NY Post: Elfrid Payton clinging to Knicks starting spot with stellar defense

From Marc Berman:

Like a cat’s nine lives, Elfrid Payton has survived all point-guard comers to hold onto the starting job for a second straight season — even turning back surging rookie Immanuel Quickley.

Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina have proved no competition — each suffering early-season injuries to eliminate them as contenders. Each will be trade bait at the March 25 deal deadline.

Austin Rivers overcame a groin injury that put him out of the preseason and the season’s first four games. After a hot start, Rivers has leveled off.

Quickley keeps on charging, but Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after Sunday’s victory in Boston that Payton will remain the starter over the rookie because of one thing: defense.

It’s a new thread!

Brooklyn Nets 116 – New York Knicks 109 – Game Recap

Oh, so you thought I wrote only when the Knicks won? Nah, if that was the case there’s a good chance I’d write again in mid-February. Sometimes I have a hour or so to allocate to Knicks writing, sometimes I don’t. This time I do, and it won’t be pretty.

I wish I knew who flipped the switch and what kind of switch it was, but since the last notch in the W column the Knicks have lost 4 straight (well whatever, we kinda expected the Knicks to be 5-7 or worse at this point) and have done so in a very dispiriting fashion. Don’t get fooled by the final score: the Knicks were down 18 with less than 3:30 to play in the fourth. It was a clear specimen of fake, belated and deflated comeback on the heels of the fact that the Nets had understandably checked out. Yeah, Durant got inserted back in the game with 17 seconds to go but I don’t think that counts as a moral victory: if you have a devastating offensive weapon who has to be accounted even 40 feet from the basket and who’s automatic from the stripe, you don’t even have him to break a sweat. You just deploy him in his sweet pajamas and just go along with it as you’re nonchalantly eating away your petit patisserie because it’s suddenly 300% easier to ensure the win. So yeah, no moral victories here.

And look, there’s not much to say about the game either: after a sloppy but well-fought first quarter, that saw the Knicks going down just by one at the buzzer (but only because Randle was hitting from the outside, and you know that’s kind of an outlier), the Nets pulled away because, well, the Knicks were characteristically shooting sideways and quite uncharacteristically – at least based on the first two weeks – defending like they were Abercrombie and Fitch models outside a store: they’re there to look qutie athletic and they’re more likely to step away as soon as you make a move to go inside. At the half, the combined shooting performance from the field of our starting guards and wings was 2 for 19.

During the third the two teams exchanged blows, only the Knicks were already down 16 so it was like watching a goblin and a dragon trading dice rolls hitting each other for 4HP every round: it’s clear who’s gonna win and it still looks like the dragon isn’t even trying while the goblin is laboring like hell just to put a dent on a marginal dragon scale. One sequence told the tale: Randle huffing and puffing and contorting for fifteen seconds and then jumping and gathering his legs like a shrimp interpretative dance and finally shooting just to hit a jumper, and ten seconds later Durant, effortless as ever, hit a midrange two with the same difficulty with which I hit the +30s button on NBA League Pass as soon as a shooting foul is whistled.

The fourth was exactly like the third until 3:30 to the end; the Knicks started eating away at the gap but it was clear that they wouldn’t go nowhere, it was just like those restoration plans that transform old, ugly suburb barracks into fake new, still ugly suburb condos.

In a word: meh.

Oh and I didn’t even touch the subject of the day: the Nets were depleted thanks to their dubious, at least to me, Harden trade. They were forced to play some guy named Reggie Perry 22 (goodish) minutes and paisà Chris Chiozza 24 minutes. KD was playing his first back to back in two years. Bruce Brown was their starting point guard. I mean, KD is playing like his injury almost never happened, but apart from him and Joe Harris everything else should have been jetsam and flotsam, but alas, they thoroughly dominated us.

The good, in haikus:

The energy gone
Still put on thirty points here
Gawd-fugly to watch

Ignored by his mates
He learned not to foul at last
I feel bad for him

The bad, in haikus:

What noise does it make
When your hard to love point guard
Hit nothing but rims?

Thibs gave him the nod
Results are so bad

Boredom-sized bits:

– During the third quarter RJ experienced a scoring surge (he started 0-for-5 but ended the game 7-for-15), but amusingly enough it didn’t translate to team success. It’s almost like RJ scoring points have a 0 R-squared effect on how the team plays. That isn’t necessarily bad news, but his skills package still doesn’t make any sense with this roster. Still, a kinda good showing all in all by the sophomore: 20 points, 3 boards, 5 assists. Quite bad on defense, though.

– For such a supposedly capable shooter, Immanuel Quickley’s shot had a bad form from the arc. When he shoots from three it looks like he makes the ball roll up half his right palm and only then he releases it. That shot has a skinny kid at YMCA vibe. Not a totally bad performance per se, but since we need someone, sooner or later, to replace Payton at the helm, if only to preserve our collective sanity in watching a coherent offensive unit, this still won’t do. But it’s good to know the guy can score 19 in 22 minutes in just his 8th NBA game.

– What’s the matter playing (?) Obi 57 seconds? Was Obi dying to tell his grandchildren one day “hey you know what in my second NBA game I played against Kevin Durant”?

– Is Kevin Knox suddenly our best shooter? I can live all day with Knox shooting 6 corner threes per game. Everything else, eh.

– A very undervalued effect of putting on the court so many non-shooters is that when you can’t buy a bucket the overall intensity diminishes by a lot. You could see it in full effect during this game: the effort was never there. No momentum whatsoever, and so many botched defensive possessions. We direly need to shake things up and put more shooting in the starting five. I would try to see what happens putting IQ-token 2 guard-RJ-Knox-Mitch for long stretches. Not saying they should start. But I’d love for that unit to play consistently together, even swapping RJ with Randle if need be.

– Do you really like the Nets trade? I don’t know. Offensively speaking, they look like they have the most firepower anyone has ever had in 75 years of NBA. But I don’t like the characters and I don’t like the chemistry. I also don’t like giving up Jarrett Allen. I think Houston came out very well (not a fan of Dipo there but whatever), I think Indiana did good and I don’t know why Cleveland was the one to get Jarrett Allen but good for them. But if you ask me, unless Sean Marks pull a few championship specials and Steve Nash finds a way to stagger that Big 3, the Nets are due for a few ECF losses. At best. Now, if they flip Irving for some defensive talent…

– Thibs’ well-timed TOs are less a thing than before. Everything’s slipping these days. Body language is bad. Did something happen in the locker room? We were supposed to suck, but this can’t be just a reality check. Something must have been the decisive spark. But what was it?

So many questions, so little time. So much suckitude.

Until next!



Utah Jazz 100 – New York Knicks 112 – Game Recap

When I was a teenager, I used to play on a local basketball team. It was a thing right out of the most cliched underdog sport movies: scrawny kids with glasses, uncoordinated tall guys, a fat kid who couldn’t move but shot fairly well and a couple legitimately good players (one of them, my partner in crime in the post, was so good that he got an invite to try out for Fortitudo Bologna – a Serie A team, but of course we’re talking about their young academy). Problem is, we were always – always – shorthanded. While that explains why a 5’9″ guy like me would routinely end up playing 35mpg at the PF/C spot, it also meant that our coach had to play ubershort rotations while sometimes having to give spot minutes to this – I kid you not – 4’7″ 15 year old whose torso looked definitely smaller than the ball. Usually, we were terrible, sometimes even losing 80-20 or 110-36 to very good teams.

But, one year, a new coach came in and we ended up missing the playoffs just by one win (it was an amazing experience nonetheless. We weren’t shooting for the playoffs. We were just elated to be able to win 7 games out of 16 that year). Were we different? Maybe a bit. The other good player, not the one who got the tryout, suddenly learned how to orchestrate offense with the help of some screens and since he was already good at passing the ball, that unlocked many more opportunities for a few guys. But other than that, the thing was that this coach had a clear plan, was able to communicate it coherently and rewarded guys for hard plays and not for improptu buckets out of their asses. Remember the 4’7″ kid? He was an offensive non-entity because he didn’t have the strenght to shoot from more than 15 feet and of course never got into the paint since he would have had a 30% chance of getting bounced all the way to France, but he was a defensive pest. He moved his limbs at double the speed of anyone else and while his body wasn’t able to endure paint battles he was enthustiastic as hell in annoying the fuck out of opposing playmakers. Think Patrick Beverley in the body of a younger, shorter Rick Moranis. Well, this kid knew that, if he had put in his effort, he would have been rewarded with playing time. And he did. And we all did (most of us did. A kid left the team after half a year of the new coach because he wasn’t getting his usual touches and the coach would reprimand him over and over since he never passed the ball to the “shooters”).

You already know why I’m telling you this. Watching the 2020/21 Knicks play, that experience can only come to mind. Last night we were able to field barely a 7+ guys rotation (the plus is Quickley, who played only 6 minutes) and instead of being swept away from the court by the Jazz we were good enough to hang tight and thanks to some late Rivers heroics we pulled away with the win. But at that point I didn’t really care about the result. Just seeing these supposedly outmatched guys stay in the game and mounting a real comeback, I mean, wow. Thibs is clearly working magic there. Except, it’s not magic. You remember the expression “Fizdale magic”? Yeah, that’s magic, because it isn’t fucking real. Thibs is just doing his job in the most solid way possible. I don’t know if it will last. I don’t know if we will look at this time of the year when we’ll be in March and marvel at how that 12-26 team could be the same that started 5-3. But at this point I never want to wager against a team coached by Thibs.

About the game: the story is easier than you think. Ugly Julius showed up in the first 18 minutes, Gobert got what he wanted and we couldn’t hit a shot from outside in the first half, but were still able to cut a one-time 18 point deficit into a merely 12 point one just by staying there with our heads. Then, in the third quarter good Julius came to the rescue and Payton wasn’t pretty much totally undeterred by Gobert. The defense picked up the intensity, Mitch swallowed Gobert alive, the Jazz apart from Jordan Clarkson forgot how to shoot, Bullock hit a couple threes, and at that point HERE COMES AUSTIN RIVERS: 14 straight points for the Dukie with hyper-volumetric balls and, even after a couple bone-headed mistakes in bringing the ball up court in the last 90 seconds, we took home the win. It looked easy in hindsight. But more than that: it looks sustainable (insert bewildered Pikachu meme).

The good:

– Sometimes it’s just great to watch once overhyped players find their role player niche in the League after failing at their first stops. I don’t know if we’re at that point with Austin Rivers (23 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, +2 +/-) but just the fact that when he signed here nobody wrenched their nose points to a reputation shift that came before this stint – of course that’s fair only if we consider the amount he signed here for, if the contract was a Mills/Perry special at 10M/yr it would have been an entirely different talking point.
Tonight he gets the game ball because he shot the lights out in the last quarter, playing with total gusto on both ends and exuding fiery leadership in a moment when the Knicks sorely needed it, but that’s not what we should come to expect from him, honestly. This guy is a career 42% from the field, 35% from three shooter, and usually these things don’t change that much. But he can handle the ball, he can defend, he’s already been through highs and lows. I never thought that there would have been a chance at “Austin Rivers, veteran guide”, but alas, here we are. It will be interesting to see what happens when Burks will be back.

– Oh hey. You remember that guy who looked a mess last year spinning around like a bad Kylie Minogue cover band? Meet the new Julius Randle (30 pts, 16 rebs, 7 ast, +25 +/-) who makes a stellar statistical night look like a meh outing because we know he can be better. How cool is it that we’re watching a guy who’s averaging 23/12/7 and we think simultaneously “yeah well that’s good” and “no reason to think he can’t do some of that for a whole year and anyway we won’t overreact since the contract situation is only favorable to us”? I’ll be frank: I still don’t like Julius’ brand of basketball, but this year is a purely aesthetic thing and not an efficiency issue. When he gets the ball/starts the dribble just outside the paint, he’s a real force to be reckoned with. In the third quarter he made Gobert look like the police at Capitol Hill (a few words on this at the end).

– I can’t praise enough Mitchell Robinson (9 pts, 13 rebs, 2 ast, +12 +/-) who went seemingly overnight or at worst overseason from “cool stats, not sure about the actual defense” to “slightly less cool stats, but humongous defensive impact”. Last night he had 3 steals and 3 blocks, but that’s really not the point, although they of course don’t hurt a bit. The best stat of the night: 41 minutes played. And he didn’t look gassed at all, instead giving Gobert a lot of fits on both end and, at least to me, winning the duel for the night. I totally loved the play where he just dove into the paint with the ball to be inbounded from the baseline and he wrecked the rim a few instants later. The defense was caught off guard for sure, but that’s how you assert your dominance, young space cadet.

The bad:

– Ok I’m starting to worry a bit about RJ Barrett (9 pts, 5 reb, 1 ast, +10 +/-). It’s not about him being able to play in the NBA as a starter (he can) or him being able to develop (he did). It’s about the fact that it’s historically very unlikely that such a bad shooter can suddenly learn to shoot well, which brings us to the real point: why is he shooting from outside at all if he can’t hit? It’s ok trying a few to keep defenses on their toes, but honestly his outside shot is really, really cringe inducing. He can be productive even without one (even if he will have a much lower ceiling that way) but it’s on the coaching staff to understand what to do to put him in a better place offensively. I don’t care about counting stats this time. I care about not having to grimace seeing him hoist 18-foot jumpers knowing full well that his shot has the same chance to fall consistently as me getting featured on Spotify for a week. Don’t Westbrook it, man.

Fun-sized bites:

– Good game by Elfrid Payton, but there’s almost always something about him that makes him look like he’s missing a J to drop a straight. And oh! Hey! My writing is actually smarter than me, since I realized only now that that J is a jumper (no, seriously, I didn’t plan for this bad joke but I left it in anyway). Anyway, I’ll take 22/2/8 on 67% shooting and just one turnover anytime, but that doesn’t mean I have to like his game.

– Bullock hit a couple ultra-timely threes and was generally competent, but holy shit, 7 rebounds? If you caught me flat footed and asked me “how many boards got Bullock last night?” I would have answered 2 or 3 tops. This team is so good at rebounding the ball that it just numbs the actual rebounding instances out of your memory.

– Ok, Knox is our only able-bodied “big”, but the fact that Thibs is hellbent on playing him and not giving Theo Pinson or Iggy a single minute tells you something about the fact that our coach has some kind of faith in him. And sometimes that faith is rewarded, like in the block on Conley/rebound sequence with 34 seconds to go in the third. Fun fact: that block and that rebound were the only box score contributions apart from scoring from Knox in 16 minutes. He’s just not a stat-stuffer, is he? Anyway he was at least perfect from the field, 3 for 3 with a couple nasty dunks and a three.

– I have no qualms with Quickley playing this little. He’s a rookie, he came in at the wrong time, other players were fluffing the staff better. He was still able to play his dupe-a-fool and get-a-foul game and and gift Knox an alley-oop soft candy only to unwrap.

– Isn’t it amazing how confidence and discipline make you capable of hiking the hardest mountains? A few days after not being bothered by the then league-leading shotblocker, Myles Turner, our Knicks took the challenge and went right at Gobert (or better yet, exploited his absence and then pounced on him as he returned). Gobert got 5 blocks anyway, but he didn’t look impactful at all in the second half.

– The Knicks won again the rebounding battle 47 to 43, and that’s with only having Mitch, Randle and Knox (?) as their big men. Utah had Gobert, Favors, and a mish-mash of SF/PF in Bogdanovic, Niang, Ingles and O’Neale.

– Say what you want, but it this team learns to turn the ball over only 15/16 times per game, we could be trouble for anyone as soon as there will be more bodies in the rotation. TOs plagued us in the first games.

– Guys, I’ve seen it. Believe me. We run a Payton/Mitch PnR after a timeout. We can be heroes just for one day!

– Thibs is almost making Miller look bad, so he’s downright embarrassing Fizdale so much that his descendants will only be able to be addressed as Fizfail right to his third grand-grand-grand-son.

To end on a sour note: the Capitol Hill disorders were a fucking shame cast upon what once was the gold standard of Western democracy. I don’t know if I would have postponed the games citing something as “we’re mourning the death of decency” but I would have for sure said something public before the games. I like that some teams bent the knee here and there, but this was a unique chance to make their voice felt even more on every type of social disturbance. Maybe you’re of the idea that sports and politics shouldn’t mingle; I’m not. Apart from the inherent memeability of the shamanic Jamiroquai rip-off, yesterday they were airing a tragedy outside of Capitol Hill (and mind you: it WAS a tragedy. Four people died. And who knows how many would have died if the protestant’s skin was a few shades darker). I know often NBA players political stances are just a byproduct of owners’ hypocrisy, but even hypocritical condemnation is better than half-assed symbolism.

So, until next!

NY Post: Tom Thibodeau’s effect on Knicks has been drastic

From Greg Joyce:

From the minute the Knicks hired Tom Thibodeau as their new head coach in July, their defense figured to be in for an upgrade.

But there was no guarantee a tangible change — and the wins that followed — would come this quickly.

The Knicks left New York on Dec. 27 fresh off their first win of the season, a surprising defeat of the Bucks. They returned on Tuesday as winners of four of their last five entering Wednesday night’s showdown against the Jazz at the Garden, with plenty of strong efforts fueling their surge but the defense chief among them.

“I think the togetherness is a big part of it. I think the willingness to share the ball, to play hard for each other,” Thibodeau said after Monday’s 113-108 win over the Hawks. “[But] it starts with our defense and the rebounding. We still have to get our turnovers down but I think just the overall way they’re playing for each other. I think that’s a big part of winning. They come in and they work every day.”

Last year, under David Fizdale and then interim coach Mike Miller, the Knicks had the NBA’s 23rd-ranked defensive rating (112.4). Through seven games this season under Thibodeau, they had the NBA’s ninth-best defensive rating (106.1).

I just wanted a new thread before tomorrow night’s game thread.

New York Knicks 106 – Indiana Pacers 102 – Quick(ley?) recap

You know how often are the little things that go and make a difference? Like, I don’t know, adding just a pinch of pepper to a sauce and make it go from meh to amazing? Or like diving just the fish side of a nigiri into the soy sauce and not the effing rice? Or putting a few drops of water into your Lagavulin as to enhance the flavor and the zest?

Yeah, I think you get me.

And you know what? That’s exactly what happened to the Knicks getting Immanuel Quickley back into the rotation. Now, it’s not that he’s been great (he hasn’t been). It’s not that he shot the lights out (he didn’t, mainly because he didn’t shoot much so we don’t know if he could – I highly doubt it for now but we have no proof). It’s just that between him and Austin Rivers (!) the Knicks suddenly had a few more chess pieces to deploy a functional backcourt rotation for 48 minutes, minus a few clock ticks from Bullock who sometimes becomes nearly unplayable for unknown reasons. Maybe the weird patch of hair in the back of his head is a microchip that makes him glitch from time to time. The Knicks were fine throughout the whole game, even with Bad Julius coming to play in the first half (1-7 from the field, 4 turnovers in the first two quarters), but when you added that bit of extra spacing given by Rivers and Quickley, the mechanism looked very much smoother.

The story of the game is basically this: the Pacers had a hard time getting Sabonis going (kudos to Randle for his adequate defense, but also kudos to Oladipo for wasting so many possessions), and so even with Brogdon balling out of his mind and hitting everything in sight the Knicks stayed close or got ahead for the whole game. Turner was impalpable on defense, while on offense he did hit a few open corner threes (I guess the invisible 6th man didn’t come to play this time). The Knicks rebounded like crazy, which is becoming a constant: nobody in the starting five corralled less than five rebounds, and the starting five as a whole outrebounded the entire Indiana team 40-33. Barrett hit his shots, Payton drove into the heart of the defense and got what he wanted, Mitch was a beast on the offensive glass, blocked two shots (more on that later) and altered many more, Randle stayed with his head in the game and got near a triple double again even on an off-night, while getting away with a breakaway dunk after a steal that was pretty much the defining moment before the real defining moment. In short: a very enjoyable game with a few great highlights.

The fun-sized good:

– Look. It’s still early, but how can you not be impressed by what Thibs is doing to this team? This was the classic game that, during a season like this and with a roster like ours, you didn’t mind losing at the end. Because all we want, as always, is competitiveness, and hell if we got it. We’re getting it in spades, be it on a night when everything clicks or on a night when everything doesn’t (the Toronto game). I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m totally enthralled by the early results with these mostly forsaken players. Thibodeau is the MVP of these first six games, way more than whatever Randle is doing on the court. I’m finding hard even to hold against him the fact that we don’t shoot as many threes as the other teams, because it looks like we’re shooting quality threes. And when the right personnel is on the court, the spacing is enough to get quite easy buckets at the rim.

– Remember when we were asking for a 30mpg Mitch? Yeah. Looks like we were right. And looks like Mitch is doing his best at staying in his lane. I also have this feeling that after Mitch will have proven that he can stay on the court without fouling too much and therefore he can properly anchor the defense we will see a bit more on offense from him. I feel like he’s terrified of doing anything that might cost him the ire of Thibs, and rightly so. But I won’t be surprised if by March Mitch will start shooting the occasional jumper because he’s earned it. Anyway just having a guy who’s a superb finisher around the rim and on putbacks is not a weapon to be overlooked. That’s probably the main difference between Mitch and Noel.
Also: that block on Malcolm Brogdon’s three with 40 seconds to go and the Pacers down by five. Tremendous athletic prowess, amazing reflexes in recovering the ball and passing it to a teammate in stride. That play was the equivalent of Robocop shooting a rapist in the nuts: impressive, intensely satisfying and morally right.

– Barrett icing the game from the line. Do I have to remind you how he struggled last year from the stripe? That’s what development looks like. I wonder what Keith Smart is doing these days, maybe he’s teaching kids to hit rims in some Pop-a-shot.

– Quickley and his moxie. Dude is fearless and crafty. It makes you realize how some players will never get it, just because they weren’t born with it. He did. Will he ever be a good NBA player? Who knows. Anyone doubts he will ever be an NBA player? Don’t think so. I would bet a few hundred dollars he will have a lasting NBA career though, just based on these few games. Overreaction much? Maybe, but the kid is preternatural in a few things, and that’s what you search in young players. Not (just) potential.

The fun-sized bad:

– And that’s where we talk about Kevin. It’s good that he has a place in the rotation. It’s very bad that he’s not yet a capable contributor night in and night out, and looks useless on bad nights. Kid’s shooting 38/29/66 for the (early) season. And he’s supposed to be a shooter. This is like hiring Donald Duck to play the part of a lucky mouse. Hope. Hope is all we have left for Kevin.

A quick note:

Paul Westphal passed away yesterday. Yeah he was a Knick once, and he even won Comeback Player of the Year in 1982-83 playing for the Bockers. But his passing brings sadness to me not because of that; you see, before becoming a Knicks fan, I started following the NBA in the 93 offseason, right on the heels of the Bulls-Suns finals. I just loved those Suns and became a fan of them (I think I already wrote something about that in the past). Westphal was the coach of that team, and by transitivity he was my favorite NBA coach from day one. I don’t even know if he was good. I know he was at the helm of the first team that made me fall in love with the NBA, even if I kinda forgot about him later. Still, it’s sad to see your childhood heroes die, even when their memory grew distant in the meantime. I can’t imagine what will happen to me the fateful day when Wally will be called to become the titular color commentator for the Knicks. You know what I’m saying here. I can’t even bring myself to write it out loud. So cherish every single minute of your favorite guys, because sooner or later they will be gone and you will be miserable. Just enjoy the time we have.

Until next!


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.