Toronto Raptors 117 – New York Knicks 92 – Game Recap

It occurs to me I’ve never exactly told you about my Clark Kent job. I don’t know if there’s such a profession in the USA; but my trade is essentially facility management for condos, accounting for expenses for common areas, negotiating between home owners, and generally acting as the guy you call if you’re an home owner and you’re having some sort of building-related problem. In short, I’m sort of a commissioner of condos. At the end of the year, you have to report in a public meeting with the owners about expenses, works in progress, etc.

Historically, in Italy there have been two ways to do this sort of job: treading water, with minimum effort, and bullshitting your way through every meeting, thinking that the owners will easily be manipulated by the guy they feel is in a position of authority, or being very meticulous and transparent, putting as much effort as possible into making data available to every owner in real time so that by the time of the meeting your work is almost entirely done and you just have to negotiate the disputes between owners.

After a new law about condos was approved in 2013, the first category has seen its ranks slowly but steadily depleted, while new blood (like me) has been inserted in the profession with both eyes towards transparency and accountability. That’s all well and good until you actually have a guy from the first category managing your condo (by law, every condo has to have one of such managers). When that happens, it’s amazing to see how a lot of people fall for their bullshit (“Mr. Rossi, but why did we spend 6k euros just for the cleaning service when last year we spent 3k?” “Eh, you see, growing interest rates have an effect on cleaning materials, so the company has to charge more to every customer, also Mr. Bianchi on the second floor has a dog who suffered from diarrhoea all year and your building needed a lot of extra services”) without even blinking an eye. That’s at the same time discouraging for honest guys and mesmerizing to watch in real time. Of course, as soon as one of the owners sees through the blatant lies, the “bad” manager knows his days are numbered, but ignorance and fear of the “supposed” authority makes it so that “bad” managers last a few years more than they should.

I think you know where we’re headed.

Listening to Fizdale lament a lack of defensive players and attribute the many defensive shortcomings to that, and seeing for the umpteenth time a starting five that clearly doesn’t care at all for defense, I couldn’t take my mind off the thought that he actually makes up things on the go. “Oh god, I have the press conference, I have to survive this, what can I say? Yeah, defense! Even if I don’t pay that much attention to gameplan or rotations, those fools will certainly fall for it again!”.

I mean, Toronto is a really good team, and the standings speak for themselves. But there’s no need to make things easy for them by playing from the start two atrocious defenders in Knox and Mudiay and a very suspect one in Hezonja, while forsaking (at least for the moment) our best available defenders in Kadeem Allen and Mitchell Robinson. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we started the game falling behind by 13 (25-12) before Knox and Mudiay got subbed out of the game. By the time Mudiay came back in to the game in the second quarter, Knicks had cut the deficit to seven and the team was humming playfully, with a clear monster performance in the making by Mitch. The second quarter went on to end with the Knicks behind by 19, and there was the game. I don’t think we would have had a chance even with Kadeem running the show from the beginning (especially because tonight he was particularly turnover- and foul- happy) and Mitch and Lance (!) playing from the start, but at least we wouldn’t have been subjected to this dreadful start for the umpteenth time this season. I’m tired of watching no-defense ballhogs and chuckers play freely without any kind of dungeon in sight. We’re near the end, but I can’t help thinking about how there were chunks of this season that were lost due to the fact that we didn’t really put our money where our mouth was, as the full moniker of Stratomatic has been suggesting for a few months.

After that, the game was just a cool Mitch showreel and a reminder that Pascal Siakam is everything you should want in a player.

Onto some notes:

– Let’s start with the huge plus from this game: Mitch blew a chance to nab his first career 20/20 Nick Andersoning two free throws with 3.6 seconds to go, but his box score was still more than majestic: 19 points, 21 rebounds, 2 blocks (I counted 4, but whatever) and a steal in 31 minutes of play. For reference, I give you the full list of rookies who reached those thresholds: Mutombo, Mourning, Shaq, David Robinson, Terry Cummings (guy was good for a while), Hakeem, DeJuan Blair (huh), Ralph Sampson, Derrick Coleman, Greg Anderson, Clark Kellogg, Bill Walton and Earl Williams. It’s not entirely a murderer’s row and Mitch registers the lowest scoring performance, but I think it’s something else to add to his impressive resume. He’s also the third youngest ever to post such numbers. He’s also rocking the second highest WS/48 in the list. Right now he’s posting the sixth highest ever WS/48 season for a rookie. He surpassed MJ. I really, really, really don’t get why he doesn’t start. It makes no sense.

– But, well, in a game like this maybe not starting was a boon, since he didn’t have to play with Mudiay a lot. Mudiay is like Mitch’s kryptonite, on behalf of the fact that he never passes the ball like it’s supposed to. Late in the fourth, Kornet and Ellenson were able to find Mitch twice in the low post. Result: a bucket and a foul. If Luke freaking Kornet is able to do that, shouldn’t everyone be encouraged to do the same? Isn’t “pass the ball to the tall, high jumping guy” a good enough strategy, if we’re trying to keep things simple?

– About Mudiay’s night and the general shortcomings of our lead guards: tonight the Knicks recorded as many assists as turnovers. You know who led the team in assists? You’ve guessed wrong right (I guess, by this paragraph and at this point): DeAndre Jordan, with 4 assists in 20 minutes. Tied at 2 apiece after DAJ there are Kadeem, Mario and Kornet. This team is soooo bad.

– I saw the Knox-as-Novak gain some traction in the comments in the last days (and some weird speculation about trying to foresee how good a player will be based on the number of threes taken in his rookie season – but I think we need team optimism more than ever, so it’s ok), and I stand by it. Shooting open threes is probably the only real NBA skill Knox has. It’s not much, but it’s something. Also two blocks and a steal today! But don’t let them fool you: he played defense like my mom would if I put in her hands a NBA2K controller for the first time and didn’t explain her which button does what.

– I didn’t like Kadeem’s performance that much, but at least he was scoring efficiently (18 points on 9 shots) and trying on defense. These days, it’s enough, even with his 4 turnovers.

– Fiz tried to play Jordan and Mitch together. While I commend the fact that we’re trying weird things, it’s evident from the fact that they tried to defy the principle of bodies compenetration in a few offensive possessions, where they both stood in the same exact area under the rim, that they aren’t receiving even a modicum of effective coaching. That’s, uh, not how you should play, you know? At least one has to stand a bit further from the rim.

– DSJ came back and was terrible. Not Mudiay terrible, but still terrible. 7 points on 11 shots and just one assist are horrible numbers, but he looked like he was playing with a bit of fire on defense.

– How is it even possible to airball a layup and a 5-footer in the same game? Well, the Knicks were able to do that, thanks to DAJ (layup) and Lance (5-footer). Veteran leadership, yay!

So, I think I won’t be able to recap Saturday’s game because I have a friend’s graduation party incoming and we’re planning on getting real wasted, but who knows, I might surpise myself and not wake up with a tremendous headache just to watch Knicks basketball!

See you guys!

New York Knicks 92 – Toronto Raptors 128 – Again, not a Game Recap

Honestly I don’t know what to tell you. This game was probably the worst of the season in terms of actual appeal (I think the Utah one was a bit worse thanks to that dismal first half, but I’m getting to the point where I’m not caring about anything Knicks related for the season. It’s a side effect of the fact that we have so few rootable guys around, I guess) and I found my mind wandering around quite a bit during the game, so I’ll do something different: I’ll reverse engineer our roster, putting into Basketball Reference the exact combination of numbers from every Knick (points, rebounds, assists, minutes played) and selecting the matching performance with the lowest GameScore, just to see what sort of total failure would be needed to assemble a worst team than the one we have right now (hint: it’s possibile that this exercise won’t end with such a bad team).

Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the Alternate History New York Knicks:

At starting center (DeAndre Jordan, GmSc 7.2): Mehmet Okur (6 pts, 6 rebs, 3 ast, 20 mp, GmSc 2.2). Do you remember Memo? He was a stretch big when stretch bigs weren’t all the rage in the NBA. He wasn’t also a bad player at all, finishing his career with a WS/48 of .142, or .065 less than what Mitch Lob is sporting right now. Memo won an NBA title with the Pistons in 2004 as a competent backup big and then proceeded to cash out with Utah, where he was a part of those post-Stockton to Malone iterations that were pesky in the playoffs but never amounted to much. The only Knicks-themed thing I can think of, about Memo, is that Bargs was supposed to be the better version of Okur. Of course, he ended up being just the worse version of BJ Mullens. Anyway, a good choice for starting center. AHNYK start with the right foot. Advantage: tie (prime DAJ would have better than average Okur, but current DeAndre isn’t much better than the big Turk was in his full career).

At starting power forward (Mario Hezonja, GmSc 5.0): Bob McAdoo (8 pts, 5 rebs, 3 ast, 27mp, GmSc 2.9). Wow, really? So the combo PF-C of the AHNYK would be a good stretch five who made an All Star Game and an Hall of Famer? Uh, Mario, you might be in trouble here. Bob McAdoo, who has been a Knick for a full season and two half ones was, was a superb scorer in his heyday, leading the league in total WS in his third season and in PER in his second one, both with the Buffalo Braves. While he was at it, he went on and won ROY in 72-73 and MVP in 74-75. He’s currently 58th ever in career PER. Advantage: AHNYK (but Mario, don’t worry, that block will always be in our hearts).

At starting small forward (Kevin Knox, GmSc 6.9): Danny Manning (12 pts, 6 rebs, 1 ast, 28mp, GmSc 2.8). Oh, wow. Manning was a bit too tall to effectively play small forward even in his much less small-ball reliant era (he actually played just 47 minutes overall at SF since play-by-play data was available for B-R), but he was a pretty good player. The first overall pick in 1988, his career was effectively derailed by injuries, but he found a pretty good niche as a sixth man, winning the 6MOY award in 1997-98, but not before having made two All-Star Games in 1993 and 1994. In a weird stat, he’s 90th ever in personal fouls in the NBA. If someone told me Knox would become a Danny Manning-like player, I’d slap him and myself on the face from joy. So, advantage: AHNYK.

At starting shooting guard (Damyean Dotson, GmSc 6.6): Nate Robinson (11 pts, 0 rebs, 0 ast, 18mp, GmSc 2.7). I don’t think I have to tell you who Nate was, right? It would be strange seeing him start at SG, since he didn’t play a single minutes outside of the PG position in all of his career (his height, or lack thereof, pretty much prevented him from playing his more natural role of combo guard). But, did you know that Nate posted a quite respectable .096 WS/48 for his career? If you asked me before this weird exercise which was the career WS/48 number for the three-time Slam Dunk Champion, I would have guessed .050. He was better that I (we?) remember. He also has a Player of the Week honor under his belt. Advantage: tie (for height purposes, but average Nate was a better player than actual Dot is now).

At starting point guard (Emmanuel Mudiay, GmSc 3.6): Andrew Toney (7 pts, 0 reb, 3 asts, 21mp, GmSc -3.8). I’m quite in awe of the fact that I didn’t force any position in the B-R Game Finder search engine and it still found, in a total random way, a plausible starting five. I mean, I was quite sure this boxscore line (7/0/3 in 21 minutes) could have been posted by any single type of player. Amazingly, of the 23 such performances no single one was posted by a forward or a center. The tallest guy to post such a bad line was the 6’7″ Eddie Johnson. Anyway, Andrew Toney, the prototypical microwave scorer who was a very important cog in the 1983 NBA Champions 76ers, had a brief but prestigious career: two-times All-Star, one-time NBA Champion, an astounding 15th place in MVP votes in 1985. His Knicks ties reside in his running backcourt mate with the Sixers. Mo Cheeks, and the fact that TDDWTDD had Andrew’s surname as his name. Advantage: AHNYK (and if you switched positions and put Toney at SG and Nate as PG, both positions would result in an advantage for the AHNYK, who are actually built, until now, like a 5-th place in the East team).

First three reserves:

First one (Allonzo Trier, GmSc 18.3): Danilo Gallinari (22 pts, 4 rebs, 3 ast, 31 mp, GmSc 12.8). It turns out it’s hard to post a bad GameScore with these numbers, huh? Anyway, Gallo is another one I needn’t tell you anything about, apart from my #feels every time I see him play. I always liked his game, and I suffered like hell when we traded him away in the Melo package. Oh, about Melo: don’t look now, but the career WP/48 of Gallo is actually higher than Melo’s one. Here’s your curio about Danilo: he’s currently 20th ever in the history of the NBA in TO% and 14th ever in ORtg (really, look it up). If we strike out in free agency, I would be glad to welcome him back somehow. Advantage: AHNYK (sorry Zo, kinda good game, but Gallo is too good for you).

Second one (Mitchell Robinson, GmSc -0.1): Solomon Jones (0 pts, 5 rebs, 0 ast, 14 mp, GmSc -5.8). Who? Well, actually Solomon Jones was a no-nonsense bruiser who ended up playing 281 games in the NBA (2 with the Knicks in 2012-13, and he even started one!) while doing nothing well enough to grant him a real place in some team’s rotation. His career high in points scored is 14, in boards is 10 and in blocks is 5 (this one, not bad). Somehow, he ended his career with an average WS/48 of .078. You know who doesn’t have a WS/48 of .078 this season? Every current Knick not named Mitch, DeAndre, Kadeem, and Noah. Anyway, advantage: Actual Knicks.

Third one (Kadeem Allen, GmSc -7.4): Chucky Atkins (0 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, 26mp, GmSc -2.2). As you can see, actually the worst ever has been our own Kadeem last night, but for the sake of this exercise I went with the next one, the perennial journeyman Chucky Atkins, an 11 season veteran sporting a not so bad .077 WS/48 for his career. Somehow he ended up playing the 20th most minutes in the whole league in 2004-05. Advantage: tie (only because I’m feeling generous).

It’s incredible: even cherry picking the worst outings in terms of Game Score with the same exact numbers, the Alternate History New York Knicks end up with this 8 man rotation: Okur/McAdoo/Manning/Toney/Nate Robinson with Gallo as their sixth man and two journeymen filling the other spots. They would simply crush us, like 128-92 crush us. In other news: we have a very, very bad team.

One quick note about the game: in the beginning of the third quarter, with the game already out of hand, Fiz elected to substitute the entire starting five out of the game at once. With 10:55 to go! I supported that move, but it goes to point out how much this game was a debacle.

See you on Wednesday!

 

Toronto Raptors 104 – New York Knicks 99 – Game Recap

Sometimes this poor excuse for a basketball team gives you reasons to feel a little flame of pride inside of you (while still losing, of course). This game was one of those occasions, because we went toe-to-toe for the entire game (of course there were ebbs and flows, but you get my point) with one of the best teams in the League, and it didn’t look like it was just a case of poor shooting or whatever from the other team. We were in it, and while the game wasn’t particularly fun it had a lot of that scrappiness that Knicks fans usually appreciate, almost as if scrappy was our second nature by design. We started very well from the get going, and if not for a Smith Jr. third early foul that threw a wrench in our wheels maybe we could have done more from the beginning. At least, it was very easy on the eyes seeing a first quarter where we didn’t get helplessly pummeled from the first minutes.

There’s a chance that, if we weren’t tanking and we had a coaching staff that knew what to do during the timeouts they call (seriously, what the hell do they call a timeout for? I can only imagine Fizdale, Smart and Buechler wanting to stop the game so they can ask for help from the five poor sods that are playing in solving that wicked sudoku they’ve been bashing their head on since after lunch), we probably would have won this game. A little bit of defensive adjustments here, a little bit of playacting to free a shooter there, and this is probably a Knicks win. I don’t think we can complain, though, as this is clearly the right season not to give a damn about winning. What bugs me still, game after game, is how little our young guys show signs of real improvement. Case in point: Kevin Knox. The man was back at scoring 20, hitting 4 three pointers in the process, one of which was really down the line (it cut the Raptors’ lead to three with less than two minutes to go). As soon as he hit that three I just described, I instinctively thought “wow, such a good game from our rookie tonight”. Then I went and checked the boxscore in real time, and there it was: Knox had hit just one third of his shots to that point. My aching mind just chose not to remember a lot of those misses, as if I was the one responsible for the Knox pick after that legendary 3-on-3, but reality was staring me in the face: Knox doesn’t know how to play the game and my guess is that nobody is really pushing him to learn.

In the end, I think Fiz is like that substitute teacher we all had at one point in school: charismatic, looked the best ever for the first two weeks because he/she wasn’t grilling our asses on homework and tasks while giving us the chance to openly speak our mind in class, we couldn’t stop raving about him/her for finally “freeing us”. Then after a month you realized that substitute teacher couldn’t teach a thing and you were late a month in learning useful (or at the very least exam-necessary) notions, and you’d have to work your ass out double if you wanted to be par on the course. I commend the fact that, in the end, he’s playing a lot our youngsters. I can’t commend anything else about his work in the first 55 games of the season.

The good:

– Kadeem Allen (14 pts, 4 rebs, 6 ast, +5 +/-) was the main contributor to the fight our Knicks took to the Raptors late in the game. While not a real point guard by any means, he has the brains and the fire to man the position in a satisfying way for everyone. His shot is slow on the release, which means he can only shoot when he’s completely open, but he’s hitting his threes and he’s making the right passes, all the while being a good and active defender. In a very small sample size, he’s posting a 0.083 WS/48 (better than any other Knicks “point guard”), a 24.4 AST% (third after Smith Jr and Mudiay), and a cool .429 on threes. Now, these numbers are all due to go down, because Allen is at best a useful 12th man on an average NBA Team and he’s already 26, but there’s something to be said about overcoming some of your talent limitations to become a guy who can make a living in the NBA for four or five years. Most of all, the Kadeem Allen experience is staring in our face with a very judgmental scowl about what Frank Ntilikina projects to be. Allen is not a talented guy, but his instincts are good. It’s evident that he’s not thinking on the court, he just makes plays. A lot of people talk about prospects saying “yeah, but he’s only (insert young age here)!”, and while that’s fine, there are some aspects of basketball (or life, really) that don’t get better with age. You fill up, sure. You learn the pace of the game, sure. But I’m not convinced you can learn to act and react instead of thinking. The main difference between NBA basketball and Euro basketball is the fact that slow, groundbound players can still make a difference because the game is much slower and you have to exploit angles and rotations, not athleticism or superhuman feats like whatever it is that Harden, Antetokounmpo and the likes are doing on a nightly basis. There are things you are born with, and maybe you just have to untap. Allen, for all of his limitations, has them. I think Frank doesn’t. It’s apparent in the way they rebound. Allen throws himself at the ball. Frank is scared by the ball. That said, the thing I liked most from Allen tonight was the fact that he looked for the big man in the paint in the right spots, and he was the only one really able to find Mitch with good passes. If Mitch is to keep playing with the second unit, give me an Allen/Ntilikina type all the way and never bring Mudiay back from the injured list.

– Mitchell Robinson (15 pts, 7 rebs, 3 blks, +5 +/-) is again the brightest spot of this season. He can produce consistently, he looks like he has learned a bit not to foul too much (maybe someone teaches things after all between sudokus), and has already become a defensive force to be reckoned with. I’m not sure it’s gameplanning by opposing coaches, but you can visibly see guys like Kawhi stopping their ventures in the paint as soon as they see Mitch headed their way. Usually they find open guys on the perimeter, but that’s a story for another day. Today Mitch did a lot of damage on putbacks and a few assists from Allen and Vonleh (this one, with 7:20 to go in the fourth, was actually funny. Vonleh missed the pass by at least a foot, but Mitch was still able to jump very high, take the ball and score with an and-one. Coincidentally, his subsequent make from the charity stripe was the last time the Knicks led in the whole game). It’s quite surprising, given how weak his hands are on passes that are not lobs, that he has a really good touch around the rim. I really hope, and it’s definitely feasible, that he can work on his hands strength, because after that he will post double doubles like it’s just another day in the office. As of now he’s posting a rookie WS/48 good for 22nd ever in the history of the League (higher than Larry Bird). Also, if the season ended today, he’d be just the 24th qualifying rookie in NBA’s history to block at least 2 shots per game, and he’d be by far the one playing the fewest MPG in that group. A really historical rookie.

The bad:

– Dennis Smith Jr (13 pts, 4 rebs, 6 ast, -6 +/-) takes the cake here, mostly for his abysmal shooting (a ghastly 4 for 17) and for the stupid quick three fouls in the first quarter. I never suspected I could be positively biased about a guy like DSJ, but even in a terrible game like his I find elements of hope. I watched a lot of Mudiay this season, and I never came away with the idea that the guy could be an NBA-caliber point guard. DSJ, for all of his warts, makes you come away with the feeling that at the very least he’s going to be a sought-after backup for middle-to-good teams, a bit like Schroder is doing in OKC. That said, I don’t understand why he runs so little the pick and roll with Mitch (a bit better with DeAndre). They don’t play together much, but he’s the ideal partner to do it, simply because he overpowers guys around the rim with his sheer jumping ability. Until I see at least a completed connection every game between DSJ and Mitch, I’ll be harsh on him. His defense was again very blah, but it looked a bit better than last game. In a weird experiment, he played with Allen as the shooting guard and Trier as the small forward. It didn’t go that well. Simply put, DSJ needs shooters around him to open his game. That’s why I don’t understand at all why we’re putting Kornet on the shelf.

– Kevin Knox (20 pts, 4 rebs, 2 ast, -10 +/-) is playing like the guy we just shipped away, THJ. He’s not a bad shooter from three, but everything else is all over the place, especially his drives to the rim. There’s not much to be said about him today, apart from the fact that he took 21 shots to get to 20 points and that was maybe a little better on defense, while still being totally lost on rotations (I know, I know, a leit-motiv for the season if there ever was one). Again: nothing on him, but I hope I don’t see him growing up as second year player in NY, if only because it would certainly deflate his value.

Fun-sized bits:

– DeAndre Jordan came to play tonight, another double double but this time he was very spicy. I seem to remember he was better at blocking shots, but I won’t complain at performances like this one. 10 points, 18 boards, 3 assists in 27 good minutes.

– Mario started in place of Vonleh, and was a mixed bag of mediocre. I liked his boards and nothing else. It’s funny that when we need to start a new PF, nobody thinks about Kornet, who’s certainly slow but much more useful than Mario or Lance. Fizdale’s beliefs are really weird sometimes.

– Vonleh was a bit more like himself this time (9 points, 5 boards, +2 plus/minus). I still don’t understand why he’s still here and didn’t get traded.

– Trier is not the same since the trade. Not a bad game, just a mediocre one. And, as I said, he’s not getting to the line anymore (not his fault, there are few shooters in this roster and the one we have in the front court – Kornet – is not playing).

– Is there a chance that Dotson’s playing worse because he knows there is no competition for his starting spot? He looks like he has no fire this year.

And that’s all! I won’t be recapping the Cleveland game because I’m about to undergo Femto-Lasik surgery on Thursday to correct my short-sightedness. Maybe it will also improve my eye-test :)

Knicks Crush Raps to Continue Road Streak

Riding a 6 game road win streak, the Knicks faced off against the Raptors in Toronto. New York got off to a hot start, erupting for 33 points in the first quarter. They pushed the pace with Felton at the helm, recording 9 assists in the quarter. Chandler led all scorers with 12 first-quarter points, while Felton and Fields contributed 7 apiece. The Knicks hit 4 of 11 from 3-point range as well.

In the second, with Amar’e on the bench, the Raptors gained some ground. Leandro Barbosa served as the facilitator, while Jerryd Bayless was feeling it from outside and scored 11 in the quarter. Amar’e returned to the game, reaching double-double figures before the end of the half, and the Knicks went into halftime up by 10 points.

The third quarter belonged to the Raptors Amir Johnson, who put up 10 points and grabbed 8 boards, along with an ESPN Top Plays put-back dunk.  With the crowd fired up and Bayless continuing to shoot well, the home team cut the lead to 7 by the end of the third.  Amar’e scored consecutive baskets and Shawne Williams hit a three followed by a tip-in to start the fourth. Fortunately the Knicks scored rampantly as they poured in 34 in the final frame, crushing the Raptors by 17.

It was a solid showing from the Knicks on the road as they continue to win games that they are expected to. Amar’e continued his stellar play with 31 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, 5 of them on the offensive end. Rookie Landry Fields also recorded a double-double and Shawne Williams impressed off the bench, hitting 4-4 from beyond the arc and scoring 14 in just 21 minutes. 

The shorter rotation seems to be working for D’Antoni. I expect Douglas, Williams, and Mozgov to get the bulk of the minutes off the bench in the near future after the early-season uninspiring play from Anthony Randolph and Bill Walker. Gallinari continues to struggle with his shot, but is finding other ways to help the team. He grabbed 4 boards and dished 5 assists. In 40 minutes of action, though, he needs to find a way to score more than 6 points.

Other positives include the Knicks shooting 86% from the stripe and 44% from downtown.  The only negatives were being outrebounded and finishing with only two blocks while leading the league in swats per game. No one should be complaining, though, as New York matched its longest road winning streak since the 1994-95 season.  It has been a long time since the Knicks have had streaks of dominance like this, and the fans are hungry to see just how far they can roll.

Game 1 Recap: Knicks 98 – Raptors 93

The last time the Knicks played a game that counted, Earl Barron logged 40 minutes. David Lee played 33 and Sergio Rodriguez 20. Bill Walker led the team with 28 points and Chris Duhon chipped in 5 assists. The Raptors piled up 73 points before halftime of last season’s finale at the Air Canada Centre en route to a 131-113 blowout of the blue and orange. All the while, a dreadlocked big man named Chris Bosh watched, injured, from the Raptors’ bench. “No matter,” we told ourselves, “he’ll be ours in a couple months, and a certain headband-wearing, chalk throwing, triple doubling Global Icon along with him.”

What a difference a summer makes.

Tonight, the Knicks took to the same court in Toronto. Chris Bosh wasn’t in the building, nor was LeBron, nor Lee, Rodriguez, Barron, or Duhon. In fact, of the 12 Knicks on the active roster that night in April, only three were in the house this evening (Douglas, Gallo, Walker — Chandler was inactive with an injury at the end of last season). Change was the story of the night and, when that is the case, you can typically expect equal parts excitement and growing pains. And so it was.

The Knicks put together an adequate if uninspiring performance, winning 98-93 in a game that would not have been that close but for some spotty perimeter shooting and an inability to stay in front of Toronto point guard Jarret Jack, who penetrated to the tune of 5 layups, 4 free throw attempts, and some nice dump-off assists following successful drives to the rim. After staking themselves to a quick 16 point lead, the Knicks slogged their way to a 4 point halftime edge and briefly trailed early in the fourth quarter before Wilson Chandler – who at age 23 passes for one of the old guard on this overhauled roster – rattled off a series of Carmelonian isolation sets that bought the Knicks some breathing room.

From there, the biggest, brightest, and most expensive of the newcomers, one Amar’e Stoudemire, carried the Knicks home, scoring 7 of his otherwise unassuming 19 points during a 1:31 stretch late in the fourth quarter. His burst pushed the lead to eight points, each of which the Knicks would need to hold on to an opening night victory. I mean that literally; a final unimpeded Jarrett Jack drive would have been enough to erase a two-point deficit in the last ten seconds, but the three point margin meant he had to kick it out to Linas Kleiza, who airballed a corner three into Danilo Gallinari’s waiting arms. Two free throws later — converted with little drama by another newcomer, Raymond Felton — the Knicks were off to a 1-0 start.

A night that started with change and hope ended with a win. Let’s hope the Knicks can keep that up; it’s the only change that really matters.

    Player Ratings (in order of minutes played):

Raymond Felton (37 min, 15 pts, 6 reb, 6 ast, 3 to, 6/14 fg, 1/4 3p, 4/4 ft): Very solid debut by the Knicks’ new point guard. Ran a high-octane offense for stretches of the first half but didn’t force the break when it wasn’t there. Could have done a better job with Jack on the defensive end, but didn’t get any help on switches (and Douglas was the culprit for many of Jack’s better moments — we’ll get to him later). All in all, he was an impressive floor general who played better than his stats. B+.

Amar’e Stoudemire (36 min, 19 pts, 10 reb, 2 blk, 9 to, 7/16 fg, 5/6 ft): The turnovers are the first thing that jump out and, to be honest, the number surprises me. I thought they would be high but it certainly didn’t feel like 9. Mostly, he seemed kind of out of it, not quite in tune with his new point guard, not really commanding a lot of attention against a defense with nobody worthy of defending him. I’m tempted to say I liked him better on the defensive end than on offense tonight, if only because his athleticism makes him capable of the type of high-flying swats that we haven’t seen since the days of Marcus Camby. In the end, a forgettable debut, but a huge 2 minute stretch in the fourth quarter and zero signs of anything we should be worried about once he and Felton get in sync. B-.

Danilo Gallinari (33 min, 12 points, 6 reb, 1 ast, 0 to, 3/9 fg, 2/5 3p, 4/4 ft): Not good. Bad, even. The only Knick with a negative +/-. That can be a fairly meaningless stat on an individual game basis, but it felt pretty appropriate tonight. His shot was off and, while he has the ability to do other things to affect the game, he was mostly invisible tonight. At least he got 6 boards, which shouldn’t be a big deal for a 6’10” forward but in his case represents progress. No real reason for concern, his shooting will improve both in terms of percentages and the number of looks he clears himself for. We all know that he’ll be able to score efficiently in high volumes on a lot of nights this season. Tonight just wasn’t one of them. C-.

Landry Fields (30 min, 11 points, 4 reb, 4/8 fg, 3/6 3p): For me, the best part of the night. I mean, the kid is just everywhere. Don’t even look at the stat line because its irrelevant. All the cliches that we use to talk about glue guys are in play here: he does the little things, he’s in the right place at the right time, he doesn’t need plays drawn up for him, he plays better than his numbers, he makes the most of his talent, etc. etc. etc. Just every single meaningless cliche personified. He ran down loose balls, he got big rebounds, he waited for his shot and made half of his threes. He can absolutely start on this team, he’s a much better fit than Chandler with the first unit. Didn’t think he looked out of his depth athletically, which was the worry, but then again he will face much better opposition down the road. I suppose time will tell, but I couldn’t have asked for much more out of his debut. A.

Wilson Chandler (29 min, 22 pts, 8 reb, 0 to, 10/18 fg, 1/3 3p, 1/2 ft): Listen and listen good — he is the perfect 6th man for this team and there is absolutely no way he should be starting at shooting guard. On the court with the second unit, serving as the primary scoring option, Ill Will ran some isolation sets that were worthy of the league’s best slashers. He works so well with Douglas because either of them can start the offense — either with Douglas lurking as a spot-up threat when Chandler attacks or Chandler lurking as a reset-and-drive option if Douglas gets in trouble. They make a serviceable pairing defending other team’s perimeter players as well. Chandler is still the most tradeable of the Knicks three young wings and he still can become infuriatingly enamored with his very mediocre jumper (7/8 in the paint tonight, 3/10 outside of it — DRIVE WILSON, DRIVE!) but he is a fantastic weapon off of the bench and should be utilized as such. Simply put, the Knicks do not hold off the Raptors rally without his second half performance tonight. Keep it up. A-.

Tony Douglas (27 min, 10 points, 4 reb, 0 ast, 5/9 fg, 0/3 3p): A weird performance and not a very good one. The points are fine and the percentage is good, but zero assists in 27 minutes still made me feel like he doesn’t know what position he’s supposed to be playing. For my money, produced the two worst plays of the game: an impossibly bad telegraphed pass that was picked by Reggie Evans and an equally boneheaded fourth quarter foul that sent David Anderson to the line, where he tied the score at 82. Of all the important Knicks who had off nights, he’s the only one I worry about a little, simply because I’m not sure if he works better running the second unit or playing off of Felton. I’m not sure D’Antoni knows either. C-.

Ronny Turiaf (23 min, 8 pts, 4 reb, 4 blk, 2 stl, 3/4 fg, 2/2 ft): Ronny Turiaf had 4 blocks tonight. That is, by any measure, very good. He had 2 steals tonight, also solid, especially by a big man, especially in limited minutes. He did these two things while committing zero fouls. Impressive, right? Probably a pretty rare feat? Maybe only happens once a year or so? Guess what? The last Knick to do it was Patrick Ewing in 1999. Before that, the last Knick to do it was, well, Ewing again in 1997. Before that, the last Knick to do it was nobody. The list of Knicks who have had 4 blocks and 2 steals in a game without committing a foul — at least in the 25 years covered by the basketball reference play index now reads “Patrick Ewing, Ronny Turiaf.” Now, is this kind of a contrived stat? Sure. Does that make it unimportant? No, not really. The Knicks have not employed a true shotblocker since Marcus Camby (unless you want to count one season of the geriatric Dikembe Mutombo). They spent two years trying to convince themselves that Jared Jeffries was some sort of disruptive defensive presence. They trotted out David Lee at center for two years. You will not find a bigger David Lee fan than me. But even as I write this, I’m watching the Warriors opener, and their announcer just said of a Lee foul, and I quote, “You know, I don’t mind that foul by David Lee. Is it great defense? No! But why give him the easy lay-up?” You know another way to prevent easy lay-ups? BY HAVING A CENTER WHO PLAYS F—ING DEFENSE. And guess what? Now we do. What Turiaf’s stats don’t show is that, in the span of 58 seconds, Linas Kleiza was whistled for not one but two travelling violations that were purely the result of going up for a shot against Turiaf, realizing he had absolutely no chance of converting, and awkwardly shuffling his feet til the whistle blew. Party on, Turiaf. Keep drinking that Ron-Ron juice. A.

Bill Walker: I would type his stats but that would represent more effort than I saw from him in his 10 minutes on the court. The one truly awful performance by a Knick tonight. His highlight was missing a dunk, claiming the rebound and, in a sea of FIVE raptors, with open shooters everywhere, going back up for a putback attempt that was, inevitably, rejected. It will be a short leash if he continues to play like this and Fields continues to play like he did, especially when Anthony Randolph returns. F.

Timo Mozgov, Roger Mason Jr.: Whatever. Mozgov couldn’t stay on the court because of foul trouble, not super encouraging against a pretty ordinary front line, but we’ll give the kid a break and chalk it up to his NBA debut. Mason missed three jumpers and wasn’t heard from again — he’ll make most of his appearances when the Knicks are badly in need of a three or someone is in foul trouble. Not much room for him behind Douglas, Fields, and Chandler. INCOMPLETE.

Sorry for the long-winded recap — I’m so excited to have the NBA season back and I hope you are too. The team will face tougher competition but should get better as it jells. If you thought, as I did, that the Knicks would sneak into one of the last two playoff spots in the East this year, I didn’t see anything tonight — good or bad — that should make you change that.

Q&A on Raptors Republic

Recently, I exchanged e-mails with Sam Holako of Raptors Republic regarding the Knicks, Raptors, and the upcoming season in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference at large. Sam has posted our Q&A on his site:

http://raptorsrepublic.com/2010/08/27/beyond-the-raptors-kevin-mcelroy-and-the-knicks/

Feel free to check it out. Hopefully, we’ll occasionally do some similar features throughout the 2010-2011 season with Sam and some of the other TrueHoop bloggers.

I Want To Draft Like It’s 1999

An NBA draft where the #1 overall consensus is a power forward, and a ton of guards are to be had including an intriguing foreign guard? No I’m not talking about this Thursday’s NBA draft where Blake Griffin is likely to go #1, there is a lot of depth at guard, and everyone is wondering where Rickey Rubio will land. I’m talking about the 1999 draft where Elton Brand went first, guards were taken in 7 of the next 10 picks, and Manu Ginobili quietly landed to the Spurs in the second round.

Of the top 10 picks, 9 of them had solid to spectacular careers, but only one of those stayed long enough to be seen as a success for the team that drafted him: Shawn Marion. A lot of these players were traded to other teams before they could really help the team that drafted them like Brand, Francis (a draft day holdout), Odom, Hamilton, Andre Miller, and Jason Terry. Number 5 pick Jonathan Bender never lived up to his potential due to injury. Wally Szczerbiak stayed with Minnesota, but was taken too high at #6. Baron Davis stayed with the Hornets for 5 and a half seasons, but was traded midyear to Golden State where he engineered one of the biggest first round upsets in history.

Although there was plenty of value at the top 10, the next 10 was filled with busts. Only Ron Artest (#16), Corey Maggette (#13) and James Posey (#18) were worth noting. As for the rest of the draft, there were two European superstars taken late in Kirilenko (#24) and Manu Ginobili (#57), and a few fillers (Jeff Foster #21, Kenny Thomas #22, Devean George #23, and Gordon Giricek #40).

Knick fans remember this draft for grabbing Frederic Weis one pick before Ron Artest, but that may not have been the biggest bust of the draft. As I previously mentioned the top 10 all netted solid players except for Bender. If you want to excuse him for injury, then nearly every pick 11-14 (except for Maggette) could be seen as failures as well. Trajan Langdon at #11 is a candidate, although he’s had a good career overseas. Aleksandar Radojevic (from the powerhouse Barton County Community College) was taken 3 picks prior to Weis. And the Timberwolves struck out the pick before New York’s with Duke’s William Avery.

So how might this draft have turned out? Here’s my re-draft, not necessarily in order of how they should have been taken. But rather in how one alternate earth might have been for the first 16 picks.

#1 Chicago – Elton Brand
The Bulls made the right pick. Actually in our reality they made 2 right picks with Artest at #15. The problem was that they gave up on that team too early. Chicago could have been a mid-west powerhouse with Brand, Artest, and Brad Miller with a supporting cast of Jamal Crawford, Fred Hoiberg and Jake Voskuhl. The problem was the team was still young & surrounded with little else. Marcus Fizer? Khalid El-Amin? Corey Benjamin? Bryce Drew? Michael Ruffin? Dragan Tarlac? Dalibor Bagaric? No wonder they won 15 games in 2001.

#2 Vancouver – Lamar Odom
Vancouver didn’t deserve Steve Francis, but they didn’t really need him either. They had grabbed Mike Bibby in the draft before, and as New Yorkers learned Francis didn’t play well with other point guards. Instead they should have grabbed Odom. The Grizzlies had an awful team, but Bibby, Odom, and Shareef Abdur-Rahem would have been a respectable threesome. Looking at their history, they were doomed to failure by their poor drafts Reeves #6, Abdur Rahim #3, and Antonio Daniels #4 is hardly the core you want to build a franchise on.

#3 Charlotte – Baron Davis
Davis was the right pick here.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers – Steve Francis
Now these two deserved each other.

#5 Toronto – Ron Artest (traded to Indiana)
The Raptors originally drafted Bender and traded him for Antonio Davis. Why would Toronto do such a thing? They have Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Doug Christie. So there goes the shooting guards and small forwards. They could use a point guard, but that isn’t a priority with Carter & McGrady taking up a big share of the offense. They need a big man, but there really aren’t any in this draft (Jeff Foster?). I see why they traded this pick, they had two dynamic scorers and needed some front court depth (past Charles Oakley). So I have the Raptors trading this pick still, and Indiana selecting Ron Artest instead. The Pacers would end up with Ron after a few seasons later anyway. The Pacers would have Artest to defend Allan Houston in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (which Indana won) but they could also use him to shut down Kobe Bryant in the Finals (which they lost in 6).

#6 Minnesota – Manu Ginobili
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Before Garnett went to Boston and won a title, people argued how the league would have been if he had swapped teams with Tim Duncan. That the two were equally good, and Duncan won those championships because of his supporting cast. So let’s see how Garnett would have done with the Argentine at his side. Also in this Bizzaro universe Kevin McHale would be a genius.

#7 Washington – Rip Hamilton
Washington really sucked. It doesn’t matter who they draft here. The guy is going to be gone by the time Jordan arrives. Might as well be Rip so that the Pistons improbable championship still occurs.

#8 Cleveland – Shawn Marion
Cleveland took who they thought was the best guy on the board, Andre Miller. And normally I agree with such a signing, except the Cavs had two young (but undersized) guards on their roster already: Brevin Knight and Earl Boykins. Miller’s arrival meant that both would be gone within a year. Cleveland let Boykins go, but traded Brevin Knight for Jimmy Jackson, Anthony Johnson and Larry Robinson. All three would be off Cleveland’s roster by the next season. I hate it when a team overloads at one position and fails to net anything substantial from trades. If we’re not taking Andre Miller here, then you can have an up-tempo team with Knight/Boykins. So I think Shawn Marion is the right fit here.

#9 Phoenix – Corey Maggette
The Suns are probably crushed that they didn’t get Marion. They have Jason Kidd, and are about to offer Anfernee Hardaway to a huge contract. Maggette’s scoring and rebounding would be adequate in lieu of Marion’s energy game.

#10 Atlanta – Trajan Langdon
The Hawks have Mutombo and Rider and are in dire need of a point guard. So with Andre Miller on the board, they’re going to draft Trajan Langdon. This way by 2005 they’ll have learned their lesson and take Deron Williams or Chris Paul with the #2 pick instead of Marvin Williams.

#11 Cleveland – Jason Terry
With the Cavs comitting to an up-tempo offense with their #8 pick, they should take Terry here. Knight, Terry, Marion, and Donyell Marshall are undersized, but should make for a laser fast offense. With Zydrunas healthy in 2011, that’s not such a bad team.

#12 Toronto – Aleksandar Radojevic
As I said earlier, the Raptors really need front court depth, so this is why they reached for the 7-3 Euro. And this is why you don’t draft for need.

#13 Seattle – Wally Szczerbiak (traded to Orlando)
The Magic who acquire this pick in a trade have Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw, and Ben Wallace. They need someone who can score, and don’t care about defense. Wally fits the bill here.

#14 Minnesota – James Posey
In this world, McHale is a genius, and the best player on the board is Andrei Kirilenko. But taking Kirilenko after reaching for an unknown in Ginobili would get him fired. Also having Kirilenko and Garnett on the court at the same time would be too weird. That’s like 60 combined feet of skinny arms & legs. Terrell Brandon, Manu Ginobili, James Posey, Kevin Garnett, and Rasho Nesterovic – that’s a nice team for 2000.

#15 New York – Andrei Kirilenko
Ahhh to dream. The Knicks dared to take a European, but clearly the wrong one. In 2000, Kirilenko would have fit in well with that Knicks team giving them so much depth. The starters would have been Ward, Houston, Sprewell, LJ and Ewing with Camby, Kurt Thomas, Childs and Kirilenko off the bench. That’s one scary team defensively. Additionally AK-47’s arrival might have prevented the team from trading Ewing for Glenn Rice, keeping the franchise from self destruction via salary cap. Perhaps the 2001 Knicks with Camby starting, Ewing coming off the bench, the addition of Mark Jackson, and Kirlenko instead of Rice could have given the team another title run.

#16 Chicago – Andre Miller
Here are your early aughts Bulls: Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, Toni Kukoc, Elton Brand, and Brad Miller. Not a bad rebuild post-Jordan. Try not to break that team up this time.