Last Tuesday, I wrote I sensed a win in Miami. Boy, was I wrong! Tonight’s game delivered us our first stinkfest ot the season (and it certainly will not be the last), and there were stretches when it was really hard to keep watching. At least we can take solace in the fourth loss (and get annoyed at the thought that it’s so Knicksy to nail a rebulding/tanking plan in the first season of flattened lottery odds). And finally, some playing time for Mitch!
The adequate (nobody was good tonight):
– Damyean Dotson (20 pts, 10 rebs, 2 ast, -5 +/-) was the lone bright spot tonight. Efficient shooting, even when the game was still on the line, good rebounding effort, average defense. I liked the fact that he was the first one from the bench to enter the game and I especially liked the fact that he got in for Trey Burke, therefore handing over the keys to Frank. The only real basketball issue I have with Dot is that he’s kind of a black hole. If you hand him the rock, chances are he’s gonna shoot. Still, over three games he’s posting a very healthy .185 WS/48.
– Frank Ntilikina (9 pts, 3 rebs, 5 ast, -9 +/-) had a quiet, but not discouraging game, with a few comforting moments. For one, the offense ran better through him, as he’s clearly our best initiator/passing guard. He drilled a couple threes, and for once had a clear path to the rim and slammed the ball down (even if that was on Miami’s lack of defensive communication and not on his offensive prowess). His defense was quite good, but he has to stop fouling guys who are either not doing anything or have already scored – his foul on Whiteside in the third was egregious, as Frank was not able to keep his momentum in check and fell on the Heat big man after he already scored, handing him a free trip to the line. The problem with Frank is always the same: he’s not hungry for his points. I found myself asking “How many times do we have to listen to Clyde saying Frank should look at the hoop from inside the paint before we give up hope?”; my answer is “a bazillion times”, but really, if he’s not able to fix that his value will keep on being marginal at best. If I had to peg him in a role now, it would be a 15 mpg guy off the bench who handles the best perimeter scorer in the other team. We need him to be much more than that, and he’s so young I feel morally obliged to believe in him.
– Noah Vonleh (6 pts, 9 rebs, 1 stl, -3 +/-) is being consistent in his back up. energizing big man role. He wasn’t good tonight, but his effort alone grants him a mention here. It’s not much, but it’s the best I can do for this game. Actually, he could have ended up in the adequate section, if not for a couple ill-advised shots. For a partially guaranteed contract, he’s really giving a cool return value to the team. He’s earning his minutes out there, and I feel like Fiz is handling him well.
– Trey Burke (3 pts, 4 ast, 10% FG, -12 +/-) played one of the worst games I have ever seen a guy play without any explicable reason (like, say, being guarded by prime Scottie Pippen). I’m starting to convince myself that he might be the second main culprit in our starting lineup futility, the first being of course Lance Thomas. He’s not making the offense click, and as soon as his shot is not falling he becomes a clear minus for the team. The first quarter ended with the Knicks grabbing an 11 points lead, but when he exited the game and Frank took on the PG mantle the Knicks were losing 5-7 with 6:16 to go. So the first quarter partial without Trey was 22-9. He was again on the floor for the first minutes of the third quarter, when the Knicks got crushed by Miami offering up zero resistance to the Heat dominance. A bad performance for Trey, and maybe a wake up call for Fiz to try different things with the starting lineup.
– Enes Kanter (8 pts, 5 rebs, 3 ast, -24 +/-) was uncharacteristically rudderless. He looked tired, deflated, defeated throughout the game. He made Whiteside look like the second coming of Wilt Chamberlain, and while nobody was expecting for Enes to match Hassan’s athleticism, at least we hoped that he would outhustle the notoriously inconsistent Heat center. Tonight, that was not the case. I don’t remember the last time Kanter provided so little in terms of everything. Let’s just hope it’s not a trend, since the early symptoms were already showing in Milwaukee.
– Mario Hezonja (13 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -3 +/-) went back to bad Mario in this game. He started pretty fine, hitting a couple threes in the first stanza. Apart from that, I’m not sure I saw him bend his legs even once. He looked like those passive-aggressive partners that takes out for dinner after you scold them for not caring about you enough to wine and dine, and then proceed to order half the menu just to throw in your face that they can do those things, it’s you that don’t care about their potential. Just as they will end up throwing away a lot of uneaten food, Mario threw away many shots so carelessly that it seemed he didn’t even want them to tickle the twine. His shooting line for the night: 4/15 from the field, 2/8 from three in 22 minutes. I hoped Milwaukee could be a turning point in his season; I can tell you it won’t be. I fear Mario will be back playing in Europe before 2021 rolls around.
Fun-sized bits (not so fun tonight):
– Tim Hardaway Jr played his usual mediocre game, tallying 14 points on 40% shooting and posting a -21 plus/minus. It’s the second time in a row that he post a -20 or worst plus/minus. I don’t care very much about plus/minus in itself, as it’s incredibly noisy, but I think we’re onto something here. Here’s his NetRtg trend: 22.9, 1.1, -3.8, -32.3, -42.0. If accountability is what Fiz’s aiming for, Tim should be in for some adjustments.
– Lance pulled down 6 rebounds and scored 6 points, and did absolutely nothing else. I feel this has to be the moment when I recall the “He’s gonna be our Draymond Green” Fizdale quote and I urge you to question the sanity of coach Fiz. Also, given the commendable rebounding prowess of Dotson, why are not giving Dot the chance to start at PF?
– Then again, I remember Fiz also said “Emmanuel, we gonna fix you!” to Mudiay, and fix him they did: if he’s not playing he’s a better basketball player than he could be if he stepped on the court.
– Ron Baker is borderline unplayable in nights like these. 19 minutes of play, 1 steal, 1 missed field goal attempt, -13 +/-. Another reason to move Trey to the bench and try Frank as our starting PG. Ron’s PIE for the season is -2.8, good for seventh worst in the whole league (more than 10 mpg). I love his effort and that’s documented, but I can’t wrap my head around his contract.
– Third quarter: Knicks 20, Heat 45. Yikes.
– In the second quarter it was already evident that this game was going to end up in an ass-beating. We were tied while shooting the lights out from three points and getting to line just twice in 24 minutes. It wasn’t sustainable at all.
– Mitch was a welcome sight. 4 points, 3 boards (all on the offensive glass), 1 block. His athleticism is off the charts and he is clearly going to distil every minute he’s given. I hope Fiz finds a way to make him play 8-10 mpg on a regular basis. We need to develop him, as he might be our best young player in a couple years.
– The high note of the evening must have been a back and forth conversation between Mike Breen and Clyde where they tried to remember correctly the names and composition of the Flintstones families, right after Bam Adebayo entered the game (apparently he got his nickname after the super strong son of Barney and Betty). Hearing those two talk about a cartoon melt my heart a little. God bless them for making every potentially unbearable Knick night a little gem, everytime.
Well, I guess our dog days aren’t over, as we’re set to face the Warriors on Friday night. I don’t care for wins, but I fully expect a much better effort than tonight (and some minor tweaks in the rotation, especially in the starting five).
See you soon!