2012 Game Preview: Knicks @ Raptors
The “Quick Reaction” format premiered the last time we met the Raptors. It was in NYC, a five point loss, and in it, Mike Kurylo poetically promised us that:
Thomas B.’s response was,
If I may quote the esteemed galactic Senator Jar Jar Binks:
“Monsters out there, leaking in here. Weesa all sinking and no power. Whena yousa thinking we are in trouble?”
For a time, Jar Jar and Thomas B.’s concerns proved prescient. The Knicks went on to lose twelve of their next eighteen contests. Then, a New Hope was born. Jeremy Lin, California-raised and Harvard-trained, emerged as a leader for an injury-riddled Knicks team. Leaving behind the safety of Dagobah, which is located right next to Renaldo Balkman, Lin rushed out to the court to rescue his compatriots from falling to the dark side (i.e. the Nets).
Now respected as a leader on the team, Lin followed up the Nets victory with stellar (interstellar?) performances against Utah and Washington. Against Los Angeles, despite repeated attempts by the Lakers to slice off his left hand (as well as other parts of his body), Lin and the Knicks prevailed. In icy Minnesota, Lin struggled to finish near the rim. He was blocked four times and regularly bullied by the brutish duo of Kevin Love and Nikola “Ricola” Pekovic. He appeared to be “running on fumes.” Still, the team managed to steal a win on the back of some amazing fourth quarter defense and some bad turnovers by Ricky Rubio.
The Raps are nowhere near the team that Wolves or Lakers are. They are a terrible team on offense (third worst in the league) and below average on defense. They are also missing (arguably) their best player in Andrea Bargnani (who, by the way, is no longer “Il Mago.” Instead, he is “Flipper.”). The Raptors were near a .500 team before Bargnani went down, but since then they are 5-11. They are not bad at the level of the Wizards, Nets, Hornets, or Bobcats, but they are not very good. Still, there is a lot to be excited about in this game.
Here are some things I’ll be thinking about as I watch:
1) What puns can we make that combine the names of Amaré Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin? This will be a real test of Lin’s ability to adapt and read the defense. These last five games, it seems like nine times out of ten the Knicks started with a Chandler/Lin pick and roll. Now, on that same play Lin will have Amaré Stoudemire as a passing option. How will he involve Amaré? Furthermore, how often will we see Amaré as the roll man? Amaré, is not as big a target as Chandler, but his abilities around the rim are much more diverse, especially if you get him the ball at the right moment. He has a variety of flip shots that he is really consistent with from up to five feet out, and he has the agility to make a the catch on the pick and roll and slip past defenders. This seems like it might make Lin’s life easier, but that will only be the case if Lin can quickly adjust to Amaré’s unique skills.
2) How will Toronto defend Lin? We saw him doubled and even triple teams these last few games, but that often happened with Jared Jeffries on the floor. How will Amaré’s presence influence the defense against Lin?
3) D’Antoni has often remarked that one of the reasons Lin didn’t stand out to him when he tried out in 2010 was that he couldn’t finish at the rim. He had some difficulties with this in the second half of the Minnesota game. Perhaps this was due to fatigue, but there’s also the chance that he simply found a good rhythm for a few games. Toronto doesn’t have great bigs, and Calderon is a defensive sieve. This should mean buckets galore for Lin…
4) Who will take the shots? Lin’s usage rate so far has been 31.5%, just shy of Carmelo’s 32.7%. With Stoudemire back on the floor, will Lin become more of a distributor?
5) How will the defense look? The last five games, the Knicks have allowed opponents a FG% of 42.5% and a three-point percentage of 26.8%. On the season, they allow opponents to shoot 44.6% from the field and 37.1% from distance. As much as Lin has helped, this increased defensive intensity is just as much a part of the win streak. Calderon, Barbosa and James Johnson are threats from distance, and Amaré is notoriously bad at rotating out to shooters.
That’s all I have for now, Knicks fans. Enjoy the game, and may the force be with you.
In addition to writing for Knickerblogger, Max teaches English at Tallahassee Community College and writes short stories. He recently finished a feature screenplay, and he is working right now to raise the funds to film it. You can check it out on Kickstarter.