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P&T Round(ball) Table: Taking stock of the 2018-19 season

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How did the Knicks grade out this season?

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NBA: Dallas Mavericks at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, hell hounds. We decided over at P&T HQ to assess this horrendous season. We came together to ask ourselves the hardest hitting questions. Does Enes Kanter have a Prince Albert? Is Kristaps Porzingis truly a venomous snake? Are those the same things? Hurry up and read on to find out.


Who was the 2018-19 Knicks MVP?

MMiranda: Mitchell Robinson ranked sixth on the team in minutes played, but as far as meaningful minutes he was number one. For all the talk about the organization’s player development, how many of those players feel like surefire parts of the future? Emmanuel Mudiay, Noah Vonleh, Damyean Dotson all put up career numbers. Allonzo Trier and Kevin Knox established places in the league and showed promise going forward (sit down, Knox haters; we hear the mouth-breathing; we know you’re there). Yet the only player on this roster I’d feel pain losing — even in a trade for Anthony Davis, I reckon — is the pride of Pensacola, Florida. In a season whose values were entirely focused on the future, Robinson shone the brightest light moving forward.

Shwinnypooh: If we’re going by impact it’s for sure Mitchell Robinson, but I’ll say Damyean Dotson. He definitely wasn’t the best player on the team by any stretch of imagination, but for a team that dealt with a lot of injuries, and a major roster shake-up midway through the season, Dotson’s availability and persistence mattered. Sure, he got beat a lot off-ball on defense, shot a good-but-not-elite clip from three and was limited when he had to put the ball on the deck, but these flaws were exacerbated on a team where he was often asked to play above his station. Hell, by the very end of the season there were stretches where the Knicks were so banged up that, despite rostering four point guards, Dotson was running point. If the Knicks get the major talent upgrade they hope for this summer and a consistent primary ball handler emerges via free agency (or one of the many young prospects on the roster levels up) Dotson’s year in the trenches will have served him well and you can expect an increase in efficiency.

Stingy: It’s got to be Mitchell Robinson, right? In a season where everything was either lost or wandering, the Knicks actually found a player that has a chance to be really good. By all accounts it seems like he wants to get better and will take the steps necessary to do so. The cherry on top is that he doesn’t seem to have the weight of a colossal ego hanging over him. He’s the most valuable player, and he should be propped up accordingly.

Alex: It’s definitely Mitchell Robinson, but in the interest of being different, I’ll say Allonzo Trier. And honestly, the gap is probably closer than most people think. This team Sucked on offense, with a capital S. Iso Zo was often asked to create on a James Harden-like level off the bench, which is obviously asking a ton of an undrafted rookie shooting guard. Among all rookies, Trier was 15th in minutes per game at 22.8. In that time, he managed to finish eighth in rookie scoring (10.9 PPG). Among rooks who played at least 1000 total minutes, Trier was third in 3-point percentage (.394), fifth in free throw percentage (.803) and tenth in field goal percentage (.448). Pretty solid stuff.

Drew: So all the turds above me are gonna pick The Block Ness Monster. While it’s a totally fair and just stance to take, let’s not forget the purpose of this season: Zion Williamson. Robinson actively fought against the tank because he’s too good. The Knicks only had 10 five-man lineups with a positive net rating figure and Mr. Monster appears in six of them. In the context of the season, he cannot be the MVP.

Let’s look at the inverse of these five-man lineups and find the common factor(s). New York had 19 five-man lineups with a negative net rating figure and Kevin Knox appears in all but three of those lineups. Knox is a young, raw rookie, however, so he does get a pass for right now. If Knox is off the table, there are two other notable commonalities in these lineups. Those commonalities and my Co-MVPs of the New York Knicks are Enes Kanter and Emmanual Mudiay. Their atrocious play helped the Knicks acquire the best odds to Zion Williamson and quite frankly, the only thing that mattered this year.

What was your favorite moment of the 2018-19 Knicks season?

MMiranda: The Knicks had but three winning streaks all season, only one before the All-Star break. Three days after Thanksgiving, they traveled to Memphis to face the 12-6 Grizzlies. This was a Knick team that’d be unrecognizable just a few months later: in 20 minutes combined Robinson and Knox went scoreless, had just four rebounds and one blocked shot (courtesy of Knox); Enes Kanter went for 21 and 26; Tim Hardaway put up 22; Trey Burke shot 3-of-15 (OK, some things were recognizable). Meanwhile, Mudiay was coming off his best game as a Knick two nights earlier in a win over New Orleans. The Knicks were clinging to a one-point lead late when Burke intercepted a pass and raced out to a two-on-one and this happened.

Listen to the excitement in Mike Breen’s call, in the “yeah!” when Walt Frazier sees the replay. New York would go 3-33 in their next 36 games. This wasn’t just the best moment of the year; for a while, it was the only one.

Shwinnypooh: The win over the Spurs at MSG, for sure. In a post-Porzingis world, and even otherwise, the Knicks didn’t have much to get excited about this year, at least not related to the actual basketball being played this season. Watching young guys develop is a lot more fun in theory than it usually is in practice. But on the nights it all comes together and you get a glimpse of what the potential future could look like if/when they find the requisite consistency to match the intoxicating highs of their talents it can give you a real basketball boner. On that night the Knicks got game-winning contributions from Dennis Smith Jr., Damyean Dotson, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and even Emmanual Mudiay, who hopefully isn’t actually a part of the future. It was fun and even if the Knicks fail to shoot the moon this summer, does provide something to cling on to in the event of a non-KD, non-Kyrie and non-Zion future. Hope springs eternal.

Stingy:

Alex: It should be a crime that nobody said Hezonja blocking LeBron into oblivion yet. So I’ll say it. Prior to the miraculous three-game run of Point Hez to end the season, this was the signature moment for the most mercurial Knick of 2018-19. The Knicks were riding an eight-game losing streak prior to a home game against the Lakers on March 17, which was certainly not their longest, but felt like a significant step back after the team had won two out of three games right before and after the All-Star break. Hez was playing for the first time in a month. Then this happened:

More specifically, though, THIS HAPPENED:

And this photo, the greatest photo of all time:

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

It even got turned into a t-shirt. When I think back to this year later later in life, the season right before the Knicks ripped off eight straight titles led by Kevin Durant and Zion Williamson, Mario sonning LeBron will be what I remember the most.

Drew:

What was the lowest point of this 17-win crap fest?

MMiranda: The Kristaps Porzingis sexual assault story. If KP were still a Knick when the news broke, it would have been, strictly as a fan of this franchise, depressing. The narrative all season was that this Knick organization was finally one you could be... if not proud of, at least not shamed by, as was the case during the Isiah Thomas/Anucha Brown Sanders/”You gettin’ in the van?” nadir. Regardless of how the case resolves publicly, the fantasy of the spotless unicorn pulling the Knicks from their self-slathered dregs was destroyed.

That Porzingis was a Dallas Maverick when the story broke was still depressing, because it meant James Dolan and Mark Cuban, men who’ve each been guilty of creating misogynistic workplaces (before you blather that neglecting a culture isn’t the same as creating one, a counterpoint: you’re wrong AND you’re missing the point), found common ground agreeing to a deal that may or may not have featured a rapist. And it isn’t Porzingis’ guilt or innocence that ultimately stands out in that context. It’s that this is yet another example of rich men, powerful men, criminal men and men in general operating with impunity in a world where women have to fight just to gain de jure equality and autonomy. De facto is a whole other struggle.

Shwinnypooh: I don’t know, man. There were a lot of low points. I guess if there was one thing it’d be that ridiculously shitty 114-90 loss to the Mavericks. Luka looked a prodigy, Dennis Smith Jr. dropped a triple double on our stupid heads, there were a bunch of dopes chanting for Enes Kanter, and then that annoying doofus got a chance to play and kissed the logo at center court when he checked in. It all sucked. Then the next day happened and so many things changed so fast.

Stingy: Kanter kissing the logo at center court. We don’t love you like that. Only you love you like that, Enes. Good riddance, fucking shmuck.

Alex: I just want it to be known that the real answer here is Enes Kanter being on the team, but again in the interest of being different, I’ll say Frank Ntilikina’s stalled development. Between injuries and David Fizdale’s confusion over how to play the French Army Knife, Frank just never really showed any growth this year. And any time it looked like he was about to, he’d get hurt again. Just a vicious cycle of a season for those of us that wanted to see this kid take his game to another level.

Drew: Outside of The Professor’s take, this is the correct answer:

Okay, that maybe harsh. So, the low point would be the fans at MSG chanting for that bum Enes Kanter. I’m so glad he’s off this team.

Which Knicks reclamation project was the best?

MMiranda: Their relevance. A year ago the Knicks won 29 games, not nearly enough to sniff the playoffs but way too many to land a high draft pick. They knew there was a good chance Kanter would opt in for $18M, while the contracts of Hardaway, Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah’s lit corpse were a $50M albatross. Porzingis recovering from a torn ACL was, even in that state, far and away the crown jewel of any future hopes and dreams.

Now? The Knicks lost enough games to secure lottery odds as good as anybody’s in a purportedly top-heavy draft. Nine of their top 11 minutemen were 24 or younger. The only player currently on the books beyond next season is Robinson. They can sign two max free agents this summer or keep their powder dry, continue developing their youth and add a top-five pick, all the while holding seven first-round picks over the next five years. Competence is a helluva drug.

Shwinnypooh: Noah Vonleh. He was a net positive on the floor the entire year. He did one of the most credible jobs of defending Giannis one-on-one I’ve seen this season in multiple match-ups. The shooting from three the first half of the year was pretty cool. He was regressing hard before his injury shut him down, but the outlines of a useful, versatile NBA player are there. If the three-point shooting can stay up around 36-37%, he will find himself in the rotation of a good team in his career.

Stingy: It’s Noah Vonleh and he blew everyone else out of the water. He was trending up coming into the year but flew in under the radar as a late training camp addition. I don’t think anyone expected such high-level basketball — for a large swath of the season — from this Brinks truck of a man. He obviously wasn’t used to that big of a workload at such a high degree of difficulty, but he more than proved his worth and carried a lot of the team’s deadweight. Mario Hezonja may have been the Giannis-stomper but it was Vonleh who gave Giannis fits. Kudos to Noah for solidifying himself in what could have been a make or break year.

Alex: I will also say Noah Vonleh. For someone who came in as barely an afterthought on a non-guaranteed camp deal, it didn’t take long for Vonleh to assert himself as a guy who definitely belongs in this league. Do I believe that Emmanuel Mudiay can be a consistently efficient scorer? Nope! Do I believe that Mario Hezonja will actually be a 20-plus PPG scoring point guard flirting with double-doubles on a nightly basis based off of a few game sample size? Nope! But I definitely believe that Noah Vonleh can be, at worst, a backup big that can score in a few ways, defend multiple positions, and handle the ball surprisingly well. Of all of the guys the Knicks took a chance on this year, I hope Vonleh’s the one that sees more time with the Knicks.

Drew: It’s Mario Hezonja and it’s not particularly close! He dunked on Giannis, blocked LeBron, and was droppin’ triple-doubles to end the season while playing point guard. Now, do those moments negate the fact that he was very underwhelming this year and had every opportunity to be the player he was in the final games of the season for the entire year? Yes, yes it does. MAX. THIS. MAN!

Grade David Fizdale’s first season as Knicks coach on a scale of 1-10.

MMiranda: Seven? Eight? Get your jaw off the floor and lemme explain. Fizdale was hired to help young players grow. He did. He was hired to begin creating a culture. That term has become somewhat of an empty signifier in our discussion of workplaces none of us have access to, but remember that for months this team could not buy a win. Remember Kanter’s shamelessly transparent attempts to act like, when he opted in for $18M no other team was or will ever going to offer him, he had no way of anticipating the Knicks would prioritize playing guys who might be part of a future over those who def weren’t? All with a roster comprised of youngsters being forced to make mistakes and lose, plus veterans who knew their minutes and numbers and potentially future income might suffer as a result. The team never fractured. Props to Fiz.

You wanna gripe about rotations? You think this man who’s watched more film in a week than most of us have in our lives doesn’t know how to structure an offense? Or a defense? Maybe you’re right. Maybe he’s all people skills and doesn’t have an acumen for Xs and Os. But he said he was gonna throw shit against the wall and see what took. And it’s not just that winning wasn’t the primary objective. It’s that losing was. This season was all about growing young talent, steering the team through rough seas and doing it all while failing with grace. Mission accomplished.

Shwinnypooh: I’ll give him a six. His offensive schmes and play calling leave much to be desired. He preached a lot about the value of defense, but sent mixed signals with his rotation decisions. His obsession with Emmanuel Mudiay was troubling, to say the least. All of that and more is true. However, he did a good job of generally keeping the locker room together. The guys that are here seem to believe in him and whatever he’s selling, snake oil or something more wholesome, more than I’ve seen players believe in a Knicks head coach in a long time.

Aside from a situation with Enes Kanter (that was always going to get messy given the organization’s goals this season), most everybody else, even those that have departed for Dallas or elsewhere, have been effusive in their praise of what he’s building. He did what was necessary in a tanking season, and I’m giving him a slight bump from a meh five to a slightly bullish six. I think it’s hard to get an offense, any offense, to look good without a capable primary initiator, and that’s something the Knicks certainly didn’t have at any point this season no matter how you feel about the current play or future trajectory of Mudiay, Ntilikina, or Smith Jr. We will have more clarity about Fiz’s coaching chops next season when the Knicks should presumably have more talent and no incentive to tank.

Stingy: Four maybe? Six? Nine? Nice as it is to have the “best” position in the lottery, I can’t say I was impressed. His schemes on offense and defense don’t jump out as especially interesting. Inbounds plays weren’t baffling opponents all season. I mean, this team (s)tank. In a tremendous way. What Fizzy does do well is manage egos. He set the bar high and asked the team to meet the standard. From day one the team played as hard as they could. Through all of the Enes-drama and the Porzingis trade, he never lost the locker room. The team still barely won games, so I don’t know what you want me to say. He coached a bad team to a bad record. He made some questionable and some defendable decisions with minutes and rotations. I’m not concerned. For now.

Alex: I’m going to say a seven, for a few reasons. One, and this is the most important thing to me, he never lost the locker room during a season in which it would have been INCREDIBLY easy to lose the locker room. Most of the roster was under 25 years old, and for over half the year he had to juggle developing those guys with keeping the handful of vets (Enes Kanter, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas) happy, and he did that very well. Maybe minus Kanter, but Kanter sucks. Even once most of those older guys were gone, Fiz did a great job of helping the young guys see the silver linings of what ended up being one of the two worst win/loss seasons in franchise history.

Two, Fiz generally did a good job of developing the younger players, with one caveat named Frank Ntilikina. Other than Frank, Kevin Knox showed some vast improvement by the end of the year (even if it took him playing 40 minutes a night shooting 30 percent for about two months mid-season to get there). Mitchell Robinson improved leaps and bounds from game one to game 82, seemingly adding something new every time out. Vonleh, Mudiay and Hezonja all showed some signs of improvement this season, regardless of how you feel about them overall. Even Allonzo Trier had his struggles mid-season, but improved as he embraced off-ball work and catch-and-shoot situations.

Third, I think Fiz handled the media and all that very well. He never lost his cool while talking to the press, and always said all the right things. That’s important in a town where one bad soundbite can turn the media against you overnight.

There are plenty of things you could harp on with Fiz — he had his struggles with certain game situations like after time-out plays, he preached a defensive culture but played a lot of sieves huge minutes, and his undying love for Mudiay was, at times, terrible. But all in all, I think I’m perfectly comfortable giving him a seven.

Drew: I’ve been critical of Fizdale all year for the malarky he consistently told the press and never actually following through when the time came. Apparently “keep what you kill” only matters for Emmanuel Mudiay’s inability to run an offense or play defense.

However, I’m going to place my emotions aside and give Big Daddy Fiz a five. As much as I couldn’t stand the love affair with Mudiay, his despicable approach with Frank Ntilikina, and refusing to play balanced lineups for stretches at a time, the approach with Mitchell Robinson cannot be overlooked. You all know Robinson’s backstory so I’m not gonna repeat it. Because of the inexperience, everything was kept simple for Robinson, focusing primarily on his current strengths to put him in positions to succeed. He was never asked to put the ball on the floor, make advanced reads, or shoot from the perimeter. Simply set picks and be a vertical threat. And he thrived on offense doing this.

On defense, Robinson played purely on instinct and Fizdale let him figure it out on the fly. His foul rate improved as the year went on as he realized that he’s longer, faster, and more athletic than pretty much every guy who’s over seven feet tall. The Block Ness Monster’s rim protection numbers are better than that bum-ass snake Kristaps Porzingis posted. Robinson had a -9.3 defended field goal percentage differential within six feet and a block percentage of 10.0 compared to Porzingis’ -9.1 defended field goal percentage differential within six feet and 5.0 block percentage.

I know this is a great opportunity to really just hot take all over Fizdale and the issues I had with him, but let’s be more positive heading into the offseason. For every issue I had with him, there was something I liked, which is why a five makes the most sense.

Are the Knicks better off going into this offseason than they were going into last offseason?

MMiranda: Very much, yes.

Shwinnypooh: Yes.

Stingy: I plead ignorance.

Alex: Oh yeah. Lots of cap space? Check. Seven first-rounders over the next five years? Check. Top-five pick incoming? Check. Arguably the best player in the league has already decided to play here next year and beyond? Check? But Durant or not, the Knicks are well-positioned for the future. Now it’s just up to them to not fuck it up.

Drew: Obviously. This is a terrible question, Alex. (Ed. note - Blame James, this question was his suggestion.)

What’s your trust level in the Knicks’ front office this offseason to not act rashly if they don’t hit it big in free agency?

MMiranda: So far they’ve said and done all the right things. The one time they went off-script with the Porzingis trade, they came out of it in a better position. I feel better right now than I have in a long time.

Shwinnypooh: Considering this is the Knicks, there’s always the chance for things to go tits up, but fairly high. Steve Mills, left to his own devices, would not understand the concept that the worst thing this summer isn’t failing to land a star(s), it would be overpaying for middling talent in lieu of stars. However, Scott Perry seems far more level-headed. He understands the value of cap space and assets in a way previous Knicks regimes haven’t. He’s demonstrated he’s unafraid of making bold moves which may represent a step back in the short-term but open up possibilities to make major steps forward in the future. I’m cautiously optimistic, but we will have far more definitive answers about how much trust we should place in Perry following this summer’s free agency.

Stingy: Negative 82. I don’t trust them to stay composed because I bet their concept of hitting it big in free agency is significantly less haughty than mine.

Alex: Really confident, which feels weird to say. Even the Porzingis trade, which was extremely polarizing at the time, seems to be pretty well-received by almost everyone at this point. The only truly bad story to come out of the Knicks this year was James Dolan’s yearly idiotic tirade at a fan. Otherwise, this team seems to have a clear direction — accrue young players and draft picks, clear up cap space, and don’t spend long-term money on anyone short of a true difference-maker. Scott Perry seems like a really bright dude, and I’m to the point now that I almost completely trust any move that he makes.

Drew: I’m conflicted. Since Scott Perry became General Manager, the Knicks have made nothing but smart decisions — and yes, the Porzingis trade was a smart decision. The problem, though, is that this is the New York Knicks. If they don’t win the lottery, they should trade back and collect more future assets. If they do not sign two of Durant, Kyrie, Kawhi, or Kemba, they should just roll over the cap space for another year and run it back with the young guys to play the long game. The worst possible outcome is spending long-term money on non-elite players.