RJ Barrett

Knicks Notes: Randle, Payton, Gibson, Barrett

The Knicks need a quick turnaround from Julius Randle to salvage their series with the Hawks, but coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t worried about his star forward, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. Randle averaged 24.1 points per game during the regular season, but has been limited to 15, 15, and 14 points as Atlanta has taken a 2-1 series lead.

“Just be Julius. I don’t want him overthinking it,’’ Thibodeau said. “Let the game come to you. Sometimes you’re going to get your shots, sometimes you got to make the play. That’s what he’s done extremely well all year long. He’s our engine, he’s a fighter, he’s tough, he’s smart. He’ll figure it out.’’

The Hawks have frustrated Randle with changing coverages, a variety of defenders, and frequent double and triple teams. He hasn’t been able to get comfortable in the point forward role he has played all season, and the Knicks don’t have a dependable guard to run their offense.

“It’s been a team effort,’’ said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter. “He’s the head of the snake. When the team is playing at its best, he’s playing at its best. He’s making shots and creating for everyone else. We wanted to make it as tough as we could on him. We’ve thrown different guys at him. Defensively, it’s feel like every possession someone else gets a crack at him. We’re just trying to show help when we can and force him into tough shots.’’

There’s more on the Knicks:

  • Derrick Rose is expected to remain the starting point guard for Game 4, Berman states in a separate story. Rose scored 30 points in 38 minutes Friday as former starter Elfrid Payton wasn’t used at all. Thibodeau admits it was difficult to break the news of the demotion to Payton. “You always have to do what you feel is best for your team,’’ he said. “Sometimes it’s matchups. Elfrid’s a critical part of the team. He’s had a very good year for us. It’s just also, like, what we’re looking at, and what we think gives us our best chance right now.”
  • Thibodeau made another lineup change in Game 3, Berman adds, starting Taj Gibson at center in place of Nerlens Noel, who has been dealing with an ankle that he “tweaked” in the series opener. Noel excelled in the reserve role, with 12 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes. “It doesn’t matter, whatever Thibs wants me to do — come off the bench, play five minutes,” Gibson said. “Doesn’t matter. We got to find a way to come out with a ‘W.’”
  • The Knicks need more production from RJ Barrett, points out Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. Barrett is shooting 13 of 38 in the first three games and is regularly missing open jumpers. “I see it,” he said. “I’m open. I just got to make it.”

New York Notes: Randle, Rose, Barrett, Harden, Griffin

After another poor shooting night, Julius Randle expressed confidence that he and the Knicks will turn things around in the first-round series against Atlanta, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. Randle missed 13 of 15 field-goal attempts in Game 3 on Friday.

We just got to adjust, just got to adjust and we will,’’ he said. “It’s on me. I just got to find a way to read the outlets quicker.’’

Impending free agent Derrick Rose was the main source of offense after being inserted into the lineup in place of slumping Elfrid Payton. Rose believes the team has been frustrated by its lack of offensive execution.

“When we’re not making shots, we still have to play with that sense of urgency,’’ Rose said.

We have more on the New York teams:

  • RJ Barrett has also been in an offensive funk in the series, Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post notes. The Knicks shooting guard is averaging 11.3 PPG and shooting 32.6% from the field during the series. “I’m getting a lot of wide-open shots,” he said. “I need to make them.”
  • James Harden saw a silver lining in the Nets’ Game 3 loss to Boston on Friday, according to Alex Schiffer of The Athletic. Harden believes the team had been lulled into a false sense of security after winning the first two games at home. “This probably was good for us,” Harden said. “Especially after our last game when we played so well. This was a good reminder for us that things aren’t going to be so easy.”
  • The Nets slowly worked Blake Griffin into their mix after signing him this season and general manager Sean Marks said the team has been pleasantly surprised how much he has left in the tank, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne writes. “We knew what we were getting in terms of veteran and high-IQ player,” Marks said. “So it was about being able to maximize what he’s got left, career-wise. And from the first day we got him, we could see, ‘OK, there’s some more there.'” With the superstars carrying the team in the playoffs, Griffin is averaging a modest 5.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 3.0 APG in the first-round series against Boston.

14 NBA Players On Canada’s Preliminary Olympic Qualifying Roster

Team Canada has yet to secure a place in the men’s basketball event at the Tokyo Olympics, but the club should have a loaded roster as it looks to lock up a spot in a qualifying tournament next month.

Canada Basketball issued a press release today announcing its 21-player preliminary roster for the Olympic qualifier, and the group includes 14 players who finished the season on NBA contracts. Here’s the full list:

Of the seven players who didn’t play in the NBA this season, one (Bennett) is a former first overall pick, another (Nicholson) was also a first-round selection, and a third (Alexander) has NBA experience. Bell-Haynes has played in the G League, while Doornekamp, Ejim, and Nembhard all have extensive experience representing Canada in past international competitions.

Still, a few noteworthy names are missing from the list. Nuggets guard Jamal Murray is recovering from a torn ACL and won’t be able to participate. Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is also dealing with an injury, announcing on Instagram that rehabbing the plantar fasciitis in his right foot will prevent him from representing Team Canada.

Raptors big man Chris Boucher is a third notable omission. According to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link), Boucher is focused on rehabbing a knee sprain and wants to make sure he’s 100% healthy heading into 2021/22. He also has a somewhat uncertain contract situation — his $7MM salary for next season is non-guaranteed, though I’d be shocked if he’s not retained.

Even without Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Boucher, Canada Basketball is in position to run out a roster stacked with NBA talent and led by former NBA Coach of the Year Nick Nurse.

While the final roster will depend in part on which players are available, none of the 21 players on the preliminary are on teams expected to still be alive for the conference finals. However, a club like Powell’s Mavericks or Barrett’s Knicks could surprise.

Team Canada will compete against Greece, China, Uruguay, Turkey, and the Czech Republic in a qualifying tournament in Victoria, British Columbia between June 29 and July 4. If the club wins that six-team qualifier, it will be part of the 12-team field in Tokyo and would be a legit contender for a medal.

Atlantic Notes: Payton, Celtics, Barrett, Rivers

The Knicks still have some doubters to prove wrong in the playoffs this year, according to guard Elfrid Payton, as relayed by Alex Kennedy of BasketballNews.com. Payton, who started 63 games for New York this season, averaged 10.1 points, 3.2 assists and 23.6 minutes per contest. This will be his first playoff stint.

“I think we match up well against them,” Payton said of the team’s first-round opponents, the Hawks. “They have a lot of weapons over there, a lot of guys who can shoot the three; John Collins is playing well, (Clint) Capela is a force inside and they’ve got a good bench with Lou Will and (Danilo) Gallinari.

“I think we’re just a little bit deeper and a little bit more physical, and that’s going to make it tough for them. As far as the preparation, it’s been crazy. It’s my first playoffs, so… It’s kinda what I expected, but having so much time off, we were able to really dive into a lot of film and a lot of their tendencies.”

Here are some other notes from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • The Celtics are increasing their crowd capacity for Game 3 against the Nets on Friday, according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated (Twitter link). Boston will be at “near full” capacity for Game 4, which is set to commence next Sunday.
  • Knicks guard RJ Barrett revealed an interesting game plan for guarding Hawks star Trae Young, as Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News details. Barrett believes his team is better off forcing Young to score instead of making plays for his teammates (he averaged 25.3 points and 9.4 assists per game this season).
  • Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has turned his star-studded team into winners, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Rivers holds several years of coaching experience and memorably guided the Celtics to a championship in 2008. He was also named the NBA’s Coach of the Year with Orlando in 2000.

Knicks Notes: Vildoza, Thibodeau, Payton, Barrett

Although Argentinian guard Luca Vildoza will join the Knicks soon, he may not start playing until next season, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. The team signed Vildoza to a four-year, $13.6MM contract this week, but coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t have much to say about him during a session with the media before Friday’s game.

“It’s going to take some time for him to get over here,” Thibodeau said. “Our scouts really liked him. We’ll have time to evaluate him over the summer.” He later added, “There’s a whole process that he’s going to have to go through, so it’s going to be more of a summer thing.’’

Thibodeau’s statements seem to indicate that he will stick with Elfrid Payton as his starting point guard, Berman adds, even though Payton hasn’t been effective lately. He was a minus-23 in Friday’s loss to Phoenix and has posted negative ratings in seven of the past 12 games. Still, Thibodeau likes the size and agility Payton brings on defense and doesn’t want to damage his confidence heading into the playoffs.

Sources told Berman that Thibodeau’s attitude toward Vildoza is a show of support for his current players, who will each miss out on a $200K bonus because the Knicks reached the salary cap floor by signing Vildoza. It will take time for Vildoza to get immigration clearance because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s not certain when he will join the team.

There’s more from New York:

  • In an interview with Gigantes del Basket, Vildoza said he has always dreamed of playing in the NBA, relays Ennio Terrasi Borghesan of Sportando. “For me it’s like living a dream,” he said. “I don’t like leaving in the middle of the season. … (But) it’s a unique opportunity that may never happen again, I didn’t want to miss it.”
  • RJ Barrett‘s improved shooting in his second NBA season has contributed to the Knicks’ turnaround, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Barrett spent the offseason focusing on his shot after being disappointed with his performance as a rookie. “You just have to keep working,” Barrett said. “If you can just get the results you want that easily, everybody would be where they want to be.”
  • The strong defensive mentality that Thibodeau has installed is drawing comparisons to the best teams in Knicks’ history, states Steve Popper of Newsday.

Knicks Notes: Toppin, Core Duo, Thibs, Payton

Knicks rookie Obi Toppin was able to carve out more minutes on Saturday as All-Star Julius Randle‘s backup thanks to his improved long-range shooting touch, as he went 3-for-4 from deep, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post. Toppin scored nine points in 8:38 of game action for a 120-103 New York victory over the Raptors. He earned a commendation from Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau.

“Obi has been practicing great, I thought he played great tonight,’’ Thibodeau said. “He puts a lot of time into his shooting. He’s coming back at night. He’s grooving his shot so I think he’s gaining confidence. He’s practicing well too when we do practice. His concentration has improved. So he’s an important part of the second unit.’’

There’s more out of New York:

  • After the Knicks whiffed on signing free agent superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving during the summer of 2019, the team has recovered admirably with an intriguing core duo, per Steve Popper of Newsday. New York pivoted by signing forward Julius Randle to a now-bargain three-year, $63MM deal that summer and selecting RJ Barrett with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has helped strengthen that core. “I wanted to see where he was conditioning-wise, get to know him a little bit,” Thibodeau said of Randle. “He’s our engine, and he’s been a great leader right from the start.”
  • Knicks second-year forward Barrett supports coach Tom Thibodeau as a Coach of the Year contender for the 2020/21 season, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv. With Thibodeau’s addition, the Knicks are currently riding a season-high nine-game win streak to a 34-27 record and own the East’s No. 4 seed. Thibodeau has clearly been instrumental in the development of Barrett and Randle. “We all believe in Thibs,” Barrett said. “He’s done a tremendous job in how he’s turned everything around. The way he has us playing hard every single night and we’re getting wins. The whole staff, every day, we’re working hard, just pushing us. It’s a great feeling. I’m sure the fans see how hard we’re working and having them in the Garden has been great overall.’’
  • Starting Knicks point guard Elfrid Payton is losing playing time to key reserves Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose, notes Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. Yesterday, Payton logged his second-lowest minutes total (14:44) in a game in which he was available this year. Vorkonuv wonders if Thibodeau will at some point switch out Quickley or Rose to start, though both players have been excellent bench cogs.

Atlantic Notes: Birch, Barrett, Raptors, Sixers

Nick Nurse expects the Raptors‘ new buyout addition, center Khem Birch, to join the club tonight against the Knicks, tweets Josh Lewenberg of The Athletic.

“I think he’s a guy that could become a quality backup big man in this league,” the Raptors’ head coach said. “He’s got some length, athleticism, shot blocking and rebounding. I’m excited to have him and hope we can help him develop.”

Birch joins the Raptors after having cleared waivers following his buyout from the Magic, where he was a solid contributor.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Standout second-year Knicks forward RJ Barrett has greatly improved his shooting stroke, thanks in large part to the efforts of skills trainer Drew Hanlen, as Michael Grange of Sportsnet details. “Not pointing fingers, but there was a level of frustration that he played with because he felt like he had made the shot change that he needed to make during the pre-draft and after putting three months of hard work to lock in those mechanics, they instantly go tweaked and changed to a place where he felt really uncomfortable and he lacked the confidence and consistency he needed,” Hanlen said of Barrett’s rookie Knicks season.
  • Many Raptors players are more concerned about their future contracts than helping contribute to a potential team tank during a strange season for Toronto-by-way-of-Tampa, writes Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports.
  • Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid is learning to adjust to playing with a left knee brace, according to Rich Hoffman of The Athletic. “It just feels like every shot that I take, I just have a hitch. Like it’s not a full motion,” Embiid said. In the same piece, head coach Doc Rivers noted that new addition Anthony Tolliver could help the club, though he may not receive much playing time. “He’s a veteran, can shoot the ball, been around the block, which I think this team needs,” Rivers said. “So I think he can help.”

Knicks Notes: Rose, Henson, Quickley, Barrett

Knicks guard Derrick Rose still doesn’t have his wind back after contracting the coronavirus last month, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes.

Rose, who missed 10 games due to the virus and an ankle sprain, had significant symptoms and described his bout as having the flu “times 10.” He’s served as a key cog for New York this year, averaging 11.9 points, four assists and 25 minutes in 16 games.

“Having COVID, coming back in, missing the game, just trying to get my rhythm, trying to get my timing down, trying to get my wind, but that’s going to come,” Rose said, as relayed by Berman. “I’m trying to use these last 20-something games to prep myself for a playoff series.

“It’s going to take some time, but it’s going day by day, practice by practice, and in the game, quarter by quarter. I had a pretty good half last game and now the goal is to have two legit halves and just play as hard as I can so I can build up my wind.”

There’s more out of New York today:

  • John Henson will miss Friday’s game against Memphis due to a calf strain, according to Berman (Twitter link). Henson is under a 10-day contract with the team and may not see time due to the injury. The 30-year-old is in his ninth NBA season and holds past experience with Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit.
  • Immanuel Quickley denied that he’s hitting the well-documented “rookie wall,” Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News writes. As Bondy details, Quickley is shooting just 31% in his last seven games, working to get through a slump. “As far as the rookie wall, I don’t really feel it,” Quickley said. “I’m just gonna continue to do whatever’s got me here,” he said. “There’s gonna be ups and downs throughout a season, ups and downs throughout a game.”
  • RJ Barrett continues to make strides in his second NBA season, Steve Popper of Newsday writes. Barrett has increased his scoring average from 14.3 to 17.5 points per game this year, also raising his shooting marks from 40% to 45% from the field and 32% to 38% from deep. “He’s coming into his own and knowing who he is as a player,” teammate Julius Randle said. “Down the stretch, he’s getting to his spots. He’s playing well. Very comfortable and continuing to grow as a player.”

Atlantic Notes: Nets Rotation, Embiid, Barrett, Knicks

Nets head coach Steve Nash is not worried about how the return of Kevin Durant and the incorporation of newcomer Blake Griffin will affect Brooklyn’s forward rotation, per Chris Milholen and Matthew Brooks of Nets Daily.

“We cross it when it comes because who knows who will be available when Kevin is available,” Nash said. “We are presuming everyone’s available when Kevin is, but if the season is any indication that might be full-hearted, so we’ll see.”

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers will be without All-Star center Joel Embiid, out multiple weeks with a bone bruise, prompting Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer to assess how the 76ers can adjust to temporary life on the floor without the big man. The team will have to lean on the scoring output of forward Tobias Harris and the passing and defensive acumen of All-Star guard Ben Simmons more than ever.
  • Second-year Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett has elevated his game during his sophomore season, according to Barbara Barker of Newsday. Barrett is playing a crucial role for a 20-19 New York team that is currently the No. 7 seed in the East, including recording a career-high 32 points against the Thunder in a 119-97 Saturday win. He is averaging 17.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 2.9 APG, and currently sports a markedly improved slash line of .452/.359/.730.
  • The second half of the Knicks‘ thus-far charmed 2020/21 season looks to be a real test for the upstart squad, says Steve Popper of Newday. Popper contends that new head coach Tom Thibodeau and newly-minted All-Star Julius Randle will be nothing if not prepared.

Atlantic Notes: Raptors, Barrett, Smart, Rose, Knicks

The Raptors were severely short-handed prior to the All-Star break due to the league’s health and safety protocols and those issues will carry over to this weekend. Starters Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, as well as Patrick McCaw and Malachi Flynn, won’t play against Charlotte on Saturday, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. They’re also expected to miss Sunday’s game against Chicago.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Knicks guard RJ Barrett plans to play for Team Canada in the Olympic qualifying tournament this summer, Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic tweets. Barrett is optimistic about Team Canada’s prospects. “We got an All-NBA team,” Barrett said.
  • Marcus Smart‘s return from a calf strain provides the Celtics with more offensive versatility, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic. The Celtics can now put four scorers on the floor who can create plays off the dribble. Smart also solves many of the team’s spacing issues with his hard cuts to the basket, Weiss adds.
  • The Knicks, who acquired Derrick Rose last month, will continue to look for upgrades before the trade deadline, coach Tom Thibodeau told Vorkunov and other media members. “I have a strong bias towards good players,” he said. “I know (the front office is) looking at all the possibilities. If something makes sense for us, we’ll do it.” Rose will miss the team’s game against the Thunder on Saturday due to the league’s health and safety protocols, Vorkunov tweets.