New York Knicks 99 – Brooklyn Nets 109 – Game Recap

A tale of two halves, more or less. The first one was quite good, the second one was atrocious. This brings again a lot of questions about Fizdale as a coach (compounded by the baffling quote about not knowing who was gonna start after he learned of Mudiay’s shoulder injury – I mean, really? Are you telling me an entire professional coaching staff doesn’t have a lot of set options, ordered by whatever criteria, to go to when someone gets injured/incapacitated? They’re implementing this stuff in the NBA2K games since, what, 2009? And people who get actually paid to do that job don’t know for sure what to do in a season where there’s no reason whatsoever to employ smokescreens?).

Granted, Frank’s foul trouble is not on the coaching staff, so they had to adjust on the fly with what they had. But how come that 47 games in there’s not even a splinter of offensive coherence in this team? Tanking is okay, we’re saying this since day one (actually, since 2014-15 and maybe even before), but this is essentially a lost season in terms of building something. And it’s not like they don’t have pieces to build upon. Those pieces may suck, but they’re in place. It’s one thing to not being able to play Mitch because he shows himself out of a game with six fouls: it’s another to play him just 17 minutes in a game where Lance Thomas played 27 as the nominal four and Mitch commits just 2 fouls. Would it have been that difficult to swap minutes allotted, playing Mitch at the five and Vonleh at four for ten minutes, especially considering that defensive rebounding is the worst part of Mitch’s game and Vonleh can account for that? We’re not playing for anything. There’s no reason at all to play Lance 27 minutes. If you don’t want to play Kanter (and I agree with this) you should just call up Hicks, who’s terrible but on a two-way contract, and give him some minutes until Kornet comes back. Or sign Anthony Bennett and play him. Also, we put THJ on the trading block (haha, good joke) and then we play him 40 minutes and he proceeds to shoot 2 for 14, while bitching repeatedly with his teammates? Why in the hell would we want to do that? And that bitching thing is a bit disturbing, for two possible reasons. The first: THJ has been invested as the leader of this team – for no apparent motive – and thinks he can act like he’s Michael Jordan or Kobe. Ok, he’s bitching for good reasons, and the Trier Twitter DM debacle doesn’t look good, but is he setting any sort of positive model on the court for those kids? He chucks useless shots from the perimeter without any regard for team play. And the second: if THJ has been appointed as the leader, why do you put him on the trading block? Tanking seasons are difficult matters to manage and to behold, but that should come out of hardship, not out of utter confusion, which is what seems to permeate this team from Guitar Jimmy to every talking head not named Breen or Frazier.

I realize now that I’ve spent more than 500 words and have said pretty much nothing about this game. It’s a bit hard to say something about it, not because it wasn’t good (I mean, it wasn’t, but the first half was entertaining enough), but because I don’t know what we were trying to do. Frank can’t play because of fouls, enter Trey Burke, who scores 25 points but chucks from midrange and fails to get anyone involved. Vonleh is on fire in the first quarter, so we run exactly zero plays for him and he ends up shooting 11 threes because there’s no one cutting to pass the ball to (fun fact: before the Curry/Harden revolution – let’s say until 2016/17 – that has encouraged everyone and their mom to shoot from three, there were exactly 42 instances in NBA history of a PF/C, C/PF or C shooting at least 11 threes in a game. No Knick player in that list. In the last season and a half, there were 17 instances of the same occurrence. Still no Knick player in that list until last night. In short: no one ever thought to make KP rain hell from three as it was his destiny to do, even smack dab in the middle of the revolution. How’s it goink?). Mitch wreaks havoc on lobs/interior passes, yet Trier is the only one who seems capable of giving him the ball where he wants. Trier comes off a career night (and a PR blunder), looks positively healthy, and ends up attempting only 6 field goals because another ball dominant guard hijacks the offense. Nobody seems to be able to think that sometimes you should funnel the action to your first round pick in good situations, and he ends up with a bricktastic line – but still better than THJ! – just four games after his hope-inducing scoring output against Philly.

I’ll say it again: it makes no sense to fire the coaching staff during such a season. I will never advocate for it. But I can’t be the only one who’s seeing glaring flaws in all of Fizdale’s work until now. I liked him and I still do from time to time – especially when he utter genuinely funny quips to the press – but I predict he’s gonna be canned by January 2020, because next year will show how much this one was a lost season. If that’s so, maybe it would be better for the front office to carefully evaluate this year’s performances and pull the plug during the summer (that is unless we strike gold in the lottery and/or we sign two marquee free agents, which seems very unlikely. In that case Fiz’s reputation as a players’ coach might come in handy).

Since last night there was no really good player (I refuse to acknowledge Burke’s 25 points, 5 assists, 2 steals but no defense and no team play – no matter what the scoreboard says about assists – as one, and Vonleh posted an uncharacteristically Kanteresque empty double-double that to my eyes doesn’t count as one) and the bad ones have pretty much already been singled out in my previous rant, I’ll go directly to the cringe-sized bits:

– First of all: Frank, my dear boy, how many opportunities do you think you can squander like this? If you’ve seen the game, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t (and I praise you for that, only real junkies can keep up with every Knicks game as of now), I’ll tell you that at least 4 of his 6 fouls were dumb. If defense is your calling card, and honestly it is, since ball handlers actively get troubled by Frank coverage, you can’t foul like that, just getting your hands on someone’s body parts. Nights like these make me question not only Ntilikina’s offensive IQ, but his defensive one too. He played a good game, to be fair. 4 points, 4 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block. But he can’t keep losing playing time thanks to stupid fouls in favor of the Mudiays and Burkes of this world, especially with Fizdale at the helm.

– I was ready to salute Noah Vonleh’s well-deserved career night after the first quarter (14 points on 6-for-8, getting Jarrett Allen in foul trouble very early) but he caught the chucking bug, so ok, Noah, here’s a toast to your career-high in points, but don’t make me see you play like this again. You’re the only one I liked for 47 straight games. Don’t give up on your inner nature.

– Knox is back to early season Knox. Nobody is passing him the ball in the rights spots (maybe Frank sometimes?). He rushes horrible floaters and doesn’t even get in transition that much. Our rebounding futility might have something to do with that, but doesn’t tell the whole story. There were a bunch of Knicks fastbreaks last night, thanks to 12 steals. Usually, those are Knox’s favorite situations; last night he was nowhere to be found. He committed a team-high 4 TOs, and at least two of them were so predictable I foresaw him at least three seconds before they occurred. He also seems more fatigued, as he jumps less. Is it possible that all those minutes are already weighing on him?

– You know the book on Mitch. I want to see more of him. I hate I didn’t on a night where he didn’t get into foul trouble. He needs reps. I fully blame the coaching staff on this. In limited minutes, Mitch is first among rookies having played at least 200 minutes in: WS/48 (.164 to Ayton’s .148 in second place), TS% (.664 to Ayton’s .619 in second place), eFG% (guess who’s second), DBPM (5.0 to Bamba’s 3.0 in second place), BPM (5.3 to Luka’s 3.5 in second place), BLK% (9.5 to Bamba’s 7.3 in second place; Mitch is back in leading the whole NBA in this statistic, not only rookies) and is third in VORP (1.0 to Luka’s 2.1 and Ayton’s 1.2). If you don’t play him the most he can, and surely he can play more than 17 minutes, you’re a pathetic excuse for a coaching staff. Sorry, rant over. For now.

–  Allonzo is pretty good too, now that he’s healthy/has realized the second year of his contract is a team option (just kidding: I blame myself for having ever thought his problems were contingent on post-contract laziness). 13 points on 6 shots, 2 steals, 2 assists for Mitch, so-so but almost passable defense. Even after his play cratered for a while after the injury, he’s still 8th among rookies having played at least 200 minutes in TS% (amazingly, Knox is not last in that category: behind Kevin there are six such rookies. The bad news is that other than Grayson Allen, none of them were selected in the first round, and two of them went undrafted).

– In the first quarter there was a honey-sweet possession where Frank dished a bounce pass to Lance cutting to the rim that led to a thunderous slam by Thomas. It was like seeing two of your friends that are usually super awkward around girls/boys walk away from the disco with two smoking hot ladies/guys, even if just for one night.

And now we’re up for the Dwyane Wade retirement tour. Miami is a weird team since LeBron left, so it might be a trap game for the tank. As long as Mitch plays at least 25 and Frank shows something, I might take it.

Brooklyn Nets 112 – New York Knicks 104 – Game Recap

Why does it have to be so hard?

One of my favourite definition of insanity is the (misattributed to Einstein) following quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. For the umpteenth time this season, and more specifically the fourth in a row, the Knicks looked lost both on and off the court well into the second half of the game. On the court, well, for 30+ minutes this game was borderline unwatchable, full of defensive mistakes, stupid turnovers, and even an iffy own-basket by Kanter and Vonleh. Off the court, there was a minutes distribution so puzzling it made me question my sanity, because if you’re losing by a lot and not playing well at all, why in the hell do you keep the youngsters glued to the bench?

Then, with 3:43 to go in the third quarter, Frank came into the game for Mudiay and Robinson was brought in for Kanter. Forty seconds later, Knox was subbed in for Hezonja. From there to the finish line (15 full minutes of play), the Knicks trotted out the following lineup: Frank-Trier-Dotson-Knox-Robinson. Did we win the game? No, but with that lineup who cares. Did we make the game competitive and spirited? Hell yes. Did it make the game watchable and, most importantly, meaningful? HELL YES. This is our future. Our (cue the eyeroll of who just wants to hear and read about day-to-day basketball) cost controlled future. Our all-upside, no-downside future. That lineup, made of two genuinely good prospects, a solid wing in the making, and two mostly sucky first round picks, was +9 and suddenly made the Garden remember what it’s like to play defense with passion – and length.

Do you want more of that? Because I do. The fact that we lost, and in a competitive way nonetheless, while Atlanta and Cleveland won made it easy to find the sweet core of this sour, bitter candy. But setting aside the final result or the tankathon projection, playing the young guys gives you hope. Let’s see if those five will see the court through the next few games. We need Fiz to stop sending young guys to that infamous dungeon of his.

The good:

– Honestly, it’s hard to dub anyone really good for this game. The aforementioned uber-young unit was good as a whole, but none of the guys played well per se. So, counter-intuitively, I’ll hand the first good mention to Enes Kanter (23 pts, 14 rebs, 3 ast, -9 +/-), because without him the first 30 minutes of play would have been a sh*tshow of epic proportion. His presence, and his flawless touch around the rim, kept the game a sliver from rock bottom in terms of watchability, and even if he’s not a good team player he still is a good player, and I have to give credit where it’s due. That’s even more true tonight, when Vonleh straight up stank and the third best rebound tally of the team (after Enes and Mitch) went to Mario. Enes was his usual unrelenting machine on the glass and was efficient, hitting 10 of his 13 field goal attempts. I still don’t want him around here anymore after April 2019, but I have to commend his good performances. He even dusted off a nifty eurostep in the first quarter. If the game was only predicated on offense, Kanter would probably be in the top 5 of all NBA centers. Again, he’s just playing a different game from a different time. If you kept the same finishing lineup with Enes instead of Mitch, I think we wouldn’t have been that exciting overall and goodish on defense.

The above-average

– Sorry but I have to say it: Frank Ntilikina (7 pts, 1 reb, 3 ast, +7 +/-) was quite good tonight. The numbers are mediocre, even if he shot 3/6 from the field, and one attempt was a end of period heave (Trier should teach him to stop doing that to preserve his efficiency – lol). His impact on the game, on the other hand, was not. I know, defensive numbers don’t paint him like the total pest he is on primary offensive threats on opponent teams, but they’re so noisy that it’s all a bit inconclusive. He smothered D’Angelo Russell from the first possession. He got smoked just once by Dinwiddie (and then nobody came in to help). I’ll put it simply: guys were scoring effortlessly on us in the first 35 minutes. In the last 13 minutes, they committed three 24-second violations. Also, handing the reins to someone who wasn’t Trier was big for Zo. He’s not at his best when he’s asked to create first. If there is someone else capable of doing that, even if not at the rate we’d like to, and also to defend, Zo can untap his potential. Frank still tends to suck, but we need him a lot more than we need Mario or 5 extra minutes of THJ and Mudiay. Great finishing in the paint for him, too.

– Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, -1 +/-) was the most evident beneficiary of Frank comeback. Dot in his first 15 minutes without him: 0 points, 0-3 from the field. Enter Frank: 12 points (8 in a row in a span of 63 seconds) on 5-for-7. As I said: this guy need someone to set him up to get in a rhythm. Defending better helps getting into transition which in turn helps finding guys open. That’s why defense is so important: a good defensive possession is the best start for a great offensive possession. This is his 16th game (on 22 played) that he goes off for 10+ points. I’ll say it again: Dotson is a keeper.

– Allonzo Trier (15 pts, 2 rebs, 46% FG, +5 +/-) didn’t play his best game and made mistakes on the last two plays (he should have passed the ball to a very open Mitch under the rim in his last foray), but was a force to be reckoned when driving to the rim. He was a bit less listless than Dotson before the late game spurt, but he too benefited from Frank’s insertion. Dinwiddie ate him alive, but I have a hunch that Zo will recover his at least average defensive presence in the next few games. By the way: the deadline to sign him to a real contract is approaching very fast. Does anyone have an idea about what’s going to be the offer? Nobody seems to be talking about it.

The bad:

– Tim Hardaway Jr. (7 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -9 +/-) threw out a real stinkbomb. He was nowhere to be found on offense tonight, trying to empirically prove that the cold hand fallacy is not a fallacy at all. I love his method to get out of a slump: just shoot it more with even less preparation, like it’s ever gonna work. His FG% for season has plummeted to 39.1, and his free throw rate is going down as well. He’s hovering around his career advanced stats, and that’s definitely not promising, as it wasn’t his body language for the whole game. He went 0-for-5 from three and every three pointer was a bad one. Someone should try to explain to him he’s not Steph Curry, or even Reggie Miller. I hope some fringe contender needs a sixth man sooner or later. Yeah, a 17 million dollars sixth man, but I hear that in Houston and in New Orleans they’re getting a bit desperate.

– Noah Vonleh (4 pts, 3 rebs, 4 ast, -7 +/-) played one of his worst games, maybe the worst when he wasn’t plagued by foul trouble. I don’t know why, but he just wasn’t there with his head tonight. I won’t blame him too much, but you really can feel when he’s not doing his best job out there. The whole team suffers and it’s pretty evident. His defense was lackadaisical too, as he even failed to rotate more than a couple times. The 4 assists are cool to see; the traveling violations in the first quarter 30 feet from the cup aren’t. I think he’ll be better against Charlotte.

Fun-sized bits:

– Mario Hezonja shot well for the first time in ages (4-8, 3-4 from downtown) but still was a game-worst -14 +/- and got a few of his teammates demonstrably angry at him for how he was misusing possessions. He’s unconceivably unaware of how bad he is at this game, but I don’t think it’s his fault, like at all. He’s not appointing himself a starter, there are other guys doing that for him.

– Mudiay is so bad on defense it’s incredible. They put him in the pick and roll, he dies on the first screen over and over again and then doesn’t know where to rotate. The Nets killed us with that simple action all night (again, defensive stats don’t tell all: watch film of Mudiay defending and of Frank doing the same, and tell me you don’t see differences).

– Mitch in full octopus mode on defense in the fourth quarter (three steals on passing lanes, a swallowing block) and with a pair of circus tricks on offense. If he only could avoid committing stupid fouls (and technicals) and could work on his hands – free throws included – he’d be a solid contributor right now. Just imagine where he’ll be in two years from now.

– Knox had a meh game. Not bad, not good (50% from the field though! And two confident drives to the rack). It was still nice to see him on the court not making too many mistakes during that fun fourth quarter.

– Four minutes for Courtney Lee. Thanks, Phil!

– The MSG crowd gave a heartwarming cheer for Frank as soon as he touched the ball. I’ll admit it: I’m a Frank fan. That melted juuuust a bit my cinical soul.

– During an intermission MSG gave a community award to Dr. Strange. No, not the comic book one. A certain Dr. Theodore Strange who saved the life of a fellow marathon runner. I mean, not all superheroes wear costumes, but some of them have their destiny in their name. Waiting for the first Bob Stark to save a kitten in a flying suit.

– Alan Shearer at MSG tonight. One of the most prolific scorer ever in soccer. It was funny to hear the contrast between Rebecca’s and Alan’s accents. OT: I have a much harder time understanding British people than American one. I wonder if it’s the same for you native speakers.

Are you ready for the French Heritage Night? I hope Frank is. A back-to-back against Kemba on a France-themed night should grant at least 15 minutes of gameplay to our offensively-challenged defensive savant.

See you tomorrow!

Brooklyn Nets 95 – New York Knicks 116 – Game Recap

“Don’t it always seem to go/that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone?”. Damn, it felt good to have the third worst record in the NBA. There are some things in life you really can’t avoid, though, no matter how actively you try to. The win tonight was one of them; these Nets were completely listless, especially on the boards, and apart from the first minutes of the game couldn’t hit anything. But alas, how can we complain about a win against a bad team, giving again a lot of minutes to our juniors? I guess it’s ok, after all. And we had the chance to witness a few spicy highlights, too!

And, with no further ado…

The good:

– Guys, I just love Noah Vonleh (8 pts, 10 rebs, 2 ast, +17 +/-). He’s just everywhere, pestering opposing bigs on multiple plays, grabbing boards in traffic, looking in fantastic shape and almost always playing within himself. This season he’s posting a career high percentage of shots taken inside of 10 feet (81,8%) and a career high in multiple other facets, such as TS%, Oreb%, Dreb%, a bunch of other stuff and even quadrupled his Ast%. He’s an amazing cog to have on your team, unless he regresses badly, but I’m not convinced he will. I mean, there’s nothing unsusteinable about what he’s doing. He’s a serviceable big who doesn’t get in over his head, defends averagely, moves well without the ball and seems content to shoot sparsely. In the mean time, he’s not a ball-handler for his size, and has a knack for finding guys in the right spots around the basket. He also got me salivating in the first quarter when he initiated a 4-5 PnR with Mitch that ultimately yielded no results but looked very organic and fluid. I hope to see more of that. About his game tonight: throughout all of 30 minutes of play his level of effort was very consistent, he was in the right place most of the times, and he dunked the ball with ferocity and a bit of swag, even hanging from the rim a few tenths of seconds more than it’s allowed, earning a stupid but sweeeeet technical.

– Tim Hardaway Jr. (25 pts, 5 rebs, 8 ast, +11 +/-) finally gets a mention here, and for good reasons. This was the most team friendly performance of Timmy this season, what with his 8 assists and general focus on letting the team get involved. He started slowly but steadily, finding a bunch of guys for easy shots. In the second quarter, he lobbed a sky-high pass that was clearly intended for Mitch, and found him perfectly. His shooting keeps on being a bit subpar (another sub .500 FG% night – for what it’s worth, last season he reached that threshold only 13 times), but this was the all around showing that we needed to see from THJ. For the sake of the tank it’s okay if he saves those nights only for very bad teams; for the sake of this team development, I’m not that sure, but we’ll take what we can. Nice to see him compliment Trier on a two on one fastbreak where Allonzo could have easily passed the ball for an easy layup but instead chose to go the rack himself. I don’t know how bright Tim is, but certainly seems a good-natured kid. He took another charge, sacrificing some of his face in the process. I always liked that part of his game (the charge taking one, not the blood losing). Currently he’s tied for seventh in the entire league for charges taken. Chuck Hardaway wasn’t anywhere to be found tonight.

– Frank Ntilikina (16 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, +15 +/-) was very shaky with his jumper inside the arc, and lost Russell a few times in the first quarter, but was again pretty good for his standard. His scoring numbers in the last two games are a bit inflated from unsusteinable sharpshooting ability from three (6-for-12) and from lucky bounces on weird floaters, but his aggressiveness is not a fluke. Now, don’t get me wrong. All of this is in context; it’s not like Frank has become prime Derrick Rose, barreling towards the rim with explosiveness and extreme quickness, but he’s not shying away from shooting the damn ball, and that is very good for his development. Oh and guess what? Zero turnovers for this bad guy tonight. I maintain he’s our best PnR initiator, only he does that at a typical SF speed, while we’re expecting him to be a lot quicker and nimble on his feet. My guess is that won’t ever happen, but that’s not a shade on him. It’s just that we need an above-average player as our first primary ball-handler to untap the full potential of Frank as a part-time PG. In the meantime I’m totally ok in developing his confidence with a streak of double figure games to shut his detractors down, and then getting back to focus on other aspects of the game. 32 minutes is more like it, Fiz.

– Damyean Dotson (10 pts, 5 rebs, 40% FG, +21 +/-) did not post gaudy numbers tonight, but hit double figures for the fifth straight time and was amazing on defensive rotations, as mirrored by his game-high plus minus. Even if his shot didn’t fall (1/6 from three) and his passing game keeps on resembling that of the late Yinka Dare, his place in the rotation looks cementified by now. I know it’s incredibly early in the season, but this kind of 3-and-D player, with the added feature of elite rebounding. Damyean is currently tied for fifth in DReb%, and ahead of him are noted board chaser Westbrook, huge human being Ben Simmons, small sample size Kevin Huerter and good rebounder Lance Stephenson. I think this guy is for real.

– Hey guys, do you know how to solve the problem of a dislocated jaw? Asking for a friend who’s stuck with his mouth open after that incredibile sequence of steal, run, dunk from Mitchell Robinson (11 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast, +6 +/-) in the third quarter. That play alone was worth the ticket for the MitchRob experience tonight, who in limited minutes (just 15) posted his first double figure scoring game. He’s still raw and gets pushed around a little too much, but moves adequately on offense and… well.. jumps high enough that every lob in the rim vicinity is his by default. A perfect 5 for 5 from the field, by good measure he ate a Jarrett Allen in the most humiliating way possible. It has to be said, though, that said Allen attempt would have never happened if Mitch knew how to box him out. His defense leaves a lot to be desired in a lot of occasions, especially when he tries to block guys on the perimeter and ends up so far away from the basket that there’s no chance in hell that he’ll corral the rebound. He also committed a couple of very stupid fouls. Anyway, I’m amazed about how NBA ready this guy is and can’t believe our own luck.

– Allonzo Trier (12 pts, 5 rebs, 2 ast, +3 +/-) showed up tonight and played a very competent 25 minutes, scoring efficiently and with purpose. His defense was on point and acted as Fiz’s release valve when it was clear that Mitch was being badly exposed in the fourth quarter by the Nets. Fiz inserted him with around 6 minutes to go and never looked back, securing the win for the night. A good Zo game here and there is always something I can hang my hat on.

The bad:

– Trey Burke (5 pts, 50% FG, nothing else, 0 +/-) is slowly, and surprisingly, falling out of the rotation. I’m not completely against it, since his usefulness is questionable on this roster, save for the fact that it would open up playing time for Mudiay, who’s notoriously terrible. We’ll just wait and see if this is just a rough patch or something more. Maybe I’m oversensitive, but it feels like there are the first cracks in Fizdale’s shining armor as a communicator. I hope I’m wrong, but I have bad vibes about it. Anyway, Trey played only 14 minutes before Fiz caught up on his uselessness tonight.

Fun-sized bits:

– Enes Kanter’s numbers (15 pts, 15 rebs, 2 ast, +6 +/-) should have earned him a mention in the good column, but honestly there’s something about him that worries me. His body language is horrible at times, especially since he’s got benched. Even in the half-game interview with Rebecca Haarlow he looked sad and out of sorts. I don’t know if it has to do with the coaching staff, but after his first three games he looked more and more disconnected. Watching him now fills me with sadness, like watching from afar an ex that used to be extra funny when you were together but now passive-aggressively ignores you while treading water. Don’t know, I expect him to be somewhere else on January. Also, a couple of defensive possessions where he doubled on the ball handler went horribly, with him completely forgetting to get back to his man after the double, and he committed a few terrible turnovers.

– Last two paragraphs got me thinking about the Fiz-Gasol debacle in Memphis. Is it possibile that Fiz isn’t quite able to connect with people who feel (right or wrong as it may be) entitled about their role in the team? I’m not sure, but Enes went very quickly from exhilarated guy to semi-productive sad sack. That’s in contrast with Vonleh, who was good when starting from the bench and he’s still good now. I don’t know, but I’m perplexed at this development.

– Mario Hezonja put up a transparent 11 points, 4 rebounds game. You tend to forget he’s even on the roster when he’s not on the court, given what he provides to the team. Not a lot of substance in him. Beasley was better, at least he was a lot more rootable.

– Lance Thomas played 10 minutes. That’s good game planning, coach.

– Ron Baker has to be the most expensive player ever to incite a “We want (insert mascotte guy here)!” chant. It’s ok to love a hustling player, but it’s also a bit humiliating to be treated like a token scruffy walk-on while making 5 millions. The very brief Mills stint as a GM without Phil Jackson was really weird.

– Tonight NBA League Pass malfunctioned for an entire quarter, making me see the action from strange camera angles without any commentary whatsoever. During those 12 minutes I realized once and for all how much Breen and Clyde make the games more tolerable when we’re losing and exciting when we’re winning. I hope it doesn’t ever happen again, it was like watching a Marvel movie directed by Tommy Wiseau.

So, we bag this win and head to next game with the exact record of the Nets. Weren’t they supposed to maybe be a dark horse for the playoffs this year? If Caris LeVert is not cooking, they don’t look so well, and I think that D’Angelo will soon end up on the overhyped, underperforming 2015 lottery picks list, which as of now is looking longer that it should be.

Let’s see you on Halloween night against the Pacers!

New York Knicks 105 – Brooklyn Nets 107 – Game Recap

Mick Jagger used to sing “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you will find, you get what you need!”, and that’s exactly what we got tonight, and maybe more. A highly competitive loss where our youngsters play a lot of minutes, learn their trade and generally play well? Count me in for a season of this! Maybe, just maybe, sprinkle a win here and there as not to make my dopamine level drop too low.

By now you should be acquainted with my writing gimmicks, so let’s not waste any more time and let’s get into the meaty part of the recap.

The good:

– Enes Kanter (29 pts, 10 rebs, 2 ast, +2 +/-) utterly mauled every Nets opponent into the paint. He’s so dependable on the low block, pulling all sorts of tricks (up and under moves, reverse layups under the rim, rhino-like pushing moves towards the basket, and a lot more) to score down low. It speaks volumes about the evolution of the game that a guy like him appears to be mostly dead weight on the cap and not a supremely desirable asset for any contending team; on the ’90s, a guy like Enes would be heavily courted by a lot of front offices. Right now, at the ripe age of 26, he acts as a steady release valve for our offense and as a sort of emotional mentor for the rookies. Yes, he’s still getting beaten on a lot of PnR actions by the other team, but he’s usually getting better positioning this year, and I swear I saw him force a guy to travel for the second game in a row. Also, didn’t look fatigued at the end of the game, although he played a shade over 35 minutes, so he has to be in peak physical condition. If I have to find a flaw in tonight’s game, it’s the ill-timed flagrant foul he committed with 5:44 remaining in the final quarter with the score tied. It’s okay to foul hard a guy who’s open under the rim, it’s not okay to do that in a manner that pretty much auto-indicts itself. All in all, an exhilarating game for Enes (but what happened to his promise to shoot threes if open? Ok, he shot one tonight on a gorgeous no look pass from Frank and he bricked it, but I still think he should shot more if he’s open on the perimeter and nothing else is happening).

– Kevin Knox (17 pts, 6 rebs, 75% 3pts, -4 +/-) had a refreshingly good game, and a fat share of playing time, being on the court for 28 minutes. The key to his scoring, as of now, are three pointers and free throws. Tonight, the threes were there, and so was the effort on the glass and on defensive rotations. The rim attacking part, well, that’s still awful. Someone mentioned a couple days ago in the comments section that Knox problem at the rim is that his first step comes too far from the hoop. While that is certainly true and could use some fine-tuning, I think it’s much more about his upper body strength and general lack of confidence and coordination. In the second quarter he had a positively Antetokounmpo-like layup attempt, where his first step came just inside the arc, the second on the midpoint and he was alone at the rim with all the time in world… and then missed badly. He can get to the basket, but when there he’s playing hot potato. Wretched layup attempts aside, not much to complain about tonight. It was nice to see him calmly drilling a corner three to tie the game at 93 apiece, just to come down to the bench for the ensuing timeout, get scolded by coach Fizdale for something (apparently defensive positioning) and not bat an eye. I hope the layup problem can be solved by coaching, ’cause the guy looks like he has what he needs between his ears.

– Frank Ntilikina (9 pts, 1 reb, 4 ast, +6 +/-) was the key to the third quarter break that pulled our Knicks back into the game. In the middle of the third stanza he erupted for 7 consecutive points – one trifecta, a midrange pullup, a whatchamacallit high-arc shot from the charily stripe – and was hounding opponent everywhere on defense. Second night in a row where he racks up 3 steals. Caris LeVert gave him fits in the first quarter, so much that I thought he was ill, seeing that Fiz was benching him just after 6 minutes of play. It surely wasn’t the case (and LeVert kept giving fits to everyone, hitting shots all night long, even some of the no no no yes kind), as he came back into the game in the second quarter and finished the night playing 30 minutes. On a sidetone, I think Fiz is doing a great job with the minutes distribution.

The bad:

– Trey Burke (8 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, +4 +/-) finally had his highly anticipated regression to the mean game. He shot 1 for 6 from two, and all of his attempts were of the midrange variety, and they were pretty much always open. He looked very tentative in running the offense, and aside from a single defensive possession in the third where he went Gary Payton on D’Angelo Russell was a liability on D, especially in pick and roll sets. Amusingly, he got substituted just after the aforementioned possession. I guess this was due, a reminder of the fact that we still have one of the worst PG rotation in the league. Also, against a tall, strong team like the Nets, he’s physically outmatched and that depresses his game.

– Mario Hezonja (2 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -11 +/-) played his usual game. Detached, uninterested, unimpressive. 13 minutes of almost nothing, just standing around on defense and on offense, offering little resistance to the Nets offense and showing revolting body language. He looks like the student that enrolled in college because his parents were pressing him to do so and then mailed in every single midterm test, getting by on Cs to collect his bachelor on air-guitar playing or something. It’s game two and I’m already losing hope on Mario.

– Ron Baker’s offense also makes the cut. While watching Ron play defense falls just a hair short of arousing (seriously, his effort is top notch and he’s very strong; in the third there was a defensive possession where he just pushed away Rodions Kurucs with an arm swipe and the 6′ 9″ string bean Latvian almost fell on the floor), his offense is so bad it’s indescribable. You have to watch it to really understand. For one thing, no Ron Baker shot looks the same, even at the stripe, and he was supposed to be a knockdown shooter when making the team in 2016-17. He also probably has some psychological issue attacking the rim; in the third quarter, the most eventful one of the night for the Bockers, he had a clear lane to a layup from the left side and opted to pass the ball to Vonleh, who was doubled. You couldn’t see his facial expression driving to the cup, just his floppy mop top breezing by like an offensively-challenged golden helmet, but here’s my 20 bucks saying he had the deer in the headlights one.

Fun-sized bits

– Where’s Timmy, you might ask. Isn’t 29 points enough to make the cut into “The good section”? Not tonight. Not on 25 shots. He shot 40% from the field, contributed pretty much on nothing else (yeah, he had three steals, but they were of the Timmy kind, the ones where he is out of position on defense and the ball caroms to him, a gentle gift offered by a jocular basketball god), and was supremely atrocious in the last minute and a half. At first, he turned the ball over while defended by T-Rex armed Jared Dudley; then, he presented the world one of the worst one on one defense I have ever seen. He went on a defensive stance intended to funnel Caris LeVert to the left, but as soon LeVert dribbled to the right he almost went out of his way, leaving the Nets guard free to cash in his game winning layup. But since all we want for Christmas is a top 4 pick next year, Timmy, you the real MVP.

– Allonzo was a bit discombobulated on offense, but he’s one of the most NBA ready undrafted rookies I have ever seen on a Knicks jersey. He looks to have gained Fiz’s trust, since he was the first Knick out of the bench.

– Here’s a detailed recap of Lance Thomas’ game: *snorts*

– Vonleh was next to useless this time, aside from his much needed 6 boards. His defense his strangely ethereal, especially for a super athletic, muscular guy like he is.

– In the first half, the Knicks totaled 5 assists. This offense is at times unbearable, even if I get what Fiz intends to do. I just can’t help loathing the iso-Timmy game (totally favorable to the iso-ones, though. That’s efficient enough).

– Remember how I singled out the fact that against a good rebounding team we would have payed dearly our mistakes? Well, the Nets outrebounded us 55 to 36.

– Also remember how I said our opponents wouldn’t turn the ball as much as the Hawks? Heh… The Nets turned it over 22 times. We turned it over 3 times (and one of those three was the egregious Timmy blunder with less than 90 seconds on the clock).

– Timmy is now 9th on the 3pts made Knicks leaderboard, surpassing Latrell Sprewell (thanks, NBA League Pass!).

I guess we’re done for tonight. Tomorrow we’ll face the Celtics, and I think we’re gonna get pretty much steamrolled. I suggest you all adopt the Alonzo Mourning Acceptance Gif as your lifestyle for the next few days.

See you tomorrow!

Preseason Thoughts

Sitting here on Christmas Eve – 24 hours before the Knicks tip off their season – my thoughts fluctuate between excitement, anxiousness, and fear – excited at the chances of a Championship, anxious from the lockout, and fearful of injuries. Here are my final thoughts (and feel-good YouTube clips) before the Knicks dive headfirst into 2011-2012.

STAT has been too passive thus far. Since ‘Melo joined the team, Amar’e hasn’t been the same. In the first half of last season, he would dominate teams in and out of the paint on the offensive end. Now, the offense moves completely through Anthony and he gets every big shot. Amar’e shoots a better TS% and eFG than Carmelo, and needs to be given the ball more in clutch situations – otherwise he will never regain the confidence a team leader needs.

Toney Douglas looks just as he did last year, if not worse. This must be pretty evident to the Knicks front office as well. Iman has started practicing with the first team, and Baron Davis is the plan at point guard in the near future. Toney just does not have a high basketball IQ. He has a ton of raw talent and plenty of athleticism, but besides a few streaks of three pointers, his play has been uninspiring. He seems wholly unsure on offense and a bit slow on defense. I like him as a backup two – able to handle the ball well and provide some scoring. Let’s hope he can do this again –

– The Knicks’ defense is above average and Tyson is the main reason.  In the second preseason game against the Nets, Chandler personally altered about five or six shots in the paint – all misses. Most games the team lost last year were only by a few points. If Chandler can save 6-10 points a game, New York’s record could dramatically improve. I don’t think they have a top-ten defense, but I think the Knicks will finish top 15 (last year 21st) in defensive efficiency – good enough to contend for a title. –

Carmelo Anthony at PG may be the best option right now. Until Davis is healthy or Douglas can pass, I don’t see many other choices. His ball handling is great; he draws the double team constantly, and is able to find the open man. He also can pull up from three. The only issue is he will be outmatched in speed, so he couldn’t drive by opposing point guards.  Still, he could play a point forward position, and matchup with other small forwards.

Iman Shumpert has a real shot at being legit. He is confident, aggressive, and fundamentally sound. His ball-handling is great, his shooting form is excellent, and his defense, with some work, could eventually stop anyone in this league.  I think his ceiling is a solid, all-around All-Star who can deliver about 18pts and 6asts per game – a far-shot from the disgust expressed by many when we first drafted him.

Balkman and Harrellson deserve a shot. Both provided quality hustle minutes off the bench, and didn’t make too many mistakes. Josh missed a few shots, but that’s to be expected. Balkman was scoring easily and grabbing a bunch of boards. I expect each to get maybe 5 or 10 minutes off the bench for at least the first few games.

– Overall I predict great improvement with room left to perfect the chemistry. I think this squad can ultimately win a Championship. This year, the Knicks go 38 – 28 and make it to the second round of the playoffs. Happy holidays and a healthy New Year!

Grading the Knicks 2010 Deadline Deals


Mike Kurylo: Hard to hate or love this deal. The Knicks were intent to not play Darko, and Milicic has an Erik Estrada sized chip on his shoulder. The NBA grapevine has it that the Knicks are going to release Cardinal, but I don’t see why. Kelly Dwyer called Cardinal the anti-Milicic, a guy who worked hard to squeeze out minutes like you would an old tube of toothpaste. Unlike Darko, Cardinal is on the tail end of his career, but if the Knicks decide to keep him I can see D’Antoni having a use for him in a Jeffries-esque-do-the-little-things kinda way.

Cardinal’s career stats aren’t awful 12.4 pts/36, TS% 55.2, 2.6 ast/36, 2.0 to/36, 6.2 reb/36, 1.7 stl/36. The question is how much of that is from his earlier days, and how much does he have left in the tank? I’ll put a clause out on my grade. If Cardinal plays 200+ minutes for the Knicks, I’ll call it a B+. If not then I’ll go with a C, since you have to hand it to Donnie for trying to get something out of nothing.

Thomas B.: I see this as trading goldenrod for saffron. But this is worth a C+ because we knew Milicic was never going to play. At least now we can wonder if Cardinal will play. Cardinal has been a pro for 9 years and I never heard of him. I had a picture in my mind of who I thought he was and I went to to see if it matched; it did not. I was thinking of Bison Dele–he retired a decade ago.

Kevin McElroy: Knicks look set to cut Cardinal, so this seems like a clever piece of bookkeeping that will save them a shade over a million dollars. Small potatoes in the grand scheme of things? Sure. But who am I to hate on a team that wants to save a couple million bucks a few months before its intends to shell out roughly three gazillion dollars to let me root for LeBron and a high-priced sidekick. Not like they gave up anything we’ll miss, and Darko’s malingering could only have caused tension, so I’ll throw this one a C+. Somewhere, Q-Rich is wondering why he had to pay all those real estate agents in the first place.

Robert Silverman: Although I would have gotten a weird kink out of seeing Brian “The Janitor” Cardinal get some spin, it looks like we”ll never know. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for career backup PF/C’s. It’s why the only Nix jersey that I actually own is a Ken “The Animal” Bannister model from ’85-’86. B-

Caleb: Most NBA fans probably didn’t know that Darko was still in the league. Here’s my favorite Brian Cardinal story – can you believe there is a Brian Cardinal story? It’s how he got that contract in the first place. Allegedly, Michael Hensley was giving Jerry West a lot of grief, “why haven’t you signed anyone? etc.” West was about fed up and so he picked up the phone, called Cardinal’s agent and asked if he wanted $30 million. Ten seconds later, he turned to Hensley and said, “I signed a free agent. Are you satisfied?” I don’t know if it’s true but it’s a good story. This trade saved the Knicks about a million bucks, counting luxury tax. Supposedly Kahn is his protege. Guess there was a favor owed. A-

Brian Cronin: As Caleb notes, the trade saved the Knicks roughly $1 million off of their luxury tax bill, and since they were not playing Darko at all, this is a pretty easy win (now as to why they never really played Darko at all, well, that’s another story). A-

Dave Crockett: A little tax relief, and a potential end-of-bench player. Moving right along. A (but only worth a few points)


Mike Kurylo: Nate’s days were numbered under D’Antoni. Getting the starting job over Duhon seemed to indicate a final opportunity for Nate to win over D’Antoni. Being demoted just 2 days afterwards told you all you needed to know about Nate’s future in New York. In Walsh’s defense Nate did reject the deal to Memphis, but perhaps he could have played chicken with Nate and tried to force his hand (no one wants to sit in the final year of their contract). I’m sad the Knicks didn’t get a draft pick in return in this deal, especially considering that they gave one (and a half) away to Houston. It seems that there’s always a few teams willing to give one away, perhaps the Lakers might have been interested.

In the short term Eddie House will bring the big three ball, and fit in nicer with D’Antoni than Nate ever did. Giddens & Walkers NBDL numbers aren’t bad, but considering how little last year’s NBDLers played, I don’t envision the Knicks giving them lots of playing time. Oh and Giddens just had knee surgery, with no timetable to return. The Celtics got by far the best player of the bunch, and the Knicks didn’t receive anything here except perhaps a rental on House and a short look at Walker. D+

Thomas B.: I guess this means I lost when I took the over for Nate Robinson games as a Knick (82.5) prior to the season. I don’t like the move because Robinson is worth more than what we brought back. I’d have much rather had Robinson added to Jeffries deal with the Knicks keeping the “sweetener” picks. Or bring back a late first round pick when sending Robinson to Boston. A protected pick in 2012 would have made the 2012 pick we moved out with Jeffries easier to take. Of course, Walsh was somewhat limited since Nate could void the trades. This deal makes me think letting Robinson walk at the end of the season is okay. I just can’t see House, Walker, or Giddens dropping 41 points combined in any game this season much less any one of them doing it alone. D-

Kevin McElroy: This trade was presented in a ton of different forms and with a number of different justifications over the last month, most of which made sense for one reason or another. These reasons included:

1) Because the Knicks were going to get a draft pick back.
2) Because the Knicks were going to dump a player to reduce next year’s cap number.
3) Because the Celtics needed an incentive to be pulled into the larger Knicks/Rockets/Kings trade.
4) Because the Knicks wanted to get Toney Douglas more playing time without Nate looking over his shoulder.

In its final version, the trade accomplishes zero of these things. No draft pick came back and no long-term salary left with Nate, the Celtics trade was conducted separately from the mega-deal, and Alan Hahn has tweeted that Douglas will remain out of D’Antoni’s rotation (behind Duhon and the newly acquired Sergio Rodriguez).

Ultimately, the Knicks sent away a fan favorite for players that won’t be around after a couple months, received no assets, cleared up no cap room, and have run the risk of rejuvenating a division rival for a playoff run by sending them a much-needed bench scorer (seriously, I know the Knicks are out of it, but we can all agree that we’d rather not see the Celtics succeed in the postseason, right?). On a personal level, I’m happy that Nate gets to play for a good team, but the Knicks did absolutely nothing to advance their interests here. More worryingly, it feels like the Knicks brass was simply out-maneuvered, failing to take a hard line as the best parts of their return package came off the table. It feels silly to give such a poor grade to this one, seeing as Nate would have walked in a few months anyway, but the direction that this negotiation took shouldn’t get anything more than a D+.

Caleb: This was depressing. Like Balkman, an example of Walshtoni dumping someone they just didn’t like. Although, to be fair, it saved the Knicks more than $1 million, counting luxury tax. On the plus side, I’m happy for Nate, who will have a lot of fun the next three months. Wild-card: Bill Walker. Before he blew out both knees, there was talk of his being a top-5 pick. If they ever invent a new surgery/rejuvenation machine he could be a stud. D

Robert Silverman: First of all, can we please stop holding a torch for the supposed “Kenny Thomas for Jeffries & Nate deal that Donnie Moth$%&*^!ing Walsh turned down!!!!” deal. It was a rumor. No one, save Walsh and Petrie, knows if it’s true and they’re not telling. It’s like still being pissed at Isiah for (supposedly) retiring in ’93 rather than accept a trade to the Knicks (as Pete Vescey/Pete Vescey’s psychic Ms. Cleo claims). No, two C-Minus prospects like Giddens and Walker isn’t much of a haul for a productive (if maddening/maddeningly inconsistent) player. But what’s the alternative? Even if you could get another team to go for a sign and trade this off-season (which, considering Olympiakos was the strongest bidder in the summer of ’09 isn’t likely), you’re still going to have to take back a contract to make the deal work, thus cutting into our sweet, creamery cap space. The one thing that royally cheeses me off is that come playoff time, I will pull for Nate when he’s in the game (b/c he’s Nate. Warts and all, I so dig the dude). As a result, I’ll have to…sort of…root…for…the Celtics. Ick. I just threw up a little in my mouth. C-

Brian Cronin: I agree that it is a bit frustrating that Nate returned little value partially because his own coach was pretty clear about not liking him (way to market your assets!), but once you allow that Nate’s value was depressed to the point where you weren’t going to get a draft pick for him (by the way, the deal apparently does include a conditional second round pick, but I believe it’s one of those conditional picks where the chances of the conditions ever actually existing are next to nil, so it’s effectively not really a pick at all), then saving some money on the luxury tax is as good as anything else, I suppose. C+

Dave Crockett: This was all about coach D. I just cannot understand why Nate couldn’t play in 7SOL (such that it is in NY) while he got big mileage out of Barbosa in PHO. Happy for Nate, but I recall from my Beantown days that Tommy Heinsen HATES Nate. That’s never a good thing in that town. D


Mike Kurylo: I’m not sure what else to say that I didn’t say yesterday. So I’ll look at what this deal means for this year. I admit I’m a bit excited to see some new blood on what’s become a lifeless team. However there’s a nagging voice in the back of my head that is telling me not to get too optimistic. I would love for someone to take Duhon’s place in the starting lineup. But part of me is hoping it’s not McGrady, because if he plays well then the front office might overpay to keep him. I don’t want my future hopes resting on Donnie Walsh giving him a reasonable contract, T-Mac staying healthy for a full season, and shooting more efficiently than he’s been in the past (he’s had exactly one season with a TS% over 54%). What are the odds all that comes to fruition?

Perhaps Sergio Rodriguez would be the guy to send Duhon packing. But I just don’t trust D’Antoni to play him, and can you blame me? Remember the NBDL-shuffle of last year? The 2 whole games he gave Nate Robinson this year (one against Cleveland) before calling the experiment a failure? Von Wafer? Morris Almond? I just don’t envision Mike D’Antoni handing over the reigns to a youngster, especially with how oddly married he is to Duhon. My guess is that Sergio won’t get a chance until it’s too late, and he’ll be gone without given a fair shake.

On the long term it’s a lot to pay for moving the contracts of Hill and Jeffries, and I’d be much happier if things go wrong in the next 3 seasons we still have our draft pick to comfort us on those cold February days when the team is playing poorly. I’d like to give this a D or an F, but the remote chance this brings in 2 studs and the draft picks don’t matter gives it some hope. C-

Thomas B.: This is NOT the 13 points in 35 second Tracy McGrady coming to NY. I hope folks understand that. This guy is much closer to the Anfernee Hardaway we got in 2004: an injury riddled once dominant scoring wing. I’m excited about what Sergio might be able to do…to Duhon. If he can’t steal Duhon’s minutes at point he does not need to be in the NBA. Sergio should be allowed a fair shot to supplant Duhon. We know Duhon won’t be back, so at least see if Sergio is worth bringing back on the cheap. Other than the draft picks, I won’t miss what we sent away.

This deal was not about players, it was about cap room and Walsh delivered. Now we have to see what that cap room turns in to. This deal can’t be graded fairly until July 2010. And the true impact will not be known until May of 2011 (playoffs anyone?). For now, I’ll grade this pass/fail. So for giving the team a chance to dream about James/Bosh or James/Wade or Wade/Bosh, Walsh earns a Pass. But if he goes all Dumars this off season…..

Robert Silverman: Outside of the roundball ramifications, from a semi-ontological point of view, doesn’t it seem like the Knicks are somehow osmotically taking on the karma/organizational principles (or lack thereof) of their Madison Sq. Garden co-occupants? For years, nay, decades…heck, since ice was invented, the Blueshirts have given a washed-up/injured “star” a year or two to spin/reclaim their former glory. Some worked out well (Messier, Jagr, even Gretzky) while for the most part they, to use an utterly shop-worn tabloid cliche, bombed in their B’way revival (Plante, Sawchuk, Hedberg, Nilsson, Esposito, Hodge, Dionne, Carpenter, Lafleur, Nicholls, Gartner, Kurri, Robitaille, Lindros, Fleury, etc. etc.). Look at the cats who’ve graced our roster in the past decade – McGrady, Hardaway, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Van Horn, McDyess, Mutombo, etc. In 2001, that’s an all-star roster. Alas, it isn’t 2001 anymore, Victoria. And there ain’t no Santa Claus.

Look, Walsh went all in for LeBron/Wade. And as my fellow Knickerbloggers/other sportswriters/pundits have written, he had to do it. I’m going to cross the sporting barriers for my take on this: “…The day you say you have to do something, you’re screwed. Because you are going to make a bad deal…” – Billy Beane/Michael Lewis, Moneyball

Say LeBron/Wade gives the ‘Bockers the Heisman. What does Walsh do then? Just let all of that cap space sit there? Doesn’t Walsh, by the same logic then have to overpay Stoudamire/Johnson/Gay (or trade for Arenas – shudder) even if none of them are close to being worth a max deal? Like Thomas B., I’m going to hedge my bets/grades: A+ (LeBron/Wade agrees to be NY’s best girl)/D- (Walshtoni’s so depressed/on the rebound that he throws money/a promise ring at the first vaguely attractive gal who comes his way)

Kevin McElroy: Look everybody, I know we’ve grown accustomed to expecting the worst here. I also know that there is plenty NOT to like about this trade [For example: how’s that “Nate and Jeffries for Kenny Thomas” trade look now? Far be it from me to say “I told you so,” but I think we can put to rest the idea that Walsh was wise to turn down that opportunity because he was waiting on something better (I’m looking at you “Donnie Walsh Report Card” commenters!) I hope for the sake of Walsh’s sleep schedule that rumor was unfounded all along.].

But these are the facts, and they are undisputed: The Knicks, even by the most pessimistic cap projections, will have $32 million in cap space next year. The Knicks have retained David Lee, who can be used in a sign-and-trade this summer. The Knicks have retained Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, the two players who most fans feared would have to be sacrificed to unload Jared Jeffries contract. And the Knicks will enter next season, no matter the free agent machinations, with Eddy Curry’s $11 million dollar expiring contract, allowing them to either make a mid-season trade or add another very good player in the summer of 2011. Make no mistake, the Knicks paid dearly to get here, and if they strike out in free agency, the lost draft picks could haunt them for a decade. But look around, and think about where we were 24 months ago (Isiah in charge, capped out beyond belief, any hope of signing LeBron as faded as my 1998-99 Eastern Conference Champions graphic tee), and realize that you now root for an NBA team with a blank slate, four months before the best basketball player in the world becomes a free agent. And, yes, there is no guarantee that he, or anyone else, is coming. But this was the only reasonable course of action given where the Knicks started and the potential reward.

When Walsh arrived, he inherited three players with cap-killing contracts that extended past 2010. He was widely expected to find takers for ZERO of them. He found takers for THREE of them (Z-Bo, Crawford, Jeffries). This can’t be forgotten. The road here was a bumpy one, but the fact that we’re here at all is cause for quiet celebration. And cause for an A- .

Caleb: For me the key is opportunity cost. Without moving Jeffries, the Knicks ran a real risk of being able to afford only one major free agent, a scenario that probably would have led to signing no one — who would come to MSG, if even David Lee were gone? They were truly, truly desperate.
But the reactions are also just that people can’t believe their eyes. Or they remember the Bulls and Jerry Krause striking out for a couple of years, or they’re quivering at the memory of Isiah throwing $29 million at Jerome James. But free agency isn’t bad, guys. For $3 million, you can get someone better than Jordan Hill. Along those same lines, I think there’s very little chance the lost draft picks are in the teens, much less the lottery, and Walsh has covered his worst-case scenarios. $32 million buys a lot of options, LeBron or no. It won’t be hard to make this team a contender again. The only reason not to give this trade a higher grade is because when both the other teams come away grinning ear to ear, you have to figure you might have paid more than you had to. B

Brian Cronin: Not for nothing, but I believe the most pessimistic cap projections (a cap of $53 million) give the Knicks $31 million. Not a big deal, but you would need more than that to give full maximum contracts to either Lebron, Wade or Bosh. In any event, I think this is a trade that the Knicks had to do, and as Robert notes, when it is clear that you have to do something, other General Managers are going to take advantage of that need, and Daryl Morey is one of the best General Managers in the NBA, so he basically got as much as he could possibly get in this deal – but because the deal had to be made, I think it’s still a worthwhile move. I am on board with the notion of splitting the difference between an A (if this nets either Lebron/Wade, Lebron/Bosh, Wade/Bosh or Lebron/Lee) and F (if this nets no one of note, not even Joe Johnson), so the middle of that is a C.

EDITED TO ADD: I just realized another valuable aspect of this trade. It now allows the Knicks to sign up to $20.5 million worth of free agents (presuming a $53 million cap) while still keeping Lee’s cap hold in place rather than the $11 million worth of free agents before this trade. If they do that, they can then go over the cap to re-sign Lee. That basically puts them into a position where they can pretty much guarantee themselves that they will keep Lee if they want to keep Lee, as they’d be able to match any offer he gets. That’s big. Big enough for me to raise my grade to a B-.

Dave Crockett: You have to give this an incomplete. On the downside, the cost of this flexibility is high. So in one sense, it’s almost impossible to see this deal as an A+. Even in the best case scenario, we win the Yankee way–at a higher cost-per-win than any other team. Nevertheless, I’d rather win than not win. So, we’ll have to see what Donnie does with the flexibility. Its worth noting that the flexibility we have should also extend to sign-and-trades and trades. Incomplete.

Looking At The Knicks Wins, By The Numbers

With the Knicks winning 3 of the last 4 games after an abysmal start, it’s a good idea to look at the numbers to understand why. So I’ve compiled the four factors of their last 3 victories.

PHO  96.4 102.7 48.1 17.6 23.1 32.5
NYK  99.7 126.3 56.8 12.0 35.2 18.9
NYK  91.8 124.2 64.7 13.1 17.5 16.7
ATL  91.0 117.5 47.8 6.6 31.6 23.3
NJN  93.3 103.9 53.1 15.0 15.6 15.0
NYK  92.0 115.2 50.6 17.4 33.3 36.4

In 2 of the games New York bested their current defensive efficiency of 111.1. But the points allowed per possession in these games aren’t particularly good. Additionally against Atlanta, New York played far below their average.

On the other hand in every game the offense has as good or better than the league’s best rating (115.3). In the Phoenix and Atlanta games the team shot exceptionally well (56.8% & 64.7% eFG%). Turnovers were slightly better in those two games as well. However against the Nets, New York was beaten in shooting and turnovers. Instead they rebounded extremely well and camped out at the free throw line against the Nets.

So what has lifted the New York offense? Chris Duhon had one good shooting game (25 points on 16 shots) but compiled only 12 points on 20 shots in the other two games. Meanwhile Chandler has one good game (14 points on 11 shots against the Suns), one average game (18 points on 17 shots against Atlanta) and one sub par game (6 points on 7 shots against New Jersey). So it appears that neither of these players, who have been hurting the offense all year, have become more consistent performers.

Instead the Knicks offense seems to be fueled by 3 players. In these wins they’ve gotten good scoring from David Lee (66 pts on 40 shots), Al Harrington (75 pts on 49 shots) and Larry Hughes (52 points on 33 shots). To a lesser extent you can add Danilo Gallinari to the list. Gallo missed the middle game, but still punched in a healthy 38 points on just 25 shots in limited minutes.

So what does this ultimately mean? First it helps when the defense is contributing. The team has done a good job of limiting opposing shooting percentage, which was one of D’Antoni’s goals at the beginning of the season. But it’s important to recognize that this roster won’t ever produce good results on that end of the court. I guess the Knicks just need not to play horribly on defense to have a chance.

The next thing I might assume is that it also helps when the Knicks get production from Duhon and/or Chandler. Each of them had one good game, and seeing that they play the most minutes, New York needs to get something from them other than a goose egg.

Lastly Lee, Harrington and Hughes have stepped it up. Lee has increased his scoring volume, Harrington his efficiency, and Hughes is playing his best basketball in years. However it’s unclear whether this trio can keep this level of play up. Although I’d expect Lee to contribute with his efficiency, I’m not sure if he can give the team 22 points every night. And conversely for Harrington, it’s not likely that he’ll average 3 points for every 2 shots he takes. As for Hughes, he’s clearly playing some of his best basketball now, and odds are it won’t last.

With D’Antoni shortening the rotation to these players plus Jared Jeffries and the occasional Toney Douglas sighting it’s unlikely that the Knicks are going to get a lot of production outside of this sextet. For the team to proceed with their winning ways, they’ll need these players to continue with their higher level of play. Only time will tell if this effort is sustainable.