Sooo… Preseason is over, and it went a little better than we could have expected, I guess. And the last game of preseason brought us a new gift: a game recap!
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
– Frank Ntilikina (9 pts, 4 rebs. 5 ast, -17 +/-) played a really good game, despite the awful plus/minus. The kid was pretty much always in control of his actions, and his defense is still remarkable. On a night where a lot of Knicks fumbled defensive rotations, Frank was always on his toes, ready to step in front of the guy with the ball. In the beginning of the second quarter there was an excellent defensive possession where he defended Jared Dudley on a drive, then rotated seamlessly onto Treveon Graham (who by that point got the ball and was ready to shoot) and forced him to travel. That stuff is ingrained in his DNA, and should make him a solid contributor.
As for his offense: he certainly is not the most athletic guy in terms of speed and quickness, but tonight he got to his spots with a lot of old man craft. His scoring game is starting to get a little resemblance to Andre Miller’s: slow but calculated movements that allow him to make the best out of his height and wingspan. I really like the move where he starts to spin just inside the paint, pinning his defender on his pivot foot, and gets to the rim with the left hand. The kid has worked out in the summer and it shows. Is he a point guard? Jury’s still out. Is he an NBA player? Hell yes.
– Mitchell Robinson (7 pts, 4 rebs, 3 ast, -17 +/-) is incredibly raw, but incredibly springy. I liked the fact that he got the start, and I liked the fact that he was extra hungry for the moment. He even had a patented block on a three point shot, and in the third quarter reverse-dunked the ball while standing still under the basket – showing that the knew where he was and was able to choose the most efficient way to put the ball in, even if it was a little goofy. He moved well, didn’t get into foul trouble and, while his defensive rotations weren’t always crispy, he surely doesn’t look like a guy who hasn’t played organized basketball in 2017-18. Massive steal on our hands (but please, Mitch, never shoot again outside of the paint. He missed a 20 footer by a couple miles, making Fiz cringe visibly). Also those 3 assists? Not bad for a guy who should be pretty useless when he’s not jumping here and there.
– Noah Vonleh (13 pts, 5 rebs, 3 ast, +4 +/-) is a nice third/fourth big to have on the team. He’s tremendously strong, and goes after boards with abandon. He can shoot a bit the three pointer, even with a super flat arc, and generally stays out of the way of driving guys. Doesn’t always seem to be in the game mentally, but when he is people tend to notice. I miss Kyle O’Quinn, but here I am betting that on some nights the MSG crowd will just love the sheer force of Vonleh. He should just try to foul a little less, especially on the offensive end (it should be said, though, that tonight the refs were very eager to blow the whistle for offensive fouls. It looked like someone tinkered with the NBA 2K19 sliders too much).
– Kevin Knox (3 pts, 2 rebs, 1/6 fgs, -6 +/-) is in for some veeeery rough nights during his rookie season. Tonight we caught a glimpse of what is his worst case scenario. He’s pegged to be a scorer but really lacks the instincts that make you an efficient scorer. He just shoots the ball when he’s half-open or nobody around him is moving, and throws the ball awkwardly towards the rim when driving against half-court defenses. What do you say? I just described Emmanuel Mudiay? Heh, pretty much. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Knox will be at the very least a rotation player in the NBA and a better player than Mudiay, but the Knox rookie experience is going to be really ugly here and there. He also fouled too much, being aggressive but in the worst way. Let’s just be patient with the kid, though, ok?
On a side note: I can’t say I like the offense we saw in these 5 preseason games. It was made by a lot of ISOs, very few guys getting open on movement, not a lot of effective PnR action. I know we have just 3, at best 4 shot creators from the dribble, and most of them are just adequate, but I came away totally unimpressed by the offensive part of Fizdale’s work. We have a few guys who are good at attacking close-outs, but those opportunities usually manifest themselves when the defense is scrambled. I really hope things will get better during the season, I don’t think anyone should be submitted to 82 games of THJ chucking contested jumpers all night long. Oh wait, we are the Knicks. We are destined for this (at least we got spared the multiple jab-step part that came with Melo in town)
– Mario Hezonja (14 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast, +3 +/-) is the proof that you shouldn’t check box score numbers to get a feel of who was contributing to the team. Mario has all the talent in the world and sometimes that becomes very apparent, as in the fourth quarter when he effortlessly went into a layup motion a split-second after catching an outlet pass from Mudiay. His body language, though, is Mickey-Mouse-gouging-his-eyes-off-meme atrocious. The Knicks defense tonight got in shambles right after he entered the game in the first quarter. His defensive stance is so inadequate that even Ron Baker could blow by him easily, and he’s pretty much always checking off the game with his mind. I’m lucky to be bald already, otherwise Mario’s game would make me pull my hair off with my own hands, night in and night out. He’s a sure bet to have a patented Doug McDermott 20 pts outing from the bench on some nights, but numbers shouldn’t fool anyone. This kid doesn’t look like an average NBA player, and at times it looks like he doesn’t even want to be playing basketball. Such a shame.
– The Knicks defense. Now, the final score was close, but it wasn’t really the story of the game. A late game push, our trademark fake Knicks comeback, came into fruition thanks to some hot shooting from our own tall Sharlto Copley, Luke Kornet. Tonight the main problem was that our defensive rotations were ugly, with a lot of guys wandering aimlessly on the perimeter and some others repeatedly dying on screens (looking at you, Ron). As a result, we got a collective case of Hornacek-Rambis-Fisher PTSD, since those Nets shooters got open on the perimeter all night long. As I said, I think the spark for the awful defense we saw tonight was Hezonja entering the game, but the effort was all-around disappointing. Let’s hope it was just a one-night thing (and now this sentence triggered some PTSD in me, since it was something that I heard from the vast majority of ladies who I got to know… better).
– Ron Baker got the start! He’s quite useless as the primary ball handler and never looks to shoot, but his effort is always welcome. I don’t know why tonight he got crushed screen after screen, but his on man defense is always on point. Hoping he sticks around as a 12th man in the league after this atrocious Mills’ contract expires.
– Mudiay is still a bad NBA player, but his Wes Unseld impression is spot on. His outlet passes are gorgeous.
– The refs robbed Kornet of a good block that would have contributed to give him something to show in the boxscore, beside his 9 points. If the inflatable Steve Novak doesn’t hit his threes, he’s really doing nothing out there.
– I still don’t rationally understand how Lance Thomas can be our starting power forward, but I feel it’s the right choice for now. He’s always checked in, and that’s a good example for young guys, even if he’s still doing very few things out there. At least he looks better in his new haircut.
– THJ scored 18 points on 50% shooting, but as always his game screams “empty calories”. Trier is pretty much the same, but doesn’t impact our payroll like THJ and is a lot more fun to watch in his perky-jerky dribbling. It’s like THJ is regular Coke and Trier is Coke Zero, as the second one at least doesn’t weigh on you or your waistline (or, in this case, our cap).
– Apropos of Trier, good news guys! The league sent a memo that traveling days won’t count against the 45 days limit, effectively extending the window to make a decision on Iso Zo. I like him as a scorer out of the bench. He looks the shortest 6′ 5″ guy ever, but knows his way around the game.
And that’s a wrap! I hope I haven’t bored all that much, and I really, really, really want to say thank you to Mike K, Brian and all the KB staff for giving me the opportunity to write for this blog. Let’s hope it’s not a one-night thing (PTSD setting in 3… 2… 1…).