I guess this is what it feels like to be a happy loser. We lost by 28 to the Warriors (entering the final quarter with a three-point lead) and I couldn’t care less about the end result. While I was watching the third quarter, I found myself thinking “I hope we lose tonight; after all, we already exceeded our goal for this match, and we have to rack up losses”. And that was what happened: we lost, badly, and I was extremely happy for us.
The good vibes started when the starting lineup was announced. Frank at PG, Dot at SF and Mitch at C? I was tingling with curiosity and expectations. Let’s just say I wasn’t let down a tiny bit. We kept the game competitive until 5:32 remaining in the last quarter (and then we just rolled over and died, but who cares), while playing our rookies and second year players at least 16 minutes each.
– Noah Vonleh (7 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, -6 +/-) was a big reason why the ball didn’t stick too much in one place on offense. He was all over the court, acting often as a release valve for the ball handler – if only to give the ball back to him after a millisecond – and threw a couple slick passes that found Mitch free under the basket. His defense wasn’t bad and his energy level was instrumental in giving fits to the Warriors offense. I’m not sure it was a lot of sense to play him alongside another big man who can’t stretch the floor, but if that is what’s needed to open up playing time for Mitch, I’m all in.
– Mitchell Robinson (7 pts, 6 rebs, 2 stl, -12 +/-) didn’t have exactly a good game in itself, but let’s put it this way: dude is 20, this was his first start in the NBA (and fifth NBA game overall) and didn’t play organized basketball at all last season. It’s like being given the keys to a Ferrari shortly after getting back to the USA from a long stay in Tokyo, where the cars are right-hand drive only, and having only driven a Prius for the last few days. The main goal is not to crash the damn thing on a lamppost on your first 90 degree left turn. Mitch clearly didn’t crash it, as he looked a little lost in the first half, but gained a lot of confidence in the second. In the third quarter he was a pogo stick who disrupted countless Warriors plays just by jumping around and moving his freakish arms. He also dissipated my fear that he couldn’t handle more than 15 minutes in a game, be it because of foul trouble of poor conditioning: he played 29 minutes, was called for two fouls and didn’t look exhausted at the end. He can be a monster offensive rebounder in short spurts, and to be honest I didn’t expect him to have such an impact on the game. Now, if he learns how to set screens and to box out under the defensive glass, in two seasons he’s gonna be a real beast. Move away Capela, here comes the next rim running center of the future. I can’t wait to see him play the PnR with Frank – or any other competent PG to be honest – in 2020-21 with KP spotting up on the weakside, or being the man called to clean up the mess after someone threw him a Kobe assist.
– Frank Ntilikina (17 pts, 1 reb, 2 ast, -12 +/-) was much more aggressive than usual, and clearly benefits from playing at PG even if he isn’t your prototypical playmaker. Aside from a couple of boneheaded fouls and turnovers, and a lack of assists due to his preferred style of horizontal passing, this was the Frank we hoped he could be. In control, assertive, confident. In the first five games of the season, played primarily at SF, he never scored in double digits. Tonight he got there in the first half. We’re still waiting for him to have a complete game, but tonight was a great night for us Frank fans. He struggled a bit on defense, but well, who doesn’t on Curry-Thompson-KD? I just don’t understand why Fiz took him out in the third with 6 minutes to go while he was cooking, effectively stopping his momentum, only to put him back into the game with the score already compromised. I think a 20 points game would have done wonders for his development in terms of mindset, and this one was as good as any to get there. Well, nevermind, let’s hope this Frank shows up to the next game. First time this season his usage was 20+ (22.7).
– Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 7 rebs, 1 stl, -9 +/-) scored in double digits for the fourth time in a row and had his standard great game on the boards. I’m worried a bit about his futile passing game, but as a 3-and-D rotation cog you really could do much worse than this. He also was passable on defense, and his basketball demeanor looks like he’s got the right to stick in the league for a few years. Here’s hoping he won’t be the one to lose playing time when Knox gets back.
– Uh, no one? I know, it’s weird to say that when you lose by 28, but this is what a competently executed rebuild looks like.
– Nah, I was joking. Lance Thomas (2 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -12 +/-) has totally regressed to the Lance of yore, a sorry excuse for an apparently hustling basketball player who does nothing on the court. I don’t know where preseason Lance went, but we have no use for this Lance, and he shouldn’t set foot on the court unless every other wing player is hurt. Giving him 20 minutes tonight, while giving only 25 to Frank, is the only glaring mistake by Fizdale. I propose to give to Lance the 2018-19 Jason Collins award for “most unproductive rotation player in the NBA”.
– Trey Burke (15 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -16 +/-), Enes Kanter (8 pts, 13 rebs, 2 ast, -17 +/-) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (24 pts, 2 rebs, 3 ast, -15 +/-) were all pretty good at scoring when nothing else was working, but nobody had a particularly efficient game. I can’t complain about that, anyway, since they were coming off the bench to stir things up when the action was stalling… Oh wait, THJ is still in the starting lineup and played a team-high 36 minutes. Now, I know that this critique on Timmy is starting to feel a bit stale, but my Eurobasket roots are irked everytime he takes the ball with the clear intent of shooting it without conscience. I like his quick release on spot up threes, even if some of those are pretty much ill-advised (he tried one in the first quarter from at least 32 feet with no reason for it), but I don’t like one iota the dribble-dribble-dribble-shoot facet of his game.
– Let’s talk about Mitch. I didn’t feel this excited for a Knicks prospect since KP. I’m not saying they’re equals – in fact, here’s my bet that Mitch will end up being more productive than KP at the end of their respective careers – I’m saying that he is, between first and second year Knicks players, without a doubt the one with the most potential to become a nightmare for other teams when in full blossom. Kid is just a fenomenal specimen, and runs like a fast guard.
– Allonzo Trier’s shine is wearing off a bit, but he never seems a fish out of water. That’s always something for an undrafted rookie.
– Durant and Curry are insane. In other news, the sun is hot.
– No but really. Durant won the game by himself and there was nothing anybody could do to stop him. I don’t know if I want him to come here next year (opportunity costs, yadda yadda yadda) but he’s the most effortless scorer I have ever seen, and I saw prime Jordan. He’s a cold-blooded assassin, and his role in today’s NBA might be severely underrated.
– In the third quarter, the Warriors seemed to turn over the ball every other possession. I fully expected their box score to report 20+ turnovers by the end of the night, but it said only 14. I’m still dumbfounded by that.
Nothing else to report, but let’s get carried away by irrational hope after this peculiar youngsters-led outing! I can’t wait to watch the next game, it’s gonna be wild if these pups keep on playing like this.
See ya on Monday!