New York Knicks 100 – Orlando Magic 114 – Game Recap

This early April games are seldom relevant, even during non-tanking seasons. There are only a handful of games bearing any sort of importance, what with most of the seeding and qualfication threshold being already handed out. Well, this wasn’t one of them. Orlando needs every win it can get to sneak into the playoffs (the Magic began the night being 9th, down 0.5 games from the 8th spot held by Miami), and the Knicks need every loss they can get to ensure their place amongst the top tanking teams ever. That said, the game wasn’t as bad as you could have guessed from the premises.

The Knicks actually started guns a-blazing, hitting 7 of their first 13 shots and with Mudiay doing his best impression of an average passing PG, dishing in traffic and (mostly) on the perimeter. Watching Mudiay play in the first quarter you had the feeling he stayed up late to watch tape of the latest Westbrook heroic: Mud had 5 assist in the first 6 minutes, while shooting terribly and notching only 2 points from the line in the whole period. Meanwhile, Mitch was beasting on well-timed cuts and well-executed finishes at the rim, with a couple soft layups in stride. Kevin Knox was also pretty good attacking the rim (!), never settling for that ugly floater of his but going strong to the rack with the ball up high. Intensity level wasn’t high by any measure, but it was a competitive game nonetheless. After the Knicks went up 8 (22-14) the quarter actually ended with the teams perfectly tied at 26.

The second quarter was a debacle, as shots weren’t falling at the same rate for the Knicks but mostly the offense was inconclusive while the defense was porous at best. After returning from the bench, Mitch was looking winded with more than 3 minutes to go in the second: banging bodies with Vucevic without some sort of help from anywhere else (since we started Hezonja as our power forward, making good of a promise Fizdale made to him) would do that to a rail-thin rookie with an up-and-down stamina. The quarter ended 58-45 and we knew the game was over. From there, it started the Mitch-block-streak watch, since by halftime Mitch had none, a very rare occurrence.

The third quarter saw the Knicks come very close behind lots of drives from Mario, who played a nice all-around game (save for defense, but we could expect that): the Knicks were down 2 with just 1:23 to go in the third, before three straight trifectas from Terrence Ross sent us at the last break down 11.

The fourth quarter saw the Knicks putting up a fair fight, but never coming closer than 7 points, despite the efforts from Mario (again) and Knox. We went on to lose and that was ok. I was just sad because during the telecast (and the NBA League Pass extension confirmed that) it looked like Mitch’s streak of 2+ blocks did come to an end. Alas, it was not to be. Sooner or later it had to happen, and it was more than acceptable for it to happen against Vucevic, who’s more than a handful to contain on defense and would tire a lot of guys around the league. Well, I thought, it was good until it last (and by the way Mitch would have been second all-time among rookies anyway, only tied with the Admiral).

Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to open the boxscore to write this recap. Two blocks? I remembered a clear one on a Terrence Ross jumpshot early in the fourth quarter, but where was the second? I went on to check and there it was: it was credited, with 7:02 to go in the fourth (so less than two minutes after the first) against an Aaron Gordon tip-in. And you know what? They were right! It was a block, only it happened in a split-second and in real time it looked like Gordon’s attempt just clanged onto the rim.

The streak goes on! 26 games with at least 2 blocks for Robinson, putting him in sole possession of the second place all-time among rookies. If the Knicks were a 35-win team (god forbid), I think Mitch would have a clear shot to be nominated for the second All-Defensive team. Being the Knicks a 15-win team, I don’t think his effort will be rewarded (this year). But then again, maybe it’s best not to be put in the spotlight too soon, especially with the summer of AD ’round the corner. Don’t take away my Mitch please, I want him here forever.

A few notes:

– Mitch’s streak is also the 12th longest ever in the history of the League (non only rookies). Doncic and Young might be better (they are, as of now), but Mitch’s season has been nothing short of historical. It’s the best rookie season for a Knick since Ewing, bar none. Last night (and mind you, he really was gassed in a few stretches) he posted a 12/9/3/2 line (3 steals, 2 blocks) and it looked like he wasn’t even trying that much. If his offseason is just average, he’ll come back ready to plaster opposing players all over the court. He’s just too good.

– Mario went nuts tonight in his return to Orlando (byt the way: I don’t understand why you have to make a promise to start a guy against his former team, which selected him 5th overall and repeatedly saw him fail to live to expectations, but still. I’m ready for the Ntilikina night in 2020, when Frank will start against the Knicks and put up 7/3/3): 29 points on 20 shots, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. It would be so easy to root for him if he only cared to play real basketball more than once every two weeks. The 29 points are his new career-high. If he has a few more games like this one, maybe he’ll ditch his negative WS/48 for the season, who knows?

– Mario’s season reminds me of those friends who talk always like they’re such big shots in every area, and most of the times (rightfully) nobody believes them. Then one night you go to a restaurant and you see that there’s, say, Bruce Springsteen seated two tables from you. At the end of the dinner Bruce comes to your table and greets your friend, telling him “hey, we have to check back on each other! Remember that night I backed you on vocals in front of 3,000 people?” and your jaw drops to the ground. Next day, your friend will claim he had a burger with Elon Musk on Wednesday and you’ll go back not believing anything he says. Last night, the stepover dunk, the LeBron block: the Bruce meeting. Everything else: utter crap.

– Do I need to say anything about Mudiay? Yes, I do. If Mudiay learned to play every night like his first quarter, I’d be more than ok with keeping him on board. I don’t care that much that he misses his shots if he keeps the offense humming. Sadly, he was able to do that only for 10 minutes. Still, a well rounded box score: 13/7/10/2/1. He just was inefficient (13 points on 13 shots, 3 turnovers) and the usual minus on defense. He also can’t play the PnR, but in the open (or semi-open) floor he found Mitch three times, which has to be a season high for him.

– Did Knox turn the corner in terms of offensive efficiency? In March, he was able to shoot a respectable (for a rookie) 53% TS. In April he’s at 62% (ultra small sample size, I know). I mean, he still sucks, but there’s some improvement here and there. 21 points on 13 shots, 4 boards and 2 steals aren’t that bad.

– Billy Garrett Jr had his NBA debut thanks to the fact that we’re out of bodies in the backcourt. He was nothing special, but he can run the PnR much better than Mudiay. I know, that’s like saying that 3 is higher than 2. Mudiay has to be one of the worst 5 pg in the league (10-day contracts included) in running the pick and roll.

– Kornet was thoroughly abused by Vucevic. It’s not exactly fresh news, but normally he’s at his worst when asked to man the 5 without some enforcement (be it Vonleh or Mitch). He collected a game-low -21 plus/minus (Mitch was +7 for what it’s worth).

We’re getting closer and closer to the last spot (we need two losses, two Phoenix wins, or any combination of those). I guess next game will be a blowout, so we’re due!

See you against the Rockets!

 

Orlando Magic 103 – New York Knicks 108 – Game Recap

You already know I played some 2KNBA games in the past (I didn’t buy 2K19, I have some sort of on-again off-again relationship with the franchise). You already know I like to play MyPlayer/MyCareer as my go-to mode. You already know, also, that my build of choice is a stocky SF/PF that plays like a ground bound Shawn Marion with no dribble skills whatsoever. I don’t know why, but it looks like my brain refuses to learn the basic joypad coordination needed to achieve an average ballhandling level in the game, so that’s the best I can do.

Just once, though, I walked another path and created a 7’2″ center that (as per his ratings) shouldn’t have been able to do anything on the court for a while, at least until he theoretically got enough reps as to improve his rating. I don’t remember that avatar’s name, let’s call him “Longson Tallman”.

See, there’s some sort of a “cheat” in every 2K MyPlayer iteration I can remember. As long as you’re positioned well on defense and you’re not a total failure at timing things, you’re going to snatch a lot of boards. But, if you’re amazingly tall, you’re also going to block a huge amount of shots. While playing with Longson Tallman, by his 30th game in the League (OVR rating: around 65) he was given starter minutes, and he started posting lines like 18 points, 16 boards and 6 blocked shots in 30 minutes. As soon as it happened for the third straight game, I found the game not competitive and not realistic (a rookie with a 65 OVR posting numbers almost never seen? I know you’re supposed to be the best player in every game you play solo, but come on) and gave up.

I fear I might have given up too soon, as that avatar is coming to life under our own very eyes. I think we are so used to be prone to overreaction that we’re not able anymore to understand on a rational level what Mitch is doing in his minutes on the court. It’s going straight into videogame production. And I feel like I can’t process what’s going on when you factor his contract in.

Anyway, the game: first quarter futility blah blah blah terrible starters blah blah blah Magic stomping the ground yadda yadda yadda ENTER MITCH ok now it’s a game but wait what Mudiay is entering with him oh god Mitch will never see the ball

But actually Mudiay does a passable impression of a two legged freight train around the rim

But Mudiay never passes the ball to Mitch

But Henry Ellenson (who?), who will have the game of his life, has already learned to lob the ball to Mitch so in the end it’s all fine

Haha fools are trying to shoot above Mitch, yeah sure TWO BLOCKS in the same possession one on the perimeter and one around the rim oh my god

Hey it’s really a game! We’re close! Oh wait Knox is back into the game doing his Isadora Duncan routine

What are you serious this is our closing lineup: Mudiay Trier Jenkins Ellenson Robinson

Oh and by the way Mud passed the ball to Mitch just once in the game, two feet from halfcourt. Good job from a so-called PG

Zo entering spinning wheel mode

Mitch entering shutdown mode and hitting the free throw to put us in the lead

Ellenson plis stahp WE ARE TRYING TO TANK (cit. Spike) but yeah it’s good to hear a meaningful Mike Breen BANG from the Larry Johnson spot

And that’s the game. That’s it. No fake comeback, a pretty thrilling win (even if one that derails the tank a bit thanks to a few scrubs that probably won’t be here next year) and another monster performance by Mitch. Good stuff, in the end.

The good:

– I think you already expect it, don’t you? Mitchell Robinson (17 pts, 14 rebs, 6 blk, +5 +/-) just played one of the most dominant defensive performance I’ve ever seen from a Knicks post-Ewing. It’s not the numbers, mind you – I mean, of course it’s the numbers, but they don’t tell the whole story. It’s how he’s much more vocal on defense, directing people with his shouts and his long-ass arms, how people are genuinely afraid to shoot when he’s near them, how he slides alongside wing players, how he scored on a one-armed putback that also doubles as a classic dad-against-a-7-year-old-kid move, how a blatant foul he committed wasn’t called to give him a block (now, this last one might just be fortuitous, but it really looked like a star treatment). Guys, I think he’s arrived on the national scene. Keep also in mind that he played a lot of minutes with Mudiay, who really, really, really doesn’t know how to pass the ball to the rolling guy without turning the rock over. I’m afraid to open his B-R page because I’m not in the position to sport a boner for half an hour right now. I’ll just say he’s cruising comfortably over .200 WP/48. As a rookie. After not having played for a year. He looked gassed at a certain point in the first half after having played 16 straight minutes of pure bombshell basketball, but that was to be expected.

– Henry Ellenson (13 pts, 9 rebs, 5 ast, +18 +/-) played like 2008 Hedo Turkoglu’s skills went into Jonas Jerebko’s body. The numbers are great for a 10-day guy, but how he got there is even better. His lob to Mitch in the early seconds of the second quarter said a couple things: one, the kid understand basic principles of basketball better than the most famous recipient of Fizdale magic (throw the ball very high to the kid who jumps higher than anyone) and two, he likes to play team basketball. I don’t think he’ll stick around for much, but a Jenkins special might be in the making (this year plus next unguaranteed). Oh, you know who never recorded a 13-9-5 line in his Knicks stint? Yeah, the tall guy who wore number 6 (Oddly enough, Willy did once).

– Allonzo Trier (18 pts, 5 rebs, 2 ast, +21 +/-) played an amazingly efficient game, scoring 18 points on just 5 shots. Generally speaking, he was very good on offense, getting to the line repeatedly and being a menace every time he touched the ball. He also recorded 3 steals, and that was in just 21 minutes of playing time. I don’t know, if someone came to me telling me that an undrafted guy would average 10/3/2 in 22 mpg on Hardenesque splits (45/38/85) and an above average TS% I would have been very happy. It’s a shame they botched the Knox pick, otherwise the last one would have been a historical draft. On a side note: how ironic is that a guy they call Iso Zo is a much more reliable source of team basketball than your nominal backup point guard? On a different side note: how bad it is that as soon as someone sends a double Allonzo’s way he doesn’t know what to do with the ball? That’s the main thing he has to improve in the offseason.

The bad:

– It’s difficult to single out a bad player among the starters, but I’ll ride with the 3-for-16 shooting guy. Kevin Knox (8 pts, 5 rebs, 2 ast, -18 +/-) should be ashamed, though it’s not his fault, that his fellow rookies are performing this much better than him. I can’t understand for the life of me how a guy can play 50 games in the NBA and still make the same basic driving mistakes. At times he looks like a floater maestro and a competent three point shooter. Most other times he looks like a terrible chucker who just learned what an orange ball is, and thinks that “Spalding” is a parody of the principal from “Saved by the bell”. In a few months he won’t be 19 anymore, and it’s going to be hard to excuse his limitations just pointing at his age. For the umpteenth time, not giving up on him so soon, but definitely not hopeful about his chances to become a good NBA player.

Fun-sized bits:

– The starters accounted for 33 of the overall 108 Knicks’ points. Not a single starter scored in double digit. Then again, a Lance-Vonleh frontcourt isn’t exactly a recipe for offensive success. Thing is, they were horrible even in their defensive rotations. Can someone tell me why are we playing Thomas again?

– Mudiay played a energizing game, but there is still no reason to play him this much when it’s evident that he don’t want to make the team run the way it should. He can score, yeah, but so did THJ. 19 points on 18 shots are merely mediocre, and while I dig his 8 rebounds, I’m sick of seeing him ignore Mitch’s diving enterprises. I’m also sick of the weird infatutation Fizdale has with him, but whatever, we’re still tanking in our own way, so we maybe need Mud’s awful defense.

– John Jenkins can shoot the ball, this we know. If only we had more people able to find him on the perimeter… oh wait, DSJ can do that, but no, let Dennis play off-guard as soon as Mudiay enters the game. I shook my head so many times during the game because of this that I might have generated a very small hurrican in my living room. I’ll call it “Chris Smith”.

– Dotson was completely out of rhythm today. 6 points on 2-for-7 shooting, a pretty meh way to follow on his great Spurs game.

– Vonleh only played 12 minutes, and I agree with that. Ellenson was much better than him last night. That’s scary and damning of the fact that we didn’t trade him away, even if it was for a 2025 second.

– DSJ played a blah game, but I still quite like his brand of basketball (on a grading curve, of course). I wish he’s gonna fix a bit his shot in the offseason. It looks like it can be fixed, and it would open up the game a lot for him. He found the time to throw a good lob to Mitch; it didn’t become an assist because Mitch got fouled, but they’re finding their chemistry. I like it.

– Has there ever been a 10-day contract getting interviewed after the game at center court? I think it’s a record set by Ellenson.

– Oh, guys. Mitch fouled just thrice in 33 minutes and notched 3 steals. How do you spell “future All-Defense player”?

And so we’re here, waiting for our next game against the Cavs and simultaneously praying to lose one and to see Mitch and the kids doing great things. I think we’ll win on Thursday, unless we play Mudiay and Thomas 48 minutes. Robinson is becoming too good not to heavily impact winnable games.

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!

 

 

 

GOTME (Part II): Point Guard

The Greatest PG Of the Modern Era: Magic Johnson

Player Best PER Avg 5 Best PER Career PER #1 PER # of top 10 PER
Magic 27 26 24.1 0 10
Stockton 23.9 23.3 21.8 0 6
Nash 23 22.6 20.1 0 2
Payton 23.6 22.7 18.9 0 5
Kidd 22.5 20.6 18.5 0 1
Paul 30 25.9 25.9 0 2


For those not old enough to remember Magic’s playing career, you can get an idea of how dominant he was by looking at his numbers. Johnson managed a jaw dropping TS% of 61.0, the 7th highest in the 3-point era. He contributed in multiple areas, averaging 11.0 assists, 7.1 rebounds, and 19.2 points per 36 minutes. Magic was a three time MVP and a three time Finals MVP. Johnson was so skilled that he came out of retirement as a 36 year old and still managed good production in a partial season (PER 21.1) despite being away from the game for 5 years and putting on a few dozen pounds.

Prior to his arrival the Lakers had been an average team, their last championship had been Wilt’s 1972 team. During Magic’s tenure the team averaged 59 wins per season, and he was critical to the team’s success. In his rookie season, Johnson stepped in at center for an injured Kareem in the Finals. He scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists bringing home the Laker’s first title in 8 years. When Jordan retired the first time, the Bulls still won 55 games the year after. After Magic hung them up, the Lakers only managed 43 wins. While the Lakers of the 1980s were a deep team, without Magic Johnson they weren’t a title contender.

For those who are fortunate to witness Johnson play, it’s hard to believe he was so efficient given his flashy style. Magic featured no look passes, going behind his back, spin moves, and long bounce passes. Usually players of that sort suffer from falling in love with the spectacular move that they loose track of how inefficient these kinds of plays are. But not Johnson. He was seemingly omniscient in the half court and lethal in transition. Johnson always found a way to get the ball to the open man and was the engine that fueled the offense. Additionally Magic brought a million dollar smile and a joie de vivre to the game, which made him likable on a national level.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Magic’s career is how unlikely it was. A 6-8 point guard without three point range is unthinkable today. If you had to construct Magic from today’s players, you’d take Joe Johnson (minus the three point shot), give him Steve Nash’s passing and efficient scoring, add Ronnie Brewer’s steals, combine LeBron’s rebounding, and sprinkle a little of White Chocolate’s flash (from his Sacramento days). Just an unbelievable mix of attributes, and a truly unique athlete.

The Reserves: Nash, Stockton, Kidd, Payton
Young possibilities: Chris Paul

Stockton was almost as efficient with regards to scoring, was just as good a passer, and was a better defender. But he only averaged 3.1 reb/36 and 14.9 pts/36, and was never considered one of the best players in the league. Stockton’s longevity is a positive, but guys with a higher peak are more important to winning championships than those that stick around a few more seasons. Nash, a two time MVP, is 13th all time in TS%, but lags slightly behind the others in passing and much more so on defense. You could make a good case for Gary Payton as the #2 guy, especially when you consider how good of a defender he was. Both he and Kidd suffer from from inefficient scoring. Payton’s had only 4 years where his TS% was good (1995-1998) while Kidd only achieved this recently in Dallas. Meanwhile Chris Paul has gotten off to a great start, but I think we need a few more seasons from him to put his career into perspective.

The Fix Is (Still) In

So I was watching Outside the Lines on ESPN and they were showing clips of the Tim Donaghy interview. At the conclusion, they made mention of a poll running on ESPN.com, where the question was posed, “How will Tim Donaghy’s claims influence how you watch NBA games.”

And the possible responses were: A) Will never view games the same way or B) No, influence, he isn’t credible.

My immediate reaction was, where’s C) It confirms something I knew innately to be true and won’t change a gosh-darned thing about how I watch NBA games. Why isn’t that a possible poll choice, ESPN.com?

Does anyone on this forum really think games are officiated fairly? Does anyone doubt that since the dawn of time, superstars (whether it’s Kobe, or Magic or Michael, or Larry or Dr. J or Hakeem or Shaq or LeBron or any of the pantheon of individuals who can be readily identified by their first name only) have gotten and will continue to get the calls. Now, the majority of my NBA-gazing is occupied by Nix games, but over the last 25 (gulp) years, I can say that our boys have always gotten hosed by the refs (the Hue Hollins call in game 5 in the ’94 semis v. the Bulls being the exception that proves the rule. But then again, his royal Nike-peddlingness was swatting the horsehide that summer, so maybe it isn’t an exception after all.)

In my early years of fandom, I keenly recall staring dumbly at Channel 9 (we didn’t have cable) and being utterly unable to fathom why Kevin McHale was allowed to use those ultra-sharp elbows of his to whack away at Pat Cummings, Ken “The Animal” Bannister, Louie Orr and others of their ilk with impunity whilst any mere mortal (see above) who dared fart in Bird’s general direction was immediately showered with whistles and a series of arcane/disco-like gestures from the refs. Even at that early age, I could tell that some players/teams were favored for reasons at that time, seemed beyond me. After all, I loved Mike Newlin. Why did the refs seem to hate him so much?

So this afternoon on the teevee, when Donaghy said that he was able to predict/bet on games with 75-80% accuracy simply because he knew who favored/loathed which players, my first thought was, “Duh! Of course you can. If you’re in the locker room, chewing the fat with the other refs, of course you’re going to hear who hates Rasheed Wallace or who loves Mike Fratello’s teams. (What that’s about I’ll never know. Possibly there’s a rogue ref who just loves the movie, “Hoosiers,” or something and pines for a return to those days of yore.) When you combine that with the unstated (or secretly stated) mandate to build up/market individual talents that Stern instituted to promote the league during the financially problematic years pre-Bird/Magic/Jordan, it’s clear how one could make a crapload of cash betting on the NBA.”

It’s one of the things that actually, in my own perverse kink, leads me to prefer watching b-ball to the Jets or the Mets (Yes, I know. I’ve really picked some winners there). I know that it’s not a level playing field and that seems to me to be a far more apt parallel to the world at large than the pristine, pastoral, Jeffersonian/democratic ideal (pre-‘Roids) presented by MLB or the power/precision, crypto-fascist, ground acquisition/military conquest paradigm put forth by the NFL. In both cases, while there are certainly times that I’ll fling inanimate objects and howl in horror at a botched call, for the most part, the refs/umps do a good job and I never get the impression that the game is in the bag for a particular team and/or player.

But, if I was the kind of individual who believed that the world was for the most part a fair and just place, I’m sure I’d be out there painting my face and clutching a Bud more often. But I don’t.

I’m a New Yorker. This is New York. We know that the fix is in. Solving that wholly unsolvable problem is far less important than making sure we’ve got the inside dope/skinny and can profit accordingly.

It’s why it’s so essential that Walsh is able to snag a LeBron or Dwyane. Not only because they are supreme talents, but because having a superstar who gets the benefit of the doubt is the best way to win a title over the last 30 years in the NBA. [Ed’s note: Also LeBron or Wade provide a little more production than say Jared Jeffries or Wilson Chandler.]

Our one chance at a super-duper star, Patrick Ewing was never qualified to join the first-name only club. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because some unseen force wanted him to be Bill Russell 2.0 and he wasn’t. Maybe because all the grunts and the profuse sweating made him lack the grace and/or effortlessness that true stars seem to possess. It never seemed easy for our Patrick. I mean, he worked like a mofo for every basket/rebound/block he ever got but he never made the unbelievable play that simultaneously seemed routine. And while he was allowed to take an extra step or two when he rolled to the middle to unleash that trusty jump hook of his, because his archetype was that of the working-class hero, he was never anointed by the refs to the degree that would have/could have pushed those Riley/Van Gundy era teams over the top. To whit: If Jordan had strayed a few steps off the bench in ’97 do you think there’s any way he’d have been suspended for game 6? No way. Ain’t gonna happen.

So while Stern frets about the perception/bottom line of his beloved league as Timmy D the canary keeps singing his song, were he to seek my council, I’d say, relax Dave! We real fans get it. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Say no more.

Robinson’s DNP A Test For D’Antoni

According to the Daly News, Mike D’Antoni said the following about his decicision to bench Nate Robinson against the Orlando Magic:

“We want to win, and if he’s conducive to winning then he’ll obviously be back in the lineup. If not he’s not.”

D’Antoni’s case is that the diminutive guard is not conducive to winning, but that really doesn’t hold water. The Knicks have gotten off to one of the worst starts in team historically, and Robinson hasn’t played that much in that span. Nate has missed 12 of 19 games and has only seen 30 minutes or more in 2 games. Last year he played in 74 games and averaged 29.9 minutes per game.

The biggest irony is that there is a guard that’s unconducive to winning: Chris Duhon. The Knicks point guard is shooting 40.8% ts% and averaging 7.5 pts/36 yet is first on the team in minutes played. Although not a pure point guard, Robinson blows Duhon’s productivity out of the water (54.1% ts%, 17.9 pts/36). Last year with Robinson in the rotation, New York was 17th on offense. This year they are 22nd, even with Danillo Gallinari playing excellently on that end of the floor.

If Coach D’Antoni is making the case that Robinson’s benching is solely related to the team’s ability to win games, then it begs the question “Why is Chris Duhon leading the team in minutes?” Obviously the real issue is personalities; D’Antoni has been visibly upset with Robinson on a few occasions. Fortunately conflicts can resolve in a manner that’s positive. Robinson and D’Antoni could come out of this with greater respect and understanding of each other. But disputes like this can also end ugly, and Nate could see himself on the end of more DNPs or even traded.

How this plays out will give us a little insight on D’Antoni. He has a reputation for being a player’s coach, but perhaps underneath that veneer is a little bit of a disciplinarian. A few fans have voiced that this team is reminiscent of Larry Brown’s Knicks, and perhaps this feud is D’Antoni’s version of Brown’s “playing the game the right way.” Clearly the Knicks need Robinson’s production, and if they don’t receive it you have to wonder if D’Antoni isn’t the type of coach that can motivate players of all types.

Knicks 110 – Pacers 103

Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America, from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea!  Recap Robert here. For those who chose to say, take in the theater or perhaps venture out to the local motion picture house or perhaps to play the role of social gadfly and sally forth for a stroll about the boulevards of our fair city, taking in the local color and engaging in witty badinage with the citizenry — shopkeepers, wand’ring minstrels,  and whatnot, I have some surprising, nay shocking news. Our beloved sporting collective, the cagers known far and wide as the Knickerbocker Basketball Club of New York, managed to score MORE points than their esteemed opponents, thereby proving victorious in this evening’s contest.

Honestly, they kinda screwed up the lead/theme I had going for this recap. I was gonna vent about lousy officiating, how the Nix never get the calls, and as a result, we get 4 and 5 point swings at crucial moments/turning points in the game. I was going to follow that by ripping MD’A a new one for sitting Hill, Douglas, and Gallo when the boys were clearly on cruise mode and end it w/a whole, “The Pacers have a plan on offense and defense and the Knicks look like 5 guys who showed up for a pickup game” screed. And they go and eff it up by, well…winning. But I’ll take wins and being forced to re-write my purple prose any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The thing that’s so frustrating about this team is that when the 3 pointers are falling, every other aspect of their game somehow magically rounds into form. To wit: They were down 19 in the middle of the 3rd while enjoying what must have been a pleasant view of watching Tyler Hansbrough do a great David Lee circa ’05-’07 impression. (Side note — I loathe the “Caucasians can only be compared to Caucasians, Euros to other Euros, Overrated bigs from Arizona, etc. etc.,” thing, but here, the comparison is pretty apt.) Suddenly, Hughes cans a couple of threes and magically, the defense gets stingy,  they’re driving to the basket, getting to the line, and/or finding Curry down low. Over the last 4:07, they outscored the LarryBirds 13-4, forced 4 turnovers, shot 66% from the field and basically made it a game again. Same thing happened in the 4th. The lead vacillated between 9 and 13 and they hadn’t made a trey all quarter until w/5:37 to go, Al Buckets cans a bunch of shots from downtown and once again, the NYers are scrambling for lose balls, rotating like mofos on D, beating lazy defenders down the floor – basically doing all the little things good teams do — and they outscore ‘em 24-6 to win in a flourish.

Not to get too Phil Jackson here, but after the 3’s, the whole energy/dynamic of the team changed. Watching the game, you could sense it. Even if the score was still pretty bleak, I (and they) thought they could make a game of this. (One thing they gotta fix — Jordan Hill is the worst towel-waver I’ve seen in a long time. He needs to either start or get in touch w/Jack Haley, stat.) When this team is hitting from downtown (and everyone on the roster is shooting worse from downtown than last year, save Gallo), they can be pretty decent. It’s something I think we all knew heading into the year, but it’s really remarkable (in this game at least) how much their confidence/collective psyche is dependent on their long-range shooting. Anyway, we can all smile now. The world is a glorious and just place again. Let’s all bask in the glory of said win and hopefully our lovable collection of pituitary cases can try to remember what led to the win at least until Saturday afternoon v. the even more hapless NJ Nyets. Some individual performance assessments:

EDDY CURRY – Eddy! Eddy! Eddy! First things first. That Plaxico Burress-esque goat he’s rockin’ is badass. And, it actually makes his face look thinner by accentuating the downward slope of his mandible. Facial aesthetics aside, I was impressed and genuinely happy for Mr. Curry. It was like a mini bit o’ time-travel back to the ’06-’07 season. He was very good in the low post, drew a ton of fouls on offense and got called for an equal amount on defense, shot horridly from the FT line, and turned the ball/couldn’t kick the ball out whenever he was double and triple teamed. Good times. W/this team, his inability to defend the post is less noticeable b/c, well, no one else can either. If he keeps this up, he’s an asset for short stints (like when the 3’s aren’t dropping) and might…gasp…actually be tradable.

LARRY HUGHES – A comeback season for Larry at this stage of his career would be pretty much unprecedented. Can anyone else think of a volume shooting 12-year vet who shot .410 from the field, .489 TS% and .437 eFG% for his career that suddenly morphed into a smart, solid efficient 2? I can’t. It leads one to think that his #’s will regress to mean over the course of the season, but Larry’s seems to have genuinely altered his game/figured out how to play as he’s gotten less “athletic.”

AL HARRINGTON – Oh Al. I can’t stay mad at you. Even if that two-tone mouthpiece really makes you look as bucktoothed as Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. One thing that confuses me. Why isn’t Harrington a better defender? He’s certainly got the length/athleticism (Sorry about that. I promise not to write “athleticism” any more. I feel like Jay Bilas and that’s not a good thing.) to be effective, and that steal in the 4th was money. Is it just effort? W/Al, I’m tempted to say no. Al certainly tries very, very hard, at times to his detriment. So what gives?

CHRIS DUHON – Admit it. We were all secretly hoping that that stinger he suffered in the 3rd was serious. I certainly did. But then again, I’m a bad person. Duhon at least got in synch W/Lee on the pick and roll tonight. (Why Hibbert/Jones/Hansbrough switched to cover Du the whole game is really beyond me). I can actually live w/the atrocious shooting for now. He’s going to start those hitting eventually, right?. It’s the silly passes and 35 foot 3’s that are so galling and seemingly avoidable.

WILSON CHANDLER – He was having his best game of the season before getting in foul trouble (& that charge that fouled him out was a [channeling C. Barkley] turr-a-bull call, just trrbll!). Even so, he still seems inclined to pull up rather than go hard to the hole, possibly (and I’m speculating here) b/c he’s worried he doesn’t have the lift to pull it off.

DAVID LEE – (Use your Seinfeld voice when reading this) Hey, what is the deal with David Lee’s rebounding? I mean come on! You built your entire game on getting after lose balls, tip-ins, and hustle plays but for a solid week or two, you’ve looked more sluggish/lethargic than I did when I was 6 and some friends and I drank a bottle of Robitussin b/c the older kids said you could catch a buzz off of it. I mean, really! (Resume regular thinking voice)

JORDAN HILL, TONEY DOUGLAS, DANILO GALLINARI – As I mentioned about, when the game looked like it was gonna be a rout, I was pounding nails into the floor w/my forehead b/c this trio was riding the pine. Despite the fact that they won, why was Douglas benched for the 2nd half? Why was Gallo yanked so early in the 2nd & 3rd? Yeah, they’d both had uneventful games to that point, but they were certainly no less at fault for the burgeoning deficit than the other fellows. Is this a case of “trusting the vets” or just getting lucky w/the right combo at the right time. As w/all games in which Gallo doesn’t play a lot, I assume Knick fans start collectively praying to some obscure Italian saint that it’s not his back flaring up.

Couple of general thoughts on the Pacers – For all the folks (myself included) who are aghast at passing on Lawson/Blair/Jennings, how good would Danny Granger look at PF in SSOL? I remember bellowing something bellicose about the folly of passing on him for Frye in the ’05 draft. For the first year at least, I was thoroughly mocked on nykfp.com b/c Frye looked like a stud. I think everyone’d take Granger in a heartbeat now. Alls I’m saying is, give the rooks time, yo.

Larry Bird really hasn’t aged well, has he? At this point, he looks like a cross between W.C. Fields and Joe Lieberman.

Hibbert seems so out of place in today’s NBA. If it were 1987, he’d be a nice, slow-footed big w/some decent low-post moves who could contribute on a winning team. Think Kevin Duckworth and his ilk. Now, how many times a year does Hibbert play against someone his size/style? W/Yao out and w/Shaq’s decline I think we’re down to Perkins, Kaman, and Bogut

Anyways, that was fun to watch. Winning. Hmm. A fella could get used to this…