Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Nov. 20): Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis continues to shine Staff

Despite Knicks struggles, Porzingis is real deal | Hayward ready for next step | Cuban’s state of the NBA address

No. 1: Despite team struggles, Porzingis is real deal — There are a handful of reasons why the Knicks haven’t looked like “an All-Star team” as Derrick Rose described them in the preseason. One of them, however, is not Kristaps Porzingis. The second-year big man has looked impressive especially of late, and there are pleas in Gotham to make him an even bigger part of the offense. This could also be the transitional year when Porzingis is seen as more of a franchise player than Carmelo Anthony, although he’s not quite there yet. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post recently filed a story on New York’s brightest star:

In a league brimming with physical outliers, Porzingis still manages to produce awe in coaches and players long accustomed to the freakish. He stands 7-foot-3 but plays like a man a foot shorter, able to shoot buttery jumpers and shake defenders off the dribble. His body gives the impression of a pile of sticks fastened together, but he moves with grace and agility. He grew up in Latvia, but he walks with the swagger of an American city kid.

“We’ve never seen a player like him,” Knicks point guard Derrick Rose said. “I think that’s why his story is unique. He’s 7-3, moving like he’s a small forward. You have players like that, they kind of change the game. You’ve got the [Kevin Durants]. KD is a totally different type of player than he is, but he’s 7-feet. This is our first time in the league seeing somebody at 7-3 be so mobile.”

Coming off a 50-loss season, the Knicks have started this year 5-7 and remain a collection of mismatched parts, assembled by stuck-in-the-90s, 71-year-old team president Phil Jackson. The $72 million contract Jackson gave to aging power forward Joakim Noah already seems disastrous, and this week he caused an unnecessary firestorm when, in an ESPN interview, he referred to LeBron James’s agent and business partners as his “posse.”

The one thing Jackson most certainly did not screw up was the fourth overall pick of the 2015 draft, with he used to select Porzingis. The ceiling for Porzingis is difficult to fathom, because how do you project the unprecedented? It may look something like Wednesday night in New York, against the Detroit Pistons. Porzingis scored 35 points, an array of tip-dunks, step-backs and three three-pointers. After one alley-oop slam over a defender, he snarled and sneered. After a blocked shot, he high-fived fans along the sideline while running back down the floor, the ball in play.

“He’s definitely going to be one of the best players in the league very soon,” Washington Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “He can score on so many spots on the floor. For a guy that’s 7-3, puts it on the floor, left, right. He has a mid-range game, he has a step-back, he shoots threes, he gets lobs, he gets offensive rebounds. He’s a great player now and it’s pretty remarkable to see him improve so quickly. Great player. He’s definitely on his way to being an All-Star.”

No. 2: Hayward ready for next step — After starting the season in street clothes due to injury, Gordon Hayward has returned and is trying to rally the struggling Jazz in a big way. He came into the season seemingly ready to make his first real push for the All-Star Game, and has not disappointed; Hayward’s numbers are either near or above career highs; but can Utah climb in the standings? Here’s Tim MacMahon of with the story about Hayward and where he’s headed:

“I’m definitely not satisfied with what I’ve done so far in my NBA career, and I think that I’ve got to be a better player for us to be where I want us to be,” Hayward told ESPN. “For us to be in the playoffs, to make a splash, to compete at a higher level, I have to be a better player.”

Hayward has put up some pretty impressive individual numbers. For instance, he’s one of five players to record at least 4,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 1,000 assists and 350 made 3-pointers over the previous three seasons, along with Stephen Curry, LeBron James, James Harden and Kyle Lowry.

Hayward is the only player on that short list who hasn’t been an All-Star. The Jazz believe that could and should change this season, with Hayward hitting the ground running after missing the first six games with a broken left ring finger. As Utah’s go-to guy, he is averaging 22.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his first six games.

“I look at him and think we’ve got a player that’s on that level,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “No question in my mind.”

Hayward, Favors, center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Rodney Hood make up an intriguing core of 26-and-under talent with enough experience to be expected to end Utah’s playoff drought. Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey made savvy offseason moves to add three accomplished veterans in Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw. Hill, in particular, has been a terrific addition and has the potential to be a long-term fit.

But the Jazz will only be as good as Hayward. That’s a responsibility he embraces, which is why he refuses to settle for being a very good player.

“He proved, in my mind, to be more hungry than maybe you thought at first glance,” Snyder said. “When you’re a very, very good NBA player, sometimes that’s enough. In his case, ‘No, I want to be a great player.’ It’s one thing to say that. It’s another thing to put in the time in order to do that.”

No. 3: Cuban’s state of the NBA address — There is only one commissioner of the NBA, and that’s Adam Silver, he of the high approval rating. But there’s also Mark Cuban, never shy about speaking in favor of, and sometimes against, some of the events that impact the league. Cuban has a pulse on the health and the image of the NBA, and while you may not agree with everything he says, he’s compelling enough to encourage everyone to listen. The always outspoken Mavericks owner spoke recently with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe and offered this:

The NBA and the Players Association are close to agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement that would bring labor peace perhaps for another six years. The NBA is coming off a summer where record money was spent on player salaries, the result of the new television contract. Times are good for the once-troubled league, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, among the NBA’s more boisterous and opinionated figures, offered few complaints about the direction of the league.

“Generally speaking, I think we have some challenges,” Cuban said last week. “We don’t have NFL TV ratings, but we have a lot of room to improve. The fans love the game. The people participate. They play fantasy sports. They watch the games.

Attendance is good.

“I think we’re in a good spot. People look up to NBA players and that’s always a good thing.”

Cuban hopes the NBA reaches the popularity level of the NFL and sees his league as a blossoming brand.

“We’re unique among all the big four sports that our players are brands, they are recognizable because of fantasy sports and the love of the game,” he said.

“Because of video games, they know the 15 guys on a lot of rosters. I think we’re in a great spot, but we have to continue to be humble. I think that’s going to be the key for us.“We can’t think because we signed a big TV deal that everything is great. We’ve got to keep on grinding, keep on working hard and keep on trying to improve things because there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Cuban said he supports players speaking out against social issues and expressing their concerns with pregame statements. Many teams in the league have locked arms in unity during the national anthem to show solidarity.

“I’m a big fan of civil disobedience,” he said. “When you can send a message without throwing a punch, throwing a bomb, being mad, yelling, screaming, blocking a business, blocking a street. You can send a message because you thought it out and you have a position. To me, that’s what America is all about. You don’t have to agree with it. But everybody’s got that chance to say their piece.

“Nonviolent discussions or conversations, that makes us a better country.”

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