Hello friends! The Knicks continue to struggle and make us very sad, so maybe some news about the baby Knicks might cheer you up. Jeremy Tyler, the athletic forward/center who had been out with a foot injury, returned on Sunday to face off against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.Tyler's activation was fairly sudden and he started at center for the Bayhawks along with CJ Leslie and Chris Smith. Despite some promising action from Leslie, the Bayhawks lost 90-97. And there were no inflatable mascots.
Box Score: 27 mins, 9 points, 4 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 4-10 FGM-A, 0-1 3PTM-A, 1-2 FTM-A, 5 TO
Jeremy Tyler had a weak debut. He spent much of the first half glued to the bench due to foul trouble (3 fouls committed in the first quarter) and much of the second half trying and mostly failing to assert himself in the post. Tyler is one of the most skilled big men in the D-League, so he should look better as he continues to shed the rust of injury. Tyler opened the game with a pair of misses: A blown layup out of the pick-and-roll and a face-up jumper out of the post. His next couple of possessions were more productive, and they came with his back towards the basket. Tyler isn't the most polished post-scorer you'll see, but he's certainly dangerous enough if allowed to establish deep position in single coverage. After bullying his way to the rim for a couple of layups, Tyler found himself double-teamed on the block as the Mad Ants adjusted. He did not respond well, and turned the ball over several times after being overwhelmed on the block (he ended the night with five turnovers). He isn't quite a good enough scorer or passer down there to handle that pressure well. The Knicks would be unlikely to ask Tyler to create much offense from the low post anyway so it isn't a huge concern. I'm more interested to see how Tyler looks on defense, given the Knicks' woes on that end of the floor.
Unfortunately Tyler did not have a great night defensively against Fort Wayne. He has the physical tools to be a more menacing defender than he currently is, and hasn't shown the ability to make a strong defensive impact in the NBA yet. One particularly disappointing sequence saw Tyler allow Ron Howard to drive baseline to the rim from 20 feet out. Tyler has good size and quick feet and he must be able to establish position and wall off the baseline. Perhaps even more egregiously, Tyler allowed the 6'8" Will Frisby to establish post position at one point early in the fourth and back him down for an easy hookshot. Frisby plays bigger than his height, but Tyler simply can't allow that.
Tyler will have better nights than this moving forward. It's disheartening to see that the questions of toughness and defensive effort that plagued him as a young prospect haven't been answered, but hopefully he'll address them soon.
Box Score: 33 mins, 21 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 8-11 FGM-A, 0-1 3PTM-A, 5-7 FTM-A, 3 TO
After failing to drop more than a field goal against the Red Claws, CJ Leslie bounced back with a much more confident offensive showing against the Mad Ants. Leslie has abdicated much of his earlier ball-handling duties to Chris Smith, Nick Covington, and
Terrel Scott Suggs and is operating as more of a finisher on offense, to his benefit. When Leslie is aggressive he can be a force on both ends of the floor; he just needs to find a way to show it more consistently. He had a very impressive sequence early in the first quarter by swatting away a Ron Howard layup attempt from behind, then taking the ball the length of the floor and finishing a whirling layup in transition. In between impressive plays like that, Leslie often disappears on offense and is content to simply float on the perimeter despite being perhaps the most talented player on the floor for much of the time. Sometimes you'd like to see him just demand the ball, as his body language makes it clear when he is presenting himself as a scoring threat. His impact can sneak up on you though. Even though Leslie still isn't anything resembling a go-to scorer he still makes it to the free throw line more often than you'd think. When Leslie gets a head of steam and a straight line to the rim he can force defenders into awkward defensive situations, making him a strong threat in transition and in the high post. He'll need to play with more confidence on offense if he wants minutes in the NBA, but he has the skill to get it done.
Leslie had a much better defensive game against Fort Wayne, after a forgettable one against Maine. Though he seemed a little checked out at times, he still had some very impressive defensive stands against a variety of defenders. CJ played both power forward and center for the Bayhawks Sunday night, and found himself defending athletic guards like Trey McKinney Jones and wings like Aleksander Czyz often due to the Bayhawks' switching. After a timeout midway through the 2nd quarter, Leslie came into the game and offered excellent help defense on multiple possessions. He's a capable defender, but he has the potential to be a gamechanging one by honing his defensive instincts.
It was a very good night from Leslie on both ends, especially after his weak night at Maine. He's a very talented young prospect, and with any luck he'll be able to tie a few more of these game together.
Box Score: 22 mins, 5 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 2-6 FGM-A, 1-1 3PTM-A, 0-0 FTM-A, 2 TO
After a particularly impressive rebounding game against the Red Claws, Chris Smith laid a stinker here in Fort Wayne. He was almost entirely absent on offense and lost minutes to Scott Suggs and Nick Covington, who both boast more confident three-point shot-making ability. You gain a certain measure of respect for JR Smith when you watch his little brother try to create offense, as too often Chris' attempts just end in a flailing floater pelting the backboard. Smith had a couple really promising drives in transition, the most exciting of which saw him lay down a gorgeous step-through and seemingly teleport past three defenders but somehow put backspin on a finger roll and blow the layup. It wasn't all bad though: Smith finished another layup in transition through contact and even hit a corner three. Still, he showed little ability to create open shots for his teammates or on-balance shots for himself. He looked like the Chris Smith of Summer League.
Smith was nondescript defensively. He's likely the best defensive guard on the Bayhawks, but he isn't always making big defensive plays and he becomes easy to overlook. Smith did a solid job denying penetration in single-coverage, but the Bayhawks' defensive schemes make it difficult to get a good read on his defensive acumen.
Other Things of Note
-The play-by-play tandem for Fort Wayne is excellent. It's worth watching even just to hear the commentary. I'm circling any future Mad Ants games on the schedule.
-The Bayhawks don't really have strong point guard play, and it limits their offense. They finished with 21 turnovers as a team versus 15 assists, which is less than ideal.
-Ricky Davis started, but only played five short minutes before sitting the rest of the way. I don't recall him being injured.
-Mustafa Shakur was inactive Sunday night with Tyler rejoining the team.
The Bayhawks are still looking for their first victory, but at least they competed Sunday night. CJ Leslie played well; Tyler and Smith did not. None look ready to put on a Knicks jersey and contribute just yet. Next up: Friday vs. the Iowa Energy.