Games like Tuesday’s matchup against the Detroit Pistons can either be a welcome distraction from losing or a lifeline to a coach or “star” player in need of being scuttled. There was hope before the season started that the Pistons would take a turn toward relevancy. No team had a better draft, as they selected Jaden Ivey, who many Knicks fans, including me, coveted, and Jalen Duren, a big man which upside.
But Detroit has dealt with a slew of injuries, most notably to star guard Cade Cunningham, who sat out this game, and Ivey, making way for former Knicks Kevin Knox and Alec Burks to have revenge games. Spoiler: it didn’t happen. Instead, the Knicks shot the lights out from the opening tip en route to a season-high 140 points and a W.
While the Knicks started the first quarter hot as hell, shooting 7-12 from three, many Knicks fans were stuck in the ennui of the Knicks’ larger conundrum. Most notably, the stifling personalities of head coach Tom Thibodeau and lead player Julius Randle. As long as those two remain on the team, who gives a damn about the Knicks blowing the Pistons out on a Tuesday night?
Under normal circumstances, this would be the perfect year for the Knicks to clean house, trade Randle, Derrick Rose, and Evan Fournier, and fully commit to a rebuild. It would also cause for firing Tom Thibodeau, elevating Johnnie Bryant, and allowing the kids to make enough mistakes to earn a Lottery pick. But under Leon Rose, the Knicks have avoided a complete rebuild and instead lodged themselves in an awkward predicament between a later Lottery pick and the Play-in Tournament. Too bad for the Playoffs, too good to draft a generational talent. Furthermore, the emergence of Jalen Brunson has provided stability at the point guard position, which has reinforced, at least from Thibodeau’s perspective, that this team can compete for a playoff spot when a tank would provide more long-term stability.
Randle’s “heliocentric” offense, a term that has gained steam this season when considering the Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Oklahoma City Thunder, has stunted the growth of this team’s young core. And his allowance to perpetuate this losing offensive conundrum is fully enabled by Thibodeau. Even against the Pistons. The Knicks allowed another non-star play like one when Marvin Bagley dropped 11 and four against the Knicks in the first quarter. The Pistons shot 63.6% from the field in the first quarter and 48.8% in the first half. If the Knicks hadn’t gotten lucky from behind the arc (8/16 from three), they would have been looking at a double-digit deficit at the hands of a Lottery team.
Randle went ballistic in the first half, notching 17 points in the first quarter and 26 points in the half. I couldn’t help thinking about it in terms of his trade value increasing. Randle is a great player who is talented in many facets of the game. But his potential in New York has reached its ceiling. This team needs a complete rebuild, with a renewed commitment to homegrown Lottery picks that we can develop and build upon into first, second, and third options. Randle’s birthday was today. He turned 28. As P&T’er Mujuru noted, it was indeed a happy birthday for Julius. But for me and many Knicks fans, that’s four to five years too old for our young core. I’m happy he could go off on his birth day, but what does it mean for this team in the long run? Are we better for it? Or is a meaningless Pistons win in late November another excuse not to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, “what the fuck are we doing?”
The Pistons are not the kind of team you can gauge your team's direction against. Instead, they are the kind of team Randle can go crazy in isolation on. The game had a pre-season feel, perhaps because the Knicks almost always play the Pistons twice in exhibition games. It almost seemed unfair for a team that’s already bad when fully healthy and missing their top two players. But, hey, we’ll take it, especially when we face the Bucks tomorrow.
Some positive things to note:
- Finally, a solid outing from three from the entire team. The Knicks shot 45.7% from the perimeter, which allowed the Knicks to jump out to an early lead and never look back. The three-ball has been one of the many issues plaguing these Knicks this season. Perhaps this game can restore the confidence of players like Barrett and Randle, two guys who have struggled mightily.
- The Knicks had 16 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points, these two metrics were huge towards the Knicks dominating this game. Both of those are accomplished through effort. Thibs hasn't lost the locker room yet.
- With the Knicks up 30 at the start of the fourth, Thibs sat the starters to rest for tomorrow’s back-to-back matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks. Good on the coach not to leave Randle to stat-pad or for any of our starters to risk injury in a blowout.
- It would be wonderful to play the Pistons every night. But the Knicks haven't had much of an issue beating shitty teams. It’s middle of the pack to good teams we’ve had trouble with. When teams suck, we take care of business.
- Quentin Grimes’ career trajectory will be more than just a three-and-D player. His instincts, awareness, and first step will guide him toward being an outstanding starter-level player. Let’s cross our fingers it's with the Knicks down the line.
- When healthy, Mitchell Robinson has a significant impact on the defensive identity of this team. His rebounding and shot-blocking control the paint and pushes opposing teams into poor mid-range shots and low-percentage isolation situations.
- Immanuel Quickley has grown into an elite defensive player and plays well with every four-man unit he’s paired with. His minutes should increase as the season progresses, taking form Derrick Rose’s minutes, who is beginning to regress, although he remains a plus on the court. His 15 points off the bench led the second unit in scoring.
- Cam Reddish is the only player on the court with the combination of handles and athleticism to break down defenders and score on pull-up jumpers. Re-signing him this off-season must be our top priority. It’s hard to imagine a rotation without him.