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.

 

 

Chicago Bulls 116 – New York Knicks 115 (2 OT) – Game Recap

So we weren’t able to play 48 minutes of good basketball… how about 58 minutes of filth?

Look, I’m as big a fan of basketball as anyone, but tonight I was begging for my life that the game would just be over already, whatever the final score. If the game against the Wizards was the worst Knicks game, this one takes the cake as the worst overall game. And it just wouldn’t quit! It was like an all you can eat of slightly spoiled asian fusion food: you love it at first, but after the twentieth or so small plate you begin to feel fairly constipated and in need to leave the joint. That’s exactly how I felt at the end of the first overtime, realizing I had to endure (at least) other five minutes of terrible basketball.

The game was so bad that I felt no emotional attachment to the outcome, so I can’t really hand good and bad labels today. I’ll just keep the sushi metaphor rolling and assign a different dish to every player who got tainted by this foul show. I assume you’re all well versed in the (imitative) Japanese cuisine, but for further context I’ll encourage you to look at this.

– Spicy salmon and avocado temaki: Enes Kanter (23 pts, 24 rebs, 7 ast, +7 +/-) was everything and more tonight, scoring with high-medium efficiency, rebounding everything in sight and bullying pretty much everyone on the floor. Wendell Carter Jr. is no slouch, but had no chance of guarding Enes one on one. When the offense wasn’t working, which means pretty much always, you could give the ball to Enes on the left block and let him cook. He was often badly exposed on defense (what a surprise), but the team needed too much his offense to sit him in spite of his deficiencies on the other side of the floor. He played 42 minutes and didn’t look that spent at the end. Sadly, Enes is a guy who needs playing time to perform at his best, and that hinders the development of a few key pieces, namely the extremely raw Mitchell Robinson. Oh, and here’s your total list of guys with 23-24-7 starting from the bench in NBA history: Enes, and Kanter. He also posted the highest ever Game Score by a reserve. He gets to be the temaki since it’s the biggest, beefiest of the sushi family, giving you everything while you’re eating it (the crispness of seaweed, the amazing texture of salmon, the slick roll of avocado on your palate, the thickness of the rice, and the punch of the spicy sauce) but ultimately you end up thinking that you just ate a lot of rice and your stomach is a quarter full, leaving less room to try more interesting things.

– Surf and turf roll: Mario Hezonja (15 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, +2 +/-) has a lot of ingredients in him, but you’re never really sure what you’re getting from a bite. Sometimes it’s tasty, sometimes it’s bland, sometimes you can’t handle the chopsticks well and you bite nothing at all since it just falls helplessly on the floor. His connections with Enes were great, but if he has to finish a contested layup from the dribble he puts up such a weak effort that it’s always gonna get easily swatted away. Anyway, he provided some offense on a team that had none for a large portion of the game, it’s just that he was inefficient and inconsistent at that.

– Philly roll: Emmanuel Mudiay (16 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, +11 +/-) is the dish that looks good for everyone that’s not really into sushi, as the cream cheese pretty much drowns every other taste, making the feat of swallowing raw fish more manageable for kids and easily impressionable table companions, especially if confidently dipped in soy sauce. His game tonight was much easier to gobble down that in any other Knicks venture of his, as he was a jolt of energy to the anemic PG spot. He ended up hitting the game tying layup with 2.7 seconds remaining (ah! the soft salmon on the tongue!) and committing a very stupid and evident foul with 0.2 seconds on LaVine, who ultimately made 1 of 2 to seal the game (damn, who put this much cream cheese into this roll? It’s stomach-churning for any real sushi lover!)

– Sake nigiri: Damyean Dotson (18 pts, 5 rebs, 1 ast, -1 +/-) is easily the most dependable Knick nowadays. You know what you get from the get go and he never disappoints you. Also his game is like sake nigiri, in that you remember when you were asking your former partner (or coach) to give it a chance but it was a no go, and understand how lucky you are that your current partner (or coach) knows you were right and trusts it so much.

– Unagi roll: Noah Vonleh (10 pts, 11 rebs, 1 ast, -4 +/-) is too much volatile from one game to another – or even one quarter to another, just like it’s hard to find two pieces of unagi roll that taste the same. Lady Farfa likes to order it everytime we find a restaurant that has it, and there’s no way we’re gonna enjoy every single piece. There’s always at least one that tastes funny (sometimes the whole roll), but when you find the ones that taste good, boy how nice it is! Noah’s game tonight was all over the place, with strong rebounding intersparsed with half-arsed attempts at the rim and apathetic and perfunctory playmaking (4 TOs). At least he didn’t commit a lot of fouls and was able to play 35 minutes, posting another double double in the process.

– Tempura roll: Allonzo Trier (21 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast, -1 +/-) started timidly and seemed out of place at the beginning. Who would have thought that to disrupt the very basic offensive sets of Fizdale just sending a double would be enough? Trier was completely neutralized in the first half because of that – and the inability of any other Knick to be a bit of a playmaker. He was much more confident in the second half and subsequent overtimes, getting to the line at will and scoring efficiently (21 points on 15 shots) even on a night when his shots weren’t falling that much. Loving this kid sassiness, just like I love the impudent fried shrimp stealing the job of raw fish.

– Tuna sashimi: Frank Ntilikina (0 pts, 1 reb, 2 ast, -17 +/-). A friend of yours keep telling that, hey, he’s been in Tokyo, and there’s nothing like a good katsuo sashimi; you have to try it to really know it. You trust your friend, and order tuna sashimi at every restaurant. Sometimes it’s meh, sometimes it’s just ok, sometimes (like Frank tonight) it’s downright terrible, since tuna is the fish most prone to oxidation among the most prominent ones in sushi kingdom. You’ll keep on trying it, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, even if your trust in that friend is slowly, sadly starting to wane. Maybe a tuna nigiri would be better (read: taking away Frank from the ball)?

– Soy sauce: Mitchell Robinson (0 pts, 3 reb, 2 blks, -9 +/-) was quite useless tonight. His game should make everything more mouthwatering, but when it’s not properly seasoned you should reeeally pick your spots about when to use it. Sorry Mitch, this wasn’t the game for you, even if it’s not entirely your fault. Fiz’s crew has to figure out something more creative on offense to make things click and open some cracks for Mitch to slip in and dunk a few.

– Hosomaki kappa: Trey Burke (8 pts, 2 reb, 3 ast, +7 +/-). You know that dish that, well, maybe you eat because you’re bored while waiting for most tasty stuff, but doesn’t make you feel guilty because in the end it’s just rice and vegetables? Heh. Trey was just mediocre, which tonight was a huge improvement on Ntilikina’s output.

– Pickled ginger: Lance Thomas (2 pts, 1 reb, 50% FG, +1 +/-) is like the thing they give you in most restaurants to eat between different dishes to make you feel better the taste before and after. Lance makes you remember how the guy that played before him was better, and makes you appreciate how the guy that plays after him is better. 5 minutes played in a 58 minutes romp is still a good sign from Fiz.

– A random dish you can’t see well from the other side of the room but you think you might like: Kevin Knox (2 pts, 1 stl, 50% FG). Is he good? We hope so. What is he? Who knows? Anyway it’s good to know he’s on the menu.

Desserts and beverages not included:

– Fiz’s ATOs must be the worst in the entire league. I can’t remember a single ATO where we ended up scoring the ball in 11 games. I’m seriously baffled at how we’re offensively challenged when we can’t get in transition.

– Frank is 0 for 13 from three since his last make. He’s reverting to a lot of bad habits. I hope the coaching staff can do something for him, we can’t afford him to be a useless (or detrimental) cog on offense.

– So, is this life without THJ? I might have been too harsh with him. In two games played without full strenght Timmy, our offense has looked between grisly and hideous. I don’t think THJ’r return will make things that much more palatable, but we need all the help we can get. Especially me if I’m to go through a full season of recaps.

– Tonight’s starting lineup was the youngest ever for the Knicks franchise. I suspect we won’t be seeing the same starting five next game, even if THJ is sidelined. I expect Mudiay to start at PG.

Ok, at least we bagged another loss as we climb our way to the summit of mount Tank. See you on Wedsnesday for the Hawks game, where I think we’ll win comfortably.

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)!

New York Knicks 118 – Dallas Mavericks 106 – Game Recap

So, it looks like we just can’t help ourselves beating bad teams, huh? Our Bockers had themselves another great third quarter and pretty much steamrolled the Mavs and seemed to be further alongside the rebuilding path than those Dallas jersey wearing guys. Honestly, when you’re playing young guys as much as we did tonight, you take the win even if it might be bad for the tank. This is what development looks like. Having the game won by (mostly) fresh legs, playing your vets only if/when needed, that’s what we did tonight. And it was fun!

The good:

– I feel personally obliged to start from Mitchell Robinson (13 pts, 10 rebs, 3 ast, +9 +/-). He played 34 minutes and was a monster tonight, wreaking havoc on both sided of the court and moving around with much better sense of position on defense than what we saw in the last games, which weren’t that bad either. When you’re 7’1″ with a 7’4″ wingspan and a vertical of a lot of inches, just being in the right spot will allow you to deter most offensive plays. Tonight, though, he did show us something better: the ability to guard guys on the perimeter. Now, granted, this Mavs team is bad, but the contrast between Mitch’s defensive footwork and quickness and the lumbering movements by Kanter were on full display even tonight. There were a few sequences where Dallas ball-handlers tried to attack Mitch on the perimeter and were pretty much stymied from the get go. He’s still prone to stupidly bite on some easy fakes, but that’s part of the growing process. If they told me after the draft that our second round pick 20 year old center would have posted his first double double just days into November, I would have thought they were speaking about G-League. Add to that paltry loot 3 steals and 1 block, and you have found a real gem. Drafting Mitchell this year has the same feel of when you were 10 and opened an Upper Deck trading cards pack in 1994 and found a special MJ card with the gold signature. Absolute inadulterated joy and marvel at your luck. Don’t look now, but Mitch’s sporting a fat .205 WS/48, 2.7 OBPM, 2.9 DBPM. If he were to maintain these numbers throughout the whole season, he’d be the third rookie in NBA history to do so while playing more than 81 minutes. The other two? David Robinson and Arvydas Sabonis.

– Allonzo Trier (23 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, +1 +/-) is playing out of his mind lately. He’s unstoppable going to the rim, and has countless moves to get there. Of course he’s going to be crashing down to earth as soon as coaches start game-scouting for him (a simple double in the last quarter, with 2:25 to go, threw him off his feel and caused him to turn the ball over on a backcourt violation), but how much will he? One on one he’s just great. He ate alive Doncic more than a couple times, and aside from the aforementioned blunder he took solace in having the opportunity to close the game as the primary ball-handler, trying to torch every guy who tried to guard him to no avail. 23 points on 10 shots are amazing efficiency. He’s posting a 64 TS% on seven shots per game. He’s not going to be this elite, but these are promising numbers, as is the fact that Fiz has already a lot of faith in him to be in the final unit.

– Buckle up, guys. Next name is Lance Thomas (10 pts, 2 rebs, 3 ast, +11 +/-), who made the difference in the game-winning third quarter. In that quarter he made a few buckets, was active on defense (two steals for him), made the ball move and even threw a random alley-oop for the highlight of the night. With 5:43 remaining in the third quarter he received a weak screen from Mitch, and found him with an imprecise lob in the area near the rim. The pass was at the same time so inaccurate and effective, if you excuse the antithetical nature of the wordplay, that Mitch could catch him but was forced to do a 180 before dunking the ball. It was positively Javale-esque, but in the good sense of the term. Anyway, Lance was there when we needed him in the third, when foul trouble kept plaguing Vonleh, and I salute his for once valiant effort in helping the Knicks cause.

The bad:

– Noah Vonleh (4 pts, 3 rebs, 50% FG, +4 +/-) was a given in this section for the night. He almost fouled out in 10 minutes, and while he was quite good in that limited time his flailing around on defense and on offense was inexcusable. This team needs him to be more reliable than that, especially if you think that Mitch wasn’t even supposed to play like that this soon. We caught a lucky break tonight in having Lance Thomas and Mario Hezonja contribute some at the four position, but a game like this would have been a major hurdle on most other nights.

– Trey Burke (2 pts, 1 reb, 2 ast, -6 +/-) has me at a loss for words. Not long ago, he looked like our little steady floor general. Now he’s slipped behind Mudiay in the rotation, and for apparent reasons. His presence on the floor halts the offense to a ball-stopping nightmare; I don’t think it’s entirely his fault, but you’re doing something very wrong if the team looks better in Mudiay’s hands. Tonight Trey played just seven minutes and was able to post a -6 plus minus. His advanced stats are looking eerily similar to what he posted in his first four NBA seasons. I guess midnight has finally come, and the coach has turned back into a pumpkin. I’m sad for him, he was fun to root for last season.

Fun-sized bits:

– Damyean Dotson had another strong night on the boards with 8, and even if his shots weren’t falling he found a way to post a game-high +18. What’s a bit worrying (not for him) is that his DRed% almost doubles what Mitch is posting. I really hope that someone’s working with Robinson to teach him to box out.

– Emmanuel Mudiay played 17 productive minutes tonight. Get ready to see him on the floor more and let’s see if he can capitalize on his strengths (passing, being large for his position) while cutting down on his weaknesses (everything else). It was nice to see him scramble around on defense and tally 3 steals.

– Frank Ntilikina had a modest game (7 pts, 7 rebs, 3 stl, +8 +/-), and when his shot doesn’t fall his game looks almost lethargic on offense. Of his 7 assists, at least 4 were of the “didn’t do a damn thing apart from moving the ball” variety. On defense was good, even if he got torched a couple times by Dennis Smith Jr. Not a bad-bad performance, but as of now he’s evidently the weak link on offense. If Mitch knew how to set solid screens he could be better, I guess. Frank’s currently posting the same BPM as Lance. I really hope he learns to impose himself on the game, not the other way around.

– Tim Hardaway Jr (18 pts, 6 rebs, 3 ast, +10 +/-) was a little Chuck Hardaway tonight. A standard game in itself – 18 points on 17 shots, another charge taken – but if this is his floor nowadays, I’ll certainly take it.

– Enes Kanter (13 pts, 5 rebs, 2 ast, + 4+/-) and Mario Hezonja (11 pts, 1 reb, 71% FG) contributed to the win but look like they don’t want to be here, even if Kanter blocked two shots and Mario single-handedly helped to keep the game within reach in the first half in a particularly bad stretch of Knicks offense. Especially Enes, since we know how energic he can be when checked in. Mario wanders around, hits some shots, goes back to the bench, and it’s like you never saw him.

– I came away from the game totally unimpressed by Doncic. He was slow and unattentive on defense and his offensive game didn’t have much substance, apparently. Then I took a look at the box score and saw 18 points, 9 boards, 6 dimes for Luka, and remembered that he’s still a rookie in the best league in the world. It’s just that I have sky high expectations for him from day 1, having watched him play here in Europe, dominating his older peers. The kid is going to be good but needs to cut on the carbs (and the coaching staff needs to hide him on defense, for now).

– Lance Thomas, defensive specialist veteran extraordinaire. In the first moments of the second quarter, with Smith Jr. barreling down the lane and only Thomas between him and the rim, he made good use of his savviness. He stood his ground, briefly looking down at the court, ready to take the charge with pride and gusto. His feet were clearly inside the restricted area. He picked up his fourth foul in 7 minutes of play.

– I’m so happy with the way Fiz is coaching this team in a general sense. Offense has been better, and he sees the trends on the court. The youngsters are playing fine, and he’s giving them a full leash.

– When KP comes back, we’ll have a starting five entirely made by players we drafted (in THJ’s case is a technicality, but it’s true nonetheless). Remember all that talk about Golden State being able to get relevant because they drafted well without having any top-5 pick? Yeah.

Next game is against the stumbling Wizards. I say they’ll have a bounce back against us, but I can’t wait to watch the game. I’m really electrified by this young team, at last we’re doing things right (maybe?)!

Golden State Warriors 128 – New York Knicks 100 – Game Recap

I guess this is what it feels like to be a happy loser. We lost by 28 to the Warriors (entering the final quarter with a three-point lead) and I couldn’t care less about the end result. While I was watching the third quarter, I found myself thinking “I hope we lose tonight; after all, we already exceeded our goal for this match, and we have to rack up losses”. And that was what happened: we lost, badly, and I was extremely happy for us.

The good vibes started when the starting lineup was announced. Frank at PG, Dot at SF and Mitch at C? I was tingling with curiosity and expectations. Let’s just say I wasn’t let down a tiny bit. We kept the game competitive until 5:32 remaining in the last quarter (and then we just rolled over and died, but who cares), while playing our rookies and second year players at least 16 minutes each.

The good:

– Noah Vonleh (7 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, -6 +/-) was a big reason why the ball didn’t stick too much in one place on offense. He was all over the court, acting often as a release valve for the ball handler – if only to give the ball back to him after a millisecond – and threw a couple slick passes that found Mitch free under the basket. His defense wasn’t bad and his energy level was instrumental in giving fits to the Warriors offense. I’m not sure it was a lot of sense to play him alongside another big man who can’t stretch the floor, but if that is what’s needed to open up playing time for Mitch, I’m all in.

– Mitchell Robinson (7 pts, 6 rebs, 2 stl, -12 +/-) didn’t have exactly a good game in itself, but let’s put it this way: dude is 20, this was his first start in the NBA (and fifth NBA game overall) and didn’t play organized basketball at all last season. It’s like being given the keys to a Ferrari shortly after getting back to the USA from a long stay in Tokyo, where the cars are right-hand drive only, and having only driven a Prius for the last few days. The main goal is not to crash the damn thing on a lamppost on your first 90 degree left turn. Mitch clearly didn’t crash it, as he looked a little lost in the first half, but gained a lot of confidence in the second. In the third quarter he was a pogo stick who disrupted countless Warriors plays just by jumping around and moving his freakish arms. He also dissipated my fear that he couldn’t handle more than 15 minutes in a game, be it because of foul trouble of poor conditioning: he played 29 minutes, was called for two fouls and didn’t look exhausted at the end. He can be a monster offensive rebounder in short spurts, and to be honest I didn’t expect him to have such an impact on the game. Now, if he learns how to set screens and to box out under the defensive glass, in two seasons he’s gonna be a real beast. Move away Capela, here comes the next rim running center of the future. I can’t wait to see him play the PnR with Frank – or any other competent PG to be honest – in 2020-21 with KP spotting up on the weakside, or being the man called to clean up the mess after someone threw him a Kobe assist.

– Frank Ntilikina (17 pts, 1 reb, 2 ast, -12 +/-) was much more aggressive than usual, and clearly benefits from playing at PG even if he isn’t your prototypical playmaker. Aside from a couple of boneheaded fouls and turnovers, and a lack of assists due to his preferred style of horizontal passing, this was the Frank we hoped he could be. In control, assertive, confident. In the first five games of the season, played primarily at SF, he never scored in double digits. Tonight he got there in the first half. We’re still waiting for him to have a complete game, but tonight was a great night for us Frank fans. He struggled a bit on defense, but well, who doesn’t on Curry-Thompson-KD? I just don’t understand why Fiz took him out in the third with 6 minutes to go while he was cooking, effectively stopping his momentum, only to put him back into the game with the score already compromised. I think a 20 points game would have done wonders for his development in terms of mindset, and this one was as good as any to get there. Well, nevermind, let’s hope this Frank shows up to the next game. First time this season his usage was 20+ (22.7).

– Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 7 rebs, 1 stl, -9 +/-) scored in double digits for the fourth time in a row and had his standard great game on the boards. I’m worried a bit about his futile passing game, but as a 3-and-D rotation cog you really could do much worse than this. He also was passable on defense, and his basketball demeanor looks like he’s got the right to stick in the league for a few years. Here’s hoping he won’t be the one to lose playing time when Knox gets back.

The bad:

– Uh, no one? I know, it’s weird to say that when you lose by 28, but this is what a competently executed rebuild looks like.

– Nah, I was joking. Lance Thomas (2 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -12 +/-) has totally regressed to the Lance of yore, a sorry excuse for an apparently hustling basketball player who does nothing on the court. I don’t know where preseason Lance went, but we have no use for this Lance, and he shouldn’t set foot on the court unless every other wing player is hurt. Giving him 20 minutes tonight, while giving only 25 to Frank, is the only glaring mistake by Fizdale. I propose to give to Lance the 2018-19 Jason Collins award for “most unproductive rotation player in the NBA”.

Fun-sized bits:

– Trey Burke (15 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -16 +/-), Enes Kanter (8 pts, 13 rebs, 2 ast, -17 +/-) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (24 pts, 2 rebs, 3 ast, -15 +/-) were all pretty good at scoring when nothing else was working, but nobody had a particularly efficient game. I can’t complain about that, anyway, since they were coming off the bench to stir things up when the action was stalling… Oh wait, THJ is still in the starting lineup and played a team-high 36 minutes. Now, I know that this critique on Timmy is starting to feel a bit stale, but my Eurobasket roots are irked everytime he takes the ball with the clear intent of shooting it without conscience. I like his quick release on spot up threes, even if some of those are pretty much ill-advised (he tried one in the first quarter from at least 32 feet with no reason for it), but I don’t like one iota the dribble-dribble-dribble-shoot facet of his game.

– Let’s talk about Mitch. I didn’t feel this excited for a Knicks prospect since KP. I’m not saying they’re equals – in fact, here’s my bet that Mitch will end up being more productive than KP at the end of their respective careers – I’m saying that he is, between first and second year Knicks players, without a doubt the one with the most potential to become a nightmare for other teams when in full blossom. Kid is just a fenomenal specimen, and runs like a fast guard.

– Allonzo Trier’s shine is wearing off a bit, but he never seems a fish out of water. That’s always something for an undrafted rookie.

– Durant and Curry are insane. In other news, the sun is hot.

– No but really. Durant won the game by himself and there was nothing anybody could do to stop him. I don’t know if I want him to come here next year (opportunity costs, yadda yadda yadda) but he’s the most effortless scorer I have ever seen, and I saw prime Jordan. He’s a cold-blooded assassin, and his role in today’s NBA might be severely underrated.

– In the third quarter, the Warriors seemed to turn over the ball every other possession. I fully expected their box score to report 20+ turnovers by the end of the night, but it said only 14. I’m still dumbfounded by that.

Nothing else to report, but let’s get carried away by irrational hope after this peculiar youngsters-led outing! I can’t wait to watch the next game, it’s gonna be wild if these pups keep on playing like this.

See ya on Monday!

Kyle O’Quinn Hindering Knicks Chemistry

The New York Knicks have a Kyle O’Quinn problem.

O’Quinn’s been the top option at backup center so far. Kyle has played 34 minutes this season or about 35% of New York’s first two games. Head coach Jeff Hornacek could reduce O’Quinn’s minutes by splitting the team’s center minutes between Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. If he staggers them correctly, the duo could still play together for stretches while still optimizing the position for a full game.

While O’Quinn’s per minute stats have always been solid, posting quality rates across multiple categories, he does have his weaknesses. On defense, O’Quinn struggles to protect the paint, and doesn’t have the foot speed necessary to defend smaller fours. That leaves him guarding the opponents’ biggest player, putting him closest to the hoop where his inability to wall off the rim can be exposed. For O’Quinn to be a successful defender he has to be near perfect from a mental standpoint – reading and anticipating plays by taking away angles. He lacks the physical tools to make up for mental mistakes.

O’Quinn also hurts the team on the defensive glass. The Knicks rebounded worse with him on the court last season and the trend has continued early this season. On the offensive end, O’Quinn can’t create shots and isn’t able to punish smaller players in the post.

Perhaps O’Quinn’s skillset is just ill-fitted for this team, and his style of play pushes them away from the characteristics needed to get the most out Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. O’Quinn’s court presense alone is taking time away from Porzingis playing at center. He forces the second-year forward farther from the rim defensively instead of allowing him to maximize his length near the basket.

O’Quinn needs another big man next to him with his defensive deficiencies, hence has played 23 of his 34 minutes paired with either Porzingis or Willy Hernangomez (KOQ and Hernangomez should never ever happen – there’s not a worse pairing of players to put together on the roster). This harms Carmelo, as Anthony benefits from the ability to play the 4 where it suits him.

A smaller role for Quinn might be with Noah. Playing two bigs with Joakim can work due to his passing ability. Noah can make up for the lack of physical space with superior ball movement.

Hornacek should grasp what O’Quinn is as a player and how his role affects the team’s on the floor chemistry. It’s not just that Porzingis and Noah are both better than KOQ, but keeping one of the two at center pushes the Knicks towards more athletic, versatile groups. Reserves such as Justin Holiday, Lance Thomas, Ron Baker and Maurice Ndour are all capable of guarding multiple positions. The Knicks’ coach should realize he can make the team more cohesive with some of the other options on the bench.


Lance Thomas carves out bigger role, warts and all

As Langston Galloway’s shooting has melted into a putrid sludge, Lance Thomas has emerged as the main dude off the bench. Thomas is leading the Knicks’ bench players in minutes per game over the last 10 games, edging Galloway by a few decimal points.

I get it. Thomas has the second-highest TS% among the Knicks’ rotation players, second only to Jose Calderon. This season he’s more prolific and more accurate from three than he’s been in his entire career. He also has a solid .318 FTr.

But the size of Thomas’ role indicates how flawed the Knicks’ roster is, and shows why we should temper our expectations for a playoff appearance.

That’s because Thomas’ shooting has been pretty much his only strength. Especially for someone who stands 6’8”, Thomas is a wimpy rebounder. His individual REB% is tiny. He’s the worst rotation rebounder, even worse than Calderon. When he’s on the court, Knick opponents grab 29.4% of available offensive rebounds, a rate that would be the second-highest in the league; it’s basically like adding Andre Drummond to the enemy roster. When he’s off the court, opponents are suddenly much more middling at grabbing boards.

On defense, he’s a mixed bag. Tracking stats love Thomas: Opponents shoot 5.4% worse when he’s defending them. Defensive rating does not: According to basketball-reference.com, his mark of 110 is the worst on the team. (NBA.com, which has a different, I think more noisy calculation, gives him a more average score.) That’s likely due to how conservative Thomas is: He rarely forces turnovers or blocks shots.

The thing is, Thomas should be a good defender. I mentioned his length, but he’s also quick on his feet. Unfortunately, the Knicks are so short on good perimeter defenders, that Thomas is often matched up with the other team’s best or second-best outside scorer. On Saturday, it was Damian Lillard. That did not go well.

He had some moments, but for the most part, Lillard burned Thomas alive. In the fourth quarter, when Lillard was Thomas’ primary responsibility, he lost the Portland point guard on Mason Plumlee picks three possessions in a row. On a sideline-out-of-bounds play in the final seconds, he got stuck on a Meyers Leonard pick to allow Lillard a wide, wide open alley oop catch that would have brought Portland to within two. Luckily, Lillard missed.

Unfortunately, us Knick fans are going to have to live with Thomas’ flaws. The Knicks are a bottom-five shooting team, and Thomas can shoot. This roster offers few other solutions. I’d rather see some minutes go to developing younger players with more upside, like Jerian Grant and Derrick Williams, but Fisher is coaching to win, and even though I’m mostly burying playoff hopes deep inside, as I do with all my other hopes, I know I’d be thrilled with some postseason basketball, especially with no picks this year. So, long live Lance.