Saturday’s game between the Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers ended just after 10 PM Eastern. Not long after that, this reporter went to bed. I was pooped. I hadn’t really done that much in the daytime to warrant that lack of energy. It was this Knicks team — they really take a lot out of you.
Let’s begin with the starting lineup:
- PG: Elfrid Payton (played 31 minutes)
- SG: Reggie Bullock (played 34 minutes)
- SF: Marcus Morris (played 36 minutes)
- PF: Julius Randle (played 34 minutes)
- C: Taj Gibson (played 23 minutes)
If I had told you in October that this motley crew of veteran journeymen would be starting a game in late January, you’d probably guess something had gone horribly wrong, no? We’ve arrived at pretty much the worst-case scenario for the 2019-20, and injuries can’t begin to explain it. Sure, RJ Barrett is out with a sprained ankle, but Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox all played off the bench. The coach (or maybe the front office?) is prioritizing short-term goals over the future once again.
But the saddest thing, in my opinion, is that this lineup is still probably the best lineup the Knicks can throw out there. Taj has been more consistent than Mitch, and even if Barrett were healthy, he hasn’t been better than Bullock. Look, I wish these kids would grab these spots as much as the next fan, but the truth is they really haven’t earned them.
The vets showed as much Saturday against Philly, as the starting unit won their overall minutes against the Sixers’ starters. Sure, they botched the endgame with a typical Knicks-ian flourish — forgetting to cover a three-point shooter as Philly re-took the lead, then screwing up their chance to tie by running a ragged offensive set that ended in a Randle turnover — but the starters generally out-played the young reserves, none of who finished with a positive plus-minus.
But who cares? Even with the game close, I completely lost interest once Frank and Knox checked out halfway through the fourth quarter. The Knicks are a rudderless ship right now, and they probably will be until they trade some of these vets...if they trade them, that is.
- I understand the dilemma Knox usually presents the coaching staff: When they give him more minutes, he tends to get exposed. But Knox seemed to be holding his own Saturday night. He wasn’t contributing much on the stat sheet — 4 points on 2-3 shooting, 2 rebounds, 1 assist — but he wasn’t being overwhelmed either. Still, he only got 11 minutes. Send him down to Westchester if you don’t trust him that much.
- Frank was way too passive in the first half, then extremely trigger-happy in the second. The shots didn’t go in —5 points on 2-8 shooting - but three of those misses rimmed out in heart-breaking fashion. Keep shooting, Frank. It worked for Marcus Smart.
- Mitch seemed to wake up from his multi-game slumber halfway through this one, with a sweet block on Ben Simmons. He played so well in the second half that Mike Miller let him close the game in place of Taj. Mitch didn’t do a good job of screening for Marcus Morris on that pivotal final possession, however. Setting screens is still a big problem for Mitch.
- Taj had 11 points on 4-6 shooting. He’s been a surprising offensive weapon of late, while Mitch has been struggling. God forbid the Knicks have TWO nice things at the same time.
- Reggie Bullock is very good. The Knicks should hold onto him.
- Elfrid Payton missed his first seven shots, then finished the game 5-for-his-last-7. Maybe he needs to get more shots up during warmups.
Anyway, that’s it. “Our future is bleak,” as P&T’er PeteBondurant said. That’s certainly true in the near future. Depressing times in Knicksland.