The Knicks aren’t about winning games this year. Steve Mills and Scott Perry have been saying it since the beginning of their marriage atop the Knicks’ front office hierarchy. David Fizdale hasn’t shut the fuck up about it since he was appointed the Knicks’ 583rd head coach in the post-Jeff Van Gundy era.
The organization’s focus has pivoted to the development of their core of young talent including Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier, and the not-to-be forgotten Emmanuel Mudiay. The only “vets” currently playing on this team are 26-year old Tim Hardaway Jr., 26-year old Enes Kanter and 26-year old Trey Burke. Of the three only the former appears to be part of the braintrust’s long-term plans. They filled out the roster by taking fliers on young reclamation projects like Noah Vonleh (looks like somebody they should be looking to keep next season) and Mario Hezonja (looks like somebody who will be playing in Spain next season).
The commitment to youth has been refreshing, but, predictably, early in the season it has also frequently been painful to watch. Non-existent ball movement, poor defensive rotations, and a failure to execute late in games have been hallmarks of the team’s play thus far. There are many nights when it’s hard not to worry that none of these guys is going to pan out. That this Knicks regime is just putting together a team which is bad in a more responsible way than the expensively assembled disasters cobbled together by previous failed front offices.
But on nights like tonight it’s fun and gives you hope for the future. There are signs of Frank putting something of a scoring repertoire together while putting the clamps on the likes of C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard when tasked with defending them. Mitch flashes the potential to be an elite rim protecter and leaves you wowed by his breathtaking athletic feats. Timmy goes shot-for-shot with McCollum and plays him to a dead heat. Mudiay looks like an entirely competent starting point guard with the ability to score effectively at all three levels. Noah Vonleh plays like a damn beast.
Would it have been more fun if the Knicks came out on top? Yeah, definitely, but you can feel optimistic about the young talent in place and where things are going, even in defeat when winning games isn’t the priority. We all know what the priority is. Keep your eyes on the prize.
- Emmanuel Mudiay played a downright good game. He scored 16 points on 9 shots, competed on defense, and got the team’s offense humming at the start of each half. This was his third consecutive game in which he shot over 50% from the field. The Mudiay Redemption Tour has been an unexpected surprise and one I’m quite enjoying. He’s playing under control and when he does drive to the rim he’s not involuntarily falling on his ass. Fiz really may have fucked around and fixed Mudiay. He need to sustain it, but the early returns have been excellent.
Mudiay gets the switch he wants, immediately attacks the baseline. Easy up & under pic.twitter.com/b6vmkm5dVz— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 21, 2018
- Tim Hardaway Jr. is flat out balling. That’s three straight 30-point games for the Michigan grad. He’s eschewed many of the awful Steph Curry pull-up triples he was taking last season and exchanged them for purposeful forays to the rim. This has led to a steady stream of free throws to buoy his efficiency. Playing in a primary scoring role which has previously overwhelmed him, he’s posting a career high true shooting percentage on career high usage. That’s a hell of a combination. He also played damn good defense on Damian Lillard, forcing him into a turnover late in the first half and into a miss on a critical late-game possession only for the Knicks to fail to secure the rebound. Hardaway also chipped in with 5 boards, 4 assists and yet another drawn charge. Keep this level of play up and his much debated contract may end up an asset with actual value.
- Frank’s defense tonight was superlative. He guarded Lillard, McCollum and Evan Turner to great effect. He was constantly making rotations to foil the Blazers on more than one occasion. HE HIT A MOTHERFUCKING THREE!!!!!!!!! He even Euro-stepped on Turner and finished at the rim! Let’s hope that Frank can now turn these positive offensive moments into consistent performances on that end and snap out of what’s been quite the epic slump.
There you go Frank! pic.twitter.com/l8bjuXSoEi— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) November 21, 2018
- I’m not going to harp on Kanter’s defense tonight, but him trying to pull the chair out on Jusuf Nurkic in the first quarter was hilarious. Late in the game he did have a phenomenal defensive possession when he got switched onto Dame and forced him into some junk airball with the Knicks down three. Credit where it’s due.
- That could have potentially been an inspiring moment except the refs called a truly awful loose ball foul on Vonleh. The Blazers capitalized on this reprieve as Aminu canned a three to put the Knicks behind six. Big swing.
- Trey Burke was cooking in the 4th quarter. He single-handedly carried the Knicks offense after it had conked out, cutting an 11-point Blazers lead down to three. Fiz abruptly pulled him out at this stage with the Knicks in possession. Stupid coaching or genius tanking? You decide.
- Noah Vonleh was everywhere tonight. Unfortunately he missed four consecutive free throws in the final frame. It’s also been reported he’s a huge Zion Williamson fan.
- Kevin Knox was nowhere to be seen. The rookie’s struggling to find his role offensively and as a result he’s jacking up bad shots when he does touch it. The defense isn’t great either. I’m still not worried. He struggled early in his lone season at Kentucky as well in similar fashion. Give it time.
- Mitchell Robinson had an up-and-down game. There were some memorable blocks mixed in with late rotations. He fumbled a few passes because he wasn’t ready for passes, but also got offensive rebounds he had absolutely no right to corral. He’s a project for sure, but one worth the time.
- Jusuf Nurkic only had 13 points, 10 boards, and was a -4, but he damn sure felt like he was everywhere to me.
- The Knicks had 20 assists tonight. It seems that Fiz has installed more high pick-and-roll and double drag screens over the last few games. Some dumbass on Twitter seems to agree.
Knicks offensive actions have gotten more complicated of late. Started off extremely simple but has grown a lot. Some new screen the screener actions tonight, Spain PnR premiered last game— Zach DiLuzio (@zjdiluzio) November 21, 2018
- Enes Kanter made a three. Noah Vonleh made a couple. I really can’t wait for Kristaps to return.
- The next time Trier catches the ball and immediately goes up to shoot will be the first. He’s definitely one of those guys who needs to feel the ball.
- Hezonja looked awful. If Dotson took all of his minutes I’d be okay.
- Thought it was weird Dotson got DNP’d.
All-in-all this was a fun one. Alot of the young guys and core pieces produced. The Knicks didn’t totally capitulate defensively against one of the league’s elite backcourts. The ball actually moved around a bit and the Knicks racked up a robust 20 assists! Quoth NeedforShved, “Good loss”. Here’s to many more.