The Extra Pass: Rookie Report

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we ask you to put down your TPS report and pick up the Rookie Report:

Since we’re near the halfway point of the season, it’s time to revisit the rookie class and check on some of the bigger names. Who looks like a future All-Star? Which players should be starters going forward? We dissect below:

Sure-fire future All-Stars: Hornets F/C Anthony Davis, Blazers G Damian Lillard

Davis: Despite not having post moves or a reliable jumper yet, Davis has shown incredible instincts on the offensive end. As SI.com’s Rob Mahoney so wonderfully explained, Davis just has a knack for getting open, and his ability to finish on the move has made him a weapon to be dealt with. Davis is averaging nearly 16 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per36 minutes this season with a PER of 20, and that puts him in great company. Only David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning and Ralph Sampson averaged those numbers in their rookie seasons.

Lillard: He looks like the real deal already. His understanding and timing in the pick-and-roll is uncanny for a player his age, but it’s his ability to create space for himself that really separates him from other young point guards. According to Synergy Sports, Lillard is already the 14th most efficient scorer (points per play) in the league in isolation and 23rd in the pick-and-roll. With his separation ability and sweet shooting touch, Lillard’s scoring numbers should only ramp up from an already impressive 18 point per game average.

Borderline future All-Stars: Wizards G Bradley Beal, Orlando Magic PF Andrew Nicholson

Beal: This kid has one of the most beautiful jumpers in basketball. His mechanics are flawless — the elbow is in, the release is high, and his body is straight up and down. Don’t let the rough overall numbers fool you (38 percent shooting) — Beal is starting to figure out his role in the NBA. In the month of January, Beal has averaged 18.8 points a game and 61 percent (!) shooting from behind the arc with nearly three makes a game from deep. With John Wall pushing the pace and sucking in defenses, Beal could end up being the best pure spot-up shooter of this draft class.

Nicholson: Give him more minutes, Jacque Vaughn! Nicholson only plays about 14 minutes a night, but he’s been a killer scorer whenever he gets on the floor. Per36 minutes, Nicholson scores 18.4 points on 52 percent shooting thanks to a jumper that has been every bit as good as advertised. Nicholson has knocked in 33-for-72 (45 percent) of his shots from 16-23 feet, a number that puts him right there with the league’s elite stretch 4’s.

Future 6th Man of the Year candidate: Cavaliers G Dion Waiters

Waiters: What kind of shots does Waiters want to get? All of them. The explosive, burly scoring guard takes 17 attempts per36 minutes — a huge number for a rookie. Since the Cavs moved him to the bench nine games ago, Waiters has beaten up on second units with his big frame, totaling over 15 points in five of those contests. It may be a tad early to pigeon hole him, but turning Waiters into a scoring guard off the bench seems like a role perfectly suited for his skill and discretion.

Future Defensive Player of the Year winner: Pistons C Andre Drummond

Drummond: Let’s make something clear — Drummond is not skilled offensively. His jumper is a joke, his touch outside of the paint is laughable, and he shoots 39 percent from the free throw line. That’s what makes everything more insane, though. Drummond leas all rookies in PER at 22.4, and he’s averaging 13 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks per36 minutes. Those are numbers even the great Dwight Howard didn’t sniff in his first season. In league history, Shaq was the only rookie to post 13-13-3 per36 minutes with a PER of over 22. If Drummond can play this well with no discernible skills whatsoever, imagine how good he can be down the line.

Dependable long-term starters: Bobcats SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Warriors SF Harrison Barnes

MKG: He has a long way to go offensively, but Kidd-Gilchrist is still a self-aware plus defender who will be one of the best rebounding small forwards in basketball for a long time (8.5 boards per36). Yes, his jump shot is completely broken, but MKG does so many things well without the ball that he’ll always warrant heavy playing time.

Barnes: I’m not as bullish on Barnes as most. He plays with blinders on too often, focusing on beating just his man and not on what’s going on around him. That said, Caron Butler has made a nice career for himself playing much the same way. There are reasons for optimism here — Barnes has shown off a nice post game, and his 38 percent 3-point shooting is a nice number in limited attempts — but I just think his ceiling as an all-around player is capped.

First big off the bench: Cavaliers C Tyler Zeller, Celtics PF Jared Sullinger

Zeller: He’s just what everyone said he was — a 7-foot big man who can run the floor and shoot it a little bit. He’ll be a perfectly passable backup center for years to come.

Sullinger: Sullinger is almost like a Zach Randolph; a subpar athlete who gobbles up space and has a knack for pulling in offensive rebounds and finishing with creativity. Sullinger has been a surprisingly good defensive player as well — the Celtics are about 6 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.

Drafted to be a star, but a role player going forward: Kings PF Thomas Robinson 

Robinson: The big man from Kansas only does one thing great, and that’s offensive rebounding (3.6 per 36 minutes). Other than that, Robinson has no consistent way of scoring, and defensively, his desire to stay near the glass hurts him from defending bigs who can step away from the rim. He’ll clean the glass, but Robinson hasn’t shown he’s capable of doing anything else at even an average level.

Most likely to get overpaid one day: Blazers C Meyers Leonard, Warriors C Festus Ezeli

Leonard: By the time he figures out the game and develops some actual offensive skill, he’ll hit restricted free agency. Some GM will look at that giant frame and great athleticism and bet he keeps on developing.

Ezeli: It seems like he’ll get a little too much credit for the Warriors defense making the leap under Mark Jackson. He also seems like a player Mark Cuban would love to throw an absurd amount of money at (see: Desagna Diop, Erick Dampier, Brendan Haywood).

Second unit leaders: Wolves G Alexey Shved, Knicks F Chris Copeland

Shved: An extremely underrated athlete with good floor vision (5.8 assists per36 minutes), Shved should become a very good third guard once he’s free of the scoring burden that’s been placed on him due to Minnesota’s injury problems.

Copeland: The 28-year-old forward I lovingly refer to as  “created player” because he looks like he was made in NBA2k13 is a natural scoring talent. Per36 minutes, Copeland is averaging 19.6 points per game and is shooting 39 percent from behind the arc. He’s instant offense, even if he doesn’t do much else at all.

Role players that will stick: Mavericks F Jae Crowder, Warriors F Draymond Green

Crowder: A classic 3-and-D guy on the wing with a big motor. If he improves his 3-point shooting (32 percent this year) even more, he’ll be a regular in the league for another ten seasons.

Green: A defensive ace that can rebound very well, Green will continue to warrant playing time so long as he figures out what his role his offensively.

The late bloomer: Bucks PF John Henson

Henson: He needs to develop a much better mid-range jumper and he absolutely has to add strength, but Henson is a mobile, long-armed, shot-blocking big who is rebounding like crazy (12.3 rebounds per36 minutes). He may need to get out from under the shadow of Larry Sanders in Milwaukee, but I’d be shocked if Henson isn’t a successful starting power forward down the line.

Career Athlete: Raptors G/F Terrence Ross

Ross: He’s the best rookie dunker I’ve seen in years. Ross has ideal size for the 2 and a decent 3-point shot (32 percent), but he has no in between game to speak of. That said, Ross won’t be hard up for a home in the NBA — not with athleticism like that.

Out of the league soon: Hornets G Austin Rivers, Rockets F Royce White

Rivers: Pedigree can only take you so far. Rivers has been dreadful this year, and his shot selection and style of play has never meshed with his level of talent. He won’t be an NBA player until he stops taking bad shots, and I’m not sure that will ever happen.

White: Whether it’s fair or not, White represents too much of a risk for potential employers now. It’s a shame — White’s unique point-forward talents would have made him one of the league’s most interesting players. Instead, he’ll likely join the ranks of the “what-if” players that never seem to put it together.

Enriched and entrusted, Malcolm Brogdon proving his worth with Pacers

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DETROIT – Pistons guard Tim Frazier is older than Malcolm Brogdon. Frazier has more years of NBA experience than Brogdon. Frazier has played more NBA games than Brogdon.

Yet, Frazier – Brogdon’s teammate on the Bucks last season – still speaks of Brogdon with an incredible reverence.

“He’s just somebody that I even kind of look up to,” Frazier said, “to try to follow his footsteps.”

“He’s a great person. He does everything by the book, tries to do everything the right things, man. Cares for others. It’s huge.”

Brogdon – nicknamed “The President” – has earned a sterling reputation thanks to his stellar play, strong work ethic and powerful voice. Now with the Pacers, Brogdon is spreading his influence even further.

Last offseason, Brogdon was part of one of the league’s most controversial moves. Holding matching rights on Brogdon, Milwaukee signed-and-traded him to Indiana for a first-rounder and two-second rounders. The Bucks cleared playing time that might have appealed to newly signed Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver and, perhaps more importantly, stayed under the luxury-tax line. We’ll see how Milwaukee uses those picks, but that was quite the choice with Giannis Antetokounmpo headed toward his super-max decision.

Brogdon says he’s not dwelling on the Bucks’ decision. His four-year, $85 million contract certainly helps.

“It’s just surreal,” said Brogdon, the No. 36 pick in the 2016 draft. “To get paid that much, that’s what everybody dreams about.”

Most of his draft classmates must keep dreaming. The Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies four-year contracts for first-round picks. But second rounders can negotiate shorter deals. Brogdon signed a three-year contract with Milwaukee. Though he looked like a huge bargain while winning Rookie of the Year and starting deep in the playoffs, Brogdon hit free agency a year earlier than his peers.

Brogdon’s $20 million salary this season is the second-highest ever for someone in his first four seasons. Only Nikola Jokic, who earned a max salary last season, got more.

Here are the highest salaries by players in their first four seasons:

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“There’s pressure whenever somebody gets paid,” Brogdon said. “A team pays you, because they are giving you more responsibility. They’re showing you that they like you and that they think you should play at a certain level.”

Brogdon is answering that call.

Shifted to shooting guard in Milwaukee to accommodate Eric Bledsoe, Brogdon filled his role dutifully. But he wanted to be a point guard, and the Pacers have made him their starting point guard.

“It’s been amazing,” Brogdon said. “It’s definitely a lot of responsibility, but it’s something I’m ready for and something I welcome gladly.”

He’s averaging 20.8 points and 8.9 assists per game – third in the NBA, behind LeBron James (11.0 assists per game) and Luka Doncic (9.1 assists per game).

Brogdon was once viewed as having a limited ceiling. He entered the NBA after four years at Virginia, had long-term health concerns and played a complementary style. He focused on defending, spotting up for 3-pointers and attacking closeouts

Now, Brogdon drives Indiana’s above-average offense. The ball runs through him, and he creates for himself and teammates. His increased role shows throughout his numbers (last season → this season):

  • Usage percentage: 20.7 → 27.1
  • Assist percentage: 16.2 → 39.7
  • Free-throw rate: .203 → .294
  • Plays per game finished as pick-and-roll ball-handler: 2.7 → 8.9
  • 3-pointers per game off multiple dribbles: 0.8 →2.6

Even while doing so much more, Brogdon has kept his turnovers low (though up slightly from his Milwaukee days). His true shooting percentage also remains above league average, because he’s showing nice burst to the basket and drawing fouls. An all-time great from the line, Brogdon has made 46-of-47 free throws this season (98%).

Brogdon must eventually adjust once Victor Oladipo returns. Though he’ll remain starting point guard, Brogdon will share ball-handling duties with the talented Oladipo.

That’s an issue for another day. For now, Brogdon just seems happy.

“Having the opportunity to have the ball in my hands, to make decisions, to lead a team,” Brogdon said, “this is what I wanted.”

Reports: Knicks trying to hire Raptors president Masai Ujiri, could fire coach David Fizdale

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Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry addressed the media after New York’s blowout loss to the Cavaliers yesterday.

On one hand, this was a nice show of accountability. Executives rarely face the public, too often leaving coaches and players to explain wider team problems. Mills and Perry built this mess. They should answer for it.

On the other hand, Mills is seemingly passing blame onto Knicks coach David Fizdale.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Even before a startling news conference in the wake of a blowout loss to Cleveland, New York Knicks president Steve Mills had started to lay the internal groundwork for the eventual dismissal of coach David Fizdale, league sources told ESPN.

Mills is selling owner James Dolan on a roster constructed to be highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, leaving Fizdale vulnerable to an ouster only weeks into the second season of a four-year contract that league sources say is worth $22 million.

Frank Isola of The Athletic:

What Mills didn’t say is that he and Dolan spoke at length during halftime of the blowout loss and, according to one source, Dolan told Mills he was “disappointed” with the team’s 2-8 start. The same source said that Dolan ordered his top basketball decision-makers to address the media after the game, which is highly unusual but interesting nonetheless.

Mills knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics. He both preceded and succeeded Phil Jackson running the front office. Fizdale might make for a good scapegoat.

But Mills also faces an external threat.

Isola:

According to several people familiar with the Knicks thinking, Dolan is plotting to take another run at Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

This isn’t the first time the Knicks have been linked to Ujiri. Running the Nuggets, Ujiri famously outmaneuvered Dolan with the Carmelo Anthony trade. Then, with Toronto, Ujiri fleeced the Knicks with the Andrea Bargnani trade. Dolan was so shook, he later vetoed a trade for Kyle Lowry in fear of getting worked again by Ujiri.

That’s the type of executive a team should covet.

Dolan has spent big – just often on the wrong people. Phil Jackson, who had no executive experience, is the prime example.

Ujiri has proven he can assemble a championship team. He can manage an organization, completely. He’s worth a huge offer.

Would Ujiri leave the Raptors? The Wizards reportedly pursued him last summer and came up empty. Dolan’s deep pockets and New York prestige could give Ujiri things to consider.

In the meantime, the Knicks must manage their current mess. That might mean ousting Fizdale. The coach has made negligible clear positive impact. It’d be hard for any coach to do much with this roster, but Fizdale also hasn’t given much reason to save his job.

If New York fires Fizdale, though, that could be just the start of a wider shakeup.

Giannis Antetokounmpo tears jersey, kicks hole in sign after air-balling FT (video)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s adventures at the free-throw line continued with another air ball yesterday.

He went Luka Doncic/Marcus Smart afterward.

Not only did he rip his jersey – using his teeth! – (see video above), he kicked a hole in a sign on the way to the locker room in Oklahoma City.

Gabe Ikard of The Franchise:

Eric Nehm of The Athletic:

Antetokounmpo took out his frustrations on the Thunder. In the second half, he scored 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds.

He finished with 35 points and 16 rebounds in the Bucks’ 121-119 win.

Knicks management ‘not happy with where we are right now’ after blowout loss to Cavs

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It was ugly.

The Cleveland Cavaliers showed up to Madison Square Garden Sunday with a roster in transition — young players such as Collin Sexton learning on the job next to veterans such as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson who have trade rumors swirling around them — but they play hard and smart for first-year NBA coach John Beilein.

That effort blew the doors off the Knicks, who trailed by 30 and ultimately lost to the Cavaliers 108-87.

The Knicks have lollygagged to a 2-8 start to the season and after the embarrassment at the hands of Cleveland on Sunday there was a lot of soul searching in the Knicks organization. Enough that president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry made a surprise appearance to speak to the media afterward.

Here’s Mills’ quote, via Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

“Obviously, Scott and I are not happy with where we are right now. We think the team’s not performing to the level that we anticipated or we expected to perform at and that’s something that we think we have to collectively do a better job of delivering the product on the floor that we said we would do at the start of this season.

“We still believe in our coaching staff, we believe in the plan that Scott and I put together and the players that we’ve assembled. But we also have to acknowledge that we haven’t played at the level we expected to play at. We’ve sort of seen glimpses of how we can play as a team, when everything comes together. But we’ve got to find a way to play complete games at the level that we expect our team to play at and that’s a responsibility that we take collectively. But I also think it’s important for us to communicate to our fans that we’re not happy where we are right now and we’re committed to making this better.”

Knicks coach David Fizdale walked up to the podium postgame and took full responsibility for his team’s early play this season.

When a team struggles it is usually the coach who becomes the scapegoat — and Fizdale deserves blame. Not all of it, but certainly some. Sunday the Knicks faced a struggling backcourt defensively in Cleveland, so they attacked it with.. a lot of Julius Randle post-ups. However, Marcus Morris didn’t want to blame the gameplan, saying, “At the end of the day, f*** the X’s and O’s. We have to come out and we have to be better.”

Nothing is imminent, but owner James Dolan is not famous for his patience (except with Isaiah Thomas). Fizdale or someone else in the front office could be in trouble if the losses keep piling up. Again, from Begley.

Multiple SNY sources familiar with the matter said as recently as Thursday that there was no indication that any major coaching or management change was imminent. But those sources stated that nothing had been ruled out with regard an in-season front office or coaching change.

New York’s front office — and it’s fans — should know it is in a rebuilding process (and that it is okay to do that in New York). Sunday there was a lot of talk about staying the course and the process and “pounding the rock.” But when a team is getting outworked the process issues seem secondary.

The Knicks entered this season with outsized expectations — welcome to New York — for an ill-fitting roster where the focus should be player development. No matter what was being sold to Dolan and the fans by management, this is not a playoff roster. Even in the East.

That said, the Knicks shouldn’t be getting blown out like this at home, either. They didn’t land the biggest names on the board last summer, but they did spend on players such as Randle and Morris, and young players like RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson provide hope for the future. This team should be better than it is. Instead, the reality is they are tied for dead last in the league in net rating (-10.2, the same as the Memphis Grizzlies).

We have yet to see evidence of the culture change Mills and Perry have said they wanted to bring. Changing coaches early in the season (or making another front-office change) would re-enforce the belief among players and agents around the league there is a lack of stability in New York — and that instability starts at the very top of the organization. Also, Fizdale and everyone in the front office has multiple years left on their contracts — Dolan would have to eat a lot of money to let someone go.

Thursday night Kristaps Porzingis returns to Madison Square Garden, wearing the colors of the Dallas Mavericks, for a nationally televised game. If that is another embarrassment, like the game Sunday, all bets are off on the Knicks being patient and not making changes.