It took the Knicks and Raptors 58 minutes to settle on a score for their meaningless basketball game Monday night. Because neither team could hold a lead and the Knicks couldn't game-ending stops, we got ten bonus minutes to watch Knicks new and non-guaranteed demonstrate their skills. So, in a way, a preseason double-overtime loss is a win! Let's talk about what we saw:
- Not much to say about incumbent starfolk, but I will say that my favorite play of the game was Carmelo Anthony receiving a hand-off from Beno Udrih over a screen from Tyson Chandler, which ended with Chandler dashing to the rim alone to get a big dunk off a gorgeous feed from Melo. Any moment in an exhibition game in which the Knicks actually seem to be executing a set-- and we do see the occasional double- or triple-screen and plenty of pin-downs for shooters-- is to be cherished, and that one was particularly pleasing.
- Udrih had his most impressive performance as a Knick. In the absence of Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni, we got a prolonged look at Beno's uniquely effective mid-range game. After several stretches this month of making us wonder why in hell he loves that leaning 18-footer so much, Beno went ahead and drilled like six of those. He hit a few jumpers off down-screens and a few more dribbling diagonally over picks, all but a few of them a few steps inside the arc. I can see myself vacillating between "ugh, that is such an ill-advised, relatively valueless shot" and "shit, but he's so good at it" all season long. When he's hitting it, it's indefensible, and when he's missing it, it's...ya know, indefensible in the other sense. Meanwhile, Beno's handle still looks weirdly piston-like to me, but he pumped into the paint with force and purpose, pulling several defenders with him to create outside looks for friends. He's already developing a sense for Chandler's position on the floor-- be it rolling to the rim or popping out to behind-the-back pass range for one of those new free-throw line jumpers-- and a knack for setting up Metta World Peace's leaning transition threes.
- And Metta does seem to have a gift for catching and shooting without his feet set. It's the dribbling and shooting without his feet set that makes my tummy hurt. Drives off the dribble rarely seem to end well, too.
- Andrea Bargnani played an awful offensive first half. He passed up outside looks for one-dribble long twos and missed those. He caught and fired quickly from outside once or twice and missed those. He took the ball inside and got his shot blocked a couple times. Even the fouls he drew were unconvincing. He found a bit of rhythm in the third quarter, sinking-- by my count-- four straight shots. Three of them were quick mid-range jumpers off the catch, one was a short finish off a gorgeous mini-Dream-Shake. For all our talk of Bargnani helping himself and the Knicks by stepping behind that arc, his floor-bound release seems strained from that distance. He could really use some Hopla Help™ to add a bit of leg-- or a bit of something-- to that 22-footer without sacrificing touch.
- Toure' Murry didn't play very well, yet only further convinced me he deserves a roster spot. He's got little sense at this point of when he should be taking jumpers, and his release when he does decide to take them is painfully slow. The kid looked great when Dwight Buycks was guarding him, though. Buycks isn't especially short, but looked miniature next to Murry, and Toure' bulldozed him both off the dribble and with his back to the basket. I also loved watching Toure' play team defense when he had someone to work with. Murry/Chandler and Murry/World Peace both make devastating half-court-trap teams. And hey, for all the ugly jumpers Murry missed, he managed to drain the ugliest of them all:
- The World Peace-Hansbrough confrontation got a lot of deserved attention (and continues to bear fruit), but the night mostly gave us battles between Tyler Hansbrough and Ike Diogu. It was fun to watch, because Diogu's been emulating Hansbrough a bit during preseason. I never thought of Diogu as this kind of player back when he was a lottery pick, but he's established himself this month as a guy willing to expend energy on every single loose ball. Not every tall person has the combination of strength, forethought, and energy to be that guy other teams hate because he just appears to be trying way harder. Diogu's demonstrated that he can be one such tall person, at least while a guaranteed contract is on the line. Hansbrough, of course, is a lord of that domain. He's ruined so many Knicks games by being the one guy out of ten who refuses to honor the "It Is a Tuesday Night in January and We Are All Tired So Let's Just Agree That Whoever's Closest to the Ball Gets to Keep It" pact. So it was fascinating to watch Diogu meet his preseason match. He got outworked for inside position and caroms on many occasions, but made a few such plays himself, too. I also liked what I saw out of Diogu when he had to guard the very tall and dexterous Jonas Valanciunas.
I really think if Diogu continues to model his energy expenditure after someone like Hansbrough or Reggie Evans, he could find himself not just on the roster but getting playing time off the bench. It's been a while since the Knicks employed someone willing to scrap like that, because playing that role isn't easy and often requires that you forgo other activities, like looking to get open. Diogu does have that 18-footer, too. He really does have it.
- Oh, it appears Diogu fouled out. I did not notice that happening but that only strengthens his campaign to be Knicks Hansbro 2013.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. started cold, but ended up 4-8 behind the arc. He's got nice cutting and driving instincts, but is developing a pattern of missing little chippies around the rim, and I'm not just talking about the dunk he missed. Tim may just not be totally settled in yet, but his touch around the basket has been lacking.
- Some fun lineups: 1. Metta & Sons, which was just Metta getting to shoot a ton of threes because all the rookies and non-guaranteed guys deferred to him on offense. 2. A group that included Melo, Metta, Bargnani, and Chandler all at once.
Two more games like this, y'all. Then they start to count.