Dennis Smith Jr.

LeBron James runs into Frank Ntilikina, jaws with Enes Kanter

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Knicks fans were booing LeBron James from the opening tip Monday night. Which was silly. LeBron’s comments about the Knicks passing on Dennis Smith Jr. in the draft were an obvious shot at Phil Jackson — and taking shots at Jackson is a favorite past time of Knicks fans. But some tried to spin it as a dig at Frank Ntilikina, the guy Jackson drafted in front of Smith, and Enes Kanter came to his teammate’s defense off the court. Even though it was clear to every thinking person before, LeBron clarified his shot was at Jackson.

Monday night, Kanter came to Ntilikina’s defense when LeBron, after a dunk, didn’t make a move to step around Ntilikina and ran into the rookie. LeBron and Kanter jawed, LeBron pushed Kanter off him, and they both got technicals for their trouble.

That exchange lit a fire under the crowd in Madison Square Garden, who got fully into the game and let LeBron really hear it then.

The Cavaliers scored just 13 points in the second quarter, to the Knicks’ 29, and it gave New York a healthy lead it carried into the fourth quarter.

LeBron James clarifies for Enes Kanter ‘who always got something to say:’ Shot at Phil Jackson, not Frank Ntilikina

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LeBron James said the Knicks should have drafted Dennis Smith Jr. No. 8 last year. Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter took offense on behalf of Frank Ntilikina, whom New York actually drafted No. 8. (Smith fell to the Mavericks at No. 9.)

LeBron said he intended to disrespect only Phil Jackson, the former Knicks president who feuded with LeBron and drafted Ntilikina.

LeBron, via Cleveland.com:

I wasn’t throwing shade at Frank at all. People that got their pants in bunches and things of that nature here in New York, they look for any controversy here. And I was basically stating what I saw in Dennis Smith and what I saw from him and him coming out of and watching the draft and thought that he would be a great fit here with Porzingis. And that’s not to saying that Frank won’t be a great fit. I haven’t seen much of him. I knew about him from my best friend who I went to high school with who actually played with him overseas the last couple years.

But it’s the same if – i think Deshaun Watson should be a Brown. Doesn’t mean that Myles Garrett is not going to be a great football player. But Deshaun Watson should have been our quarterback.

It’s the same thing. It’s not you s—ing on the next guy. It’s just that you’re stating what you see. That’s all that is, for clarification of people who just live in the box and for Enes Kanter who always got something to say, who says – I don’t know what’s wrong with him.

Was LeBron taking a shot at Phil Jackson?

Oh, yeah. It’s definitely a shot at him. That’s for sure.

I know what Dennis Smith is capable of doing, and I knew the Knicks was looking for – have been looking for – a point guard. Am I stating things that’s false? No? This is facts, right? So, I thought they would pick him, and they didn’t. But, like I said, it’s no shade at Frank. I don’t even know the kid. I wasn’t even thinking about the kid when I was talking about Dennis Smith. I was thinking about just the Knicks organization and Phil Jackson at the time and Dennis Smith’s talent and Porzingis, and that’s all I was thinking about.

I’m just stating facts. That’s all. Have you seen Dennis Smith play? Have you all seen him play? So, get out of here. Y’all tripping here. Why we tripping here? Next question.

Phil was just a small piece of – he was a big piece of it, actually. I don’t have no problem with the Knicks organization. I wasn’t here. So, I don’t know the insights and everything. I’m a fan of the game, as well. It’s great when the Knicks, the Celtics and the Lakers our great in our league, all at the same time. It’s best for our league.

So, LeBron will sign with the Knicks, Celtics or Lakers next summer?

We read far more into LeBron’s comments than any other player. He’s the NBA’s best player and sometimes gets passive-aggressive. That invites deeper dives into his remarks (and memes).

I doubt LeBron intended to diss Ntilikina, but the draft is a zero-sum game. If the Knicks took Smith, they couldn’t have taken Ntilikina. LeBron did implicitly say Ntilikina should have gone lower.

But LeBron is excellent at influencing the news cycle. Look how adeptly he turned the conversation to criticizing Enes Kanter (accurately) , Phil Jackson and the Cleveland Browns about Deshaun Watson vs. Myles Garrett – topics that will generate far more interest than Ntilikina.

LeBron’s Knicks comments prompt defense from Porzingis, Kanter

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LeBron James has been a kind of mentor to Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr., and this weekend the Cleveland Cavaliers forward made comments that turned heads about the New York Knicks passing on the NC State product in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Speaking to reporters, James praised Smith Jr.’s athletic ability and said that, “The Knicks passed on a really good one. Dallas got the diamond in the rough.”

Of course, that comment was seen as a dig at the Knicks and perhaps former team president Phil Jackson. Smith Jr. went at No. 9, and the Knicks took fellow PG prospect Frank Ntilikina at No. 8.

Now that the dust has settled on LeBron’s comment, folks in New York are expanding that interpretation to include disrespect to Ntilikina as well. On Sunday, several New York teammates including Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter came to the defense of the French point guard.

Via ESPN:

“I mean, I don’t know why he made those comments, but all I can say is we love Frank, we’re happy with him,” Kristaps Porzingis told reporters after the Knicks’ practice on Sunday. “He’s doing a great job. He’s playing great, and he’s doing what he’s supposed to. And I would not change Frank for anybody. Simple.”

“I don’t care who, I just cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that, because when I play for an organization, I see my teammates and that organization as like a family,” Kanter told reporters on Sunday. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s LeBron or whoever it is, I cannot just let him disrespect him like that. The coaches, the GMs, the president, this organization knows what they’re doing. … I mean, come on. That’s a rookie. You cannot just say anything like that about him.

“I don’t care, it doesn’t matter LeBron or whoever it is. I don’t care who. I cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that.”

For his part, Ntilikina wasn’t worried about what LeBron said about him. “I think in life people can think whatever they want,” said Ntilikina. “However, it’s not gonna affect us and me.”

It’s always funny to see how NBA players turn things like this on their head to use it for motivation. Obviously there is some ranking going on from LeBron here, but saying the guy one below you in the draft should have gone in your spot isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened between players. Remember, this is a league where Matt Barnes once got in a fight with Derek Fisher for dating his ex-wife.

NBA players could take a misspelled name on a Starbucks cup and use it to fuel their competitive fire, so in the meantime I suppose we just get to sit here and watch.

LeBron James on Dennis Smith Jr.: “He should be a Knick”

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LeBron James has taken another shot at Phil Jackson.

When Jackson was still at the helm of the Knicks last June, they drafted Frank Ntilikina No. 8, one spot in front of Dennis Smith Jr., who fell to Dallas.

Since then Smith has looked like far better pick — Smith is averaging 14.2 points per game to Ntilikina’s 4.7, Smith has the ball in his hands and has been the more efficient shooter (although neither is efficient), and Smith has looked like a potential future star while Ntilikina has looked like a project.

After his Cavaliers beat the Mavericks, LeBron fired a shot at Jackson talking about Smith, via the Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend.

“The Knicks passed on a really good on. Dallas got the diamond in the rough. He should be a Knick. That’s going to make some headlines, but he should be a Knick. … He’s an unbelievable talent. Athleticism. He’s very poised to be his age. Can shoot the ball, can penetrate. He’s only going to get better and better with the opportunities that he’s given here to play. Dallas got a good one.”

There were plenty of scouts and others who thought Smith fell too far down the board draft night, but Jackson and others were high on the potential of Ntilikina. That said, he was always a project, a gut that was more about five years from now than this season.

LeBron is right. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t savoring a shot at Jackson.

Markelle Fultz: Free-throw form temporary, result of shoulder injury

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DETROIT – I spent the day wondering the best way to ask No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz about his suddenly deformed shooting stroke. I wanted to be respectful and empathetic and mostly just not blurt out, “What’s wrong with you?”

After answering a few questions about his shot, Fultz himself brought up that he’s aware of all the “rumors” about his free throws. Sounding comfortable and confident – working against a popular theory that he has the yips – Fultz explained a shoulder injury is still hindering him. As soon as his shoulder heals, he’ll return to the form he used at Washington, where he made 65% of his free throws.

“I do what I’ve got to do to get the ball on the rim,” said Fultz, who’s 6-of-12 from the line this season (50%).

Fultz was less direct about his jumper.

He can shoot 3-pointers right now, he insists. But after attempting more than five per game in college, he has taken no shots from at least 15 feet – let alone beyond the arc – in 76 NBA minutes.

Though he professed confidence in his open jumper, even his close-range jumpers are a mess. He’s 3-of-16 from outside five feet, and shooting just 33% overall.

More jarring are the shots he isn’t taking. A smooth mid-range operator and aggressive shot hunter at Washington, Fultz looks like a shell of himself. He sometimes drives, mostly to set up teammates, and he sets screens. But his biggest strengths have been neutered.

As a result, defenses can sag off him, and the 76ers’ offense has crated with him on the court. They’ve scored a woeful 80.4 points per 100 possessions when he plays. Rotations aren’t to blame, either. No matter which teammate Fultz is paired with, during the duo’s minutes together, Philadelphia has scored at what would have been a league-worst rate last season.

Yet, the 1-3 76ers continue to play Fultz at least a third of each game. They’re trying to win for the first time since The Process began, but they also have young talent like Fultz to groom.

“There’s no book that tells you how to combine win and develop,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “They are very mutually exclusive.

“Normally, the link is you’ve got to play them and you’ve got to live with some stuff.”

Fultz said he isn’t worried about developing bad habits while shooting through his shoulder injury. Neither is Brown, who has consulted with medical personnel.

“Nobody has any fears,” Brown said. “…You don’t just walk a certain way for a long period of your life and all of a sudden start to limp.”

But it’s not so easy to dispel doubt for several reasons:

  • As the No. 1 pick, Fultz receives outsized attention. Even coming off the bench to begin his career, joining the ranks of Anthony Bennett and Andrea Bargnani, immediately generated pessimism.
  • Because the Celtics traded the No. 1 pick while Fultz was the consensus choice, many Boston fans are openly rooting for Fultz to fail. Not because they hold any specific ill will toward him, but just because they want their team to be right.
  • Point guards drafted after Fultz – Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. – are off to much better starts to their careers.
  • Teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who had a triple-double in his fourth game, are balling. Fultz is the weak link of Philadelphia’s young three-headed core.
  • Fultz, against the 76ers’ wishes, reworked his jumper over the offseason. That’s what makes it so hard to completely discount the possibility of a larger mental block.

So, the articles of concern are rolling in. Jokes are being cracked about his Shaq-esque free throws. More serious people are actually fretting about his long-term value.

Brown’s advice to Fultz is simple: “This is not going to define you.” The coach wants Fultz to focus on everything but his jumper – defense, running the offense, getting to his spots in the pick-and-roll.

“At the end of the day, I know what I can do,” Fultz said. “My teammates know what I can do. My coaches know what I can do.”

Maybe someday soon, he’ll get to show it.