Some technical difficulties last night so apologies for the delay to this morning and the non-fancily-formatted nature of the below post. Max Fisher-Cohen and I split the duties tonight; initials indicate who wrote what:
Amar’e Stoudemire (B-): Pretty shooting and scoring numbers for Amar’e in his first preseason game. When in the 4th quarter Stoudemire finally got some opportunities as the roll man, he and Prigioni showed some good chemistry, as Prigioni assisted on three straight paint scores by STAT. More exciting, Stoudemire was 3-3 outside the paint! When’s the last time he pulled off a stunt like that? However, the post-game that was supposed to somehow make Stoudemire matter in the new Knicks offense did not work out so well. He was blocked in two of his post attempts and called for a charge in another. The only time I remember him scoring out of the post was off short flip shot, on which he could have easily been called for another charge. Stoudemire’s defense and glasswork was also suspect. He was beaten on to an offensive board numerous times by the trio of Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas, and beyond one nice recovery on a Derozen drive, didn’t seem too interested in defensive rotations. But hey…last season it was a rare day that there was anything good to write about STAT in one of these recaps, so baby steps…baby steps, Amar’e. (MFC)
Raymond Felton (D): Raymond Felton does look pretty skinny, but his performance tonight suggested that the lost fat may still be affecting his brain. His Lin-esque six turnovers (with only four assists) along with some terrible shooting especially from the perimeter (two airballed threes I believe) are not things you want to see from your starting point guard, especially on a team with so little perimeter shooting depth. I will say though that Felton looked aggressive. Five of his eleven shots came at the rim. For now, the relative skinniness and aggression were enough to raise my (admittedly low) expectations a bit for Felton this season. (MFC)
Carmelo Anthony (B): Watching Melo go 0 for 7 from deep just made me angry at myself for watching the Olympics. Playing in an offense where your looks come out of the iso or off of desperation passes beneath a dying shot clock is a far cry from sitting in the corner and draining clean looks after your man helps onto LeBron or CP3. When he was inside the arc, Melo’s offense was sensational; he benefitted from a handful of strong dives to the cup, needing only 13 FGA’s and 11 FTA’s to generate his 24 points (69% True Shooting if you don’t count the three point tries) while dishing out 3 assists and turning the ball over only twice. Defensively — not bad (Note: See Item #2 below for the chief exception). Melo’s hands were active, he pressured in-bounders — Toronto’s wings are by no means the stiffest test he’ll face this year but I was generally impressed by the effort and to a reasonable extent he had the results to match. (KM)
Tyson Chandler (B+): There is a poetry to watching Chandler match up with Andrea Bargnani, a counterpart who so perfectly highlights the flawed brilliance of Tyson as an NBA center. I have made the argument in the past that, while Dwight Howard is the league’s premier defensive center, Tyson Chandler is a better defensive fit than even Howard for a team whose perimeter defenders are in some way lacking. Chandler’s intelligence, surprising quickness, and insane ability to seemingly occupy the entire area inside the three point arc covers for teammates who get beaten and allows those same teammates to take more chances, jump more passing lanes, force more turnovers that limit opponents’ shot attempts and create transition opportunities.
Few bigs in the NBA have a skill set and playing style that forces Chandler to use this latter ability with the frequency of Bargnani and, as you would expect, Tyson was equal to the challenge. Chandler contested long jumpers and stayed in front of Bargnani’s drives without abandoning his duties as the Knicks lone rim-protecting and help defender (embodied in his sole block, an especially an absolutely hateful swat of a Jonas Valuncianas fadeaway midway through the third). So that’s all great. But Bargnani is a bad defensive player — very bad — and it is ironic that this very limitation serves to bring out the worst element of Chandler’s game. Bargnani is not nearly strong or savvy enough to keep a physical specimen like Tyson Chandler from impacting the game on the offensive end if said specimen is determined to have said impact. But that just ain’t Tyson — his insane offensive efficiency is built on taking what the defense gives him instead of forcing the issue. And so teams can hide defensively-inept bigs on him, knowing that as long as they don’t help off of him they will probably be able to play him to a draw. And so it was that Chandler scored 6 points on just 3 field goal attempts.
If Tyson Chandler has made an art form of omnipresent defense and passive but efficient offense, then Andrea Bargnani must be his muse. (KM)
James White (C+): Largely invisible though I will admit that all records of the games first 16 minutes were inaccessible to me as the result of a temporary League Pass outage. Apologies to James if he had any vicious dunks, delivered any babies at midcourt, or achieved cold fusion at the scorer’s table during that time. In which case I would admit to a pretty significant instance of journalistic ball-dropping. (KM)
Steve Novak (C): Novak started out nicely, making two of his first three threes, but then it seems Toronto realized you don’t leave Steve, and Novak only managed to get off three more attempts in the final 23 minutes he was on the floor. The Knicks were so desperate to space the floor with JR Smith out that Novak got a couple minutes at the two guard. It didn’t have much of an effect, but it was nice to see Woodson diagnosed the problem and came up with an outside the box solution, even if it was just in a preseason game. (MFC)
Chris Copeland (C): Copeland reminds me of ex-Knick John Wallace. He’s not really athletic and is a tweener at the forward spot, but his offense is refined enough that he can still be a useful filler player. He had a nice recovery block on Alan Anderson (who?) and one crazy fadeaway that should not have gone in, and overall did just enough to protect his frontrunner status as 15th man. (MFC)
Kurt Thomas (B+): KURRRRRRRRRRRRRT. I’m just so happy he’s back. 5 boards and +8 in 11 minutes is fun too. Whatever. It’s Kurt. I’m all smiles. This is subject to change if he’s actually logging important minutes this season but….come on. Kurt! (KM)
Pablo Prigioni (A): The walking personification of “Old Man Game” which is cool and fun and is sure to resonate wonderfully at times with the not insubstantial portion of the Knicks faithful who are both Italian and Old School. If there’s a beef it’s that his skill set doesn’t really cover up any weaknesses, but that’s a team construction issue and nothing for which Prigioni can be blamed. I’ve really enjoyed watching him and, on this night, he may have been the team’s best two-way perimeter player. Also, on the occasion of his third steal, he was compared to Walt Frazier by no less an authority on the subject than…Walt Frazier! Once that happens it’s no longer within my jurisdiction to give out anything less than an A. (KM)
Jason Kidd (B): Hands-down, ugliest looking jumper by any Knick since I used to shoot hoops in the dead end out back and pretend that I was a Knick. Ugly is fine when effective and there will be plenty of nights this season when they’re falling and none of us will care what it looks like. They were not, however, falling tonight. He looked spry running the offense, however, dishing out 4 assists against 1 turnover and putting up a positive +/-, something none of the other Knicks who played at least 15 minutes were able to accomplish. (KM)
John Shurna (A+++): John Shurna had arguably the greatest single-game performance in NBA history tonight. Montreal, Quebec is the new Hershey, PA. We are all witnesses. (KM)
DNP’s OF NOTE
JR Smith: Smith’s importance to the Knicks cannot be overstated. He is the only backcourt player with the ability to make a three when he’s not wide open. Prigioni seems and Kidd is capable of making the NBA three, but both shoot a quirky set shot (ala Landry Fields circa 2010/11) that they can only get off if they have a lot of space. My take on why the Knicks struggled tonight, beyond the terrible rebounding, is that they couldn’t space the floor. 5-27 from distance is not going to lead to many wins. Earl, even when he’s off, demands a level of defensive attention that’s Kidd, Prigioni and even Felton cannot come close to providing. (MFC)
Marcus travelled with team. We saw him smile on the bench every now and then. One thing I learned from seeing him tonight is that I miss his little Bob Dylan
rat pencil mustache
Henry Sims: Given the amount of turnover on the Knicks roster in the past few years, I’ve actually been rooting for Henry Sims longer than anybody else on this team (unless you grandfather in Camby and Kurt’s previous Knicks stints). A number of elements of Sims’ game impressed me in the four years that he played for my alma mater and, in the end, he was able to develop into an effective college player. I do not think his game is going to translate to this level — for all the talk of his point forward role in the Hoyas’ modified Princeton, he’s not an especially gifted passer and his shooting numbers last year were quite poor for a senior big. At the other end, he’s a tweener who will have trouble guarding nearly any offensively-adept frontcourt player. He’s a smart guy, he works hard, and I’m rooting for him, but I’m not holding my breath. Anyway, he didn’t play tonight. (KM)
THINGS WE SAW
Stoudemire, Chandler and Anthony played a little under 19 minutes together. In those minutes, the Knicks were -17, which works out to -43.22 points per 48 minutes. :-( (MFC)
#2: Prediction: The Knicks are going to miss Jared Jeffries a lot. Our three new bigs — Thomas, Camby and Wallace — are all excellent post defenders and/or paint protectors, but they are not too nimble. Against a slow paced, isolation offense, being big is more important than being quick as the game becomes more about positioning. However, against an uptempo team, unless your big man is the type of low post threat who can force opponents to play bigger, slower guys, mobility is far more important. Not only was getting back on defense an issue for New York’s lumbering bigs tonight, but they struggled to trap the pick and roll, resulting in lots of paint shots and the bevy of top-of-the-key threes Toronto made to ice the game. It also led to a huge offensive rebounding advantage for Toronto as New York’s bigs were unable to get back in rebounding position after chasing around Toronto’s pesky little guards. (MFC)
If there are cynics out there seeking a singular passage of play to represent their greatest fears about the 2012-13 season and beyond, the leader in the clubhouse is now a sequence
that occurred at exactly the ten minute mark of the third quarter. Kyle Lowry brings the ball across halfcourt and is met by Raymond Felton about 5 feet beyond the arc. Andrea Bargnani (guarded by Tyson Chandler) steps out to the left wing and beckons for Lowry to go sideline as the rest of the team clears out. Lowry dribbles left, running Felton into a fairly half-hearted Bargnani screen. Seeing both 1) the softness of the screen and 2) Toronto’s intent to create a Bargnani/Felton mismatch, Chandler elects not to bite and stays with Bargnani, trusting Felton to come under the screen quickly enough to deny Lowry a path to the rim. And then:
1) Felton comes under the screen sluggishly, leaving literally zero blue shirts occupying the 23 feet between Lowry and the basket.
2) Chandler, immediately recognizing that Felton has been beaten but still unwilling to concede the open Bargnani look that was likely Option A, points to the open space, knowing that three of his teammates (Anthony, Stoudemire, White) surround the key.
3) Lowry actually slips and nearly falls, seemingly squandering his opportunity for an uncontested layup…seemingly.
4) Melo and Amare converge on the rim as Lowry recovers from his slip and drives.
5) All three players arrive at the same moment with Felton frantically chasing Lowry from behind. Lowry rises. And none…NONE…of the three Knicks at the rim jump, raise their arms, or make any other recognizable attempt to contest Lowry’s layup. Amare bumps him waist on waist, Melo goes with a two handed swipe at his abdomen, and Felton pulls up before making contact and looks the laziest of the three but, hey, at least his chosen tactic wasn’t a guaranteed foul. Lowry finishes easily, the obvious foul is called on Stoudemire (it looked like Anthony probably could have also been whistled, though it was pretty soft contact), and Chandler and Woodson (and if you watch the video please look closely for this because it comes and goes quickly) simultaneously toss their palms out as if in frustrated disbelief before the former affects an akimboed daze and the latter calls timeout.
There, in just ten seconds, is the image of our collective worst-case scenario: the two superstars and the much-maligned point guard being beaten by a combination of poor positioning, limited defensive skill, and general detachment while the team’s two defensive authoritities look on in horror, unable to save them from themselves. (KM)