Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking Ronald McDonald may have an anger management issues (no, not that one)…
Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets. He remains one of the best (sometimes overlooked) shooters in the game. In the first half the Nets largely ran the offense through their “power forward” Paul Pierce and Johnson kept getting open for catch-and-shoot threes (he was 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in the first half) on his way to 26 points before the break. The Hawks adjusted to Johnson in the second half and doubled him, and Johnson made the right play being patient and getting the ball to the open man (Alan Anderson had 10 in the third largely thanks to those plays). By the fourth quarter Johnson was comfortably on the bench wondering if he had time to get to a fish and chip shop before the flight home. Brooklyn cruised to a win in London and Johnson was a key reason.
Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers. He looked like an All-Star in this one (and he is on my ballot, too). Stephenson led the Pacers when they stopped settling for jumpers and attacked the rim starting in the second quarter, but he was also a playmaker setting up teammates. When the Knicks started to focus more on him is when Paul George was able to step up and get his 25. Stephenson had 28 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and spent time guarding Carmelo Anthony, too.
Houston Rockets in first half. This team is unstoppable. This team looks like a contender. This team has a guy you have to respect in the paint and that opens up looks at the arc, and this team goes 12-of-20 from three. This team puts up 73 points in a half, plays with pace and confidence and is generally impressive.
Houston Rockets in second half. This team can’t shoot from the outside and goes 0-of-9 from three. This team looks like one that when challenged doesn’t now how to adjust and get scoring if its threes aren’t falling. This team’s stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard didn’t step up with plays when their side was struggling. This team looks nothing like a future contender.
The question is which is the real Rockets team? Or is it the more likely answer of none-of-the-above, rather still a work in progress with a ways to go?
Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?
This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.
Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.
A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.
Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).
The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.
Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.
But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.
Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.
Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.
Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).
There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.
After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.
Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.
To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.
That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)
The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.
If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.
Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.
This is bad.
The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.
Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.
Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.
Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.
Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).
Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).