The first pre-season game for the Knicks tipped off this evening in Columbia, SC against the Sixers. Living as I do in Columbia, around the corner from the Colonial Center no less, I strolled on up, bought a ticket and settled in for the first action of the season.
I had three main questions in mind to jot notes on during the game.
1. How does Zebo look physically?
2. Will the Knicks look to run?
3. How will Chandler, Nichols, and Jordon look?
Zebo. Physically, he looked noticeably trimmed down from last season and in pretty decent shape. I’ll have to see him on TV to do a fair comparison though. It’s possible that merely seeing him live took off 10-15 lbs. I doubt it though. He looked quick, bringing the ball up the floor on at least two or three occasions. Offensively, any lingering doubts I might have had about his ability to play alongside Curry and Lee were alleviated. Zebo played a mostly turn-and-face game in the 15-18 foot area, put the ball on the floor, and posted up only occasionally. He was quite active on the boards as well. (As of the time of writing–less than 60 minutes after the end of the game–the box score has not been posted.) On the downside, Randolph is not a good defender though, picking up 5 fouls. Having said that however, in what was a theme on the night, the Knicks starters were as committed to the defensive end as I can recall. Randolph defensively was certainly active, challenging shots, if not always in the right place. (Side note: Jamal Crawford was especially active defensively, using his long arms to get numerous deflections.)
Picking up the pace. It was clear in the first few minutes the Knicks were making a concerted effort to really push the ball up the floor. The starters (Marbury, Crawford, Richardson, Lee, and Randolph) played until about 3:40 left in the first quarter when Thomas made wholesale substitutions. The team continued to run despite several point blank misses early in the game by a variety of players. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see the team look to run off makes and misses. In addition, the halfcourt sets early in the game featured what appeared to be more movement and cutting. It’s quite possible that there wasn’t more cutting, just crisper, harder cutting. To the naked eye though, it seemed like the Knicks had more motion in the halfcourt offense. The Knicks got out to an early lead and were hardly threatened on the night.
Chandler, Nichols, and Jordan. As you might expect the rooks were a mixed bag. Wilson Chandler saw by far the most minutes. It’s easy to see what the Knicks like in the youngster from DePaul. Much like what we saw in summer league Chandler flashed his athleticism with one monster dunk. He hit a three pointer (if memory serves). He rebounded well and defended Igoudala well in stretches. He also took numerous poor shots and ultimately fouled out. Nichols and Jordan interestingly entered the game for the first time in the 4th quarter with the Knicks attempting to hold on to a lead that was shifting back forth between 10 and 8. By that time the offense had far less continuity. Nichols did manage to hit the two three point shots he attempted (one attempt was nullified by a Philly foul). Not having seen Jordan until tonight I was unsure what to expect. Jordan was matched against Louis Williams, the uber-quick high schooler Philly drafted two seasons ago. Jordan’s got handles. Stylistically he’s more Luke Ridenour (similar build, similar crossover move) than I’d pictured. I believe Jordan hit his only attempt, a 20 footer up against the buzzer. He did make a behind the back pass to David Lee, who put the ball on the floor but was unable to finish the play. I don’t think Jordan would have been credited with an assist anyway. Defensively though, Louis Williams blew right past him. Jordan is quick but physically he’s built a lot like Ridenour. Defense is going to be a problem for him, but if the Knicks are as committed to picking up the pace as they led me to believe tonight this kid could come in handy. It’s obvious he has real court vision, a trait in very short supply in NY’s backcourt.
Finally, another “rookie” who got some burn tonight was Randolph Morris, who began the 2nd half with the starters. Since I anticipate nights where Curry is in foul trouble (or the Knicks are trying to protect him from foul trouble) I suspect Morris may see key minutes. On the plus side, he displayed some touch on his pick and pop jumper (from about 12 feet). He hit the boards hard. He also looks to be able to run. On the minus side, he’s got terrible, terrible hands. He fumbled everything he touched. And, although he’s reasonably athletic overall his feet are not exceptionally quick so he has trouble sliding over and rotating. Thus he’s prone to fouls. (By contrast, Philly rookie Jason Smith is a far more fluid athlete.) Overall, again, a mixed bag but enough good stuff to hope the Isiah buys out Jerome James and goes to the kid as the full time backup.