The NBA All-Star Game will be played this Sunday, which means the final stretch of the basketball season is upon us. While the likes of the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors are sitting on top of the world, teams like the Brooklyn Nets are struggling to hold on to a playoff spot while others, like the New York Knicks, are just counting the days until the season is over, again. For our two local teams, it’s worth looking back at the season thus far and what the short- and long-term future holds.
Kenny Atkinson had a tough start to his head coaching career, but it seems his team is finally making progress. The Nets have already matched the win total of last year’s 28-54 campaign, which wasn’t going to be too hard to perfect. Part of the improvement is thanks to point guard D’Angelo Russell finally showing growth at the pro level. The former second overall pick of the Los Angeles Lakers is having his best season, already topping career totals in points and assists. He has been named to the All-Star Game as an injury replacement for Victor Oladipo.
If things don’t work out this year, there is still potential for success in future seasons. The Nets are filled with young stars that will continue making a name for themselves in addition to Russell. Second-year center Jarrett Allen is second on the team in rebounds and fourth in points. Along with Rodions Kurucs, he was recently named to the Rising Stars Challenge, selected as two of the best players just starting their career in the NBA.
So what stands in the way of a playoff berth? Despite a few difficult Western Conference matchups, the early parts of the remaining schedule doesn’t seem too terrible. The big key will be the final seven games, with games against the Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers and two games against the well-rounded Bucks. If the Nets can build some momentum into the last few games, they could get some cushion in case things fall apart.
New York Knicks
The Knicks seem to be on an endless cycle of bad and that has continued this season. It came to a head a few weeks ago after they decided to trade franchise power forward Kristaps Porzingis and budding shooting guard Tim Hardaway to the Dallas Mavericks. Despite adding two future first-round draft picks to their collection of players, it’s hard to feel like the Knicks won the trade. It feels like they gave away a future star in Porzingis for what? Just to acquire the same thing?
There’s a whole lot of hope that the likes of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving may sign a deal to play with David Fizdale’s squad, but what’s important to look at is what the Knicks have to build around right now. In terms of the younger players on the roster, there’s the likes of Kevin Knox and Emmanuel Mudiay, who have played well when given the chance to play. Both have plenty of time to develop under Fizdale to become consistent starters in the future. There’s also Dennis Smith Jr. and DeAndre Jordan, two of the players acquired in the Porzingis trade. Smith Jr. has a chance to become a longtime player for the team, while Jordan can serve as a temporary roster filler who could act as mentor to the young players that are currently there.
As far as the rest of this season is concerned, there’s just nothing that the Knicks could do to climb out of being the worst team in the NBA, at least until the offseason begins. The only hope is that Fizdale and general manager Scott Perry can work together in rebuilding this franchise, and they can recruit some big-ticket free agents so they can make the playoffs in the 2019-20 season, which would be their first since the 2012-13 season.