Veteran forward Gordon Hayward leads a Charlotte squad that’s been reduced by injuries and legal woes. Among the players on their injury report are LaMelo Ball (out-ankle) and Terry Rozier (doubtful-ankle). Brace yourself for extended Dennis Smith, Jr. minutes.
Tip-off’s at 7:30, honeybees.
That’s right, Dennis Smith, Jr. lives! Due to the Ball and Rozier injuries, Dennis is starting at point guard for Charlotte and...appears to be doing fine. Shame on your guffaws.
After three seasons and 58 games in New York, few fans wept when DSJ departed on the trade bus. Since then, Dennis has bounced from Detroit to Portland to beautiful North Carolina. He was born in N.C. and attended college there, so maybe he just needed to go home to succeed.
The ninth pick in the 2017 draft is averaging 13.3 points, 4.7 dimes, and 2.3 steals in 25.7 minutes per game for Charlotte. Plus, he’s shooting 57% from the floor and 71% from deep on an average of 2.3 attempts. He should be motivated to impress in his return to the Garden.
Dennis will square off against Jalen Brunson, who is having a vastly different Knick experience. In his first three games with New York, Jalen has averaged career-highs of 17.7 points, seven assists, and 32.3 minutes. What’s more, he’s bringing the best out of his teammates.
In fact, in their first few games, the Knicks haven’t given us much to complain about. One concern has been the play of Evan Fournier. The lead shooting guard is averaging 10 points and shooting 33% from the field, 37% from beyond the arc, and still playing intermittent defense.
The drop in production is disappointing given Evan’s $18.8 million salary this season. Once Quentin Grimes returns, and if Grimes plays well, Thibs will be forced to move Fournier to the second unit. Right? Maybe. Unless Thibs views Evan as he did Kemba Walker last season: he starts, or he’s out of the rotation. I hope not.
Tonight, Evan will face Kelly Oubre, Jr. (6’7”, 203 lb.). In his eighth season, the former Jayhawk is averaging 17.3 points on 54% eFG and has a 104.1 defensive rating, with 2.3 steals per game.
Another concern for some Knicks fans has been RJ Barrett’s shooting. He finally got the long ball to go in on Monday, finishing 3-for-7 (43%) from deep and raising his season average to 19%. Remember when I suggested that he should set a goal of three three-pointers against the Magic? Lucky guess.
PJ Washington (6’7”, 230 lb.) will start at forward for the Charlatans. The 2019-20 All-Rookie has averaged 13 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists so far this season. A smart defender won’t give him space to breathe beyond the arc, where he’s shooting 44% on 5.3 attempts per game.
Gordon Hayward (6’7”, 225 lb.), in his 13th season, is the lead Hornet with 19.3 points and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 55% from the floor. Tonight, he will be outmuscled by Julius Randle, whose redemption tour has been extremely satisfying to watch. Plus: floaters!
Of Julius Randle’s 1243 shots last season 26 were floaters (2.1%)— NBA University (@NBA_University) October 25, 2022
Randle has already attempted 5 floaters out of his 47 shots this season (10.6%) and he’s 4/5 (80%) on them. Huge development for Julius’ game and efficiency. Brunson’s PnR has been key to unlocking this as well. pic.twitter.com/0AnMQXXscX
Nick Richards (7’0”, 245 lb.) leads Charlotte in rebounding with nine per game and packs on an average of 15 points. The third-year man takes most of his shots within three feet of the rim, much like Mitchell Robinson. So far, the Knicks have won the battle for points in the paint in every game, thanks to great play from Sir Lobness and Isaiah Hartenstein.
Considering their circumstances, Charlotte’s convincing victories over the San Antonio Spurs and the Atlanta Hawks came as a surprise. With Knicks teams of yore, I’d worry about this being a trap game. Against the Hornets tonight, our team has the deeper bench and a superior point guard to make sure New York doesn’t lose the plot. Prediction: Knicks win, bringing their record to 3-1, and DSJ has yet another disappointing night at MSG.
Madison Square Garden. Wednesday. 7:30 p.m. ET. Sting ’em Knickerbockers!