After one game of preseason, it was clear the Knicks were doomed. After Saturday's rematch with the Celtics, it's clear, like King Henry said, that the Knicks ought to win the NBA basketball championship. They found some better shots in the Triangle, they knocked a chunk off Wednesday's towering stack of turnovers, and they actually affected the Celtics with transition defense. Just a few (late, sorry) notes.
- Quincy Acy started in place of Andrea Bargnani and demonstrated some of his value. He managed not to elbow people *constantly* while defending, and actually helped force a turnover or two. And he tried scoring from pretty much everywhere, whiffing an early corner three (he hit those in Summer League, but I don't think that's his thing yet), showing some nice touch off a mid-range down-screen, and punching stuff in around the rim. Acy looked a lot more comfortable setting screens and offering hand-offs, too, perhaps because he was playing with a more polished offensive lineup.
- Acy and Jose Calderon had a bit of friction on the fast break, one just not knowing what the other wanted on the move. Preseason is for figuring that stuff out (of course, they're former teammates, so...)
- Calderon otherwise looked pretty solid, with entry passes on point and a little flurry of pull-up jumpers all his own. He's got sort of Beno Udrih-y shot selection but...I dunno, just better. He busted ass getting up the floor, too, which is something Phil Jackson has repeatedly noted as a Triangle key. I like Jose Calderon. I think he's gonna be good.
- The Knicks still have (and will continue to have) issues entering the ball into the strong side post (the innermost corner of the Triangle), and Amar'e Stoudemire thus didn't get to do much. They found Carmelo Anthony down there a few times, and he looked light on his feet spinning off the block to get sneaky opportunities. Melo actually hit one baseline jumper with his feet facing away from the rim, his torso spun almost 180 degrees over his waist like a damn action figure. Guy's pretty good. And he got slightly better touches in this one, I thought. I enjoyed when Joel Anthony stuffed Melo's wildly ambitious baseline dunk attempt on one end , so Melo chased him down and gave him the signature side-swipe on the other end. Clyde nearly swallowed his tongue trying to utter a sentence including two people named "Anthony," the name "Melo," and the phrase "taste of his own medicine." He invented the term "Melocine" in the process.
- Iman Shumpert changes things. He started and contributed some genuine defensive presence. Shump's inability to get actual steals out of his numerous pokes and deflections continues to puzzle, but he did a fine job annoying without fouling (at all). And Shump found himself some good shots, too, accepting hand-offs over curls to hit one-dribble pull-ups in rhythm. Rimmed out an acrobatic up-and-under lay-up (off one foot!) as well.
- Amar'e, as mentioned, really didn't get to do much, but his one backdoor dish to Tim Hardaway Jr. as the Knicks cleared out the ball-side triangle was GOOOOORGEOUS. I can recall very few passes like that out of Amar'e's hands, and that was the first time I'd seen the Knicks find success with that look since like the second game of Summer League. Do that, Amar'e.
- Hardaway looked great working off the ball again. He's got a nice feel for the two-man game with any of the Knick bigs, and he once again proved willing to fake the perimeter shot off the catch in favor of a quick pull-up, a floater, or a drive to the rim. Didn't draw the fouls this time, but I liked his looks. He wasn't just gunning out there.
- J.R. Smith was. He doesn't know quite where and when to operate yet. Made his shots, but they were weird shots from the middle of the floor, often generated out of his own dribblings.
- Shane Larkin needs to figure out what to do with his speed. He freaks out when he gets below the free throw line in transition, takes off too early, and ends up kicking the ball out when he could have had an easy finish with one more step. And then when he's standing still at the perimeter, he tends to dribble into help and get swallowed alive. He's not tall enough to see over a trap, and sometimes picks up his dribble too soon.
- Travis Wear sure did dive on the floor a lot! He also got totally overpowered by Brandon Bass and just attempted to maim him a few times. He gets a little too hyped out there, but I'm happy he's getting more opportunities. Travis Outlaw didn't play. Probably means nothing.
- Each of the Knick bigs-- Amar'e, Cole, Dalembert...everyone-- messed things up a bit by venturing too close to the ball and throwing off the offensive balance. In general, things start to tilt too hard in one direction as soon as someone gets trapped with the ball. When that happens late in the clock, it leads to some butt-ugly shots.
- The Knicks are icing picks, at least sometimes. The guards are clearly making an effort to jump out and deter ball-handlers from using screens, and the bigs know to slide back and play goalie for that moment. The Celtics usually just re-screened to combat that, but it's noteworthy. The Knicks didn't do much of that last season (at least not that I remember).
- Melo threw a flurry of goooorgeous passes to the weak side or the middle of the floor, not even out of double teams.
- Langston Galloway played, and I'm happy to report I had zero Raymond Felton flashbacks.
- Cleanthony Early's gonna break his entire skeleton if he keeps trying to dunk on people at full speed. Might get a highlight out of it, too, but be careful out there, Cle! Meanwhile, you can tell Early's getting used to NBA foul's and just the general pace and spacing of the floor, but his kinda awkward-looking shot continued to fall, and that's great.
- Mike Breen, watching J.R. Smith over-dribble: "Smith with a lot of dribbling. That is not...[J.R. buries off-balance three]". I want J.R. around forever if only for the upset he causes Breen.
- Cole Aldrich moves his goddamn feet on defense. He totally stopped Jared Sullinger on a couple plays. And I dunno what happened on that banked-in skyhook but I love it. Tip-dunk, too.
- D.J. MBENGA PLAYED. D.J. Mbenga is a 100% shooter in his Knicks career. Legend.
They still looked sloppy, they still played mediocre defense, but the Knicks beat the Celtics in the preseason and now they are going to be the best team in the NBA. Congratulations, Knicks!