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?
– 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.
– 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!
– 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!