Welcome to the Atlantic Division version of Three Stars of the night. We don’t need your other five divisions, you can keep them.
Third Star: Jonas Valanciunas (24 points, 10 rebounds)
Coming into this season, there was a lot of hope in Toronto around Valanciunas, that the rookie could be a key part of their future in the middle. But he was raw — he still is raw, for example watch him bite on pump fakes (especially a second one). But he does bring a defensive presence, and in this game his energy and explosiveness was key for Toronto’s offense — and right from the start, he had 9 points in the first quarter.
Second Star: Jeff Green(34 points, 6 rebounds)
Jeff Green was very efficient in this game — 13-of-19 shooting — and that was big for him and the Celtics (who clinched a playoff spot). He also drained the dagger three late in this one. The question with Green has always been whether he’d be aggressive or passive and of late he certainly has been attacking more. But also he has developed a more rounded offensive game over the years. Sure, attacking by going right and ideally dunking is preferred, but he can go left and has a nice little elbow jumper. It makes him that much tougher to guard.
First Star: Carmelo Anthony (40 points, 5 rebounds)
One night after dropping 50 on the Heat he dropped 40 on the Hawks. Somebody is gearing up for the playoffs. This game was different than the Heat one — against Miami it was all jump shots but against the Hawks he was attacking the rim from the start, using his strength to bully his way there. With the threat of the drive he was able to get to his spots on the floor (the elbow) and knock down midrange shots. He also just hit some ridiculous shots while Josh Smith played solid defense. Anthony was 17-of-27 shooting and showed why he is thought of as one of the best scorers in the game today — and that has been key to the Knicks’ 10-game winning streak.
Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table
When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.
The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.
Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.
“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…
“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”
The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.
The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.
NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant
General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.
Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.
It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.
Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin
3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously
“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”
“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.
There is a difference – a big one.
Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.
I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.
There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.
Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.