Game Recap: Kings 99, Knicks 97

Open any history textbook to a random page and odds are you’ll soon be reading about a war. You’ll find out which side won, learn about the consequences for the loser, and, invariably, see credit given to the victorious leader. From as far back as the books take us, a good general who puts his troops in position to succeed has always been imperative for triumph on the battlefield.

The 82 battles in an NBA team’s season are decided by which side is able to impose its style of warfare more effectively, an ability typically determined by the performance of the team’s leader. Well, tonight we saw the difference that a real floor general makes, as Rajon Rondo dominated the Knicks from the opening tip. He pushed the pace, entered the paint at will, and created easy scoring opportunities for himself (16 points, 7-10 FG) and his teammates (12 assists). He put his troops in position to succeed, and they did, eking out a 99-97 W over our Knicks after a dominating first half.

Meanwhile, no matter how you slice it, the Knicks point guard situation is stale, and easy offense is just not an item on our current menu. The only impact that our floor generals, as interchangeable as they are uninspiring, have on our offense is bogging it down with ineffectiveness.

Both Jose Calderon and Langston Galloway can knock down open jumpers off Carmelo Anthony kick outs, but that’s as wide as their offensive capabilities stretch. Neither has the skills to penetrate the paint and create for their teammates. Jerian Grant is a non-factor right now – he played three minutes tonight, a peasant’s alley shadow in a kingdom of misery and mediocrity. And yet my biggest takeaway from tonight’s game is that Grant needs the keys to the castle.

The comparison between point guards and quarterbacks is a common one. Both are responsible for dictating their team’s tempo while locating and attacking the deficiencies in their opposition’s defense. It’s a big responsibility.

Struggling NFL teams often turn their offenses over to young quarterbacks, ready to find out if they’ve found the general that will eventually lead their troops to the ultimate victory. Typically, these youngsters struggle with their new role, but the best organizations don’t retreat – they mentor their young general, giving him the opportunity to learn on the battlefield and prove whether or not he can get the job done. These franchises understand that while the worst case scenario is merely continued irrelevance, the best case scenario is a direct path to contention.

Watching Rondo beautifully dictate the pace of the game and keep the Knicks defense off balance while, for the second (third… fourth… fifth…fiftieth?) consecutive game, the Knicks offense was sleep-inducing, made me realize how important it is that the Knicks find out what they have in Grant. He is this team’s wild card, whether or not he is ready to be dealt into the mix.

Carmelo Anthony did a nice job augmenting a poor shooting night (23 points, 8-21 FG, 6-11 FT) with 14 rebounds, many pulled down in traffic, but he took a terrible contested shot to end the game rather than pass the ball to open teammates, albeit after two deft passes to Arron Afflalo in the game’s final minute resulted in missed shots. Both his failed final shot and his right process, wrong-result passes to Afflalo support my premise: Carmelo should not hold the role of floor general; as he ages, which it appears is happening every day, he’ll need a point guard who can put him in a position to succeed, rather than the other way around.

Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez and Calderon are what they have always been: complementary players that need to be fed, not be the ones serving. Calderon hit two 3s off Melo kick outs and did nothing else. Afflalo had 14 points on 14 shots, including the aforementioned two huge misses in the last minute. Lopez continued to flounder in a high-post decision-making role for which he is not equipped, earning only 19 minutes on the court.

Kristaps Porzingis will eventually be but is not yet able to consistently create his own offense. He was unable to back down Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay on multiple occasions, with a couple resulting in ugly turnovers, and his isolation opportunities from the perimeter still too often result in contested midrange jump shots. Most Knickerbloggers concur that he should be featured in pick and roll/pop sets, with his forays to the rim coming against off-balance defenders closing out too quickly. That’s his half court offense skill set right now and where he’ll likely be buttering his bread for years.

After getting punished by DeMarcus Cousins two straight trips down the court, KP did a nice job defensively on Ton DMC (27 points on 25 shots) down the stretch, proving that as he continues to put on weight, he can effectively play center, opening up the offense while the team remains adequate on defense.

With KP at the 5 and Melo on the wing, this team has the makings of a contemporary NBA offense, but it may take a point guard showing supreme pick and roll aptitude to coax the team away from the triangle. The candidacies of Calderon and Galloway to fill that role have expired. It’s time to give Jerian Grant the opportunity to bring this team into the next phase of its development.

In his last 3 games, including tonight, Grant has played 3, 14, and 11 minutes. He has displayed an utter lack of confidence in his jump shot and a hesitation to attack the rim. And yet, again, I say that the burden falls on the shoulders of Derek Fisher to let the rookie find himself on the court, to instill confidence in him, to put him in a position to allow his teammates to succeed. Because right now, with this roster, he and KP are our only hope for a future, our only hope to win not just the short-term battles but, more importantly, the long-term war.

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6 thoughts to “Game Recap: Kings 99, Knicks 97”

  1. Honestly, no offense to Sasha, who’s just doing his best out there, but even if you think Sasha is your best bet to win a game (which is sad enough as it is), how do you play him over Grant? You have to play your future. You can’t be shortsighted and try to win the battle while losing the war (to extend the war analogies). Just play Grant! If you lose, you lose. If he never puts it together, okay, but at least you find out now instead of later.

  2. Jacob,
    You’re saying what I’ve been saying all season. The Knicks need a point guard desperately and Grant needs to play. I was hoping that they would have signed a point guard in the off-season. Calderon just doesn’t cut it as a starter any longer.

  3. gotta throw a big ass check at Jordan Clarkson (RFA). At the very least make the Lakers ante up for him.

    Only other PGs in FA are Greivis and Jennings, who historically are both trash altho probably an upgrade for us, sadly. You could hope BJ can recapture his post Josh-Smith-Waive form from last year this year, and then maybe NYK signs him, but in our shitty offense he’ll probably draft into his worst tendencies of mid range shots.

    Barring something *very* unexpected, like a trade, we are probably gonna be without a legitimate (not even great) PG for this year and the next, and that sucks.

    I hate that a not insignificant amount of teams have oodles of great guards to the point where many can’t even get minutes they deserve, and we’re out here literally without any legitimate guards. womp womp

  4. Nice write-up Jacob.

    It’s time to give Jerian Grant the opportunity to bring this team into the next phase of its development.

    I’ve never understood why Grant/Gallo/Melo/Lopez/KP isn’t our starting lineup featuring Grant — Lopez/KP PnR/Pop and Melo — Lopez/KP PnR/Pop and Melo/KP shooting off curls, cross screens, etc. That would be an excellent defensive and offensive unit. Phil is wedded to the Triangle in the same way Woodson was attached to Bargs at the 4. He’s committed the cardinal sin of trying to make players fit his system instead of crafting a system to fit his players.

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