New York Knicks 103 – Memphis Grizzlies 98 – Game Recap

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

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

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

Let’s try it again.

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

The good:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun-sized bits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good:

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

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

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

The bad:

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

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

Fun-sized bits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you!

New York Knicks 117 – Boston Celtics 109 – Game Recap

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

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

The good:

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

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

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

The bad:

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

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

Fun-sized bits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on Friday against the Pelicans!

Portland Trail Blazers 118 – New York Knicks 114 – Game Recap

Another hard fought game and a valiant loss from our beloved Knicks; so why, oh why, am I feeling so sad tonight?

Well, I guess it has something to do with the new starting five/rotation employed by a seemingly bumbling (of lately) coach Fizdale. While I understand that the starting five with the three rookies was having some problems and had to be changed, I really don’t get how sending all three of them to the bench, starting Hezonja and Kanter and not playing Dotson can be seen as any other thing from a case of “I might have lost my damn mind”. Or maybe a diktat from the front office? Either way, I’m starting to get a bit worried about a few things. Did I overestimate Fizdale’s acumen? Did we underestimate the unknown meddling power of Perry/Mills? I don’t know; I’m just happy we lost because this one wasn’t certainly a good game to win for our development plans.

The good:

– Noah Vonleh (14 pts, 14 rebs, 2 ast, -3 +/-) is a different player when he starts – and when defenses leave him a bit of space to operate. Aside from the strong numbers you see between parenthesis, to which he added 3 steals and 1 block for good measure, his presence was felt throughout the game, with a thunderous slam to cap his night with 8:31 to go in the third quarter. Yeah, he missed 4 straight free throws in the closing minutes, but as I said, I’m happy with the loss, so I won’t scold him for those (but boy, did two of them look flat and ugly). If his three point stroke is semi-legit, which I think could be even with that flat arc of his, Vonleh is surely gonna find a home in the NBA for a long time coming (at the moment he’s shooting 32% from three on 1.4 attempts per game, which is not good but at least should keep defenses a bit on their toes if he’s wide open on the perimeter). If you ask me, at this point of the season he’s my MVP for the Knicks, which says a lot about the whole team. Vonleh was the only one of the new three new starters I have no issue with: he works his tail off night in and night out, and certainly deserves to start ahead of Knox.

– Tim Hardaway Jr. (32 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, +10 +/-) put in the third straight 30 pts performance, and did so on just 21 shots. I’m no big Timmy fan, but his scoring workload is undeniable, and tonight he added a few things here and there to be a thorn on the Blazers’ side. A key feature of this year is the sheer number of free throws he’s shooting, a career-high 6.6 per game, good for 13th in the whole league. It doesn’t hurt that he’s converting them as his usual mid-80s clip. I’m still not convinced his salary is right, as he won’t win you that many games, but if life gives you lemon, you make a Tim Hardaway 25 ppg season and call it a day – hoping someone knocks on your door to trade for him. Bonus meager tidbit: his 32 points were the most for all players in the NBA tonight.

– Trey Burke (19 pts, 3 rebs, 3 ast, -15 +/-) has bounced back very strongly in the last three games after not playing in 3 of the previous 4. For the last three, he’s marching to the tune of 24.7 ppg on 67.8 TS% in just under 27 minutes per game. I’m really hoping other teams are watching now, as he’s putting on quite the show and I certainly wouldn’t mind adding a couple second rounders to our hoard. I know, I’m saying good things about players I’d like to see traded away, but isn’t that the point of rebuilding? I mean, what good could come from winning three or four games on the heels of a scorching Trey Burke night if it’s not to trade him as soon as you can? Luckily we didn’t win this game neither the Pels’ one, so I can’t complain too much about our overall record, but you know some night we’ll win a meaningless game on a great performance from one of our useless (if we’re speaking about development) veterans. For a night, he also took the crown of “minus King” from THJ, as he posted a game-worst plus/minus of -15.

The bad:

– Mario Hezonja (2 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast, +1 +/-) is starring in the critically acclaimed “How to lose your spot in the NBA in four years”, a masterful tale of fall from grace, sorrow and melancholy you can catch for another 30-ish nights on a cool off-Broadway venue near Penn Station. Seriously, Mario, this is how you play im your first start of the season after being extensively benched? You care this little about basketball? I remember you telling people that in Barcelona you were the one people should come look for, not Messi. Now, if you talk the talk, you gotta be able to walk the walk. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guy so keen on looking so defeated and depressed on the court. At least Fiz cut his playing time quickly – only 17 minutes for him tonight – but not before Mario wandered around the court losing continuatively guys on defense and shooting the ball horribly. I thought he’d have a nice career in the League, but now he might be my least favorite Knick of the season.

– Kevin Knox (2 pts, 1 reb, 1 blk, -1 +/-) is looking like he should be Mario’s understudy in the aforementioned theater piece. In nights like these you really don’t understand what our brain trust saw in Knox when they chose to pick him. I want to be crystal clear: I’m not saying in any way that we should give up hope on him. It’s too early even for Knicks standard to think there’s nothing salvageable about him. I’m just saying, for the second game in a row, that I don’t know what to look for in Kevin to be able to acknowledge he has a future in this league. I look at him and my first thought is Joe Alexander. I’m desperately looking for silver linings here, but I don’t see any damaged Bradley Cooper to couple to this Jennifer Lawrence we have here.

Fun-sized bits:

– Frank had a quietly nice game, even dusting off a cool move driving to the rack with 3:33 to play in the third quarter. He played a little less than 29 minutes and was quite good at defending on Lillard and McCollum. He lost them a few times because of bad defensive rotations, but he certainly didn’t make the game easy for them everytime he got the assignment. Games like this act as a stern reminder that our guy is not suited to be a point guard, anyway. The Knicks dished out 22 assists, 3.5 more than their average for the year; Frank only contributed to one. Not that point guard ability is measured only in assists, but really, Frank tries and shies away from point guard responsibilites too often for my liking.

– Speaking of assists: Enes Kanter had a subdued game (posting a team high plus/minus!), scoring just 7 points and getting just 5 board, but tallied 6 assists. It’s like our inexistent offense forces him to become Tom Boerwinkle from time to time. He’s no Wes Unseld or Kevin Love, though. With 5:20 to play in the third stanza he missed an outlet pass to a streaking Knick by a good eight feet. I’m more accurate at hitting my TV with the remote from the other room when the Knicks play.

– I’m afraid of saying anything about Mudiay. Another game with a positive net rating, third game in a row with a TS% north of 60, not looking lost when driving to the rim. I can’t wait for the other shoe to drop, but I’m happy for him if he’s finally starting to get how to play in the NBA. Not that we care about that, seeing as he’s due to be out of here by the start of next season, unless something really horrible has happened in the meantime.

– Iso Zo really put the stress on the Iso part: 9 points on 5 shots, 3 turnovers and nothing else for the game. Welp, this kid sometimes is impalpable outside of points scored.

– I just want to see Mitch play. He’s an anemic defensive rebounder because he’s always in the wrong place, but he’s such a force of nature he’s almost assuredly must watch TV. 6 points, 5 boards (4 offensive ones!), 2 blocks, 2 steals and 1 assist in 18 minutes of play. He’d be easily averaging 10/7/2 as a second-round pick rookie if only one of our guards knew how to throw him two good lobs a game.

– Fiz, what’s the damn point in starting four guys with expiring contracts and a very low chance of being here next year (save for Vonleh, I hope) while totally benching a cost controlled asset like Dotson, who’s not playing that bad for the year? Hornacek, get out of that horn rimmed glasses sporting body!

– And again: I’m ok with losing the game. But why did Trey have to enter the game for Kanter with 1:43 to go and the Knicks set to defend in the next possession? Kanter is a sieve and we all now that, but Burke is a sieve who’s also a full 10 inches shorter than Enes… and guess how we ended up losing this one? On an offensive rebound putback by Evan Turner.

Next one will be tomorrow night in Boston. If there’s a game I’d like to win, it’s that one. Let’s show them ill-willed greens what we’re made of! Or not, but don’t start Mario again, please.

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?)!