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51Q: Do Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah have enough left in the tank for the Knicks?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

Derrick Rose won MVP in 2011. A few years later, Joakim Noah finished fourth in MVP voting and made the All-NBA first team.

In the two seasons since, they have combined to produce 8.3 win shares.

For perspective, Gordon Hayward posted 8.9 win shares last season alone.

It wasn’t long ago Rose and Noah also surpassed that mark individually. But injuries and aging have sapped both of athleticism, leaving them as unreliable contributors and unable to meet the lofty expectations set by their prior achievements.

Yet, the Knicks paid significantly to acquire the former Bulls this offseason. New York signed Noah to a four-year, $72.59 million contract. While Rose doesn’t carry nearly the same long-term commitment on an expiring deal, the Knicks still traded a productive center on a cost-controlled contract (Robin Lopez) and the No. 19 pick in just last year’s draft (Jerian Grant) for Rose.

The question is no longer whether Rose and Noah will match their peak form. They almost assuredly cannot. The question is whether Rose and Noah will offer adequate return on New York’s investment.

This is the Knicks way of bridging the gap between 32-year-old Carmelo Anthony and 21-year-old Porzingis. New York is depending on Rose and Noah to elevate the team in the short term and, in at least Noah’s case, sustain success. Mostly, it’s an attempt to win during Anthony’s closing window. But the length of Noah’s deal assumes prolonged production – which is probably overly optimistic on Phil Jackson’s part.

Noah has become a horrendous finisher at the rim, and he has lost confidence in his mid-range jumper. That has made passing his lone useful skill with the ball, and while he’s an excellent passer for his size, defenses know it. His decreased scoring threat makes it easier for defenses to cover passing lanes.

On the bright side, Noah has redoubled his effort as a defender and rebounder – and he’s still excellent at both. He’s not the same rim protector he was in his prime, but his intelligence and mobility help him stifle pick-and-rolls.

Still, he’s 31. Paying a player who has already shown such major signs of decline to age 36 is always a dangerous game.

There isn’t much more certainty around Rose, who is suddenly 28 – an age he’d probably begin to slow down even if it weren’t for his well-known knee injuries

Last season, Rose showed a far greater understanding than ever about how to play without elite athleticism. The result: A middling-at-best starting point guard. That might be Rose optimizing his abilities at this point, but if this is his new normal, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Rose still used a huge number of possessions, though well below his peak rate, and did so with poor efficiency. He developed more of a mid-range game, but that doesn’t do much given his depleted finishing ability and never-trustworthy 3-pointer.

Rose’s diminished athleticism has also exposed underwhelming distribution and defensive skills.

At least he missed just 16 games, compared to 212 over the previous four years.

Then again, celebrating a player missing “just” 16 games exposes how far the standards have fallen for Rose.

The Knicks must integrate Rose on the fly after he missed much of the preseason while successfully defending himself in a civil rape trial. Then, his contract expires in July, creating more uncertainty at point guard. If Rose plays well, will New York re-sign him? If he doesn’t, can Brandon Jennings do enough to keep the Knicks afloat?

At least there are possibilities there.

There are far fewer with Noah, whose contact is fully guaranteed. Porzingis’ ideal long-term position appears to be center, but Noah is a roadblock.

The ideal outcome for New York, of course, is Rose and Noah playing well. Whatever complications that would bring – whether or not to re-sign Rose, how to use Porzingis – the Knicks would be operating from a position of strength and just feeling good about winning.

But the alternative creates a fire more dire situation – another lost season, three more years of Noah and no answer at point guard.

I wouldn’t want so much riding on Rose and Noah, but the Knicks have made their bed. For better or worse, they’ll have to lie in it.

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Wizards (shoulder)

Giannis Antetokounmpo
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Giannis Antetokounmpo is on track to repeat as Most Valuable Player.

So, any game he misses is notable.

Bucks:

Expect to see more Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson. With the trade deadline approaching, this could even be a showcase game for Wilson.

Milwaukee is still favored over the Wizards. The Bucks have outscored opponents by 7.8 points per possession without Antetokounmpo this season. They’re deep.

Of course, anything can happen. It’s only one game in a long NBA regular season.

Which might something to do with Antetokounmpo sitting. Even if he plays in Milwaukee’s next game, vs. the Nuggets on Friday, he’ll get six straight days off. That’s a nice break.