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.

Andre Iguodala: I broke my leg last year, but Warriors called it just a bruise

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Kevin Durant was reportedly in agony about not helping the Warriors deep into the playoffs. His teammates were reportedly frustrated he hadn’t returned.

Did Durant – who tore his Achilles just 12 minutes into his return after a month-long absence – feel pressured (internally, externally or both) to rush back?

Durant has yet to speak publicly on the saga, but Golden State forward Andre Iguodala can relate. He missed the final four games of last year’s Western Conference finals against the Rockets and first two games of the NBA Finals with what the team called a “left lateral leg contusion” (fancy word for bruise).

Iguodala on The Breakfast Club:

We have a really good training staff. I’ll give credit where credit’s due. Our training staff is one of the best in the world. And I feel like they got him back. The tough thing is, when you’re an athlete and you’re hurt, everybody is looking at you sideways. And then it being his teammate is harder, because everyone is feeding stuff in our head. “When is KD coming back? When is KD coming back?”

Last year, it happened to me. I missed last three games of the Houston series. It goes to Game 7. We barely get out of that series. And now they’re looking at me like, “When are you coming back?” And I had a fractured leg. But it’s being put out there like, “You’ve got a bone bruise.” I’m like, “Nah, it’s fractured.” So, I’m fighting with the team. I’m fighting with people. I’m fighting with the media. And then my teammates ask me every day, “How you feeling? How you feeling?”

So, with K, he’s getting it from everywhere, too.

What do they always say in sports? “Oh, he’s a tough guy. He plays through injuries.” You’re validated as an athlete if you win a championship or how tough you were. If you sit out, it’s like, “Ah, he’s not tough.”

This is a damning assessment of the Warriors. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but Iguodala is alleging at least one of two things:

1. They misdiagnosed him.

2. They downplayed the extent of the injury publicly.

It could have been both.

A misdiagnosis is obviously troublesome. But downplaying the extent of the injury brings its own problems.

As Iguodala said, that only increased chatter about his return. With so many people talking to him about coming back, it’d be only natural to feel pressure to return. Iguodala is exactly right: Playing through injury gets players praised as tough.

Golden State misleading the public about the injury would also cause issues as the NBA embraces gambling. That opens the door for certain bettors to get inside information.

This sounds a lot like the Durant situation.

The Warriors can talk about how much they care about their players. But a pattern is emerging of injured players being put into peril.

It might be too late with Durant, but Golden State must address this.

The strangest All-NBA ballot

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Remember those odd All-NBA votes? Dwyane Wade, Luke Doncic, Danilo Gallinari and Andre Drummond on the second team, Marvin Bagley III on the third team.

One voter – Kennegh Lau of BesTV, a Chinese outlet – is responsible all those. His ballot:

First team

G: Stephen Curry (Warriors)

G: James Harden (Rockets)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

F: Kevin Durant (Warriors)

C: Joel Embiid (76ers)

Second team

G: Klay Thompson, Klay (Warriors)

G: Dwyane Wade (Heat)

F: Danilo Gallinari, Danilo (Clippers)

F: Luka Doncic, Luka (Mavericks)

C: Andre Drummond, Andre (Pistons)

Third team

G: Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

G: Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

F: Marvin Bagley III (Kings)

F: Pascal Siakam (Raptors)

C: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

A couple other standout All-NBA votes: Michelle Beadle of ESPN voted Eric Gordon third team at guard ahead of Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, etc. Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette voted Domantas Sabonis third-team forward ahead of LeBron James (who played more minutes than Sabonis!).

There are outlier votes for every award. You can dig through all the results here. Massimo Lopes Pegna of La Gazzetta Dello Sport (an Italian newspaper) apparently submitted his All-NBA team as his All-Defensive team (though it doesn’t exactly match his actual All-NBA team). Beyond that, these votes aren’t necessarily wrong. The consensus isn’t always right.

But All-NBA voting has taken heightened importance with its super-max connection. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. Ballots like Lau’s will increase scrutiny on the system.

That’s an overreaction. There are 100 voters so no single ballot carries too much importance. Again, it’s OK for someone to stray from the consensus.

It’d still be good to reconsider the salary incentives of All-NBA, though. The players who had the best regular seasons – my All-NBA criterion – aren’t necessarily the ones who deserve the highest salaries in years to come. It’s a flawed link, and that goes far beyond Lau’s ballot.

Magic Johnson ready to welcome D’Angelo Russell back to Lakers

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In 2017, then-Lakers president Magic Johnson traded D'Angelo Russell to the Nets and delivered a biting sendoff: “What I needed was a leader.”

Russell wasn’t ready to run a team on the court. His work ethic and maturity off it left plenty to be desired. Most infamously, he alienated his teammates by recording and posting a video of Nick Young discussing sleeping with women other than his fiancé.

But Russell went to Brooklyn and became an All-Star.

So, with rumors swirling about Russell returning to Los Angeles in free agency, Johnson is changing his tune.

Johnson, via Bill Oram of The Athletic:

“Now he’s ready,” Johnson said. “He’s much more mature. I said the only thing, he was immature back then. He could always score, but the guys would never play with him because of what he did (with the Young video). But now all those guys are gone and he’s on another level now.”

This is peak Johnson – talking about players on other teams (no longer tampering), spinning the story to make himself look good and directing the Lakers’ roster without having to take responsibility for it.

There is truth to what Johnson is saying here. Russell is more mature now. It would have been difficult to keep him in a locker room with teammates who didn’t trust him.

But Johnson is also the one who moved Russell rather than betting on his talent. With the right nurturing, Russell could have become a star in Los Angeles in the first place. The Lakers wouldn’t have to use all their cap room to sign him now. They could have already had him.

It’s a little disingenuous for Johnson to present this as him being right all along.

Magic GM John Hammond: ‘We have no idea’ when Markelle Fultz will play

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Markelle Fultz has played just 33 games, the most recent one in November, since the 76ers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2017. Philadelphia traded him to the Magic in February, and he didn’t play at all for Orlando last season.

When will Fultz return?

Magic general manager John Hammond on 96.9 The Game:

He will not play in summer league with us. We didn’t think there was any way that he was going to do that. We didn’t plan on him doing that. So, probably not the place for him right now.

But overall, I can just say that he’s doing well.

He’s working extremely hard. He’s in good shape. His weight is good. His overall body-fat percentage is very good. So, if you look at him, you say, “Wow, he looks great.” So, it’s just a matter of him just continuing to get more comfortable, continuing for him to get himself in a position where he’s ready to step on the floor and help us.

And look, we have no idea when that’s going to be. We’re hoping much, much sooner than later. But once again, we’re trying to do this the best we can, and that’s have that word of patience.

We want to have patience with him and get him ready and put him on the court when he can be most productive.

Patience is probably the right approach, because I don’t know an alternative. But I’m also not sure where patience gets anyone.

Fultz’s issues run so deep. It doesn’t appear time is solving anything. Does Fultz have a long-term injury that’s actually healing? Does he have a mental block that’s actually being addressed? It’d be nice to see some signs of progress.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen in summer league. The next opportunity for Fultz to publicly display his ability will likely be training camp.

But the way this has gone, I have no expectations of Fultz being ready for that, either.