Ah, finally, half a gem of a game.
Pretty much all of the first half was as dispirited as they come, with large portions of the first two quarters spent being very bad on the court for a lot of the players. Fizdale changed the starting lineup again, leaving Vonleh as the starting center and inserting Lance Thomas as the starting four. Spoiler alert: they recorded the worst- and second worst-plus/minus of all the players who stepped on the court. I’m not sure why Lance Thomas was called upon to man the four from the start, but alas, I guess – Fizdale magic!
Anyway, after a depressing first half, our Bockers definitely ramped it up in the second half. Threes were falling, the ball was moving and, more importantly, some of our young guns showed fire and desire. It has to be said that Philadelphia is at same time a good team and a very discombobulated one (probably a mix of the asshole/Jimmy Butler effect and a very shallow depth from the bench – seriously, Philly’s bench as of now is McConnell-Shamet-Korkmaz-Bolden-Muscala, which I still prefer though on our starting lineup, no Mudiay or THJ in sight). That being said, the fact that our guys were able to stay in this one and to play some spurts of good defense was a very heart-melting occurrence. The fact that we could have tied the game but we lost instead after such a valiant effort is pure gravy, given that we’re still trying to nab the biggest prize on lottery night.
Before delving into the first good/bad section that I’ll actually have fun writing in, like, more than a month – because games like this should be the gold standard for tanking teams, but it’s obvious that a tanking team like ours is much more likely a horrible sight to behold on a regular basis – let’s take a quick detour about how Embiid has definitely verged into “unsufferable prick” territory from quite a few time, only for the media to keep on gushing on his quirks. While I don’t embrace Clyde’s theory that the headbutt on Kornet at the end of the third quarter was intentional, every other passive-aggressive to full violent thing surely was. I know Kornet is a total nobody for the League, while Embiid if without a doubt a top-5 MVP candidate for the season, but unless some measures are taken the huge Cameroon-born player is gonna transform in a headache for the whole League, and not in the basketball sense (he already is) nor the literal sense (save for the poor seven footer we employ as human trebuchet), but in the disciplinary sense. If Silver and his cohorts don’t monitor with real attention the situation, he’ll find himself with a media darling doing bad things on the court, and the NBA doesn’t need that publicity. So I’d suggest someone try to restrain Embiid’s antics, and I keep on hoping for Kornet to drop 30 on him next time (23 is not bad, though, not at all).
– Ahem. It’s very early to make public amends, but let’s say that I’m not so sure anymore Kevin Knox (31 pts, 7 rebs, 2 stl, +11 +/-) wasn’t the right pick at #9. Don’t let the numbers sway you – actually, let them, but save the thought for later – what I’m talking about is the fact that it’s very apparent that the kid has learned a lot of things since the start of the season. If I had to guess his ceiling, it’s third/fourth piece on a contender, some sort of secondary/tertiary scorer with good range and a big body but a lack of defensive talent who tops at 15/6/2 on 44% from the field. Well, guess what, those players don’t grow on trees. We have every right to be mad that the team didn’t tank properly last year, but we’re losing that right about Knox’s selection, even if the reason given was as lunatic as it gets (the infamous 3-on-3 situation). I like how, game after game, he’s attacking the rim in a very deliberate way. My guess is that he’ll never be super comfortable at scoring at point blank range against tall defenders, but his body control on semi-transition drives has gotten worlds better than when he started the year. I’m very worried about his playing time (come on, 44 minutes are Thibs-level insanity, even if he was pretty good in a lot of aspects this time, even a bit on defense), but maybe, again, Fizdale magic! Get his numbers high through extra-inflated playing time. Anyway, he’s now the 7th youngest player to ever drop 30+ points (the others, in order: LeBron, Durant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Booker, Kobe) and the youngest Knick ever to do so. He’s sixth in PPG for rookies this year (while playing the fifth most MPG, I would have guessed higher). I mean, let’s not get carried away, but the kid has a shot to first-team All-Rookie. It doesn’t mean anything, but at least we probably didn’t squander this year’s lottery pick.
– What would happen if we had a real point guard, or a fungible player – see: anyone who can make passes to the open guy – to feed guys who can shoot the ball like Luke Kornet (23 pts, 5 rebs, 5 ast, +25 +/-)? We caught a glimpse of it last night, especially with Frank, that if open Kornet can really drain it. Rocket Giraffe is a career .387 3-point shooter on 155 attempts, which are a small sample size but not small enough to think it’s a fluke, even without considering his G-League percentages (.448 on 268 attempts). Kornet is the slowest player on the court for the vast majority of his minutes, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know where to stand and, from time to time, how to get to his preferred spots. His athleticism is sub-par for the NBA but not for the type of player he is. I also absolutely loved the fact that when Embiid tried to eradicate his right arm at the end of the third quarter, earning a well-deserved flagrant 1 in the process, he didn’t flinch and went at the line to calmly sink the two freebies. It may be my bias to root for every center who isn’t Kanter on this team, but the man exudes the kind of self-assurance that usually you don’t see in goofy, almost uncoordinated seven footers. He also has nearly limitless range (if anything his misses are long, never Frank-like short) and offers a modicum of rim protection. It’s weird that the three best contributing bigs on the roster are on minimum (or near-minimum) while the most useless one is earning 5 times their three combined salaries. KP is on another stratosphere in terms of overall basketball skills, but there’s no reason not to keep around Kornet to play him to spell Porzingis a bit without any need to recalibrate the game system. Oh, sorry, I forgot. Fizdale magic doesn’t need a game system.
– Joel Embiid is a very bad customer, but Noah Vonleh (3 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, -32 +/-) just wasn’t himself tonight. It happens, I won’t chastise him for that. What I will do, instead, is say that if there is a player against whom Vonleh shouldn’t start at center is Embiid, who is a crafty brute. Noah can handle crafty, long guys (see: Antetokounmpo or Durant) and big, burly guys without a lot of moves (see: pretty much every center he laid his eyes on), but he positively can’t do anything against Embiid, save for fouling hopelessly trying to contain him. Kornet’s stategy, while probably dictated by his non-existent athleticism, was much more useful: stand in place with arms outstretched wishing that a malevolent genie make Embiid miss from 10 feet in. I like Vonleh and you already know that, but he really, really needs to understand that in order to be productive you need to stay on the damn court, even if it means to give up two more uncontested hooks per game to the opposing teams. This team needs him on the court (apart from tonight where he reached -32 plus/minus in 18 minutes; he was a walking disaster).
– Sorry, but it might be time to burn the record file for the entire season of Allonzo Trier (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 blk, -10 +/-). He was horrible last night, 13 minutes of utter suckitude we weren’t even able to fathom from him at the beginning of the season. He lost more than a step on this herky-jerky dribble moves, and doesn’t hit anything for anywhere anymore. It wouldn’t surprise me if dude was let go of in the offseason only to toil in obscurity for a couple years in Brooklyn. It can’t be the injury. It has to be the fact that he’s not hungry anymore. I’m so sad to see this thing go this way. Also, he never defends unless there’s a chance for a chase-down block. He has become the much worse version of THJ since signing that damn contract (which I was pining for).
– Frank returned, and wasn’t half bad! He shot terribly and was able to got a layup blocked by the mighty Mike Muscala even if he had a five feet head start, but the man was engaged and nifty in directing the traffic and defending the PnR. I liked what I saw, even if Frank has to shoot better and quicker. 8 points, 6 assist, 2 steals, 1 block and a nice +10 +/- for the night. More Frank, please.
– The real magic Fizdale worked on Mudiay is to make his raw numbers look better while continuing to be utter trash. Everytime Mudiay plays the half-court offense makes no sense anymore (not that Frank is a directing maestro, but at the very least you know he understands the nuances of a double screen for the shooter on the weak side: Mudiay just barrels into the paint and maybe thinks about it a half-second before tossing a ill-advised turn around jumper from 15 feet). 17 points, a huge three in the waning seconds, the missed potential game-tying three and a lot of suckiness. I really, really, really hope we’re not extending him. At the number 1 in my priority list there’s a capable PG for this team (see the Kornet section): Mudiay is certainly not that and OH GOD I’M SO AFRAID THEY’RE GONNA EXTEND HIM
– Who wants to talk about Lance Thomas? Yeah, I thought so.
– I’m loving Mario and his undeserved new-found absurd confidence, that translates either into a magnificent thread-the-needle pass to Knox in the fourth for an and-one dunk or into a stuporous dunk attempts on the entire Philly defense that ended in the equivalent of a botched Pollock painting.
– Did I really type “I’m loving Mario”?
– Dotson was solid if unspectacular. Second game in a row with 4+ assists. If he can give the ball to the open man there should be no more doubt about him belonging to an NBA average team’s rotation.
– The Knicks pulled within one at the end of the third quarter only to go scoreless for the first 5:57 minutes of the fourth quarter. I sorta liked Frank, but he needs to do better in the half-court sets (are there any? asking for a friend) or I fear he’ll get benched again for a long time.
– Completely unrelated: I was watching also the Denver-Portland game and at a certain point there was an infographic about some charity enterprise in place for the Nuggets. It advised, among other things, to bring a diaper to the next Bulls game (sic). Does this mean that we’re at the point where the Bulls suck so much they cause gastroenteritis?
– Again, unrelated. I don’t know if LeBron is your GOAT or not (he certainly isn’t mine, although it’s maybe anti-recency bias – also called “nostalgia, holy cow I’m feeling old”), but the levels of ugly the Lakers have reached without him makes you really marvel at the impact he can have on any single roster. For sustainable team-building purposes, maybe LeBron is bad, but for actual winning on the court, the King is a cheat code.
See you for the London game! (As I said, I considered going there, but I can’t. It will be another time, maybe… I have to catch a Knicks game live yet)