Tell me where you’ve already heard this story: Knicks go down double digits in the first quarters, a scrappy second unit helps bringing them back into the game, during the third quarter they make a run to tie the game (or at least to make it close), then proceed to lose the game by more than 10 points without offering even a sliver of resistance, and the starters all end up with highly negative plus/minus for the game while getting outrebounded and outshot. Oh, they also get killed in the pick and roll over and over. Same old story, right? Yes, it is. It is so much that we played Lance Thomas 13 minutes (Mario Hezonja 32!) and Kornet just 4 garbage time minutes.
The only thing that changed a bit from the last few games is that, at last, we reached the 100 points threshold for the first time since January, 24th. It’s more than two weeks in a League where the average team is scoring 110 points a night. If “eat what you kill” is our mantra (blech), I guess we’ve become fiery PETA supporters.
I wish I could tell you the game was fun to watch. It wouldn’t be true. There are snippets where it’s kinda fun to watch this team, sure. The fact that Kanter got bought out (and THJ got shipped out of town, and Mudiay is hurt) has left very few players on the roster you can be aggressively annoyed at, be they on the bench or be they on the floor. So, apart from the fact that you have all the right in the world to yell at your device of choice everytime Hezonja touches the ball or Lance tries a stupid foray to the rim that of course will not end in anything good, it’s hard to hate this team. Baby steps, they say. I might agree. But we still have 28 games to endure. I mean, we collectively. I wouldn’t ask anyone to watch them from start to finish out of pure basketball passion. Well, those 28 games better be at least half-full of basketball-related content. I have to say I’m not holding out hope for that, with an ever-churning roster (sign someone from the G-League and give him all Lance and Mario minutes, if you’re not playing Kornet, dammit!) and a coach who doesn’t look able to do anything apart from complaining for weird calls. I’ll stay on course for Mitch, for the new-toy-vibe of DSJ, and for everyone who’s still willing to read my half-digested takes on every Knicks game. When this season will be over, we’ll look at each other and we’ll feel the pride of having endured one of the worst slogs ever in Knicks history, head up high. And we’ll hope for something on lottery night, and then on draft night, and then on July, 1st.
But until then, let’s talk about our daily Knicks!
– If you want to know why the Frank vs. Dennis Smith Jr. (31 pts, 2 rebs, 8 ast, -18 +/-) debate ever existed, just watch DSJ play defense on the pick and roll. While not Mudiay bad, he really is bad. Andre Drummond had a monster first half (20 pts, 9 boards in the first two quarters), but apart from a couple occasions where he bullied the rail-thin Mitch, Andre feasted all night on the horrible rotations on the pick-and-roll. DSJ has real trouble staying in front of his man, and with a quite disengaged DeAndre manning the paint for now, that’s an easy recipe for opposing centers to rack up points very fast. “But hey, Farfa!”, you might say, “We’re in the good section. You sure you’re not lost?”. Yeah, I’m not lost. I was just doing some much needed lampshading on the defensive deficiencies of our guy before starting to sing his praises. Look, it’s not the 31 points. It how they came to be. A hyper-efficient night (31 points on 15 shots), coupled with 8 assists – and only one of them was of the cop-out variety, where the scorekeepers give an assist to someone just because they feel like Santa – pretty much offsets those problems. Speaking of problems: turnovers are a real problem for Dennis, but at this point I’ll take them. It’s clear that he has point guard instincts and that he cares about finding the open man, be it inside the paint or on the perimeter. Sure, he lacks the brain (or the stamina? He looked positively gassed by the fourth quarter) to always make the right play, but he’s a second year player. Contrary to what I foresaw when he came back in the KP trade, I’m kinda sorta liking what I see from him. I think this game will be an outlier in terms of efficiency, but throughout Knicks history, there have been only 53 games where a guy has scored 30+ pts on 15 shots or less, and Dennis Smith just netted one. Since 2012, there is no such game (Melo was the last one to do it). Now, granted, this says nothing about the projection for the kind of player DSJ is going to be, as I present you with some other names on that list: Toney Douglas, Nate Robinson, Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, Howard Eisley. But it doesn’t mean we can’t revel in a good game from our starting point guard from now till April. And he definitely has to learn to shoot better his free throws (I think it was mostly fatigue and nerves, though).
– Kevin Knox (7 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -21 +/-) has gone back to being useless/detrimental for the team. He shoots badly, he doesn’t do anything on defense, and generally speaking is a poor fit with the players who usually are on the court with him. But there comes a time when team chemistry can’t be the go to excuse. This kid is disorienting: what can he do on the court if he doesn’t hit his shots? He played 36 empty minutes, didn’t cut to the basket once, moved without the ball so that he could be found open on the perimeter just twice (and hoisted a corner three that missed so badly it ended up being corralled by a guy standing six feet from the rim – without the ball touching the rim). I’m stil all in on giving Knox all the minutes he can soak, but at the same time I hope he gets traded somewhere else by the end of the season, because I’m really afraid that’s gonna be his peak trade value. It’s good to see he can pass the ball a bit, but 2 assists to 3 turnovers still won’t do.
– Let’s get this out: Mitchell Robinson can’t stop being stupefying. In 15 minutes, 10 points, 6 boards (I counted seven but I might be wrong), 1 assist, 3 mind-numbing blocks. Two of those 3 blocks came in the same possession on 18+ feet jumpers. And he kept the ball in play after that. I think his defensive potential is unprecedented. Right now he can’t bang up inside with anyone, as he’s too skinny and gangly to be even a slight hindrance to beefy guys like Drummond, but that’s not a problem for the future. He’ll grow up. He seems to be a little better even on his defensive rebounding positioning. And the lobs, oh the lobs. I’ll say this: the fact that Mitch isn’t getting nation-wide praise while KP was heralded as a potential MVP in the making speaks a lot about how the big talking heads look at basketball. Which is to say, they don’t understand a lot. I hope the fact he played just 15 minutes is to keep him fresh for tomorrow or because he still is a bit sick, otherwise that’s just plain malpractice. He’s also so adrenaline-inducing that every minute he plays lasts at least three times a regular NBA minute.
– DeAndre Jordan looked a bit Kanter-esque in this one. He showed little-to-no fire, even while collecting another double-double. If this is the mentor they want for Mitch, I’m a bit afraid he might not be the right guy, character-wise.
– Damyean Dotson with a pretty meh game. 10 points, lackluster defense, only 2 boards. Still way better than seeing THJ on the court. Here’s hoping Frank will get the nod at the starting two when he’s healthy. I know, we’re going to be disappointed anyway.
– Allonzo played 30 minutes but seems to be suffering from DSJ’s presence. It’s ok anyway, it’s not like Zo was a surefire starting two guard in the league, he’s going to have ups and downs. I’m just sad he doesn’t get to the line much these days.
– What happened to Vonleh? I combed through the web but I could find no mention of an injury as to justify his 3 minutes of play (-12 +/-, he doesn’t have an answer for Blake), but I didn’t find any. We’ve not traded him for a second just to ditch him as soon he doesn’t hit his threes and gets killed inside by someone? Well done, yeah.
– Why are we giving 30+ minutes to Mario? No, really. I wasn’t even that horrified at his game tonight (very low expectations, yeah), but it makes no sense not to release him to free additional roster spots for G-League tryouts. Mario has grown up a little bit on me, but that’s not enough.
– I like Kadeem Allen. He’s the answer to the question “What if Ron Baker actually knew how to play basketball?”.
I’ll go get ready for the 4th game of the DSJ-era, a back-to-back against Toronto where there’s a high chance we’ll lose by 30. I don’t care. Give me Mitch and I’m ok.