Phoenix Suns 128 – New York Knicks 110 – Game Recap

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the tank.

Guys, this was such an amazing display of tanking prowess that I’m so proud of our guys. I mean, it was a bit too much on the nose at first. Lance Thomas as your first substitute? After he didn’t play for like a bazillion games? And after he’s Lance Thomas? But it didn’t look like it was enough. After all, these Suns had the worst record in the league prior to this game. We had to do better than that to tank effectively. And we did. We did. We come away from this game with a loss, and it was such a concerted non-effort that it’s becoming evident that this team is gelling. You can’t pull this loss without a collective focus.

Seriously: this is a bit depressing. Not the loss per se, which is (as we all – cough – know) good, but the watching experience is really marred by the multiple injuries to our youngsters. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the only thing that’s worth watching this year is how the first- and second-year players behave, to see who’s a keeper and who’s not. Well, without Mitch, Zo and Dotson, we are a tad short in the excitement department. Knox is getting a biiit better, but it’s hard to bother getting warmed up for two guys who combine for 9 makes on 27 attempts in 67 minutes of play. You know well that I’m a Frank believer, but these should be the games you’re supposed to shine in. It’s hard to lose like this, apart from dreaming about ping-pong balls. I wished for a quality loss, I got the loss, I guess quality is for another time.

The good:

– I hope some GM is watching. Emmanuel Mudiay (32 pts, 6 rebs, 6 ast, -8 +/-) stuffed the stat sheet in many ways while scoring efficiently (32 pts on 21 shots). Perry should put this game* in an envelope and send it to everyone in the league, hoping someone bites. I know, I know. Emmanuel is improving – he really is. But does anyone really envision December Mud being the butterfly emerging out of the stinking cocoon that were his first three years in the League? 20/6/3.5 in 32 minutes on 48/37/84 (his December raw stats) are borderline all-star numbers in a vacuum. His defense is still non-existent, but everything is apparently in place to fool someone into thinking this is the starting point guard they need right now. I hope them fools aren’t us. That said, if you didn’t know any better it would be easy to root for this guy. He’s exuding confidence, getting to his spots, and passing the ball better, as in “making accurate passes”.

* without any mention about his three-point shooting form. This time one of his makes was described by Breen as “a deep floater… (two second pause to check the boxscore in silent bewilderment)… it was for three!”. I can assure it wasn’t pretty in any way.

The bad:

– We have a new aficionado of this portion of the recap. Trey Burke (4 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -2 +/-) is playing like the version of Trey Burke that got kicked out of the League before last season. After his breakout (or swan’s song?) performance against Boston, he never shot better than 25% from the field in any of the subsequent six games he’s played. To be fair, he just got back from an injury. Also to be fair, four of those games were before the injury. His TS% has gone south of .500 and his WS/48 of 0.50 is mediocre (edit: his actual WS/48 is 0.050. I didn’t type a zero). Tonight was another display of ill-thought chucking from midrange. He’s also not being functional at all, in any lineup where he’s called to play. It’s interesting, however, that he’s a better defender than Mudiay, at least in terms of defensive positioning.

– Frank Ntilikina (9 pts, 3 reb, 1 ast, -17 +/-) started with a bang, hitting a goofy running hook shot and his first two three-points attempts. After that, his game was a mess. Booker got the best of him, because even if Frank was able to stay in front of him in most cases Devin just found the right angles to ignore the defensive coverage. Playing with another ball-dominant player shuts down his confidence right after the first missed attempt. You can almost guess his thoughts while he dribbles the ball: “Should I shoot here? Maybe I won’t see the ball for another two minutes… maybe I should drive right… I got it! I’ll call a screener! But no, wait, I’ll probe a little the defense and pull up from the stripe! Or I can try and shoot a three, I was good at math, and 3>2… ok, no, I don’t know what to do, if I miss coach will be angry. I’ll just pass the ball to my right. Next time I will shoot no matter what!”. And sometimes he shoots no matter what, and his body isn’t ready. There was a sequence in the third quarter, with the game tied at 77, where he shot a midrange jumper, missed long, Vonleh got the board, passed to ball again to a wide open Frank in the high post, Frank thought too much and shot short. His shooting form is not consistent and the release looks weak. The guy’s playing scared again, and I hate it.

– Noah Vonleh (3 pts, 7 rebs, 1 ast, -18 +/-) looks like he’s probably running on fumes, which scares me a bit. You know I’ve been pretty vocal about his usefulness to the team, but what if he can’t sustain his production because of simply lacking stamina. He’s been notably much less adaptable on the court in the last two games, and his head is not there on the offensive end. I’d tell myself not to worry about him, but if he plays again a bad game on Wednesday I’ll start thinking that maybe he can’t be good Vonleh for more than 30 games. Who knows? I’m just panicking a bit that the only bright spot outside of our cost controlled assets is slipping a lot. I don’t know how he tallied a game-low -18 in exactly 18 minutes while Kevin Knox, who was good in the first but then vanished only has -2. Noah, get back soon. …well, now, thinking about it, this was exactly the right game for his to stink the bed. Is this tanking Vonleh?

Fun-sized bits:

– No THJ tonight! I didn’t miss him one iota. He’s become our next Melo, in that we’re counting the days until his contract his over while someone swoons over his 20+ ppg on .520  TS%.

– Courtney Lee was passable (12 pts, 4 reb, 5-8 from the field). It’s trade season, we need more from him to try and trade him.

– Kevin Knox is finding his footing. I liked the aggressiveness he used to corral an offensive rebound to put the ball back into the basket in the first quarter. I need to see him display that kind of motor day in and day out to feel like we didn’t completely struck out with his selection. Until then, I’ll try hard not to puke browsing his B-R page.

– Mario with the most useless 14 points ever. Anyway, we didn’t have much at stake by that point, so it’s okay if he plays a bit.

– Enes Kanter with another double-double without effort. Not “an effortless double-double”. A double double where he didn’t put effort into the game. The man breathes, eats and drinks double-doubles, but in the end it never works. His defense and mono-dimensional offense negate whatever contribution he makes to this team. I don’t doubt he has the ability to impact a few specific playoff games. As a player on a bad team, as a starter on a bad team, he’s completely pointless. On a (not) funny sidenote, he had the only block for the night among Knicks. Mitch, where art thou?

– Luke Kornet was out of sorts tonight. He never shot inside the arc and wasn’t a big defensive improvement on Enes, which says a lot.

– Lance Thomas with his usual useless night: just five boards and nothing else in 21 minutes. I’ve never seen such a black hole for stats before, not counting Jason Collins. His negative WS/48 is still better than Knox’s or Frank’s.

And now to Wednesday, where we’ll get crushed by the Sixers in atrocious fashion. Ping-pong balls are our new gods.

 

 

New York Knicks 99 – Indiana Pacers 110 – Game Recap

I had a fever, and the prescription was more zone defense.

A decent loss, nothing to write home about, a game where the Knicks were pretty much always in the mix but couldn’t pull it off when they needed to (not that it mattered, after the win against Charlotte we are in dire need of quality losses – even if I’m not sure if this counts as one). The main new wrinkle in Fiz’s gameplan is a zone defense, which I am partial to, what with being European and all.

My coach used to call the zone “the homeless man defense”, which was accurate in describing how usually – at least in Europe – zone is the last weapon deployed by teams that are simultaneously terrible but scrappy as hell. Problem is, these Knicks aren’t really scrappy. Some of them surely are, but some others are incredibly lackadaisical in terms of effort and willingness to work on the defensive end.

All of this is to say that I’m ok employing some sort of zone defense here and there, because it effectively minimizes the defensive problems of some guys (especially Mudiay), but you can’t throw a zone while playing Kanter and Knox. Kanter just makes me angry on defense. He’s completely uninterested in anything that happens more than a foot from him, so much that opposing players routinely are open under the rim because Enes didn’t care about his area of the zone, but only the small circle around him. It’s like he’s wearing a cloak of invisibility with reverted effects: he can’t see outside of its circle of effect. Knox, on the other hand, looks like he’s trying, but can’t understand for his life where he’s supposed to be and leaves open the corner man over and over again, which is one of the biggest no-no in a 2-3 zone. I won’t delve into details about how Hezonja plays zone defense, because honestly I’m not a coroner.

Anyway, it was good to know that we weren’t able to pull a win out of this mediocre game, zone or no zone. I just got incredibly bored watching this game.

The good:

– Uh, nothing really good here. Emmanuel Mudiay (18 pts, 1 reb, 6 ast, -2 +/-) played a semi-productive game. He’s really learning a bit how to use his big body to take advantage of smaller defenders, which isn’t bad. I don’t like his shot distribution that much – still too many midrange jumpers – but if you can shoot almost always with a completely clear visual because you’re 3 inches taller than your defender, they’re not necessarily bad shots. Or better: they are, but not compared to his three pointers, which looks more and more like a ditched Mortal Kombat choreography for Johnny Cage. Nonetheless, Darren Collison had the absurd idea to foul him on a three point attempt. What’s amazing is that Mudiay hitting just one of the three free throws awarded to him was a statistically equal outcome than letting him shoot, since his 3P% for the season is exactly .333. At some point in the fourth he opted for a thunderous fastbreak dunk attempt that collided with the rim before bouncing around midcourt. I like the fact that he tried to dunk the ball, I don’t like the fact that he thought he was (last season’s) Donovan Mitchell.

The bad:

– Look, I get that we were undermanned. I get that we couldn’t possibly have done without Trey Burke (3 pts, 4 rebs, 3 ast, -2 +/-) tonight. Actually, scratch that. I don’t want to know anything about that. Giving minutes to Burke and Frank (3 pts, 2 rebs, 4 ast, -11 +/-)  at the same time is quite pointless. Burke just returned from a mild knee injury, and tonight kept of bricking everything in sight, hitting just one of seven attempts from the field. The main problem, though, is that as soon as Trey gets the ball and Frank is on the court with him every semblance of offense gets thrown out of the window. I don’t want to rehash the whole “Frank is/is not a PG”, because as of now everyone has his answer, and pretty much every answer tends towards “no”; anyway, I feel like I have to make a remark about the fact that if you don’t give the ball to Frank with full license to operate – which means: if you give the ball to someone, if he isn’t open you’ll get the rock back – you have to teach him to move around, screen for others, cut backdoor and so on. If you play Frank with Trey (or Timmy, for that matter), you’re condemning him to never develop. That’s as much on Frank as it is on the coaching staff: the difference, though, is that the coaching staff is paid to think of ways to get the most out of Frank, and there were some hints that letting him work with the ball was the beginning of something. If Trey has to play, I wish it was with THJ and not with Frank. Frank tends to defer too much to guys who like to handle the rock and shoot contested pullups night after night. I liked it better with Trey out (sidenote: Frank defends very well even in the zone. He’s just a natural on that side of the court).

– Boy, the last time I saw something as rusty as Courtney Lee (7 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -12 +/-) it was a nail used to hang a painting in the house where my grandma was born in 1925. Lee’s game is just screaming “tetanus”: if you look at him closely, especially when doing his familiar “pump fake an invisible defender, dribble inside the arc, shoot a semi-contested 19-footer” routine, there’s a 3% chance you’ll fall down struck by some mysterious illness. I’m still not convinced that wasn’t what kept me in the bed all weekend trying to recover from that nasty fever – without other symptoms! Anyway, if that’s how we’re showcasing him, the trade-Lee-boat has long sailed away. Everybody on cue… Thanks, Phil!

Paracetamol tablets-size bits:

Do you know that if you take two 500 mg Paracetamol tablets, it becomes a full gram of Paracetamol? You might not believe it, but this is the word-for-word translation of the incipit of one of the top Italian radio hits of 2018. I hate it, I hate the music, the words and the way the singer (Calcutta) delivers them. Nevertheless, I hated this game more. It felt like wasting two hours of my time. Then again, I couldn’t sleep, so maybe it wasn’t a complete waste of time. But on the other hand I could have watched two episodes of whatever TV series of choice.

– Enes Kanter’s numbers are so easy on the eyes that it’s hard to believe he’s hurting the team so much. I don’t like seeing him play, but I know I can count on him to (not) anchor one of the worst defense in the League. One of the emptiest 20/15 games I’ve ever seen. In the fourth Thaddeus Young stripped the ball off him in the post out of a double and he didn’t even try one bit to resist it. Everytime something like that happens, it comes to my mind that this guy wanted to make the All-Star team, and I feel like his name should be changed into Cognitive Dissonance Kanter.

– You know who’s hurting this team’s development the most? THJ, that’s who. If you look past his PPG numbers, his season is turning into a major disappointment. He’s posting career-second-worst numbers in WS/48 and TS%, all the while employing the worst shot selection this side of Trey Burke and never trying to break the opposing defense to find easy shots for his teammates. He’s horribly miscast as a first option, not only because he’s not that kind of talent, but most of all because he makes everyone worse around him. If we could ship him away for Jabari Parker, I’d do it now. Chicago could also keep Rebecca Haarlow and Wally Szczerbiak, for all I care.

– December Kevin Knox is a glimmer of hope: 16.5 PPG on 41/40/54 splits (terrible FT%), with 6.3 RPG, 2 APG and 1.3 stocks per game. He doesn’t look that lost anymore. I feel like his ceiling is a poor man’s Chandler Parsons. It’s not good, but it’s much better than I thought a few weeks ago.

– Vonleh couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn tonight (3-for-10 from the field, 1-for-5 from three), but I still love his game. 12 boards, 3 assists, no turnovers. He’s not terrible when defending in the zone. It’s enough for keeping on dubbing him this season’s MVP for the Bockers.

– Kornet should play a bit more, especially with Mitch out. He can’t jump over an envelope (cit. Fizdale), but knows where he should be in a zone defense and he’s not afraid to let if fly.

– I don’t know what more to say about Mario. I’ll just say that “Hezonja” would net you a boatload of points playing Scrabble.

– Breen and Clyde bring their best even in games like this. I loved their bit about burgers. Also, I can’t think of a better example than Clyde about the benefit of a mostly no-meat diet. Dude’s 73 and he’s fresher than me.

Tomorrow we have a back-to-back against Phoenix. Is it too much to hope for a quality loss? Is any loss a quality loss with Mitch, Dotson and Trier sidelined?

 

Charlotte Hornets 119 – New York Knicks 107 – Game Recap

Hear me out, I have a proposal. What if we started every game with a -15 handicap from the beginning? I mean, if that’s what it takes for Fiz to feel safe playing our kids a lot of minutes, why not (all the same, somebody has to explain to me how come that you choose to play Hezonja and Mudiay to win games)?

We were treated to a game where scores were approximately a lot for them and a little for us, and I think nobody cared even a bit. We saw, maybe by accident, a game similar to the ones we grew accustomed to in the first portion of the year. 41 minutes for Knox. 31 for Dotson. 20 for Frank (artificially limited by his penchant to pick useless fouls on the perimeter and by two bogus calls in the fourth quarter). 20 for Robinson. Even 9 for Baker  (Trier was out with a strained hamstring; we don’t have news about him yet, I guess he’ll be out for the whole three-game road trip)! But more than that, more than minutes distribution, it was evident that the kids had the greenlight to be, you know, just them, which in case of Knox is “a guy who shoots everything in sight”.

Now, it’s impossible to say that even a single guy has played well (they haven’t; when stakes are this low, you have to play a perfect game to be “good”). But it’s not impossible to single out who played really bad, so I’ll do just that comparing guys to typical winter maladies, with the recipe to cure that illness right after the “bad” player.

The cold and the cough: Mario Hezonja (1 reb, 1 foul, -4 +/-) is annoying, persistent, and doesn’t seem to go away easily. In the end, it’s inconsequential at best, but can leave you tired and numb after a few weeks of its presence. Mario was so bad that he was the only starter not to return on the court for the second half, having Knox start in his place in the third quarter. I can’t remember a player who does less for the Knicks than Mario since the Bargs days. Hez looks like he has talent, but at this point I’m not even convinced he has some aside from the talent of convincing you of the contrary.

Acetylsalicilyc acid: Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 1 reb, 3 ast, +7 +/-) scored again in double figures with cool efficiency, hitting 6 of his 8 shots. I have a weak spot for low-variance guys, the ones who produce the same without regards for context. Dot is one of them: he doesn’t care if the team is up 20 or down 20, he’ll play the same way as he always does. Oddly, he didn’t attempt a single three tonight (he’s shooting 4.1 per game), but it’s not like there were timid guys around him. Bottom line: if you want to feel better after Mario, play some Dotson and revel in his consistency and workmanlike competence.

The headache: Emmanuel Mudiay (6 pts, 3 rebs, 4 ast, -20 +/-) makes it impossible to have a headstart, as for the last three games his individual defense has cratered and his team defense… well, I can’t focus with this impending migraine. This season Mudiay has objectively gotten a bit better on offense, picking his spots more carefully inside of the arc and showing off some passing chops (the best pass of the game was his assist to THJ in the first quarter for a backdoor cut between three opponents. A Nash-like pass, I swear to you). His shooting from the perimeter, though… with that form it’s impossible he’ll be ever able to hit more than 30% of his outside shots, and that’s a clear limitation on his overall impact on the game. What is really detrimental, anyway, is his defense. It’s difficult for everyone to stop Kemba and the likes, but Emmanuel doesn’t even try. He gets lost on the first screen and then wanders around like a hobbled man would play tag. Combine him with Mario on the defensive end and you’re better off staying in bed all day.

The ibuprofen: Ron Baker Frank Ntilikina (18 pts, 1 ast, 64% FG, +2 +/-) had the offensive night of his career, going perfect from three on four attempts and playing the third quarter like a real NBA combo guard, confident and assertive. On defense he was not his best self, especially in the second quarter when matched with Tony Parker, who schooled him over and over again. I don’t know what happened at half-time, but it was certainly something goooood. After going scoreless and at times being listless in the first half, in the second Frank stepped onto the court with 8:42 to go in the third quarter. He had to adjust a bit to the game, and then two minutes later he exploded in a flurry of shots: his first basket was a pullup shot after a behind-the-back dribble and a headfake; his second was an extended elbow three; his third was a top of the key three in rhythm; his fourth was an elbow pullup after a Robinson screen; his fifth a corner three. All in all, he was often in the right spot after having moved well without the ball. He couldn’t keep cooking in the fourth because of a very wrong call on a drive (bogus offensive foul, his fifth) and a possibly wrong call on defense a couple minutes later. It was also good to see Fizdale incensed for those calls on the man he benched for three straight games; if there was a moment to be ejected, he picked the right one. Maybe (just maybe) Fiz was up to something with those DNP? I don’t like mind games, but everything is possible. All in all, not the best game of Ntilikina’s career (his defense was a bit meh) but a huge injection of confidence – and maybe a great way to earn more playing time. I wish he could hit the boards more, though. He’s tall, he’s kinda big. He has to grab at least 3 boards per game.

The sore throat: Enes Kanter (6 pts, 4 rebs, 50% FG, -17 +/-) leaves you speechless at the worst times, and not in a good way. It’s not the first times a second-string opponent big starts the game wreaking havoc against the Knicks, thanks to the porous defense of Enes (remember Sabonis?). Cody Zeller went 5-5 in the first quarter to help Charlotte building a comfortable lead, while Enes stood around watching the stiffy Hornets center having his way near the rim. You convince yourself that maybe Kanter isn’t that bad for your team, and then are forced to turn the other way scratching your throat feeling uneasy just to have thought that. Enes also had uncharacteristically weak hands, fumbling passes and boards. Not his best night.

The propolis: Kevin Knox (26 pts, 15 rebs, 1 stl, -7 +/-) had an overinflated night and as a result might become overrated and thought as a panacea for all sorts of sickness, but mind you: I liked it. I don’t like Knox’s game, and that’s definitely not new, but his motor has gotten a lot better and I like his disposition. He’s starting to look like he maybe has a place in the league after all, even if he won’t certainly ever be known for his efficiency; but 25+ points and 15+ boards are not a feat for every rookie. In the last 20 years, only fourteen guys, Kevin included, posted such numbers as a rookie. The only teenager besides Knox? LeBron James (the other rookies were, in temporal order: Keith Van Horn, Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Amar’e Stoudemire, Emeka Okafor – lol -, Charlie Villanueva – double lol -, Marc Gasol, Michael Beasley – I’m out of lulz -, Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ben Simmons. Not bad, huh? I just fear that in 20 more years someone else will write lol near poor Kev). If anything, we can say for sure that coach Fiz is not afraid to have his rookies shoot the ball: Kevin took 25 shots to get to his season-high in points, tying the tally of the Milwaukee game. He’s goodish in fastbreaks and shooting threes and uncontested pullups. Everything else is still a mess. There was a sequence in the first quarter where he missed the layup, grabbed his own board, missed by a country mile from under the basket, grabbed again his own board and finally was mercifully fouled. He just doesn’t know what to do when people put themselves between him and the rim.

Vaccinate yourself!:

– Noah Vonleh with 9 assists. Some of them were very good. I compared 20-ish games ago to a homeless man’s Draymond, and I stand by my opinion. I’d be happy to have him back (for a reasonable contract). An off night from the field, but it was a hard time for all the starters.

– Timmy was better than in the last games, scoring 21 points on 13 shots and dishing 5 assists. He turned the ball over five times, though. Timmy as the first option is a great tanking help.

– Mitchell Robinson is already a known quantity (6/2/1 with a side dish of two spicy blocks), and he can’t really play basketball yet. I love this kid. One thing I noticed: his screens are way better than they were at the beginning of the season. They’re already worlds better than KP’s screens. His defensive rebounding, instead, keeps on being questionable at best (his DRB% is less than his TRB%, go figure.

– Ron Baker got some playing time, and all he cared for was to make sure that Courtney Lee scored. Terrible offensive player, wonderful heart (and a surprisingly steady game, 5 points and 3 assists in garbage time).

– Courtney Lee played 13 impalpable minutes save for the time where he ditched and uncontested three to pump fake the air and then shoot (and miss) a contested 20-footer. Old habits never die.

– A wonderful vintage Tony Parker night. As I’m already on record saying, I liked the Manu-era Spurs. I feel like I could have appreciated Tony a little more than I did. He took to school every Knick defender (not that is was that hard, but still).

– At the end of the game, the cameras indulged on Frank being busy chatting with Batum and Parker, what with French Heritage Night and whatever. Kevin Knox dived in to greet the two Charlotte players, they saluted him back and went back at talking with Frank in one motiion, with the familiar expression everyone of us has when we meet someone we really don’t care about at the Christmas company party.

So, let’s head to Cleveland! It’s very likely that I won’t be able to recap that one (severe work obligations on Thursday!), so we’ll see each other on Friday night, again versus the Hornets.

Au revoir!

 

 

Brooklyn Nets 112 – New York Knicks 104 – Game Recap

Why does it have to be so hard?

One of my favourite definition of insanity is the (misattributed to Einstein) following quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. For the umpteenth time this season, and more specifically the fourth in a row, the Knicks looked lost both on and off the court well into the second half of the game. On the court, well, for 30+ minutes this game was borderline unwatchable, full of defensive mistakes, stupid turnovers, and even an iffy own-basket by Kanter and Vonleh. Off the court, there was a minutes distribution so puzzling it made me question my sanity, because if you’re losing by a lot and not playing well at all, why in the hell do you keep the youngsters glued to the bench?

Then, with 3:43 to go in the third quarter, Frank came into the game for Mudiay and Robinson was brought in for Kanter. Forty seconds later, Knox was subbed in for Hezonja. From there to the finish line (15 full minutes of play), the Knicks trotted out the following lineup: Frank-Trier-Dotson-Knox-Robinson. Did we win the game? No, but with that lineup who cares. Did we make the game competitive and spirited? Hell yes. Did it make the game watchable and, most importantly, meaningful? HELL YES. This is our future. Our (cue the eyeroll of who just wants to hear and read about day-to-day basketball) cost controlled future. Our all-upside, no-downside future. That lineup, made of two genuinely good prospects, a solid wing in the making, and two mostly sucky first round picks, was +9 and suddenly made the Garden remember what it’s like to play defense with passion – and length.

Do you want more of that? Because I do. The fact that we lost, and in a competitive way nonetheless, while Atlanta and Cleveland won made it easy to find the sweet core of this sour, bitter candy. But setting aside the final result or the tankathon projection, playing the young guys gives you hope. Let’s see if those five will see the court through the next few games. We need Fiz to stop sending young guys to that infamous dungeon of his.

The good:

– Honestly, it’s hard to dub anyone really good for this game. The aforementioned uber-young unit was good as a whole, but none of the guys played well per se. So, counter-intuitively, I’ll hand the first good mention to Enes Kanter (23 pts, 14 rebs, 3 ast, -9 +/-), because without him the first 30 minutes of play would have been a sh*tshow of epic proportion. His presence, and his flawless touch around the rim, kept the game a sliver from rock bottom in terms of watchability, and even if he’s not a good team player he still is a good player, and I have to give credit where it’s due. That’s even more true tonight, when Vonleh straight up stank and the third best rebound tally of the team (after Enes and Mitch) went to Mario. Enes was his usual unrelenting machine on the glass and was efficient, hitting 10 of his 13 field goal attempts. I still don’t want him around here anymore after April 2019, but I have to commend his good performances. He even dusted off a nifty eurostep in the first quarter. If the game was only predicated on offense, Kanter would probably be in the top 5 of all NBA centers. Again, he’s just playing a different game from a different time. If you kept the same finishing lineup with Enes instead of Mitch, I think we wouldn’t have been that exciting overall and goodish on defense.

The above-average

– Sorry but I have to say it: Frank Ntilikina (7 pts, 1 reb, 3 ast, +7 +/-) was quite good tonight. The numbers are mediocre, even if he shot 3/6 from the field, and one attempt was a end of period heave (Trier should teach him to stop doing that to preserve his efficiency – lol). His impact on the game, on the other hand, was not. I know, defensive numbers don’t paint him like the total pest he is on primary offensive threats on opponent teams, but they’re so noisy that it’s all a bit inconclusive. He smothered D’Angelo Russell from the first possession. He got smoked just once by Dinwiddie (and then nobody came in to help). I’ll put it simply: guys were scoring effortlessly on us in the first 35 minutes. In the last 13 minutes, they committed three 24-second violations. Also, handing the reins to someone who wasn’t Trier was big for Zo. He’s not at his best when he’s asked to create first. If there is someone else capable of doing that, even if not at the rate we’d like to, and also to defend, Zo can untap his potential. Frank still tends to suck, but we need him a lot more than we need Mario or 5 extra minutes of THJ and Mudiay. Great finishing in the paint for him, too.

– Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, -1 +/-) was the most evident beneficiary of Frank comeback. Dot in his first 15 minutes without him: 0 points, 0-3 from the field. Enter Frank: 12 points (8 in a row in a span of 63 seconds) on 5-for-7. As I said: this guy need someone to set him up to get in a rhythm. Defending better helps getting into transition which in turn helps finding guys open. That’s why defense is so important: a good defensive possession is the best start for a great offensive possession. This is his 16th game (on 22 played) that he goes off for 10+ points. I’ll say it again: Dotson is a keeper.

– Allonzo Trier (15 pts, 2 rebs, 46% FG, +5 +/-) didn’t play his best game and made mistakes on the last two plays (he should have passed the ball to a very open Mitch under the rim in his last foray), but was a force to be reckoned when driving to the rim. He was a bit less listless than Dotson before the late game spurt, but he too benefited from Frank’s insertion. Dinwiddie ate him alive, but I have a hunch that Zo will recover his at least average defensive presence in the next few games. By the way: the deadline to sign him to a real contract is approaching very fast. Does anyone have an idea about what’s going to be the offer? Nobody seems to be talking about it.

The bad:

– Tim Hardaway Jr. (7 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -9 +/-) threw out a real stinkbomb. He was nowhere to be found on offense tonight, trying to empirically prove that the cold hand fallacy is not a fallacy at all. I love his method to get out of a slump: just shoot it more with even less preparation, like it’s ever gonna work. His FG% for season has plummeted to 39.1, and his free throw rate is going down as well. He’s hovering around his career advanced stats, and that’s definitely not promising, as it wasn’t his body language for the whole game. He went 0-for-5 from three and every three pointer was a bad one. Someone should try to explain to him he’s not Steph Curry, or even Reggie Miller. I hope some fringe contender needs a sixth man sooner or later. Yeah, a 17 million dollars sixth man, but I hear that in Houston and in New Orleans they’re getting a bit desperate.

– Noah Vonleh (4 pts, 3 rebs, 4 ast, -7 +/-) played one of his worst games, maybe the worst when he wasn’t plagued by foul trouble. I don’t know why, but he just wasn’t there with his head tonight. I won’t blame him too much, but you really can feel when he’s not doing his best job out there. The whole team suffers and it’s pretty evident. His defense was lackadaisical too, as he even failed to rotate more than a couple times. The 4 assists are cool to see; the traveling violations in the first quarter 30 feet from the cup aren’t. I think he’ll be better against Charlotte.

Fun-sized bits:

– Mario Hezonja shot well for the first time in ages (4-8, 3-4 from downtown) but still was a game-worst -14 +/- and got a few of his teammates demonstrably angry at him for how he was misusing possessions. He’s unconceivably unaware of how bad he is at this game, but I don’t think it’s his fault, like at all. He’s not appointing himself a starter, there are other guys doing that for him.

– Mudiay is so bad on defense it’s incredible. They put him in the pick and roll, he dies on the first screen over and over again and then doesn’t know where to rotate. The Nets killed us with that simple action all night (again, defensive stats don’t tell all: watch film of Mudiay defending and of Frank doing the same, and tell me you don’t see differences).

– Mitch in full octopus mode on defense in the fourth quarter (three steals on passing lanes, a swallowing block) and with a pair of circus tricks on offense. If he only could avoid committing stupid fouls (and technicals) and could work on his hands – free throws included – he’d be a solid contributor right now. Just imagine where he’ll be in two years from now.

– Knox had a meh game. Not bad, not good (50% from the field though! And two confident drives to the rack). It was still nice to see him on the court not making too many mistakes during that fun fourth quarter.

– Four minutes for Courtney Lee. Thanks, Phil!

– The MSG crowd gave a heartwarming cheer for Frank as soon as he touched the ball. I’ll admit it: I’m a Frank fan. That melted juuuust a bit my cinical soul.

– During an intermission MSG gave a community award to Dr. Strange. No, not the comic book one. A certain Dr. Theodore Strange who saved the life of a fellow marathon runner. I mean, not all superheroes wear costumes, but some of them have their destiny in their name. Waiting for the first Bob Stark to save a kitten in a flying suit.

– Alan Shearer at MSG tonight. One of the most prolific scorer ever in soccer. It was funny to hear the contrast between Rebecca’s and Alan’s accents. OT: I have a much harder time understanding British people than American one. I wonder if it’s the same for you native speakers.

Are you ready for the French Heritage Night? I hope Frank is. A back-to-back against Kemba on a France-themed night should grant at least 15 minutes of gameplay to our offensively-challenged defensive savant.

See you tomorrow!

Washington Wizards 110 – New York Knicks 107 – Game Recap

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior. 

Ah, the immortal words of the Latin poet Catullus. “I hate and love [you]. Why I do that, perhaps you might ask. I don’t know, but I feel it has to be, and I suffer”.

Setting aside the fact that it’s one of my favorite piece of poetry of all time (so concise, so full of meaning and deep layers – if you didn’t know Catullus by now I strongly advise you to read something by him, the man did write a lot of all-time love poems, and a few of the most lecherous lyrics ever carved into stone before pulp literature was really a thing), has anything ever been written that can be best applied to our Knicks?

I mean, we keep watching and hoping, sometimes hoping for losses, sometimes for wins. Sometimes we find ourselves deeply entrenched in the meanders of dubious present and future contracts, sometimes we’d like to burn it all to the ground.

Other times we end up losing a game and feel ourselves a bit empty, not knowing if we would have liked to lose or win. This game was one of them. Would I have been happier winning this game? I honestly don’t know. I guess that’s what happens when you’re not exactly sure about the direction of the franchise, and when shots don’t fall like they did against Milwaukee.

The good:

– One can only hope that when Frank will emerge from the dungeon, he will play with the same confidence and consistency that has characterized Damyean Dotson (17 pts, 9 rebs, 1 ast, – 3+/-). Dot’s numbers after stepping again on the court are really noteworthy: 17.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 1.5 spg on 62.5% from the field and 65% from three, all in just 26 mpg. Of course the shooting numbers are bound to go down, but let’s say he shoots just 45 from the field and 38 from three. That would still be good for around 12 ppg. If other numbers stay the same (and maybe he improves his passing a bit, 0.5 apg is a really meager tally) you have a picture perfect 3-and-D wing on your hand. I already suggested that, but I guess the best course of action for this season is to engage in a little play pretend where we selected Dotson with the 8th pick last season while drafting a promising French kid in the second round with the 44th pick. Dot’s activity on the boards is really good, and it’s hard to ever see him in the wrong place on the court. Still one of the great mystery of the season why Mario is starting in his place (not that Dot’s game suffers from playing with the second unit).

– As written in the game thread, this was one of the rare games I got to catch live thanks to a bout of insomnia. I finally got to fall asleep at halftime, with all of these blunders by Emmanuel Mudiay (16 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, +4 +/-). I can distinctly remember at least 5 shots of his that were blocked and a pair of ugly turnovers. Mudiay’s fourth quarter, though, was a sight to behold. Suddenly he was penetrating with purpose and shielding the ball from those vicious Wizards defenders. He hit one of his patented legs-on-the-elliptical-machine threes. He pushed the pace, a thing he has become above average this season, roughly in the 60th percentile among players who made an appearance in at least half the game for at least 10mpg, and second among Knicks with the same parameters (take a wild guess about who’s first – the answer will be in the continuation of the recap). I didn’t like particularly his overall game, as he was too distracted and unattentive on defense, allowing cuts after cuts after cuts, but without him there wouldn’t have been the final effort that made this game so much more palatable. If we’re honest, in the good column I’d have to put just Mudiay’s fourth quarter.

The bad:

– Allonzo Trier (2 pts, 1 ast, 50% FT, -12 +/-) is doing everything he can to help our front office in contract negotiations. After exploding for a monster performance against Detroit, he’s posting 6.3 ppg on 26.1 FG%, 3 rpg, 2.3 apg and an average plus/minus of -12. Sign him now! Seriously, it’s normal he’s gonna have some nights off. He’s a rookie, and he’s not a point guard by any means. As soon as defenses start doubling him he’s lost and muffled, like putting a pillow in front of a megaphone. He’s not ready to be the designated primary ballhandler of a unit on a regular basis, and that’s ok. He shouldn’t be unless the situation is favorable and demands it, just like it is and was for Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford. Tonight he just didn’t have any solution for the second half extra-tight Wizards defense. He even missed two free throws. Who knows what happens to the rotation when Trey Burke comes back now that Courtney Lee is healthy. If there was a time to sign Zo to a team-friendly deal, it is now.

– Mario Hezonja (9 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, +1 +/-) is a real aficionado of this column. I still don’t understand why we’re supposed to have at least a bad starter in all of our iterations. With Lance down, Mario’s stepped up big time for that role. What’s borderline unbelievable is that he has played much worse as a starter than he did when he came from the bench. Bear with me. Mario as a starter: 5.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.0 apg on 33% from the field an 22% from three in 18 mpg. Mario as a bench player: 9.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.2 apg on 40% from the field and 28% from three in 20 mpg. And this numbers don’t even paint the whole picture, as it’s defense where he’s really been otherworldly terrible. We’ve played 25 games and I think there’s no question about who’s the Knicks worst player this year. So, sure, make him the starter and put Frank in the dungeon (I hope at least Ntilikina is not in the Butcher’s room from the original Diablo). As for tonight: Mario came out a bit aggressive, then chucked his way out of the game. To me, the most notable sequence of his game was in the first quarter with 5:25 to go. He was tasked with guarding Satoransky, and after a simple action by the Wizards, Wall threw the ball to Sato in the left corner, wide open (Mario got sucked a bit into the paint by a strange defensive rotation). Hez was still the closest guy to Satoransky, but no! He yelled and pointed at Mudiay, who was much closer to his man (Beal), to go and contest the Czech’s shot, while he was running towards the center court, and maybe Beal. It was something else, really. It was the basketball equivalent of faking an incoming phone call so you don’t have to speak with the guy you spotted 30 feet away, only for him to greet you anyway because your phone isn’t lit up and it’s pretty evident you’re looking for an excuse.

Fun-sized bits:

– Enes Kanter with a double-double, again (13 and 16 in 25 minutes of action). His effort was critical in the first half in keeping the Wiz down. I won’t talk about his defense again, but Fiz threw a very sneak-tank move in the fourth, putting Enes as the lone big in a lineup with Knox, Dotson, THJ/Trier and Mudiay. He entered the game as the score was 93-84. When Vonleh was subbed in for him just four minutes later, the score was 105-89. He never saw the floor again and the game ended 110-107. I think you get the idea.

– Vonleh had a good game (11 pts, 8 boards, +9 +/-) but I can’t put him in the good section if he misses that many bunnies and loses the ball four times due to sheer carelessness.

– Mitch with 3 blocks and a monster alley-oop (Knox had the nice idea to throw him a lob in the first, but missed the spot by about 2 feet. Mitch was able to capture the ball and stuff it anyway), and some good defense in space. It stands to no reason that he only played 14 minutes (at least he’s leading the league – the whole league! – in BLK%).

– Chuck Hardaway Jr.’s new recipe to get over the hump: if you’re shooting badly, take your first shot from 30+ feet! An uninspired 20 points outing for Timmy, who’s regressing to his former habits: bad shot selection, not going to the line that much, not doing a lot on the court (2 assists and nothing else).

– Kevin Knox is putting a lot more effort in his game lately. He shot badly (again), hitting just 3 of his 11 attempts, but got 9 boards, some of them contested, and handed out 4 assists. I liked what I saw from him tonight. Nothing to write home about, but his heart was in the right place.

– Kevin is the answer to the former question! He’s the Knicks with the highest pace on the team (good of the 77th percentile in the whole league). He’s attempting wretched layups, but he’s wasting no time in doing that!

– I like Courtney Lee. He stabilizes whatever lineup he’s in. I’m happy he’s playing again. I hope he’s somewhere else by January.

– The botched uncontested layup by Lee with two minutes to go was hilarious: Lee went for the layup with swag and landed ready to treat those two points like it was nothing (in a very convincing fake way). The layup bounced off the rim. Lee’s face transformed in a second in an expression that suits the awkward kid from high school who has the talent to always say the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was the layup version of the Nick Young missed three GIF.

– David Fizdale said, an hour before the game, he wasn’t sure if Burke’s minutes would go to Trier of Frank. Hahahahahah. Of course. Why not.

I’ll wait for you at the dungeon’s entrance on Thursday against a Celtics team that’s playing much better than it did the last time we faced it. Let’s see who comes out!