clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

September mailbag, part one: past, present and future saviors, plus invisible P&T writers balling out

New, comments

It’s back-to-school season. Come get learned.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Tomorrow’s my daughter’s birthday, next week we’re moving into our new house, and after thinking I wouldn’t teach this semester I just had a class fall into my lap unexpectedly this week, one I’m desperate to get caught up with. Let’s get right to the September mailbag, people.

1) [W]ho is now the Knicks savior - Mitchell Robinson? RJ Barrett? Julius Randle? Other?

— David_SelfHatingKnicksFan

There’s only one messiah as far as 33rd and 8th is concerned...

The word “savior” replaced the Old English wordhælend,” the noun for “healing.” By that definition, all three of Self-Hating David’s choices offer different flavors of balm. In ascending order, we start with Julius Randle.

Randle is a 24-year-old who’s averaged double-doubles per 36 minutes every year since his rookie season, when he played just 14 minutes before breaking his leg. A devastatingly efficient scorer in the post, Randle also set career-highs in three-pointers made, attempted, and 3P% last year. If he continues to improve, he could be an All-Star. The Knicks signed him to a reasonable, flexible contract. For a franchise that this century has overpaid for the privilege of throwing all its hopes behind big men like injured-ass Antonio McDyess, IDGAF-ass Eddy Curry, injured-ass Amar’e Stoudemire and injured-ass Kristaps Porzingis, Randle is evidence of a reasonable front office. That in itself is a kind of salvation.

RJ Barrett is usually the type of prospect the Knicks are 4-5 spots too low to select. I’ve no idea what his career will end up like, but between “Yo. I’m a Knick,” his late Summer League efflorescence and his desire to throw down on the last top-4 New York draftee, I come to praise RJ, not to lament Zion Williamson. In a year when the draft process changed and two of the three worst teams fell out of the top-three, I see Barrett as an omen that the Knicks’ luck is starting to turn around, too. Salvation takes all kinds of forms.

Mitchell Robinson offers a kind of salvation not seen at Madison Square Garden since Patrick Ewing because he offers an upside not seen since 1985, too. “What about KP?” the Pharisees cry. Porzingis undoubtedly offers a better-balanced potential than Robinson. But what were his ultimate upsides? Will KP ever be MVP? Doubt it. Is his offensive upside on the same level of, say, Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Davis? Is his defensive potential in the same stratosphere as Joel Embiid or Rudy Gobert? Nah.

Robinson is still more The Riddler than Superman, a question mark as far as what he ends up being on offense. When I hear he’s looking to shoot 3s, I feel like I do whenever I see or hear Donald Trump: sickeningly aware of the extent to which we can’t stop reality from being real. That’s not to say I want Mitch to settle for the simple life of a pick-and-dive roll man (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But given his value as an offensive rebounder, I’d rather see him nail down one or two moves in the paint before we ship him out beyond the arc. If Shaquille O’Neal played today, some jackass would be telling him to shoot more 3s. Mitch ain’t Shaq, but if ain’t broke, you know?

But where Robinson’s greatest hope lies is the defensive end. You’ve heard it a hundred times already, but here’s a list of all the seven-footers in NBA history who were dominant defenders both at the rim and out on the perimeter:

1) { }

Nobody. None. Sure, you’ll think of guys who were elite on one end and perfectly fine on the other. David Robinson was fleet of foot. Hakeem Olajuwon could teach Lionel Messi a thing or two about footwork (LeBron, too). Mitchell Robinson, one season in, looks like the guy SPECTRE engineered in a lab to terrorize NBA offenses in 2019. Whoever you think of as all-time Abaddons on the defensive end, just straight destroyers, Robinson is at present on the list. Doesn’t mean he’ll be Bill Russell. But 99.9% of NBA players never even make it onto that list. So the fact that a Knicks second-year second-round pick is justifiably there already, for a franchise whose draft-day identity is either passing on greatness or missing out by an agonizingly close degree, is absolutely a curative for the soul.

2) Maybe the savior is 1,204 miles away...

The last time the Timberwolves traded a franchise center, they sent Kevin Garnett to the Celtics in the summer of 2007. Boston sent Minnesota another talented young big man in Al Jefferson, two recent first-round picks in Gerald Green and Sebastian Telfair, another youngster (Ryan Gomes), the expiring contract known as Theo Ratliff, and two 2009 first-round picks. Last offseason, the Pelicans traded franchise big Anthony Davis to Rich Paul the Lakers for a six-piece (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and first-round picks in 2021, 2023 and 2024). So a deal for Towns, who is younger (23) than either KG (30) or AD (26) were when they were dealt and far more durable to this point (five games missed in four seasons) figures to cost at least that much.

My offer to Minnesota for KAT would be three of the following quartet — Barrett, Robinson, Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. — plus whatever they need for cap relief, one of the two Dallas first-round picks owes NewYork and one of the Knicks’ own first-round picks in 2020, 2021, 2023 or 2024.

A high price, undoubtedly. If you’re not interested in Towns at all, I get it. But if you are, you gotta give somethings to get something. I’d pray the Wolves passed on Barrett, and the only piece I cringe at including is Robinson. But acquiring Towns means he’s your big man of the future. You’re not pairing him with Mitchell. Bite down hard, try not to scream, and hope that Towns plus whichever young player you get to keep attract talent to sign on sooner than later.

And before you point out I just said Robinson’s upside on defense made him more of a savior-type than KP, and Towns isn’t even Porzingis on the defensive end...don’t. I’d take KAT any day of the week ahead of KP. If you wouldn’t, I pray Bernie Sanders wins the presidency, Mitch McConnell passes away non-peacefully and a non-obstructionist Congress passes Medicare of All. Go get some help, friend.

3) If you could take one player who played for the Knicks in the last decade and add him to this year’s team, who would it be, and what impact would it make? Rules: let’s say the added player would have a season equal to his greatest Knicks season. There are one or two obvious answers, but what about outside-the-box ideas?

— PolyphonicSpreewell

David Lee. For a few reasons. First, Lee put up 20, 12 and 3.6 assists in his last and best season in New York. He ain’t no mascot. The pride of St. Louis could ball. I stick him in alongside Mitch or as a small-ball 5 and I’m good to go.

But also, Lee, as much as any Knick I’ve ever seen, added something new to his game every season. He entered the league as an intriguing athlete, an ambidextrous leaper. Over the years his passing improved, his post play, his jumper; it was always something new, year after year. And these were NOT years where the Knicks were lauded for their player development. This wasn’t the organization pulling a My Fair Lady. This was Eliza Doolittle saying “Fuck Henry Higgins. I got this.” And she did.

I’d like the Knicks to have a player with that drive inside him to drive the youngsters on the team toward their greatest heights, too. I’m not sold one way or the other on David Fizdale; I am sold on the fact that a player doing is a more convincing sales pitch than anything the head coach is selling. So yeah. Gimme some D-Lee.

4) Should the front office think about trading Allonzo Trier? Considering we have a glut of guards and at least three other attack-first type of players who should all probably get more minutes than him…does it make sense to shop him to another team while he’s worth something?...I just don’t see the point of having [a] player like him sharing the court with any combination of Barrett, Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox.

And if you disagree……who do you have as number one on your “trade asset” list?

— OnceAnOakAlwaysAnOak

Should they think about it? Sure! This team doesn’t have much going on at the mo. There’s hope and there’s hype, and that’s about it. Should they definitely dump him? I don’t feel that strongly yet. I’m of the opinion that other than Robinson’s defense, this roster hasn’t proven a thing. I read shit like “The Knicks are set at guards; what they need are forwards,” or vice-versa, or DSJ saying “We know offense is going to take care of itself, but defense is where really where we have to hang out hat,” and I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone.

Trier showed potential as a scorer in his rookie year. Maybe he never shows anything of consequence beyond that, but then again maybe he turns into one of the better scoring Sixth Men we’ve seen in these parts in a while. I still think this year is a whole lot of imagination and investigation. Maybe with a better team around him, guys like Trier and DSJ and Frank Ntilikina show us things we didn’t know they were capable of. Someone makes you a Godfather offer for Trier, go on and pull the trigger. But how much is he worth at this point? You’re not getting a first-rounder for him. Does a second-round pick get you hot to trot? Not me.

Number one on the asset list would have to be Robinson, followed by some of the Knicks’ stash of first-round picks, followed by Knox (young and cheap for 2-3 years).

5) How many points could you score in an NBA game if you were completely invisible to the defense unless you had the ball in your hands?

— Knicked to the Curb

For a question this important, I checked in with the P&T writers room.

Alex Wolfe: Whoever the point guard is would be important in that discussion. Needs to be someone that can make easy no-look passes. I’m thinking like 20 points to be honest. Being realistic. Because they would still have NBA-caliber reaction time. And would start assuming I’d be under the hoop and shading that way. Plus I’d hear footsteps once or twice and flub it.

James Marceda: So as soon as you have the ball in your hands you’re visible? You could maybe sneak a basket or two if your teammate can somehow find your invisible ass right under the hoop. Although...your defender probably can’t stay in the paint if nobody knows that’s where you are. OK, surround me with shooters, and assuming 3 in the key would get called on my defender, I could break Wilt [Chamberlain’s 100-points] record. You’d have to work out code words with your teammates so they know where you are. “Bunghole” means I’m under the rim, for instance. HIT ME IN THE BUNGHOLE. Realistically i would SHATTER Wilt’s record.

Alex: I’d def want to try to hit a 3 one time to keep them honest.

James: Yeah, you’ve gotta mix it up. NBA 3-point range I’d be bunz from, but I could at least can some midrange Js.

Alex: I think I could hit from NBA 3. Wide open I could maybe hit like 30% if I had a couple weeks to shoot nonstop jumpers. I’d just need to go like 1-of-2 to start, though. That’s all it takes to scare ‘em.

Ashwin Ramnath: I’d score 2 points on 1-11 shooting.

Jonathan Schulman: 8 points on 4-7 shooting. All cherry picks.

Matt Weiss: I’d score 0 points on 0-of-whatever shooting even if I remained invisible when I had the ball. I’m not kidding. I’m perfectly acceptable at most sports but basketball I’m embarrassingly awful at...it’s pathetic but at least I’m honest.

James: I’m honest too in that I would fucking SLAY. There’s nothing dishonest about breaking Wilt’s record. Sorry you don’t believe in yourself.

Zach Diluzio: Half of ya’ll wouldn’t even be able to catch a pass and get the shot up in time. Not gonna get layups if Mitchell Robinson is hovering around the rim ready to stuff your shit. He could be 10 feet away and you still would have your shot bothered if not blocked altogether. Would prob have better luck getting the pass, dribbling away screaming, and throwing the ball at the rim while hoping whoever he’s guarding can grab it and dunk it for an assist. Cuz here’s the thing: those guys are gonna smell that weakness on you. As soon as your teammate is throwing the ball to a spot where no other teammate is, that’s a hard double coming hard because you’re gonna be turning that shit over.

Shwin: I didn’t read a single word Wach just wrote.

Zach: Lemme try again. You’re all trash and underestimating how trash you actually are. Half of you are like 5’8”. You have no chance.

If there are any Hardy Boys readers out there, you’ll recognize James as P&T’s resident Joe Hardy and Zach as 100% Frank. When Zach has children as soon as they’re old enough to reason he’s going to show them a PowerPoint presentation breaking down why Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and LeBron to the Knicks ever existing were not only wrong, but damningly embarrassing to have ever considered.

How would y’all fare as the Knicks’ invisible fifth option on offense, a.k.a Lance Thomas? Get your brag on in the comments, and stay tuned for the closing chapter of the September mailbag coming soon!