It warms my tummy to have any Knicks game at all to talk about. New York's preseason-opening win over the Celtics was actually a pretty entertaining game, so my tummy's super hot right now. Had the game counted, my tummy would be full of ulcers after the Knicks blew a 20-something-point fourth-quarter lead and had to stave off the Celtics with a game-winning shot from Tim Hardaway Jr. (Man, imagine if-- in a real season game-- Woodson blew a 20-point lead because he sent guys like Chris Smith and Josh Powell out too early?). It didn't count, though, so we got to enjoy Hardaway's heroics and the rest of the individual performances without worrying about the score. Let's talk about those individual performances:
- First of all, our returning, veteran friends all looked like themselves-- upgraded versions of themselves, even. Carmelo Anthony ended up having some trouble scoring over Gerald Wallace out of New York's clunky sets, but his shots fell early and his form looked true and unhindered. Tyson Chandler looked similarly unhindered. He didn't smash on anybody to fully confirm his health, but he moved around the floor as nimbly as you'd hope, covering ground on defense much better than his sorrowful playoff self did. He also posted up or popped out a bit more than we're used to early in offensive sets. Something to keep an eye on. Raymond Felton accelerated and juked like a good penguin should, confirming that he won't be playing himself into shape this season. Pablo Prigioni sneaked. Kenyon Martin sat. Those Knicks looked like those Knicks.
- Now, the new guys and young'uns: Andrea Bargnani took some poor shots and missed some good shots. We'll start there. Bricking open threes is one thing, bricking contested long twos is another. I hope he doesn't do much of either when it counts, but especially not the second thing. His defense, too, was spotty as you'd expect. I was happy to see him hedge and double usefully, but his recoveries weren't always sharp, and his positioning once shot went up left something to be decided. Of course, he had the company of pretty much every other Knick in those regards. It is preseason, after all.
I still came away pleased with Bargnani's inaugural performance as a whole. He and Melo showed off a remarkably fluid two-man game, orbiting around one another on the same side of the floor and creating space for each other on opposite sides. And for a guy who didn't hit many shots, Andrea just ruined folks with his perimeter pump fake. It's the darnedest thing, and something we saw bedevil our Knicks in previous years. To my eye, the fake closely resembles his actual shot (as opposed to, say, the famous Nate Robinson underhanded pump fake), and though the fake and the subsequent drive are rather languid, they're enough to jar a defender off-balance and create problems. Bargnani's timing and sense of when defenders were leaning the wrong way bought him a lot of contact and six free throws in 19 minutes, which is terrific. The guy needs to hit some shots, but if you consider how often defenders will (or at least should) be scrambling to cover him, instead of just facing him straight-up, Bargnani should have ample opportunities to draw fouls. I hope he takes them like he did Wednesday night.
Lovely pick-and-slip away from the ball with Melo, too. It ended with a big ol' dunk right on Courtney Lee's scalp.
- Metta World Peace played aggressively. He shuffled nimbly to trap ballhandlers and flung his weight around under the boards to grab four rebounds in 22 minutes. There was, perhaps, a bit too much flinging of weight. A couple of his early attempts were plainly out of control in ways that allowed the defense to either set up and take a charge or duck out of the way and let disaster run its course. And while some later jump shots found the net, only a couple of them were taken off the catch with feet set behind the arc. He hit some dog-ass ugly shots off unsteady feet in weird spots on the floor. I imagine we'll see plenty of awful jumpers of the "NO! NO! YES!" variety this year, but I suspect we'd prefer to see Metta spot up and take fluid corner threes more often than pretty much anything else, jumper-wise.
- Iman Shumpert played an outstanding game. He hit everything. Like, actually everything. Seven out of seven jump shots-- a few off the catch, a few dribbling over or away from picks, both inside and outside the arc-- dropped sweetly through the net. Not all of the makes were shots you'd like to see Shump take with any regularity, but all were taken with confident, clean footwork and a consistently picturesque stroke. Another nice thing: After some sketchy drives early in the game, Shump used tighter, lower dribbles to create for other Knicks later on. His defense looked like his (and the rest of the team's) defense: aggressive, if not always sound. He made Celtics uncomfortable at times, but also got lost a few times because he overplayed his man. Overall, it was a delightful performance. If I hadn't seen him do similar stuff at times last season, I would have drowned in my own tears and drool after last night.
- Oh, Shump: No falling down. We talked about this. Do you want us to die out of terror?
- Does it seem like Beno Udrih gets a step on people by momentarily exposing his dribble and getting defenders to reach? It seemed that way to me. Or he just has a weirdly high, unprotected dribble. Either way, he penetrated and made stuff happen on the move, which was nice, even if his own takes around the rim didn't fall. And good GOD, are those pull-up, mid-range leaners gonna drive us nuts this season. I get that he's very good at those, but they are ghastly to watch, and he sure didn't look good at them last night. Oh, and Beno's rotating defense stood out to me as bad, even in a game filled with bad defense.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. surprised me the most last night, but now I'm starting to feel like I have a sense of how he fits. Playing away from the ball-- as a catch-and-shoot guy or a secondary pick-and-roll guy-- Hardaway played a near-perfect game. He navigated through screens well, his release looked extremely quick, and he drilled a bunch of smart shots in rhythm. When Woodson sent out the non-guaranteed squad, Hardaway took on a more ball-dominant role and looked awful. So there's that. Neither surprising nor troubling, since Tim should never have to be the primary option (Then again...). I loved Hardaway's presence, too, if I may wield a cliche for a second. Not only did he know where to be, but he directed and even physically pushed guys (older guys, too) around both sides of the floor if they were out of position. He fought through screens like a monster, too. I figure he'll stop doing that once he realizes how taxing it can be, but it was fun to watch. Hardaway's a smart, dogged kid, and that outside stroke is very sensual indeed. Encouraging first outing.
- Cole Aldrich may not have sensation in his fingers, which isn't ideal for basketball-shooting. He exhibited exactly zero touch around the basket, which was a shame, because he created shots out of good hustle and surprisingly clean footwork. I was generally impressed with the way he moved. In a game where nobody knew quite what they and the rest of their teammates were doing in pick-and-roll defense, Aldrich shuffled gamely around the floor to thwart much quicker guards and recover onto his own man at the right times. And even without perfect positioning, Aldrich managed to just out-wrassle opponents for five rebounds in 17 minutes. If the 15-man roster had to be named today, Aldrich would be the first camp invite to get a guaranteed deal. He looked exactly like an end-of-the-bench, use-in-case-of-foul-trouble-or-low-energy big man last night. With some touch around the rim, he would have looked like something even greater.
- Ike Diogu only played six minutes. He managed to drop in a lovely spinning bucket and affect a few shots in those minutes. I'd like to see more of him.
- Chris Smith didn't get to do much at all.
- C.J. Leslie book-ended his evening with a gorgeous dump-off pass to (the totally unprepared) Aldrich and the game-saving block at the buzzer. Most everything in between looked weak, uncertain, and out of position.
- Josh Powell's full-sprint transition block (on Phil Pressey, I think?) was one of the plays of the night. Other than that, he looked like a guy who knows how to blend into an NBA basketball game without offering very many tangible things. There's something to be said for that, but I don't think he'd make my cut right now.
- Neither Toure' Murry nor Chris Douglas-Roberts played, which made me sad, but not worried. Not yet.
- CLYDE NEWS: What a season premiere for Walt Frazier. Man oh man. He: 1. Called Metta World Peace "World" all night". 2. Called a Vitor Faverani (who is awesome) dunk with the line "I like that funky stuff!". 3. Responded to Mike Breen's mention of the Knicks' trip to see Captain Phillips with "I'm a sailboat captain. I don't wanna hear about pirates". 4. Mentioned that the upcoming preseason game would be his first ever trip to New Hampshire (he hasn't been to Wyoming or the Dakotas either). 5. Confirmed that he has seen Remember the Titans, which made me happy. Everything Clyde says makes me happy. I'm so happy to have him back. I'll just pretend he didn't pick Indiana to win the championship.
Lovely first night of basketball. Next up is a game in Toronto on Friday. That could get weird.