Knicks struggling to deal with perimeter pressure in early days of learning the Triangle Offense

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NEW YORK — On the very first possession of the game, after the Knicks won the opening tip, the ball landed with Carmelo Anthony about 30 feet from the basket. Paul Pierce, savvy veteran that he is, was right there with him, refusing to allow even an ounce of space for Anthony to operate.

It was a wise maneuver, given the way that the Knicks have conducted themselves in the early part of this season, and one that would be a sign of things to come. The Wizards applied constant perimeter pressure defensively, especially in the second half, which disrupted New York’s new-look offense and resulted in the Knicks suffering a 15-point loss.

“They just pressured us,” Iman Shumpert said afterward. “Nothing special. They just pressured us.”

Pressure was the word used over and over by the Knicks to describe what the issue was, but it’s one that both Washington and Chicago have used in the early part of the season to completely stifle New York’s offensive plans. The team is in the early stages of learning and attempting to execute the Triangle Offense, and when the defense overplays the ball without the proper counters being used, the results can be disastrous.

“They upped their pressure,” said Knicks head coach Derek Fisher. “They got more aggressive in the third quarter, and really got into our guys even more. They started the game that way the first few minutes, kind of caused us some problems but we settled into the first quarter, and we were still able to get some things done.”

Getting things done on the offensive end of the floor for the Knicks this season has meant knocking down a high percentage of traditionally inefficient midrange shots. In a first half against Washington where New York led by five at the intermission, 21 of the team’s 40 shots came from outside the paint, but the Knicks went 7-of-14 from midrange and 4-of-7 from three-point distance.

The Wizards didn’t cause this; these are the shots the Knicks have been comfortable taking through the first four games of the season. New York ranks second in the league in field goal attempts 15-19 feet from the basket, and fifth in the league in attempts from 10-14 feet out.

The Knicks have plenty of guys who can make them, which has been both a blessing and a curse; Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Jason Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire have all shown consistency from there at times this season. But when the opposing teams know that’s what you’re looking for, and you have no means to create with dribble penetration or with motion to relieve some of the defensive pressure, you get what happened Tuesday — stifling perimeter defense that worked to perfection.

“We’ve just got to get better with our pressure releases,” Carmelo Anthony said afterward. “Teams are going to try to start doing that all the time now — getting in the passing lane, denying. So I think we’ve just got to trust it, and not let the other team speed us up at times throughout the game.”

Easier said than done, obviously. And Fisher knows there’s a temptation for his players to abandon the offense when things aren’t going as planned, especially in the season’s early stages.

“That’s the toughest part of this,” Fisher said. “Early on, when you’re still trying to figure out who you are within what we do, is to still trust it and have faith that things will work out without reverting back to what you normally do in these situations. And that’s tough for guys to do. When the game’s getting away from you, the feeling for each guy is to feel like, ‘I can do it. I can help us get this back.’ It’s actually the reverse. You have to stay together even more.

“Their pressure caused us some problems in terms of our execution,” he said. “I think it got frustrating for all of our guys out there tonight, not to be able to execute the things that we’re capable of doing, but the Wizards took us out of a lot of it.”

Despite the evident struggles, there have been some positives to come out of the new offensive system. Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal notes that fewer of the shots are coming from isolation sets, the team’s percentage of assisted baskets is up significantly, and Anthony has fewer pull-up jumpers and more catch-and-shoot attempts that he did last season — all of which means that the ball is moving, which will eventually create the desired results.

The players, however, will need to stick with it, even when things are at their darkest. And that can be counterintuitive at times.

“It’s not about going to ISOs and things like that,” Anthony said, when asked about whether it was difficult to stay the course offensively. “But I think as players out there, when you see something that’s not working at the time, your first instinct is to use another option. Whether that option is to break out of the system, the offense — sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t. And tonight was one of those nights that it didn’t work.”

Former Kings selection Georgios Papagiannis leaves NBA historically quickly for lottery pick

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Even if he were talking about hot yoga, then-Kings star DeMarcus Cousins perfectly captured the feeling of Sacramento picking Georgios Papagiannis No. 13 in the 2016 draft: “Lord give me the strength.”

Ranked No. 46 on Chad Ford’s board – which attempted to show league-wide consensus – Papagiannis was an old-school plodding center. He flashed interior skills during his limited playing time with Panathinaikos in Greece, but athleticism was a major concern. He was the type of player teams learned over the previous two decades not to fall for.

While an NBA team picking someone so high should be a positive indicator, it did little for Papagiannis. The Kings’ draft record had been miserable under owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac. They didn’t get the benefit of the doubt (though their draft-night trade with the Suns that landed the No. 13 pick used on Papagiannis turned out well).

Every concern about Papagiannis and Sacramento proved justified.

The Kings waived Papagiannis during his second season – absurdly quick for any first-rounder, let alone a lottery pick. His agent blamed the team. Nobody came out looking good.

Papagiannis signed with the Trail Blazers, though he played only one game for them. Portland waived him earlier this summer.

Now, Papagiannis will return Panathinaikos on a five-year contract, the Greek team announced. Will this conclude the 21-year-old’s NBA career? It seems more likely than not.

If so, it will be one of the shortest ever for a lottery pick.

Papagiannis’ 477 career minutes are the sixth-fewest ever by a lottery pick, excluding 2017 and 2018 picks, who haven’t had time to play more.

Fran Vazquez (No. 11 pick in 2005 by Magic) continued playing overseas and never signed in the NBA. Len Bias (No. 2 pick in 1986 by Celtics) tragically died of a cocaine overdose after the draft.

Among lottery picks who actually made the league, only Aleksandar Radojevic (No. 12 pick 1999 by Raptors), Yaroslav Korolev (No. 12 pick in 2005 by Clippers) and Mouhamed Sene (No. 10 pick in 2006 by SuperSonics) played less than Papagiannis.

Here are the fewest minutes played by lottery picks between 1985, when the NBA instituted the lottery, and 2016:

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Papagiannis could still drop down the list.

After all, Radojevic left the NBA after two seasons, spent three years in Europe then somehow returned stateside to play 12 games for the Jazz. That NBA comeback seemed unlikely as he shuffled between the Raptors, Nuggets and Bucks while playing only three games (all with Toronto).

Nothing precludes Papagiannis from returning to the NBA, even if he must complete his entire Greek contract first.

But just because one unlikely thing happened before, I wouldn’t bet on another happening with Papagiannis.

Isaiah Thomas to Danny Ainge: ‘If the opportunity is there, I would just like to let you know that I’d love to come back’ to Celtics

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Isaiah Thomas had a rough year.

The Celtics traded him to the Cavaliers. He missed most of the season with a hip injury. In between, he played destructively bad for the Cavs and Lakers and got run out of Cleveland, in part, for making waves in the locker room. Free agency was especially cruel, Thomas’ Brinks-truck dreams ending in a minimum salary from the Nuggets – a historically low figure for someone who finished top-five in MVP voting just two seasons prior.

On a bright note: Thomas ended his feud with Celtics president Danny Ainge. In fact, those two spoke during Thomas’ free agency.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Before finalizing the agreement with Denver, Thomas had reached out to Boston GM Danny Ainge. They talked for 15 to 20 minutes, Thomas says, and he told Ainge: “If the opportunity is there, I would just like to let you know that I’d love to come back.”

Ainge says his mind was open to the idea, but the Celtics needed to work through Marcus Smart‘s restricted-free-agency discussions before they could consider making an offer to Thomas. Ainge was willing to continue the conversation, but Thomas accepted the Nuggets’ offer before Boston had reached its new deal with Smart.

“S—, I’d have gone back,” Thomas says. “I don’t hold grudges.”

Thomas played his best basketball in Boston. Brad Stevens empowered Thomas as a go-to offensive player and successfully hid him on defense. I understand the appeal of going back.

But that Thomas could never return to those Celtics. He’s older, and his hip injury might have sapped his athleticism. Boston acquired Kyrie Irving, and Terry Rozier broke out. Marcus Smart remains.

A reunion would have likely ended in disappointment.

Instead, Thomas will try to prove himself in Denver, backing up Jamal Murray. Thomas is aware of his standing, and his interview is both endearing and sympathetic. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and carries a chip on his shoulder – the reason so many of us are drawn to him. And he’s keenly aware that, in a league where so many players are paid based on past performance, he’s judged by a hip injury teams believe will hinder him going forward.

Thomas, as always, seems driven to prove himself. And maybe he will. Returning to a reserve role isn’t glamorous, but there’s an opportunity with the Nuggets.

But I also fear, no matter how well Thomas plays next season, teams will be apprehensive of a 30-year-old 5-foot-9 point guard with a history of hip problems in 2019 free agency. He might be stuck in a no-win situation and just can’t get his big payday.

Especially after this interview, though, I’m excited to watch him try.

Report: Carmelo Anthony to sign minimum contract with Rockets

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Carmelo Anthony signing with the Rockets has been a near-certainty for a while.

The final steps – the Thunder trading him to the Hawks, Atlanta waiving him, Anthony clearing waivers – are close enough that specifics are emerging.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Carmelo Anthony is planning to sign with the Houston Rockets upon clearing waivers in coming days, according to two people with knowledge of his plans.

He is expected to receive a one-year deal from the Rockets at the league’s veteran minimum salary

The Rockets have the $5,337,000 taxpayer mid-level exception available, but clearly wary of an expensive payroll, they’ll get Anthony for much less.

Anthony will count just $1,512,601 toward the cap and luxury tax. He’ll pocket pocket an extra $1,871,635 – in addition to the $27,928,140 paid by the Hawks. Not a bad summer for him, as he’ll get all his money plus a little more and get to join his desire team.

For the Rockets? It’s a classic tale. They let more expensive players – Trevor Ariza ($15 million from Suns) and Luc Mbah a Moute ($4,320,500 from Clippers) – leave and settled for minimum-salary players: James Ennis and Anthony.

Ennis fits well in Houston, but he lacks the talent of the departing players (who also fit well). Anthony brings name recognition, but unless he works to complement James Harden and Chris Paula huge question mark – this won’t go well. That’s why he’s leaving Oklahoma City, and there are many reasons to be skeptical he’ll acquit himself better with the Rockets.

You get what you pay for.

John Wall calls Washington’s off-season moves “pretty interesting”

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After another season where the Wizards underwhelmed — due to injuries, due to chemistry issues, due to a lot of things — what were the bold moves of this summer in our nation’s capital? Well, they signed Jeff Green. And in a trade they got Austin Rivers.

The other part of that Rivers’ trade was the big news — they sent center Marcin Gortat to the Clippers. That cleared the way to sign Dwight Howard this summer. The idea of adding Howard to a locker room with questionable chemistry is a bit of a punch line.

In a podcast with Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington, Wall called the Wizards’ summer “pretty interesting” and praised Howard.

“Even though [Howard] is older, he’s still an athletic big averaging 16 [points] and 12 [rebounds],” Wall said in the pod. He talked up Howard as a pick-and-roll threat lob threat as he rolls to the rim, saying defenses can’t cheat off of him.

“Not only do you get more layups, probably, you get more wide open threes.”

That’s great, but Howard got the ball back as the roll man on 12.5 percent of his possessions last season — it has never been something he wants to do a lot. Post-ups, however, accounted for 40.1 percent of his possessions, once you include his passes out of the post (and the Wizards scored a rather meh 0.85 points per possession on those post ups). Howard has long been better as the roll man, he just dislikes to do it.

Last season, Marcin Gortat got 20.9 percent of his shots out of the pick-and-roll and just 18.2 percent on post-ups. The Wizards don’t want to take the ball out of Wall’s hands. Nor should they.

Howard, even at this point in his career (when he is not the force of nature he was back in Orlando), can be an upgrade for the Wizards at center, but not a massive one. Nothing else GM Ernie Grunfeld did this summer moved the needle in Washington.

It’s all “pretty interesting” I guess. The Wizards look like another middle-of-the-pack team just not living up to all the potential on the roster, and it’s hard to see what changes about that this season.