The Knicks were really rolling for a while against the Bobcats, but let their foot off the gas with some weird lineups and sloppy play, eventually losing their preseason finale behind some flimsy late-game possessions. The outcome is a little harder to dismiss than previous games, seeing as the Knicks played a normal assortment of players, albeit in irregular and ever-changing arrangements. I'm still gonna dismiss it, though, because this is my last chance to do that!
The big thing Friday night was the return of several guys who'd been shelved all preseason. They all looked pretty sharp, too. Amar'e Stoudemire's ball-catchin' hands weren't quite calibrated, but he jabbed and spun and leaped and bulldozed quite well in his first real minutes on re-re-re-repaired knees. J.R. Smith's repaired knees fared just as well through a familiar battery of side-to-side dribbling, step-back jumpering, and halfcourt buzzer-beating. Kenyon Martin bounced around and hit people like the Kenyon Martin we know and love and fear a little.
It took everyone returning for me to fully realize...shit, there are a lot of players on this team who need minutes. Mike Woodson cycled through 12 guys Friday night who all seem deserving of at least semi-regular minutes. Woodson rotated through those 12 options slot-machine-style, sending out some curious five-man units to see what would happen. We got a round robin of lineups featuring Stoudemire at center with all possible combinations of Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, and Metta World Peace alongside him (and Metta plus three guards for a while). As you might expect, those lineups didn't look so hot on defense, particularly when traps and doubles up top failed and Bobcats ventured into the paint. Nobody was sure who was supposed to protect the rim. The spacing on offense looked as promising as you'd expect, though I'd have loved to see a point guard tandem with that group to ensure open looks.
We did see some point guard pairings-- Pablo or Felton with Beno Udrih riding shotgun-- including a group that produced several consecutive wide-open three-pointers for Metta World Peace. Bench units mostly consisted of one true point guard (typically Pablo) with Amar'e or Kenyon Martin at center and some mish-mash of shooting guard types and small forward types in between. The starters came back with five minutes left in the second quarter and again with six minutes left in the fourth (with Beno instead of Felton for a few minutes, I think because Felton was winded). Down the stretch, those starters force-fed Melo for a few misses and scrambled on the other end (decently, I should add) to cover Kemba Walker as he torched Felton several times in a row. That group's spacing didn't look nearly as healthy late in the game as it did early on, perhaps because Bargnani couldn't help himself from creeping inside the arc and clogging things a bit.
The upshot of all of the above: Lord knows what Woodson's gonna do on opening night and beyond. This preseason hasn't given us any sense of the first guy off the bench (both with and without J.R. available), the extent of and context for two-point-guard lineups, how to survive defensively with Amar'e or Bargnani at center, how to finish games, and so forth. The Felton-Shumpert-Melo-Bargnani-Chandler starting lineup we'll probably see on opening night still wouldn't be my pick, but it's had its moments. Everything after that feels like a toss-up.
A few individual things:
- I'm pretty sure I saw Bargnani do more good defensive things than bad defensive things. His help defense in the paint was better than we'd seen prior, especially when he was trailing or rushing the ballhandler instead of standing under the rim waiting for the play to arrive. He also played several possessions of textbook man defense, shuffling his feets to stay in front of Bobcats or at least guide them toward help. Dude blocked a couple shots, deterred several more in transition and on the break, and even grabbed six rebounds (which would be impressive if he didn't drop another six rebounds). He looked waaaay more comfortable on defense than on offense. He didn't want to shoot when he caught the ball wide open, then he did want to shoot when he was stumbling into a defender's chest.
- Felton couldn't get anything to drop and couldn't even find Kemba Walker on defense, but he distributed the ball beautifully out of the pick-and-roll, especially in the first half. Everybody got a taste. He hit Chandler rolling to the rim, bailed out to shooters on the near elbow, and tossed lasers to shooters on the far elbow.
- Iman Shumpert was the Knicks' best three-point shooter during the preseason. I'm kinda thinking he's the Knicks' best three-point shooter overall at this point. He's taking smart shots from out there, and his form is so, so consistent. I've liked the thought process on some of his drives past close-outs, too. He's demonstrated at least the intent to score off sound jump-stops and Euro-steps, not the one-legged wildness we saw in previous years. He still didn't finish much off the dribble in exhibition games, but he usually looked like he could, if that makes sense.
- Metta World Peace has also been quite effective-- if streaky-- from outside, though I would not call his form "consistent" in the slightest.
- On the flip side: Good joke not hitting any jumpers, Melo! Haha! You too, Andrea! You guys are just messing around, I'm sure.
- The Knicks as a team missed 14 straight shots in the third quarter, if you're wondering why a blowout turned into a Bobcats win. I'm soooooo happy this didn't count.
- Nice to see Chandler get and seize opportunities to terrify folks around the basket. At least for stretches, the Knicks did well to send penetrators his way, and he did well to drape himself all over their attempts to score without committing any fouls.
- I would not like to dribble through a Pablo/Metta double-team. The peskiness is paralyzing.
- Melo, calling Chandler off a rebound, as caught by the MSG microphones: "I GOT IT TYSON, GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE".
- I feel like Beno's gonna make Clyde say "cardinal sin" a lot this season. I guess it's not so much jumping to pass without a recipient open as it is driving without a destination or purpose in mind. He just goes sometimes. Just takes the ol' b-ball out for a spin, letting fate determine the route. Just Beno, the b-ball, a pair of aviator shades, the open road, the sun setting on the horizon, and a lot of defenders and a ticking shot clock and perplexed teammates.
I'm excited for the regular season. I don't feel like I know much more about these Knicks than I did before preseason, which makes me more excited and also a little uneasy.