Frustrating coaching decisions, the need for a third star to complement Brunson, OG Anunoby looking more human, and Donte DiVincenzo still shooting flames from his fingertips: here are our takeaways from the Knicks’ first loss of the calendar year.
Thibodeau is a great but imperfect coach whose ceiling remains in question
Tom Thibodeau . . . where do we begin? Similar to his long-trusted star player, Julius Randle, Thibs has become an incredibly polarizing figure for the Knicks. Much like Randle, he’s been amazing for a large portion of his Knicks tenure and has played a very crucial role in turning around the Knicks’ culture and fortunes. But also like Randle, he’s had some astonishingly frustrating moments that leave you scratching your head and pulling your hair. All of that has led to many considering Thibodeau as a coach with an innate ability to raise his team’s floor by a considerable margin while also having questions about his ceiling and potential to lead his team to the highest of heights. And last night, fans got yet another peak at why that has been his narrative for so long.
Like his teams often do, the Knicks never gave up and fought their way back into the game and he deserves credit there. But Thibodeau also deserves his share of blame for not getting Kyrie Irving more involved defensively, especially after he picked up his second foul, and also for not doubling and trapping Irving earlier in the game. It needs to be repeated that Thibodeau has been great for the Knicks and that there are probably only one or two coaches who can do what he has done with the roster(s) he has been handed. But he, as we have all seen over the years, has his very clear flaws, and last night, we saw his stubbornness and inability to adapt midgame fair its ugly head.
Needless to say, the Knicks are still in dire need of a third guy
This is an obvious one that we all knew, but when a team loses, the flaws and weaknesses seem to be magnified and that seemed to be the case last night in the Knicks’ first loss in 2024 a.k.a. the OG era. Sure the Knicks offense ended up scoring 124 and saw both Randle and Brunson eclipse 30 points, with DiVicenzo just one point shy of hitting 20, but the offense for the entirety of the first half was abysmal. Even when they got shots to go, it was a lot of one-on-one, with very little ball, or player movement, limited creativity, and a lack of explosiveness. Shots were being forced by the team’s two stars and when the second unit came in, they played hard, but the offense was just bad, if not worse. And the one concern is, the offense looked bad even with Brunson on the floor last night.
So the Knicks, in their pursuit of a third ball-handler, who is capable of scoring and making plays for others, must look for someone who not only can, but also will, be play next to Brunson, meaning they have to be big enough, or offensively skilled enough for Thibodeau to sacrifice size. Because as we all saw, there were a lot of nights where he shied away from playing Immanuel Quickley, who the Knicks sorely missed last night, next to Brunson.
OG Anunoby has been amazing but showed why he’s a role player and not a star
Before anyone gets mad or misunderstands, this isn’t a shot at Anunoby or the trade. He has been an incredible addition to this Knicks roster and his defense, size, surprisingly solid rebounding, shooting, cutting, and finishing, have all been a major reason for the Knicks’ hot start to 2024. That being said, last night was a minor wake-up call for everyone who wanted to crown the Knicks as the 2024 champions, and everyone ready to give up the world to keep Anunoby a lifelong Knick. Can the Knicks still contend for a championship this year? Yes. Can and should the Knicks bring Anunoby back? Also yes. But the loss to the Mavericks also showcased why the Raptors might have been so hesitant to secure him long-term.
Despite being an elite defender and an above-average three-point shooter, Anunoby is limited offensively. And last night showed that when his outside shot isn’t going and he isn’t able to stop a guy like Kyrie (who isn’t being slowed down by anyone right now to be fair), he loses some value and his weaknesses are more clear. Again, Anunoby is great and he has bought himself a few bad games with just how good he has been. But, this was a little reminder that he, like so many role players, certainly has his blemishes.
The Knicks missed Mitchell Robinson last night
This is far from an anti-Isaiah Harnenstein point because you’ll find it hard to find a bigger Hartenstein fan than me. The man has been playing possessed and has been among the league leaders in STOCKS (steals and blocks) and plus-minus in the new year. And during his time with the Knicks, he has been nothing but hard-working, humble, and selfless. But last night, especially down the stretch, was a game in which the Knicks missed Mitchell Robinson. Now, do the Knicks win if Robinson plays? Impossible to tell. Maybe he doesn’t get 15 rebounds like Hartenstein did last night, and maybe he misses a few of the free throws and points around the rim that Harntestein made, and maybe he misses a few passes and reads that Hartenstein made. But having Robinson in there would have meant Hartenstein would be the backup center, not Precious Achiuwa.
And this also isn’t a knock on Achiuwa, because he had his best game as a Knick, chipping in seven points and six rebounds in 16 minutes, but Hartenstein is clearly the better player of the two. And I believe that whoever would’ve been in for that last few minutes of the game, they would’ve been fresher than Hartenstein was last night and there’s at least a slim chance that the Knicks come up with one of those rebounds that they couldn’t come away with. Do they still lose the game? Maybe. But last night showed that the Knicks still need Robinson despite how great Hartenstein is and has been.
Donte DiVincenzo continues to be everything the Knicks could have hoped for and even more
Well now that we’re over a lot of the negatives and talking about what the Knicks don’t have and aren’t, let’s end on a positive note, shall we? I’ve written multiple times now about just how incredible DiVicenzo has been this season. And it’s crazy to think that not that long ago, I also wrote a post on how much he was struggling. But that seems like such a long time ago. The Knicks’ starting shooting guard continued his ridiculous hot streak by shooting 7-13 from the field and going 5-10 from deep for 19 points in 30 minutes. And in his last 16 games now, he is averaging 14.3PPG, 3.4RPG, 2.2APG, and 1.6SPG while shooting 51.9% from the field, 45.6% from three, and 84.2% from the line. He, and the aforementioned Hartenstein, weren’t even slated to be starters this year yet they’ve both been so good so consistently ever since being placed in the starting lineup, and they, along with the front office, deserve a ton of credit for that.