Guys, rejoice. This might be the last time we’ll be over .500 until 2021-22 opening night, so let’s the warm feeling sink in for, like, twenty seconds before indulging in some precious self- and Thibs-loathing.
I mean, who would have guessed that at the 37 games mark we would have won nineteen games? I penciled the 2020-21 Knicks at 24 wins and even felt a bit optimistic, so even considering the “easy” stretch in February/early March I would have guessed 14 wins tops. Exceeding that total by 4 wins is sincerely impressive, and if falls squarely on the shoulders of a plethora of people, which go by these names: Randle, Julius; Thibodeau, Tom; Barrett, Rowan Jr.; the whole coaching staff; and so on until we get to Elfrid Payton who probably deserves some credit but will only get the brunt of my totally biased criticism.
Instead of recapping last night valiant but ultimately stolid effort (starters played big minutes, Thibs exhibited very little patience with the second unit, Julius had a monster game, Noel played great but has no hands on offense, Frank hit three threes in less time than it takes to warm up a hot pocket and then did nothing at all, Quickley sucked big time, Obi looked like a giddy japanese tourist doing that annoying thing where photograpical perspective gets used to give the illusion you’re the only thing impeding the Pisa tower’s ultimate crumble-down), I’d opt to assess people at the All-Star Game milestone, putting a few numbers here and there just to give a perfect Italian public employee impression: looking busy and saying mostly coherent things but secretly hoping that someone else does the real hard work so I can get my 11AM cappuccino.
Without further Bob McAdoo, here’s what I think of the 2020/21 season so far:
– Julius Randle: last year a diamond in the dough, this year a frigging basketball lean and mean machine, who gives you consistent star effort night in and night out and is shooting lights out from deep (seriously, 40.8% from three on 169 attempts is huge and doesn’t cry out for regression anymore – even if, yeah, let’s bank on the fact that at the end of season that percentage will be around 37%, which is still amazing). Last night I took personal offense at the Garden chanting “MVP” to Julius. MVP chants are acceptable only in three cases: 1) you are really an MVP candidate, which Julius is not, let’s be honest; 2) you’re a blossoming star in year 2-3 of your NBA experience and the crowd is giving you a nice confidence boost (I’m perfectly ok with Quickley getting MVP chants); 3) you’re sort of a folk hero because you can’t really play star-level basketball but give 110% effort on the court and deserve some happiness (I’d be perfectly ok with Taj Gibson getting MVP chants) or you’re a disgraced former highly touted project and you’re playing for once at the top of your and everybody else game (the Michael Beasley against Boston experience). Since Julius is none of those things, and has instead been a great pro and probably a top-30 player this year, those MVP chants are disrespectful. Appreciate him for his contributions and don’t expose him to post-ironic trivial affections displays, come on. Grade: A.
– RJ Barrett: it looked like all hope was lost with his first 10-ish games, where he couldn’t buy a bucket from deep apart from the first Indiana game, but how things have changed with him. We probably have to accept that his ceiling is somehow lower than it looked when he went to Duke, but a 44/35/73 shooting split isn’t so bad for a player still learning to zero-in on his spots on the court on offense. If I had to bet on his peak, right now I’d say left-handed prime Tyreke Evans who actually defends. It’s a nice thing to have in house at a kind of controlled cost. His .067 WS/48 is at least adequate for a buddying second year player. He has also displayed the very encouraging skill of not getting conditioned by a cold streak. Grade: B-.
– Immanuel Quickley: <drooling> *what the hell is this thing where I swear that I won’t fall irrationally in love with the next promising Knicks rookie and then I inevitably do so as soon as there’s a glimpse of talent in sight* <stops drooling> If the 2020 draft was held today, there’s no doubt that IQ wouldn’t last past the 8th pick, so we’re just keeping alive the tradition of the lower draft pick being our actual lottery pick and viceversa. Seriously, after LaMelo, Wiseman, Hali, Edwards, (maybe) Patrick Williams and (very maybe) Isaac Okoro who would ever not draft Quickley? Dude has a 0.6 VORP on a .500+ team as a rookie while shooting 39% from the field. That is some serious shit, because if he ever figures how to up his FG% to 42 with the same shot chart and doesn’t forget how to shoot freebies you really have a premium offensive weapon here. I would be very curious to see him in a starting role here and there, but some warts aren’t excisable from Thibs at all, so you take the cool record with the stupid decisions about young players. Grade: A- (for a rookie. Otherwise it would be a B-, I expected more from him on defense. Also, likely an A+ for Kenny Payne who, if I had to put money on the line, would bet was the insider who told Rose IQ was the guy once Maxey was off the table).
– Mitchell Robinson: it’s a bit weird to see that smoking hot babe who made your sixteen year old head turn everytime she walked down the street becoming a still beautiful but less dazzling adult woman and to find out you like her even more for that. Getting older means learning that the trade-off between dependability and spectacularity always favors the former. I’m way less excited about Mitch than I was two years ago, but at the same time I have way more faith in him being an integral piece of our next playoff contender. He showed the ability to impact the game even when the numbers aren’t there, and opposing offenses look like they fear him more now than when he was a basketball Doc Ock lookalike. I still think it’s disturbing that he never employs anything but dunks and tip-ins on offense, but as long as Payton and Rose are our PGs it’s hard to blame him for sure. Anyway WS/48 and VORP still vouch for him, and the fact that he was able to withstand 28.8 MPG limping from injury to injury until his hand finally caved in confirms he’s a legit building block, even if he’s just Tyson Chandler redux. Grade: B.
– Elfrid Payton: look, it’s not his fault that his game is so ugly to watch. He’s a basketball player whose gifts are basically wasted in this era (and maybe previous eras as well? where would Payton be able to go in the handcheck era?) but who has found Thibs’ trust because… I honesly don’t know. Among regulars, he’s the one with the lowest WS/48 (.041, not that awful when you’re the worst of your team) and lowest VORP (-0.2. Guess who’s the other “regular” with a negative VORP) and so it looks like the dreaded eye test goes hand in hand with cold, cold numbers. His AST% is virtually the same as IQ’s and more than a little lower that Julius’ and Rose’s. He’s basically the basketball version of the owner’s son, so… he’s our James Dolan? I don’t understand. Thibs’ insistence in playing him above IQ or even – gulp – Rose is dumbfounding, but let’s chalk it up to Thibs being Thibs, let’s curse under our breath and move on. Grade: D-
– Obi Toppin: how is it possible that year after year after year our scouting department/GM staff commits the same mistake over and over again? If you ran a KB consensus before the draft, everyone would have posited that, well, Toppin wouldn’t have been the right choice for this team like, at all (and that was true for Knox, and so on). How dumb does a bball lifer to know way less than our roundtable of brilliant but unexperienced minds? Obi’s advanced numbers aren’t even that bad, and you wonder what would he deliver if given the chance to play at least 20mpg on a longer leash, but as soon as you catch him move on the court… something’s off. He’s got IQ’s totally opposite demeanor: he doesn’t look like he belongs and moves so awkwardly that it resembles that kid in seventh grade who had randomly located growth spurts so he always ended up banging his knees on the desk because he still isn’t used being 5″ taller. Even Obi’s shot is awkward (and all-around bad, 29% from three is Josh Smith territory). If I had to bet, he’ll follow Knox’s steps and be on the fringe by 2024. I would advise trading him, but I’m rooting for him because the effort is there and he looks like a great kid. Grade: C–
– Derrick Rose: ouch. It hurts to give DRose a grade, because I frankly hoped I would have never seen him again in a Knicks uniform, but alas, if Thibs could he probably would try to sign Kirk Hinrich to play point for us. I don’t dislike DRose as much as I thought I would, maybe because he’s shooting an unsustainable .455 from three and that buoys his mediocre offensive performances or maybe just because he’s better than Elf and, well, heavy rain is better than a tornado. Still looking for a starting PG one could root for, and hoping that he’s not resigned next year. Grade: C.
– Nerlens Noel: diuhvsvbasviuva abvfd vcaclbujavdfc adcdcvadfcd còl. Sorry, I’ve tried to write a sentence with the same technique Nerlens uses to grab the ball in the offensive sets. I really liked the Mitch-Nerlens tandem because while they are very similar in concept, but they also provide a nice change of pace from one another. Nerlens is less menacing in space on defense but has a majestic knack to stop fools at the rim (and swipe everything in sight like a drunk uncle participating a bit too enthusiastically at his nephew’s pinata party), so it’s not like opposing offenses can really game plan for both in the same exact way. Having him at that price has been a boon and I wish we would resign him for multiple years, assuming he doesn’t go space buffet on us one day or another. Grade: B.
– Reggiec Bullorks: after a hot start got derailed by an injury, Burks has been pretty meh. An offensively capable meh, but still meh. Bullock is meh since the dawn of time, save for the spare 5/7 from three game. They’re perfectly fungible and perfectly forsakeable. Grade: C- (but if we have to keep one, let it be Burks)
– Nick Fragilina: you really can’t bet on this horse. As much as Frank looks improved (while still being mostly made from intangibles and dreamy eyes), he was listed as questionable for yesterday. Obscillating between unusable and useless, you wish you could pencil him in for 12MPG but reality always breaks in exactly at the ecstatic peak of a reverie, exactly like a challenge called on a single point (like, Duane Casey, what the fuck? Who calls a challenge to negate an and-one in the second quarter? You ruined a beautiful fantasy and I hate you for that). Let’s trade the lad and set him and us free. I can’t bear to break my heart even once more. Grade: INC.
– Austin Rivers: the proverbial flash in the pan. Remember Quivers? Yeah, life goes on very fast. It’s amazing how his advanced statistical profile resembles Elf’s but one is totally dogged and the other one is thrust back in the starting five as soon as he becomes available. Grade: D-
– The coaching staff: solid B+. We’d like to see more flexibility, but you can’t argue with results.
Now that we’ve wrapped a winning half-season, let’s brace for what’s next and let’s hope we don’t execute one or more bad trades. See ya!