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August Mailbag, Part Three: Hybrid dream players, an NYC golden age and Knick detective duos

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The epic conclusion to another classic American trilogy

Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s the third and final installment of the August mailbag. In Part One we covered relative excitement for this season versus others, David Fizdale and the worst of NBA media personalities; Part Two focused on the best, worst and most fun Knicks of the past decade, paths to the playoffs and national anthems. Now, the riveting conclusion.

1) Me and my boys been debating...for hours. Would you rather have:

A. RJ Barrett with his current skillset + the ability to shoot like Steph Curry

or

B. Frank Ntilikina with his current skillset + the ability to dribble and finish like Kyrie Irving?

— Jey Van Halen

For me, it comes down to perceived areas of weakness. Barrett’s biggest question mark is probably his outside shooting. I think he can pass, drive, and eventually finish competently at an NBA-level. If he becomes a halfway decent outside shooter, I can see him becoming a multiple All-Star. If he became, like Curry, one of the legit greatest shooters of all time, now you’re talking MVP-caliber, right? If RJ had the benefit of defenders playing up on him all the time, I think his I.Q. and advanced ability to slow down quickly, a la James Harden, would make Barrett an annual All-Pro and potential G.O.A.T. Knick.

I’d LOVE it if someone could stick a Matrix needle in the back of Frank’s neck and instantly channel the handle and finishing ability of Kyrie. For much of my life, I thought Rod Strickland was the best I ever saw finishing at the basket. That Bronx Jelly was no joke.

But West Orange wins the crown. I’ve never seen anyone dribble or finish better.

Ntilikina is instinctively unselfish. If he had the ability to break down any defender from 25-plus feet out and finish at an elite level, plus the willingness to dish off for double-digit assists every night, coupled with that defense... that’s, like, Scottie Pippen with a better handle. The difference for me between Super RJ and Super Frank is Super Frank is a bigger, better-defending Russell Westbrook: dominant going to the basket, either scoring or dishing to an open teammate; but as with Westbrook, that jump shot is pure Clark Kent.

If I can resort to 1940s naval differentiation, Super Frank is a destroyer that — on its best day — hits like a battleship. In any battle, Super Frank can turn the tide. Super RJ is an aircraft carrier. He’s the USS Enterprise. He’ll win you the damn war.

2) If you could only see one thing happening this year, which would it be?

1. Dennis Smith Jr. or Ntilikina breaking out and giving confidence that they could be the PG of the future,

2. RJ Barrett becoming a Rookie of the Year candidate and on a clear path to stardom, or

3. Mitchell Robinson solving his foul woes and emerging as an All-Defensive Player?

— HighFlyers28

On the bright side, I can see all three of these things happening this year. But which seems the most likely?

At first, I figured Mitchell making an All-Defense team seemed a fair bet. Then I did some research. Here are the 10 players named All-Defense at least seven times:

  • Walt Frazier; Dennis Rodman; Chris Paul (seven times)
  • Bobby Jones; Scottie Pippen; Tim Duncan (eight times)
  • Michael Jordan; Gary Payton; Kevin Garnett; Kobe Bryant (nine times)

As an aside — the one guy on this list I’d never watched footage of was Jones. My bad. Dude‘s game looks easy on the eyes.

One bad sign for Robinson: only three of the ten made All-Defense in their first two seasons — Duncan and Jones as rookies (Jones for the then-ABA’s Denver Nuggets), and Clyde in his second year. Jordan, Rodman and Paul were first honored their third seasons, with Pippen, Payton and Bryant named in their fourth. Garnett made it in year No. 5.

The only player on the list whose defensive role resembled Robinson’s responsibilities was Duncan, also (mostly) a center. That fact may bode well for the second-year Knickerbocker. What he brings to the table at the rim and away from the basket is so unique, in today’s game and historically, it may be too brilliant for voters to pass up much longer.

I think Barrett is likely to put up numbers in enough categories to earn some ROTY buzz, though I imagine a point guard like Ja Morant getting to take the wheel in Memphis gives him the edge over Zion Williamson (lots of young vets on that team looking to establish themselves for some future team that won’t be the Pelicans) and Barrett. I think 14 points, six rebounds and four assists a game is within RJ’s grasp, and if those numbers are accompanied by the Knicks rising from 17 wins to maybe double that amount, best believe a big-name NYC rookie with smooth PR skills will get some love.

I think the most likely likelihood is Smith breaking out as the point guard of the future. He’s been traded by the team that drafted him (ego should be challenged); he’s been with his new team over an entire offseason (stability & understanding should be set); every day he gets closer to that first shot at free agency and/or a rookie extension (years of paychecks at stake); adding an offensive hub like Julius Randle and outside shooting in Wayne Ellington and eventually Reggie Bullock should open the floor up for Smith to work with (better working conditions).

Remember: DSJ played 32 games in New York last year and lost nearly 80 percent of them. The Knicks could lose 50 games this year and that’d still be enough of an improvement to energize the Garden. An energized Garden could give Smith a glimpse of what life could be like as the point guard who led a Knick renaissance. If we’re not here to hope, what’s the point of it all?

3) Which two current Knicks would make the best detective duo?

— Walt Clyde Phraser

Best? Dunno. Ideas that intrigue:

  • Frank & Marcus Morris. The beautiful young ingénue and the world-weary pragmatist.
  • RJ & Morris. The fast-riser who wants it all and wants it now paired alongside a rough-and-tumble type who’ll cut corners if he thinks it means justice is served. A modern retelling of officers Edmund J. Exley and Bud White from L.A. Confidential.
  • DSJ & Allonzo Trier. A couple of young guns who think they know it all and are juuuust good enough to get away with their blind spots.
  • Kevin Knox & Kadeem Allen. Knox never talks; Allen never stops talking, or smiling. The kind of cop pairing that can almost make you forget the police ultimately exist to protect the interests of the monied classes in a capitalist state. Almost.
  • Mitchell Robinson & Iggy Brazdeikis. This one feels really right, don’t it?
  • Frank & DSJ. Dude. They’re both hot as fuck. I don’t even care what the show’s about. Just get those faces on my big-ass flat screen and let me figure it out from there.
  • Taj Gibson & Bobby Portis. A good cop/bad cop tandem. Nikola Mirotić could have a guest appearance as a suspect Portis goes too far with.
  • Randle & Morris. They could be hard as hell.
  • David Fizdale plays Chief Fizdale. He’ll claim to treat his squad equally, but there are whispers he has favorites, and everyone knows the ingénue’s in his doghouse.
  • Steve Mills is the morally ambiguous local politician who’s initially clearly a villain but whose growing complexity ultimately reveals him to be more a mirror for ourselves than an orthodox baddie.
  • Scott Perry dies tragically in the series premiere, hours away from retirement and he and his lady moving to some beautiful island. He’d bought a boat. Named it Blue Paradise. LOOK ON MINE IRONY, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR!
  • James Dolan is the inept bureaucrat who throws some monkey wrench into every episode.
  • Damyean Dotson is a traitor, though with good cause. Like, he’s being extorted or his mother has hospital bills she can’t pay, so he pinches a little from the evidence room or busts, maybe gets in with the wrong people from back in the neighborhood, and in the dramatic two-part season finale he ends up on the run the last half-hour, until at the end he’s cornered by his former best friend on the squad, which is Allen, so we can finally see him not smiling. Dot’s standing on a bridge, gun to his head, admitting he got in too deep and couldn’t see a way out. He mentions Perry’s boat, and how there’s no paradise.

“Not for us,” he says.

“We can work this out, Dot,” Kadeem says. “You don’t have to do this.”

“No, Kadeem. You don’t have to do this. You’re free.” (In a flashback earlier in the finale, Allen mentioned wanting to leave the force and forge a new path in life.) Then Dotson closes his eyes, smiles and says, softly, “I’m free.”

“NOOOO!” Allen screams. Dotson’s gun fires.

END SCENE

  • Walt Frazier has a brief cameo in the series premiere. He is the one link to the original series this remake must be loosely based on/connected to, because if intellectual property isn’t derivative are you even trying, breh?

4) Question: Are we finally starting the first baby steps towards a renaissance for NY sports? The Yanks are good; the Mets are “eh” but not a laughingstock... the Jets seem to be pointing up... so are the Giants; the Knicks will take a few years but I think things are looking up. Obviously I’m thinking more like 2021 when all teams might be good at the same time – would make for an interesting atmosphere.

Oh yea, forgot about the Nets. They will be alright (no chip for them, though).

— David_SelfHatingKnicksFan

I’m pretty sure the last time the Knicks, Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants all finished with winning records was 2000. That year the Knicks won 50 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals; the Mets and Yanks won 94 and 87 games and met in the World Series; the Jets went 9-7 and the Giants 12-4, with Big Blue losing in the Super Bowl. The Nets, if anybody cares, went 31-51. Their three leading minutes men were Stephon Marbury, Keith Van Horn and Kendall Gill. Kerry Kittles was fifth. Who was fourth?

A) Jamie Feick

B) Ken Foree

C) Scott Reiniger

D) Richard France

One of those names is the correct answer. The other three are actors from the original Dawn of the Dead, still a crowning achievement in zombie cinema.

The Yankees seem a lock for continued success. This is the Bomber’s 101st season since World War I ended. In all that time, they have 11 losing seasons. You earn the benefit of the doubt when you’ve won most of your games for 90 percent of a century.

By contrast, the Mets have 11 losing seasons in the last 16. Here’s a glimmer of hope for fans of the Amazins: the Mets are currently 67-63. If they stay above .500, it’d be their first winning season since 2016. The Mets have never, ever become a winning team and then regressed the following season. Every time they’ve ever climbed above .500, they’ve stayed there a bit (1969-1973; 1975-1976; 1984-1990; 1997-2001; 2005-2008; 2015-2016). So there’s that, at least.

The Jets are in their best position for sustained success in a while, with a young franchise quarterback finally in place. The Giants hope to have their QB of the future in tow, too, to pair with just-fit-him-for-a-golden-jacket-already RB Saquon Barkley. Hell, the Rangers have had a hell of an offseason, too. Climate change is, if not already here, at least too far along to hit the snooze button. Boston’s had their fill and Philly’s full of itself even in the leanest of times. It’s literally now or never for New York to get over the hump.

5) Did you write about other stuff and then incorporated basketball onto it or you just started to write for SB Nation? I live in Portugal but read some stuff on ESPN, Yahoo, even [The] Ringer and I wish you luck, because you deserve to be [paid] for the quality of your writing. Have no idea if you are or not.

— New York Stories

When I was 12, I used to track the Knicks on a single sheet of paper. I recorded the date and score of every game, the team’s record after each result, a significant box score and one narrative detail (I remember writing “Ewing: great technical” after a game in Boston where Xavier McDaniel nearly got T’d up, Ewing got in his face and nearly assaulted him while talking him down, only for the Big Fella to get a tech himself seconds later). I’d sometimes record myself broadcasting games on a little playback tape recorder (late in the ’91 season I taped a Bulls/Pistons game and stayed up late, alone, hoping to see a Jordan breakaway dunk. It happened right as Marv Albert was telling Matt Guokas about Bill Cartwright attacking a ball boy).

In the early 2000s I was “Lollypop M” on Myspace, where I’d write long-flowing journal pieces about the team. That was really my first sportswriting venture. It was just a few friends who might read what I wrote, but the awareness that someone out there might be reading my thoughts taught me to treat whatever I wrote like it was being published in a major newspaper. I honed my voice a lot writing those Myspace years. It really is true: what you do when nobody’s watching ends up mattering a lot later if you do it right.

For a while I wrote for Sports and Leisure magazine in western New York, covering the Continental Indoor Football League’s Rochester Raiders, the Premier Basketball League’s Rochester RazorSharks and college and high school athletes. None of it paid, but it gave me a byline, and practice working with deadlines and interviewing subjects. The Raiders’ owner spent the whole interview talking to me like I was his public relations employee rather than a reporter asking for answers rather than hustle; no matter what I asked, he tried to turn it into a commercial. To snap him out of it I asked about the league’s lagging on testing for performance-enhancing drugs. He ended the interview pretty immediately after.

My first appearance writing about the Knicks was a single joke I sent shortly after the Knicks/Nuggets brawl to Peter Vecsey when he still wrote for the New York Post.

Vecsey used it in his piece. I’d read and enjoyed his work for years. Rarely have I ever felt so proud as I did seeing my name in the same column I’d been reading for so long.

(For the record: I’m fairly certain Vecsey added “Yellow” to my joke. I wouldn’t have called Melo that, even when he was the enemy.)

In 2014 I wrote some FanPosts that caught Seth’s eye, and one day while at work I opened my email to find him inviting me to contribute to Posting and Toasting. I’ll admit: I was in peak adjunct hell at the time, teaching too many classes for too little money to too many writing and literature students, and I assumed P&T would either immediately or pretty quickly whisk me away to fame and fortune much like God whisked Elijah up to heaven.

NARRATOR: There was neither fame nor fortune.

Still, P&T has allowed me to try basically anything I can think of; creatively-speaking, it’s been a dream. That’s helped me to branch out and write about the NBA and EPL for FanSided and the intersection of sports, economics and social justice for Jacobin magazine. The dream is to keep writing and hopefully keep advancing: as a sportswriter, as a fiction and creative non-fiction writer. Earlier this year I was a finalist in the NYC Midnight Short Fiction contest, and I’m actually starting a book that mixes Knick history with memoir. There’s also a novel in the works and some short stories that will hopefully find homes soon.

A number of you are frequently lovely when it comes to compliments, and I just want to tell you to never, ever stop telling a writer when you enjoy what they’ve done (especially this writer writing to you now). A TON of sportswriting, especially, is a labor of love by people who are underpaid or generally unpaid. It is exhilarating work, but it’s often lonely. P&T is a great site for feedback. I don’t think I’ve ever received a single comment on anything I’ve written for FanSided, and sadly my Jacobin work often triggers bitter Twitter libertarians who wield sarcasm like a gavel rather than a scalpel. If something moves you or makes you change your thinking or become aware of a feeling, let the writer know! A single compliment can keep someone going when everything around them seems to be saying “Quit.”

6) Miranda, where do you stand on the 2019 Hong Kong Extradition Bill protests?

— Russ

Fuck the Chinese government.


That’s it for now, loves. See you in September.