Last night the Knicks played their first preseason game, a 113-111 loss to Toronto. It was the first impression Knick fans would get of this new regime, and there was a lot to like.
The first thing that struck me was the movement on offense. True to the 7 second offense, the ball never stayed in one place very long. This occurred as soon as the Knicks secured an defensive rebound. The rebounder would immediately look for the outlet pass, and there were many occasions when the Knicks quickly pushed the ball upcourt.
But this ball movement also continued in the half court set. No player held onto the ball for more than a few seconds. Under the D’Antoni offense it seems that the player holding the ball is mandated to pass, drive, or shoot. At first it was odd to see slow and deliberate players like Randolph or Crawford react immediately upon receiving the ball. However by the second half this became so commonplace, that it was odd if a player held on to the ball for too long.
On offense the movement wasn’t just limited to the ball. On nearly every play, the players were moving. Earlier this week I made a comment about the New York offense being stuck in the 90s with isolations and post play. D’Antoni’s offense is the anti-90s. Frequently when a player had the ball his teammates were cutting to the hoop or rotating around the perimeter. Because of the constant movement, both of player and ball, the Knicks frequently created easy shots from nice passing. Last night New York had 29 assists, a mark they only matched once last season.
Another positive from yesterday’s game was the frontcourt play. Lee played 30 minutes, and in turn racked up a team high 22 points (on 9-13 shooting). Randolph had a less efficient 19 points, but grabbed 13 rebounds and had 5 assists. More importantly the pair played well together, even finding each other with a few nice passes for easy scores. It’s yet to see how Curry will fit in with this duo, but it seems that D’Antoni’s offense complements this pair as well as any offensive scheme could. Chandler and Richardson both played 23 minutes. While Q-Rich was more efficient (12 points on 5-9), Chandler did a better job filling the spreadsheet (6 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK) and may push the veteran for playing time.
The final positive was D’Antoni’s coaching style. During his tenure, Isiah Thomas was frequently criticized for his lackadaisical approach, whether it was staying in seat during the game or failing to draw up plays during time outs. During last night’s game, at the end of the half the Knicks had the ball and held it for the final shot. D’Antoni was animated on the sidelines, yelling instructions to the players and waiving his arms. It was like he was channeling Arturo Toscanini and it felt as if at any moment he might just run onto the court, grab the ball, and run the play himself.
But before Knick fans get too giddy about yesterday’s performance, the 7 second offense caused the Knicks to cough up the ball 20 times. They only did that 7 times last year. Both point guards were to blame. Marbury turned the ball over 5 times (in only 22 minutes), and Duhon had more turnovers (7) than assists (6). Duhon played especially poorly, hitting only 1 of 7 shots, and that doesn’t bode well for a team trying to move Marbury into the 6th man role.
Ultimately there were many positives. The Knicks lost, but the team is expected to do that a lot this year. However the loss was entertaining. The offense was interesting and kept the game going at a fast pace. There were many easy shots for the Knicks, including a Nate Robinson dunk from the baseline. There were enough minutes for Lee, Chandler, and Robinson to keep me interested. Overall the team looked competent, something which hasn’t been said of the Knicks in years.