big Apple. Anthony knew what he was getting into, and he welcomed the challenge. During his time with the Knicks, Anthony explained "When you go to places like New York, you feel the excitement, the energy is different, the fans are different, and the game is different playing in New York."
A few years after his Knick career, Anthony reiterated his desire to play, saying "I wanted to take that challenge on. Whether I failed at it or not, I wanted to be able to say that I did it. I took it upon myself to say 'Get me there.' Not everyone has that same mentality." That earned him the respect of many New Yorkers including myself.
On the court, it was hard not to appreciate Anthony's game. He might've not been the all around player his buddy LeBron James is, but when it came to scoring, Anthony was pure. He was also a strong rebounder, particularly on the offensive end, but his scoring will always be talked about, as it should be. In a league where three point shooting has rapidly increased, Anthony was definitely no stranger to using the three point line, but he used the whole floor offensively. With the strength to score inside, along with a deadly jump shot, Anthony's game was was as sweet as soft serve ice cream. In short, good things were bound to happen whenever he had the ball.
Even after getting traded, Anthony was such a likable player who was easy to follow. He grew as a person over the years, and it was evident through his efforts in becoming a leader of his community during the social unrest in America. Anthony's work earned him the 2020-2021 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award.
It will be weird watching the NBA with Anthony officially retired. Although he never won a championship, he conducted himself like a champion, and had many championship-worthy nights. There will never be a day where I wasn't happy to have him as my favorite athlete.
The Knicks gave their fans an unforgettable season, winning their first playoff series in 10 years, before ultimately falling to the Heat in the semifinals. They were a tough, resilient team that fit the city and its fanbase like a glove. Unlike most years, where they become more irrelevant as the season goes on, New York got better as the games went on, going further than they have in a decade.
While there are many reasons why New York had their most successful season in recent memory, a few stand out in particular.
From a roster standpoint, the team got a major boost from the free agent signing of point guard, Jalen Brunson, who took this team to the next level. While a decent amount of players from the 2021 season still remained such as Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin, the Knicks were in desperate need of a point guard who could guide the offense. Brunson did show plenty of improvement the year prior, but that didn't stop some Mavericks from letting him walk in free agency. Although the Knicks were criticized for signing him to a $110 million contract, that now seems like a bargain if anything. While this is only Brunson's first year as a Knick, he already has a legitimate case as the best free-agent signing in Knicks history.
Throughout the season, it became more apparent that Brunson was finally the point guard the Knicks have been searching for. His production and leadership were essential in helping the Knicks rebound from a 37 win season the year prior. Brunson posted career highs in points and assists, while spearheading an offense that averaged 10 more points than last season. More importantly, he helped the Knicks maintain their success over the course of the year in a competitive Eastern Conference. He further proved himself in the playoffs, averaging 27 points, five rebounds, and four assists. This included an incredible 38/9/7 in 48 minutes in game five against Miami to stave off elimination. Brunson's presence, also allowed other players like Randle to thrive in more comfortable roles.
For head coach Tom Thibodeau, anyone who viewed him as incredibly stubborn, must think twice. He's not perfect, but he made many adjustments that had a major impact. His best move, without question, was going with a nine man rotation despite having a fairly deep roster. It jumpstarted an eight game win streak, and while some wondered how long it could last, the strategy ultimately proved to be the right decision. Other smart moves, included inserting Quentin Grimes into the starting lineup, and finding an immediate role for Josh Hart after the Knicks traded for him in February.
If there's one attribute the Knicks had this season, it would be their resilience. With all due respect to their top options, Brunson, Randle, and Barrett, they aren't superstars. A team constructed like the Knicks must do all the little things right from hard-nosed defense every possession, to picking up after another's mistake. Whereas some teams might struggle in that department, it was easy for the Knicks because they had such a tight knit group. Everybody understood their responsibilities, and were determined to excel in their roles. New York's chemistry only got better when they acquired Hart, who was Brunson's Villanova teammate, at the trade deadline.
Each month, the Knicks continued to make significant strides as a team, and it showed from December up until the semifinals. Some moments that highlighted their grit included the eight game win streak that sparked the turnaround, an overtime road win in January against the Celtics, a 20 point comeback against the 76ers, a nine game win streak from February to March, and their first round triumph.
This was a significant step for the Knicks in becoming a playoff contender. They have a strong foundation of unselfish players who work extremely well together. With the majority of this team likely returning, along with the possibility of the Knicks being an attractive destination this offseason, there are plenty of reasons to be excited going forward. With Brunson on the roster, anything is possible.
It seemed like every few weeks, a new team was making a legitimate case as an NBA title contender while another team was just treading water in that time period. As a result, this was the first time since the 2000-2001 season that no NBA team won 60 games in an 82 game season. However, that doesn't mean this year's playoffs will be entertaining. There are a number of teams that could go on a deep playoff run whether it's the league best Milwaukee Bucks, or the Los Angeles Lakers who didn't clinch a playoff spot until Tuesday's play-in win. Here are my predictions.
Eastern Conference: Western Conference:
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Nuggets 4
#8 Heat 0 #8 Timberwolves 1
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Nuggets 4
#4 Cavaliers 1 #4 Suns 2
#4 Cavaliers 4 #4 Suns 4
#5 Knicks 3 #5 Clippers 2
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Bucks 4 #1 Nuggets 4
#3 Celtics 2 #3 Nuggets 1 #2 Lakers 1
#3 76ers 4 #3 Kings 4
#6 Nets 1 #6 Warriors 3
#2 Celtics 4 #7 Lakers 4
#3 76ers 3 #3 Kings 2
#2 Celtics 4 #2 Grizzlies 2
#7 Hawks 1 #7 Lakers 4
It is not even three full years into this decade, but if there's any recurring trend, it's that plenty of teams were finally able to overcome years of mediocrity and make the playoffs. Whether it has been adjusting to COVID, a major acquisition, or a well timed winning streak, teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, and Phoenix Suns finally managed to break long standing playoff droughts. The Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies also recently added their names to the list.
Here's why this pattern continues:
Surprisingly, the first cause has been the effects of the COVID pandemic. Although all teams were challenged with adapting to empty venues, COVID actually might've helped teams who were previously struggling.
Some teams who benefited from these unusual circumstances include the Cleveland Browns, who allowed more fans and only played three games in empty stadiums, unlike many of their opponents whose stadiums were empty all season. In another example, the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres. were particularly fortunate to play in a shortened season. While some might see these seasons as fluky, it is fair to say that they benefitted from these unusual circumstances as both teams underachieved the following year.
Regardless of COVID, there were other teams who were already well-positioned to break their playoff droughts and were just one player away.
In 2019, the Buccaneers boosted a talented roster that was competitive, but missed the playoffs for the 12th straight year. However, their progress was enough to lure Tom Brady in free agency. The rest was history, as Brady won an seventh Super Bowl in a convincing 31-9 triumph. The following season saw them lose in Divisional Round but there's no question Brady has changed the culture in Tampa Bay.
The Phoenix Suns, with a young roster led by Devin Booker, went 8-0 in the NBA bubble but narrowly missed out on the play-in tournament. Despite this, they established a foundation and would soon trade for Chris Paul whose greatest ability is elevating his teammates. Since then, the Suns not only broke their 10 year drought, but have won more games than any other team, and made the 2021 Finals.
If there's one thing great teams have in common, it is the ability to embark on a winning stretch at the right time. This is also how some teams were finally able to get over the hump to make the playoffs. Just as they would slowly start to fall out of the playoff picture, they heated up at the perfect time.
The 2021 New York Knicks are a perfect fit for this category. While they had already showed significant improvement, it looked like their luck was starting to run out with just over a month left. What followed was a nine game winning streak, culminating into 16 wins in their last 20 games: good enough to clinch the fourth seed. Their first playoff series in eight years against the Hawks lasted only five games, but witnessing their game 2 win in person was an incredible experience for me.
Unlike the Knicks, this year's Seattle Mariners were looking to take the next step after falling short of the playoffs the previous season. They started slow but found their stride in July: the exact time baseball games become significant. Seattle won an amazing 14 consecutive games, which boosted them into the wild card picture, a position they would not relinquish. Last Friday, they finally put an end to their 21 year drought; the longest out of any American sports team at the time.
This year has seen so many young players in the NBA take huge steps in their careers. Whether it was Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, or Luka Dončić, the NBA is certainly in good hands for the future. With all the young talents in the league, here are my top 25 players under 25.
1. Luka Dončić
He will not win MVP as I predicted before the season but his incredible sense on the court, clutch shot making, and career averages of 28 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists will eventually earn him one. His averages are even better in the playoffs as he's turning the Dallas Mavericks into a playoff contender, as he will play in his first career Conference Finals following a 35 point masterpiece in game 7. Whether Dallas wins or not, it's only a matter of time until he will have accomplished everything an NBA player could dream of.
2. Jayson Tatum
In his first year as the established number one option, Tatum propelled the Boston Celtics to the second seed after an 18-21 start. Though he was always a big time scorer - just look at game 6 - he established himself as one of the league's best two-way players with his lockdown defense on Kevin Durant in the first round and clutch shooting against the Bucks. Add in the playoff experience he already has at age 24 and Boston could soon be hanging up banner 18.
3. Ja Morant
The high flying dunker of the Memphis Grizzlies took a massive leap in his third year, winning the league's Most Improved Player. Morant's incredible athleticism has made him one of the league's most exciting players. His impact on the team can't be understated as Memphis finished second in the West and won their first playoff series since 2015. Fans will now be hoping that he can make a full recovery as his amazing postseason was cut short after a knee injury.
4. Trae Young
Young's disappointing postseason makes it difficult to put him in the top three, but he still gets the nod at four. His ball handling and shooting has made him one of the league's most entertaining point guards since his rookie season. He's also became one of the league's best finishers with a bunch of clutch shots in big games such as last year against the Knicks and then the Cavaliers in this year's play-in.
5. Zion Williamson
Despite missing all of this season, Williamson still cracks the top five. When he is healthy, Williamson is one of the more dominant players on the court. He will back down anyone that stands in his way despite his small size for a power forward. On defense, he's a brick wall who refuses to let opponents have their way against him.
6. LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball is an impressive playmaker who has made the Hornets one of the league's most entertaining teams. While everyone loved his passing, they were skeptical about his shot. However, he has transformed his shot into a strength which is why he's dangerous on the offensive end. Although Ball hasn't appeared in a postseason yet, that will likely change.
7. Anthony Edwards
Anthony Edwards is probably the first player since LeBron to come into the league possessing an explosiveness that's highlight worthy, despite having the body of a football player. This allows him to get to wherever he wants on the court, whether it's out on the perimeter or in the paint. After being a finalist for Rookie of the Year, Edwards took a jump by leading the Timberwolves to the playoffs where he was easily their top player throughout the series.
8. Bam Adebayo
Bam Adebayo's skillset allows the Heat to flourish on both ends of the floor. On offense, he went from someone who could only score above the rim, to a decent midrange shooter with the ability to put the ball on the floor. He might look undersized on defense at 6'9, but his athleticism and agility makes him one of the league's toughest defenders.
9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
For the last two years, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a bright spot for the lowly Thunder. He's always been a good scorer, but he's also starting to become a facilitator. Despite being in the league for four years, Gilgeous-Alexander is only 23 years old. When you consider the fact that he nearly averaged 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists, imagine what he'll be doing four years later.
10. DeAndre Ayton
His future is murky as he only played 17 minutes of the Suns game seven debacle, but that shouldn't understate the fact that he's still a solid player. He might not be as flashy as the other big men in the game, but he has always been a guarantee for buckets and rebounds. In every year, he's averaged double figures for points and rebounds.
11. Darius Garland
Garland is a crafty offensive player who can excel offensively with or without the ball. Although he was solid in his first two seasons, Garland's play took a massive jump this season. His averages of 21 points and 8 assists earned Garland his first career all star appearance and although the Cavaliers lost both play-in games, Garland gives fans a reason to believe again.
12. Brandon Ingram
If it wasn't for Ingram, the Pelicans wouldn't have made the playoffs, let alone the play-in. Ingram has blossomed into a consistent scorer. During the play-in however, Ingram took his game to the next level as he led the Pelicans to two straight wins en route to a playoff birth. In his first playoff series, Ingram averaged 27 points in a losing effort.
13. Jarrett Allen
With the Nets, Allen was a decent player but after getting traded to the Cavaliers, he's took on a more significant role. His offense is solid, but his defense is what makes Allen a great fit for a team that surprisingly allowed the fifth fewest points in the NBA. Allen's play resulted in his first all-star selection.
14. Evan Mobley
You can't mention Jarrett Allen's impact on the Cavaliers defense without mentioning Evan Mobley. Although he didn't win Rookie of the Year, Mobley is a very talented power forward who looks like the second coming of Anthony Davis. He can wreak havoc at the rim on offense and defense. The only difference, is that he's a better ball-handler and shooter at this point in his career than Davis in his rookie season.
15. Lonzo Ball
Had it not been for two seasons where he had to be shut down because of injuries, Ball would be higher on the list. When healthy, Lonzo Ball is a solid playmaker who's defense is extremely underrated. His impact on the Chicago Bulls this year was undeniable as they went 22-13 with Ball, compared to their 25-27 record (including playoffs) without him.
16. De'Aaron Fox
For the last five years, De'Aaron Fox has been the only player worth watching on the Sacramento Kings. His quickness makes him one of the more entertaining point guards in the league. Although Fox has yet to make the playoffs, his career averages of 19 points and six assists suggest that he'll make the most of the opportunity when the time comes.
17. Scottie Barnes
When Scottie Barnes was drafted back in July, many people thought he went too early in the draft and that the Raptors had reached. Fast forward to now and there's no one who is against that pick. Barnes won Rookie of the Year and helped the Raptors exceed expectations by making the playoffs. Although they lost to the 76ers in six games, Barnes already has a significant role on this team.
18. R.J. Barrett
Unlike most people who make these types of lists, I will acknowledge Barrett's gradual improvement throughout his three seasons. He has become a threat from the perimeter, he's probably the team's best on-ball defender, and he delivers under pressure. Last year, he was integral to the Knicks surprising success and this year, he became the youngest Knick to average 20 points a game.
19. MIles Bridges
Miles Bridges has always been one of the league's most exciting dunkers, but this year Miles Bridges showed he's more than just a dunker. He has worked on his craft and it was evident this season. He averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and assists.
20. John Collins
Like Bam Adebayo, John Collins has also become more than just a guy who can excel above the rim. While he doesn't have the physicality Adebayo has, Collins is probably a better three point shooter. He can also put the ball on the floor and he remains a favorite for Trae Young to throw alley-oops to.
21. Jaren Jackson Jr.
In the first season that Jaren Jackson was fully healthy, he put up strong numbers all across the board. Offensively, Jackson can score from anywhere as he averaged 16 points and six rebounds. He was also a big reason why Memphis was one of the best teams at protecting the rim, blocking two shots a game.
22. Tyler Herro
After a stellar rookie season which saw the Miami Heat reach the NBA Finals, Tyler Herro took a step back. However, he has rebounded this year, averaging career highs in points and assists while shooting about 40%. Herro's scoring off the bench has helped fuel the Heat's offense and as a result, he won Sixth Man of the Year.
23. Desmond Bane
After a decent rookie season, Desmond Bane has taken a significant step in his sophomore season. He doubled his scoring average from nine points to 18 points. Most of his offensive production comes from three, where's he's shot 43% in each of his first two seasons. In the playoffs, his three point % hovers around 50.
24. Tyrese Maxey
Before the Philadelphia 76ers traded their malcontent Ben Simmons for James Harden, Tyrese Maxey really stepped up as the no. 2 option behind Joel Embiid. Even after Harden's arrival, Maxey continued to flourish with his craftiness on offense. As a matter of fact, Maxey performed better in the postseason than Harden, averaging 20 points compared to Harden's 18 while displaying a lot more effort. Just search up his hustle in game three against the Heat.
25. Jordan Poole
When the Golden State Warriors selected Jordan Poole late in the first round, not many thought much about the selection. However, Poole now has a significant role with the team, establishing himself as the newest "Splash Brother" alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The only difference between them is that Poole is 10 years younger than both Curry and Thompson.
There is no better word to describe the Knicks' season than inconsistent. Following last year's surprising playoff appearance, the Knicks were expected to build upon their success after acquiring Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, along with extending Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and Alec Burks. With these moves, the Knicks started 5-1, but have sputtered since, going 9-16. So why has this been the case? Well, their record can be attributed to a few notable reasons.
It is no secret that every good NBA team must have a starting unit that plays as one and finishes the job during crunch time. As for the Knicks, their starters have been extremely disappointing. They went into the season with hope that Walker would mesh with Randle and RJ Barrett, but this hasn't been the case. It only took nineteen games into the season for coach Tom Thibodeau to making major changes to the starting lineup. Walker, their starting point guard going into the season, was such a liability defensively that he was removed from the rotation in late November. He did bounce back with an impressive performances in his last two starts, which will make Thibodeau's decision interesting once their other players get out of COVID protocols. Additionally, center Mitchell Robinson was removed from the starting lineup a couple weeks ago, and it's unknown when he'll get his next start.
Last year, the Knicks were a team that no one wanted to play. On defense, they suffocated opponents holding them to an average of 104 points on 44% shooting: both league lows. This year, the opposing field goal percentage still hovers around 44, but they're now 18th in points allowed. They've constantly allowed guys not known for their scoring to put up a season high total whether it was Ricky Rubio's 37, O.G. Anunoby's 36, or Zeke Nnaji's 21 off the bench. For the Knicks' defense to resemble last year's success, this troubling trend must stop.
The offense, which was supposed to be improved upon this offseason, has also taken a step back. The Knicks' glaring weakness on that end of the floor comes from behind the three point arc. Last year, they finished 27th in three point attempts, but third in three point percentage. This year the Knicks remain in the top ten in three point percentage, but have climbed up to 11th in attempts. Their heavy reliance on shooting threes is a big reason why their offense has struggled to produce at a consistent rate. Their top two players in Randle and Barrett also deserve a lot of criticism. Last year, most of the Knicks' offense ran through those two players and they delivered time and time again. Even if their stats this year were a sliver below last year's stats, the Knicks would've won more games by now.
Finally, there's always one point in a game where the Knicks seem to lose their focus, and it proceeds to haunt them in the end. There were many games where the Knicks dug a deep hole for themselves to climb out of, whether it was against the Bulls earlier this month, or Raptors a couple of weeks ago. There has also been a lack of maturity in some of these losses. Take their loss against the Nets for example: Julius Randle might've had some calls go against him, but he was in the wrong to argue with the referee, which earned him technical foul midway through the fourth quarter. The Nets ended up winning by two in a game the Knicks could've won in regulation or forced overtime had Randle kept his cool.
Now obviously, it's still very early in the season. The Knicks just beat the lowly Pistons in a stress-free game, and will be facing two more teams this week who's rosters have been ravaged by COVID. This is a golden opportunity for the Knicks to get some momentum going. Don't forget that last year, the Knicks had a somewhat similar record earlier in the season, before going on that nine game win streak which propelled them into the playoffs. This team is certainly capable of repeating their success from last year. However, it's best that the Knicks find a way to stop digging a hole to climb out of, because before they know it, their playoff hopes could vanish.
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 Bucks, which set the tone the season. On many occasions, the Knicks looked like they might've peaked, only to prove fans wrong and go on another winning stretch. In early April however, it really 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 three point shooting percentage from 32 to 40. Derrick Rose was a great midseason acquisition who gelled immediately and gave an offensive boast. Other key contributors included 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.