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Thanksgiving P&T mailsack, pt. 2: The draft, the rotation, and TrumpBallGate

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Back to work, back to mailsack!

President Trump And First Lady Melania Depart The White House En Route To Mar-a-Lago For Thanksgiving Holiday Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Part one of this mailbag touched on tanking, Nerlens Noel, and a conundrum of sacks and sack-related paraphernalia. Bienvenue à part deux.

  • Fit vs. flyer: who ya got? TrentTuckerEra writes:

“Seems like [2018’s] a big-heavy draft, and most of the mock drafts have us taking the best big available. Is that what we should do if the best available player is a big (especially if he can shoot)? [N]one of our current bigs are likely...good enough to start for a contender in a few years, and a shooting big would be nice next to KP. On the other hand, a 3-and-D wing like Mikal Bridges would probably make us better in the short term...”

A year after drafting Clyde Drexler, the Portland Trail Blazers had the No. 2 pick in the draft. They passed on taking a star from North Carolina who played the same position as Drexler.

Center Mychal Thompson was, after Jim Paxson, the team’s best player in 1984, but he was 28. So the Blazers, committing a perfectly reasonable error in judgment, declined an embarrassment of riches at the wing to get younger and more dynamic in the post. Like so many of us, they sought balance. Like so many, they failed.

More recently, the Philadelphia 76ers went in the opposite direction of those Blazers, trading on draft day for center Nerlens Noel in 2013, drafting center Joel Embiid and making another draft-day deal for 6’10” forward Dario Saric in 2014, then drafting another center, Jahlil Okafor, in 2015. In 2016 they took 6’10” Ben Simmons first overall, a guard in the body of a big. After years of suckitude, the 76ers have weathered a difficult early schedule to emerge as a threat to win 50 games this season and, health-permitting, many years after.

Portland reached the Finals in Drexler’s seventh season. Chicago reached their first in Jordan’s seventh season, thanks in large part to acquiring the draft rights to another wing, Scottie Pippen, in 1987 (that pick originally belonged to the Knicks before being sent to Seattle as part of a deal that netted New York the pick that became Gerald Henderson [not the one you’re thinking of, but his dad] and the pick that became Mark Jackson).

A year later, the Bulls traded Charles Oakley to the Knicks for Bill Cartwright in a deal where both teams had their eye on fit: New York freed up the center spot for Patrick Ewing while Chicago opened up the power forward position for Horace Grant. The teams also swapped 1st-round picks. The Knicks selected Rod Strickland; the Bulls took Will Perdue. Strickland—far the better player—only lasted a year and a half in New York, while Perdue finished his career with four rings. You know how Moses broke the Ten Commandments? I sometimes wonder if we lost the eleventh to history, and that it was “The Bulls will win every single trade they make with the Knicks.” Give us a sign we’re not eternally cursed, Yahweh!

תודה!

So, to summarize (and overly simplify): Portland went with fit over fabulosity and it cost them the jackpot of jackpots. A few years later the beneficiary of this decision, Chicago, conceived a dynasty by doubling down on a duo of dominant Dobermans at the wings. Today, Philadelphia is earning early positive reviews for its Stalinist five-year plan, so long as you don’t look back at any of the human or emotional carnage of that plan’s unfolding. Time will tell if the Sixers have boldly gone where no one’s gone before or if they’re just the latest proof that nobody knows anything.

So does all this mean the Knicks should go for broke on June 21, 2018, and take the best player available, regardless of position? I’m still not sold on banking on Kristaps Porzingis’ durability or Frank Ntilikina becoming a next-level scorer, so I’m mostly in the take-the-BPA camp. But taking the BPA is easy. Successfully identifying who that is? Easier said than done. Orlando has had a top-six pick four of the past five years and also traded for top-ten pick Elfrid Payton in that time. Today the Magic are a sub-.500 team riding an eight-game losing streak.

A quick glance of mock drafts already links the Knicks with seven different centers: DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Robinson Wilson, Chimezie Metu, Mitchell Robinson, Robert Williams III and Mohamed Ba. One of those players I just made up. If it didn’t jump out at you, that’s probably proof it’s still too early to be thinking about where and whom this team may draft.

“[Jeff Hornacek’s] rotations...take out Courtney Lee before Tim Hardaway Jr. and then Lee runs with the second unit in the second quarter while KP, Timmy, and often Enes Kanter rest. My concern is that this leaves our second unit with Frank, Lee, Doug McDermott, Lance Thomas, and Kyle O’Quinn out there. While I like all of these guys, there is zero shot creation out there, and...the ball often finds Lance in the corner with six on the shot clock.

[W]hy doesn’t [Hornacek] try to stagger Hardaway (instead of Lee) and Kanter into this lineup? We could then survive offensively with Timmy’s shot creation, Kanter post-ups and offensive rebounds, and plays for McBuckets. This would...make sense...as our early second quarter offense seems to be a problem. Trying to see [it] from Horny’s perspective, I’m guessing...he likes...either...Lee or Jack out there at all times and wants the vet Lee out there with Frank. I guess this makes...sense, but we really need some offense in that second unit, and I don’t see where it will come from. Thoughts?”

Only three Knicks are averaging over 27 minutes a game this year -- Porzingis, Lee and the team’s minutes leader, Hardaway. Look at Hardaway’s career numbers. Especially his minutes and shooting numbers.

He’s a full-time starter for the first time and a number-two option for the first time. His minutes are up 25% and his shot attempts up nearly one-third, and more than ever he’s creating shots for himself. Over his first four seasons, 52%-70% of his two-point makes and 85%-94% of his three-point makes came off teammates’ assists. This season, those figures are 38% and 71%.

While his shooting percentages are down, due in large part to an aberrantly poor start to the season, a number of important numbers are up. Free throw attempts? Up 42%. Rebounds? 57%. Assists? More than 50%. He’s basically graduated from Robin to Nightwing and is holding his own.

felinequickness’ question boils down to: do you trust Jeff Hornacek? I do...although I’m known to be somewhat of a cock-eyed optimist when it comes to coaches. So far, Hardaway’s production across the board is better than ever; even if that’s strictly due to his professional pride and has nothing to do with Hornacek, at least the coach is recognizing positions the player is succeeding in and not screwing that up. Maybe Hornacek is waiting to see how Hardaway handles his first co-starring role as a starter before tasking him with a leading-man role alongside bench units.

Lee isn’t the shot creator THJ is, but his workload is up too, and he’s putting up career numbers in rebounds and assists, a career-best 45% on threes and his second-best ever two-point percentage. Lee is seven years older than Hardaway, playing the second-most minutes of his career, and could parlay his play into a trade to a contender. I think respecting his seniority and performance matters in the locker room, and I think/hope as an ex-player the head coach deals with nuances that escape most of us.

  • Le sigh. felinequickness asks:

“Can LaVar [Ball] and [Donald] Trump just go somewhere to argue/fight/screw — I don’t care — and leave the rest of mankind alone?”

The American president* is a racist whose self-obsession and sadistic profiteering potentially threatens billions of people. Billions wish he would disappear tomorrow, wish they could close their eyes and escape his existence. We can’t. He’s a life-ruiner. He ruins people’s lives.

LaVar Ball is a helicopter parent trying to seize the means of narrative and financial production around his sons to prevent them from being the next exploited athletes. This drive seems to stem from envy rather than altruism; given the chance to exploit others, he will. Sports fans know about Ball because sports media values content over meaning, over oxygen. People willing to say anything for attention’s sake are like a sugar rush: empty, unhealthy, potentially addictive. Ball knows this and uses it as a means to pursue his ends. He’s a whore working to spare his sons from a similar fate.

If LaVar Ball disappears tomorrow, our lives are unchanged. Whenever there’s an article or video or segment on TV about him, I click somewhere else, or X out the video, or change the channel. Donald Trump is a dark age. Ball is a character actor. Don’t believe the hype.