A tale of two halves, more or less. The first one was quite good, the second one was atrocious. This brings again a lot of questions about Fizdale as a coach (compounded by the baffling quote about not knowing who was gonna start after he learned of Mudiay’s shoulder injury – I mean, really? Are you telling me an entire professional coaching staff doesn’t have a lot of set options, ordered by whatever criteria, to go to when someone gets injured/incapacitated? They’re implementing this stuff in the NBA2K games since, what, 2009? And people who get actually paid to do that job don’t know for sure what to do in a season where there’s no reason whatsoever to employ smokescreens?).
Granted, Frank’s foul trouble is not on the coaching staff, so they had to adjust on the fly with what they had. But how come that 47 games in there’s not even a splinter of offensive coherence in this team? Tanking is okay, we’re saying this since day one (actually, since 2014-15 and maybe even before), but this is essentially a lost season in terms of building something. And it’s not like they don’t have pieces to build upon. Those pieces may suck, but they’re in place. It’s one thing to not being able to play Mitch because he shows himself out of a game with six fouls: it’s another to play him just 17 minutes in a game where Lance Thomas played 27 as the nominal four and Mitch commits just 2 fouls. Would it have been that difficult to swap minutes allotted, playing Mitch at the five and Vonleh at four for ten minutes, especially considering that defensive rebounding is the worst part of Mitch’s game and Vonleh can account for that? We’re not playing for anything. There’s no reason at all to play Lance 27 minutes. If you don’t want to play Kanter (and I agree with this) you should just call up Hicks, who’s terrible but on a two-way contract, and give him some minutes until Kornet comes back. Or sign Anthony Bennett and play him. Also, we put THJ on the trading block (haha, good joke) and then we play him 40 minutes and he proceeds to shoot 2 for 14, while bitching repeatedly with his teammates? Why in the hell would we want to do that? And that bitching thing is a bit disturbing, for two possible reasons. The first: THJ has been invested as the leader of this team – for no apparent motive – and thinks he can act like he’s Michael Jordan or Kobe. Ok, he’s bitching for good reasons, and the Trier Twitter DM debacle doesn’t look good, but is he setting any sort of positive model on the court for those kids? He chucks useless shots from the perimeter without any regard for team play. And the second: if THJ has been appointed as the leader, why do you put him on the trading block? Tanking seasons are difficult matters to manage and to behold, but that should come out of hardship, not out of utter confusion, which is what seems to permeate this team from Guitar Jimmy to every talking head not named Breen or Frazier.
I realize now that I’ve spent more than 500 words and have said pretty much nothing about this game. It’s a bit hard to say something about it, not because it wasn’t good (I mean, it wasn’t, but the first half was entertaining enough), but because I don’t know what we were trying to do. Frank can’t play because of fouls, enter Trey Burke, who scores 25 points but chucks from midrange and fails to get anyone involved. Vonleh is on fire in the first quarter, so we run exactly zero plays for him and he ends up shooting 11 threes because there’s no one cutting to pass the ball to (fun fact: before the Curry/Harden revolution – let’s say until 2016/17 – that has encouraged everyone and their mom to shoot from three, there were exactly 42 instances in NBA history of a PF/C, C/PF or C shooting at least 11 threes in a game. No Knick player in that list. In the last season and a half, there were 17 instances of the same occurrence. Still no Knick player in that list until last night. In short: no one ever thought to make KP rain hell from three as it was his destiny to do, even smack dab in the middle of the revolution. How’s it goink?). Mitch wreaks havoc on lobs/interior passes, yet Trier is the only one who seems capable of giving him the ball where he wants. Trier comes off a career night (and a PR blunder), looks positively healthy, and ends up attempting only 6 field goals because another ball dominant guard hijacks the offense. Nobody seems to be able to think that sometimes you should funnel the action to your first round pick in good situations, and he ends up with a bricktastic line – but still better than THJ! – just four games after his hope-inducing scoring output against Philly.
I’ll say it again: it makes no sense to fire the coaching staff during such a season. I will never advocate for it. But I can’t be the only one who’s seeing glaring flaws in all of Fizdale’s work until now. I liked him and I still do from time to time – especially when he utter genuinely funny quips to the press – but I predict he’s gonna be canned by January 2020, because next year will show how much this one was a lost season. If that’s so, maybe it would be better for the front office to carefully evaluate this year’s performances and pull the plug during the summer (that is unless we strike gold in the lottery and/or we sign two marquee free agents, which seems very unlikely. In that case Fiz’s reputation as a players’ coach might come in handy).
Since last night there was no really good player (I refuse to acknowledge Burke’s 25 points, 5 assists, 2 steals but no defense and no team play – no matter what the scoreboard says about assists – as one, and Vonleh posted an uncharacteristically Kanteresque empty double-double that to my eyes doesn’t count as one) and the bad ones have pretty much already been singled out in my previous rant, I’ll go directly to the cringe-sized bits:
– First of all: Frank, my dear boy, how many opportunities do you think you can squander like this? If you’ve seen the game, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t (and I praise you for that, only real junkies can keep up with every Knicks game as of now), I’ll tell you that at least 4 of his 6 fouls were dumb. If defense is your calling card, and honestly it is, since ball handlers actively get troubled by Frank coverage, you can’t foul like that, just getting your hands on someone’s body parts. Nights like these make me question not only Ntilikina’s offensive IQ, but his defensive one too. He played a good game, to be fair. 4 points, 4 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block. But he can’t keep losing playing time thanks to stupid fouls in favor of the Mudiays and Burkes of this world, especially with Fizdale at the helm.
– I was ready to salute Noah Vonleh’s well-deserved career night after the first quarter (14 points on 6-for-8, getting Jarrett Allen in foul trouble very early) but he caught the chucking bug, so ok, Noah, here’s a toast to your career-high in points, but don’t make me see you play like this again. You’re the only one I liked for 47 straight games. Don’t give up on your inner nature.
– Knox is back to early season Knox. Nobody is passing him the ball in the rights spots (maybe Frank sometimes?). He rushes horrible floaters and doesn’t even get in transition that much. Our rebounding futility might have something to do with that, but doesn’t tell the whole story. There were a bunch of Knicks fastbreaks last night, thanks to 12 steals. Usually, those are Knox’s favorite situations; last night he was nowhere to be found. He committed a team-high 4 TOs, and at least two of them were so predictable I foresaw him at least three seconds before they occurred. He also seems more fatigued, as he jumps less. Is it possible that all those minutes are already weighing on him?
– You know the book on Mitch. I want to see more of him. I hate I didn’t on a night where he didn’t get into foul trouble. He needs reps. I fully blame the coaching staff on this. In limited minutes, Mitch is first among rookies having played at least 200 minutes in: WS/48 (.164 to Ayton’s .148 in second place), TS% (.664 to Ayton’s .619 in second place), eFG% (guess who’s second), DBPM (5.0 to Bamba’s 3.0 in second place), BPM (5.3 to Luka’s 3.5 in second place), BLK% (9.5 to Bamba’s 7.3 in second place; Mitch is back in leading the whole NBA in this statistic, not only rookies) and is third in VORP (1.0 to Luka’s 2.1 and Ayton’s 1.2). If you don’t play him the most he can, and surely he can play more than 17 minutes, you’re a pathetic excuse for a coaching staff. Sorry, rant over. For now.
– Allonzo is pretty good too, now that he’s healthy/has realized the second year of his contract is a team option (just kidding: I blame myself for having ever thought his problems were contingent on post-contract laziness). 13 points on 6 shots, 2 steals, 2 assists for Mitch, so-so but almost passable defense. Even after his play cratered for a while after the injury, he’s still 8th among rookies having played at least 200 minutes in TS% (amazingly, Knox is not last in that category: behind Kevin there are six such rookies. The bad news is that other than Grayson Allen, none of them were selected in the first round, and two of them went undrafted).
– In the first quarter there was a honey-sweet possession where Frank dished a bounce pass to Lance cutting to the rim that led to a thunderous slam by Thomas. It was like seeing two of your friends that are usually super awkward around girls/boys walk away from the disco with two smoking hot ladies/guys, even if just for one night.
And now we’re up for the Dwyane Wade retirement tour. Miami is a weird team since LeBron left, so it might be a trap game for the tank. As long as Mitch plays at least 25 and Frank shows something, I might take it.