Noah Vonleh

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James Dolan says no current Knicks will become centerpiece of team, predicts success in free agency

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The Knicks are giving talented young point guard Dennis Smith Jr. a second chance. Rookie Kevin Knox has intriguing raw tools that made him the No. 9 overall pick. Second-rounder Mitchell Robinson has shown a special combination of size and athleticism in his rookie year. Even undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier is already making his mark.

Of course, that group isn’t the priority in New York.

The Knicks have cleared enough cap room to chase Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer. New York is chasing bigger stars.

Just ask Knicks owner James Dolan.

YES Network:

Dolan:

We hear from people all the time – from players, from representatives – who wants to come. We can’t respond because of the NBA rules, etcetera. But that doesn’t stop them from telling us. And they do. And I can tell you from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.

The thing about the team now is that it’s very young. It’s the youngest team in the NBA. You take a look at the some of the players that we have. And they won’t be the centerpiece of the team. But as complements to the centerpieces of the team, we’re developing them right now. And you get guys like Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo and Noah, Dotson, the whole team. They’re getting better.

I wouldn’t bet on Knox, Robinson, Trier, Noah Vonleh or Damyean Dotson becoming the centerpiece of a good team. But I’m not any of those players.

I wonder how they feel about their team’s owner publicly declaring they won’t become the centerpiece. I also wonder how they feel about their team’s owner looking like he needs notes to remember their names.

Likewise, I wonder how anyone who gave New York advance warning about going there feels about Dolan outing that step. Especially if it’s Durant and/or Irving. Those two have been testy about people connecting them to the Knicks. Dolan’s remark will only increase speculation about Durant and Irving going to New York.

D’Angelo Russell on Most Improved Player: ‘I’m gonna win that s—. Watch. Put it on record. I’m gonna win it’

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Raptors forward Pascal Siakam is favored to win Most Improved Player. Kings guard De'Aaron Fox should be leading the race for Most Improved Player.

But nobody is more confident about winning the award than Nets guard D'Angelo Russell.

Russell, via Anthony Pucci of SNY:

“I’m gonna win that s–t. Watch. Put it on record. I’m gonna win it.”

“I’m telling you, I’m winning it!”

Russell has definitely improved a lot. He has taken large role leading the surprisingly solid Nets. His shooting and playmaking are more reliable than ever. He even became a first-time All-Star this season (though as an injury replacement).

Fox’s win shares (4.0, from 1.3) and box plus-minus (+2.8, from -0.4) are up significantly this season from previous career highs.

But he’s not the only one.

Fox, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Thomas Bryant have made bigger increases in win shares. Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Nikola Vucevic, Beasley, Zach Collins and Noah Vonleh have made bigger increases in box plus-minus.

Russell will likely get MIP votes. His campaigning will help, as will his All-Star appearance.

He should get more credit for rising from average-ish into near-stardom than another player who makes a similar jump from poor to average. Taking the same number of steps gets more difficult the higher a player climbs.

But Russell isn’t on track to make my theoretical three-player MIP ballot, let alone win the award. I doubt enough actual voters will see him as worthy, either.

Unable to find trade, Knicks waive Enes Kanter

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Enes Kanter wanted to be somewhere he got a chance to play. That was no longer the Knicks — second-year center Luke Kornet out of Vanderbilt started for a while, and Noah Vonleh has got some run. All Kanter would say is “I don’t understand.”.

The Knicks wanted to trade him, but there was no market for a guy making $18.6 million who, because of his serious defensive shortcomings, is almost unplayable in the postseason. The trade deadline passed without action on Kanter.

So the Knick have waived him.

 “From the moment he arrived in New York, Enes passionately embraced our franchise and our city,” said Scott Perry, General Manager of the Knicks, in a statement.  “He is a courageous individual and we thank him for his many contributions both on the court and in the community.  We wish him the absolute best moving forward, personally and professionally.” 

Kanter will become an unrestricted free agent on the buyout market, and a lot of playoff teams are studying that market looking to add depth and fill in gaps in their roster.

Kanter can score. He averaged 14.5 points and 10 rebounds a game, he does most of his damage around the basket (61.5 percent of his shots came in the restricted area) but he has to be guarded at the arc. He’s also strong on the glass and can get offensive rebounds. Kanter gets a team points, he just gives up about as many.

That said, the native of Turkey — who has made headlines because of a political feud with that country’s president — will have a new home soon enough, there will be teams interested.

Three Things to Know: Lakers’ ‘kids’ exploit struggling Thunder defense, pull off upset

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The kids are alright. Young Lakers exploit struggling Thunder defense to pull off overtime upset. Up until a few days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder had the best defense in the NBA this season (and they are still currently second). Paul George has looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, fighting over picks on the perimeter and being disruptive, while Stephen Adams has owned the paint.

However, the Thunder have hit a slump, losing 5-of-6, and in those six the Thunder have allowed 119.8 points per 100 possessions — 16 more per 100 than they did most of the season.

The maligned Laker “kids” — still playing without LeBron James — exploited that defense. The Lakers moved the ball (37 assists on 50 made buckets) and hit 19-of-40 from three.

Kyle Kuzma had 32 points, Lonzo Ball had five of his 18 points in overtime (plus he had 10 assists on the night), and Ivica Zubac owned the paint, coming off the bench to score a career-high 26 points and 12 rebounds.

The Lakers should have won the game in regulation, but the officials blew a call. The Lakers were up 122-119 with 2.9 seconds left but the Thunder had one last chance. Luke Walton gave the instructions to foul before a shot, but Russell Westbrook drove past Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ball switched on to him. Ball fouled before Westbrook started his shooting motion, but the referees whistled it as in the act and awarded him three free throws (which Westbrook hit to force OT).

However, upon review, it was clear Westbrook was not in a shooting motion when Ball fouled him, and the officials owned up to that after the game.

After the game, Thunder coach Billy Donovan said the problem with the Thunder defense in this slump is they are not defending out to the three-point line.

The Thunder are allowing just two more threes per game in this slump (and one more per 100 possessions), but teams are hitting them at a higher rate — 34.9 percent for the season but 43.1 percent in the last six. Some of that is just bad luck for OKC (the Lakers are not that good a three-point shooting team but the shots fell for them Thursday), and some of it is not contesting those shots as well.

Don’t worry about the Thunder long term, they will get their defense turned around. Mid-season slumps happen. But they have slid back into the big group in the middle of the Western Conference and it’s going to be a battle for seeding the rest of the way.

2) With the game on the line, Raptors turn to Pascal Siakam, who drives and hits game-winner for Toronto. Kawhi Leonard sat this one out, but Kyle Lowry — a likely All-Star in the East — was on the floor. So with the game tied against Phoenix in the final seconds, who did Toronto turn to for the game-winner?

Pascal Siakam, of course. On a clear-out.

And he nailed it.

Siakam was destroying the Suns in the first half and was the Raptors best player on the night. He has made huge strides this season and is in the mix for Most Improved Player this season. Shots like that help his cause.

3) Wizards beat Knicks in London on a game-winning goaltending call. The NBA went to London Thursday — distracting a troubled nation from the Brexit disaster by giving them the Wizards vs. the Knicks…. sorry about that — and Londoners got to see the most unusual ending to an NBA game this season.

New York led 100-99 (thanks to a Noah Vonleh hook shot) but Oklahoma City had one last shot, and everyone in the building knew Bradley Beal would get the rock. Scott Brooks drew up a play that had Beal starting in the backcourt and sprinting into the frontcourt to get the inbound pass, and he did but the defense rotated to Beal, so he passed to Thomas Bryant rolling down the lane wide open. Bryant put up the finger roll and…

The officials got that right, it was a goaltend by Allonzo Trier — the ball is just starting its downward trajectory, and it may have been over the cylinder. Give the Wizards the win.

Washington has won 3-of-4 and are 6-4 since John Wall was sidelined with his foot injury, and the team is now just two games out of the playoffs in the East. Owner Ted Leonsis said in London the team will not tank, so maybe the rumored trades around the Wizards don’t happen as they make a push for the postseason.

Wizards beat Knicks with game-winning goaltending call in London Game

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The good people of England could use a break from the dumpster fire that is Brexit, so the NBA came to town to entertain with their very best… their biggest stars… the teams that were willing to go, the Knicks and the Wizards.

But the Londoners got to see one unusual ending.

The Knicks were up 100-99 thanks to a Noah Vonleh hook shot, but the Wizards had three seconds to try to get off a game winner. Scott Brooks designed an interesting play, with Bradley Beal starting in the backcourt and sprinting into the frontcourt, and when the defense moved to him as the likely shooter he passed to Thomas Bryant rolling down the lane, he put up the finger roll and…

That was a goaltend by Allonzo Trier to my eyes — the ball is just starting its downward trajectory, and it may have been over the cylinder (in an NBA arena there would have been an above-basket camera with a better angle on if it was over the rim, but that did not seem to be available in London).

The Wizards — who owner Ted Leonsis said will never tank, so forget about them trading away assets at the deadline — have won 3-of-4 and are 6-4 since John Wall was sidelined with his foot injury, with a +3 net rating in those games. Washington is now just two games out of the playoffs in the East and GM Ernie Grunfeld does not believe in tanking, so expect them to make a push.

Which is why wins like this matter.