New York Knicks 103 – Memphis Grizzlies 98 – Game Recap

Picture this: you’ve been ousted by your former employer because of friction in the workplace, which were probably caused not only by you, by you alone paid the price. You go to work for an upstart, if disjointed, new young company. Fate intervenes and pits you up against your former employer in a nation wide competition for best businesses; you probably know you shouldn’t stand a chance to win and you would benefit more for your company developmente by just letting your youngest team members learn on the way, while getting the most experienced ones to just provide support and a sort of backbone. But no, you have to win. It’s personal.

Well, I completely understand that. Sometimes it’s really personal. So this time I’ll set aside my usual rants about veterans and rotations and whatever. It feels good for Fiz. You could see it in his eyes, and especially in the post-game hug with Mike Conley. His clash with Marc Gasol last season could have been an unwashable stain in his NBA career. Now it looks like it’s just another bump in the rearviewmirror.

Getting to the game: it was great! You see, I’m used to low-scoring games, what with my European upbringing, and rooting for the Knicks makes it so that we’re usually fond of players who give their all on the court to prevent the other team from scoring easily, but I have a soft spot for well-played games that are not shoot-outs. Now, don’t think that I don’t like those crazy scoring nights around the league that tend to happen daily this season, but well, they look like blockbuster cinema. It’s fun and everyone likes it, but sometimes a real fan wants to appreciate something closer to the nature of the game. Or maybe it’s just me longing for the past days where I banged and raised elbows and profusely sweated and fouled hard guys trying to score easy baskets, and I had my freeflowing locks a-la Christian Laettner blocking my view on the court, while nowadays I never play anymore and I’m scratching my bald head at the last 350 words.

Let’s try it again.

Getting to the game: it was great! A hard fought, gritty win on the road against the team with the best record in the Western Conference, with a few heartening performances along the way and a thrilling finale where our guys showed up in the clutch. Let’s delve into details!

The good:

– Enes Kanter (21 pts, 26 rebs, 3 ast, +9 +/-) threw in a performance for the ages, netting 14 points and 11 rebounds in a single quarter, the third. It’s his second 20-20 game for the season, and his 26 rebounds are a career high and a season high for the whole league. He played a Thibs-approved 42 minutes, but didn’t seem gassed at all in the waning minutes (insert joke here about how not playing defense make the feat easier, as you rest on the court for half the time). There were times, especially in the third quarter, where he utterly dominated the mountain-like Marc Gasol under both rims. I am always thankful for Enes, since he got us out from the Melo contract with the added benefit of the MitchRob pick, but I’m routinely harsh with him. Not tonight. I was happy to root for his monster performance. Amazingly, his game score for tonight amounts just to third-best for the season. I wish it was easy to root wholeheartedly for him this season, sadly it’s not recommendable, as it wouldn’t be recommendable to fall in love with a crazy-hot partner who you know won’t be around in a few months and will ruin some of your most promising friendships.

– Emmanuel Mudiay (17 pts, 2 rebs, 4 ast, +5 +/-) was again pretty good on offense, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the line to offset his subpar shooting night (5-for-12) and being the protagonist of the highlight of the game, a late-game breakaway and-one dunk after a Burke steal with less than 100 seconds to go. Mudiay has been legitimately good at attacking the rim this season. He falls to the ground like he did in past seasons, but this year he usually converts the shot. It’s funny that I refer to a 5-for-12 night as “subpar”: if he ended the season shooting 41.7% from the field it would still be his most accurate average by far. For the current season, instead, he’s shooting 49.2% from the field and is on the verge of breaking the .100 WS/48 threshold that basically would posit that he has become an average NBA player. It’s genuinely astonishing and at the same time it functions as a glimmer of hope for the development of a certain other offensively challenged kid with African roots. Mudiay found a way to be a contributor even against the top defense in the League, and that’s really something. If this is the real Mudiay, I’d count it as the highlight of Fiz’s career.

– Noah Vonleh (7 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, +17 +/-) took more than a backseat to Kanter’s amazing night, but make no mistake: he’s the glue that keeps everything together. Simply put, when he’s on the court it’s almost impossible for the Knicks to be outmatched in physicality and effort, and as a tertiary ball-handler he shows a lot of confidence, and his teammates rely on him to create from time to time. Memphis would have certainly escaped with the win if he wasn’t there grabbing some hard boards in the fourth (you know, the ones where you have to jump high, something that Enes doesn’t exactly excel in). Great signing from the scrap heap, wish we could have him for a few more years.

The bad (or more on point, the meh):

– Kevin Knox (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 blk, -4 +/-) is not ready for this type of games. He shot the ball three times and he never did so in rhythm. It’s hard to find your spots against a team as defensively prepared as Memphis, so that’s not entirely his fault, but his contributions nowadays seem to came only by his points scored, and when he doesn’t hit shots he’s worse than useless, he’s actively detrimental. His road to be a competent NBA rotation player will be bumpy and we have to be ready and patient. As of now I’d say there’s a 30% chance that Kevin will be an NBA player in 5 years, but there’s no way to know for sure. I didn’t have a lot of expectations from him this season, I’d say we’re par for the course.

– Mitchell Robinson (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -5 +/-) was the primary suspect on everyone’s list of “player less suited to play against Memphis”, and that list was correct. The rail-thin Mitch could do nothing against the Gasol behemoth, nor against the rangy Jaren Jackson Jr. He was completely out of sorts in all of his 13 minutes of play, particularly on defense. Nights like this act like a much needed reminder that Mitch has still a lot to get to NBA-starter level, but well… he’s a 20 year second-round pick rookie who’s exceeding expectations by a lot, so he’s more than forgiven. He’s still leading the league in BLK% even after this empty performance, go figure.

Fun-sized bits:

– Trey Burke was more than instrumental in securing the win, with his great interception for the Mudiay’s dunk and his 8-for-8 from the line, but man… he clunked a lot of shots. He was 3-for-15 from the field, playing a big part in the awful 37.4 FG% posted by the Knicks team. Being a six-foot guard has to be scary on a night where Memphis set its franchise record for blocks in a game.

– Tim Hardaway Jr had his second bad shooting night in a row, but made up for it with some charity stripe forays (22 points on 16 shots, 7-for-7 from the line). All in all a very transparent game from him, but in the end we needed a few of his buckets to take home the W. Sitting comfortably at 23.3 ppg on 55.5 TS%, he’s playing the quintessential high volume-average efficiency scorer role risen to prominence in many Melo years.

– Speaking of Melo: do you realize this would have been the last year of the contract Phil gave to him? And he’s apparently out of the league? How’s it goink?

– For the second straight game, Frank played 13 minutes. They weren’t bad, but Fiz looks to have shifted into “Frank is a wing who will play minutes accordingly to the game flow” mode. I’m not sure if I like this, but Frank’s not complaining. 7 points and 6 boards for him. A little more substance in his game for once.

– Exhibit A about Frank’s shot being irreparably broken: a hideous airball from three (with his feet set) in the first quarter just after a clean make from the corner 90 seconds before. Exhibit A about Frank’s shot needing only some confidence: the kid is shooting 15/16 from the line for the season and his stroke looks pure. I think Frank has to make a mental leap to become a good player; the downside of that is that mental leaps are the hardest to successfully complete.

– Zo with another double figures scoring night, but this time he wasn’t efficient (5-for-12). Credit Memphis for making his efforts at the rim much harder than they were in his first 20 games.

– Mario started again. Didn’t do a lot again. But he was a bit better and didn’t get in the way (and looked a bit more focused). Can we please see more Dotson and less Mario? Thank you.

– For all the people who think that winning useless games is better because it helps building a winning culture: if the byproduct of said “winning culture” is a Knox instead of a JJJ, I don’t want to win anymore. To me, JJJ is going to be the second best player in this rookie class.

– Lastly, for all my rants about winning useless games, we’re at 7-14, which means we won a third of the games we played, which means if we keep this W/L ratio we’ll end up at 27-55, right around where I predicted at the beginning. It’s easy to get carried away by the tanking passion.

Let’s see what our guys are made of on Tuesday against Detroit! For now it’s all. See you!

New Orleans Pelicans 109 – New York Knicks 114 – Game Recap

Hey! Hey you! Yeah, I’m talking to you, Mr. Fizdale. Don’t you know that we’re supposed to lose a lot of games? What are these shenanigans of winning two games in a row against good teams? I have two words for you: Zion Williamson. Get back on track!

Now, seriously. The last two games have been a breath of fresh air, a nutritious sip of broth for a fanbase starving for feel-good moments from this season… except, our feel-good moments aren’t really measured in wins or losses. They’re measured in development. And on a night like this, while we should be happy that we won, I can’t avoid the sting of seeing that, apart from Allonzo (more, a lot more on him later), the quartet of other rookie-scale contracts going into 2019-20 has played just 33 minutes combined. I’ll delve into the possible explanations to this further down the recap, but I had to put it off my chest: I feel uneasy winning and seeing so little out of our projects.

The good:

– Allonzo Trier (25 pts, 8 rebs, 4 ast, +13 +/-) is the clear-cut MVP of this one. Apart from his gaudy numbers – on 12 shots! – due to an extremely salivation-inducing ferociousness in attacking relentlessly the rim, he was the only reason I don’t deem a failure this game. You might think my vision is too bleak, but again I ask of you: what good comes from seeing a game won by guys who probably won’t be here next year ruin your chances at a top 4 pick next June? That said, I don’t blame Fiz for this one: he has to follow through on his meritocracy propaganda, so it’s only fair giving minutes to who’s playing well. Now, gloomy tangent aside, Trier was awesome tonight. He didn’t only score effectively: he was there everytime we needed a timely bucket, and there are nights when he’s just so good at protecting the ball driving to the rim (I was baffled when I went to look at his FG% on drives for the season: it’s just 48.3. For context: the best Knicks at drives FG% is Emmanuel frigging Mudiay, at 58.6, good for seventh in the whole league among players with 3+ drives per game; Allonzo is 61st, nothing to scoff at from an undrafted two-way player anyway). Iso Zo tonight was everything we needed THJ to be, and he carried us to the victory. Again: 25 points on 12 shots, 4 assists, 0 turnovers. On the Merriam-Webster, tonight, his picture was the definition of efficiency.

– Emmanuel Mudiay (27 pts, 7 rebs, 2 ast, +5 +/-) was Trier’s partner in crime and is a pleasant surprise, to be honest. He’s not a good (or even average) NBA player even now, but his improvement from past seasons is palpable. This is the first year where he’s putting up a WS/48 > .050 (at .083 now), a TS% better than league average, and positive BPM and VORP. Don’t get me wrong, the numbers suggest that he’s just an 8th-9th man at best, but at the beginning we all thought he was downright terrible, and had our good reasons to think so. It’s possible that Fiz has fixed him a little bit. For sure, he’s a completely different guy when driving to the rack (see above). Not only that, though: he’s better at defense, and he’s making a better use of his big body in space. Don’t let the 4 steals fool you: there was some hustle there, yeah, but also a lot of gambling. If any of his gambles was just a bit mistimed, you’re looking at easy, easy points for the Pels. The highlight of his night is his wonderful reverse drive with 34 seconds to go: that showed that his new found efficiency at the rim should be sustainable. It looks like he’s in control of his body for the first time in 4 years. It’s just a shame that his cap hold will be too big: to really invest in him for the next five months would be a pedestrian mistake. Also, for such a prolific driver, his 2 assists tally is a bit meager.

– Noah Vonleh (14 pts, 11 rebs, 5 ast, +18 +/-) is making me fall in love with his game night after night after night. Third straight double double for him, 4 for 7 from three point range, team-high plus/minus and assists. Add 2 steals and 2 blocks and he made certainly drool many a fantasy owner tonight. Vonleh is, again, the lone exception to the merry band of expiring contracts winning us useless games. I hope we keep him after this year. He looks so much better than he did in his last NBA stops. I won’t bother you with his advanced numbers again; I’ll just leave here his 3PT%: .412 on 1.7 attempts per night. I think it’s gonna fall down to around .350 (the arc is flat and two of his misses were ugly airballs), but as a surrogate stretch four he brings so many other things to the table, like a strong ability to pull down defensive boards, something that we sorely need. Our other frontcourt players are great at getting offensive rebounds, but on the defensive glass we are a little overwhelmed. We need him to jump under our basket. His defense is nothing to write home about, Davis (until perfectly healthy) dominated him, but then again who can defend well on Davis?

The bad:

– Mario Hezonja (2 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast, -3 +/-) might be the worst use of cap space for a year since we signed Derrick Williams. Someday we’ll know why he’s starting instead of Dot or even – gasp – Knox. He was terrible again, apart form a very brief stint where he made a cutting layup and later dished a chocolate assist to Kanter for an easy two. His advanced numbers for the season scream “huge bust”: -0.057 WS/48, .435 TS%, -6.7 BPM. I think we have seen enough of him. It’s not even like he stabilizes the starting five! They need defense and shooting. He doesn’t bring either, which makes even more puzzling the fact that Dotson is not seeing playing time and Mario is averaging 17+ MPG as a starter.

– Kevin Knox (5 pts, 1 reb, 1 blx, -9 +/-) is having a lot of rough nights by himself; tonight foul trouble exacerbated the problem. He wasn’t able to contain anyone on defense and on offense shot 2 for 6, where one of those two connected attempts was one of the ugliest floaters/toss up I’ve ever seen. His advanced numbers are worse than Mario’s; in his defense, he’s a rookie, but that’s the only thing that goes in his favor. Anyway, I’m all for giving him all of Mario’s minutes, if Dotson can’t/won’t play.

Fun-sized bits:

– Not so fun, but Mitchell Robinson shouldn’t get so enamored with his blocking ability, or he’ll become an Hassan Whiteside-type defender, which means great blocks numbers but little impact on the game. I’m sure that won’t be the case with Mitch, and tonight he was defending possibly the best big in the whole league, but he elected to defend only with his hands and never with a jockeying motion. That he was able to put in a mildly productive night (5 points, 2 blocks, 1 rebound, 1 assist) in 9 minutes of play speaks volumes about his ability to impact games, but he has to be very careful about defensive mistakes – and where he steps when he tries to block guys on the perimeter. Twice he went under a Pelican shooting from three and once he was whistled for a flagrant 1. That call was excessive but by the rules. Second time in a row that a Mitch blunder costs us five point in a single possession. And to foul out in 9 minutes is simply… rookie dumb.

– Mitch is posting a league-high 9.8 BLK%. Over the course of a season, only three players in NBA history have posted a higher number: Manute Bol (six times), Alonzo Mourning and pre-huge contract (for the time) Jim McIlvaine.

– Frank Ntilikina played only 14 minutes tonight and was his usual good on the defensive end, plus two blocks, and quite meh on offense. There was no reason to play him so little, unless Fiz has seen that Frank can only play with certain guys (see: Burke) and not with others (see: Mudiay). That would be disconcerting, but I find no other reason to bench him so much, and that’s the only remark I have to make about Fizdale tonight. The sequence of the night belonged to Frank, though: block on the defensive end, another block by Mitch, the ball switches to the Knicks and Frank drains a three in semi-transition. This is what we want to see, dammit!

– Timmy was horrible. Too much turkey? Seven points, a lone rebound, four assists and a ghastly 2-for-15 night from the field. Improvement much, huh? It’s not fair to look now, but his WS/48 dipped under .100; how do you spell “17 million dollars” in trade language? We’ll forgive him this time, though.

– Trey came back to normal, but was still useful. 20 minutes of steadying the ship and letting others do their job. I’ll take it.

– Enes Kanter played his first Enes game since becoming a starter again. 17 and 12, plus 3 blocks and some mobility on defense. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t win a jump ball against a chair.

Our record goes to a suboptimal 6-14, good (bad?) for fifth-worst in the league. Let’s see what happens on sunday against the Grizzlies. I expect a terrible game to watch, where THJ will chuck 20 shots from the dribble and we’ll end up losing 92-75… but losing is good, isn’t it?

See you!

New York Knicks 117 – Boston Celtics 109 – Game Recap

I told you I wanted the guys to win this game. I’m really happy they followed through on my wish, and did it in such a convincing fashion. In a season dedicated to losing, sucking and (hopefully) developing players, it’s a great thing to pick your spots with regard to beating good teams. If we have to beat a good team, let it always be Boston. It feels great to wash away their smugness with the same forcefulness used by Mitch to swat those poor suckers at the rim.

The game became a much closer matter than it should have been (our largest lead was +26, but it got cut to just 3 with 34 seconds to play), but that was to be expected, given that Fiz left two rookies on the court for the majority of the fourth quarter. I have to say that this game went a long way in giving me back confidence in Fizdale’s ability to understand the game. Whatever was going to happen to this game (and it’s much better that we won, but it would have been good even if we lost), let the unproven guys get the reps they earned. Mitch and Knox were on the court for pretty much the entire fourth quarter. Frank played the full last 12 minutes. This is how you do it.

The good:

– Ok, when did Trey Burke (29 pts, 6 rebs, 11 ast, +10 +/-) become the undersized version of Kyrie Irving? Seriously, this guy is having such a good streak of games that you might mistake him for an All-Star candidate in the last four: 25.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.3 rpg and 1.3 spg on a super efficient 67.8 TS% and an astounding 31.7 USG% in just 28 minutes per game. This game is all his: he played great (yeah, great) for all of his 33 minutes, and came through with timely buckets in the last two minutes and a half, including the crucial three-pointer to put us ahead for good with just 12 seconds to go. In fact, he scored 7 of our last 9 points, where the lone two points he didn’t score were free throws that the Celtics gifted to Mudiay after we were up six with 5.5 seconds remaining. Trey was everywhere, oozing confidence and showing he was in total control of the game. I know it won’t last, but this Trey is an amazing player. Well, I guess most players are amazing when they apparently can’t miss, but this one, hitting guys in stride and snatching more than a few contested boards in traffic, was the real deal. Probably his best overall game in a Knicks uniform.

– Noah Vonleh (16 pts, 10 rebs, 3 ast, +5 +/-) began the game with fire in his eyes and ice in his veins, hitting both of this three-pointers and going after caroms with undeterred savagery. The fact that he played so well and still didn’t see significant playing time down the wire speaks volumes about both the quality of the play of the guys on the floor during the bulk of the fourth quarter and the sound decision making of coach Fizdale. Noah keeps on being the best frontcourt player of the team, if not the best player entirely, and even when he commits a few mistakes you can’t deny the contribution he brings to the team. This time he was very good even at rim protection, blocking 3 shots, two of them reminiscent of particularly nasty spikes in volleyball. I think we all remember fondly KOQ; I also think we found a guy that’s a nice, consistent replacement for the zany beardo (save for those delicious passes hitting backdoor cutting guys). His stats are not at the level of peak KOQ, but are good nonetheless: .123 WS/48, 18.4 TRB%, 9.1 AST%, 1.2 BPM look like the typical portrait of a nice third-fourth big to have on a contender. If we are not able to keep him next season, I wish him the best of luck and to find a place on one of the 4-5 best team in the League.

– Mitchell Robinson’s (8 pts, 4 rebs, 6 blks, +7 +/-) inclusion here is a bit of a stretch, since he alternated resounding plays and dumb mistakes – most egregiously fouling Irving with a clear path to the basket in the fourth, effectively handing the Celtics the opportunity to cut the deficit to ten with more than seven minutes to play – but I mean… have you seen this guy roam the paint on defense? There was a stretch in the fourth quarter where the 15 foot radius in front of the rim looked positively like a no-fly zone for green jerseys. Do you know who’s on top of the block% in the whole NBA? …your guy, Mitch. I guess we probably would have won the game even with Vonleh on the court in place of Robinson, but it was such a stupendous view to see our rookie center wreak havoc and terrorize all sorts of Celtics for a few minutes. This kid really belongs in the League.

The bad:

– Mario Hezonja (3 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -2 +/-) is trying a little too hard to get acting recognition, starring tonight as Lance Thomas in “Desperately seeking useless starter: a Knicks bio-pic”. Second start in a row for Mario, second stink-bomb. He shot 14.3% from the field, did nothing in any other facet of the game and was his usual listless self on defense. It’s unbelievable to think that, for all his talent, he could just very well be the worst player on our roster. His effort level is unexcusable. I pegged him for some 20+ points game from the bench inside MSG, but I don’t think he has any fire in his soul. He looks like he can’t wait to be home, wherever that home might be. Sure as hell ain’t gonna be New York after April 15th, 2019.

– Emmanuel Mudiay (5 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -6 +/-) wasn’t all that bad, but the good Mudiay we’ve seen in some of the last games was nowhere to be seen. A timid performance, buoyed just a little by his block on Irving’s last shot and his subsequent 2 free throws. Never was the disparity between him and Burke more evident than tonight. There can be a lot of games where Trey is not playing well, but that’s on his physical limitations or his mental disconnect, never on his instincts. Mudiay, on the other hand, needs to be always 100% focused on the game, as his insticts are severely lacking and have to be continuatively kept in check. Tonight was a typical directionless Mudiay game; the fact that I don’t feel it was that bad maybe speaks more about my very low expectations for him than about his real level of contribution.

Fun-sized bits:

– Enes Kanter is strangely posting meh numbers since getting inserted back into the starting five (8.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 41.2 FG%); his body language looks a lot better, though. Does he really care that much about starting on a team that’s going to lose at least 55 games? I mean, I know the NBA market is skewed in favor of starting, huge numbers posting guys… but in 2018 that’s for guards, wings and stretch bigs. I hope his agent is smart and in his ear, otherwise Enes is going to be in for an unpleasant surprise this summer. Not a bad game for Enes tonight, anyway. Sometimes he kinda overcomes his defensive liabilities and find a way to be sorta useful on both ends of the court. Not hating on happy, 25-minutes playing Enes.

– Frank Ntilikina played a huge game on the defensive end. I’m sorry, I don’t have stats for you, and I’m not keen on trusting that much my eye-test (what with being shortsighted and all), but if you saw even some snippets of the game you saw his on point defense on Jayson Tatum and other sorts of Celtics. He was again good at getting to the rim, even unleashing a contorting baby Greek Freak layup in the fourth. I like me some aggressive Frank! Maybe Fiz has found his right role? Could Frank play best as a wing, acting as the egg in our Knicks cheesecake recipe: you think it has no purpose, but it makes everything stay together while enabling the different, more present flavors to emerge with their distincts features? Oh, and there were a few possessions where he was matched with Marcus Smart and I was like this.

– Tim Hardaway had another 20+ points game, but this time his performance wasn’t noteworthy in a good way: 21 points on 19 shots, a missed technical free throw late in the game, lots of bad turnovers (seven total). He seems a little more engaged on defense, but nights like this one won’t cut it when we’ll need him to win games in two years. He’s always unafraid, but he’s careless with the rock in the half-court. For all the talk about his improvement, a lot of his advanced stats are the same as they were in his last year with Atlanta.

– Allonzo Trier continues on his campaign to be a proficient offensive cog while trying not to detract anything on the defensive end. Through almost a quarter of the season, he’s still averaging double figures in points while shooting a little south than 60% true shooting percentage. Not bad for an undrafted rookie, huh?

– Kevin Knox had a nice outing (11 points, 9 boards, one block). I don’t care that much about him scoring 10+ points: I care about how he gets there. He was able to go to the line four times and employed a good shot selection. Also, his work on the boards was similar to what we saw in Summer League. I still don’t see much in him, but tonight he looked at the very least competent enough.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Celebrate this pretty win with as much cranberry sauce you like and, if your stomach is full of air and feel about to burp, send a thought to Boy Wonder Brad Stevens who just got manhandled by a merry band of misfits in his hometurf.

See you on Friday against the Pelicans!

New York Knicks 117 – Orlando Magic 131 – Game Recap

All that talk about pizza a few days ago really left me hungry for the delicious pie until I came back to Italy yesterday, so I did what any sane person would have done: even if Lady Farfa and I had just three hour of sleep between the two of us in the last 48 hours, we promptly went and ate our first pizza in a couple weeks.

Damn, it was as good as we remembered.

Sadly, it wasn’t the only thing that I remembered that well. Approaching this game, I hoped to see some development from our future pieces, and was instead treated to pretty much the same old story of the last six games, give or take: our young guys are stalling – which is predictable, even understandable for green players – or regressing, while our “veterans” are performing just mediocre enough to keep them in the game too much. The silver lining is that our so-called veterans aren’t neither that old nor weighing on our future cap space that much, which is a strong divergence from the past wasted seasons, but it’s hard to wash away the bitter aftertaste, even with the most amazing salsiccia e friarielli this world has to offer.

The good:

– Trey Burke (31 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, +6 +/-) had his second strong outing in a row tonight, scoring efficiently to the tune of 31 points on 20 shots in 29 minutes of play. He’s not a great playmaker by any means, but in the barren landscape that is our abysmal team offense his shot creating skills shine very bright from time to time. He was one of just two Knicks with a positive plus-minus and looked very inspired, even notching a couple steals on defense. I can’t help thinking that Trey will be the first Knick to get traded this season, as in today’s NBA he represents the best value you can extract from our roster among the disposable players (low salary, position of need, duration of the contract). I don’t think there’s any doubt left about what his ceiling his, and that’s “second-string PG for a middling contender”. I guess San Antonio or Memphis could like him for a brief stint.

– Enes Kanter (21 pts, 19 rebs, 3 ast, -4 +/-) put up a great stat line with his usual dominance of the offensive glass and voracity with regards to putbacks. I put him in this column because his output is hard to completely ignore and because it’s hard to find that many “good” performances, but honestly it’s dispiriting to see Enes play these days, even as he keeps making fantasy owners happy with his rebounding numbers. I already wrote something about it, but I can’t imagine how bad must be to be a teammate of his during this stint. Teams are clearly attacking him night after night in the PnR and he straightly refuses to do anything about it, at least in terms of effort (if you’re not born with the agility of a ballerina, you can’t teach that to yourself, but you can learn how to sweat it out on defense, dammit!). He also is exacerbating his tendence to grab the offensive rebound and ignore everything around him. I’m not sure Fiz means that when he says “You eat what you kill”: It’s not like I’m even angry at Kanter, I’ve just given up on his value for this team. Sadly we can’t even trade him, as his contract is too bloated and it’s not like there are that many teams needing a scoring center who kills your defense. He would be great as a situational player on a good team where you could call his number when you needed a little oomph around the basket; here he’s just taking up space and minutes while providing nothing for our future.

– Tim Hardaway (32 pts. 2 rebs, 2 ast, -24 +/-) completes the trilogy of useless quite efficient scoring nights. How can a thing be efficient and useless at the same time, you might ask? Welcome to your 2018-19 Knicks. They have played just 17 games this season but it looks like a clear trend: on any given night a guy or two will deliver the goods on offense, then you realize that his overall value was at best insignificant, since basketball is, at its heart, a team sport, and that guy looked like a competent opera singer performing only his solo act, completely oblivious to the fact that he was also supposed to provide baritonal backing vocals to the ensemble. You might single out his performance, but the show will be sorely lacking. Tim is that: an average player who’s not being bad at shouldering the scoring load but is performing poorly at everything else basketball. He’s dead last in plus/minus among fellow Knickerbockers, second to last in net rating (not counting poor Luke Kornet) to Kevin Knox while putting up the highest usage of the team and the fourth highest TS%. I guess the picture is starting to get well-defined.

The bad:

– Mitchell Robinson (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -3 +/-) had one of the nights we were worried about at the beginning of the season. He just played 9 minutes because of foul trouble, and looked totally overwhelmed by Vucevic, who’s not athletic but very crafty and able to get his defenders out of position with good activity in the paint. Robinson committed a couple of stupid fouls in the first four minutes and his night just unraveled from there. If only we had someone who could pass him the ball near the rim two or three times a quarter he could probably mitigate this bad defensive nights, but at the present moment there are nights like this one where he can’t be counted on, and that’s ok. It’s his 16th professional game in two years.

– Kevin Knox (4 pts, 2 rebs, 25% FG, -16 +/-) must really be a beast on 3-on-3 basketball. Rookies have a definite tendence to utterly suck, but usually you catch something in that sea of basketball horror that makes you think that guy could be a contributor for your team down the line. Frank has defense; Mitch has amazing potential as a rim running center and only needs to get better at some defending precepts; Dotson has competence on the boards and passable defense; Trier has shot creating ability. I don’t see anything in Knox. If he turns into a rotation player by the end of his second year I’ll be very surprised; I hope that’s what’s gonna happen, but if the kid had been selected in the midst of the first round and was out of, say, Gonzaga, he would be seeing much less playing time. I’m all for force feeding opportunities to unproven young players, but I don’t feel like Knox is doing anything to deserve these chances night after night. He’s shooting 33% from the field (and 34% from three, which is still not on par with the league averages), posting the lowest Reb% of the team, the second lowest Ast% to Mitch (who’s only touching the ball under the rim and on the perimeter for useless handoffs) and the lowest net rating, all the while having the fourth highest usage on the team. If I made you guess, based on their numbers, which one of our rookies was the undrafted one, I think you’d have a hard time not pointing out to Knox, unless you went for Dolan’s Razor.

Fun-sized bits:

– Frank Ntilikina (0 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, +10 +/-) impacted the game in a very visibile way just with his defense, as suggested by his team-high plus-minus. As for his offense: he shot only once in 22 minutes. This time he wasn’t just timid: he never got the ball to shoot, more or less. I’m becoming very concerned with the Knicks offense. How is it even possibile to record just 12 assists on a night where you score 117? Fizdale better start putting in the work with X’s and O’s, or the NY press’ leash will get shorter by the day.

– Emmanuel Mudiay seems a bit improved. The problem is that his starting point was so low that an improved Mudiay is still nothing to write home about. He’s posting career highs on advanced stats as WS/48 (.052), VORP (0.1), TS% (54.6), and none of them are good. On defense he looks better, but his DRtg is the lowest of his whole career. I agree with the principle that we have to see what we have with him, but if this is the improved Mudiay, well, I’ll pass (but Zo won’t, hehehe).

– Allonzo and Dot played just 13 minutes apiece. Trey Burke played 29 minutes and Kanter 38. Definitely not pleased with Fiz tonight. What good comes from nights where you don’t play your rookie contract guys to pursue a win (and fall very short of that, just look at the final score)? This one was positively Hornacek-like.

– The Magic started 13 for 15 from the field. Who knew that removing our two best perimeter defenders from the starting lineup would yield such a result?

Well, another loss weighing on our record, which is tank-good. Let’s try to stay positive and wait for the Blazers to come to town on Tuesday, where Lillard’s going to torch anyone not named Ntilikina for 40 points. I hope to see a different starting unit but, more importantly, a rotation that has both eyes on player development.

Until then!

 

 

 

New York Knicks 112 – Atlanta Hawks 107 – Game Recap

Dum-dum-dum, another win bites the dust.

A worthy last installment of the Suckitude trilogy, tonight’s game left us with the bittersweet aftertaste of victory among the uneven development of some of our youngsters. I can’t shake the feeling that every win that comes on the heels of playing Kanter, Hezonja or whoever else who’s not part of our future is ultimately slightly detrimental to us, but it’s not like you can ask your coach to throw games away just because.

This one was easily foreseeable, anyway (as I predicted two days ago), so we take it and move on.

The good:

– Enes Kanter (17 pts, 11 rebs, 2 blk, +3 +/-) looks to have regained a little of good body language after his last strong performances. Maybe he understood that starting from the bench is not that bad for him, as he keeps on posting double doubles with the same easiness I push the forward button to skip Rebecca Haarlow’s interludes. The Hawks, as of now, are a really terrible team, so I can’t say much about Enes defensive effort. He was a little more nimble on his feet, but a springy and hungry Miles Plumlee was able to jump over or around him as if the beefy Turk was an afterthought, and the oldest Plumlee brother is not exactly a worldbeater. By the way, did you know that Miles is already 30? I feel old. It seems yesterday that he was jumping around as the starting center of the only good Hornacek teams in Phoenix.

– Chuck Hardaway Jr. (34 pts, 1 reb, 3 ast, +20 +/-) was in full gunslinger mode, only his aim from the field was poor, rivaled only by his shot selection. Fortunately, he was able to go to the line a lot, like 20 times a lot. For what it’s worth, only one other Knicks shot as many in a single game since 2006: Chauncey Billups in 2011 (Knicks record is 26). You already know I don’t like Timmy’s game that much, and we were playing the derelict Atlanta team, but his contribution to this offensively inept squad can’t be overlooked. Our offensive sets are so bad you almost need someone willing to shoot from anywhere just because. 34 points on 22 shots are also good. It also looks like his back isn’t troubling him anymore.

– Allonzo Trier (16 pts, 4 rebs, 1 ast, -7 +/-) is spoiling us a bit. As an undrafted rookie with a 2-way contract – due to an upgrade as soon as it’s mandatory – he’s providing a much needed scoring punch from the bench with upper echelon efficiency (81st percentile of qualifying players in TS%). Tonight, 16 points on 7 shots and a naaaaaasty move on Kent Bazemore with 2:34 to go in the last quarter. Too bad Zo didn’t pull a Harden and glare-shamed Baze’s broken ankles for a second or two before calmly sinking the shot. Kid’s not ready to shoulder a bigger load, but as a tertiary scoring menace he’s already an NBA player. His ceiling is definitely lower, but it’s the second consecutive game between Knicks and Hawks where he looks better than Trae Young.

The bad:

– Fizdale ATOs deserve a mention here. Remember how in my sushi-fueled rave of a recap of the Bulls game I made a little fun of Fiz’s playcalling during timeouts. Well, tonight we witnessed the nadir of it: with 10:08 to go in the second quarter, Fiz called a timeout after a bad defensive rotation that ended in a wide open Lin three. He inserted Frank back in the game, yanking Mudiay out of the game and (presumably) drawing a play for the ensuing possession. Guess what? We weren’t even able to inbound the ball. On our half of the court. Yeah, it’s really that bad.

– Damyean Dotson (3 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, +6 +/-) gave us his first dud of the season. Foul trouble plagued him from the first quarter, and he was never able to get into a rhythm. He finished with just 18 minutes played. Nothing to worry about, just a bad game that ends his streak of games in double figures. I’m pretty sure Dot will bounce back very easily from this poor performance.

– Kevin Knox (0 pts, 1 ast, -14 +/-) did his best Lance Thomas impression tonight. With Lance sidelined with “Injury/Illness” (are the doctors not sure if his suckiness is derived from a virus or a contusion?), Knox was perfect in substituting him missing all of his 6 shots and doing almost nothing else, notching a team-low -14 plus minus. I get that he’s being eased into the rotation and that he’s a rookie, so I don’t read much into it, but I’d certainly like to see him a little more engaged. We’ll live with our recently injured rookie stinking for a bit.

Fun-sized bits:

– Frank Ntilikina had an encouraging offensive outing (14 points on 10 shots), but even while starting as PG his game screams “Andre Roberson with slightly better handle and above-average passing instincts”. Who knows if by the end of the year we’ll know what we have on our hands with him. Also, he fouled out on a lot of early-KP frustrating dumb fouls. I will never understand why he fouls so much bigs right under the basket.

– I fear that Noah Vonleh reads my recaps and took for serious my off-brand Draymond Green remark about him. Tonight he shot 5 threes (hitting 2, which is not the worst outcome), after attempting just 10 in the previous 11 games. I like him better when he plays around the paint, I’m a bit worried that he’ll cut himself some slack trying to avoid some banging inside. 40 minutes of play for him, another double double and a +16 plus/minus, anyway, so good for him.

– 23 minutes of playing time for Mudiay, who alternated between horrendous and tolerable. The stat line is not bad (11 pts, 5 rebs, 3 ast), but I guess it won’t be soon he’ll hit again 3-for-3 from the three point line. Every single one of his attempts near the rim were of the Circus of Horrors variety, in a very vintage Mudiay fashion. And Trey Burke lost his spot to this guy!

– Mitch keeps on being a monster offensive rebounder and a weak defensive one, and he keeps on swatting guys on three points attempts (I’m pretty sure there’s nobody keeping track of those stats, but I’ll go out on a limb and say if there was such a stat Mitch would set the record by a landslide as soon as we reach game 20). He even uncorked a nice looking fadeaway step back from 12 feet in the third quarter. I can’t wait to see him get consistenly used to NBA level competition and unleash his fully developed repertoire. His numbers for now (and rookie ranking among qualifying players): .202 WS/48 (1st), 4.4 BPM (1st), 141 ORtg (1st), 0.3 VORP (3rd), 13.5 Reb% (5th). Oh and also: 107 DRtg (21st – welp) and 12.3 DReb% (15th). The defensive part needs a bit of smoothening, but he’s good. I wish he played a little more tonight, only 16 minutes for him.

– I like Omari Spellman. I think he’ll have a nice career in the NBA. Trae Young is still a bit of a mess (as young PGs are wont to do), but his passing ability is undeniable. I’ll never understand why Atlanta traded away Doncic, but Young is way better than I expected him to be, even at this chrysalis stage.

We’re at 1/7th of the season and have won exactly 33.3% of our games, perfectly on pace for 27-55, which was my initial prediction. I’ll take it, even if probably won’t be good enough for 4th-worst in the league.

This will be my last recap until the Orlando game on Nov, 18th, because at last me and lady Farfa will take a little vacation (the first this year, we had a lot of work to do), going to Santo Domingo for a little more than a week. Have fun in the meantime!

 

New York Knicks 95 – Washington Wizards 108 – Game Recap

It seems like late fourth quarter meltdowns are becoming a thing for this team. In what was probably the worst game played by the Knicks this season, we’ve witnessed the team stumble and bumble again in the last 8 minutes, reinforcing the Fizdale quote from before the last Nets game: “We’re playing college basketball right now; good for 40 minutes but not for 48”.

This game was not very fun to watch, even when the team was on its patented good third quarter/fake comeback (the score was tied with just 9:13 to go in the fourth quarter). Lots of putrid offensive sets by the Knicks, coupled with some inspired defense by Washington, were the main culprit in making this game the least watchable so far. That, and the fact that I watched it after waking up at 5 am because today is a loooooong day of work. But mostly the futility of our offense.

The good:

– Enes Kanter (18 pts, 12 rebs, 57% FG, +2 +/-) had a nice bounce back game, and the Knicks needed all of it to stay in the game. His defense was the same mish mash of botched rotations, slow feet and weak hops, but at least his energy level was high. A vintage Kanter game, with some dervish-like reverse layups and hands like magnets for boards. Only one turnover (even if I counted more, must have been some early wake dizziness) and a sense of focus throughout his entire playing time. I can’t say I was of Fiz’s advice when he benched him to bring back Mitch into the fold with the game getting out of our hands. I’m totally on board with Mitch closing games, but Enes was playing well and deserved to stay on the court. He even forced a John Wall turnover in the fourth!

– Mario Hezonja (11 pts, 8 rebs, 3 ast, +11 +/-) at last played a sound game, where he looked more like a fully formed human being occupying physical space and less a poltergeist haunting the nights of us poor souls who root for the orange and blue guys. This time his impact was tangible, he didn’t just compile an empty set of stats, and plus/minus is there to testify (not that I would rely too much on it, but in a game like this it tells you something for sure). His quick trigger from three was a godsend in the third quarter, while in the fourth he was blocked a couple times on weak attempts, and his defense on Markieff Morris was at times very lackadaisical. Apart from that, though, he was solid and jumped into passing lines with unusual resolution, tallying 3 steals in the process. My guess is that tomorrow he’ll be ghost-like again, but it was to nice to know you, corporeal Mario.

– Trey Burke (13 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, -2 +/-) was the spark plug that helped tie the game, with some spring 2018 forays into the paint. It’s no coincidence that in our worst game of the season our best three guys were Enes, Mario and Trey, aka the frustrating bench mob from the last 6 games; it meant that our actual core (is that right? Do we already have a young core in place?) was completely out of sorts, even if there were different reasons for the youngsters. Anyway, Trey had his chance to leave a mark in 20 minutes tonight, and he did. I hope Fiz sees him as a “break in case of emergency” cog, and is not convinced to reinsert him back into the rotation with a more prominent role.

The bad:

– When Noah Vonleh (2 pts. 4 rebs, 50% FG, -13 +/-) sucks, he sucks really hard. Apart from the fact the he committed again too many useless fouls that limited his playing time, he was able to post a -13 plus/minus in only 10 minutes of play, and this in a game when we desperately needed his ability on the glass. In the first half the Wizards mauled our guys on the offensive glass, and without Vonleh we had just Kanter to fight them – Mitch is not ready to get a substantial amount of defensive caroms. Through all the game Noah was listless, maybe remembering that his first name is the last name of a certain center we ended up buying out a few weeks ago? Let’s hope third time is the charm and that he’ll get his mojo back tomorrow against a bad Chicago team.

– Frank Ntilikina (6 pts, 1 reb, 4 ast, -13 +/-) was abysmal as a point guard tonight. Don’t let the team-high 4 assists fool you, even if the one for the Mitch alley oop was sweet as pure honey. He failed repeatedly to initiate the action and turned the ball 4 times in the first half alone. His defense is still pretty good, but without a credible offensive threat from the dribble alongside him the other team is too free to swarm him and get him to make the most basic mistakes, such as picking up his dribble too soon and generally think too much about was has to be done. As much as defense comes to him naturally (his 2 blocks were nice), watching him run the offense is a similar experience to watch me cook some BBQ ribs: I definitely don’t look at ease, the flavor is a bit off and I move awkwardly for most of the time (I cook a mean lasagna, though).

Fun-sized bits:

– Mitchell Robinson posted his third double figures game in five starts, grabbed 4 offensive boards and was 4 for 4 from the stripe; what impressed me most, though, was how he moves well on the perimeter on defense and how he stopped jumping in the air after most fakes. I can’t wait to see our defense with him, KP and Frank on the court at the same time. For what it’s worth, Mitch features with Dotson in the second best 2-man lineup for DRtg with more than 100 minutes played together (103.7 and a healthy +6.3 NetRtg). Wanna know the best 2-man DRtg with more than 100 minutes? Mario Hezonja and Alonzo Trier (93.9 in 125 minutes). Cats and dogs living together, y’all.

– Tim Hardaway Jr. had an atrocious game but I don’t fault him that much. He got hurt but the coach elected to let him play. He was suffering and it showed. He still found a way to net the game worst plus/minus at -21. He has the third worst NetRtg of the whole team at -9.1 (behind end of the bench guys Kornet and Baker). Something’s gotta give.

– Damyean Dotson had a huge run at the end of the second quarter to keep the game from spiraling out of control early. I’m impressed at the poise and maturity he shows, as he brings a lot to the table and essentially takes away nothing. Another game with 10+ points, his 8th straight.

– Emmanuel Mudiay has been better than we hoped, for now. Yeah, our expectations were really low, but he’s playing a much better brand of basketball than what we were used to see. He’s another guy who suffers from playing too much half-court basketball, but in the last two games he doesn’t look completely lost. 23 minutes for him tonight, 4 points, 3 boards, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and a plus/minus of +2.

– Allonzo Trier was a bit intermittent tonight, alternating vigorous plays to lethargic action in a span of seconds. Liked his aggressiveness on defense, even yapping in the face of John Wall once.

– Lance Thomas yadda yadda yadda nothing yawn. Just 8 minutes of playing time for him and that’s ok.

– Bradley Beal has 4 blocks (one on Mitch, ouch). John Wall had 5 steals. We turned the ball over 20 times. That’s your entire game.

– I didn’t remember John Wall being so douchey. I guess it’s an effect of Scott Brooks as a coach, to turn your franchise point guards into unsufferable pricks.

Ok, I’ll go sip another cup of espresso before falling asleep on the keyboard. See you tomorrow after the Bulls game and the Clone War (THJ vs. LaVine)!