Picture this: you’ve been ousted by your former employer because of friction in the workplace, which were probably caused not only by you, by you alone paid the price. You go to work for an upstart, if disjointed, new young company. Fate intervenes and pits you up against your former employer in a nation wide competition for best businesses; you probably know you shouldn’t stand a chance to win and you would benefit more for your company developmente by just letting your youngest team members learn on the way, while getting the most experienced ones to just provide support and a sort of backbone. But no, you have to win. It’s personal.
Well, I completely understand that. Sometimes it’s really personal. So this time I’ll set aside my usual rants about veterans and rotations and whatever. It feels good for Fiz. You could see it in his eyes, and especially in the post-game hug with Mike Conley. His clash with Marc Gasol last season could have been an unwashable stain in his NBA career. Now it looks like it’s just another bump in the rearviewmirror.
Getting to the game: it was great! You see, I’m used to low-scoring games, what with my European upbringing, and rooting for the Knicks makes it so that we’re usually fond of players who give their all on the court to prevent the other team from scoring easily, but I have a soft spot for well-played games that are not shoot-outs. Now, don’t think that I don’t like those crazy scoring nights around the league that tend to happen daily this season, but well, they look like blockbuster cinema. It’s fun and everyone likes it, but sometimes a real fan wants to appreciate something closer to the nature of the game. Or maybe it’s just me longing for the past days where I banged and raised elbows and profusely sweated and fouled hard guys trying to score easy baskets, and I had my freeflowing locks a-la Christian Laettner blocking my view on the court, while nowadays I never play anymore and I’m scratching my bald head at the last 350 words.
Let’s try it again.
Getting to the game: it was great! A hard fought, gritty win on the road against the team with the best record in the Western Conference, with a few heartening performances along the way and a thrilling finale where our guys showed up in the clutch. Let’s delve into details!
– Enes Kanter (21 pts, 26 rebs, 3 ast, +9 +/-) threw in a performance for the ages, netting 14 points and 11 rebounds in a single quarter, the third. It’s his second 20-20 game for the season, and his 26 rebounds are a career high and a season high for the whole league. He played a Thibs-approved 42 minutes, but didn’t seem gassed at all in the waning minutes (insert joke here about how not playing defense make the feat easier, as you rest on the court for half the time). There were times, especially in the third quarter, where he utterly dominated the mountain-like Marc Gasol under both rims. I am always thankful for Enes, since he got us out from the Melo contract with the added benefit of the MitchRob pick, but I’m routinely harsh with him. Not tonight. I was happy to root for his monster performance. Amazingly, his game score for tonight amounts just to third-best for the season. I wish it was easy to root wholeheartedly for him this season, sadly it’s not recommendable, as it wouldn’t be recommendable to fall in love with a crazy-hot partner who you know won’t be around in a few months and will ruin some of your most promising friendships.
– Emmanuel Mudiay (17 pts, 2 rebs, 4 ast, +5 +/-) was again pretty good on offense, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the line to offset his subpar shooting night (5-for-12) and being the protagonist of the highlight of the game, a late-game breakaway and-one dunk after a Burke steal with less than 100 seconds to go. Mudiay has been legitimately good at attacking the rim this season. He falls to the ground like he did in past seasons, but this year he usually converts the shot. It’s funny that I refer to a 5-for-12 night as “subpar”: if he ended the season shooting 41.7% from the field it would still be his most accurate average by far. For the current season, instead, he’s shooting 49.2% from the field and is on the verge of breaking the .100 WS/48 threshold that basically would posit that he has become an average NBA player. It’s genuinely astonishing and at the same time it functions as a glimmer of hope for the development of a certain other offensively challenged kid with African roots. Mudiay found a way to be a contributor even against the top defense in the League, and that’s really something. If this is the real Mudiay, I’d count it as the highlight of Fiz’s career.
– Noah Vonleh (7 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, +17 +/-) took more than a backseat to Kanter’s amazing night, but make no mistake: he’s the glue that keeps everything together. Simply put, when he’s on the court it’s almost impossible for the Knicks to be outmatched in physicality and effort, and as a tertiary ball-handler he shows a lot of confidence, and his teammates rely on him to create from time to time. Memphis would have certainly escaped with the win if he wasn’t there grabbing some hard boards in the fourth (you know, the ones where you have to jump high, something that Enes doesn’t exactly excel in). Great signing from the scrap heap, wish we could have him for a few more years.
The bad (or more on point, the meh):
– Kevin Knox (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 blk, -4 +/-) is not ready for this type of games. He shot the ball three times and he never did so in rhythm. It’s hard to find your spots against a team as defensively prepared as Memphis, so that’s not entirely his fault, but his contributions nowadays seem to came only by his points scored, and when he doesn’t hit shots he’s worse than useless, he’s actively detrimental. His road to be a competent NBA rotation player will be bumpy and we have to be ready and patient. As of now I’d say there’s a 30% chance that Kevin will be an NBA player in 5 years, but there’s no way to know for sure. I didn’t have a lot of expectations from him this season, I’d say we’re par for the course.
– Mitchell Robinson (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -5 +/-) was the primary suspect on everyone’s list of “player less suited to play against Memphis”, and that list was correct. The rail-thin Mitch could do nothing against the Gasol behemoth, nor against the rangy Jaren Jackson Jr. He was completely out of sorts in all of his 13 minutes of play, particularly on defense. Nights like this act like a much needed reminder that Mitch has still a lot to get to NBA-starter level, but well… he’s a 20 year second-round pick rookie who’s exceeding expectations by a lot, so he’s more than forgiven. He’s still leading the league in BLK% even after this empty performance, go figure.
– Trey Burke was more than instrumental in securing the win, with his great interception for the Mudiay’s dunk and his 8-for-8 from the line, but man… he clunked a lot of shots. He was 3-for-15 from the field, playing a big part in the awful 37.4 FG% posted by the Knicks team. Being a six-foot guard has to be scary on a night where Memphis set its franchise record for blocks in a game.
– Tim Hardaway Jr had his second bad shooting night in a row, but made up for it with some charity stripe forays (22 points on 16 shots, 7-for-7 from the line). All in all a very transparent game from him, but in the end we needed a few of his buckets to take home the W. Sitting comfortably at 23.3 ppg on 55.5 TS%, he’s playing the quintessential high volume-average efficiency scorer role risen to prominence in many Melo years.
– Speaking of Melo: do you realize this would have been the last year of the contract Phil gave to him? And he’s apparently out of the league? How’s it goink?
– For the second straight game, Frank played 13 minutes. They weren’t bad, but Fiz looks to have shifted into “Frank is a wing who will play minutes accordingly to the game flow” mode. I’m not sure if I like this, but Frank’s not complaining. 7 points and 6 boards for him. A little more substance in his game for once.
– Exhibit A about Frank’s shot being irreparably broken: a hideous airball from three (with his feet set) in the first quarter just after a clean make from the corner 90 seconds before. Exhibit A about Frank’s shot needing only some confidence: the kid is shooting 15/16 from the line for the season and his stroke looks pure. I think Frank has to make a mental leap to become a good player; the downside of that is that mental leaps are the hardest to successfully complete.
– Zo with another double figures scoring night, but this time he wasn’t efficient (5-for-12). Credit Memphis for making his efforts at the rim much harder than they were in his first 20 games.
– Mario started again. Didn’t do a lot again. But he was a bit better and didn’t get in the way (and looked a bit more focused). Can we please see more Dotson and less Mario? Thank you.
– For all the people who think that winning useless games is better because it helps building a winning culture: if the byproduct of said “winning culture” is a Knox instead of a JJJ, I don’t want to win anymore. To me, JJJ is going to be the second best player in this rookie class.
– Lastly, for all my rants about winning useless games, we’re at 7-14, which means we won a third of the games we played, which means if we keep this W/L ratio we’ll end up at 27-55, right around where I predicted at the beginning. It’s easy to get carried away by the tanking passion.
Let’s see what our guys are made of on Tuesday against Detroit! For now it’s all. See you!