Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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

6 Comments

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.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
2 Comments

James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

Yifan Ding/Getty Images
2 Comments

Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.