Indiana Pacers 107 – New York Knicks 101 – Game Recap

Following this team this season is a very peculiar experience. You find yourself thrilled when the team is winning thanks to the young guys, and you find similarly thrilled when you realized that, despite their best effort, you’re gonna bag another loss that brings you closer to a top-5 2019 pick. This game was exactly like that. An intensely fought back and forth that ended up in a couple fortitous offensive possessions by Indiana.

2-6 is what I would have predicted at this point, which is ok. What makes it more than ok is the fact that we’re actually developing our rookie scale contract players, and giving them some burn in the closing minutes of tight games. Nice job by Fiz so far.

To the recap!

The treats:

– Tim Hardaway Jr (37 pts, 1 ast, 1 reb, -14 +/-) is still putting out puzzling all around performances, as this was definitely not a team friendly one, and for the umpteenth time this season he posted the worst plus/minus of the game – actually, it was the third time, but you get my point. That said, 37 points on 19 shots is nothing to scoff at, and we needed every last drop of Timmy’s offensive juice tonight to stay in the game. If not for three turnovers in the last three minutes, THJ would have had a real chance at being the game MVP. He was great at getting to the line, even if some of those attempts from the charity stripe came from away from the ball fouls; you still have to be in the thick of the action, though, to have someone foul you. I wish he would do a better job of moving the ball around, especially after driving to the rack, but I guess it’s time we understand that his drives are awesome in transition and mediocre at best in the half-court offense. At this point of the season he’s 64th in the league in drives per game, and ahead of him there are some luminaries like DeAndre Bembry, Michael Carter Williams, Shelvin Mack. If you’re the clear cut no. 1 option on the perimeter and have a usage of 31% you should do more. Anyway, he gave us almost exactly what we needed to beat a good Indiana team, so this one goes in the good Timmy games list. He also drew another charge and half-busted another lip. He’s out there with his maximum effort. He’s just not that good, but we’ll make do.

– Noah Vonleh (14 pts, 10 rebs, 4 ast, -4 +/-) put up a strong, all-around game. At this point, I’m not sure what happened to him, but this is nothing like the Vonleh we used to (barely) see on the court in the last three seasons. He’s an above average ball-handler for his position, has good court vision, rebounds well and when he goes up to put the ball into the basket he does it with the requisite drive to slam the air out of the ball, if it’s there. Think of him as of our off-brand Draymond Green: his work in bringing up the ball in semi-transition after a gobbled defensive board or a steal is very good, as evidenced by a very nice sequence with 5:27 remaining in the game, where he found THJ in perfect stride for a three from the extended elbow. He makes some dumb decisions now and then, but you live with them as long as he provides for a lot of other good stuff. Tonight he also delivered on the defensive end, where he was the only one who tried to put a stop on the Domantas Sabonis rampage (more on that later) and racked 2 steals and 3 blocks. His 4 turnovers were a bit too much, but it’s a byproduct of being more involved in a sometimes stagnant offense.

– Allonzo Trier (14 pts, 3 rebs. 1 ast, -2 +/-) provides more than a decent scoring punch from the bench. Even as an older rookie, it’s puzzling that no other team snatched him up in the late second round. He’s playing like your prototypical combo guard off the bench, and he’s doing fine. If Noah is our off-brand Draymond, Iso Zo is our Lou Williams-lite. It was refreshing to see him out there in the final minutes with license to operate, even hitting the lay-up that gave a little hope to the Knicks, putting them at 101-103 with 44 seconds to go. I loved the fact that Fiz didn’t opt to put Lance back in his place for defensive purposes after that bucket, even if we allowed an uncontested three to Oladipo on a botched defensive second effort right after that. Allonzo is not a stout defender, but he’s not a sieve either, and his offensive prowess is more than enough to make him a better contributor than Lance for this team. Very efficient night, 6 for 7 from the field, 2 for 2 from three. There are times when he is so good at keeping his body under control at the rim that he doesn’t draw fouls because of that. He’ll learn to.

The tricks:

– Enes Kanter (7 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, -4 +/-) played a totally uninspired game and botched a lot of defensive rotations, even by his standards. Domantas Sabonis ate him alive, and foul trouble was much more effective in shutting Arvydas’ son down than whatever pathetic thing Enes was doing tonight. To put things in perspective, Sabonis is the first player ever to score 30 pts in less than 22 minutes and less than 13 shots. And all of that came in the paint, with Enes as his primary defender. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a bad interior defensive performance. When I was playing basketball (before I stopped growing in height at the ripe age of 15, ouch) I was a hard-nosed, no talent, no-nonsense 4-5 whose calling cards were rebounds and interior defense. If a teammate of mine put on display a game like the Enes one tonight, my 15 year old past me would have gnawed at him until he gave a f*ck again. I’m ashamed at Enes. And this guy told ESPN before the game he wants to make the All-Star team? Get a grip, Enes. And learn to defend for once! On a sidenote, he robbed Frank of a clean assist when he missed a super easy bunny in the third. Terrible outing for Enes. I hope he recovers, but he’s spiraling down and I don’t see that happening anytime soon unless he’s inserted back into the starting lineup (which in itself it good enough reason never to put him back there).

– Trey Burke (6 pts, 2 ast, 40% FG) is becoming more and more hollow as the games go by. It’s astounding what a good rebuilding vision can to do a team. Last year, Burke was one of the few bright spot among a chaotic rotation that saw players go in and out on a moment’s notice and saw too much playing time given to useless or past their prime veterans. This year, he’s the useless veteran. I think Trey’s problems arise particularly from the presence on the team of Trier, who does a lot of what he can do (save for the floor general stuff, but it’s not like Trey’s been that good in directing the team) but is 4 inches taller and much more capable at the rim. I hope we can package him to a team where playmakers are scarce. His bad body language since his benching is rivaled only by Kanter’s, and that’s twice in a row. Sorry Trey, you seem a good guy, but this team has no place for entitled middle of the pack players.

Scary-sized bits:

– Frank Ntilikina (4 pts, 1 reb, 7 ast, -8 +/-) had a mediocre outing. This time the bounces on his shot weren’t lucky, as he put a little too much mustard on a pair of jumpers in the third that deserved a better fate and he didn’t connect on a single three pointer. His defense was good and his two-man game was more that decent. I was expecting him to do more of that gyrating routine he started to show this season when into or near the paint, but his moves were at most basic. His starting PG splits aren’t that good either: in the last three games he’s putting up 12.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 4.3 APG on 54% TS and a snail-like pace of 98.3. Out of curiosity, though, I ran a few comparisons with some of his fellow 2017 draftees: I’ll let you guess who’s Frank and who are the others.

Player A: -11.6 Net Rating, 18.8 Ast Ratio, 4 REB%, 47.5% EFG%, 6.8 PIE

Player B:  -9.8 Net Rating, 25.9 Ast Ratio, 3.8 REB%, 47.1% EFG%, 5.5 PIE

Player C: -1.7 Net Rating, 13.8 Ast Ratio, 4.1 REB%, 49.4 EFG%, 7.1 PIE

Player D: 1.8 Net Rating, 15.3 Ast Ratio, 3.5 REB%, 51.1 EFG%, 10.0 PIE

One is easy to guess, but the other three aren’t that much different, ain’t them? Too bad defense isn’t measured that much in those statistics.

– Damyean Dotson (13 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast, -8 +/-) is really solid, even if this time wasn’t that active on the boards. He completes the trifecta of discount NBA Players clones by being our poor man’s Danny Green. He even had a trademark Pablo Prigioni steal under the opposing team’s rim and got an and-one from that! Loving Dotson’s game.

– Mitchell Robinson got the start but against a tough-as-nails Indiana team was able to do very little. We could make a t-shirt for Fizdale that says “I started Mitchell Robinson on Halloween night and all I got was 4 boards and 2 blocks”. The blocks were gorgeous, but his 19 minutes of play were very empty otherwise. Oh well, growing pains.

– I won’t bother describing you Lance Thomas game. Let’s say a ghost with a Knicks jersey would have played pretty much the same game. His fumbling drive in the fourth quarter against Domantas Sabonis was very comical. though. It was of the drunke YMCA 50 year old player variety.

– Is Mario Hezonja still a basketball player? Is he still on the roster? His 7 boards say so, but I’m not sure I’ve really seen him play. Maybe is was an ectoplasmic residue of an NBA player. Mario has been less than disappointing for now. He’s been totally see-through, thin as a perfectly cut slice of Parma ham.

– Man, Domantas Sabonis. 30 pts on 12/12 shooting, 9 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 21 minutes. And he’s not even that good! Enes, dammit.

– I’m not complaining about the loss, but the defensive sequence with Indiana up 103-101 and the Knicks within reach to win the game was baffling. The Pacers ran a simple PnR with Oladipo and Bogdanovic to free Bojan from three. Bojan was incredibly open since Dotson, who was the man tasked with guarding Oladipo, didn’t switch while Trier did. Bogdanovic shot an airball, and both Dotson and Trier left Oladipo, Dot to chase to board and Trier to stay on Bogdanovic. Thad Young got the board and passed the ball to a wide open Oladipo, who calmly sank the three with Frank trying to get to him in time. Young players make mistakes, and this was fully on display here.

That’s all, folks! See you on Friday against Dallas, in a tanktastic square off. Just don’t cry too much watching Luka and thinking what could have been if we really tanked last year.

New York Knicks 87 – Miami Heat 110 – Game Recap

Last Tuesday, I wrote I sensed a win in Miami. Boy, was I wrong! Tonight’s game delivered us our first stinkfest ot the season (and it certainly will not be the last), and there were stretches when it was really hard to keep watching. At least we can take solace in the fourth loss (and get annoyed at the thought that it’s so Knicksy to nail a rebulding/tanking plan in the first season of flattened lottery odds). And finally, some playing time for Mitch!

The adequate (nobody was good tonight):

– Damyean Dotson (20 pts, 10 rebs, 2 ast, -5 +/-) was the lone bright spot tonight. Efficient shooting, even when the game was still on the line, good rebounding effort, average defense. I liked the fact that he was the first one from the bench to enter the game and I especially liked the fact that he got in for Trey Burke, therefore handing over the keys to Frank. The only real basketball issue I have with Dot is that he’s kind of a black hole. If you hand him the rock, chances are he’s gonna shoot. Still, over three games he’s posting a very healthy .185 WS/48.

The meh

– Frank Ntilikina (9 pts, 3 rebs, 5 ast, -9 +/-) had a quiet, but not discouraging game, with a few comforting moments. For one, the offense ran better through him, as he’s clearly our best initiator/passing guard. He drilled a couple threes, and for once had a clear path to the rim and slammed the ball down (even if that was on Miami’s lack of defensive communication and not on his offensive prowess). His defense was quite good, but he has to stop fouling guys who are either not doing anything or have already scored – his foul on Whiteside in the third was egregious, as Frank was not able to keep his momentum in check and fell on the Heat big man after he already scored, handing him a free trip to the line. The problem with Frank is always the same: he’s not hungry for his points. I found myself asking “How many times do we have to listen to Clyde saying Frank should look at the hoop from inside the paint before we give up hope?”; my answer is “a bazillion times”, but really, if he’s not able to fix that his value will keep on being marginal at best. If I had to peg him in a role now, it would be a 15 mpg guy off the bench who handles the best perimeter scorer in the other team. We need him to be much more than that, and he’s so young I feel morally obliged to believe in him.

– Noah Vonleh (6 pts, 9 rebs, 1 stl, -3 +/-) is being consistent in his back up. energizing big man role. He wasn’t good tonight, but his effort alone grants him a mention here. It’s not much, but it’s the best I can do for this game. Actually, he could have ended up in the adequate section, if not for a couple ill-advised shots. For a partially guaranteed contract, he’s really giving a cool return value to the team. He’s earning his minutes out there, and I feel like Fiz is handling him well.

The bad:

– Trey Burke (3 pts, 4 ast, 10% FG, -12 +/-) played one of the worst games I have ever seen a guy play without any explicable reason (like, say, being guarded by prime Scottie Pippen). I’m starting to convince myself that he might be the second main culprit in our starting lineup futility, the first being of course Lance Thomas. He’s not making the offense click, and as soon as his shot is not falling he becomes a clear minus for the team. The first quarter ended with the Knicks grabbing an 11 points lead, but when he exited the game and Frank took on the PG mantle the Knicks were losing 5-7 with 6:16 to go. So the first quarter partial without Trey was 22-9. He was again on the floor for the first minutes of the third quarter, when the Knicks got crushed by Miami offering up zero resistance to the Heat dominance. A bad performance for Trey, and maybe a wake up call for Fiz to try different things with the starting lineup.

– Enes Kanter (8 pts, 5 rebs, 3 ast, -24 +/-) was uncharacteristically rudderless. He looked tired, deflated, defeated throughout the game. He made Whiteside look like the second coming of Wilt Chamberlain, and while nobody was expecting for Enes to match Hassan’s athleticism, at least we hoped that he would outhustle the notoriously inconsistent Heat center. Tonight, that was not the case. I don’t remember the last time Kanter provided so little in terms of everything. Let’s just hope it’s not a trend, since the early symptoms were already showing in Milwaukee.

– Mario Hezonja (13 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -3 +/-) went back to bad Mario in this game. He started pretty fine, hitting a couple threes in the first stanza. Apart from that, I’m not sure I saw him bend his legs even once. He looked like those passive-aggressive partners that takes out for dinner after you scold them for not caring about you enough to wine and dine, and then proceed to order half the menu just to throw in your face that they can do those things, it’s you that don’t care about their potential. Just as they will end up throwing away a lot of uneaten food, Mario threw away many shots so carelessly that it seemed he didn’t even want them to tickle the twine. His shooting line for the night: 4/15 from the field, 2/8 from three in 22 minutes. I hoped Milwaukee could be a turning point in his season; I can tell you it won’t be. I fear Mario will be back playing in Europe before 2021 rolls around.

Fun-sized bits (not so fun tonight):

– Tim Hardaway Jr played his usual mediocre game, tallying 14 points on 40% shooting and posting a -21 plus/minus. It’s the second time in a row that he post a -20 or worst plus/minus. I don’t care very much about plus/minus in itself, as it’s incredibly noisy, but I think we’re onto something here. Here’s his NetRtg trend: 22.9, 1.1, -3.8, -32.3, -42.0. If accountability is what Fiz’s aiming for, Tim should be in for some adjustments.

– Lance pulled down 6 rebounds and scored 6 points, and did absolutely nothing else. I feel this has to be the moment when I recall the “He’s gonna be our Draymond Green” Fizdale quote and I urge you to question the sanity of coach Fiz. Also, given the commendable rebounding prowess of Dotson, why are not giving Dot the chance to start at PF?

– Then again, I remember Fiz also said “Emmanuel, we gonna fix you!” to Mudiay, and fix him they did: if he’s not playing he’s a better basketball player than he could be if he stepped on the court.

– Ron Baker is borderline unplayable in nights like these. 19 minutes of play, 1 steal, 1 missed field goal attempt, -13 +/-. Another reason to move Trey to the bench and try Frank as our starting PG. Ron’s PIE for the season is -2.8, good for seventh worst in the whole league (more than 10 mpg). I love his effort and that’s documented, but I can’t wrap my head around his contract.

– Third quarter: Knicks 20, Heat 45. Yikes.

– In the second quarter it was already evident that this game was going to end up in an ass-beating. We were tied while shooting the lights out from three points and getting to line just twice in 24 minutes. It wasn’t sustainable at all.

– Mitch was a welcome sight. 4 points, 3 boards (all on the offensive glass), 1 block. His athleticism is off the charts and he is clearly going to distil every minute he’s given. I hope Fiz finds a way to make him play 8-10 mpg on a regular basis. We need to develop him, as he might be our best young player in a couple years.

– The high note of the evening must have been a back and forth conversation between Mike Breen and Clyde where they tried to remember correctly the names and composition of the Flintstones families, right after Bam Adebayo entered the game (apparently he got his nickname after the super strong son of Barney and Betty). Hearing those two talk about a cartoon melt my heart a little. God bless them for making every potentially unbearable Knick night a little gem, everytime.

Well, I guess our dog days aren’t over, as we’re set to face the Warriors on Friday night. I don’t care for wins, but I fully expect a much better effort than tonight (and some minor tweaks in the rotation, especially in the starting five).

See you soon!

New York Knicks 113 – Milwaukee Bucks 124 – Game Recap

Another feel-good loss for our Knicks! We are 1-3 and I didn’t feel this good about the direction of the team since… maybe the pre-Melo half of 2010-11? We keep piling close losses – this one was waaaaay closer than it looks – while playing young guys and having a solid rotation in place. Our coach might not be an offensive genius, but looks like he has what it takes to mold this team. I’m having a lot of fun in watching games this year, and it feels strangely intoxicating rooting for losses. There’s nowhere to go but upwards!

The good:

– Trey Burke (19 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, +5 +/-) was instrumental in getting back into the game in the third quarter, hitting some tough layups and being a pest off the dribble. He was badly exposed in the first quarter, as was the entire Knicks defense. The main problem with Burke is his size and build, which coupled with his defective natural defensive instincts make him a liability everytime we go up against a tall and strong team. Bledsoe is definitely not the tallest PG out there, but he’s built like a truck and that’s a problem for Trey. I guess Fiz got the memo about it, because he didn’t play a single minute in the final quarter. Still, a very effective game for Trey.

– Noah Vonleh (11 pts, 5 rebs, 1 ast, -8 +/-) is quickly becoming a fan favorite. His energy is contagious, and he’s playing consistently within his limitations. That allows him to play a paltry amount of minutes, injecting the team with much needed vigor at times. His defense is quite shaky, but it never hurts to have a big body banging down low. The only issue I had with him (and every other Knicks out there not named Dotson, to be fair) is that he was a little soft on the defensive glass, allowing Giannis and co. to feast on the offensive boards all night long, which is definitely no bueno and, in the end, what kept the Knicks from winning this game. Only Knick to shoot better than 50% from the field. Only Knick to shoot more than 2 FTs.

– Mario Hezonja (18 pts, 4 rebs, 3 ast, -14 +/-) played an interesting game, hitting shots from all over the court and looking uncharacteristically spirited throughout the game. He made the most of the opportunity bestowed on him after Knox ankle got twisted, and will probably be a major part of the rotation in the next few games. If what he needs to breed confidence is the trust of the coaching staff, this might be a turning point in his season.

– Damyean Dotson (14 pts, 8 rebs, 2 stl, -8 +/-) was the only Knicks who really cared for the defensive caroms, notching a second-best 8 for the team. Watching the game it looked like he couldn’t miss a shot, while looking at the box score it shows that he shot 13 times and missed 8. I must have a very selective memory that makes me remember only THJ missed shots and Damyean made ones. Anyway, he’s the other Knick who benefited from the open window in playing time caused by Knox absence, getting on the court for 33 minutes and looking the part. I sincerely hope he keeps at least a spot on the rotation even after Knox returns. We need to know how much he can be useful to the team going forward.

The meh:

– Frank Ntilikina (5 pts, 1 reb, 5 ast, -6 +/-) is starting to worry me a little bit. Now, he didn’t really have a bad game, hence the “meh” section, and his defensive stance, positioning and effort were always nice, but I don’t know how much his playing time can be in the high 30s if he keeps being this tentative on offense. I still believe part of the problem is the composition of the starting lineup – we’ll get to that later – but there are times when Frank is visibly shying away from the ball, and that’s quite inexcusable for a seemingly very smart 20 year old lottery pick. Ron Baker’s head getting hit by an errant Vonleh’s elbow opened some playing time for Frank at the PG in the second half, and while he notched 5 assists, proving that his passing game is good if basic, he never attacked the rim from the dribble, and in the fourth quarter it really looked like he was actively running away from the guys in blue and orange who had the ball in their hands. Not a “bad” game, but we need to see more from him if he wants to be a cardinal part of the rotation.

– Lance Thomas (4 pts, 4 rebs. a whole lot of nothing else, +6 +/-) had his usual transparent game, but luckily saw only 18 minutes of playing time, which in the long run are still 18 minutes too much. I think he is the main culprit (or better yet, the combo Lance + THJ) for our usual slow starts in the first quarter, since he’s such an offensive liability that his man is always sagging off, clogging the lane. This, coupled with the tentativeness of Frank and the boneheadedness of Timmy, make our starting lineup a very predictable unit. I suggest again that Fiz changes something, even if I know that won’t happen soon, especially with Knox out.

Fun-sized bits:

– Enes Kanter had his fourth straight double double (14 pts, 13 rebs) to open the season, but this one came with no substance at all. He got crushed on the boards when it mattered most and wasn’t able to push around anyone. His energy level looked a lot lower than in previous games.

– Ron Baker has a penchant to hurt his face. At least this time was much less violent that last year’s impact with AD. Anyway, he was able to post a plus minus of -5 in just one minute of play. By the way, he’s the third Knick in four games to go down with an injury with just a little more than one minute of playing time (Mitch in the first, Knox in the third). Freaky.

– Allonzo Trier was quiet tonight but is always a competent cog in the rotation. For an undrafted guy, he certainly deserves a spot on an NBA roster.

– Ah, Timmy. Another 20+ pts game, another mediocre overall performance (24 pts on 23 shots, -25 +/-, 140 Drtg). We can appreciate the fact that he can score, and we certainly need someone who can put up points in a hurry, but his season for now has the distinguished smell of “usage soaking placeholder with middling efficiency” (54% TS, 31% USG). His shot distribution can be improved (28% of his shots come from 10ft to 3pt range territory), and while his WS is better than the eye-test might suggest at .113 the sample size is still too small to rely on numbers to evaluate his game. I wish Fiz would do something to make the ball move a little more on offense, even just implementing more PnR actions on a daily basis.

– Speaking of PnR, shout out to Mario for trying to initiate the high PnR very often.

– The Knicks got outrebounded 55 to 43, with 19 of those 55 coming on the offensive end. This will be a glaring issue against a lot of teams in the NBA, and that’s good, we need losses. But that’s also bad, we need to develop guys who can hold their own on the boards.

Well, we couldn’t expect to win this game, especially with Middleton going nova from 3 and Giannis doing his usual Godzilla impression, so I think we managed pretty well.

See you on Wednesday against the Heat! Don’t know why but I sense a win is coming. Great fun recapping this team this year!