There has been some talk about player development around here in the last days (while I missed the Clippers recapping task due to work, I still read a lot of comments!), and how maybe someone in the Knicks organization knows what he’s doing, case in point Mitchell Robinson, who doesn’t foul that much anymore and rebounds better. I think this game showed quite clearly that Fiz has no idea about developing Mitch either, and not because of his 6 fouls or his game-worst -13 +/-.
Look, this season is one of the worst in franchise history and we were supposed to lose a lot (by the way, great job by the Bucks losing to the Suns. We’re back at #30, and that’s great). We also were supposed to trot out some of the worst lineups any hardwood has ever seen, and that’s cool. Not easy on the eyes, but cool nonetheless. In the midst of it, we realized we had on our hands one of the potentially most dominant rim-running, all-around defending centers of the 2020s, and that’s supercool!
So why in the hell this dumb coach insists in playing Mitch with Mudiay and not DSJ?
I already know some of you will get annoyed by my tirades against the coaching staff. I might have been wrong (but only slightly, I guess) in the past about it, but there’s really no silver lining or justification whatsoever in playing our best player in 6 years (there, I said it) with the most passing-averse “point guard” we have on the roster. Did you see the fouls Mitch committed last night? I did. I did play basketball for a while as a big. I know at least half of those fouls stem from the sheer frustration of never seeing the ball come your way. Now, don’t get me wrong. Mitch isn’t, and shouldn’t be, entitled to anything at his point in his career. By that logic, he shouldn’t be frustrated at all. But when all you see around you are scrubs who can’t contribute to wins like you do, and it’s evident that passing the ball in high space to you would result in better outcomes than whatever the other guys are doing, that frustration seeps in and you commit stupid fouls because by then you’re “ok, I’ll just bang with whomever is between me and the basket or between me and a block”.
FFS, Mitch was posting guys last night! And was half-good at it (his first bucket came on a very rare Mudiay entry pass, with Mitch having effectively sealed the shorter Harry Giles two feet from the basket). He also committed two offensive fouls because of that, and if you saw the game you also saw it was because nobody was passing him the darn ball as soon as he was semi-open under the rim. We’re not in 1990s and guys shouldn’t post much, I agree. But if your likely next superstar is adding that to the repertoire, why don’t you give him the ball? It’s not that hard.
Ok, now that I’m done venting, some notes about the actual game (which wasn’t bad, just kinda meh. It was certainly good for the tank).
– Allonzo Trier (29 pts, 8 rebs, 2 stl, 0 +/-) is the main reason these games retain some semblance of watchability when Mitch is not on the court. He should also be the main reason to cut Mudiay, like, now and immediately call up Kadeem Allen to sign him to a Jenkins/Ellenson special. Trier is very clearly a ball-dominant, seldom-passing guard (who can create for others, though. It’s just that he’s wired differently) who has a role in today’s NBA. Ironically, his role is exactly the same Mudiay should have (the scoring guard off the bench who can catch fire while occasionally passing the rock to someone). If that’s so, what’s the point in playing them together? Are we trying to do some Humpty-Dumpty weird stuff here? I say let’s focus on the guy we have under contract for at least one more year – and who looks like he understands the game better and can pull countermoves during a single season – and not the other one who probably deserves a spot in the NBA but somewhere else, and anyway will surely be renounced for cap hold reasons oh god I’m venting again. Ok, let’s really focus on Zo: 29 points on 16 shots are very good efficiency, and that’s while going only 10-for-15 from the stripe. He looks like he has developed some pretty countermoves about his main liability during the middle part of the season (opposing defenses forced him to go left and he looked a bit lost most of the times) and now he’s able to delve into the paint almost at will. Sometimes he doesn’t convert, but that’s a great recipe for being fouled a lot, and getting to the line is key for him to maintain his scoring punch. Those 8 boards were pretty good too. If he only upped the number of threes he shoots (while keeping that tidy 38/40% clip) he’d really be a mini-Harden. Good to see him bounce back in the last few games from his mid-season slump.
– Noah Vonleh (9 pts, 13 rebs, 3 ast, +9 +/-) has also bounced back big in his last three games, after a long stretch where he looked completely gassed. It’s difficult to see where he fits in the grand scheme of today’s NBA, but as long as his intensity is there, I don’t think there can be many complaints against him. What really makes the difference for him is his energy level. If it’s high, he can and will contribute a lot. If it’s low, even Lance Thomas at times looks to be more useful. So much for any hope that he was gonna cut it as a credible three-point menace: his 3PT% is at 33.8% for the season (20% in his last 15 games), but if he rebounds like this there’s a clear reason to have him on the court for 15-20 minutes at night, at least until DeAndre comes back.
– Uh, spoiler? Emmanuel Mudiay (8 pts, 2 rebs, 5 ast, -4 +/-) wasn’t much worse than DSJ in terms of overall production, same number of assists, same number of turnovers, pretty much same points per shot (Mud 0.88 to DSJ 1.05, both not good). The problem, though, lies in how the team plays when Mudiay is on the court. Fizdale magic calls for a lot of iso plays already, but you see some pieces moving at least adequately when they have faith that, if open, they’ll get the ball sooner or later. DSJ is not a great passer in terms of technique and precision, but he certainly doesn’t suffer from tunnel vision and is able to look for his guys. The only good pass Mudiay can throw is the cross court one out of the pick and roll. It’s a good weapon, but you need a) to have good shooters on the floor, which is not always the case with these Knicks and b) mix it up a lot, especially with a rim-running force in the middle. Add to that the fact that his TS%, while much improved, is still below average (.535) and his WS/48 in his fourth season is worse than Trier’s in his rookie season, age be damned, and I really don’t see any reason whatsoever not to call it a day with this guy. Give him spot minutes only when needed and, again, bring back Kadeem Allen (if Frank never recovers from that groin injury).
– I think I already wrote a lot about Mitch. Just one more thing: tonight he looked a bit dispirited on defense. I don’t know if that’s a side effect of never seeing the ball or just not feeling well (I suspect a mix of both, as in the second half he was more active), but the Corey Brewer to Harry Giles fastbreak pass that saw Mitch stop at half court for a super easy Giles dunk was not pleasing at all. That was the sight of a guy who’s not giving full effort, and I didn’t like it. That said, I hope Fiz stops punishing him by playing him alongside Mudiay so much.
– I dig Corey Brewer’s beachvolley look. Did he get some fashion advice from Jud Buechler?
– Dotson is streaky as hell, but I like the fact that he’s playing a bit more for the team.
– Knox got 21 impalpable minutes, but at least he hit more than half his shots at last. That said his defense is godawful and his fouls are even worse (he has to have the worst and-1/PF ratio in the league). Let the kid get some rest, he’s constantly being embarrassed out there.
– There was a stretch in the early 90s when everybody was looking for the next Larry Bird, hopefully for a taller one. Maybe Luke Kornet and Henry Ellenson wish they were born 20 years earlier (although Ellenson was a first round pick anyway).
– DSJ stuffed the stat sheet but was pretty meh. Still liking him more than every Knicks starting PG since 2012-13 Felton (talk about damning with faint praise).
– Buddy Hield is becoming a very good player. Did Vlade come out on top of the Boogie-trade? And was Vivek not that insane when he called him “our Steph Curry”? I mean, that’s insanity anyway, but on the Vivek scale has to be a 2 out of 10, right?
And now we can pretty much secure a valiant tank win with a loss against Phoenix on Wednesday. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!