Notes from Knicks @ Bulls
I’m planning a more analytical piece for Monday but for now I just thought I’d pass along a few notes. Thanks to some help from the TrueHoop Network, I was able to get a press credential to do the Daily Dime Live in the press box at last night’s game. This afforded me the opportunity to spend some time with the Knicks players and coaching staff before and after the game.
-Before the game, I asked Mike D’Antoni about Randolph’s eventual place in the rotation once he gets up to speed and, more specifically, where he expected Randolph’s minutes to come from in an already deep rotation. D’Antoni stressed that Randolph’s spot was far from guaranteed and that he would only earn significant minutes on the merits of his play. He was, however, adamant that Randolph was a big — not a wing, and that he would be able to play the 4 next to Mozgov or Turiaf or the 5 next to Amare or Chandler. D’Antoni didn’t say anything like this but, if I were a gambling man, I would bet on that being bad news for Mozgov if he doesn’t get up to speed quickly.
-I also asked D’Antoni about his plans for defending Derrick Rose, since his preference last year was to lean heavily on defensive Swiss-army-knife (and offensive Swiss cheese) Jared Jeffries for those duties. I thought that he might consider using Randolph the same way, but D’Antoni said that they would start off traditionally with Douglas and Felton taking turns on Rose and only stray from that path if it wasn’t successful. Well, it wasn’t particularly successful — Rose was generally able to get to the rim at will and established a new career high in assists with 14. However, Tom Thibodeau’s perplexing decision to confine Rose to the bench as the Bulls cut the deficit in the second half spared D’Antoni the task of having to adjust.
-When asked whether he was surprised as the fourth quarter wore on and Rose remained planted to the bench, D’Antoni laughed, saying “Hey, I’ve got enough on my plate coaching my own team.” Whether or not he was actively thinking about it throughout the fourth, I think D’Antoni was probably OK with Thibodeau’s decision to run the offense through CJ Watson down the stretch.
-I asked Ronny Turiaf whether he embraced his role as the de facto successor to the Knicks’ defense-rebounding-don’t take no $#it teams of the mid-90′s. He said he was flattered if Knicks’ fans viewed him in that light but that he didn’t allow himself to focus on it. He gave an interesting variation of the standard “Just gotta be myself” answer, though, saying that he had parts in his game that he wanted to improve and that if he thought of himself as, for example, Charles Oakley, and not Ronny Turiaf, it would remove the urgency to get better at the things that Ronny Turiaf needs to get better at. He specifically mentioned a desire to improve his passing and, sure enough, he picked up three assists last night. The best of these was a beautiful laser beam of an entry pass that led to a Bill Walker lay-up in the second quarter. When I saw Turiaf after the game and said “Hey, nice pass,” he smiled sheepishly.
-The story of last night’s game was the Knicks’ perimeter shooting and there remains plenty to learn regarding the Knicks newly-formed backcourt. But if I could convey one theme that stood out in everything I heard from the players and coaches, it’s that the roles of point guard and shooting guard on this team are fluid and relatively meaningless. Douglas, Felton, and D’Antonis both Mike and Dan — they all talked about how much they liked having a backcourt where either player could run the point and either player could spot up for threes.
“I’m not a one or a two,” said Douglas “I just think of myself as a guard on this team.”
“Felton plays bigger than he is, which means that we can play them both out there, guard opposing twos, and force the other team’s off-guard to guard one of our point guards,” said Mike D’Antoni.
“Douglas really pressured the ball tonight. It helps to have a 2 who also has point guard skills. And Ray can play the 2 also — they play well together because their both such good defenders,” added Dan D’Antoni.
While the emphasis on defense felt a bit hollow on this night — the Knicks did nearly cough up a 20 point lead, after all — there was no denying the heart of the argument: a Douglas-Felton backcourt presents a combination of playmaking and shooting that will present a major headache for opposing defenses on night’s when they have the hot hand. In the case of last night’s game at the United Center, it was a full-fledged migraine.