At last, a game where something akin to basketball happened with regard to the Knicks. Apart from the final score (that looks like it was ripped from 2005, in a League that’s been seeing the highest score average since… last year? No but seriously, this season is still seeing teams average 110.3 PPG, and without 2018-19 that would be the highest average since I was a kid, in 84-85), there were a few intense moments here. Most important of all, some of the protagonists were the youngsters, and not just the merc du jour who gets hot but won’t have any impact whatsoever on the outcome down the road in 2022 or so.
If was a game of two halves, with the Knicks gaining a comfortable lead in the first and then surrendering it in the second half (first lead for the Sixers after the 2-0 start: 67-66 on an Embiid free throw with just 1:25 to play in the third), which led to the obvious final result – a loss – because when things get dire it’s everyone for themselves and even when the ball finds a shooter on the corner the Friday Night Knicks legacy intervenes and makes a career .378 three point shooter miss everything by a foot and a half, setting the table for one of the most bonkers sequence of the year; I have to describe it just so you can understand the level of absurdity correlated with Fizdale’s tenure here.
Down 93-99 with 16.9 seconds to play (and after a timeout), the Knicks gave the ball to Randle at the top of the key to let him create something from the dribble*. Randle kinda beat his man, Tobias Harris, and went for the objectively useless layup, which would have put the Knicks down four with 12 seconds to play. Usually, in this type of scenario, shooting a three is the only choice available, since there’s so little time that cutting the lead to four is the epitome of the good job, good effort kid meme. Of course the Knicks chose this after a timeout. Inexplicably, Tobias Harris chose to contest the layup and fouled Randle, who went on to score and therefore gained the opportunity to cut the lead to three, giving the Knicks a puncher’s chance to tie the game if, for example, they’d have tried to go for the steal and the miracle three. I don’t need to tell you that these things happen, you just have to watch a TNT live feed with Kevin Harlan to be reminded of that by his awful color commentator. Well, ok. So here’s Randle at the line. By the way, Harris fouling Randle on that layup elicited in Mike Breen the same kind of astonishment you’d probably feel if someone stuffed your Thanksgiving turkey with lavender scented styrofoam. But anyway, I digress. Here’s Randle at the line. The most sensible choice there would have been to try to score, right? Ha! You’re not that familiar with Fizdale magic, it seems. Going totally against the current and the common sense, Fizdale urged Randle to miss the free throw, hoping for the Knicks to get an offensive board and… what? They would have been still down four!
Let me put my math teacher hat for a moment (I know, not all things are equal and I should probably conduct a deep research on Cleaning the Glass or something like that, and even then I’d come away with very empiric results, but bear with me, alright? It’s a terribly flawed calculation but it serves its purpose): solely based on this season, the chance that Randle intentionally hits a free throw is roughly 63%. Now the score is down three, and the Knicks have to come up with a steal (roughly 6.5%) and then hit a three (conservatively 28% – the Knicks are shooting 37% for the year but it probably would have been a contested, weird looking shot). It all adds up to a probability of 1.15% of tying the game. With Randle missing the free throw, you’re looking at the Knicks needing to secure an offensive board (26%), hitting a three (28%) and then steal the ball (same 6.5%) and make a two (not conservatively 45%) to win the game or hitting two twos to tie the game. You’re left with a 0.2% chance to win the game or a 0.3% chance to tie the game. Essentially, you’re betting on the strategy that gives you a 0.5% chance of a positive outcome instead of the one that gives you a 1.15% to do pretty much the same.
I’d looooove to play poker with Fiz.
Anyway, the Sixers grabbed the board and we lost.
*I’m so tired of writing this sentence.
– Marcus Morris (20 pts, 7 rebs, 1 blk, +8 +/-) is giving the Knicks almost everything they thought they would be getting when they signed him. I say almost because you’re insane if you think he’ll sustain this level of marksmanship for the season from three, but you’re not so insane if you think that his 2P% isn’t necessarily due to rise up a lot. What I’m saying, basically, is that his currently commendable .578 TS% is unrealistically buoyed by his unprecedented three point shooting prowess in the last few games (19/27), while his ugly two point shooting is very probably caused by the amount of hero ball Fizdale’s lack of offensive sets and imagination inflicts on him – not that Mook looks like he’s not liking the chance to play like that. If you ask me, I think his percentages by the end of the season will be something like 42/37/84, which aren’t bad but not the kind of numbers that spell out high efficiency (unless you’re James Harden and shoot like that on a monster volume of three pointers and free throws). I would have loved to see Marcus plugged into a coherent system as a Knick. I’m having trouble liking him because of his general demeanor, but a guy who defends in a capable manner and takes and sometimes hits the right shots will always have a place in my heart. Sadly he’s being used like he’s being subjected to the “Gonna fix you, Mudiay” treatment. Anyway, he played a nice game and he’s succeeding at looking dependable even in this mess. If these guys don’t trade him asap, they’re complete buffoons.
– RJ Barrett (18 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, +9 +/-) was good Rowan Jr last night apart form the foul trouble. He scored efficiently, he sort of worked as a primary option down the stretch and even fooled Embiid on a couple drives. I’m fairly convinced that if we had three or four sets where we run him through screens to secure a mismatch on the perimeter, or make him backdoor cut, or post him up against smaller and weaker defenders he’d already be a handful. Right now he’s a sinusoid of good and bad offense without so much of a middle ground. It has to be expected from a rookie, but looking at him and Mitch you’re left wondering if we’re already wasting time. A lot of time. You know what I’m talking about.
– Dennis Smith Jr. (3 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, -12 +/-) is being misused and used too much at the same time. While I like the idea of playing him and Frank in the same lineup, playing him and Barrett is surefire recipe for failure, and since Barrett is very clearly the superior player, that means you have to alternate the two, which usually results in him being left on the court with Portis and Ellington (or Dotson) so that the defense turn into a crumbling dam – and exposes Mitch to even more foul trouble. In short: I hope Elfrid Payton comes back really soon. It’s not time to cut bait on DSJ, but this year he’s been simply abysmal. If this is who he is, try Kadeem Allen.
– Let’s talk a bit about Mitch. This was probably the most futile he’s been on offense since his NBA debut (1/5 from the field, 0/4 from the floor) and of course he fouled out, but even then he refuses to be a net negative. Yeah, he blocked two shots, but there were times in the first half when his presence on the court really made a difference on defense even without numbers popping up in the box score. If only we could figure out a way to have him on the court at least 24 minutes every game… But then again you remember the FO probably views him as the fourth best in-house prospect and your soul starts playing My heart will go on on a panflute made by tears and regrets.
– On the other hand, Frank had a pretty encouraging (if again slightly inefficient) performance. 13 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal but two crucial plays down the stretch that he probably wouldn’t have the confidence to make last year. Not a point guard? Ok. Probably. The same Frank? Nah, definitely.
– We started the game well. You what was happening in the first quarter? We gave the ball to Randle down low. That’s not a certain recipe for success, but it’s waaaay better that whatever else we try to do with him. Give him the ball down low, let him be double if it happens, and watch some nugget of beautiful ball movement. Or give him the ball more than 16 feet from the cup and let him improvise, put that thing in the microwave for 90 seconds, stir it and enjoy a flurry of turnovers and clogged offensive sets.
– Oh yes! Julius scored 22 points, grabbed 10 boards and dished 4 assist (while turning the ball over 4 times). Randle’s counting stats have on me the same effect of R-rated material after your 15th birthday: you know it’s not the real thing, so you stop considering it rad and just get over with it.
– No Knox today. The Dungeon is real (and for once very earned, not that probably anyone ever coached him on the right way to defend). Daily reminder that in order to avoid the dreaded tank we ended up drafting at the ninth spot in a draft where there were at least three amazing future players and a current superstar. Nice one.
Another loss, and the clock probably ticks faster for Fizdale. Well, the sooner the better.