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Can Knicks' Luke Kornet keep coming up big from outside?

New York Knicks' Luke Kornet drives against Milwaukee

New York Knicks' Luke Kornet drives against Milwaukee Bucks' Brook Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018, in Milwaukee. Photo Credit: AP/Jeffrey Phelps

SALT LAKE CITY

Maybe at another point in NBA history, a night like Thursday could not have happened for Luke Kornet. A 7-1 center, undrafted and with most of his time spent in the G League, slender and more at home outside the three-point line than in the paint, is now the Knicks' starting center.

It’s not hard for Kornet to picture this place in history. His father, Frank, was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 30th pick in the 1989 NBA Draft after, like Luke, spending four years playing at Vanderbilt University. A 6-9 power forward, the elder Kornet lasted two seasons and a total of 89 games, never getting to play as many minutes (33) or score as many points (23) in a game as Luke Kornet did in his first start this season. 

But the Bucks, the opponent in Luke Kornet’s first start, displayed a template for the opportunity that can be provided for a player like Kornet. Brook Lopez has remade himself into a three-point specialist, not making a single shot behind the arc in his first six seasons and only three in the ensuing two seasons before hitting 134 two years ago. He now provides a perimeter threat while clearing the interior for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the other Bucks players to operate.

Kornet shot 7-for-11 from three-point range and 1-for-6 inside the arc on Thursday night. That was good enough for Knicks coach David Fizdale to say he’s sticking with this plan for now.

“I think it has trended that way more recently,” Kornet said of 7-footers being encouraged to move outside. “I just played this way my entire life. I feel like it’s always had the value of like I was just trying to help teams win games and you do what you’re good at. Especially with the right guys on defense, it’s shown that it can really have an advantage. You see Lopez with Milwaukee, it helps them a ton for Giannis. I think it’s definitely a time where that whole side of things is more appreciated.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t still struggle for respect in some aspects. While teammates have said he’s a very smart player — on the court, not just as someone who double-majored in computer science and math at Vanderbilt — when Kornet dunked earlier in the season, Fizdale joked that he was impressed because he didn’t think  he could jump over an envelope.

“Yeah, I was actually thinking about how many envelopes I could jump and then putting them in his office,” Kornet said. “That’s one thing I could do. Whatever.”

Star fight

Enes Kanter found himself nose-to-nose with Antetokounmpo on Thursday and still was angry the next day as he described Antetokounmpo as “the golden boy, the golden child.”

While it may not have been the primary reason for it, Kanter said he did not like Antetokounmpo’s comments earlier in the month. After Mario Hezonja stepped over the fallen Antetokounmpo at Madison Square Garden following a dunk, the Bucks star said he would punch Hezonja in the groin area if it happened again.

“First of all, I was very [angry] because what kind of player are you — did he not get any PR lesson?” Kanter said. “You cannot say in the media I’m going to punch somebody in the whatever. You cannot say that. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best player in the world or the worst player in the world. You cannot be talking about my teammate like that. It’s very childish of him.

"I’ve got no problem with him. He’s an MVP candidate. He’s a cool dude and loves basketball and is carrying that franchise. But you can’t be talking about my teammates like that.’’

It’s not the first time Kanter has taken up the cause for a teammate against a star, getting in LeBron James’ face last season when James tried to intimidate Frank Ntilikina.

“I’m not trying to fight against superstars and All-Stars,” Kanter said. “It just happens. If it was somebody else, I would’ve gone after somebody else. Obviously, [Antetokounmpo] is the golden child and the NBA didn’t touch him and they gave me two technicals. OK. Whatever. You got to bring toughness. It doesn’t matter, I don’t care who it is. You got to bring that toughness. You can’t look at our record and put our heads down. It doesn’t matter if it’s this guy, that guy, that superstar, this superstar. We need to go out with the same edge every night and play with that edge.”

Hardest part of breaking up

Kanter took offense to Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham pushing him when he was jawing with Antetokounmpo. 

“You’re a Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach, so you’re allowed to touch the Bucks players, not me,” Kanter said. “He cannot be touching me. I could’ve just pushed him back and started another fight, but I don’t think the NBA wants that. He’s not my assistant coach. He’s not my friend. He’s not nobody.”

Fizdale did not seem as concerned. 

“It got heated. It was a little bit of a melee,” he said. “I think people make too big of a deal about this stuff now. When I was a young assistant in the league, that was the norm — melees. I don’t think it’s that big a deal. It’s two teams competing their butts off. It got a little heated. It went no further . . . When it’s chaos and especially if guys are going, what’s the ruling on that? You’re just trying to separate people and get them out of the way . . . I’m just glad it ended the way it ended. Everybody walked away without it turning into more than it should have.”

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