Hey! Hey you! Yeah, I’m talking to you, Mr. Fizdale. Don’t you know that we’re supposed to lose a lot of games? What are these shenanigans of winning two games in a row against good teams? I have two words for you: Zion Williamson. Get back on track!
Now, seriously. The last two games have been a breath of fresh air, a nutritious sip of broth for a fanbase starving for feel-good moments from this season… except, our feel-good moments aren’t really measured in wins or losses. They’re measured in development. And on a night like this, while we should be happy that we won, I can’t avoid the sting of seeing that, apart from Allonzo (more, a lot more on him later), the quartet of other rookie-scale contracts going into 2019-20 has played just 33 minutes combined. I’ll delve into the possible explanations to this further down the recap, but I had to put it off my chest: I feel uneasy winning and seeing so little out of our projects.
– Allonzo Trier (25 pts, 8 rebs, 4 ast, +13 +/-) is the clear-cut MVP of this one. Apart from his gaudy numbers – on 12 shots! – due to an extremely salivation-inducing ferociousness in attacking relentlessly the rim, he was the only reason I don’t deem a failure this game. You might think my vision is too bleak, but again I ask of you: what good comes from seeing a game won by guys who probably won’t be here next year ruin your chances at a top 4 pick next June? That said, I don’t blame Fiz for this one: he has to follow through on his meritocracy propaganda, so it’s only fair giving minutes to who’s playing well. Now, gloomy tangent aside, Trier was awesome tonight. He didn’t only score effectively: he was there everytime we needed a timely bucket, and there are nights when he’s just so good at protecting the ball driving to the rim (I was baffled when I went to look at his FG% on drives for the season: it’s just 48.3. For context: the best Knicks at drives FG% is Emmanuel frigging Mudiay, at 58.6, good for seventh in the whole league among players with 3+ drives per game; Allonzo is 61st, nothing to scoff at from an undrafted two-way player anyway). Iso Zo tonight was everything we needed THJ to be, and he carried us to the victory. Again: 25 points on 12 shots, 4 assists, 0 turnovers. On the Merriam-Webster, tonight, his picture was the definition of efficiency.
– Emmanuel Mudiay (27 pts, 7 rebs, 2 ast, +5 +/-) was Trier’s partner in crime and is a pleasant surprise, to be honest. He’s not a good (or even average) NBA player even now, but his improvement from past seasons is palpable. This is the first year where he’s putting up a WS/48 > .050 (at .083 now), a TS% better than league average, and positive BPM and VORP. Don’t get me wrong, the numbers suggest that he’s just an 8th-9th man at best, but at the beginning we all thought he was downright terrible, and had our good reasons to think so. It’s possible that Fiz has fixed him a little bit. For sure, he’s a completely different guy when driving to the rack (see above). Not only that, though: he’s better at defense, and he’s making a better use of his big body in space. Don’t let the 4 steals fool you: there was some hustle there, yeah, but also a lot of gambling. If any of his gambles was just a bit mistimed, you’re looking at easy, easy points for the Pels. The highlight of his night is his wonderful reverse drive with 34 seconds to go: that showed that his new found efficiency at the rim should be sustainable. It looks like he’s in control of his body for the first time in 4 years. It’s just a shame that his cap hold will be too big: to really invest in him for the next five months would be a pedestrian mistake. Also, for such a prolific driver, his 2 assists tally is a bit meager.
– Noah Vonleh (14 pts, 11 rebs, 5 ast, +18 +/-) is making me fall in love with his game night after night after night. Third straight double double for him, 4 for 7 from three point range, team-high plus/minus and assists. Add 2 steals and 2 blocks and he made certainly drool many a fantasy owner tonight. Vonleh is, again, the lone exception to the merry band of expiring contracts winning us useless games. I hope we keep him after this year. He looks so much better than he did in his last NBA stops. I won’t bother you with his advanced numbers again; I’ll just leave here his 3PT%: .412 on 1.7 attempts per night. I think it’s gonna fall down to around .350 (the arc is flat and two of his misses were ugly airballs), but as a surrogate stretch four he brings so many other things to the table, like a strong ability to pull down defensive boards, something that we sorely need. Our other frontcourt players are great at getting offensive rebounds, but on the defensive glass we are a little overwhelmed. We need him to jump under our basket. His defense is nothing to write home about, Davis (until perfectly healthy) dominated him, but then again who can defend well on Davis?
– Mario Hezonja (2 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast, -3 +/-) might be the worst use of cap space for a year since we signed Derrick Williams. Someday we’ll know why he’s starting instead of Dot or even – gasp – Knox. He was terrible again, apart form a very brief stint where he made a cutting layup and later dished a chocolate assist to Kanter for an easy two. His advanced numbers for the season scream “huge bust”: -0.057 WS/48, .435 TS%, -6.7 BPM. I think we have seen enough of him. It’s not even like he stabilizes the starting five! They need defense and shooting. He doesn’t bring either, which makes even more puzzling the fact that Dotson is not seeing playing time and Mario is averaging 17+ MPG as a starter.
– Kevin Knox (5 pts, 1 reb, 1 blx, -9 +/-) is having a lot of rough nights by himself; tonight foul trouble exacerbated the problem. He wasn’t able to contain anyone on defense and on offense shot 2 for 6, where one of those two connected attempts was one of the ugliest floaters/toss up I’ve ever seen. His advanced numbers are worse than Mario’s; in his defense, he’s a rookie, but that’s the only thing that goes in his favor. Anyway, I’m all for giving him all of Mario’s minutes, if Dotson can’t/won’t play.
– Not so fun, but Mitchell Robinson shouldn’t get so enamored with his blocking ability, or he’ll become an Hassan Whiteside-type defender, which means great blocks numbers but little impact on the game. I’m sure that won’t be the case with Mitch, and tonight he was defending possibly the best big in the whole league, but he elected to defend only with his hands and never with a jockeying motion. That he was able to put in a mildly productive night (5 points, 2 blocks, 1 rebound, 1 assist) in 9 minutes of play speaks volumes about his ability to impact games, but he has to be very careful about defensive mistakes – and where he steps when he tries to block guys on the perimeter. Twice he went under a Pelican shooting from three and once he was whistled for a flagrant 1. That call was excessive but by the rules. Second time in a row that a Mitch blunder costs us five point in a single possession. And to foul out in 9 minutes is simply… rookie dumb.
– Mitch is posting a league-high 9.8 BLK%. Over the course of a season, only three players in NBA history have posted a higher number: Manute Bol (six times), Alonzo Mourning and pre-huge contract (for the time) Jim McIlvaine.
– Frank Ntilikina played only 14 minutes tonight and was his usual good on the defensive end, plus two blocks, and quite meh on offense. There was no reason to play him so little, unless Fiz has seen that Frank can only play with certain guys (see: Burke) and not with others (see: Mudiay). That would be disconcerting, but I find no other reason to bench him so much, and that’s the only remark I have to make about Fizdale tonight. The sequence of the night belonged to Frank, though: block on the defensive end, another block by Mitch, the ball switches to the Knicks and Frank drains a three in semi-transition. This is what we want to see, dammit!
– Timmy was horrible. Too much turkey? Seven points, a lone rebound, four assists and a ghastly 2-for-15 night from the field. Improvement much, huh? It’s not fair to look now, but his WS/48 dipped under .100; how do you spell “17 million dollars” in trade language? We’ll forgive him this time, though.
– Trey came back to normal, but was still useful. 20 minutes of steadying the ship and letting others do their job. I’ll take it.
– Enes Kanter played his first Enes game since becoming a starter again. 17 and 12, plus 3 blocks and some mobility on defense. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t win a jump ball against a chair.
Our record goes to a suboptimal 6-14, good (bad?) for fifth-worst in the league. Let’s see what happens on sunday against the Grizzlies. I expect a terrible game to watch, where THJ will chuck 20 shots from the dribble and we’ll end up losing 92-75… but losing is good, isn’t it?