While Knicks struggle, back-up Jeremy Lin messes around and gets a triple-double in the D-League

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The New York Knicks have been dealing with quite a few issues this season, some of which are related to injury, but it was succinctly summed up on Friday night when Knicks blog Posting and Toasting wrote that they would “rather eat a cactus than watch these Knicks.” If fans aren’t quite ready to start eating desert plantlife, the intermediary between the two is probably tuning in to watch the Knicks’ NBA Development League affiliate Erie BayHawks play. And, if and when that happens, the New York faithful might be treated to some surprising performances a la the one back-up point guard Jeremy Lin turned in on Friday night.

The Asian-American Lin has shown in limited minutes this season that  he probably isn’t the answer to the problems at the point guard position for the Knicks — and there are problems, Iman Shumpert fans — but that doesn’t mean the 23-year-old Harvard grad doesn’t have potential to someday be a rotational player at Madison Square Garden. In fact, Lin may have shown off a bit of that potential while making his Erie BayHawks debut on Friday night.

Lin messed around and got a triple-double while helping lead the Knicks-operated BayHawks to a victory over Morris Almond and the Maine Red Claws. The Knicks guard, on assignment with fellow end-of-the-bench Knickerbocker Jerome Jordan, played took full advantage of his 44 minutes and 22 seconds of playing time by scoring 28 points to go along with 12 assists and 11 rebounds in the 122-113 victory.

It wasn’t the stiffest competition, as most are wont to point out as soon as they see mention of the D-League, but consider the level of play around the D-League this season: the team Lin was facing, the Maine Red Claws, cut former 20-point-per-game-in-the-NBA scorer Ricky Davis earlier in the day after the 32-year-old averaged just eight points on 39 percent shooting through the first 11 games of his comeback season; Lin’s triple-double came on the same night that Sacramento Kings assignee struggled to a five-point, two-assist effort off the bench for the Reno Bighorns; and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey recently said the talent of play in the D-League is the highest he’s ever witnessed.

Anyway, now that it’s clear that Lin isn’t going to put up a triple-double for the Knicks anytime soon and that he also wasn’t playing against the level of competition that I play with at the Bismarck YMCA, there are some bright spots that could come into play once Lin is called back up to the Knicks.

  • Jeremy Lin is better than Mike Bibby. This isn’t going out on much of a limb, but there has to be an advanced statistic available to prove that it’s true. Bibby is small, doesn’t rebound and has lost his shooting touch (the veteran point guard is shooting less than 40 percent from the field this season). If nothing else, the allure of potential being cooler than reality should be worth playing Lin over Bibby … right?
  • Lin’s out to prove that he’s more than a marketing tool. There was quite an uproar last season when Lin, an undrafted free agent, was given guaranteed money by the Golden State Warriors last season largely because he out-dueled John Wall in a Summer League game (and it didn’t hurt the marketing department that he had the large Asian-American population in the Bay Area hanging on his every move). The second-year pro was unable to stick with the Warriors out of training camp this season, however, and is now looking to prove that he has the game to back up the hype that surrounded him last season.
  • The kid can play. He was matched up against a vastly undersized Jerome Randle on Friday night, sure, but Randle was a prospect the experts at Draft Express fawned over prior to the 2010 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lin showed a quicker first step than his looks would indicate and an understanding of how to run the pick-and-roll (he and Jordan ran it beautifully a few times Friday night) on his way to the triple-double. He seems to have room for development, too, considering his basketball IQ and age are both acting in his favor.

If Lin’s able to keep building his confidence on Sunday afternoon — Maine moved the game from 5 p.m. to noon to avoid any conflicts with the New England Patriots’ playoff game, apparently — it would seem that the second-year pro deserves another shot at Mike D’Antoni’s rotation. Considering the Knicks are riding a five-game losing streak and have their fans wanting to eat cacti, it couldn’t hurt to infuse a bit of new blood — even if it is only to decide whether Lin is stuck right in the middle of ‘too good for the D-League but not good enough for the NBA’ or whether there’s actually a bit of ridiculous upside in his future.

Could the Knicks get a first-round pick for trading Marcus Morris?

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What are the New York Knicks going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s not a simple question, not with team president Steve Mills is on the hot seat — there’s a long history of GMs/POBOs making bad trades looking for a short-term boost to save their jobs. Will the Knicks trade veterans looking for picks and young players to be part of the future? On top of that, the Knicks are starting to get healthy and have won two in a row. Management may want to let this play out for a while.

The plan is not to make any sudden moves on Sunday — the day most players signed over the summer (nearly 40 percent of the league) can be traded — or early in the trade season. However, the offers are going to come.

Particularly for Marcus Morris.

The veteran forward is leading the Knicks scoring 18.6 points per game, and he’s spacing the floor shooting 48 percent from three. He’s gritty, physical, defends well — exactly the kind of player that can help a team make a playoff run. The Knicks are going to get calls about him, it will be one of the most discussed rumors out there.

Will the Knicks trade Marcus Morris (who is on an expiring contract)? That could come down to can they get a first-round pick, something Mike Vorkunov broke down at The Athletic.

The market for Morris, according to opposing scouts and execs, is probably a team that believes his addition could help push them further into the playoffs. Morris is likely the only player on the Knicks who could get dealt this season who could get a first-round pick back in return, those sources believe. The Knicks could also ask for a young player with upside.

It’s not unanimous, though, that the Knicks would definitely get a first-rounder back for Morris, those scouts and executives say. Drawing a first-round pick is difficult. Last season it was only done by teams willing to take on bad contracts to free up cap space ahead of free agency — something the Knicks were unwilling to do this summer and may not be willing to do now either — and by the Knicks when they traded Porzingis.

This trade season is different from last year because the NBA feels wide open. While there are teams that have separated themselves — Lakers, Bucks, Clippers — those teams have flaws and the gaps to them are not insurmountable. There are teams out there such as Denver, Boston, and others looking at the trade market and thinking one player could make a real difference. Plus, with a very down free agent market next summer, teams feel they may have a better chance of adding now as opposed to waiting until July.

Will those teams throw in a first-round pick to the Knicks for Morris? It seems possible, but it depends on how a quiet market right now starts to heat up and shake out.

It’s going to be an interesting couple of months coming up in New York.

LeBron, what sparked your second half turnaround? “My teammates got on my ass”

David Santiago/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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In the first half in Miami Friday night, LeBron James scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, and he had seven turnovers. The Lakers were down eight points at the break and LeBron was -6.

In the second half, LeBron looked more like the guy in contention for an MVP: 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, 3-of-5 from three, and just one turnover. He was at the heart the Lakers come-from-behind win, 113-110 win.

What sparked that turnaround? From LeBron’s walk-off interview on ESPN with Israel Gutierrez:

“My teammates got on my ass. They told me you’re playing too passive, thinking about the game way too much instead of read and reacting and doing what you do… [Anthony Davis] got on me, Boogie Cousins got on me and they told me to just be me. So I was like, ‘Thank god we have two halves in a basketball game,’ where I can flush the first one and then come back and try to help us win.” 

After the game, Anthony Davis said it is the entire team’s willingness to accept constructive criticism has been a key to the Lakers’ fast start.

For most of the season it has been LeBron getting on his teammates’ asses that has fueled the 23-3 Lakers. Not only is he playing at the highest level we have seen from him this early in the season since Miami — 25.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and a career-high 10.8 assists a game — but he’s pushing his teammates defensively and not letting them take plays off.

The Lakers have won six in a row, four of those on the road where they are 13-1 this season. The road tests continue this week, including Friday night against Milwaukee. Also looming out there in 11 days, a Christmas showdown with the Clippers.

LeBron can’t have an off first half in those games, and he knows it.

Toughest player to defend in NBA? Jonathan Isaac votes for James Harden

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Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac is turning heads this season. He has turned into the defensive backbone of the Magic, a long, switchable player who can protect the rim and make plays out on the perimeter.

In the past week, coach Steve Clifford asked Isaac to match up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and LeBron James. So who was the toughest to guard? (Via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.)

Harden dropped 54 on Orlando to lead Houston to the win. It was his second game in a row with 50+ points and hitting 10 threes.

Nobody should be arguing with Isaac here. For one thing, he’s the guy who had to guard them all this week, his opinion is informed. Harden has six points while Isaac was matched up on him Friday night, but the Rockets scored 14 others. Harden did most of his damage when Evan Fournierwas on him, scoring 18. (Via NBA.com matchup data.)

One could make the case that Antetokounmpo and LeBron contribute more on the defensive end and that makes them more valuable (a debate that will come up again at end-of-season awards time), but as a pure scorer there is nobody like Harden. Ever. He has ridiculous shooting range and the best stepback in the league, he’s physically strong and finishes through contact on drives, and he has turned drawing fouls into an art form. Defending James Harden is next to impossible (and incredibly frustrating for those tasked with it).

Houston has built its entire offense around Harden, and they are contenders because of it.

 

Kevin Knox with an high-flying putback dunk… into his own basket (VIDEO)

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Give the Knicks credit, they have won two games in a row for the first time this season after knocking off the Kings. The return of Elfrid Payton at point guard — meaning they don’t have to play rookie R.J. Barrett out of position in that role — has given New York some floor balance and they look much better.

But there are still moments.

Such as this one from Kevin Knox, with the putback dunk — into his own net.

Mike Breen wanted to credit Buddy Hield there, and to be fair, Hield did come flying in and force the action. But that was Knox. (Hield got the bucket in the official scorebook).

Well, at least Knox is contributing something here.