Why does it have to be so hard?
One of my favourite definition of insanity is the (misattributed to Einstein) following quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. For the umpteenth time this season, and more specifically the fourth in a row, the Knicks looked lost both on and off the court well into the second half of the game. On the court, well, for 30+ minutes this game was borderline unwatchable, full of defensive mistakes, stupid turnovers, and even an iffy own-basket by Kanter and Vonleh. Off the court, there was a minutes distribution so puzzling it made me question my sanity, because if you’re losing by a lot and not playing well at all, why in the hell do you keep the youngsters glued to the bench?
Then, with 3:43 to go in the third quarter, Frank came into the game for Mudiay and Robinson was brought in for Kanter. Forty seconds later, Knox was subbed in for Hezonja. From there to the finish line (15 full minutes of play), the Knicks trotted out the following lineup: Frank-Trier-Dotson-Knox-Robinson. Did we win the game? No, but with that lineup who cares. Did we make the game competitive and spirited? Hell yes. Did it make the game watchable and, most importantly, meaningful? HELL YES. This is our future. Our (cue the eyeroll of who just wants to hear and read about day-to-day basketball) cost controlled future. Our all-upside, no-downside future. That lineup, made of two genuinely good prospects, a solid wing in the making, and two mostly sucky first round picks, was +9 and suddenly made the Garden remember what it’s like to play defense with passion – and length.
Do you want more of that? Because I do. The fact that we lost, and in a competitive way nonetheless, while Atlanta and Cleveland won made it easy to find the sweet core of this sour, bitter candy. But setting aside the final result or the tankathon projection, playing the young guys gives you hope. Let’s see if those five will see the court through the next few games. We need Fiz to stop sending young guys to that infamous dungeon of his.
– Honestly, it’s hard to dub anyone really good for this game. The aforementioned uber-young unit was good as a whole, but none of the guys played well per se. So, counter-intuitively, I’ll hand the first good mention to Enes Kanter (23 pts, 14 rebs, 3 ast, -9 +/-), because without him the first 30 minutes of play would have been a sh*tshow of epic proportion. His presence, and his flawless touch around the rim, kept the game a sliver from rock bottom in terms of watchability, and even if he’s not a good team player he still is a good player, and I have to give credit where it’s due. That’s even more true tonight, when Vonleh straight up stank and the third best rebound tally of the team (after Enes and Mitch) went to Mario. Enes was his usual unrelenting machine on the glass and was efficient, hitting 10 of his 13 field goal attempts. I still don’t want him around here anymore after April 2019, but I have to commend his good performances. He even dusted off a nifty eurostep in the first quarter. If the game was only predicated on offense, Kanter would probably be in the top 5 of all NBA centers. Again, he’s just playing a different game from a different time. If you kept the same finishing lineup with Enes instead of Mitch, I think we wouldn’t have been that exciting overall and goodish on defense.
– Sorry but I have to say it: Frank Ntilikina (7 pts, 1 reb, 3 ast, +7 +/-) was quite good tonight. The numbers are mediocre, even if he shot 3/6 from the field, and one attempt was a end of period heave (Trier should teach him to stop doing that to preserve his efficiency – lol). His impact on the game, on the other hand, was not. I know, defensive numbers don’t paint him like the total pest he is on primary offensive threats on opponent teams, but they’re so noisy that it’s all a bit inconclusive. He smothered D’Angelo Russell from the first possession. He got smoked just once by Dinwiddie (and then nobody came in to help). I’ll put it simply: guys were scoring effortlessly on us in the first 35 minutes. In the last 13 minutes, they committed three 24-second violations. Also, handing the reins to someone who wasn’t Trier was big for Zo. He’s not at his best when he’s asked to create first. If there is someone else capable of doing that, even if not at the rate we’d like to, and also to defend, Zo can untap his potential. Frank still tends to suck, but we need him a lot more than we need Mario or 5 extra minutes of THJ and Mudiay. Great finishing in the paint for him, too.
– Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, -1 +/-) was the most evident beneficiary of Frank comeback. Dot in his first 15 minutes without him: 0 points, 0-3 from the field. Enter Frank: 12 points (8 in a row in a span of 63 seconds) on 5-for-7. As I said: this guy need someone to set him up to get in a rhythm. Defending better helps getting into transition which in turn helps finding guys open. That’s why defense is so important: a good defensive possession is the best start for a great offensive possession. This is his 16th game (on 22 played) that he goes off for 10+ points. I’ll say it again: Dotson is a keeper.
– Allonzo Trier (15 pts, 2 rebs, 46% FG, +5 +/-) didn’t play his best game and made mistakes on the last two plays (he should have passed the ball to a very open Mitch under the rim in his last foray), but was a force to be reckoned when driving to the rim. He was a bit less listless than Dotson before the late game spurt, but he too benefited from Frank’s insertion. Dinwiddie ate him alive, but I have a hunch that Zo will recover his at least average defensive presence in the next few games. By the way: the deadline to sign him to a real contract is approaching very fast. Does anyone have an idea about what’s going to be the offer? Nobody seems to be talking about it.
– Tim Hardaway Jr. (7 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -9 +/-) threw out a real stinkbomb. He was nowhere to be found on offense tonight, trying to empirically prove that the cold hand fallacy is not a fallacy at all. I love his method to get out of a slump: just shoot it more with even less preparation, like it’s ever gonna work. His FG% for season has plummeted to 39.1, and his free throw rate is going down as well. He’s hovering around his career advanced stats, and that’s definitely not promising, as it wasn’t his body language for the whole game. He went 0-for-5 from three and every three pointer was a bad one. Someone should try to explain to him he’s not Steph Curry, or even Reggie Miller. I hope some fringe contender needs a sixth man sooner or later. Yeah, a 17 million dollars sixth man, but I hear that in Houston and in New Orleans they’re getting a bit desperate.
– Noah Vonleh (4 pts, 3 rebs, 4 ast, -7 +/-) played one of his worst games, maybe the worst when he wasn’t plagued by foul trouble. I don’t know why, but he just wasn’t there with his head tonight. I won’t blame him too much, but you really can feel when he’s not doing his best job out there. The whole team suffers and it’s pretty evident. His defense was lackadaisical too, as he even failed to rotate more than a couple times. The 4 assists are cool to see; the traveling violations in the first quarter 30 feet from the cup aren’t. I think he’ll be better against Charlotte.
– Mario Hezonja shot well for the first time in ages (4-8, 3-4 from downtown) but still was a game-worst -14 +/- and got a few of his teammates demonstrably angry at him for how he was misusing possessions. He’s unconceivably unaware of how bad he is at this game, but I don’t think it’s his fault, like at all. He’s not appointing himself a starter, there are other guys doing that for him.
– Mudiay is so bad on defense it’s incredible. They put him in the pick and roll, he dies on the first screen over and over again and then doesn’t know where to rotate. The Nets killed us with that simple action all night (again, defensive stats don’t tell all: watch film of Mudiay defending and of Frank doing the same, and tell me you don’t see differences).
– Mitch in full octopus mode on defense in the fourth quarter (three steals on passing lanes, a swallowing block) and with a pair of circus tricks on offense. If he only could avoid committing stupid fouls (and technicals) and could work on his hands – free throws included – he’d be a solid contributor right now. Just imagine where he’ll be in two years from now.
– Knox had a meh game. Not bad, not good (50% from the field though! And two confident drives to the rack). It was still nice to see him on the court not making too many mistakes during that fun fourth quarter.
– Four minutes for Courtney Lee. Thanks, Phil!
– The MSG crowd gave a heartwarming cheer for Frank as soon as he touched the ball. I’ll admit it: I’m a Frank fan. That melted juuuust a bit my cinical soul.
– During an intermission MSG gave a community award to Dr. Strange. No, not the comic book one. A certain Dr. Theodore Strange who saved the life of a fellow marathon runner. I mean, not all superheroes wear costumes, but some of them have their destiny in their name. Waiting for the first Bob Stark to save a kitten in a flying suit.
– Alan Shearer at MSG tonight. One of the most prolific scorer ever in soccer. It was funny to hear the contrast between Rebecca’s and Alan’s accents. OT: I have a much harder time understanding British people than American one. I wonder if it’s the same for you native speakers.
Are you ready for the French Heritage Night? I hope Frank is. A back-to-back against Kemba on a France-themed night should grant at least 15 minutes of gameplay to our offensively-challenged defensive savant.
See you tomorrow!