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.
– 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.
– 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).
– 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.