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Saturday, December 20, 2014

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.

18 comments on “Notes from Knicks @ Bulls

  1. nicos

    Great Stuff Kevin! I’d agree that Timo’s going to have to step it up if he wants to stay in the rotation. On Douglas- at times his D was great- 4 steals- but like with Wall in the preseason, he played Rose way too tight. In the third Rose just blew by him at will. And while it was clearly the Knick’s strategy to push Rose baseline, Douglas surrendered the baseline so easily the bigs had no time to rotate and challenge the shot. Look, I know Rose is one of the quickest guys with the ball in the league and hit enough jumpers in the game that Toney couldn’t sag off too far but Douglas has to realize there are going to be guys (Rondo, Wall, Westbrook, Rose) who he just can’t crowd. It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with Wall tonight.

  2. Kevin McElroy Post author

    Nicos,

    Toney was asked about Wall post-game last night. He said that with so many great young points in the league, he loved the challenge of having to shut them down on a nightly basis and that he was definitely looking forward to facing Wall.

    I do agree with you though — Wall is a guy he absolutely can not crowd even if it’s based out of a desire to be tenacious. The good thing is that Wall’s jumper is clearly a work in progress so he shouldn’t have to be so worried about conceding some space.

  3. Thomas B.

    Very nice. You think the TrueHoop network can get me a shot at this when the Knicks play in DC?

  4. Kevin McElroy Post author

    Nick,

    On a night when I was really impressed with how uniformly nice every single person I spoke to was, Turiaf stood out. Just a great guy — you can tell his teammates love him and he was great with the press as well. Two Turiaf highlights:

    1) I walked into the Knicks locker room for the first time having never interviewed a pro athlete and Turiaf looked the least busy. I walked over to him and kind of nervously whispered, “Hey Ronny, do you have a minute?” He responds, “Yeah, just wait a sec” and starts fiddling with his cell phone. I wait patiently and then he stops pressing buttons and shows me the display on his phone: it’s the stopwatch function, which he has just set for one minute.

    “OK,” he said, smirking, “you only asked for a minute, so that’s all you get.” Totally put me at ease and allowed me to go about the rest of the evening much more comfortably.

    2) After the game, a throng of 10-15 writers had formed around Toney Douglas’ locker waiting for an interview. Douglas was rushing to get dressed and pack up his bag so he could talk to the media and then go home. Turiaf, 3 lockers away, kept going “Hey TD…TD…I think somebody wants to talk to you TD. Hey TD! Somebody wants to talk to you!” Just a great vibe coming from this group and Turiaf certainly seems to be a part of that.

  5. Nick C.

    great vignettes…its hard to picture some of the previous crews being that way but then again I never met them.

  6. hoolahoop

    NEWS NOTICE:
    Isiah Thomas interview at 6:20PM on AM1050 (espn radio).

    He was interview by Michael Kaye for close to an hour on AM1050 this afternoon. The interview will be replayed again at 6:20PM.

  7. Mike Kurylo

    Kevin McElroy:

    After the game, a throng of 10-15 writers had formed around Toney Douglas’ locker waiting for an interview.Douglas was rushing to get dressed and pack up his bag so he could talk to the media and then go home.Turiaf, 3 lockers away, kept going “Hey TD…TD…I think somebody wants to talk to you TD.Hey TD!Somebody wants to talk to you!”Just a great vibe coming from this group and Turiaf certainly seems to be a part of that.  

    I’m confused, was this a joke about TD being a wanted man by the reporters, or Turiaf trying to get him off the hook pretending TD was needed elsewhere?

  8. hoolahoop

    Kevin, I used to publish a local sports/fitness magazine “SportsCity NY”. The first pro locker room I ever went into was the Knicks. I was nervous and started by going over to guys that were by themselves. I couldn’t believe how nice all the players treated me. They were a bunch of happy, goofy guys. I thought Greg Anthony would be mean based on how aggressive he played and how the media portrayed him. He was the nicest guy. They all were. I interviewed the whole team except for the one guy that was “inaccessible” – Patrick Ewing.

  9. nicos

    It’s only four games in but you already understand why so many Golden State fans seemed so sorry to see Turiaf leaving. In the last thread someone mentioned the play where Turiaf missed a lay up and then got super excited when Gallo put the follow back in- what was great about that was that it wasn’t a particularly important basket in the game but Turiaf clearly was well aware how important it is to get Gallo going and get his confidence up. Now all the rah-rah stuff in the world isn’t going to help much if your team stinks (it sure didn’t help Golden State last year) but I do think it really helps the middle of the pack teams- keeping everyone together, focused and energized can maybe get you an extra couple of wins and make the difference between making the playoffs or not. Of course he’s also played pretty well on both ends of the floor which helps even more!

  10. hoolahoop

    Michale Kaye grills Isiah with all the tough questions (about coming back to the Knicks and the NBA, Larry Brown, Marbury, Magic blocking him from the Olympic team, etc.) Interesting interview. But when it’s over, yes, you will really be tired of Isiah.

  11. ess-dog

    nicos: It’s only four games in but you already understand why so many Golden State fans seemed so sorry to see Turiaf leaving.In the last thread someone mentioned the play where Turiaf missed a lay up and then got super excited when Gallo put the follow back in- what was great about that was that it wasn’t a particularly important basket in the game but Turiaf clearly was well aware how important it is to get Gallo going and get his confidence up.Now all the rah-rah stuff in the world isn’t going to help much if your team stinks (it sure didn’t help Golden State last year) but I do think it really helps the middle of the pack teams- keeping everyone together, focused and energized can maybe get you an extra couple of wins and make the difference between making the playoffs or not.Of course he’s also played pretty well on both ends of the floor which helps even more!  

    I don’t know if Turiaf has improved his overall game over this summer, but it does seem that he fits better into this system than Nellie’s. In D’Antoni’s system, bigs actually get a chance to pass more and he’s playing next to Amar’e instead of Biedrins… meaning he’ll get open looks and high percentage shots b/c he’s the “defensive” big. Hopefully he can continue to make teams pay for doubling Amar’e, and yes, the timing on his shotblocking is as good as advertised. Glad that he’s doing well after a slow pre-season start.

  12. Ted Nelson

    ess-dog: it does seem that he fits better into this system than Nellie’s. In D’Antoni’s system, bigs actually get a chance to pass more and he’s playing next to Amar’e instead of Biedrins… meaning he’ll get open looks and high percentage shots b/c he’s the “defensive” big.

    I don’t know that this is fair… His ast/36 in GS was pretty much identical to this young season. He was a solidly efficient scorer in GS. Turiaf almost never played with Biedrins in GS. They played the same spot.

    Obviously he’s doing really well through 4 games, but I don’t know that you can credit it on a change in coach. The biggest change is probably that he’s not turning the ball over: 1 TO in almost 100 minutes… And honestly, as much as I doubt Amare finishes the season with a PER under 10 and a WS/48 under zero… I also doubt Ronny boy finishes at 21 and over .200. I hope so, but I just doubt it.

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