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Donte DiVincenzo eyes rule change after failing to qualify for Most Improved Player

Donte DiVincenzo found out like everyone else — for some odd reason, he wasn’t eligible for Most Improved Player honors.

The NBA and its players union agreed to redefine the criteria for end-of-the-season awards last summer. The biggest change in criteria was a 65-game threshold needed to be eligible for awards like Most Valuable Player, All-NBA honors and Most Improved Player.

No sweat. DiVincenzo appeared in 81 games for the Knicks this season. He averaged 29.9 minutes per game and was bumped up the pecking order on offense both after the trade sending RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley to the Toronto Raptors, then the season-ending shoulder injury Julius Randle sustained on Jan. 27.

DiVincenzo had a case — even if it was a long shot to win the award — to at least be considered as a finalist.

A wrinkle in the rule, however, rendered DiVincenzo ineligible for end-of-the-season awards. Even with 81 games played. Even averaging 29.9 minutes per game over those 81 games. A compelling case for inclusion in the Most Improved Player dialogue shut before it ever opened.

“No, I had no clue. No, I didn’t know [about the rule],” DiVincenzo said after Knicks practice on Wednesday. “I wasn’t even thinking about it, so I was told yesterday about everything. I think [ESPN reporter] Dave McMenamin or something like that or somebody went online and then JJ [Redick] got involved and all this stuff. And so, it started getting traction, but I had no idea.”

The wrinkle is this: According to the new CBA bylaws, a player not only must appear in at least 65 games, but he must log at least 20 minutes in those games or else he is not eligible for end-of-the-season awards.

DiVincenzo logged less than 20 minutes in 17 games this season. Subtract 17 from 81 and you get 64, one 20-minute performance short of being eligible for the award.

For reference, 13 of the games DiVincenzo logged fewer than 20 minutes came before the Dec. 30 deal for OG Anunoby, and the remaining four came prior to Randle’s dislocated shoulder.

In fact, the last time DiVincenzo played less than 20 minutes in a game came on the same night Randle’s season ended via shoulder injury.

DiVincenzo ranks third in minutes per game (38.2) since Randle’s injury and is averaging 21 points since the Knicks lost the All-Star forward. Only Stephen Curry attempted more threes per game from that point on than DiVincenzo, who has attempted close to 12 threes a game, connecting on a 38.7% clip through the final 35 games of the season.

DiVincenzo doesn’t think he would have won the award — Chicago’s Coby White, Houston’s Alperen Sengun, and Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey lead the MIP discussion for good reason — but he agreed with the premise his improvement this season is noteworthy.

“A hundred percent, a hundred percent,” he said. “You look at where I was at the beginning of the year and where you finish, even when Julius went out. I think that’s where I took the biggest leap is when Julius went out. So with all that being said, it doesn’t mean anything. Even if I was eligible and I get votes, it still doesn’t mean anything. Our focus is this matchup that we will find out tonight.”

DiVincenzo could be the last to end up on this particular short end of the stick.

After widespread outrage on social media, as well as internal confusion on the wrinkle of the rule among the Knicks, the NBA is expected to review the criteria and amend it for the coming years. A possible path forward is changing the criteria from number of games with 20 minutes played to a set line of total minutes played on the season.

DiVincenzo ranked top-50 in all of basketball with 2,360.4 total minutes logged this season.

Houston’s Sengun, for example, appeared in only 63 games and logged 2,045.6 minutes for the Rockets but was the beneficiary of another CBA wrinkle allowing grace for players who sustained a season-ending injury.

Sengun missed Houston’s final month of basketball with a wrist injury.

“Yeah, playing 81 games, obviously that’s a bummer,” Josh Hart said. “First year of the rule you knew there were going to be guys that got the short end of that stick. Now they kind of see it in action and hopefully this summer they can reconvene and kind of figure out ways to still have that rule, but to not punish guys for playing a smaller role or whatever earlier in the season and then picking that up.

“It’s a bummer.”

DiVincenzo would have been eligible for award honors had he played nine more seconds in a Dec. 29 loss to the Orlando Magic. He logged 19 minutes and 51 seconds that night, 19 minutes and 40 seconds in an Oct. 28 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, and 19 minutes and 37 seconds on the night Randle dislocated his shoulder.

He is more worried about leading the Knicks to a deeper postseason run than qualifying for an award he was never going to win — though there may be a new rule, the DiVincenzo Rule, folded into the CBA for his troubles.

“It is what it is. I think the league will probably look at the rule going forward, but it’s not something where if I got the nine seconds, I’m shooting to win the award,” said DiVincenzo. “It’s not that situation. So, for me, I don’t really care about it. I think going forward, you look at the rule. You adjust it accordingly. And you just go from there. And that’s pretty much the only thing, just to be able to have certain media members and outlets talk highly of you is always a good feeling, so I’ll just take that as a positive.”


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