Quick: when was the last time you felt this good about the potential of our team? I think it has to be when KP was posting 30ppg to start the 2017-18 season and things looked rosy (and possibly unsustainable).
While it looks that everytime we play the Spurs at MSG we put on our best face, it was tremendously refreshing to see this team perform well and to see some pieces click together so nicely (DSJ-Dotson-Mitch, especially). I feared DSJ was able to connect only with DeAndre Jordan, probably because they had already played 40-something games together: well, this game proved me wrong, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Other things to be happy about: 37 three point attempts and 25 assists are quite a gaudy number for this team. Sadly, apart from DSJ (more on him later), the only player who tallied more than 2 assists was Noah Vonleh, who was probably the worst Knick on the court last night.
I also have to say that I don’t remember a Spurs team so pedestrian. As you might know, since I made no mystery of it through my years as a commenter on this blog, the Spurs are my second team (mostly thanks to my Manu roots) in the NBA, so I watched a lot of Spurs basketball in the last 15 years. Apart from the Richard Jefferson iteration, I can’t remember a Spurs team playing so deflated and kinda out of sync. I know they’re missing their two point guards, but wow, they’re not positioned well for the immediate future. There’s a real chance they end up missing the playoffs this year. I say this because, while this was a good win for the aforementioned reasons (plus some that will be highlighted in the usual sections), we didn’t beat a great opponent, merely an adequate one. It’s good anyway, since we’re a very bad team, but these are not your typical Spurs.
A brief summary of the game: after a heated battle in the first quarter, we emerged victorious at the end of that period on a score of 30-26. From there on, we never relinquished the lead, that at some point ballooned to over 20 points. Heroes were everywhere to be found through the night, with even Lance Thomas harnessing for a game some of his latent basketball skills such as “putting the ball in the hoop” and “snatching some boards”. In the fourth quarter we let the Spurs have a taste of our own fake comeback medicine, but a steady shooting night from Dotson never let the dam crumble down, plugging holes at the most delicate times. We escaped with a comfortable win and, honest to god, it was soul-soothing to see Mitch and the kids finally smile a bit.
– Damyean Dotson (27 pts, 5 rebs, 2 ast, +14 +/-) played one of his best games as a Knick and did pretty much what we should ask of him every single game: get open on the perimeter, grab a few boards, don’t surrender on defense. He won’t knock down 61,5% of his threes everytime, but if he is the 37% shooter from three that he looks to be he’ll be a nice contributor with a real point guard at the helm. With last night outing, Dot became just the 11th Knicks player all-time to hit at least 8 threes in a game. You know who isn’t on the list? THJ, that’s who. Getting rid of little Chuck had really some merits. Also, it was time a guy shot 13 mostly assisted threes in a game. It’s 2019, basketball has evolved, and if you don’t have credible volume threats catching and shooting from the perimeter, things won’t be goink well. Man, I miss Danilo Gallinari.
– Mitchell Robinson (15 pts, 14 rebs, 1 ast, +7 +/-) has, among a lot of good things going for him, a trait that makes me think he will be a surefire top-5 center for a long time: he develops, almost in real time. He had a few glaring flaws entering the season: fouling too much, shooting badly his free throws, being mediocre at defensive rebounding. Can you say, with a straight face, that he hasn’t improved a lot in just half a season? In the month of February (aka the Kanter-free portion of the season) he’s grabbing 8.3 boards, shooting 69% from the line while “only” fouling 2.9 times per game in 21.5 minutes. I won’t bore you with basic per-36 projections, but suffice to say that he’s already addressed a lot of things that would have slowed his rise to dominance in the League. I’m also changing my stance about including him in a trade for AD: just don’t. He’s probably the best contract in the League by a long mile among the non-max ones, and he can only keep improving. I already see in him things that we were only hopeful to see in KP. To me, Mitch has become totally untradeable (unless it’s for Giannis, Embiid or maybe Zion).
– Dennis Smith Jr. (19 pts, 6 rebs, 13 ast, +10 +/-) stuffed the stat sheet last night, and did so while never turning the ball over, leaving that dubious honor to Mudiay. His game has still a lot of flaws, particularly in the shooting department (sometimes it looks like he’s shooting in claymation), but there’s no denying that he shows all the signs of potentially becoming a goodish PG, which is the most we ever dreamed to ask of him. If he can stop jumping in the air while passing (something he never did last night, and it showed in the TO column) and keeps on finding open guys here and there I’m totally ok giving him the keys to the Knicks car. The most amazing athletic sequence of the night, that came with the game already decided but was nevertheless greatly satisfying – a predaceous steal in the passing lanes that led to a backboard alley-oop to Mitch – also showed an important trait to search for in a PG: the joy and the instinct to make plays for other people, especially big man. Hubie Brown always says that you have to reward the big man that covers for you on defense, and boy is he right. With that alley-oop, Dennis did the right thing for the team and for the audience. Good boy.
– Noah Vonleh (3 pts, 3 rebs, 3 ast, +5 +/-) is looking more and more out of sorts. I understand the need to play him a bit with DeAndre Jordan sidelined; what I don’t understand is how is it even possible that this guy is the same I dubbed the Knicks 2018/19 MVP for a few months. He’s turned into a pumpkin and I don’t know why. His season numbers still aren’t that bad, but his WP/48 cratered and went under .100. Right know he doesn’t have a place in the offense, other than jacking shots from the perimeter and trying a couple old-school baby hooks in the general vicinity of the hoop. On defense, he looks unfocused. Last night he had a chance to shine a bit more but was simply terrible. Apart from the assists, it seemed he and Lance Thomas exchanged bodies before the game.
– Kevin Knox had the second double-double of his career. Generally speaking, he played an ordinary game, but you take what you can get. Still not a good basketball player. Also, his fouls are really, really stupid. A foul on DeRozan for an easy and-one and two (!) fouls on three point shooters? Come on, man. On the other side, his lob for Mitch was very pretty.
– Let’s talk a bit about Mudiay. In his second game after the shoulder injury, he scored well against the Spurs second unit (19 points on 10 shots, definitely not bad at all). Sadly, the team just doesn’t play as a team with him as a the leading ball-handler. Case in point: he played more or less 10 minutes with Mitch on the court. He never, never, never, passed him the ball. Like, you have this 7’1″ athletic marvel and you can’t bother/are not able to throw a lob to him, even if the man rolled correctly after the pick? Sorry, but Mud shouldn’t be playing ahead of Kadeem Allen.
– Speaking of Kadeem: I hope he isn’t playing because management did the math about the 45-day thing, and not because Mudiay is suddenly available. This would be like being cash strapped, having both a Prius (owned) and a Hummer (leased, with the leasing due to expire in a few months), and still going around with the gasoline-chugging Hummer just because it was cool in 2015.
– I’m ok with not playing Kornet after his brutal recent stint (I’m not ok with playing Lance Thomas instead, but whatever). That said, why did we hand a 45-day contract to a guy we knew would suck and we almost never played, instead opting to sign Ellenson to play spot PF minutes? 45-day contracts failures are pretty inconsequential, but Hicks was a big failure from the start.
– This was the second time in Lance Thomas’s whole career when he scored at least 16 points and grabbed at least 7 boards (the other was a 2015 game against the Hornets where he went for 16 and 8). This guy played 373 games in the NBA and gets paid 7 million dollars to vanish from the court night after the night. He’s the real heir to David Copperfield. Very nice game last night, though.
– John Jenkins is another guy I hope to see more alongside DSJ, not Mudiay. The man is a sniper, but needs the ball in the right spots, otherwise he’s useless. Mudiay wouldn’t be able to pass the ball in the right spots to Antetokounmpo.
– Rebecca Haarlow (who’s looking better by the day, I don’t know how) with a disturbing snippet from the last game against the Wolves: “Mudiay asked coach Fizdale if he could keep on shooting or if he’d be better passing the ball to his teammates: Fiz told him ‘If you’re hot, just keep shooting!'”. Fizdale’s approach to offense is a Russian Doll-like loop of facepalms, only (spoiler alert – but watch the show! Russian Doll is very good and Natasha Lyonne is great, even if the ending is so-so) we find ourselves in front of a depressing loss after every mistake and not in front of a sink after every death.
– At a certain point in the second half, we called a timeout. Right after the timeout the ball was inbounded in the wrong halfcourt, resulting in a halfcourt violation. I’m (mildly) colorblind, and I’m better at solving Rubik’s cubes in my sleep than Fiz is at making plays in the huddle.
A really reinvigorating win, this one was. And I liked it, because the minutes allocation were good, if not optimal. See you on Tuesday, when we’ll test our mettle against the Magic. I hope we see another 30 minutes of Mitch, and less of Mudiay.
PS: I wasn’t able to recap the last game because I was busy with the semifinals of that singing contest. It’s likely I passed the round, I’ll know more today. If that’s what will happen, there will be some Finals atmosphere around here come April :D