Kristaps Porzingis shines defensively in Summer League debut for Knicks

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LAS VEGAS — When the Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, the fans in attendance were extremely vocal in voicing their displeasure.

Their trepidation was somewhat understandable, if only because the casual fan isn’t usually well-versed in the talents of international prospects, and with the disastrous 2013 trade for Andrea Bargnani fresh in their minds, the fans in New York felt justified in letting the boos rain down.

But things were different on Saturday in Las Vegas, where Porzingis donned a Knicks jersey for the very first time. The fans at the Thomas and Mack Center were generous with their praise, cheering Porzingis at every turn during a performance that saw him finish with 12 points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in a little over of 18 minutes of action.

“Finally they saw me play out there, so hopefully now some of those booing fans are now cheering for me out there,” Porzingis said.

The play of Porzingis in his debut confirmed any preconceived notions fans may have had, on either the positive or negative side of the spectrum. For those that believed his frame was too slight, they saw him get pushed around. For those that liked his ability to absorb contact and get to the free throw line, they saw him get there seven times.

But it was his effort on the defense end of the floor which impressed Knicks head coach Derek Fisher the most.

“I think defensively he has the potential to be really special,” Fisher said. “There were some things that he recognized and made adjustments on and supported his teammates in switching out on smaller players, using his length to protect the basket. I thought on the defensive end he impacted the game in a major way.”

Porzingis showed almost immediately that any potential label of him being soft would simply be a flat-out lie. He looked to create contact, both on perimeter screens and on post-up opportunities inside, often times against bigger and bulkier guys.

“He’s aggressive,” Fisher said. “He doesn’t look overpowering, but he plays a strong game. He’s not afraid to go in there and mix it up.”

“I tried to play aggressive,” Porzingis said. “I knew the guys were going to be physical. I tried to play the same way. I got to the free throw line, missed one free throw — gotta make them all, but I think I was pretty aggressive.

“As you can see out there, I’m fighting with the guys although they’re 15 pounds heavier than me, even more. I try to go out there and play as hard as I can, and I don’t have a problem with contact.”

The fans who may have wanted to see more than 18 minutes from Porzingis will get that eventually. He had been dealing with a hip issue, and even though he says it’s completely fine now, the team is obviously going to proceed with caution.

“Coach told me I wasn’t going to play a lot,” Porzingis said. “He told me 18 minutes. I knew I wasn’t going to play a whole lot, just because they wouldn’t want me to go 30 minutes or whatever. It’s step by step, and I just wanted to be me when I go out there, play hard, and play 100 percent.”

When he was out there, he played with a high level of activity, and showed a great awareness for his position on the floor that allowed him to consistently be in the right place to challenge his opponents’ shots.

“I still have trouble calling the defense on the screens and stuff,” Porzingis said. “I try to remember the calls. I’m still having trouble with that. But I try to be as aggressive as I can and help my teammates.”

Porzingis struggled to gain post position at times, due to a 7’1″ frame that appears to be extremely slight on the surface. It’s something he already plans on improving, but he’s taking a wait-and-see approach as far as exactly how much.

“I’ve got to get stronger,” Porzingis said. “I’ve just got to see. Ten pounds, 15 pounds, maybe 0, maybe 30. I’ve just got to see how I feel at 240, 250. Just little by little, putting on the weight, seeing if I have the same quickness, same athleticism, seeing if I can move the same. I’ve just got to see how I feel.”

The fans are already feeling a more positive vibe where Porzingis is concerned, as evidenced by the many cheers that echoed throughout the arena anytime his aggressive level of activity achieved a positive result.

“That’s the opposite of what I heard on draft night,” Porzingis said. “So it was nice to hear some cheers out there.”

Paul George says he “Didn’t know I was gonna be traded”

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As I have pointed out before here on NBC Sports, I really do love watching NBA marketing unfold in front of me. Some of it — like Kobe Bryant’s weird post career legacy massaging — is downright impressive.

Other instances are not quite as sly.

Enter newest Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and his latest sponsored Instagram post.

In a recent video posted to his page, George put up a training montage set to an Eminem song that was essentially an advertisement for the gym and trainer he had been working with over the summer. The gym’s own page also features several of these videos. So far, pretty common stuff.

That is, until you read the Instagram caption and see what George had to say about his training. Let’s see if you can spot the issue.

Screenshot via Instagram:

Of course, the issue here is that George essentially took away the leverage the Indiana Pacers would have had if his trade request hadn’t somehow been made public. Repeatedly.

George knew he was going to get traded because Indiana had no choice but to trade him. Saying otherwise is a hilarious and transparent attempt to reshape recent history.

This is perhaps my favorite result of the platitudes drilled into the heads of players by team PR guys and agent media training. That is, when you talk nonsense for so long and during each and every interview — we just dug deep, it’s a game of inches, you have to want it more — sometimes you just don’t know when to stop trying to spin the story in your direction. Especially because the mantra of media training is to be boring and try say nothing, which is hard if you have something to prove or an opinion to change.

Between this and Kevin Durant openly admitting to having a burner Twitter account (which no doubt sparked a flurry of emails and calls between agents and their clients) this is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memories and that’s just from a new media standpoint.

Gordon Hayward says Isaiah Thomas “ultimately helped win me over”

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Gordon Hayward is now a member of the Boston Celtics, and we are all excited to see how the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference last season checks out with a newly revamped roster.

Of course, Boston has been the subject of much media attention after signing Hayward and trading Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. I think there should be some skepticism about how quickly Boston will be able to put things together, but this is a team of former and current All-Stars so they will likely be at least a Top 4 team out East.

Meanwhile, Hayward has written a new blog post on his personal website about the summer, taking on such subjects as the move to Massachusetts, video games, and what to expect this season.

One of the more interesting things that Hayward wrote about was just how much of an influence Thomas had in his decision to come to Boston. Hayward addresses Thomas’ influence in a section dedicated to him finding out about the trade to Cleveland.

Via GordonHayward20.life:

He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment. He had talked a lot about city and how it was different to be a Celtic. He talked about the intensity of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing at the Garden in the playoffs, and how much fun it was, and how much fun he had playing in Boston.

All of that ultimately helped win me over. And by the time of the trade, I had already started to build a little bit of a relationship with him.

The rest of Hayward’s post was about the subjects mentioned above, but it ended by saying that he understands the history of the organization and that he feels like he has not reached his full potential just yet.

Obviously, in signing him this season that’s exactly what the Celtics and Danny Ainge are hoping.

NBA implementing ‘Zaza Pachulia,’ ‘James Harden’ rules

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NEW YORK (AP) — NBA referees will be able to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who dangerously close on jump shooters without allowing them space to land, as Zaza Pachulia did on the play that injured Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in last season’s playoffs.

Officials will also make sure jump shooters are in their upward shooting motion when determining if a perimeter foul is worthy of free throws, which could cut down on James Harden‘s attempts after he swings his arms into contact.

Leonard sprained his ankle when Pachulia slid his foot under Leonard’s in Game 1 of Golden State’s victory in the Western Conference finals. After calling a foul, officials will now be able to look at replay to determine if the defender recklessly positioned his foot in an unnatural way, which could trigger an upgrade to a flagrant, or a technical if there was no contact but an apparent attempt to injure.

“It’s 100 percent for the safety of the players,” NBA senior vice president of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia said Thursday.

The NBA had made the freedom to land a point of emphasis for officials a few years ago, because of the risk of injuries. But the play got renewed attention during the playoffs because of Leonard’s injury, and also one in which Washington forward Markieff Morris landed on Al Horford‘s foot in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal, knocking him out of a game the Celtics rallied to win.

Officials can still rule the play a common foul if they did not see a dangerous or unnatural attempt by the defender upon review. Borgia said Pachulia’s foul would have been deemed a flagrant.

With the fouls on the perimeter shots – often coming when the offensive player has come off a screen and quickly attempts to launch a shot as his defender tries to catch up – officials will focus on the sequencing of the play. The player with the ball must already be in his shooting motion when contact is made, rather than gathering the ball to shoot such as on a drive to the basket.

“We saw it as a major trend in the NBA so we had to almost back up and say, `Well, wait a minute, this is going to be a trend, so let’s catch up to it,”‘ NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell said.

Report: Cavaliers signing Kendrick Perkins

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Kendrick Perkins spent fewer than four months with the Cavaliers, including the 2015 playoffs. But nearly a year later after Cleveland let Perkins walk in free agency, LeBron James was still bemoaning Perkins’ absence.

Are the Cavs righting a wrong?

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Kendrick Perkins joined the Cavaliers at LeBron James’ minicamp in Santa Barbara, Calif., and will come to training camp next week, sources told cleveland.com.

The Cavs now have 18 players with standard contracts, and 15 – the regular-season limit – have guaranteed salaries. I doubt Cleveland wants to waive the two without guaranteed salaries, Kay Felder and Edy Tavares, either.

In other words, Perkins is a longshot to stick into the regular season.

Perkins was washed up when with the Cavaliers two years ago. The 32-year-old who sat out last season hasn’t produced on the court in several years. He’s tough and well-liked in the locker room, which might give him a chance of sneaking onto the regular-season roster.

But the Cavs should focus on developing toughness and chemistry among their rotation players. Perkins is just a crutch, most likely one who’ll be yanked away by cut-down day a few weeks from now.