New York Knicks 95 – Cleveland Cavaliers 86

A fairly ugly game to end a fairly ugly year (yes I know, this is not technically the last game of the year for the Bockers. The Knicks will be playing on New Year’s Eve, but by the time they’ll be doing that, I’ll already be in 2021. My recap, my rules).

A few numbers: the Knicks committed 27 turnovers. The Cavs shot 7-for-32 from three (aggregate Bucks and Cavs games: 14-for-70. These are sixth grade basketball shooting averages at best, so we can only wait for regression to the mean to rear its ugly head very soon). On the other hand, the Knicks shot 20-for-54 from two, which is a definitely abysmal average and the byproduct of having Payton and RJ share the court for so much time without a really credible shooting threat (other than Bullock) that creates more spacing than what we got. I know it sounds paradoxical on a night where our guys shot the lights out – again – from three, hitting 14 of their 25 tries, but the result is not always the same as the process. I guarantee you that leaving Elfrid and Randle open from the arc all the season long won’t end up in them shooting a combined 75% from there. We’ll be lucky if they get to 34%.

Anyway, we were saying, a fairly ugly game that resulted in a kinda deserved win because, in the end, the effort was there.

It’s way, way too early to try to frame things, but then again it looks like Thibs is leaving a clear footprint here. I can’t stress enough how this no-nonsense approach to things makes the Knicks air so much more breathable. You’ll be watching a lot of terrible basketball at least until half 2021, that’s very likely. But the passion could be there all year long. It’s much more than what we got the last few years.

The good:

– Julius Randle (28 pts, 12 rebs, 11 ast, +3 +/-) posted the first serious Knicks triple double in years. I wish I could still do searches on Basketball Reference to tell you who was the last Knick to post these numbers, but alas, now you have to pay to do that, and while it’s not much, I prefer to waste my money on booze. The Chianti bottles I’ve been drinking these days cost each less that a month of BR queries. That said, I can tell you that this Jarrett Jack and Mario Hezonja (point Mario feels abound) triple doubles don’t hold a candle to what Randle did against the Cavs. Anyway, back to us: I have to confess that I don’t like Randle’s game that much even now, but you can’t deny his production and the overall impact he has on the game. A Julius who cares is a Julius who dares, and a Julius that wins it a Julius who almost never spins (and when he does he finds Mitch under the rim). There’s a great Vorkunov article on the Athletic about the impact that Thibs is having on Randle, and I feel that’s totally on point. While this Knicks sometimes are the same old stunted Knicks of yore, you see that they usually don’t wander around the court and then just stay in place like a lazy impression of Casper the Ghost. They go full Slimer: energetic, kinetic, and yeah quite messy. All this amount of movement unlocks the best Julius traits out there, and our buddy is having the best basketball of his life. He’s not horrendous on defense either (for what it’s worth, his current 107 DRtg would be tied for career best – and the dreaded eyetest seems to confirm that he’s at worst mediocre-to-adequate at that end)! His first quarter tonight is probably the best quarter by someone in a Knicks jersey I’ve ever witnessed since I became a full time fan in 2008. 14 points on 5/5 shooting, 6 rebounds and five assists. In 12 minutes. All hail King Julius until the upcoming doldrums of this season will go full Brutus on him. And yeah, he committed 8 turnovers – 5 live ones and 3 offensive fouls – but he’ll get a pass from me this time because they were… sorta… in the flow? I don’t know. Is this the Chianti buzz who’s talking?

– Reggie Bullock (17 pts, 7 rebs, 1 stl, +4 +/-) was the cog that made everything else possible. Remove him from the rotation and probably the Knicks lose by 20. It’s not that he played great (even if, for what is asked of him, he quite did: hit your shots, defend, rebound, move the ball). It’s that he was the only guy able to really space the floor. You know the famous Archimedes quote, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”?. He was literally the fulcrum upon which Julius could do his long lever work (what the hell, it looks like I’m writing bad Knicks fanfiction). It also doesn’t hurt that he looks like just one of two guys on our roster who could play 40 minutes a night without huffing and puffing, the other one being Barrett who, with all his shooting faults, is built like a perfect if a bit slow athletic machine.

– Mitchell Robinson (9 pts, 10 rebs, 2 blk, +8 +/-) still has a long way to go to become the All-NBA Defensive player we wish he can be, but I can’t help but be amazed at his progress in one of the basic aspects of the game: staying on the floor. Being able to play 30+ minutes on a consistent basis is just what the doctor ordered for Mitch to help the team: while his defensive rebounding is still a bit subpar, everything else he does is essential for our defense. The switching, the running, the highly active hands, all of this clog the paint more than a few times during a game, and often they make a difference. Also you shouldn’t overlook his activity on the offensive boards, where he generates 4-5 points per game which can really be the line between a win and a loss, and the more time he can stay on the court the better are our chances to pull off wins. Oh, and you know those 4 fouls you find on the box score? They’re a fluke, he was whistled for three of them in the last two minutes because the universe conjured to make him go berserk on a whim.

The bad:

– It’s telling how RJ Barrett (12 pts, 7 rebs, 2 ast, +1 +/-) can stink the bed on offense and still not have me worried a bit. I would love for him to hit 45% of his shots, but even on bad nights like this one (4-for-15 from the field, 0-for-3 from three, inconsistent defense) you still have no doubts about him being an NBA player. That said, he better pull his head off of his ass sooner than later or he’ll become a serious liability once teams start gameplanning for the Knicks and stop treating them like “oh yeah, the LOLKnicks, have a free day guys!”. Now this is where Thibs has me worried instead, because I still have the Wiggins experience very present in the back of my mind. But RJ is a way different animal, because he clearly likes the game, even if the rims treat him like the girls I fawned over and over in high school (.387 from the field, .188 from three and .411 TS for the season. Yikes).

Fun-sized bits:

– Elfrid Payton is shooting 54.5% from three and 0% (0-for-4) from the line for the season. I like his playmaking but his play often make my eyes bleed. I really hope we find an alternative sooner or later during the season. Anyway he was a crucial component to the win, with timely shots and drives after he looked like he was back to total bricklaying. Apropos of this: how many more times will we have to watch him go to the rim and basically autostuff himself by hitting the front rim from two feet?

– Frank is in his fourth year and still has the classic deer in the headlights look as soon as someone hands him the key of the offense. I’m starting to feel genuinely embarrassed for him. That said, he could have done way worse as a stopgap for 16 minutes: 5 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals is not that bad.

– Knox got pulled very early from a really angry Thibs, hit two shots from three and did pretty much nothing else apart from throwing a lob to Mitch that sailed at least 10 feet over him just like my free kicks in FIFA21 (they tweaked the system and unless you have a world-class free kick taker you’ll always punt the ball into the stands). He still led the team and the whole game in plus/minus at +14. It just goes to show how much of blossoming boomer I am in putting plus/minus numbers in these recaps.

– Thibs has a well deserved reputation of riding his best players for 38+ minutes per game, but even in these load management times you can’t fault him for last night: we had 8 (6, depending on your take on Knox and Frank) players available, and then there was only rubble. I wouldn’t have minded five minutes from Pinson at the 3 or 4 just to spell RJ and Randle, but whatever.

– How much of a luxury is having second half Noel as your backup? And why does he still go space cadet from time to time like in the first half? But, more to the point: how is it possible that a team pays Mason Plumlee 24 million for three years and Noel has to come to play for us?

– Dean Wade looks like someone made a deepfake of Adam Scott on Chandler Parsons’ body.

And for 2020, it’s a wrap. It’s been an eventful year, on a global scale and probably on a personal basis too. Mine surely was (in a good way, I guess? I’ll tell you more another time, anyway. A lady friend of mine says that I have to pay her a dollar everytime I speak about myself in a totally umprompted way, and I’m not ready to break the piggy yet). I know it was the same for many of you. But here we are, a year older, a year of Knicks suckiness stronger, friendly to each other with the occasional Jowles bleach-inspired (at least in spirit, there’s no bleach mention anymore) quip and sparse triangle rants from a certain excess e in the name poster (love you strat, too). In short: I love you all. God bless Knickerblogger and our stubborn WordPress facade that hides unseen depths of collective competence like no other (not professional) place on the net.

On New Year’s Eve I’ll uncork my Franciacorta while looking at the Torontampa game and thinking about how blessed we are to share this fucking Knicks curse.

May your new year begin as happily as this one is ending for swiftandabundant and may you all see as clearly as Bruno wrote about triangle and tiki taka in a former thread.

Milwaukee Bucks 110 – New York Knicks 130 (and it’s not preseason!)

I guess at least some of you have heard of Cyberpunk 2077, the ultra-hyped videogame developed by the same team that gifted us the ageless classic Witcher 3 (seriously: it debuted in 2013 and it’s still probably the best open world RPG out there even if you buy it in 2020) that was supposed to have the whole videoludic world go head over heels gaga juuuust before Christmas arrived. Well, things didn’t exactly go as planned (even if some already suspected it wouldn’t have been good since the beginning of the next-gen consoles announcement) and for example PlayStation Network opted to remove the game from its digital stores and to offer a refund to the people who bought a digital copy for the PS4. I mean, that quite unprecedented.

Guess what? I was one of the guys who a) pre-ordered the game for PS4 and b) opted for the refund.

When those money were back on my PayPal account, I went and splurged the cash on The Last of Us 2, a game who I totally forgot came out in 2020 too and the sequel to probably the most critically acclaimed game ever – at least on such a large sales number scale, gun to my head I’d say Disco Elysium probably stole that crown in 2019 but on much smaller numbers. Paradoxically, given the multitude of measures adopted by local governments to ensure we stay home, these days I don’t have much time to play a game on console, but I bought the game on December, 23rd and I’m already at 15+ hours in. The Last of Us 2 is just perfect. It doesn’t try to overachieve. It sticks to its superb guns and, well, delivers the goods every single moment. If I had to find a flaw, it would probably be the fact that the narrative doesn’t contain many (if any, at least halfway into the game; I would wager against there being many anyway, since the original was pretty bereft of) plot twists, but in the end it is so good that even a slight amount of predictability becomes a plus and not a crutch. It hits a very specific high of keeping you thrilled and on your feet – infected people, paramilitary guys and whistling fanatics shooting at you tend to sort that kind of effect – while cuddling you in the comfort of a flawless gaming experience.

Well. Wasn’t this Knicks-Bucks game similar.

I mean, if you told me before the game that we would have won by 20 against one of the presumed best teams in the league I would have concluded that the Bucks would have a depleted roster or that Giannis and one of Jrue and Middleton would have been ejected from the court in the first half. Nope, sir. We just thrashed Milwaukee with their full squad available, Giannis playing 33 minutes and hanging 27/13/5 on us and Middleton adding 22/4/5 for good measure. Funny thing is, during the whole game, I felt the uneasiness of the lead possibly vanishing in the next few minutes, but I never stopped enjoying the experience and I was… confident?… that we would pull away to the end. It was weird, but it made perfect sense.

You have probably already heard about the crazy disparity between our three point shooting (16-for-27) and the atrocious chucking of the Bucks (7-for-38). Now, that’s absolutely true and there are many, many parallel universes where tonight has been a Knicks loss because we shot a very honest 12-for-27 and they went an equally honest 14-for-38 (that’s a 33 point swing, for you counting at home, so in those universes we would have lost 131-118). But the thing is, we weren’t even supposed to be competitive, so this one is more of a legit win than a cosmic fluke. Granted, next time the Bucks will probably roll over us without even looking back, but never forget that we’re a young (?) and rebuilding (???) team, so every single marquee win counts as double XP in getting to the next level. Another thing: there weren’t many instances of hero ball, as pretty much everyone was passing the rock and moving without it, so the game would have been much more aesthetically pleasing even if we had lost. I’m slowly thawing to the thought of a multi-year Thibs tenure.

The really good:

– Julius Randle (29 pts, 14 rebs, 7 ast, +12 +/-) showed us what it means to shed some weight and play under a decent coach. Believe it or not, this is the same Julius we had under contract last year. We knew he had this kind of performance in him, but somehow he was enabled (and a bit forced, ok, without a single capable PG out there with him) to devolve into a whirling dervish entity made of tazmanian devilish spin moves and basketball regrets. This year it looks like he gets the ball in better spots, and most of all his teammates move around him so it’s actually easier for him to hit them in stride with a quick read. Now, again, on a less torrid Knicks night we’re looking at inferior numbers, but they’d hardly be less than 20/14/4, which is still very good. I still think Julius isn’t what we need in terms of roster fit going forward, but if he plays like this he could command a hefty price on the trade block, and that’s probably great. I added probably because we’re still a Dolan-owned team and so we’re definitely unable to build a coherent long-term strategy, so we’ll end up committing to Randle for multiple years if he plays like this.

– Elfrid Payton (27 pts, 3 rebs, 7 ast, +15 +/-) clearly got out of the bed on the right foot this time. He was aggressive since the start and while it’s true that this will probably be his most efficient game of the whole season – seriously, 12-16 from the field and 3-3 from three? – it’s also true that having him be a credible threat to the other team’s defense opens up so many paths to team success that it is imperative that when he plays he’s never tentative and always assertive. I would also point to the fact that Milwaukee’s backcourt isn’t made of sieves on defense, so it’s not like Elfrid has done his damage against weak competition. But the real thing of beauty is the fact that he actually got Mitch involved in a few PnR’s and, guess what, it worked! I suspect, though, that if (when) his shot will abandon him again defenses will collapse and he’ll be way less sharp in directing the team. Then again, here too the endgame should be to send him packing somewhere else while getting some draft compensation along the way, so games like these are pure gravy.

– Mitch Robinson (9 pts, 6 rebs, 1 blk, + 16 +/-) had a kinda meh stats line, but was as impactful as he’s ever been on a basketball court. He played 36 minutes tonight , he committed only 2 fouls, and while he blocked only one shots he altered or deterred a huge number of them. To me, the second most important highlight of the game was when in the third quarter he didn’t bite at three fakes from the Greek Freek, stayed put and anyway altered Giannis’ layup so much that he bricked it from point blank. You do that to the twice-MVP in a contested game, you’re really learning defense. I don’t care if Mitch never gets to 15/12/3. I do care if Mitch makes winning plays, and right now he’s learning to do that. Of course his path to that is easier when he doesn’t have to bang with hunks down low, so we’ll see what happens against the unbeaten Drummond in a few days.

The bad:

– Honestly I would have preferred to see the starters getting pulled out of the game a few minutes earlier, but this is Thibs’ world and then again they didn’t have many reps with the shortened preseason, so eh. Everything else in this game was good. Not even mediocre: good.

The fun-sized good:

– For the trifecta of “let’s hope we’re getting picks”, Alec Burks keeps on being a deadly offensive player. 18 points on seven shots and 5 assists all in 20 minutes are elite production, and honesly nothing about him looks like it’s destined to regress swiftly and painfully to the mean. Yeah of course he won’t hit 4 of 5 from three every night, but he’s effortless in his offensive forays. On a macro level I hate the Burks as a PG experiment because it clearly doesn’t make sense for the future but I understand that in a pinch he could play that role a few times during this season if the injury bug strikes again, so even that gets a pass from me.

– Frank is still Frank, even when he hits 4 threes. This is where the Burks as a PG experiment might come to fruition, because Frank is totally unequipped to be a lead guard (now in his fourth year, can we please stop arguing about his position in the NBA? Playing FIBA, he can be a PG. But here? Z-Man was right all along, he’s a guard-wing who will provide zero statistical results but can be tactically deployed to achieve a strategic advantage in selected matches. It’s still a cool end-of-inventory weapon to use, like the bricks or bottles in The Last of Us 2). There was a moment in the fourth quarter when he was completely open from the stripe and he still opted to pass it out. It made no sense, and there’s no amount of made threes that will compensate for his offensive inaptitude. Also he was trying to showcase his (admittedly) improved handle, but he chose to do so in the most hilarious way: first of all he used it to advance past halfcourt just for Thibs to call timeout, and the second time he did in front of the extra long limbed Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, who annoyedly swiped the ball just like horrible people take away the pickles from burgers.

– I still don’t know what we have in Knox (and I still know that we could have had much more picking someone else two years ago), but here’s my highlight for the game: Knox diving on the floor to angrily, grittily steal the ball from a befuddled Buck in the second half. Knox was very good tonight on a few occasions: on defense he kept Middleton in tow, he rebounded with effort, and he moved twice toward the basket with purpose. His shot, while beautiful to look at, is still totally hit and miss, but if this is the level of energy Knox will bring to the games from now on we can be really satisfied with the early results of the Thibs’ regime.

– And this brings me to the last point: I was never a Thibs’ fan, long before he came here. I actively dislike people who are too serious, too callous, too intense. It’s ok to be that in the right spots, but you’ll wear out your welcome very quickly if you can’t switch gears. Thibs always struck me as a guy who’s legitimately good at understanding things in his field, but who’s not that good at keeping the pace and communicating to everyone. Here, it doesn’t look like that. Maybe he’s perfect for this city. Maybe the circumstances made him a more nuanced guy. Maybe he’s really having the time of his life at his dream job. Now, it’s still too early to know if Thibs is the right one or he’s just the one who looked good enough to bring home to your parents only to have them ask the next Christmas “hey, what’s happened with (insert name)?”, but you can already see a few distinct improvements from the Fizdale tenure. It looks like people know they can be held accountable and they behave accordingly. We’ll see what happens, but you can be sure of one thing: Thibs will always call timeout exactly at the right time. Up by 20, down by 30, he doesn’t care: if the team looks like it’s giving in, Thibs will call it. That’s for sure.

See you next time! Let’s see if I can make it to two recaps in a row :)

Stay safe.

Cleveland Cavaliers 83 – New York Knicks 119 (yeah, it’s preseason)

I’ve always had a soft spot for action B-movies. You know the kind, the ones with preposterous plots, bad acting, cliche characters like the vet who’s too old for that kind of shit, or the slimy merc who usually betrays his team, or the brash youngster who’s too hot for his shot; also, people in bad masks and happy endings galore.

Well, I guess you could say that this weird, empty, detached preseason fits the description to a T, don’t you think? Especially the people in bad masks (seriously, NBA, you’ve been amazing at dealing with the pandemic, but your mask fashion sense is just short of Tiger King-terribleness).

Coming to the happy endings (and I promise, this is not a shady tuina massage parlor repeated reference), the only thing that was lacking from the last game was a good Toppin showing and a Ntilikina 360 dunk, or maybe just a Ntilikina appearance. Ntilikina’s sports durability looks like it’s always worse than one can think, pretty much like Abe Simpson’s decency in this all-timer.
We just got everything else that we could have dreamed of: a thorough ass-whipping of the admittedly lowly Cavs, a lot of bright spots in our effort through the first three quarters (the fourth doesn’t count, it was the equivalent of the birthday greetings you see on Facebook walls where it’s totally evident that people are wishing you well just because Zuckerberg reminded them two seconds before you’re a year older: kinda mandatory but utterly pointless), confident youngsters, amazing shooting performances, and a coach who’s not brain-dead!

Before going to assess the individual performances, though, let me advise you on something: don’t put any faith in tonight’s offensive output, the shooting was too hot not to regress to the mean very fast. But you can put all the faith you want in the defensive output, these guys busted their asses off against a few capable NBA rotation guys: the Cavs started the games with Sexton-Garland-Osman-Okoro-McGee, which won’t be their real action starting lineup but it will come pretty close, probably swapping Okoro and McGee with Love and Drummond, which is a clear improvement but not enough to overcome a 72-35 score at the end of the first half (yup! not a typo). Don’t get me wrong: NBA teams will often mop the floor with us, but they won’t do it Hulk-Loki style. If this is kinda our regular season rotation – more on that later – we will fight and we’ll be abused just by the top tier teams. We can agree that we can live with that, can’t we?

The good:

– Of course you have to start with Immanuel Quickley (22 pts, 5 ast, 5 stl, +41 +/-). We overanalyzed the process that brought him here, and rightly so. We discussed for weeks about him, falling just short of digging grainy footages from the dark web of his past performances. And then he came onto stage and, well, rocked our million faces. Seriously: it’s not about the numbers, which yeah, are really good, but can’t be counted on to forecast anything. It’s his demeanor. I. Just. Love. His. Demeanor. He moves and acts like he totally owns the place. And he can – kinda – walk the walk. His shot is good. His dribble is totally fine. His mind is apparently clear. He tries to involve people. He’s communicating through the whole game, even going to scold a bit Randle in the second quarter after a missed cut. Let me be clear: I don’t expect anything great out of him, I’ve probably had enough of inflated expectations, but I’m pleasantly surprised by his showings. He’s probably a legit NBA rotation player; I mean, you clearly see him pick his spots and never lose his cool. He’s already trying to dupe defenders – and referees – into giving him freebies at the line, and with good profit! His attunement to the offensive part looks like it’s light years ahead compared to Frank’s and merely million miles ahead of DSJ’s. Now, if all he has in the paint is a floater he won’t really go very far, but let’s not be too quick to pass judgement, and let’s wait. He’s not even a real PG but I think he’s the most deserving one in our rotation (not the best one, mind you – that’s still Elfrid’s place), and while it speaks more about our roster than about him, it is a welcome development in the early days of this incoming 2020-21 season.

– RJ Barrett (15 pts, 5 rebs, 2 ast, +42 +/-) looks fine. I mean, NBA-like fine. He seems entirely reliable, he’s doing things on defense, he’s not forcing issues on offense. Usually you’d ask more from a 3rd overall pick, but if this is what we get in his second year I don’t think we can complain. Most of all, and yes I know it’s preseason yadda yadda, it’s encouraging to see Thibs not going full Wiggins on him. We all feared that Thibs would enable Barrett’s worst tendencies giving him a boatload of minutes and the green light to shoot everytime from the midrange: while we don’t know what Thibs’ plans are, it’s highly doubtful that were this the case, Barrett would only shoot 10 times in 25 minutes. Also: his free throws! If RJ is hitting them at a 75% pace, we have a pretty cromulent sophomore on our hands. And his body language is just great. Yeah, winning by 40 does things to you, so again, don’t put too much stock into this, but nothing about his past four performances – even the bad start in game 1 – screams “fluke”. Solid player. Let’s celebrate it. It’s 2020, we need to find joy where we can.

– Mitch Robinson (8 pts, 12 rebs, 4 blk, +46 +/-) was terrifying without his Drummond-shaped kryptonite. Numbers won’t tell you much, and at this point I’m not positive he’s not already statistically plateaued, but to hell with that (not that 10/10/2.5 on 70% shooting is anything to scoff at). Zero fouls! In 27 minutes! While swatting, flailing and throwing himself on the floor all over his playing time! Opponents fear him, and ones who don’t learn to do that just by looking like fools as soon as they throw up a shot in his vicinity. He also looks like he bought in to whatever Thibs is preaching, and that’s good. On the other hand, will you please add something to your offensive repertoire, Mitch? I’m fine with you just dunking, but sooner or later you have to add something from 10 feet just in case. Clyde said something about him adding a jump hook, but I’ll believe it when I’ll see it.

– Clyde. CLYDE. I can’t believe how much joy he’s capable of giving just by saying half-digested cliches and reminiscing about his past. At one point when he was thinking, kinda half-minded, about the fact that 41 years have already passed since his jersey has been retired, I could swear a very large fly was trying to enter my right eye. I can’t find any other explanation about the sudden increase in activity of my lacrimal ducts.

The bad:

– Let’s pump the brakes, of course, but ew, Obi (6 pts, 6 rebs, 4 ast, -1 +/-). The point of being an older rookie should be to skip a few of the bumps that come naturally with adjusting to NBA life, but so far not so good. I think things will be better as soon as there will be an offensive system in place, but it’s discouraging to see him float on the perimeter and do pretty much nothing apart from scrapping sometimes and throw down the casual dunk that gets handed to him like leftover meatballs to a homeless dog in the backyard of your fake Italian restaurant. I’m not worried – yet – but honestly let’s hope it’s just the jitters from getting acquainted to the NBA atmosphere and not some larger underlying issues (as in: he’s the out of time tweener with no defense that some feared he would be). More pick and roll for the kid, let’s see what he’s made of!

Fun-sized bit:

– About the Knox renaissance: yeah he’s scored 20 points right after scoring 16 in the last game, but he did so while hitting 10 of his last 11 three point attempts (pretty unsustainable) and last night he did almost nothing else. If he hits his threes at a 38% clip he can be useful, but getting just one board in 24 minutes of this sloppy game is not a good sign. Still not sold on the Revenge of Knox.

– The fact that I have pretty much nothing to say about Randle says it all. Quite a good performance, still with the occasional horrible dribble drive (but 8 assist in 24 minutes thanks to the torrid Knicks shooting!). Following the action B-movie tropes, I hope he’s the old villain that atones his past sins by spontaneously trading himself for a bag of chips and a 2027 second. I’d bite.

– Watching Quickley in action I couldn’t help myself not thinking that he looks like a lab experiment crossbreeding Rajon Rondo and Pablo Prigioni, game-wise. If that’s his ceiling, it’s supa-dupa-good even if we botched the pick.

– On the other hand, you know who’s the last Knicks rookie guard who came in and looked very confident since day one? Iman Shumpert. Let’s not do this again.

– Good stuff from Bullock. At least he grabbed 5 boards and generally played competent defense. I don’t trust the 6/7, 3/4 from three shooting, but I’m ok with him being on the court for 15 minutes a game.

– Justin Harper looks like the kid you let into your game because you only have 8 friends to play with. As in, literally a kid. Loved his effort and his shot but I don’t think he’ll make it in the NBA. Still worth keeping him around to see if there’s something more to him. Also, no way he’s 5’11”. At best he’s 5’9″. Didn’t the NBA stop measuring people in shoes?

– Theo Pinson on the other hand didn’t do that much apart from being active on defense but has an NBA body and could be useful during a season that’s gonna be determined, as Doncic dryly said, by the fact that the team who has less COVID cases will be able to put on the floor it best players night is and night out.

– Iggy. I loved you, but I don’t see how you can’t get cut if you look horrible up by 40 against the Cavs scrubs. You’re slow, you look stoned and most of all you look way dumber that during 2019 preseason. What happened to you?

Aye, it’s good to be back. Hope you’re doing fine during this terrible shitshow of 2020. If anything, I’m working more than before and while my mind is still ok I feel the stress has really impacted my mood from time to time. I needed some basketball in my life. I’m sure you did too.

Until next time!

 

 

Houston Rockets 123 – New York Knicks 125 – Game Recap

Sometimes you have to look up at every chance you get to have faith that the future will be better, because it just has to be. Sometimes you feel like the only sane person in the room, keeping your cool while everyone else goes insane at the first hint of trouble or, on the other hand, tries to pass everyting off as if it was bad fake news.

Today I went for a walk because I had to go fetch a traffic pass in downtown Bologna and getting there by foot is the quickest way to go. The streets were almost desert. A few cars were passing by, and I encountered just five people on a 35 minutes walk. I fetched the traffic pass and went to eat something. I love sushi, and you know it. I felt a little craving for some sweet uramaki, but as luck would have it every single sushi (to be honest: asian fusion, as in “Japanese-like restaurant owned by all sorts of Asian people”) restaurant was closed. Then again, it was cold, so I didn’t mind eating something warmer, and as I found a Chinese restaurant open I went straight for the door.

I entered the place, and, well… I was the only customer. A joint that probably on its best days feeds a hundred people was completely empty. I sat at the table, I ordered my spring rolls, my spicy chicken and shrimps, and vegetables as side dish, and ate well intent at checking my social media feeds. The food was goodish but honestly nothing remarkable. I wouldn’t recommend to eat there, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to avoid it. It was the Arron Afflalo of the Chinese restaurants: a perfectly serviceable place that just doesn’t move the tiniest needle in your overall life. I still left the poor waiter a generous tip. I felt sorry for him and his wasted day at work.

This, guys, is life in March 2020 in the so-called yellow zone in Italy. Coronavirus has hit hard, much harder than I ever thought it could. It’s not about numbers per se: while a little more than 2,250 cases (79 deaths) are nothing to scoff at, the vast majority of infected people is feeling well, sometimes even being totally asymptomatic. Bologna and its suburbs amount to around one million people, and there are three registered cases as of now. But it’s not the virus that has hit that hard. It’s the sheer fear. Cinemas and theaters are closed by government decree. Citizens are advised to stay at home if they can.

February 21st was the day when the first Italian patient was discovered. By February 23rd the supermarkets were assaulted by people that felt like they needed to stock up food for a month in a nuclear vault. I’m not kidding you when I say that entire shelves were emptied in 20 minutes (but not penne lisce. Don’t ask real Italians to eat pasta that’s not striped. Penne rigate, tortiglioni, conchiglie rigate is the way. Otherwise the sauce won’t stick).

As I was saying at the beginning, I kept my cool through it all. But hope is a flickery thing, isn’it? So while I’m not worried about my own health, I can’t say the same for my parents (who both are 65+, and it looks like this virus goes hard at old people, especially if they suffer from other serious illnesses) but most of all for the whole economy. We’re at day 10, and I think we’re pretty much fucked for the 2020. Foreign tourists won’t come here in Italy as they were used to, and Italy has an estimated GDP of 150 billion dollars in tourism alone, which amounts to 7.5-8% of the whole national shebang. Italian products might be looked with mistrust for the next months. We’re probably due for a small but heavy recession. And our economy wasn’t that good to begin with, so…

In short: I fucking needed this win. I love sports. They are one of the few things that, when all goes well, give you a boost for no discernible reason. And you just take that boost and don’t look back.

***

The game was very entertaining: our Knicks were busy exchanging blows with the Rockets from the get-go, with RJ Barrett building up on his good performance against Chicago, ending the first quarter with 14 points and a couple gorgeous feeds to his fellow Bockers (in particular a pass to Mitch who was left entirely alone under the rim. It was eerily reminiscent of those night when I used to play in my room with a Nerf hoop and fantasized about being 6’8″ and dunking at will in the NBA. Mitch’s bucket was that easy). All the Knicks were pretty solid, but the reserves were the real protagonists, especially in the second quarter when a scorching hot Wayne Ellington went on to hit 4 threes in a row and a Bobby Portis bucket put the Knicks up by 21 (!) with 5:26 to go. It was clear that it wasn’t destined to last, but it was really fun. RJ ended the half with 19 points. Randle wasn’t that good but rebounded well.

The Rockets are a weird, uncompromising yo-yo team. They can fall back by 15 or be up 30 and they’ll play the same way, so given that threes have a inherent high variance you can never be safe enough playing them. In fact, the lead would be cut to ten at the end of the first half, thanks to strong play from Covington and Danuel House. Westbrook and Harden were fine but a bit dormient. You could feel a rolling boulder comeback from the Rockets, all but certain that the Knicks would end being destroyed by the most brilliantly annoying team in the League.

But that wasn’t the case!

In fact, the Knicks went up by 17 again with 5:38 to go in the third behind good all-around effort and savvy play (it didn’t hurt that sometimes Houston slept off entire defensive possessions). But the two headed backcourt Houston beast awoke, with Harden hitting his first three of the night with 2:08 to go in the third and a second one right at the end of the quarter, ending the stanza at 101-91.

The fourth quarter looked like a playoff game. The crowd was in it, and the Knicks were too (except for Elfrid Payton, who sometimes can’t be brought to give a damn on defense and was rightfully subbed off for Ntilikina, who looked like an NBA player last night, even on offense and for RJ Barrett, who looked gassed until the last possession vindicated his bad second half play). 101-95 gave way to 103-101, which in turn gave way to 111-106 (on a Frank pull-up!), which gave way to 118-109, which ended up seeing the Knicks just up 122-121 with 28 seconds to go. Here, RJ went onto his baptism by fire. He took the ball, chose to iso his way and bullyball-ed his way to a bank layup. From there, a Randle free throw and a great Frank defensive possession on Westbrook ensured the win.

I pumped my fist.

***

You can’t really argue with the last two wins. Mitch (17.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, a criminal 24.5 MPG), RJ (23 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4 APG, 18-28 FG, 6-12 3P, 30.5 MPG), Frank (7.5 PPG, 4 APG, 6-12 FG, 22MPG) and Knox (9 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3-5 3P, 19 MPG) were all a big part of them.

This is what hope looks like. This is what I want from now on (but I need more minutes for Mitch! Who cares about Taj’s veteran leadership. We’re 21 games from another trip to the lottery. Stop this madness). This is something I can look at with eager eyes. This is why we follow the team.

Fuck you Covid19.

An honest assessment of the second part 2019/20 Knicks season – Or how I learned to stop worrying and ignore the void

Hi fellow Knickerbloggers, it’s your friendly neighborhood Farfa.

You might think I’ve given up entirely on this Knicks season. In fact, I pretty much think the same. The recap exercise has quickly become pointless once we hit the deadline and still play the “wrong” guys. Who cares what happens during the long stints where our lineup doesn’t feature at least three potential future pieces (and no, I’m not counting Randle among them)? Is there a goal in trying to describe the impact of Harkless on our rotation (by the way, it’s pretty close to zero).

I wouldn’t say I’m a great writer, especially in a foreign language. But I also think I’m not that bad. Here’s the thing, though: if you want to write something compelling, the subject has to elicit something in you, whatever that is: amusement, love, passion, disgust, hate, ridiculousness, really whatever. There are thousands of ways to imbue a single fact with all sorts of flavors; you just have to identify the right flavor, and bam! Narrative.

The sad truth, though, is that the 2020 Knicks don’t provide anything. You can be the best at seasoning food, but nobody will eat just the sauce if there’s no meat at all.

So here I am, wondering what to make of the many games I’ve seen in the last two weeks (because, seriously, I’m Pavlov’s dog when it comes to Knicks. As long as there is a Knicks game, you can take it for granted that I’m watching it. Even if it makes me curse at the screen. And yeah, these games don’t even make me curse. The rotations do, but the games leave me just meh). Do I go on another rant about the fact that it makes no sense not to start Mitch? Or to take him off the court as soon as he gets to two fouls because I don’t know, maybe Miller’s mistaking basketball fouls for baseball strikes? Do I go on writing furiously about the latest Randle high handle-caused turnover? Would you like it? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t. Even the truest argument gets thrown out as empty words after you’ve repeated it too much (see: Thunberg, Greta).

I can promise you this: there will be at least another recap from now to the end of the season. But there needs to be something at stake. Take last night’s game, for example: did anyone care about what happened on the court? How can someone care when Wayne Ellington gets thrown into the fray before a kinda hot in the previous two games Allonzo Trier does? Trier is as much a free agent as Wayne is entering the 2020/21 season, but his path in the League should be a little different. He should still be on the rise, or at the very least he plateaus for the next two years. Zo’s not that young, but he’s still hungry and will not demand a huge salary. Plus, I think he’s a RFA. For chrissakes, just play him 20 minutes on a night when Frank and DSJ aren’t available in the second half!

Miller’s first 20 games were kind of encouraging. Now he’s just as perplexing as Fiz was, at least in terms of rotations and playcalling. He’s more solid, but just as perplexing. The team isn’t disjointed, but he looks incapable of understanding which players will help him win games (because I think that’s his only goal right now, lame duck as he is after the Stoute special).  But you know that already.

In short, what I’m saying is that I’m here. I’m following the games. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to write something that doesn’t look like a chewed out 2019 post (but that doesn’t mean I won’t write something else entirely, maybe detailing a few draft prospects – by the way, read this piece from Tjarks on The Ringer, it’s nothing special but it’s quite good at telling everyone what the Knicks have done wrong in the last three years – without even talking about the Knicks!).

Bless your souls.

Washington Wizards 114 – New York Knicks 96 – Game Recap (sort of)

Nine years ago I was a contestant at the Italian version of “Who wants to be a millionaire?”. I’ll tell you how it all went down.

I applied for consideration as kind of a joke between me and my girlfriend from that time. I got a call three days after applying: fifteen rapid fire questions about a vast array of subjects, ranging from extra easy to quite hard. I think I nailed 13 of them. “We’ll keep in touch, don’t worry”. And they did. After a week, they booked me a train to Milan to go and take their written test. It was something resembling a mid-term exam: 70 minutes to get 20 multiple answer questions and 12 open-ended ones about everything between “Who wrote *semi-obscure Italian song* and why?” to “Who won Serie A in 1985?”. I passed the test and the very same day there was a meeting with the show authors. Another batch of questions, a bit of small talk, and after 30 more minutes another step was taken towards tv stardom and unimaginable riches. But it wasn’t over! The last challenge before becoming a contestant was to endure a two hour and a half (not kidding) telephone conversation where they asked everything about anything until I was almost physically exerted to the point of dehydration – mind you, it wasn’t stressful; it was physically straining. You weren’t even allowed a bathroom break during the phone call.

Anyway, all went well and I got selected. For a month, nothing happened. Then there came a day when they called me and said “hey, are you free next Wednesday?”. Of course I wasn’t – I already had a vexing job, but whatever, chances like that aren’t a dime a dozen, so I made myself free. I went to Milan again to take part in the actual show, but nothing. The first day I didn’t get called to the main stage. This went on for another three days during the subsequent two weeks (once they even paid for accomodation since they needed for me to sleep in Milan as to already be there in the early morning – but again, nothing). Then, finally, on a fateful June 13th in 2011 I got my chance. I knew I would have: the most they can keep you waiting is five days, and I reached the limit right there. So I just had to “play” that day. And I did.

I won’t bore you with the actual questions, just let it be known that along the way there was this one: “Mordillo the dog eats only on odd days. How many times does he eat in March? (14, 15, 16, 17)”. Authors recommend you left and right to take your time in answering because seeing a contestant thinking out loud makes half the show. I’m good at talking sweet nothings, but I honestly didn’t see the point in treading water on such a stupid question, so I literally answered “Ok it’s 16, it’s good, let’s move on to the next question” before the host even had a chance to say anything. It has to be one of the top-10 most smug moments on national tv to this day.

Anyway, I got to the 10k question with the “phone a friend” lifeline still in hand. At the time, it was the 9th out of 15 questions to get to the top.

The question was this one: “During his adventures, which one of the following characters gets to step onto the island of the Busy Bees? (Pippi Longstocking; Alice; Pinocchio; Winnie the Pooh)”. Now, I didn’t know the answer for sure. Keep in mind that (at least in Italy) 30% of what you win in TV shows immediately gets paid in taxes, so I would have won “just” 7k if I answered correctly using the last lifeline (when you’re out of lifelines you’re already cooked – so that would have been my last step for sure). So I thought: will 7k change my life? No. Did I came here after all that (the selection process, the wait, the weariness) just to win 7k? Also, don’t bees make honey? And aren’t bears totally in love with honey? And isn’t Winnie the Pooh a bear?

I basically went for broke because at that time it looked like the only right thing to do: there was too much “work” done before that, I had no business going back home with a small sum. I had to keep my last lifeline at least for the 20k question. So I went in.

Needless to say, I lost. The correct answer (and using the last lifeline would have been extremely useful: it’s literally the first result when you Google “Busy bees”) was Pinocchio. So I went home with nothing apart from the aforementioned smug moment which will probably outlive me. Oh, I also snuck in a kinda dirty joke that pretty much nobody got. Yeah, I’m a riot.

But you know what? I never regretted it. Part of that is geography and family luck: my socioeconomic milieu is such that 7k really don’t change your life, so I could afford to lose them without blinking. But part of that is the nature of the game. You’re on national TV. If you’re lucky (and good) you probably get to participate three times in your life to such games. You can’t squander the chance just to take home small prizes. I feel like I had to shoot for the moon. I still do. I never regretted the choice.

After watching the last few games, and all in all the last few Knicks seasons, I’m pretty confident that Perry (and to a minor extent Miller) would have gone the last lifeline route. There’s value in self-restraint, and I appreciate it. But this doesn’t look like it. It looks like barely respectable mediocrity. Is this what we should get after 17 losing seasons in the last 20?

Case in point, another game in this terrible season.

Our Knicks fought decently in the first half, going into halftime up by four (while both teams were bricking everything in sight). The effort was uneven, and the minutes were even more than that. To compound the below-average minutes allocation, puzzlingly Miller chose to go with DSJ as the backup PG without getting Frank in as a secondary PG as well. DSJ went on to turn over the ball 4 times in 4 minutes. It was one the most pathetic outings at PG I can remember. Anyway, DSJ wasn’t able to do much damage because he played just six minutes total. I mean, he sucked so much that he actually forced Miller’s hand not to play him anymore during the second half. Even more discomforting, in the second half the wheels totally came off and the Knicks went at first down six, then down 15, and then down 20. They didn’t even try to retaliate: they were content sucking, as if it was their natural state of being. And maybe it just is.

When you lose by 20 at home to a bad team, you’d hope that your guys at least showed something in terms of promise and development, right?

TOTALLY WRONG.

RJ Barrett: 29 minutes, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 0 (!) assists, 5/16 from the field. At least he hit all six of his free throws, but it was a total stinker by the shooting impaired rookie. Here at least I have no gripes, he played a lot.

DSJ: retching

Frank Ntilikina: 12 minutes, 0 (!) points, 1 (!) rebound, 3 assists, 1 steal. When Frank posts line like this one, I can’t help but feel like he’s basically a styrofoam placeholder out there who just happens to move laterally well and in sync with his man. Badly discouraging.

Kevin Knox: 10 minutes, 2 points, literally nothing else. If Frank’s a styrofoam placeholder, Kevin’s a cardboard one.

Mitchell Robinson: 18 minutes (foul trouble but honestly who the hell cares, leave him in and go from there, I’m sick of this foul management bullshit in a lost season), 11 points, 8 boards, 1 block. Also, -9 +/-. Mitch is very good in a vacuum, but a truly good coach has to find a way to make his impact felt on the game, night in and night out. Right now it looks like Miller is trying to get to the grocery store with a Lamborghini. Sometimes you’ll have three free miles on main street and everything will look awesome, but as soon as you have to swerve right you’re tempted to ditch the Lambo for a steady Prius. No, Mike! You have to play Mitch! Don’t be such a (respectable) wuss! Show us you have balls!

Sorry. I know. I always say the same things. But that’s the only thing that should matter now. I like winning. I like competing. But there’s no point in that. So there’s no point in watching these games with an open mind or some sort of hope.

As JK47 said, this season is salvageable to a fan only if you watch the team as farcical. Everything else will end up pulling a Cthulhu on your mind.

So stay strong, enjoy the All-Star rest, and be ready to sport a sad smile everytime this team steps on the court from now to April. And hope for the draft.

Orlando Magic 103 – New York Knicks 105 – Quick Recap

How fitting that we got a brand new KB look for this new Knicks course, devoid of Mills and Mooks and full of picks and Roses!

What’s that? It’s not really a new course? Are you saying that because in the end the team is the same minus a certain SF/PF? Or maybe because we got to win the third game in a row? Or maybe because the young players still don’t play that much? Well, you’re right.

Now, winning every now and then is physiological and winning at home always feels good, but watch this:

– Elfrid Payton, starter: 34 minutes – 1+1 years
– Frank Ntilikina, starter: 14 minutes – 2 years + RFA (plausibly)
– Reggie Bullock, starter: 3o minutes – 1+1 years
– Julius Randle, starter: 30 minutes – 2+1 years
– Taj Gibson, starter: 30 minutes – 1+1 years

– RJ Barrett, bench: 18 minutes – rookie!
– Mitch Robinson, bench: 19 minutes – 3 years + RFA (plausibly)
– Dennis Smith Jr, bench: 15 minutes – 2 years + RFA (plausibly)
– Kevin Knox, bench: 17 minutes – 3 years + RFA (plausibly)
– Bobby Portis, bench: 19 minutes – 1+1, buyout candidate
– Wayne Ellington, bench: 19 minutes – 1+1, buyout candidate

Is this what you want to see in a cellar-dwelling team? Because I don’t. I know, it seems trite at this point, but you can’t really stress enough the fact that if you’re losing and have pretty much no hope for this season, you shouldn’t waste time hunting for wins on the heels of guys who very, very likely won’t be here next year. Randle, I have no qualms with – especially if he plays like last night and “wobbly handle” doesn’t rhyme with his surname. Spot minutes for other guys who don’t actively hurt the team, I have no qualms with (15 minutes for Taj and Bullock can’t be bad, maybe even 10 for Ellington if Dotson and Trier can’t dress and RJ has to be eased back into the rotation). Payton on 28 mpg is okay, he’s the best PG we have and it would hurt not to have someone orchestrating things. From there, go with young and unproven guys and never look back.

Mike Miller is without a doubt someone who understands the basic areas of basketball, and that’s a vast improvement over a few guys we had in the last years and probably over some other guys employed around the league (Luke Walton comes to mind). The problem is that he’s been given 3000 random Lego pieces and he’s (likely) been told “show us you can do something with this!”. While Fizdale would probably have just stacked 25 4×2 studs without matching colors and called it a day saying “I built a futuristic lightsaber, don’t you see? Bzzzz bzzzz, *hand over mouth* Luke, eat what you kill”, Miller seems content building small red houses with flat roofs instead of trying to understand if there are a few pieces that might help build the UCS Millennium Falcon. Mike, we get it: you can do something with what you’re given. But what you’re doing is pointless. Nobody wants to post a pic on himself with 50 identical 3″ x 3″ Lego houses on the ‘gram.

Anyway, the game was pretty entertaining, what with all the stealing (Payton notched 8, a personal career high and just one short of the Knicks record) and three point bombing (Ellington came alive for a brief stint, hitting three triples in a row to cut the Magic lead). And a bit of dunking too, courtesy of Mitch and Randle.

On the positive side, Barrett looked goodish, even if he keeps shooting very very inconsistently: the form isn’t bad, but he never gets off the same shot type twice in a row. Payton looked good again, hitting 7 of 13, thieving 8 balls, dishing 9 assists and generally looking spirited while leading the charge. Randle looked relieved without Mook, but that might just be because the Magic aren’t really suited to defend burly, crafty types – and he blocked two shots in the same quarter! That’s rare. Taj did a very good job – even if that shouldn’t hamper Mitch’s playing time.

On the negative one, Knox was simply awful, missing all of his 5 shots and being totally terrible on defense (Terrence Ross looked like he had bought a Disneyland fastpass to the rim everytime Kevin was on him); Frank didn’t play enough even if he didn’t suck that much; Mitch didn’t play enough even if he looked lost at times, fouled a couple times in a stupid way, and got burned on defense by Vucevic (but the very negative point is that Mitch can’t crack 20 minutes and we don’t actually know why; it might be that Miller’s trying to teach him something, but it’s clearly not working); we played Portis.

Only one last thing (this is gonna be brief, as the Muse said time’s running out): Miller has won 12 games in 30 tries. Fiz won 21 in 104. I can’t still wrap my head around Fiz’s sheer incompetence.

Let’s see where this new CAA-branded course will take us (nowhere good is my guess)!