I have a few things to say about the game, but first of all: is this the game we’ll go back in, say, five years, and retrodub it “The start of Mitch Lob dominance”? I feel like it might be, so hold this very pugnacious 15-point loss close to your heart.
That said: it was a very fun game, with a cool first quarter and the usual mini comeback in the second half sparked by bench players all around. Rotations and lineups were at the same time funky and at times effective, especially when Fiz decided at last to roll with Mitch at the 5 and Kornet at the 4 for a long stretch. It’s nice to see that a lot of KnickerBlogger’s alumni were right when calling for that combo to play together. They weren’t always pleasant to watch (Kornet moves like one of those 80s-90s action figures who had, like, only five joints and you could just push or pull their arms and legs, but never rotate them any way) but were a forest of skinny trees on defense and highly complementary on offense. I mean, I don’t think you need to be a genius to play together Mitch and a cheap rip-off of KP because their skill sets don’t overlap at all, but we needed 57 games to try them. I hope that, at least, from now on they’ll see at least 12 minutes together every game. There’s really no downside to that unless we bring in a lot of G-League hopefuls and try to give them a chance to convince management they belong in this league (Anthony Bennett, anyone?). I feel like there’s no need anymore to play Hezonja, Lance Thomas, and even my man Noah Vonleh, who looks deflated and much more useless now than a few weeks ago. Just sign a bunch of hopeful 3/4 tweeners on 10-day contracts and let them run amok. Oh, and of course I wish they didn’t ever play Mudiay again, but I can’t really be that optimist, can I?
There was no way we could have won this game (the Sixers have too much talent) but we brought the fight with different people in different moments: in the first quarter there were the extremely hot shooting from Damyean Dotson, the early scoring spree from DeAndre Jordan and the rejuvenated Iso Zo, with respectively 11, 8 and 7 points in the fraction; in the second we bumbled and fumbled a lot, scoring only 22 points to the 33 scored in the first period; and after the intermission we were buoyed for a bit (coming as close as six points down with less than 7 minutes to go) by the steady Kadeem Allen, the continued resurgence of Trier, and the majesty of Mitch. In the end we lost by fifteen, but the game was much closer than that.
– Mitchell Robinson (14 pts, 13 rebs, 1 ast, +9 +/-) was strangely quiet in the first half, with just two boards, a steal and an assist. It’s obvious that, for as good as he is, there can be nights where he don’t deal a lot of damage, because he can’t create anything by himself and the zone isn’t exactly the best system for a marauding shotblocker. Watching the first half, I thought this would be one of those nights when your future starter at the 5 spot just pays the price of being young and playing on a team with no above-average assistman (I think this is the right time to drop the notion that our best assistman for the night was DeAndre Jordan, with 7 assists, followed by DSJ with 5). But then, something happened in the second half. Offensive rebounds came his way, or better yet, he was closer to the basket than before and jumped higher than anyone in a Philly jersey; a few guys found him on lobs and passes into the deep paint (at last we got to see a thundering alley-oop on an assist from DSJ to Mitch), he was great on the boards even on defense and he acquainted himself with some opponent shots. The most astounding one was the first of his two blocks on Embiid. Mind you, the game was kinda close at the time, Knicks down seven with 3:10 to play. The gargantuan Cameroon-born drove to his right to deploy a running hook from 6 feet, a shot that is very difficult to block because it has a high release and a lot of body separation at the same time. Mitch blocked it almost effortlessly, to the befuddlement of Embiid and the other Philadelphia players, while Mike Breen roared “BLOCKED BY ROBINSON” with a level of awe he reserves to groundbreaking plays. I really feel this was one of them. It probably is the time when the League at large, and most importantly Mitch himself, acknowledged that his defensive potential is nothing short of All-NBA level. A few notes: on defense, he’s rebounding much, much better. His positioning has improved a lot, and he jumps high and with purpose to secure those boards. He’s also more vocal and emotional, and fouls a lot less. I guess some of DeAndre’s ways are rubbing on him in the right way. Your #MitchWatch: with last night, he reached a BPM of 6.0 and a WP/48 of .198 (in NBA’s history there have been only 181 such individual seasons, all by All-Stars. Only MJ and The Admiral reached those thresholds in their rookie season). In six games in February he’s posting averages of 11.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, shooting .750 from the field and an excellent (for him) .684 from the line in just under 21 minutes per game. His ORtg is a mindshattering 155 for the month and an NBA-best 138 for the season. His BLK% is 9.9, meaning that for every 10 shots opponents hoisted during his playing time, he sent one back. I’m running out of words to describe what sort of season Mitch is having. Is there still anyone convinced that Mitch is not already better than KP?
– Allonzo Trier (19 pts, 4 rebs, 4 ast, +9 +/-) had a vintage Iso Zo performance, if such a thing exists. I say it does, since time in a tanking season runs at 0.25x, so a game in November is effectively like a season and a half ago. Nineteen points on nine shots, he went to the line with gusto and hit three trifectas. When Trier plays like he should, which is a Lou Williams/James Harden hybrid (in terms of style, not actual talent), he can’t be ineffective. If only someone cared to design a few sets that exploited the natural talents of our players… but whatever. I kinda like the Kadeem Allen – Allonzo Trier backcourt, because they can play to their strenghts without stomping on each other’s feet. Also, Allen can “take care” of the most dangerous opposing backcourt player, exposing Zo and his defensive shortcomings a little less. I think we can be happy with our undrafted rookie shooting .558 TS% while scoring 10 points per game in 22 MPG. His BPM is woeful (-4.1), which suggests he will at best peak as a third guard on a playoff team, but given our tracking record in the lottery we can’t be too choosy with the other spare parts.
– Apropos of lottery tracking record, Kevin Knox (9 pts, 1 reb, 40% FG, -29 +/-) keeps on disappointing on many levels. It’s not that he’s not scoring enough. Frankly, that’s the less important thing in a thorough evaluation of a young prospect. It’s that he’s not doing anything else on the court. Tonight he got the start at SG (which is a bit reminiscent of the PJ Carlesimo-era Durant, just like me walking over a subway grating in a fluffy white dress is reminiscent of Marylin Monroe), played only 20 minutes thanks to foul trouble and wasn’t able to fill the boxscore but for a single board. Yeah, he had a monster highlight dunk in the second, but our own Mario has had a few of them during the course of the season and he’s unanimously bad, so highlight reel worthy plays don’t carry any weight here. For the month of February, he’s pulling down 4 boards per game and dishing just 1.3 assists per game in 34 MPG. His ORtg for the month is 83. Scroll up a few lines and watch again Mitch’s numbers. The NBA Draft is just a fucked up endeavor.
– Kadeem Allen is now without a doubt our second best PG of this season (I’d still put DSJ ahead of him. It means four other current of former Knick players (three of which were lottery picks, and the fourth is the ever scrappy Ron Baker) are worse than a 26 year old NBA sophomore second round pick who played a grand total of 107 minutes in his first season. May I repeat “three of which were lottery picks”? If Mudiay comes back and eats at Allen’s minutes, I’ll be livid. If Frank does the same it’s kinda ok, we have him on the payroll for two more seasons. Mudiay is entirely pointless now. Kadeem’s per-36 as a Knicks: 15.6/4.8/6.4. Really not bad (if not for the fact that he’s playing for the worst team in the League).
– DSJ has some THJ vibe on him, but I’m not that angry at him. He’s not good, but he has a few things going for him. He should just pick his spots in the offense, instead of doing a terrible Westbrook impression.
– Speaking of Westbrook: what happened to Clyde? It looks like he’s tanking too. Last night he said of Westbrook “He was a reckless player who got better improving his shot selection”. If Westbrook improvements came from shot selection, I’m a zebra.
– I like feisty DeAndre. He played a good first half than made way for our savior Mitch, and seemed to find a lot of delight in hitting cutters with pinpoint passes. I’d probably be ok with keeping him (if we can get only one max free agent, hoping it’s one of the real max guys).
– Lance Thomas played 15 minutes. In a meaningless game in mid-February. I don’t understand it. Give Jenkins some burn if you need a wing, play Hicks if you need a four. Lance shouldn’t play a single minute for a 10-47 team in February. He somehow posted a team-high +11 +/-.
– Starting Mario Hezonja is useless Mario. I mean, Mario is always useless, but when he starts it looks a lot worse. He’s at his best when the game has already lost any semblance of meaning.
– Dotson is puzzling. He has completely given up on rebounding, which was one of his strengths in college and last year, and has transformed himself into some sort of streaky shooter. Tonight he began hitting 6 of his first 7 shots and then missed the next nine, and just grabbed 2 boards. For the life of me, I can’t remember a guy rebounding 33% worse than his rookie season. I guess someone did that, but I feel like it’s unprecedented. Somebody help me?
– Vonleh is downright depressing right now. It’s like not being traded somewhere he could be useful has had a bad impact on his play, although his monthly splits suggest the decline was in full swing since at least January, so he might just be gassed. Either way, what is he doing here?
I find a bit poetic that Mitch chose the first game I ever watched in my life without any glasses or contact lenses to announce his dominance. Let’s see if he follows on that tomorrow against the strangely fun Hawks!