Hi! I've watched the Knicks' exhibition game against the Hornets. Score aside, I found it pleasant and encouraging. Some likely bench guys combined to play pretty sound defense, push the ball up the floor, and even execute within sets. In general, I've been really pleased with the cohesion the Knicks have demonstrated in preseason, and with the new habits they're forming. Joe and Jonathan already summed up the game and its highlights for you, but here are a few more things I've noticed this weekend.
Jerian Grant makes plays out of thin air
Mike Breen's hit some high notes this month over the "feel for the game" demonstrated by the Knicks rookies. Kristaps Porzingis has shown some innate basketball sense with his spacing in the pick-and-roll and with his timing on defense. Grant's an older and more experienced rookie, and is also kind of a magician.
This is from Friday against the Celtics, and it is subtly brilliant. A less confident, less composed youngster might encounter the helping big man and swallow his dribble to force a play, but Grant tends to keep the ball on the floor for as long as possible. Here he takes a beat and a side-step dribble to just cruise right around Kelly Olynyk:
A lot of guards couldn't make an easy play out of that scenario. Grant's always got his head up, and though he's not exceptionally fast, he's quick to identify and exploit little angles and slivers of space:
Derrick Williams has a niche
In the forest, every animal must eat. Some animals are suited to compete for food with other animals. Some are designed to access food no one else can reach -- equipped with small frames that can balance on the precarious tips of branches, long tongues to pull bugs from otherwise forbidding recesses, etc. Fight for the best spots or adapt to the worst spots.
Derrick Williams could get his by gunning -- competing for shots other Knicks are better suited to create. Derrick Williams can better get his by operating from areas of the court in which only he can thrive. Some of that will come in transition, where Williams has enough bounce to noodle around forever in the air and finish difficult plays. My favorites so far, though, have been the halfcourt plays in which Williams buries himself near the baseline like a hockey player, slipping into the play through a backdoor and using those springs to create easy baskets from a near-standstill. The Knicks have some talented paint-dwellers, but they don't have a lot of guys who can do this:
... or this:
... or this:
Those plays are all against relatively set defenses, and they would not be not dunks or and-one lay-ins for smaller or less nimble players. We cannot assume Williams is discerning or accurate enough to be a perimeter threat, but he's explosive enough to make lots of plays like the above. (Sidenote: Pssst, these plays are you someday, Kristaps.)
Cleanthony Early: Big guard?
The main question following Cle after last season was "what exactly do you do here?" At an intermediate size and without enough innate skill to sustain the all-court star role he played in college, Early never quite established how and where he wanted the ball and what he meant to do with it.
This preseason I keep confusing Early for Jerian Grant on the court, in part because Grant just seems like a number 11 in my head, and in part because Early has handled the ball so much. Cle's not a natural dribbler, nor is he very useful with his left hand, but with some work on that front, and what appears to be some added sinew and quickness, he's made a lot more guard-like moves like the one above, as well as confident ball-handling plays like this one:
In a parallel universe, Early might be fashioning himself into a sort of stretch 4, but he seems to have honed a more compact, perimeter-dwelling look this summer. As long as he's defining himself, I'm happy. Couple o' very encouraging performances this weekend.
The Knicks are moving faster, running more creative sets, and creating more looks via pick-and-roll. Por ejemplo:
That play -- a clock-running set to end the first half -- started five-out before Langston Galloway handed the ball off to Grant and filled to the wing while Porzingis came across the lane to initiate a strong-side pick-and-roll. Neat, simple little set with a few options and, to my inexpert eye, very little resemblance to stuff the Knicks were trying in October 2014.
Now and then, though, you'll see the most rudimentary of Triangle sets run quite nicely:
There's Cle again, behaving like a real wing, feeding the fourth option, and making a clean diagonal cut in a traditionally composed Triangle set. Nice!