Day one of Knicks basketball in Vegas was full of promise, and did not disappoint for those of us watching the youngsters closely. Assistant coach Phil Weber played 10 different men, several of whom turned some heads throughout the evening. The Knicks dropped the contest due to a late-game flurry by Marcus Williams and the Grizzlies, but we all know wins and losses don't count. Weren't the Knicks like 6-0 in Summer League that year they went 23-59 in the regular season? If anything, the loss is a good omen. Anyway, it's all about the individual this time of year, and I paid diligent attention to the guys of note. Expect massive generalizations about players based on 20 minutes of exposure. It's the American way. My impressions, after the jump...
Jordan Hill- The 8th pick in the draft showed both the promise that made him a lottery selection and the weaknesses that had experts scratching their heads. Here's what we saw:
- Hill's incredibly useful on the boards, but in a different way than someone like David Lee. Where Lee has that seemingly magnetic quality of always being in the right place, Hill's often out of position. Instead, Hill uses his height, long arms, and even a dreadlock or two to corral rebounds that appear to be out of reach. His instincts may not be there yet, but he gets after it. That said, I'd like to see him grab rebounds with both hands instead of slapping at them, and also look to follow on offensive boards.
- That last part has a lot to do with Hill's feeble tendencies under the basket. I don't think the guy had a single dunk tonight. Even when he had good position, he tended to fade away and try to finesse the ball in. Hill was probably nervous and is still working into game shape, so I expect that'll change. You just can't shoot 6-inch fadeaway jumpers in the NBA. Once Hill gets his sea legs, I'm sure he'll go up strong and posterize kids.
- Hill's footwork with the ball is still a bit awkward (he's gonna draw his share of charges and travels, I assure you), but his movement without the rock looks sharp. He knows where to be on the pick and roll (more on that later), and can seal his man on a post-up too.
- The mid-range jumper was a little shaky (I think one of them hit the far bottom corner of the backboard. Said guest announcer Mike D'Antoni, "Keep it in the gym, Jordan!" ), but Hill canned a few and has solid form. We also got glimpses of a righty hook and a turnaround fadeaway J from the high post. Not bad.
- The ends of Hill's dreads are dyed, right? That's what that is? It gives him a sort of hystricine-chic look. I kinda think he's gotta chop them off, though. His hair's weighing him down.
- If Hill can block some shots, I think D'Antoni can get away with playing him at the five spot.
Toney Douglas- Despite 2-13 shooting, Toney was the game's standout player. Notes:
- First, the 2-13. I can explain all 11 of those misses. A couple were heaves to beat the shot clock or final buzzer, a few were rim-outs of good shots, and another few were force-ups. His jumper was shakier than advertised and a couple attempts were fairly silly, but it wasn't as bad as the box score might tell you. There's your major drawback. Most of what follows is positive.
- Toney Douglas can totally play point guard. He dropped 11 dimes and didn't cough up a single turnover in 29 fun-filled minutes. His primary mode of attack was to power by his man, draw a second defender, then kick it out to the perimeter. His main targets were Morris Almond and Nikoloz Tskitishvili, who connected for three treys a piece. He also showed adeptness, particularly in the second half, at threading pinpoint passes to Jordan Hill on the block.
- Pretty Toney is by no means a pure point guard, though. He missed many a cutter (often Jordan Hill) after screens, and occasionally looked for his own shot when he had several superior alternatives. The flipside of that is that he didn't force passes. It's hard to argue with 11 assists and 0 turnovers when Douglas was playing with a bunch of relative strangers.
- It was immediately and abundantly clear that Toney Douglas is an excellent defender. Like reallllly good. He's got the long arms and quick hands to stalk passing lanes (2 steals), but also plays better on-the ball D than any Knick in recent memory. Douglas wrapped himself around picks instead of ducking them, bodied guys up all the way to the basket, and landed good, hard fouls when he had to. Save for one lapse (trying to pick Marcus Williams' pocket and letting him by late in the fourth), Toney's defense was splendid.
- Calling an on-court huddle to discuss defensive assignments? Easy way to impress the coaches. And me.
- Two style notes: 1. Douglas tends to grab boards and then kick it into high gear to start the offense. I like this. 2. Douglas likes to start his attack from near-halfcourt, perhaps to build up a head of steam. He also wastes a lot of picks by dribbling backwards instead of making a move towards the rim. Don't like this as much. I would've liked to see him reach the paint more, either for finishes or fancy dishes. I know he's got it in him.
Morris Almond- Mo Nuts can and will shoot. He hits them, too. I like his odds at making the team.
Joe Crawford- Joe's a champ at bullying his way to the rim. He's got strength for days, and also a very healthy beard. The Knicks could use both.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili- Skita is the goddamn truth. I'm hardly kidding. He looks much bulkier than I remember, and made his presence felt early on with a few blocks. We also got a glimpse of some big boy range (3-5 from downtown), though he mishandled more than a few passes. I was already on board for novelty's sake, but Skita's legit. I will do everything in my power to assure that he's a Knick.
Mouhamed Sene- Sene may be my favorite Knick ever. He's got this way of blocking shots that can only be described as "catty". He takes a long, limp-wristed swing that produces a wonderful popping sound when it connects with a shot. Mutombo had his finger wag. Sene should blow a kiss or something. While Mouhamed can certainly swat, his apparent attempt to headbutt the dunking Trey Gilder was a bit of a chink in the defensive armor.
Warren Carter- Warren Carter kinda looks like Dominique Wilkins with dreads.
Ron Howard- It's very cool to have that guy who directed Apollo 13 and narrates Arrested Development on the Summer League roster. Kind of a publicity stunt, though, to give starter's minutes to an Oscar-winner, if you ask me. Also, I never pictured him as being black. Or 26.
Some other notes:
- A second quarter timeout saw a shot of Donnie Walsh juxtaposed with "Who Let the Dogs Out" playing over the arena sound system, which I'l take as a hint that Donnie was once a Baha Man. I knew it.
- At halftime, we got to see video of Tina Cervasio's lunch with Toney Douglas and Jordan Hill. The two refer to themselves as each other's "wingman". In this supposed Top Gun scenario, I'd imagine that Toney is Maverick and Jordan is Iceman. Ron Howard is Goose, if you catch my drift.
- MSG brought their varsity squad to the broadcast booth: Breen and Clyde (dressed like he was in The Bucket List) covered the action, and even invited in a couple guests. Danilo Gallinari stopped by in the first half, and shared good news about his back rehabilitiation in much-improved English. It was a relatively unremarkable visit, except for one point when I'm pretty sure Clyde asked Gallinari out on a date.
- The second guest was Mike D'Antoni, who sat in for the entire third quarter. He was as corny and hilarious as ever, and elicited an LOL or two on my part. Regarding Darko Milicic's absence, D'Antoni said "I've called him like 15 times. It just keeps ringing". When asked about Chris Duhon's reaction to the Knicks' pursuit of Ricky Rubio and Jason Kidd, D'Antoni suggested, "I'll just lie to him and tell him it's not true". Meanwhile,the interview was peppered with a few bouts of mutual laughter between Breen and D'Antoni that lead one to believe that the two engaged in some kind of sordid hooker-drowning spree the night before. Wouldn't surprise me, knowing those two and their whacky antics.
- Blake Ahearn holds the record for highest free-throw percentage in NCAA history.
- I don't know where Phil Weber located a Knicks-licensed white linen shirt, but wearing it half-buttoned was Brosnan as hell. Respect.
- Highlight of the night: To end a halftime interview, Toney Douglas proclaimed that his second half plan was to "Do what Toney Douglas do." This is the early front-runner for the Official '09-'10 Posting and Toasting Motto. Video coming soon.
And that's all I've got for game one of Summer League. Thanks to everyone who commented along. Please return tomorrow at 4 p.m. for more comments and Toney Douglas worship. Goodnight.