Finally, NBA Basketball returns to Madison Square Garden when the New York Knicks (0-0) host the Detroit Pistons (0-0) on Tuesday. Yes, this contest is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage, but nonetheless, I’m grinning. Our heroes last played on April 10, 2022, and this mostly-fizzle, little-sizzle summer has dragged on fooor-ehhh-vah.
Last season, New York finished 37-45 and Detroit went 23-59. Both teams boast a roster of promising young talent, but Detroit seems more inclined to use it.
For the Knicks, this will be the first opportunity for off-season acquisitions Jalen Brunson and Isaiah Hartenstein to compete in the orange and blue. Mitchell Robinson will get to prove if all his free throw practice this summer made a difference. And coach Tom Thibodeau will give us a preview of this year’s rotations (spoiler alert: vet heavy!) and show whether he can find time for his worthy second-unit guys Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin, both rabidly chewing on towels, both starving for minutes.
On Detroit’s side, this marks the first primetime action for Detroit’s Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey backcourt. We’ll see how coach Dwane Casey employs his two young lottery picks—the first pick, 2021, and fifth pick, 2022, respectively.
At last we get to see Jalen Brunson in action. After all ink and bytes that were spent on the 26-year-old this off-season, what’s left to say? The Knicks signed him away from the Mavericks on a reasonable contract, were accused of tampering (which is still just smoke), and finally have a point guard who will excite the fan base.
Expect Brunson to face equal measures of Ivey and Cunningham. Cade (6’6”, 220 lb.) hopes to continue where he left off last year. The former Oklahoma State star finished with averages of 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.6 assists in his first NBA campaign. He played big minutes for Detroit—32.6 per game—and will likely share ball-handling duties with Ivey. Cunningham shot 31% from deep on 5.7 attempts, and he’ll show tonight if he has improved on that in the off-season.
Yes, Evan Fournier will start as the shooting guard for New York. Relax, Grimes is nursing a sore foot. Last year, Evan broke the Knicks’ single-season record for made three-pointers. Great! His defense: not so great. He will likely see a lot of the athletic neophyte Ivey tonight. Jaden is known for his driving and styling, but did bring his three-point shooting up from 26% to 36% in his sophomore year at Purdue. In 59 collegiate games across his two seasons, the 20-year-old Ivey averaged 14.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 28.6 minutes.
Small forward RJ Barrett must be living large. The 22-year-old is newly minted, with a 4-year / $120 million contract under his belt, and the table is set for his breakout year. Across the ball from the Maple Mamba tonight will be Saddiq Bey (6’7”, 215 lb.). The third-year-man out of Villanova played all 82 games for the Pistons last season and finished with averages of 16.1 points and 5.4 boards.
Julius Randle remains in the starting line-up at power forward after great speculation about him possibly being traded this summer. (No bites.) If Julius plans to return to the form of his Most Improved Player, All-Star, and All-NBA season, he’ll have a chance to show that tonight.
Another new face in Detroit is an old one, Bojan Bogdanovic. The 33-year-old vet, recently acquired from Utah, was a steal despite his mileage. In 69 games with the Jazz last season, the power forward averaged 16.7 points, 3.8 boards, and 1.7 assists in 31 minutes per game. At 6’7”, 226 lb., he’s disadvantaged against Randle in the paint, but he’s a career 39% shooter from deep and can scorch a napping Julius.
Defending the rim for New York is another off-season contract signee, Mitchell Robinson. I’m excited to see Mitch play, but I’m even more keen to see Hartenstein get work in. Hart has shown glimpses of shooting proficiency, and this team will need all the floor spacing help it can get.
ESPN’s depth chart lists Marvin Bagley III as Detroit’s lead center. After being traded from the Sacramento Kings mid-season, Bagley finished his last campaign with an average of 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. I’m partial to Isaiah Stewart and the unrefined-but-talented Jalen Duren—a Knick for about two minutes before being dealt to Detroit on draft night—who will also be fighting for time, too. The Pistons have some depth at center this year. I warned you not to sleep on them....
Other recent additions to the Pistons squad include Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and (can you believe it?) Kevin Knox. Due to injury, these guys all missed time training camp and are unlikely to make their return to the Mecca tonight. Nerlens hurt? Impossible.
Most coaches use pre-season games to try out different roles, plays, and rotations. According to The Detroit News, “Pistons coach Dwane Casey said the team’s approach is going to be the same as it has been throughout the first week of training camp and during Sunday’s open scrimmage.”
There are no low-stakes contests for one Thomas Thibodeau, however. Look for Thibs to run his regular guys a little too long, and don’t bet on many minutes for, say, Trevor Keels. The Knicks’ frontcourt should have the edge tonight, and Brunson will be eager to impress in his NYC debut. Knicks by ten.
Manhattan, NYC. Tuesday. Tip-off is 7:00 p.m. Happy 15th birthday, Sam—and go Knicks!