- When the Knicks signed Isaiah Hartenstein to a two-year, $16MM contract last year, they cited his shooting, play-making and passing as complementary skills to bruising center Mitchell Robinson. However, as Stefan Bondy writes in a subscriber-only story for The New York Post, Hartenstein quickly learned last season that he needed to adapt his game to fit head coach Tom Thibodeau‘s system in order to stay in the rotation. “I think that’s a thing a lot of NBA players don’t do. That’s kind of how you whittle down the league,” Hartenstein said. “And for me, that was adjusting it to less of a finesse game and more of getting guys open [with screens], more of just crashing for the rebounds. Whereas before it was more passing, catching it in the pocket, playing off that.” Hartenstein doesn’t put up gaudy stats, but he thinks he’s in the conversation for being the best backup center in the league. When Bondy asked about his impending free agency in 2024, the 25-year-old said, “We’ll see what happens. I love New York, so we’ll see what happens.”
- The Knicks‘ schedule became more difficult after advancing to the quarterfinals of the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament, notes Steve Popper of Newsday (subscription required). New York will play at Milwaukee on Tuesday for the quarterfinal matchup, meaning the Knicks will play the Bucks five times instead of four in ’23/24. If the Knicks and Celtics advance to the semifinals in Las Vegas, they would have to play Boston a fifth time as well. Still, the Knicks view it as a chance to get better. “I don’t look at anything as a consequence,” forward Julius Randle said, per Popper. “Winning games, playing good basketball, got a chance to compete against the best. Who wouldn’t want that opportunity?”
Rival executives believe Brooklyn will seek the equivalent of two first-round picks for Finney-Smith, though they hope that cost will drop closer to the deadline, according to Scotto, who adds that some execs who spoke to HoopsHype think the Nets would want a protected first-round pick for O’Neale. Finney-Smith still has multiple years left on his contract, while O’Neale is on an expiring deal.
Teams are also eyeing Nic Claxton and are curious to see whether Brooklyn is willing to roll the dice on re-signing him as an unrestricted free agent next summer, since he won’t become extension-eligible before then. For now, the Nets view Claxton as part of their core and wouldn’t be inclined to move him unless they get an offer that blows them away, Scotto explains.
Finally, some NBA executives think that veteran guard Spencer Dinwiddie might be available on the trade market later this season — and they think he’d have some value. “Dinwiddie can help a team and make big shots,” one exec told Scotto.
Scotto has more trade rumors and notes from around the Eastern Conference. Let’s dive in…
- Rival teams are keeping an eye on whether or not the Knicks will make Immanuel Quickley available, according to Scotto, who says the guard was seeking about $25MM per year on a rookie scale extension before the season, while New York offered approximately $18MM annually. “I think Quickley might be New York’s best trade asset besides Jalen Brunson,” one league executive told HoopsHype.
- The Hawks still have some trade interest in Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, says Scotto. De’Andre Hunter and Clint Capela were mentioned during the offseason as possible trade candidates for Atlanta and Scotto believes one or both players could be available again before February’s deadline. However, the Mavericks‘ interest in Capela has diminished due to the strong play of rookie Dereck Lively, Scotto notes.
- Multiple “playoff-caliber” teams have been in touch with the Hornets to gauge the potential availability of veteran forward Gordon Hayward, per Scotto.
- Scotto also reports that teams have expressed some exploratory interest in Sixers wing KJ Martin, who was part of the James Harden blockbuster earlier this month. Martin has played a limited role in Philadelphia but is coming off a solid year in Houston.
As teams battled for a spot in the quarterfinals of the NBA’s first in-season tournament, point differential served as an important tiebreaker. It was used in several instances to determine the winner of a group, a conference’s wild card team, and the seeding of certain quarterfinalists.
That sort of tiebreaker is necessary in the round robin stage of an event that sees 30 teams playing just four games, since there will be many identical records and several instances in which head-to-head record won’t suffice.
However, a number of players and coaches around the NBA weren’t thrilled by the late-game situations created by the focus on point differential, as ESPN details. Knicks forward Josh Hart was one player to express dissatisfaction with the idea that his team had to try to run up the score on Tuesday vs. Charlotte in order to advance.
“It was interesting. I don’t really like it,” Hart said. “We were focused, at first, just about winning. The last couple of minutes it feels weird. At a certain point, you just start chasing points, doing all that. So it kind of messes with the integrity of the game a little bit.”
Teams like the Celtics and Cavaliers, meanwhile, kept their starters on the floor in Tuesday’s games well past the point that the outcomes had been decided in the hopes of widening their respective leads and improving their overall point differentials. Echoing Hart, both Jaylen Brown and Donovan Mitchell referred to it as “a little weird.”
“It’s tough because that’s just not how the game is supposed to be played,” Brown said.
Hawks head coach Quin Snyder, who pulled his starters with about four minutes left vs. Cleveland, said the situation wasn’t “ideal,” while Bulls head coach Billy Donovan was unhappy about Boston padding its lead by repeatedly fouling Andre Drummond in the fourth quarter to send the big man to the free throw line (he made one of six attempts).
“I also understand the situation he’s in too. He’s got to coach his team and do what’s right,” Donovan said of Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla. ”But I think it was putting Andre in a tough spot down 30 points. But this is from the league. This is what the league has done, making this point differential thing.”
Concerns about the effect the point differential tiebreaker had near the end of certain games arose last Friday as well. DeMar DeRozan was ejected late in a loss to Toronto for taking exception to the Raptors attempting to score when the shot clock was off. In that case, Toronto had already been eliminated from qualifying for the quarterfinals, but appeared to be unaware of that fact.
Assuming the in-season tournament returns in 2024/25, it will be interesting to see if the NBA tweaks its tiebreaker rules to address concerns from players and coaches, or if the league will simply count on everyone getting more accustomed to the format and learning to live with it.
Making total points allowed a tiebreaker rather than point differential would be one way to eliminate the incentive for teams to run up the score in a blowout. However, a change along those lines could result in unwanted side effects, including slowing down the pace of tournament games.
Following the Knicks’ game against Charlotte on Tuesday, Hart made a point of telling the media he’s not unhappy, Fred Katz of The Athletic tweets. “Just so you know, I’m not a disgruntled player. Make sure y’all tweet that (stuff). Josh Hart said he’s not disgruntled.”
- Knicks wing RJ Barrett says he’s still trying to get back in form after a bout with migraines, Bondy writes. Barrett has shot 33% of the field in the last five games after dealing with the severe headaches. “I didn’t pick up where I left off,” Barrett said. “That’s OK. Honestly, this was going to happen at some point during the season whether I got sick or not. So, I’m just doing what I do all the time, working my way out of it. Not worried.”
The last set of round robin games for the NBA’s first-ever in-season tournament took place on Tuesday night, and the eight quarterfinalists are now known.
In the Eastern Conference, the Bucks and Celtics joined the Pacers as group winners, while the Knicks claimed the wild card spot.
With a road victory over Miami on Tuesday, Milwaukee secured a 4-0 record in group play, and the Bucks’ +46 point differential was better than Indiana’s +39 mark, making them the No. 1 seed in the conference, with the Pacers coming in at No. 2.
A 124-97 victory over Chicago ensured that the Celtics finished group play with a 3-1 record and a +27 point differential. Orlando and Brooklyn also won three games in East Group C, but their respective point differentials (+22 and +20) weren’t quite good enough to match Boston’s.
The Magic and Nets were still in play for the wild card spot, but the Knicks’ 115-91 win over Charlotte on Tuesday increased their overall point differential to +42, giving them the edge over their fellow 3-1 Eastern clubs, including Cleveland.
Over in the Western Conference, the Lakers – who previously won their group – clinched the No. 1 seed based on Tuesday’s results. They’ll be joined in the quarterfinals by the 4-0 Kings and the 3-1 Pelicans and Suns.
The only other Western team to go undefeated in round robin games, Sacramento secured its spot with an impressive comeback win over Golden State, 124-123. The Kings’ overall point differential of +30 wasn’t anywhere close to the Lakers’ mark of +74, so Sacramento will enter the quarterfinals as the West’s No. 2 seed.
Because Houston fell to Dallas on Tuesday, the Pelicans finished as the only 3-1 team in Group B, clinching the West’s No. 3 seed.
The Suns, like New Orleans, were off on Tuesday, but benefited from the results of the action. Although the Timberwolves defeated Oklahoma City and matched Phoenix’s 3-1 record, Minnesota finished with a +0 point differential, far off the +34 mark posted by the Suns, who will be the West’s wild card team.
Here’s the quarterfinal schedule, per the NBA (Twitter link):
Monday, December 4:
- Boston Celtics at Indiana Pacers (7:30 pm Eastern)
- New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings (10:00 pm ET)
Tuesday, December 5:
- New York Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks (7:30 pm ET)
- Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers (10:00 pm ET)
The winners of those games will face one another in the semifinals on Dec. 7 in Las Vegas, with the finalists squaring off on Dec. 9. The quarterfinals and semifinals will count toward each club’s regular season record, but the final won’t.
The eight teams that have qualified as quarterfinalists have already earned bonuses worth $50K apiece for each of their players. Advancing to the semifinals would increase those bonuses to $100K per player, while making the final would bump the figure to $250K. The inaugural in-season tournament champion will receive bonuses of $500K per player.
Jalen Brunson and Immanuel Quickley have built chemistry during their second season together in the Knicks’ backcourt, as Fred Katz of The Athletic details. It’s especially notable in the screening Quickley does to create space for Brunson.
Whether they’ll remain together for the long haul remains to be seen. Quickley and the Knicks front office failed to reach a rookie scale extension agreement last month, which means Quickley will be a restricted free agent next summer.
We have more on the New York clubs:
- Julius Randle had a 28-point game against the Suns on Sunday but his inconsistent play is a big reason for the Knicks’ mediocre start, Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post opines. Randle, the team’s highest-salaried player at $28.2MM this season, is shooting 38.7% from the field and 69.2% from the free throw line.
- Knicks center Mitchell Robinson took a hard fall against Phoenix on Sunday after he elevated for an offensive rebound during the third quarter. However, he’s apparently OK. Robinson went through practice on Monday, according to coach Tom Thibodeau, Katz tweets. Robinson was examined by the team’s trainers Sunday night.
- Nets center Nic Claxton, who aggravated a left ankle injury that has nagged him this season, is listed as questionable to play against Toronto on Tuesday, Brian Lewis of the New York Post tweets. Cam Thomas, who is averaging 26.9 points, is listed as doubtful. He hasn’t played since Nov. 8 due to a left ankle sprain.
Washington, who is out six-to-eight weeks with a right thumb injury, is on a two-way contract with New York. Martin will be taking that spot once Washington is released, according to Charania.
Martin has impressed the Knicks “with his play and approach to the game,” tweets Ian Begley of SNY.tv. The rookie signed a two-way contract with New York over the summer after going undrafted out of the Overtime Elite league, but he was waived before the 2023/24 season began. He’ll receive a one-year deal, sources tell Begley. His previous agreement covered two years.
Martin, 19, has averaged 10.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in six appearances with the Knicks’ G League affiliate in Westchester this fall (22.6 minutes per game). New York still has a full 18-man roster after the transactions, with 15 players on standard deals and three on two-way contracts.
The Pistons‘ offseason coaching change and Cade Cunningham‘s return from injury have resulted in a new role for second-year guard Jaden Ivey, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Ivey was used as a starter as a rookie and was given the freedom to handle the ball and create plays. He’s started just three of the 12 games he’s played under new coach Monty Williams and he’s being asked to adjust to playing off the ball.
“Every day is a new opportunity,” Ivey said. “Just be the best version of yourself. Nothing that I want in life is going to be easy. I’m going to have to work for everything. That’s the mindset I want to carry every single day is that I’m going to work hard for all the things I want in life. Let God take of everything. Just continue to work, put my head down. Nothing is easy in this league.”
The Pistons targeted Ivey to be an important part of their future when they selected him with the fifth pick in the 2022 draft, and Williams stressed that the organization’s view of him hasn’t changed. Ivey’s athleticism combined with an ability to finish at the basket and an effective three-point shot make him difficult to defend. Williams is urging him to be patient and is impressed by how he’s adjusting to the new role.
“He’s a developing player with a lot of talent,” Williams said. “He’s got his head in there every day, learning and growing in a new system. It’s Year 2, second coach, that can be a lot on anybody. I’ve enjoyed his spirit. He hasn’t run from all the stuff (that) has been new and sometimes overwhelming.”
There’s more from Detroit:
- The Pistons will tie a franchise record with 14 straight losses if they can’t beat Washington tonight, per Mike Curtis of The Detroit News. Williams said he wasn’t aware that the team is danger of reaching the record, as he’s been more concerned with player development and trying to eliminate the mistakes that are causing the team to lose.
- Williams provided an update on assistant coach Dan Burke, who has been away from the team since October 30, Curtis adds. Williams said he couldn’t provide any details because it’s a “personal situation,” but he confirmed that Burke is still part of the coaching staff.
- The Pistons aren’t in the market for a “panic trade,” league and team sources tell James L. Edwards III of The Athletic, but he talked to a few of his colleagues about the kind of deals the front office might pursue if things don’t change. He considers potential trades with the Warriors involving Andrew Wiggins, the Raptors involving OG Anunoby and the Knicks to get back their first-round draft pick, which is top-18 protected in 2024.
After missing two games with the ailment, Grimes didn’t look quite like himself in a loss to the Timberwolves on Monday. He went scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting from the floor, while logging a -18 plus-minus, the worst such mark on the team.
“I feel good,” Grimes said. “Everybody didn’t shoot the ball and make shots, and we’re kind of [on the] last game of a road trip, so everybody was a little fatigued like that, but overall it feels good… It’s a little sore and everything. But I got four, five days to kind of just calm back down.”
Grimes struggled again on Friday, compiling as many fouls as points (3) and recording a minus-20 mark in a two-point win over Miami.
There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:
- Celtics star guard Jrue Holiday has sat out Boston’s last two contests with a right ankle sprain, per Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter link). Head coach Joe Mazzulla opted to promote guard Dalano Banton into the club’s starting lineup. During his first season with Boston, Holiday is averaging 12.3 PPG on a .420/.338/.792 slash line, plus 7.4 RPG, 4.9 APG and 1.0 BPG.
- Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis sat out Boston’s 113-103 win over the Hawks on Sunday with a calf injury. Joe Mazzulla revealed that the 7’2″ big man will be reassessed in “a week or so,” though there is not currently a set timeline for his return, per ESPN News Services. This season, the 28-year-old is averaging 18.9 PPG on .547/.324/.800 shooting splits for Boston, along with 6.7 RPG, 1.9 APG and 1.7 BPG. Al Horford started in his stead against Atlanta.
- The 11-5 Sixers have gotten off to a stellar start in 2023/24, and are currently missing a surprising key scorer in starting small forward Kelly Oubre Jr. In a new column, Keith Pompey of The Inquirer considers whether a fully healthy Philadelphia club would be a serious title contender this year. No Joel Embiid-era Sixers team has ever advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs.
Since going undrafted out of Ohio State in 2021, Washington has also logged time with the Pacers and Suns. He initially signed on with New York last February on a two-way deal, but didn’t suit up at all for the NBA club during the 2022/23 season.
Washington appeared in five games last year with the Westchester Knicks, New York’s G League affiliate. Across those contests, he averaged 16.6 points per game on a shooting line of .424/.368/1.000, along with 2.8 dimes and 1.6 boards.
Through 79 career games, the 6’3″ vet boasts NBA averages of 9.1 PPG on .391/.371/.729 shooting splits. He’s also averaging 1.9 APG and 1.5 RPG.
In his lone game this year with Westchester, Washington scored 26 points. He has yet to play with the New York roster in a regular season contest.