Brooklyn took down the Thunder a week ago Thursday in Mexico City without the injured Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell ... and hours after trading Trevor Booker and waiving Sean Kilpatrick. Then Saturday, the Knicks, playing without Kristaps Porzingis, beat the Thunder at home in the Garden.
Is this a lesson on how the “right way” of building a team, with patience and non traditional methods, is better than throwing some great players into an odd mix where there’s only one ball? It can happen, but in New York, it’s supposed to be a no-no. Owners and GM’s of New York teams across the fields, courts and rinks of the metropolitan area have long adhered to the principle that you can’t rebuild in New York. Fans will have none of it.
And yet, it’s happening. Both New York NBA teams have rosters of young players and owners who are (so far) letting their front offices plan for the long term, not the quick fix.
As Fred Kerber wrote Friday, “When the two teams met Thursday at Barclays Center, there were 20 — count ’em, 20 — players age 25 or younger on the twin 17-man rosters for both team.”
Not counting the Nets two-way players, Jacob Wiley and Yakuba Ouattara, Brooklyn has nine players 25 and under: Jarrett Allen, 19; D’Angelo Russell, 21; Jahlil Okafor, Isaiah Whitehead and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, all 22; Caris LeVert 23; Spencer Dinwiddie and Nik Stauskas, both 24; and Allen Crabbe, 25.
The Knicks have eight: Frank Ntilikina, 19; Kristaps Porzingis 22; Willy Hernangomez Damyean Dotson. 23; Ron Baker, 24; Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott all 25.
The Nets, who’ve been shuffling players since Sean Marks took over 22 months ago, got a lot younger with last week’s trade, sending out the 30-year-old Trevor Booker and 27-year-old Sean Kilpatrick while adding Okafor (then 21!) and Stauskas. The Nets are now the ninth youngest team in the league. The Knicks are a little older, but they have Porzingis, the best player in the city.
Not all the Nets youth moves have worked out, of course. K.J. McDaniels and Archie Goodwin, who the Nets brought up at the end of last season, didn’t make it, were waived and are in the D-League.
But unlike the early years in Brooklyn, the Nets aren’t just throwing great (or formerly great) players on the court in hopes that they’ll mesh (they didn’t). It’s not just getting younger, it’s developing a plan, as Kenny Atkinson told Kerber, citing the teams’ program for integrating Okafor and Stauskas.
“The analytics we look at obviously. We have a pretty all-consuming plan for these guys,” Atkinson said. “The performance part is huge. … the mental part, the maturity. Like Spencer [Dinwiddie] last year was having problems sometimes bringing the ball up the court. It was confidence, not skill. And the last part, we work with these guys individually.”
The Nets also have invested heavily in the G-League. They have yet to find the diamond in the rough, but have used the league to give players like Whitehead time on the court. He’s done well with the double duty. Two days after he scored 32 for the Long Island Nets late last month, he dropped 24 for the Brooklyns.
How have the fans reacted? Attendance hasn’t changed much in the two years since Marks talked about long term planning. They’re 26th this year, were 27th in 2015-16. TV ratings are up a bit after being the worst in the NBA. (The Knicks have dropped without Carmelo Anthony. They’re ninth this season after being fifth the last two years.)
Anecdotally, fans seem more excited with the Nets going younger, taking risks on players like Russell and Okafor.
To be fair, both the Nets and Knicks were basically forced into rebuilds. Brooklyn’s disastrous 2013 trade denuded them of all their first round picks from 2014 through this year. And try as they might, the Knicks could never get what they needed from Melo.
So far, the Knicks moves are working out better, at least in the short run. They have The Unicorn. The Nets have been hurt by injuries and started from a deeper hole, thanks to Billy King.
No one seems worried on the east side of the East River. And if you’re going to do it this way, you better be more than just patient. You’d better be a saint.
- There’s a strange basketball feeling in this city — hope - Fred Kerber - New York Post