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How They Drew It Up: Knicks Preseason

Examining the small things that highlights don’t always capture

NBA: Preseason-Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, welcome to “How They Drew It Up.” This is yet another pun-titled series I will be doing for the finest Knicks blog in the multiverse. [Ed. note — I’m extremely jealous of Drew’s pun-able name. Nothing rhymes with Alex.] If you happen to be familiar with my pre-Posting and Toasting work (I would be shocked if you were), this series isn’t new, as I did this for roughly two months at the beginning of last NBA season before taking on editor-in-chief responsibilities for roughly two months at another site. Unfortunately, due to a site restructuring, all my work is gone. But what can you do, right?

Anywell, “How They Drew It Up” will simply be me discussing five Knicks (and Knicks-adjacent) clips that I find interesting throughout the week or every other week — schedule pending. The clips will primarily focus on positives, but every now and then I will discuss a negative clip. I’ll try to keep things light and fun, because basketball is a game, something we tend to forget at times. Though this will mostly be Knicks-centric, I may branch out and discuss upcoming opponents so we can break out of our Knicks bubble once in awhile.

To commence the series at Posting and Toasting, I took one clip from each of the Knicks’ preseason games that piqued my interest. Without further ado, here is “How They Drew It Up.”

Mudiay rumblin’, bumblin’, and stumblin’

Look, I know I have been hyper-critical of Emmanuel Mudiay since the Knicks traded for him. I just don’t think he is any good at basketball and shouldn’t be taking minutes away from any other guard on the roster. I would love to be proven wrong, but after hearing Coach Fizdale pumping him up, hearing about his weight loss, and hearing about all the improvements he made during the offseason, this was Mudiay’s first shot attempt:

I mean… sigh. Of course Mudiay falls to the ground on a layup attempt, and of course the Wizards get a good look from three in transition because of that shot (fortunately it didn’t go in). If there is one thing Mudiay is elite at, it’s his ability to get to the rim, have no lift when jumping, throw up a wild layup attempt, and fall to the ground. Yes, he is quite good at making quick passes in transition that lead to good shots, something we saw in garbage time of the second Wizards game. But he’s such a net negative at effectively everything else, marginalizing any positive skills he has.

It was simply fitting that after all the generic offseason hype players receive entering the season, Mudiay’s first shot attempt was him falling on a layup.

Ntilikina nixing a long two… but not really

As I outlined in my Frank Ntilikina preview, the French Prince took a lot of long twos last season. These two-point attempts greater than 18 feet are simply not good shots — generally speaking, that is. Ntilikina needs to cut those 84 long-two attempts from 2017-18 down considerably and turn those shots into three-point attempts. In the first Nets game, Frank consciously did this… well, tried to.

Yes, Ntilikina’s foot is on the line (just a smidge, though), but he deliberately takes a step back to get behind the three-point line. Last season, he doesn’t even shoot a step-back jumper, either settling for a pull-up jumper or just not shooting. Even though Ntilikina has taken a number of long twos this preseason, this innocuous failed three-point step-back attempt and miss is a small sign of progress.

Kanter played defense?

Crazy, right? I certainly did not expect it either.

Kanter was tasked with guarding Anthony Davis in this game. You know, the potential MVP of the league and All-NBA First Team Anthony Davis. The player we all want Kristaps Porzingis to become. That guy.

The shock that took over my body when I realized Kanter was playing solid-to-good defense on Davis was truly unexpected. There were a number of possessions where I thought to myself, “Hey, that was quite good,” something I rarely ever say in the context of Enes Kanter playing defense.

I know what you may be thinking. Well, maybe I’m projecting a bit because I already know what fellow Posting and Toasting contributor Zach DiLuzio is thinking, because he gave me an earful. Davis does get into a deep post position and he gets a shot off, so how good could the defense have been?

Well, let’s not forget who we are discussing. Teams are never going to stop Anthony Davis, rather, they just hope to slow him down and hope his shots don’t fall. That’s exactly what Kanter does in the clip above. He fights over the flex screen and recovers in time to crowd Davis’ space without fouling him. Davis then takes and misses a contested turnaround where Kanter doesn’t foul, and Kanter finishes the possession by securing the defensive rebound. Could this have been better if Knox knocks Davis on the cut to give Kanter more time to recover and force Davis further out? Yes, of course. But given the circumstances, this is the best outcome, and Kanter did his job.

Ntilikina drivin’ and thrivin’

Frank’s second appearance. Here he is attacking the rim on a secondary action.

This clip was actually inspired by this Twitter thread by @frontofficeeye, aka Spencer (good follow, too). I wanted to share this because Spencer and I have very similar thoughts on this matter. Ntilikina doesn’t have an elite first step to simply blow by defenders, so putting him in actions where he is closing out on defenders running at him while the defense scrambles to reset makes the most sense. He’s still learning to utilize his length on drives, so dribble handoffs, pick-and-rolls, and closeouts are ideal for the French Prince to get easy baskets.

Players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke should be looking to drive and kick more instead of settling for pull-up mid-range shots. They are better right now at attacking the rim than Ntilikina is from a standstill, transition, and semi-transition, so having Frank attack a recovering, collapsed defense should not be hard to accomplish. I would like to see plays like the clip above and other drives from this Wizards game from Ntilikina throughout the regular season.

I thought Kawhi Leonard was on the Raptors

Three Ntilikina clips in one article? What can I say, I just love me some Frank Ntilikina basketball. And not just any type of Ntilikina basketball, but Frank playing defense! It’s a thing of beauty. He’s everywhere on the court causing mayhem.

He starts off on Joe Harris, who is just squirming waiting for a pick to help set him free. Harris then picks up his dribble because he had nowhere to go as Ntilikina switches onto a bloated Law & Order corpse pulled from the East River, AKA Jared Dudley. Frank forces Dudley to receive the pass almost at the half court line. Dudley then thinks he can actually drive on Frank, which was even sadder watching on replay, and Trier does a good job coming over to help and force Dudley to pick up his dribble.

Somehow Dudley finds Treveon Graham who beats a closing-out Trey Burke off the dribble. But you know who’s there to help Burke and force Graham into a travel? That’s right, Frank Ntilikina. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but these type of defensive plays are Kawhi-esque. French Sinatra has looked even better on defense this preseason. You’re gonna be seeing a lot of clips like the one above in this recurring series, because Ntilikina has defensive possessions like this regularly and multiple times throughout a game. He’s the real deal on that side of the court.

There you have it folks, the first edition of “How They Drew It Up” in the bag. Stay tuned for the next edition, where we will have actual regular season basketball to review. I will see you then.