Willy Hernangomez

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NBA Power Rankings: Rockets remain locked on top, race to the bottom interesting

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Not much movement at the top of the power rankings, the Rockets are playing well and most of the other top teams seem to have a case of senioritis looking ahead to the All-Star break. The more interesting race may be to the bottom, where the Suns and Nets are losing, the Knicks have dropped seven straight, and the taking for lottery position is about to go full force.

 
Rockets small icon 1. Rockets (43-13, Last Week No. 1). Houston is a run-and-gun Mike D’Antoni team, right? Not really, or at least not as much as people think. The Rockets are ninth in the NBA in pace and 14th in the NBA in the percentage of offense started in transition. The Rockets are very efficient when they get in transition, scoring a league best 129.5 points per 100 transition possessions (stats via Cleaning the Glass), but they don’t run like people think. The Rockets have won nine in a row, they remain tied with the Warriors in the loss column in the race for the No. 1 seed and home court throughout the playoffs.

 
Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (44-13 LW 2). Whoever is doing the coaching for Golden State (Steve Kerr, Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee), he/they seems to have awakened their dormant bench of the past month or so. Which is good, because they may need to fill in for Draymond Green soon — he has a league-leading 14 technical fouls this season, two more and he gets an automatic one-game suspension. One sign of when the Warriors start to buckle down and focus again heading into the playoffs — their dreadful transition defense will improve. Right now it is one of the worst in the league.

 
Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (40-16, LW 3). Winners of six in a row — and the first five each by at least 15 points. The Raptors are in an impressive stretch and look like they could be the class of the East, but they will need to prove it in the playoffs. The Raptors are the top seed in the East as you read this — which could really matter come the playoffs. If Cleveland really has turned things around, the Cavs will still be the 3 seed (six games back of Boston/Toronto), meaning whoever finishes as the two seed gets them in the second round. Finish first, the path to the conference finals is cleaner.

 
Celtics small icon 4. Celtics (40-18, LW 4). Losers of 3-of-4, including ugly losses to the other top teams in the East Toronto and Cleveland. (The Celtics would have lost four in a row if the Wizards had played a little cleaner and Markieff Morris hadn’t fouled late.) The real reason for concern is the defense has been 6.4 points per 100 possessions worse in their last five games, going from best in the league to pedestrian. The offense remains just okay as it has much of the season, they need an elite defense to make up for it. This is likely just a blip, but something to watch.

 
5. Timberwolves (35-25, LW 5). That midseason stretch of good defense may have been a mirage — in their last 10 games the Timberwolves have given up a sieve-like 113.4 points per 100 possessions, 28th in the NBA for that stretch. Their transition defense continues to be the big issue. Rumors persist that Tom Thibodeau wants to pick up Derrick Rose off the buyout market, but I can’t see a good reason to do that. There are better options for point guard depth out there.

Bucks small icon 6. Bucks (32-24 LW 7). When Joe Prunty took over as head coach, his first move was to change the defensive schemes to something simpler and more traditional that his players could execute consistently — and in those 10 games the Bucks have allowed less than a point per possession and gone 8-2. Over that same time the Bucks have had a pedestrian offense (18th in the league) and while injuries (Malcolm Brogdon) are part of that the team needs to step up, starting with Giannis Antetokounmpo.

 
Spurs small icon 7. Spurs (35-24, LW 6). The Spurs have shaken up the starting lineup, inserting Davis Bertans and moving Pau Gasol to a sixth man role. The reason is that with Dejounte Murray starting at the point but not having an outside shot, the Spurs needed better floor spacing. They have gotten it, the offense has looked better with this new lineup. The Spurs are 1-3 at the start of their Rodeo road trip and it continues past the All-Star break through Feb. 25 in Cleveland.

 
Wizards small icon 8. Wizards (32-24, LW 8). Washington has won 6-of-8 since John Wall went down, with the two losses to elite defensive teams (Boston and Philly). With Tim Fraizer also out injured, the Wizards need to pick up a point guard on the buyout market to provide some depth behind Tomas Satoransky (who has played well and moved the ball with Wall out). Expect a move soon.

 
Jazz small icon 9. Jazz (29-28, LW 17). Winners of 10 in a row and they have been the best team in the NBA over that stretch. The biggest surprise is that the frontcourt of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert is working again — the Jazz are +26.2 per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together during this streak. Not sure if that’s sustainable. Donovan Mitchell continues to impress during the streak taking over games late, Ricky Rubio has found a comfort level in Quin Snyder’s system and next to Mitchell, and Joe Ingles can’t miss. With a softer schedule the rest of the way than other teams in the fight for playoffs, fivethirtyeight.com says they have a 90 percent chance of making the postseason.

 
Cavaliers small icon 10. Cavaliers (34-22 LW 19). They are 2-0 with the new-look lineup, and while it’s just two games the fact that LeBron James looks energized again, that the athleticism on defense is paying off, and that the bench looks good are all very good signs the Cavs are on the right track. After the All-Star break Tyronn Lue will get a few practices with his new team, which is needed. It’s too early to buy in on the Cavaliers again, but I like what I’ve seen in the test drive so far.

 
Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (32-26 LW 9).. Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony returned to the rotation Tuesday night vs. Cleveland but it didn’t help, and the Thunder are 2-6 in their last eight. Without Andre Roberson in those games their elite defense has fallen to the middle of the pack (15th in the NBA in those 8) and they continue to look for a fifth man in the starting and closing rotation. Also in those eight games, the team’s offense has fallen to bottom 10 in the league. This still feels like a team better built for the postseason, but the hole they have dug themselves will make that a struggle.

 
Nuggets small icon 12. Nuggets (31-26, LW 12). Denver quietly made a really smart move at the trade deadline, swapping out Emmanuel Mudiay for Devin Harris — Harris has fit right in and helped (he had 17 vs. Phoenix). The win over the Spurs Tuesday night mattered because for Denver the playoffs start now — they are the current six-seed in the West, but just two games up on the nine-seed Clippers (and three on the 10 seed and climbing Jazz). Denver needs victories now.

 
Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (29-25, LW 16). Adding Marco Belinelli after his buyout from the Hawks was a good pickup, he provides shooting and wing depth this team could use. The Sixers have won eight in a row at home now, but have 8-of-10 on the road were they are 12-15 this season. The Sixers need to keep racking up wins to keep Detroit at arms length and stay in the postseason, but the Sixers have the second toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way.

 
Pacers small icon 14. Pacers (30-25, LW 10). Indiana is 6-1 in games decided by three points or less this season, which is a little bit lucky but has helped keep them afloat and out of too much danger of missing the postseason. Although the bigger reason this team remains solidly in the postseason is the play of Victor Oladipo, the team has gone 13-6 since his return from injury.

 
Clippers small icon 15. Clippers (29-26 LW 14). DeAndre Jordan remained a Clipper past the trade deadline, despite a lot of teams calling about his availability (if the Clippers moved him they did not want to take on long-term salary coming back, and that became a sticking point). Whether he remains a Clipper after summer free agency is another question, he told our own Dan Feldman he’s not sure how much the team wants him, and you can bet other teams will work hard to recruit him.

 
Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (31-26, LW 13). The Trail Blazers offense was hot for a while, then has cooled off (despite a 50 spot from Damian Lillard) but the ups-and-downs are expected in an offense where the pick-and-roll ball handler or a guy in isolation take 30.3 percent of the shots (this team does not move the ball well, which can lead to contests against good defenses). Fun matchup Wednesday night when the Blazers face the Warriors: Lillard and C.J. McCollum vs. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

 
Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (30-26, LW 15). New Orleans is 3-5 since DeMarcus Cousins went down for the season, and not surprisingly it is the offensive end of the court where they miss him most. Since the injury, the Pelicans have scored just 101.6 points per 100 possessions, way down from the 108.3 rating they had before. The Pels defense has been okay, but it can’t cover up that much lack of scoring. Of the five teams battling for the final three playoff spots in the West, the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Pelicans have the toughest remaining schedules, New Orleans needs to find some buckets to stay in the postseason.

 
Heat small icon 18. Heat (30-27, LW 11). Dwyane Wade is back home in Miami, and that boost stopped a five-game skid. Wade is not an efficient scorer anymore, but he is an improved playmaker who can serve as sort of a defacto backup point guard, plus he can make some timely plays on both ends of the court. Expect him to keep coming off the bench but to get some crunch time minutes as well.

Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (27-29, LW 18). The Blake Griffin honeymoon is over as the Pistons have lost three straight and remain 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East. If you really want to be picky, every game Griffin has won with the Piston came when the opponent was on the second game of a back-to-back. Overall the Pistons have been +6.5 points per 100 with Griffin on the court this season, but in the last three games, the Griffin and Andre Drummond pairing has been -14.4 per 100. Stan Van Gundy is looking forward to having some practices with his team at the end of the All-Star break.

 
Lakers small icon 20. Lakers (23-32 LW 21). Isaiah Thomas has a chance with the Lakers to improve his stock heading into his summer free agency — stock that took a serious hit in the past year with his injury, play in Cleveland, and his disruption of that locker room. Thomas had 22 points in his Lakers debut off the bench, and while his defense is still terrible if he can show he can still put up numbers he helps his cause this summer (either as a key ball handler on a lesser team or a sixth man on a good one).

 
Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (23-33, LW 20). The Hornets didn’t trade Kemba Walker at the deadline, as expected, but they should revisit that during the summer when the offers may improve. Charlotte did take a flier on Willy Hernangomez at the deadline, and while it adds some salary long term it’s a good flier on a guy who showed promise as a rookie then got squeezed in the New York rotations this season. On Saturday, while you’re settling in to watch the Dunk Contest, remember to wish Michael Jordan a happy 55th birthday.

 
Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (20-36 LW 29).. After trading out Nikola Mitotic, the Bulls took an interesting flier at the deadline taking on Noah Vonleh. He didn’t impress much in Portland but he was marginally better this season (he started a dozen games for them) and there is potential. Zach LaVine has impressed more and more of late, including the game-winning steal and dunk vs. Orlando on Monday.

 
Magic small icon 23. Magic (18-38, LW 25). And somewhere Scott Skiles smiles — the Magic decided to move on from Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline. They didn’t get much back but it was still the right move, it was time. Orlando continues to play well on offense — they are 10th in the NBA in that category over their last 10 games. The problem is they give up almost as many buckets as they score, leading to a 4-6 record in those games.

 
Mavericks small icon 24. Mavericks (18-40 LW 23). Dennis Smith Jr. continues to show flashes but struggle with efficiency, he scoring 15.5 points per game in his last 10 but is shooting just 36.1 percent overall and 27.7 percent from three in that stretch. On the bright side, Dirk Nowitzki dropped 22 on the Lakers and even had a dunk (his first of the season).

 
Grizzlies small icon 25. Grizzlies (18-37, LW 24). Tyreke Evans is still in Memphis after the trade deadline in one of the most bizarre deadline non-moves we have seen. Memphis’ GM tried to spin this was better for the team, but the reality is no team was going to give him the first he wanted, so now rather than two second-round pick (or a second and Emmanuel Mudiay, a deal that was on the table) the Grizzlies are going to watch him walk this summer for nothing. Will they revisit the Marc Gasol trade idea this summer?

 
Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (23-35, LW 22). They have lost seven in a row and are pushing their way higher into the draft lottery. I like the trade deadline gamble on Emmanuel Mudiay, a big point guard who could be a backup down the line, and maybe play next to Frank Ntilikina. The Knicks aren’t going anywhere (this season or probably next after the Kristaps Porzingis ACL injury) so taking gambles and trying to develop players is what they should do.

 
Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (18-40, LW 28). Dewayne Dedmon is back in the rotation, and Mike Budenholzer is going deep into that rotation to get a good look at the players they have as the Hawks start to work out who can be part of the rebuild long-term. Atlanta has won 3-of-6, which normally one would say is a good thing but in a tight race for lottery position, the Hawks wins cost them the best lottery odds in the past week.

 
Kings small icon 28. Kings (18-38, LW 26). The Kings moved on from George Hill at the deadline, and they got a second-round pick for it. The real key for the Kings is what they do with that and their other picks — the Kings have either missed on or been unable to properly develop players over the past decade, and that has held them back. Sure, they nailed DeMarcus Cousins, and this is not about Georgios Papagiannis (who they waived), rather it’s about not regularly turning first-round picks into solid rotation players they can hold onto at an affordable price. That’s how teams get built, and the Kings need to get there to turn this ship around.

 
Nets small icon 29. Nets (19-39, LW 27). Getting a second-round pick for Tyler Zeller was a good move for the Nets. Losers of six in a row, that only serves to make Cavaliers fans happy as they control the Brooklyn pick (and they value it enough that Cleveland would not give it up at the trade deadline despite a roster overhaul). Allen Crabbe has shown some signs of life in the last two weeks, a good thing as he is near the top of the “most disappointing player in the NBA this season” list.

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (18-40, LW 30). Losers of six in a row and 11-of-12, the Suns are now tied for the worst record in the NBA (and a chance for the top spot in the draft lottery). I like the flier on Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline, they want a point guard to put next to Devin Booker eventually, and while Payton may not be it they didn’t give up much and Payton has potential if he could find his shot.

Report: Knicks trade Willy Hernangomez to Charlotte for Johnny O’Bryant, two second-round picks

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The #FreeWilly campaign worked — popular Spanish center Willy Hernangomez, buried on the Knicks bench this season, is going to get his chance in Charlotte.

The Knicks and Hornets reached a deal that sends Hernangomez to Charlotte for Johnny O'Bryant and two second-round picks, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and since confirmed by others.

Charlotte is sending forward Johnny O’Bryant and its own 2020 and 2021 second-round draft picks to the Knicks, league sources said.

Hernangomez’s agents had told the Knicks he wanted to be traded. Last season Hernangomez played more than 18 minutes a night in 72 games for the Knicks and showed promise scoring 8.2 points and grabbing 7 rebounds a game, shooting fairly efficiently, and making the All-Rookie team. But this season he has only played in 26 of the Knicks 55 games with Kristaps Porzingis playing some center, and Jeff Hornacek getting good minutes out of Enes Kanter started and Kyle O’Quinn. Hernangomez was the odd man out. Now O’Bryant will be glued to the Knicks bench.

In Charlotte, Hernangomez will back up Dwight Howard and get steady run and a chance to improve, show he has a place in the league. If there is a clear winner in this trade, it’s Hernangomez. The Hornets also save a little money in this deal and get a quality center on a good contract (Hernangomez will make $1.5 million next season then has a non-guaranteed $1.7 million in 2019-20) which is good for a team going up against the luxury tax.

For the rebuilding Knicks, they moved a guy out of their rotation and got a couple picks to help them with rebuilding.

Kristaps Porzingis wants Knicks to add veteran for playoff push

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The Knicks are an unimpressive 22-28, four games out of the playoffs in the East as you read this, and according to fivethirtyeight.com have a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs this season. They are on pace to have a 37-45 record.

Their star Kristaps Porzingis — who has faded again as the season has worn on — wants New York to make a playoff push. And he wants some help to do it, as he told Ian Begley of ESPN.

“Playoff experience for myself, individually, would be huge at this point in my career — the sooner, the better,” Porzingis said Monday, when asked his opinion about the Knicks’ approach at the Feb. 8 trade deadline. “And for most of the [Knicks] — most of the guys haven’t felt that playoff experience that everybody talks about — that the guys talk about that have been there. For myself, selfishly I would want to play in the playoffs but we’ll see what happens and how we can end the season.”

It would take a blockbuster deal to get the Knicks into the postseason. Currently, Indiana and Philadelphia are the seven and eight seeds in the East, and they are both are on pace to finish with 45-46 wins. To get to that level, the Knicks need to go at least 23-9 the rest of the way, and they would need to leapfrog Detroit — which just added Blake Griffin. All of which is to say, it’s tough to see the Knicks making the postseason.

The Knicks are more likely to be sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline, guys such as Willy Hernangomez, Courtney Lee, and even Enes Kanter are drawing some interest from other teams. Whether those teams step up with good enough deals to pry loose someone is another question.

The more interesting thing to watch is how the current Knicks front office handles a frustrated Porzingis heading into the off-season, where they will offer him a max rookie contract extension. Steve Mills and Scott Perry can’t handle it worse than Phil Jackson did a season ago.

Knicks reiterate they won’t trade parts of young core for Eric Bledsoe

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There has been much speculation about the landing spot for Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe after he publicly tweeted that he no longer wanted to be in Phoenix. Or was it that he didn’t want to be in a hair salon? It’s hard to tell.

Whatever leverage the Suns may have had in the past is now gone with Bledsoe’s intentions apparently being made clear. That hasn’t stopped Phoenix from asking a king’s ransom for the star point guard, a sum that has taken aback many interested suitors.

One potential landing place for Bledsoe that makes sense is the New York Knicks. The team has previously been linked with Bledsoe. Phoenix tried to offer the PG up for the No. 4 pick in 2015, which New York used on Kristaps Porzingis. They were also linked to him this summer as they searched for a replacement for Derrick Rose.

Indeed, New York was one of the teams to reach out to the Suns after Bledsoe’s tweet. Phoenix, in turn, apparently asked for Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez, which the Knicks rebuffed. New York has said they are committed to their young players, something that president Steve Mills reiterated on Sunday morning.

According to Mills, New York is not interested in giving up Ntilikina or Hernangomez in exchange for Eric Bledsoe and the final $29 million of his contract, even if the pairing with Porzingis would likely be better than any offensive attack the Knicks have mounted since 2013-14.

This could be posturing on the part of New York — Ntilikina and Hernangomez are obviously nowhere near the contributors Bledsoe is — but it makes sense as teams try to internally and externally negotiate for Bledsoe with Phoenix. This is perhaps the most interesting part of a trade during the regular season, as what teams reportedly will and won’t do can get pretty hilarious and transparent.

Meanwhile, Bledsoe is not with the team. Phoenix lost to the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night, 114-107, and Bledsoe did not play.

Report: Teams ‘taken aback’ by Suns’ asking price for Eric Bledsoe

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The Suns have talked Eric Bledsoe trades with the Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets and others.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

In the initial conversations that the Suns had with teams yesterday – teams like the Bucks and the Nuggets and the Knicks and the Clippers are some of the teams that they’ve talked to – their asking price was very high. Some of the team that I’ve talked to were taken aback by what the Suns asked for.

If they’re going to keep their asking price very high – which is usually, in some of these talks, a young player and a draft pick or a young player and an established player – they may have to wait a while for the market to play out.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, via Arizona Sports 98.7 FM:

 We’ve gotten some pretty good offers, especially in the last 24 hours or so. We’re comfortable with the offers we’re getting. There are a few teams in particular that are being pretty aggressive. Contrary to what you might have heard or read, there is a strong market for Eric Bledsoe.

I think we heard from all 29 teams at this point.

Both sides are obviously trying to spin the situation in their favor. The Suns want to portray a robust competition for Bledsoe, driving up their return. Other teams want to paint Phoenix as unreasonable and get McDonough to lower his asking price.

We’ll see which side has more success, but McDonough sure didn’t help himself by treating Bledsoe like a cancer who needed to be excised before he infected the rest of the team and calling Bledsoe a liar. I’m not convinced the Suns properly understood Bledsoe’s trade value before sending home. There are few teams trying to win now that would also receive an upgrade at point guard with Bledsoe (let alone have the appropriate assets to send Phoenix, too). McDonough’s handling of the situation only hurt the Suns’ leverage further.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with a high initial asking price. Maybe it gets met. At minimum, it can anchor negotiations in Phoenix’s favor.

The Suns will probably have to lower their requests from packages like Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez, but there’s still time. Phoenix isn’t trying to win this season, anyway. Bledsoe can sit on the shelf for a while.

Of course, potential trade partners will want as much time with Bledsoe as possible. So, in that sense, his value depreciates by the day.

In the end, there will probably be a compromise, and Bledsoe will get traded. This angling is an early step.