So, it looks like we just can’t help ourselves beating bad teams, huh? Our Bockers had themselves another great third quarter and pretty much steamrolled the Mavs and seemed to be further alongside the rebuilding path than those Dallas jersey wearing guys. Honestly, when you’re playing young guys as much as we did tonight, you take the win even if it might be bad for the tank. This is what development looks like. Having the game won by (mostly) fresh legs, playing your vets only if/when needed, that’s what we did tonight. And it was fun!
– I feel personally obliged to start from Mitchell Robinson (13 pts, 10 rebs, 3 ast, +9 +/-). He played 34 minutes and was a monster tonight, wreaking havoc on both sided of the court and moving around with much better sense of position on defense than what we saw in the last games, which weren’t that bad either. When you’re 7’1″ with a 7’4″ wingspan and a vertical of a lot of inches, just being in the right spot will allow you to deter most offensive plays. Tonight, though, he did show us something better: the ability to guard guys on the perimeter. Now, granted, this Mavs team is bad, but the contrast between Mitch’s defensive footwork and quickness and the lumbering movements by Kanter were on full display even tonight. There were a few sequences where Dallas ball-handlers tried to attack Mitch on the perimeter and were pretty much stymied from the get go. He’s still prone to stupidly bite on some easy fakes, but that’s part of the growing process. If they told me after the draft that our second round pick 20 year old center would have posted his first double double just days into November, I would have thought they were speaking about G-League. Add to that paltry loot 3 steals and 1 block, and you have found a real gem. Drafting Mitchell this year has the same feel of when you were 10 and opened an Upper Deck trading cards pack in 1994 and found a special MJ card with the gold signature. Absolute inadulterated joy and marvel at your luck. Don’t look now, but Mitch’s sporting a fat .205 WS/48, 2.7 OBPM, 2.9 DBPM. If he were to maintain these numbers throughout the whole season, he’d be the third rookie in NBA history to do so while playing more than 81 minutes. The other two? David Robinson and Arvydas Sabonis.
– Allonzo Trier (23 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, +1 +/-) is playing out of his mind lately. He’s unstoppable going to the rim, and has countless moves to get there. Of course he’s going to be crashing down to earth as soon as coaches start game-scouting for him (a simple double in the last quarter, with 2:25 to go, threw him off his feel and caused him to turn the ball over on a backcourt violation), but how much will he? One on one he’s just great. He ate alive Doncic more than a couple times, and aside from the aforementioned blunder he took solace in having the opportunity to close the game as the primary ball-handler, trying to torch every guy who tried to guard him to no avail. 23 points on 10 shots are amazing efficiency. He’s posting a 64 TS% on seven shots per game. He’s not going to be this elite, but these are promising numbers, as is the fact that Fiz has already a lot of faith in him to be in the final unit.
– Buckle up, guys. Next name is Lance Thomas (10 pts, 2 rebs, 3 ast, +11 +/-), who made the difference in the game-winning third quarter. In that quarter he made a few buckets, was active on defense (two steals for him), made the ball move and even threw a random alley-oop for the highlight of the night. With 5:43 remaining in the third quarter he received a weak screen from Mitch, and found him with an imprecise lob in the area near the rim. The pass was at the same time so inaccurate and effective, if you excuse the antithetical nature of the wordplay, that Mitch could catch him but was forced to do a 180 before dunking the ball. It was positively Javale-esque, but in the good sense of the term. Anyway, Lance was there when we needed him in the third, when foul trouble kept plaguing Vonleh, and I salute his for once valiant effort in helping the Knicks cause.
– Noah Vonleh (4 pts, 3 rebs, 50% FG, +4 +/-) was a given in this section for the night. He almost fouled out in 10 minutes, and while he was quite good in that limited time his flailing around on defense and on offense was inexcusable. This team needs him to be more reliable than that, especially if you think that Mitch wasn’t even supposed to play like that this soon. We caught a lucky break tonight in having Lance Thomas and Mario Hezonja contribute some at the four position, but a game like this would have been a major hurdle on most other nights.
– Trey Burke (2 pts, 1 reb, 2 ast, -6 +/-) has me at a loss for words. Not long ago, he looked like our little steady floor general. Now he’s slipped behind Mudiay in the rotation, and for apparent reasons. His presence on the floor halts the offense to a ball-stopping nightmare; I don’t think it’s entirely his fault, but you’re doing something very wrong if the team looks better in Mudiay’s hands. Tonight Trey played just seven minutes and was able to post a -6 plus minus. His advanced stats are looking eerily similar to what he posted in his first four NBA seasons. I guess midnight has finally come, and the coach has turned back into a pumpkin. I’m sad for him, he was fun to root for last season.
– Damyean Dotson had another strong night on the boards with 8, and even if his shots weren’t falling he found a way to post a game-high +18. What’s a bit worrying (not for him) is that his DRed% almost doubles what Mitch is posting. I really hope that someone’s working with Robinson to teach him to box out.
– Emmanuel Mudiay played 17 productive minutes tonight. Get ready to see him on the floor more and let’s see if he can capitalize on his strengths (passing, being large for his position) while cutting down on his weaknesses (everything else). It was nice to see him scramble around on defense and tally 3 steals.
– Frank Ntilikina had a modest game (7 pts, 7 rebs, 3 stl, +8 +/-), and when his shot doesn’t fall his game looks almost lethargic on offense. Of his 7 assists, at least 4 were of the “didn’t do a damn thing apart from moving the ball” variety. On defense was good, even if he got torched a couple times by Dennis Smith Jr. Not a bad-bad performance, but as of now he’s evidently the weak link on offense. If Mitch knew how to set solid screens he could be better, I guess. Frank’s currently posting the same BPM as Lance. I really hope he learns to impose himself on the game, not the other way around.
– Tim Hardaway Jr (18 pts, 6 rebs, 3 ast, +10 +/-) was a little Chuck Hardaway tonight. A standard game in itself – 18 points on 17 shots, another charge taken – but if this is his floor nowadays, I’ll certainly take it.
– Enes Kanter (13 pts, 5 rebs, 2 ast, + 4+/-) and Mario Hezonja (11 pts, 1 reb, 71% FG) contributed to the win but look like they don’t want to be here, even if Kanter blocked two shots and Mario single-handedly helped to keep the game within reach in the first half in a particularly bad stretch of Knicks offense. Especially Enes, since we know how energic he can be when checked in. Mario wanders around, hits some shots, goes back to the bench, and it’s like you never saw him.
– I came away from the game totally unimpressed by Doncic. He was slow and unattentive on defense and his offensive game didn’t have much substance, apparently. Then I took a look at the box score and saw 18 points, 9 boards, 6 dimes for Luka, and remembered that he’s still a rookie in the best league in the world. It’s just that I have sky high expectations for him from day 1, having watched him play here in Europe, dominating his older peers. The kid is going to be good but needs to cut on the carbs (and the coaching staff needs to hide him on defense, for now).
– Lance Thomas, defensive specialist veteran extraordinaire. In the first moments of the second quarter, with Smith Jr. barreling down the lane and only Thomas between him and the rim, he made good use of his savviness. He stood his ground, briefly looking down at the court, ready to take the charge with pride and gusto. His feet were clearly inside the restricted area. He picked up his fourth foul in 7 minutes of play.
– I’m so happy with the way Fiz is coaching this team in a general sense. Offense has been better, and he sees the trends on the court. The youngsters are playing fine, and he’s giving them a full leash.
– When KP comes back, we’ll have a starting five entirely made by players we drafted (in THJ’s case is a technicality, but it’s true nonetheless). Remember all that talk about Golden State being able to get relevant because they drafted well without having any top-5 pick? Yeah.
Next game is against the stumbling Wizards. I say they’ll have a bounce back against us, but I can’t wait to watch the game. I’m really electrified by this young team, at last we’re doing things right (maybe?)!