Portland Trail Blazers v New York Knicks

Trying to reassemble the Knicks

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It was supposed to be different. It really was. With the roster expunged of the mess outside of Wilson Chandler who is still serviceable and Eddy Curry who at least keeps the bench firmly weighted to the ground, things were supposed to be different for the New York Knicks. They had a superstar in Amar’e Stoudemire, a winning coach in Mike D’Antoni that had made the mess win an underwhelming but decent number of games, and the GM at the top to get them the moves for the next level.

It was supposed to be different, but it’s not.

There they sit, at 3-7, the eleventh best team in the Eastern Conference, losing to the Timberwolves before a loss to the Rockets put them on a five-game skid. Amar’e Stoudemire is blasting the team. It’s an abject disaster ten games in, as much as a ten game sample can constitute a disaster.

Here’s where I’m supposed to talk about how Mike D’Antoni’s defense once again proves that his run and gun style can’t win in the NBA. I’m supposed to discuss how soft the Knicks are, and how it’s only a matter of time for this team to fall apart like all the others. According to script I need to throw out cliches about toughness and determination and the chemical makeup of champions. That’s the standard sportswriter script. Good news, though: I hate stuff like that.

Thing is, it’s not the defense. Kind of.

If you look at the Knicks they’re currently 14th in defensive efficiency. That’s about four spots outside of good, and it’s a solid six outside of bad, and about 11 outside of where most people tend to think of them, which is “terrible.” So, no, they are not defensive stalwarts, but they’re also not sieves for you to plunge the knife through. And lest you think that those estimated figures don’t reflect real world results, Synergy Sports has the Knicks giving up an average of 1052 points on 1118 possessions for an average of .94 points per possession allowed, which is 18th in the league. That’s not good, obviously, but it’s also not bad. The Knicks are also average to good in transition, isolation, post-up, and pick and roll defense. They’re really only suffering in spot-ups. So they don’t close out well but it also means teams are simply shooting really well in those situations (51.5% eFG compared to 42.3% FG% which means a lot of threes). The Knicks’ defense isn’t the problem.

Like I said, kind of.

In the span of two weeks, the Knicks gave up 24 assists to Rajon Rondo and 31 rebounds to Kevin Love. Those aren’t just statistical outliers, they’re gigantic spikes through the roof of the chart. But we’re not talking Earl Boykins scoring 42 or Andrea Bargnani rebounding 25 times, things which you simply can’t predict. The Knicks take good players with phenomenal individual skills and turn their production into some sort of nuclear, “TMNT-ooze” like monster version of it. It’s stunning and bizarre and yet wholly predictable.

Meanwhile, the rebounding, which you’d assume sucks, doesn’t. They have a zero differential in offensive rebound rate produced and allowed. So, it’s not the defense. And it’s not the rebounding. And it’s partially psychotic outliers, but not totally. So what is it?

The answer, of course is the offense. Which is wholly dysfunctional. Amar’e Stoudemire not having terrific numbers every night, Raymond Felton very much not looking like a point guard, an early shooting slump from Danilo Galinari, and below average PERs from every bench player. The Knicks can’t function on offense, and that’s why they’re losing.

Sure, chemistry is off. Sure, the formula hasn’t come together. But it’s not failing in the way you’re expecting. And if we’re giving Miami some time to get it together, maybe we should do the same for New York. Oh, wait, I forgot, we’re not doing that because everyone hates them. Got it.

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee to make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.

Russell Westbrook laughs off question about Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.

But not right now. He remains silent.

This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.