So maybe I was a bit harsh on Fiz in the last “recap”, huh? I mean, at least this one was a competitive game with one of the best teams in the NBA this season, all the while being pretty easy on the eyes save for a few stretches of iso/eat what you kill offense that struck down the mojo of the whole team. Anyway, this game is without a doubt a victory: we watched 48 minutes of decent basketball and scored another loss in the process, and a few of our young pieces played well enough.
This was touted as the Mudiay revenge game from MSG Network, with Rebecca citing a few of his teammates going on air saying they wanted to win this one for him. I’m not sure I get this thing. It’s one thing if you were the coach of a team and were fired for the wrong reasons: then I get you wanting to get revenge and the team having your back (think the Memphis game for Fizdale). It’s another thing wanting to show your former team what they could have had if they hung onto you instead of trading you unceremoniously (I still hope that Gallinari goes for 40 everytime he faces us, I can’t really get over the fact that we sent him away for Melo), but that makes sense only if you’re a legitimately good player. We know Mudiay is getting better at a few things, and it’s ok that his teammates want to win for him, but he’s a fringe starter in the NBA universe. Why wasn’t the Chicago game the Vonleh revenge game then? Shouldn’t the next Atlanta game be the THJ revenge game? See, this are the little things that worry me a lot about how our front office will manage Mudiay’s extension/free agency. Apart from Breen and Clyde – and to a lesser extent Kenny – every other MSG employee doubles as a management mouthpiece. We can collect the clues and put them together to form a coherent picture: Mudiay is very likely another focal piece of this team. We’ll have to deal with it – and yes, there are fates worse than extend Mud, but it’s frustrating trying constantly to find silver linings in a dumpster. Especially because it’s too damn easy to mistake a stray iron wire for a silver bracelet.
– It’s hard to find a clearly good player to emerge from this game, so I’ll go with Kevin Knox (18 pts, 4 rebs, 1 ast, -2 +/-). His numbers aren’t tremendously impressive or efficient, as he went 7-for-16 from the field and 2-for-7 from three, but if you watch the games you have noticed that Kevin is shooting only the right shots and has kinda stopped throwing up only wild layups. Sometimes the angles in his penetration attemps are still super awkward, but he lays the ball closer to the rim to diminish that effect. Tonight there was another auspicious hot start from Knox, who got fouled thrice while scoring at the rim (one of those and-ones was also a gorgeous sequence where Frank pressured Monte Morris close to the right sideline, stole the ball and passed it to Knox that in stride went for a very cool finger roll) in the first quarter, only to cool off in the second half. Some of that has to be because his conditioning is still lackluster, but you notice that playing with Mudiay, THJ and Trier doesn’t do him any good. Those guys could freeze even a fire elemental out of a game. I’m not a believer in the hot hand theory, but I do believe in confidence building, and when your youngest player is on a roll, your duty as a team (and moreso as a coach) should be to keep featuring him. Alas, that’s a story for another season, I hope. Four rebounds are not a good tally for him, but I swear he was almost always in the right position to grab a few more. Baby steps, but Knox is not lost anymore.
– Luke Kornet (19 pts, 6 rebs, 1 ast, 0 +/-) has been the scoring leader for the Knicks in two of his three starts, and keeps on hitting threes at a blistering pace. His numbers as a starter: 18.7 PPG, 5 RPG, 3.7 APG on 51/63/100 splits. Totally unreliable sample size, but it could have gone a lot worse. His impact on defense isn’t what it should be (every time the other team runs a short roll he’s always caught in the middle of nowhere in the paint, as if he wants to help but he’s two steps slow – having Mudiay on the perimeter though doesn’t help a lot) and I’m not sure I ever saw him catch a clean board. He’s always multiple-tipping the ball to himself after he’s in position. On the other hand, his offense is limited but very effective. He won’t hit 63% of his threes for the season, but you can’t deny the effect he has on the team’s spacing. He also rolled well more than a couple times, but neither Mudiay nor THJ were quite willing (or able) to hit the rolling open man. I also liked a lot his set shot banked from 18 feet with 8:52 to go in the third quarter. It was positively KPish.
– Allonzo Trier (7 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, +1 +/-) started his game very well, with two hard drives to the rim and a clean three pointer, then it all went downhill. It seems that the injury (or the contract, if you’re versed in conspiracy theories) has robbed Zo of all his right moves. He’s less able to get separation from his defender with the herky-jerky dribbling he showcased in his first games as a Knick, and generally speaking he looks like he did in Summer League, a muffled ball hog than passes the ball here and there as if it was for contractual obligations. I don’t think the League has figured him out, because it’s not like defenses change their gameplans for him: I think he’s not 100% fit and he’s forcing too much because, you know, of that dietary advice from Fiz.
– Damyean Dotson (1 pt, 3 asts, 50% FT, +4 +/-) is going through the motion in a very bad way. Through his last four games, he’s scoring 4 PPG while shooting 21.1% from the field. So much for helping Mudiay win his revenge game! But anyway, Dotson is the rare case where I don’t worry about his actual production. We know who he is as a player, and he’s playing in the same way he always did. The ball just doesn’t fall (though I have to admit that his rebounding numbers are a bit worrisome, yes).
– You know the typical rom-com situation where the protagonist has finally learned to let go of his crush after being let down one too many times, and just as he starts to feel liberated from that life-altering weight on his soul the aforementioned crush shows up again kind of purring and he (or she) falls for it as if nothing ever happened, not even oblivious to the fact that he/she’s bound for another round of delusion and existential sorrow? Welcome to the Frank Ntilikina experience. I really did let go, Frank. Why did you have to do this to me? 10 pts, 5 ast, efficient shooting and goodish defense in just 18 minutes of play. Don’t make me love you again, I beg of you. Don’t look at the assist numbers: Ntilikina was our best point guard tonight. Boy has he gotten slower on defense, though. His matchup blows by him at least twice every game, I don’t know what happened to him to slow him so much.
– Enes Kanter reacted pretty well. 17 points and 12 boards in 20 minutes off the bench. His defense was as bad as always, but at least the production was there. And there’s my silver lining for today: February, 7th is the trade deadline. I think we have to endure only 36 more days of Kanter.
– Stop giving the ball to Chuck Hardaway with the game on the line. He’s great in transition (especially if matched up with slow behemoths like Jokic) and getting charges, and pretty bad at everything else. I hate his shot selection, but I hate his loose handle even more. It seems everytime he tries to dribble his way to the rim from the perimeter with a set defense he gets he ball stripped clean from someone. I’m tired of THJ and his careless crucial turnovers. I liked the fact he shot the ball just twelve times, though.
– Mudiay had 9 assists, ok. I counted just two of them as “real assists”, as in “I’m improving my teammate’s chances of scoring”. The other 7 were more of the generous scorekeeper variety. Other than that, he scored 15 points in 20 shots. But sure, guys at MSG, keep on feeding us your takes on how Emmanuel is a good player.
– Vonleh had a bad offensive night, but did everything he could to stop Jokic, 14 boards included. It’s not his fault that the Joker is so good at basketball. By the way, if LeBron is playing Friday it’s very likely he’ll draw the assignment. I’d be very curious to see how he acquitted himself in such a situation after he also guarded Giannis and Jokic in less than a week.
– Speaking of Jokic, that man is awesome. 14 assists for the night, and he had already 10 with more than 6 minutes to go in the second quarter. Ok, playing against our defense must be an all-you-can-eat buffet for pass-happy players, but his passing instincts are top notch. He’s the embodiment of high basketball IQ.
– 66.7% of our field goals were assisted tonight. No wonder that the game was so pleasant to watch (the Nuggets did better than us: a whopping 81.8% of their field goals were a direct consequence of an assist. I love their style).
– Brendan Brown is a terribly bland commentator, but I’d rather have him than hear Wally. Wally is like the Enes Kanter of color analysts.
Ok, I feel better after this one. Let’s see what happens at the Staples on Friday!