Charlotte Hornets 119 – New York Knicks 107 – Game Recap

Hear me out, I have a proposal. What if we started every game with a -15 handicap from the beginning? I mean, if that’s what it takes for Fiz to feel safe playing our kids a lot of minutes, why not (all the same, somebody has to explain to me how come that you choose to play Hezonja and Mudiay to win games)?

We were treated to a game where scores were approximately a lot for them and a little for us, and I think nobody cared even a bit. We saw, maybe by accident, a game similar to the ones we grew accustomed to in the first portion of the year. 41 minutes for Knox. 31 for Dotson. 20 for Frank (artificially limited by his penchant to pick useless fouls on the perimeter and by two bogus calls in the fourth quarter). 20 for Robinson. Even 9 for Baker  (Trier was out with a strained hamstring; we don’t have news about him yet, I guess he’ll be out for the whole three-game road trip)! But more than that, more than minutes distribution, it was evident that the kids had the greenlight to be, you know, just them, which in case of Knox is “a guy who shoots everything in sight”.

Now, it’s impossible to say that even a single guy has played well (they haven’t; when stakes are this low, you have to play a perfect game to be “good”). But it’s not impossible to single out who played really bad, so I’ll do just that comparing guys to typical winter maladies, with the recipe to cure that illness right after the “bad” player.

The cold and the cough: Mario Hezonja (1 reb, 1 foul, -4 +/-) is annoying, persistent, and doesn’t seem to go away easily. In the end, it’s inconsequential at best, but can leave you tired and numb after a few weeks of its presence. Mario was so bad that he was the only starter not to return on the court for the second half, having Knox start in his place in the third quarter. I can’t remember a player who does less for the Knicks than Mario since the Bargs days. Hez looks like he has talent, but at this point I’m not even convinced he has some aside from the talent of convincing you of the contrary.

Acetylsalicilyc acid: Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 1 reb, 3 ast, +7 +/-) scored again in double figures with cool efficiency, hitting 6 of his 8 shots. I have a weak spot for low-variance guys, the ones who produce the same without regards for context. Dot is one of them: he doesn’t care if the team is up 20 or down 20, he’ll play the same way as he always does. Oddly, he didn’t attempt a single three tonight (he’s shooting 4.1 per game), but it’s not like there were timid guys around him. Bottom line: if you want to feel better after Mario, play some Dotson and revel in his consistency and workmanlike competence.

The headache: Emmanuel Mudiay (6 pts, 3 rebs, 4 ast, -20 +/-) makes it impossible to have a headstart, as for the last three games his individual defense has cratered and his team defense… well, I can’t focus with this impending migraine. This season Mudiay has objectively gotten a bit better on offense, picking his spots more carefully inside of the arc and showing off some passing chops (the best pass of the game was his assist to THJ in the first quarter for a backdoor cut between three opponents. A Nash-like pass, I swear to you). His shooting from the perimeter, though… with that form it’s impossible he’ll be ever able to hit more than 30% of his outside shots, and that’s a clear limitation on his overall impact on the game. What is really detrimental, anyway, is his defense. It’s difficult for everyone to stop Kemba and the likes, but Emmanuel doesn’t even try. He gets lost on the first screen and then wanders around like a hobbled man would play tag. Combine him with Mario on the defensive end and you’re better off staying in bed all day.

The ibuprofen: Ron Baker Frank Ntilikina (18 pts, 1 ast, 64% FG, +2 +/-) had the offensive night of his career, going perfect from three on four attempts and playing the third quarter like a real NBA combo guard, confident and assertive. On defense he was not his best self, especially in the second quarter when matched with Tony Parker, who schooled him over and over again. I don’t know what happened at half-time, but it was certainly something goooood. After going scoreless and at times being listless in the first half, in the second Frank stepped onto the court with 8:42 to go in the third quarter. He had to adjust a bit to the game, and then two minutes later he exploded in a flurry of shots: his first basket was a pullup shot after a behind-the-back dribble and a headfake; his second was an extended elbow three; his third was a top of the key three in rhythm; his fourth was an elbow pullup after a Robinson screen; his fifth a corner three. All in all, he was often in the right spot after having moved well without the ball. He couldn’t keep cooking in the fourth because of a very wrong call on a drive (bogus offensive foul, his fifth) and a possibly wrong call on defense a couple minutes later. It was also good to see Fizdale incensed for those calls on the man he benched for three straight games; if there was a moment to be ejected, he picked the right one. Maybe (just maybe) Fiz was up to something with those DNP? I don’t like mind games, but everything is possible. All in all, not the best game of Ntilikina’s career (his defense was a bit meh) but a huge injection of confidence – and maybe a great way to earn more playing time. I wish he could hit the boards more, though. He’s tall, he’s kinda big. He has to grab at least 3 boards per game.

The sore throat: Enes Kanter (6 pts, 4 rebs, 50% FG, -17 +/-) leaves you speechless at the worst times, and not in a good way. It’s not the first times a second-string opponent big starts the game wreaking havoc against the Knicks, thanks to the porous defense of Enes (remember Sabonis?). Cody Zeller went 5-5 in the first quarter to help Charlotte building a comfortable lead, while Enes stood around watching the stiffy Hornets center having his way near the rim. You convince yourself that maybe Kanter isn’t that bad for your team, and then are forced to turn the other way scratching your throat feeling uneasy just to have thought that. Enes also had uncharacteristically weak hands, fumbling passes and boards. Not his best night.

The propolis: Kevin Knox (26 pts, 15 rebs, 1 stl, -7 +/-) had an overinflated night and as a result might become overrated and thought as a panacea for all sorts of sickness, but mind you: I liked it. I don’t like Knox’s game, and that’s definitely not new, but his motor has gotten a lot better and I like his disposition. He’s starting to look like he maybe has a place in the league after all, even if he won’t certainly ever be known for his efficiency; but 25+ points and 15+ boards are not a feat for every rookie. In the last 20 years, only fourteen guys, Kevin included, posted such numbers as a rookie. The only teenager besides Knox? LeBron James (the other rookies were, in temporal order: Keith Van Horn, Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Amar’e Stoudemire, Emeka Okafor – lol -, Charlie Villanueva – double lol -, Marc Gasol, Michael Beasley – I’m out of lulz -, Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ben Simmons. Not bad, huh? I just fear that in 20 more years someone else will write lol near poor Kev). If anything, we can say for sure that coach Fiz is not afraid to have his rookies shoot the ball: Kevin took 25 shots to get to his season-high in points, tying the tally of the Milwaukee game. He’s goodish in fastbreaks and shooting threes and uncontested pullups. Everything else is still a mess. There was a sequence in the first quarter where he missed the layup, grabbed his own board, missed by a country mile from under the basket, grabbed again his own board and finally was mercifully fouled. He just doesn’t know what to do when people put themselves between him and the rim.

Vaccinate yourself!:

– Noah Vonleh with 9 assists. Some of them were very good. I compared 20-ish games ago to a homeless man’s Draymond, and I stand by my opinion. I’d be happy to have him back (for a reasonable contract). An off night from the field, but it was a hard time for all the starters.

– Timmy was better than in the last games, scoring 21 points on 13 shots and dishing 5 assists. He turned the ball over five times, though. Timmy as the first option is a great tanking help.

– Mitchell Robinson is already a known quantity (6/2/1 with a side dish of two spicy blocks), and he can’t really play basketball yet. I love this kid. One thing I noticed: his screens are way better than they were at the beginning of the season. They’re already worlds better than KP’s screens. His defensive rebounding, instead, keeps on being questionable at best (his DRB% is less than his TRB%, go figure.

– Ron Baker got some playing time, and all he cared for was to make sure that Courtney Lee scored. Terrible offensive player, wonderful heart (and a surprisingly steady game, 5 points and 3 assists in garbage time).

– Courtney Lee played 13 impalpable minutes save for the time where he ditched and uncontested three to pump fake the air and then shoot (and miss) a contested 20-footer. Old habits never die.

– A wonderful vintage Tony Parker night. As I’m already on record saying, I liked the Manu-era Spurs. I feel like I could have appreciated Tony a little more than I did. He took to school every Knick defender (not that is was that hard, but still).

– At the end of the game, the cameras indulged on Frank being busy chatting with Batum and Parker, what with French Heritage Night and whatever. Kevin Knox dived in to greet the two Charlotte players, they saluted him back and went back at talking with Frank in one motiion, with the familiar expression everyone of us has when we meet someone we really don’t care about at the Christmas company party.

So, let’s head to Cleveland! It’s very likely that I won’t be able to recap that one (severe work obligations on Thursday!), so we’ll see each other on Friday night, again versus the Hornets.

Au revoir!

 

 

New York Knicks 105 – Brooklyn Nets 107 – Game Recap

Mick Jagger used to sing “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you will find, you get what you need!”, and that’s exactly what we got tonight, and maybe more. A highly competitive loss where our youngsters play a lot of minutes, learn their trade and generally play well? Count me in for a season of this! Maybe, just maybe, sprinkle a win here and there as not to make my dopamine level drop too low.

By now you should be acquainted with my writing gimmicks, so let’s not waste any more time and let’s get into the meaty part of the recap.

The good:

– Enes Kanter (29 pts, 10 rebs, 2 ast, +2 +/-) utterly mauled every Nets opponent into the paint. He’s so dependable on the low block, pulling all sorts of tricks (up and under moves, reverse layups under the rim, rhino-like pushing moves towards the basket, and a lot more) to score down low. It speaks volumes about the evolution of the game that a guy like him appears to be mostly dead weight on the cap and not a supremely desirable asset for any contending team; on the ’90s, a guy like Enes would be heavily courted by a lot of front offices. Right now, at the ripe age of 26, he acts as a steady release valve for our offense and as a sort of emotional mentor for the rookies. Yes, he’s still getting beaten on a lot of PnR actions by the other team, but he’s usually getting better positioning this year, and I swear I saw him force a guy to travel for the second game in a row. Also, didn’t look fatigued at the end of the game, although he played a shade over 35 minutes, so he has to be in peak physical condition. If I have to find a flaw in tonight’s game, it’s the ill-timed flagrant foul he committed with 5:44 remaining in the final quarter with the score tied. It’s okay to foul hard a guy who’s open under the rim, it’s not okay to do that in a manner that pretty much auto-indicts itself. All in all, an exhilarating game for Enes (but what happened to his promise to shoot threes if open? Ok, he shot one tonight on a gorgeous no look pass from Frank and he bricked it, but I still think he should shot more if he’s open on the perimeter and nothing else is happening).

– Kevin Knox (17 pts, 6 rebs, 75% 3pts, -4 +/-) had a refreshingly good game, and a fat share of playing time, being on the court for 28 minutes. The key to his scoring, as of now, are three pointers and free throws. Tonight, the threes were there, and so was the effort on the glass and on defensive rotations. The rim attacking part, well, that’s still awful. Someone mentioned a couple days ago in the comments section that Knox problem at the rim is that his first step comes too far from the hoop. While that is certainly true and could use some fine-tuning, I think it’s much more about his upper body strength and general lack of confidence and coordination. In the second quarter he had a positively Antetokounmpo-like layup attempt, where his first step came just inside the arc, the second on the midpoint and he was alone at the rim with all the time in world… and then missed badly. He can get to the basket, but when there he’s playing hot potato. Wretched layup attempts aside, not much to complain about tonight. It was nice to see him calmly drilling a corner three to tie the game at 93 apiece, just to come down to the bench for the ensuing timeout, get scolded by coach Fizdale for something (apparently defensive positioning) and not bat an eye. I hope the layup problem can be solved by coaching, ’cause the guy looks like he has what he needs between his ears.

– Frank Ntilikina (9 pts, 1 reb, 4 ast, +6 +/-) was the key to the third quarter break that pulled our Knicks back into the game. In the middle of the third stanza he erupted for 7 consecutive points – one trifecta, a midrange pullup, a whatchamacallit high-arc shot from the charily stripe – and was hounding opponent everywhere on defense. Second night in a row where he racks up 3 steals. Caris LeVert gave him fits in the first quarter, so much that I thought he was ill, seeing that Fiz was benching him just after 6 minutes of play. It surely wasn’t the case (and LeVert kept giving fits to everyone, hitting shots all night long, even some of the no no no yes kind), as he came back into the game in the second quarter and finished the night playing 30 minutes. On a sidetone, I think Fiz is doing a great job with the minutes distribution.

The bad:

– Trey Burke (8 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, +4 +/-) finally had his highly anticipated regression to the mean game. He shot 1 for 6 from two, and all of his attempts were of the midrange variety, and they were pretty much always open. He looked very tentative in running the offense, and aside from a single defensive possession in the third where he went Gary Payton on D’Angelo Russell was a liability on D, especially in pick and roll sets. Amusingly, he got substituted just after the aforementioned possession. I guess this was due, a reminder of the fact that we still have one of the worst PG rotation in the league. Also, against a tall, strong team like the Nets, he’s physically outmatched and that depresses his game.

– Mario Hezonja (2 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -11 +/-) played his usual game. Detached, uninterested, unimpressive. 13 minutes of almost nothing, just standing around on defense and on offense, offering little resistance to the Nets offense and showing revolting body language. He looks like the student that enrolled in college because his parents were pressing him to do so and then mailed in every single midterm test, getting by on Cs to collect his bachelor on air-guitar playing or something. It’s game two and I’m already losing hope on Mario.

– Ron Baker’s offense also makes the cut. While watching Ron play defense falls just a hair short of arousing (seriously, his effort is top notch and he’s very strong; in the third there was a defensive possession where he just pushed away Rodions Kurucs with an arm swipe and the 6′ 9″ string bean Latvian almost fell on the floor), his offense is so bad it’s indescribable. You have to watch it to really understand. For one thing, no Ron Baker shot looks the same, even at the stripe, and he was supposed to be a knockdown shooter when making the team in 2016-17. He also probably has some psychological issue attacking the rim; in the third quarter, the most eventful one of the night for the Bockers, he had a clear lane to a layup from the left side and opted to pass the ball to Vonleh, who was doubled. You couldn’t see his facial expression driving to the cup, just his floppy mop top breezing by like an offensively-challenged golden helmet, but here’s my 20 bucks saying he had the deer in the headlights one.

Fun-sized bits

– Where’s Timmy, you might ask. Isn’t 29 points enough to make the cut into “The good section”? Not tonight. Not on 25 shots. He shot 40% from the field, contributed pretty much on nothing else (yeah, he had three steals, but they were of the Timmy kind, the ones where he is out of position on defense and the ball caroms to him, a gentle gift offered by a jocular basketball god), and was supremely atrocious in the last minute and a half. At first, he turned the ball over while defended by T-Rex armed Jared Dudley; then, he presented the world one of the worst one on one defense I have ever seen. He went on a defensive stance intended to funnel Caris LeVert to the left, but as soon LeVert dribbled to the right he almost went out of his way, leaving the Nets guard free to cash in his game winning layup. But since all we want for Christmas is a top 4 pick next year, Timmy, you the real MVP.

– Allonzo was a bit discombobulated on offense, but he’s one of the most NBA ready undrafted rookies I have ever seen on a Knicks jersey. He looks to have gained Fiz’s trust, since he was the first Knick out of the bench.

– Here’s a detailed recap of Lance Thomas’ game: *snorts*

– Vonleh was next to useless this time, aside from his much needed 6 boards. His defense his strangely ethereal, especially for a super athletic, muscular guy like he is.

– In the first half, the Knicks totaled 5 assists. This offense is at times unbearable, even if I get what Fiz intends to do. I just can’t help loathing the iso-Timmy game (totally favorable to the iso-ones, though. That’s efficient enough).

– Remember how I singled out the fact that against a good rebounding team we would have payed dearly our mistakes? Well, the Nets outrebounded us 55 to 36.

– Also remember how I said our opponents wouldn’t turn the ball as much as the Hawks? Heh… The Nets turned it over 22 times. We turned it over 3 times (and one of those three was the egregious Timmy blunder with less than 90 seconds on the clock).

– Timmy is now 9th on the 3pts made Knicks leaderboard, surpassing Latrell Sprewell (thanks, NBA League Pass!).

I guess we’re done for tonight. Tomorrow we’ll face the Celtics, and I think we’re gonna get pretty much steamrolled. I suggest you all adopt the Alonzo Mourning Acceptance Gif as your lifestyle for the next few days.

See you tomorrow!

Kyle O’Quinn Hindering Knicks Chemistry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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