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10 observations from the Knicks’ open practice at Columbia University

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The Knicks won the scrimmage! Against other Knicks.

Open practice at Columbia University was lit. It was sunlit, from the windows.
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It’s that wonderful time of the year when the regular season is right around the corner but hasn’t quite started, so there’s an air of optimism because the Knicks are tied with every other NBA team at 0-0.

With that in mind, about 1,000 people, give or take a few dozen, showed up at Columbia University Saturday afternoon to watch the Knicks put on an open practice. After the players were introduced by an energetic MC, they did some light stretching and ran a few drills, before finishing with a five-on-five scrimmage.

Here are 10 observations from the event.

Dennis Smith Jr.’s back might still be an issue

Smith Jr. was in the gym and wore a practice jersey, but he didn’t participate in any of the drills, nor did he play in the scrimmage. The Knicks announced early in the day that DSJ wouldn’t play because of a strained lower back, which is unnerving because the third year dunksman has missed a bunch of games in the past due to back problems.

DSJ stretches his sore back, or poses like Superman. Reader’s choice.
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However, according to Chris Iseman of NorthJersey.com, Saturday’s back issue is unrelated to the back injuries that have previously plagued Smith Jr., and David Fizdale said he isn’t concerned, so we totally shouldn’t worry that this back thing might linger as the season gets underway.

Smith Jr. did participate in some t-shirt throwing at the conclusion of the day’s festivities, so maybe he was feeling better by the end of practice. Hopefully he’s ready to go for Monday’s preseason opener in Washington against the Wizards, which tips off at 7 p.m. and is on MSG.

Mitchell Robinson didn’t take any threes

The 2018-19 All-Rookie Second Team selection keeps saying he’s actually going to take some three pointers this season, but on Saturday Robinson played the same way he usually does. Which is to say that he swatted shots, snagged rebounds, and was without question one of the best players on the court.

He was given some room with the ball beyond the arc a few times during the scrimmage, but instead of shooting opted to dutifully look for the best pass before barreling down below the basket for dunks.

Mitchell Robinson is the best

Despite the disappointing lack of threes, Robinson was one of a handful of standouts on Saturday. He looked just as good as he did last season, except better, and clearly believes he’s one of the best players on the floor, which he is.

At one point during the scrimmage, Robinson smothered a Bobby Portis shot attempt and then the two shared a few choice words, albeit with smiles on their faces. As a matter of fact, Robinson was basically engaging in nonstop friendly trash talk with everyone in the gym. It was lovely.

You may remember that last preseason, Mitch squabbled with Markieff Morris, twin brother of Robinson’s new teammate, Marcus Morris. It was lovely.

Robinson’s star should only rise this year. Not only has the center been spectacular on the court, but he’s been one of the best personalties the Knicks have fielded in awhile.

He also has quite the endorsement portfolio, and it appears to be growing. Last year, Tommy Beer at Forbes detailed how Robinson received a contract from Nike and had inked agreements with RX Water, a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Paramus, New Jersey, and Cambria Hotels. On Friday, Robinson’s agent, Mayar Zokaei, teased some kind of partnership with Fender, the iconic guitar brand. On Saturday, Zokaei was seen handing out, to select individuals, little boxes emblazoned with the word Fender. The contents of those boxes remain unknown, but they were not nearly large enough to contain a guitar.

Julius Randle looks legit

It’s no secret that Randle is probably the best player on the team — Mitch could overtake him if he would just start unleashing that long range jumper — but in person it’s obvious why Randle has had so much success as an offensive beast in the first few years of his career. The dude is big. You might even say he looks mighty.

On the first play of the scrimmage, the Knicks got the ball to Randle down low. He backed down his man (Portis), drew the rest of the defense toward him, and then kicked it out to Kevin Knox, who splashed a three. Here’s to our new offensive hub!

Marcus Morris is exactly who you think he is

Morris is big, has talent, and thinks he should shoot whenever he can get a decent look. Sometimes, he thinks he should shoot even though there are probably better looks out there. He also loves to talk smack and complain about calls. Further, he plays extremely hard at all times and is obviously pushing his teammates to be the best they can be.

There will be nights he is the hero, and there will be nights he will be infuriating. Ah, the beauty of basketball.

Frank Ntilikina deserves to play

The French Prince looked healthy and spry, and showcased his usual enthusiasm for defense. Ntilikina often picked up his man for 94 feet, heeding the words of both his coach and Knicks legend Walt Clyde Frazier, both of whom have recently extolled the benefits of full-court defense.

Frank’s offense looked promising, too, just like it did during the FIBA World Cup over the summer.

Here’s hoping Ntilikina gets some playing time when the season starts, and is given more of a leash than he has in the past.

It’s nice to have a rookie like RJ Barrett

Did you hear that Zion Williamson is actually 6’6”, and not 6’7” like he was listed at Duke? What else is the 2019 first overall pick hiding?

Everyone wanted Zion, although it’s unclear how much of that desire was due to the fact that his first name is synonyms with what some view as the Promised Land, and therefore it seems like he could be a savior or something.

What were we talking about? Oh yes, the Knicks. Not only did Barrett not appear overmatched on Saturday, he didn’t look like a rookie at all. Barrett balled with confidence, and even threw down a couple of delicious jams. The Knicks have a host of young, talented players. Pre-season optimism! There’s nothing like it.

The team is better than last year

Last season, the Knicks had guys that looked like they had potential, but when push came to shove there just wasn’t that much talent on both sides of the ball. Enes Kanter was a guaranteed double-double, but his abilities are limited, and his faults shined brightly on a bad team. Emmanuel Mudiay seemed like he could be good, but the consistency never came, and too often he was actually pretty bad. The list could go on, but let’s get to what matters.

The Knicks signed a lot of people this offseason, and all of them have obvious upsides. Taj Gibson is from Brooklyn, and might just be the perfect veteran who won’t get grouchy if he doesn’t receive much playing time. Portis is a monstrous man, standing at 6’11” and listed at 250 pounds on basketball-reference.com, and he was draining outside shots all day.

Morris has the potential positive qualities described in his personal paragraph above. Elfrid Payton is a more than competent ball handler who seems to have a point guard’s instinct but also knows when to launch a floater if the defense is giving him the lane. Randle is a bonafide big man with impressive credentials.

Meanwhile, don’t forget last year’s ninth overall pick, Knox, or the undrafted sensation Allonzo Trier. Knox definitely bulked up this summer, although he’s still an enigma. There’s a chance he starts the season on a tear, and there’s a chance he plays himself on to the bench.

Trier, however, was just as criss-crossy as you remember, and also connected on a number of threes throughout the day. His skills aren’t going away, and if he can improve his court vision a bit there’s no telling how good he might be.

The front office was there, alongside Bernard King and Kenny Smith

Scott Perry and Steve Mills watched the entire affair, and the duo sat next to a Knicks legend in King and a Queens native in Smith. There isn’t much to be gleaned from their mere presence, although certainly it’s notable that ‘The Jet’ was there watching Fizdale coach the Knicks, seeing as Smith interviewed for the head coach position prior to last season.

The collection of fan jerseys was interesting

The following Knicks jerseys were spotted, although this list may not be comprehensive: Mitchell Robinson, R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, Patrick Ewing, Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Trey Burke.

The season’s almost here, everyone! Make sure to get your Trey Burke jerseys dry cleaned so they are nice and fresh for opening night.