Welcome to New York

...where it has been 0 days since our last public embarrassment

David Fizdale is still the coach of the New York Knicks.

That seems like an appropriate place to start. Not because it’s particularly noteworthy in and of itself or because he may be the head coach for a while, but because it means we’ve officially entered Crazy Town.

Crazy Town is a place all Knick fans have to visit every now and again. It’s like the Ringling Brothers or Barnum & Bailey…you know eventually it’ll pass through your town, and you know you’ll inevitably go take a look, because really, you have nothing better to do. Did you know there’s a tiger that juggles this year? There’s a tiger that juggles.

This is what Knick fandom is, after all…waiting around until the next moment when the circus shows up. This is why Yaron Weitzman was off base when he sent out this tweet yesterday:

To the contrary, Yaron. When the circus shows up, Knicks fans are actually at their most comfortable because it’s the only time we don’t have to sit around wondering “When the hell is it coming, because I know it’s coming, and I’d just as soon like it to get here already. My nerves can’t take the suspense.” The only question now is whether the elephant defecates on my lawn before it departs, but then again, it does make the flowers bloom oh so lovely, so really it’s a win either way.

If this all seems like a bit of an overreaction to a day when nothing actually happened, let’s take a moment to assess the situation:

On Monday, Woj and Malika Andrews reported that “Steve Mills had started to lay the internal groundwork for the eventual dismissal of coach David Fizdale, league sources told ESPN.” Later that day, Fizdale, Mills and Perry were seen at practice, engaged in what appears to be lighthearted conversation. When asked about his job security, Fiz cited the two and a half years remaining on his contract, which is about as reassuring as when the guy you catch banging your wife points to your wedding ring and tells you it’s all good.

That’s the level of absurdity we’re dealing with here. Why? Let’s start with the fact that Woj, for as much as fans want to critique him for how he reports the news, is rarely, if ever, caught with bad info. The only question is whether this leak was purposeful, and given the Garden’s reluctance later in the day to issue a denial (or any comment whatsoever) on the part of Mills, my guess is that, yes, this was quite purposeful.

Meanwhile, over by the clown car, James Dolan may or may not be angling to swipe Masai Ujiri from Toronto. This was reported by Frank Isola, who unlike Woj, doesn’t exactly have an impeccable track record (two-yard line, anyone?) and the phrasing of the report leaves a bit to be desired.

That said, Ian Begley reported that everyone in the organization is on notice, including Mills and Scott Perry:

Either way, it’s fair to assume that Mills is feeling pressure, and has now transferred that pressure onto Fizdale. The logic would seem to be that with all of this out in the open, Fiz and his players will either respond positively, or there will indeed be grounds for termination.

If this all sounds a bit familiar to Knick fans, it’s because we’ve seen this movie before - 20 years ago, when Jeff Van Gundy knew full well the front office was pining for Phil Jackson to be the next coach of the team (check out Vivek Dadhania’s excellent recap for a refresher).

That worked out swimmingly of course, with the Knicks coming together and making the NBA Finals. Forgive me for doubting that this will turn out nearly as well, since really, when are sequels ever as good as the original?

If you think I’m burying the lead here - that Fiz has done a bad job as a coach this season, even with a less-than-ideal roster, and may not deserve to have this job - well, you might be right. As I wrote yesterday, the “nine new guys/young roster/no penetrating point guard” excuse has just about reached it’s expiration date. It’s also becoming clearer that Fiz was brought on to attract and coach stars, which, well…didn’t work out so good.

There’s one thing that people seem to be forgetting though, which is why even though some are viewing this as one step back to take two steps forward, I think it’s actually the other way around:

If there are two truths we know, it’s that no one around the NBA thought much of the Knicks’ summer, and David Fizdale is universally respected around the league. Putting him on notice, in this fashion, with this roster, just 10 games in, is what leads to things like this:

You may not give a damn what Kendrick Perkins thinks, but he’s well-respected around the NBA. Far more importantly, if he thinks this, you can be damn sure plenty of other players share the same opinion.

Does that mean you keep Fizdale on as coach in perpetuity, or even for the rest of the season? Of course not…but it’s been 10 games, and if Woj is to be believed, this has been discussed for a while. Hell, maybe they started thinking about outing Fiz the moment KD and Kyrie signed across the river.

And hey, maybe it works. The offense can’t get any worse, and for as much as his players have defended him, Fizdale also doesn’t seem to be a coach his players swear by, like Ewing, Oakley & Co did with Jeff Van Gundy two decades ago.

None of this is really the point though, not for me at least. This season has never been about wins and losses, nor should it be (and the fact that it is for some in the team’s brass is disconcerting to say the least).

No, this season has always been about two things: trying to establish some modicum of league-wide faith that this organization isn’t a clown show, and making sure the team’s young core bought into that belief in addition to improving as players. Yes, things like a coherent offense and wins matter to that end, but not at the expense of outright buffoonery, which is now the perception, if not the reality.

If there’s a silver lining to all this, it might be that with this team, it’s often darkest before the dawn. The JVG saga is one example, and earlier this decade, the organization’s low point might have been letting Jeremy Lin - who provided more hope and joy than perhaps any Knick since Ewing - walk for nothing. Not only did that turn out to be the right decision (although not done for the right reasons), but it precipitated the best season the team has had this century.

Things can turn around quickly in this league. A year ago, we were all reading about goats taking a literal shit in the office of the general manager of the Suns. Today, even with Cheap Dolan as their owner, they’re the darlings of the NBA. It can happen, often when you’re least expecting it.

The Knicks do have a young core. They will have a premium pick in this year’s draft, with the likely opportunity to trade for another first around the deadline. The job of Knicks head coach is still viewed as a desirable one around the league. Lastly, and ironically best of all, James Dolan has a short fuse and bottomless pockets. Maybe Ujiri isn’t as much of a pipe dream as we think.

But in the never ending effort to simply put one foot in front of the other and act like a normal organization that should be able to take advantage of it’s location in the Mecca of basketball, yesterday was unequivocally a step in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, the Knicks have a game tonight. Thank God for that, because right now, unbelievably, watching this team play will be a welcome distraction from everything else.


Stock Up, Stock Down

In case you missed it, Knicks Film School now has an official sponsor!

I wrote a short intro about PredictionStrike yesterday, and hopefully a few you checked it out (and used code KFS when doing so). As a quick refresher, PredictionStrike combines daily fantasy and yearlong fantasy by treating players as stocks in the stock market that you can buy and sell whenever you want. If they outperform expectations, your stock goes up. Right now, I’m readying my champagne toast to Mortimer on my private island with the funds I’ve made from purchasing shares in Frank Ntilikina before his recent run. Looking good, Frank! (“Feeling good, Jon!” is what he responds in my dreams)

Like I said, I’ll periodically be including a Stock Up, Stock Down section to highlight certain players who are doing well or poorly. Who better to start off with than a Knick who should (and I’d bet will) get an increase in playing time soon: Damyean Dotson (+41%)

As you can see, Dotson has had quite a week, going from a negative player to scoring 16.7 fantasy points. As a result, his stock is up 41%, easily highest among all Knicks players. Tonight in Chicago, he’s projected to get 8.48 points. Given that he was one of the lone bright spots for New York on Sunday night, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he blew past it.

Overall, Dotson is a guy who might be a snaky good investment right now. If Fiz does indeed get canned, the next coach would presumably recognize the need to not only space the floor more, but to get quicker on both ends. Dotson does both in spades.


What the Blowout vs Cleveland taught us about Fizdale’s Possible Ouster

by Tom Piccolo (@Tom_Piccolo)

With reports swirling that Knicks head coach David Fizdale might already be on his way out, there will be no shortage of questions raised about this organization, its direction (or lack thereof) and whether anyone could come in here and coach up this group of seemingly mismatched pieces.

If and when Fiz does get the ax though, left behind will be unanswered questions of just how much more he could have done. To that end, what might end up being his last game was fairly revealing, both in ways we’d expect and ways we may not have.

Let’s take a look at four things that stuck out:

Continue Reading…


Come drink & watch the Knicks for a good cause

Two days away!!!! Remember, a portion of all proceeds will go towards helping feed needy NYC families on Thanksgiving!


That’s it…see you tomorrow! Hopefully not in full calamity mode!

"Scott and I are not happy..."

Oh.

It takes a lot for this franchise - the one that once traded two first round picks for Andrea Bargnani, gave $72 million to a lit Joakim Noah and tried to bar a local newspaper from team press conferences - to surprise me.

And yet…here we are.

The most confusing thing about last night’s impromptu front office press conference that served as equal parts vote of confidence, taxicab confessional, and final warning is how out of character it was.

For the better part of two decades, this organization has specialized in three things: overreacting, deflecting blame, and general ineptitude. Last night on the court, the later was on full display. When I saw Scott and Steve walk to the podium after the game, I immediately expected the first two to follow: them firing head coach David Fizdale and proclaiming the roster to be better than their effort last night and overall record showed.

Neither happened. That isn’t to say that neither will happen, or even that neither should happen, although as most anyone who covers this league will ask regarding Fizdale and what he is or isn’t doing, “Really, what did you expect?”

The answer to that question is what makes all this truly bizarre. Sure, there are people out there who expected performances like last night, and the sort of games we got last Sunday vs Sacrameto, Wednesday in Detroit, and in the home opener against Boston. On those nights, a team comprised partly of one-year vets with a proclivity for selfish play and partly of kids still learning the game looked at times sluggish, stagnant, disorganized and lacking a general sense of purpose.

But there were also people who expected what we saw in Brooklyn and Boston and Dallas, where the whole coalesced into something greater than the sum of its parts - a team of underdogs grabbing the opportunity to restore pride to a team that hasn’t had very much of it for a long time.

What few expected was to see both. I say “few” because the die-hards have seen versions of this Jekyll & Hyde act here before, but rarely has even a Knicks roster been this bipolar so early in a season, where the carryover from one game to the next is almost nonexistent.

You almost have to stop and remind yourself that last night’s slog in the mud came two nights after perhaps the most significant win the franchise has had since 2013.

For Knick fans waking up dazed and confused this morning, that 2012-13 season is the most encouraging sign that all is not lost, not because this motley crew resembles that one in any way, shape or form, but because 12-13 serves as a reminder that this franchise is capable of getting out of its own way.

The question now is “how",” and for that, we turn to…

One Big Thing

The offense is broken

The Knicks wake up this morning with the 21st ranked defense in the NBA, which is actually not terrible considering the players they have. They’re also sixth in rebound percentage. After starting the year second to last in turnover rate, they’ve been better than league average over the last seven games. They’re also ninth in passes made per game, showing at least a cursory attempt to share the ball and generate good looks.

All of these are markings of at least a decent NBA basketball team, and yet you wouldn’t for one second think of applying such a moniker because following last night, the Knicks have the worst offense in the league.

If you were to sum up the season in a sentence, it would be this: if the Knicks hit shots early, it emboldens their better offensive tendencies and invigorates their defense, but when they don’t, the opposite occurs on both ends.

There have been exceptions, like the game against Chicago when they couldn’t hit anything to start, and the home opener against Boston two nights earlier, when they came out firing on all cylinders and then got destroyed late. Overall though, this team runs too hot and cold, and when they can’t make shots, everything else suffers.

This is a problem when you can’t shoot (29th in eFG%) and don’t get easy buckets (according to Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks are 23rd in frequency of transition buckets and 17th in points per play on putbacks despite leading the league in putback plays per miss).

The result is that we see far too many plays like this:

…and this…

None of it is ok. Some of this is obviously on the players themselves, and some of it is on the front office who seemingly didn’t achieve the proper balance of creators and facilitators (there’s a reason the Bulls’ offseason was universally praised despite seeming overpays to Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young, two players who can’t match Julius Randle’s talent but who would cure a lot of what ails this team right now, whereas Randle is arguably the biggest culprit for their issues).

Ultimately though, as David Fizdale said himself last night, this falls on him. There have been calls for a more creative offense, or simply an offense more conducive to what works in the modern game. That requires things like hard screens and spacing. The former has clearly not been emphasized enough, while the latter is bunk as long as Randle starts in this configuration, as I wrote about on Friday.

With his job now clearly on the line, it’ll be curious to see what adjustments Fiz makes, if any.

Unpopular Opinion

We’re not talking about the biggest thing the coaching staff did wrong

Amidst all the conversation that is taking place about this team, swept under the rug has been the thing that troubled me more than anything else this season:

I mentioned this last week, said it needed to be addressed, and to date, it still hasn’t been. This organization has enough issues on its plate already. The last thing it needs is a reputation of one that doesn’t protect its players.

Whenever Robinson returns (he’s already been ruled out for Wednesday’s match-up with the Bulls), someone need to talk about how the above was allowed to happen.

Stat of the Night

50

Speaking of Mitchell Robinson and how much the Knicks miss him, that’s how many points in the paint the Cavs scored on Sunday. On several drives when Bobby Portis was in the game, he did his best Enes Kanter impersonation and made no attempt whatsoever to contest the man with the ball.

If you’re going to talk about being a dawg, you don’t get to pick and choose when it’s convenient to do so.

Made Me Smile

Frank. Again.

He didn’t score like he did on Friday night, only taking four shots and often did not get the ball back after starting the initial action on offensive sets, but we saw another two blocks and two steals from Ntilikina after four and three in Dallas. He also had six boards and six dimes, the later of which was twice as many as anyone else on the team.

He has been the Knicks’ best two-way player since being given the chance to play, and is doing little things at both ends that no one else on the roster has nearly as much interest in doing:

(Also checkout Spencer’s breakdown of Frank’s defense in the Mavs game, which was otherworldly)

Ntilikina is currently one of only three NBA players who have seen over 200 minutes this season to average over two steals and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. His eFG% is also a “just respectable enough given what else he brings” 46 percent.

There’s a lot of things broken with this team right now, but he isn’t one of them.

Final Thought

Marcus Morris, who Fizdale said after Friday’s win was the leader of this team, came out and had this to say after Sunday’s showing:

Listening to him begs the same question that has dogged this franchise for much of the last two decades: why does this always seem to happen here? We’ve been given so many answers - Dolan, Mills, Fiz, Player X, Player Y, you name it - but whatever it is, far too often, the pieces just don’t add up.

They shouldn’t be capable of playing like they did last night, not 48 hours after Friday at least. And yet it happened.

Wednesday can’t come soon enough.

And now a quick aside for a very special KFS announcement…


Say Hello to Prediction Strike!

You know what makes games like last night a lot easier to stomach? When you have another NBA-related thing in your life that doesn’t completely suck.

This, really, is the reason fantasy sports exist, right? That’s why before the season started, knowing that this might yet again be a long year for the Knicks, I decided I wanted to try my hand at DFS for the first time.

There was only one problem: I hated daily fantasy. For as much as I loved the idea of being able to have a stake in different players on a nightly basis, I didn’t like that it was often all or nothing, and I hated that you had to start anew every day. Basically, I was looking for the yearlong buy-in that regular fantasy brings without the drawbacks of being stuck with a crap team that’s out of it by Christmas and where you’re only paying attention to the same dozen guys for six months.

So when a Knicks Twitter buddy of mine told me about a way I could have my cake and eat it too with a fantasy concept called Prediction Strike, I was definitely intrigued. The idea was simple: you buy and sell players like stocks in the stock market. The value would go up or down based on how well each player performed relative to expectations, and you could get in or out anytime you wanted. If you bought a guy toiling on the bench right before he took off, you were golden. On the flip side, if you’re a Dallas fan who bought shares in KP thinking his value is going to increase as the season goes along, well…more power to you.

I started out simple – unsurprisingly with 100 shares of Frank Ntilikina at a tidy bargain of $0.17 per share. Since then, it’s gone up to $0.25 a share. I just bought myself a beer!

I also dipped my toe in the water on Jarrett Culver, Miles Bridges and Jaylen Brown. It’s great for me because I love being the guy who’s able to say that he scooped up all available stock on player before anyone else was on his scent. Now, I can literally buy stock in whoever I want, and I get the fun bonus of being able to check my portfolio every morning:

It is with this backdrop that I’m proud to name Prediction Strike as the first ever exclusive sponsor of Knicks Film School. The reason we waited a while to do something like this is simple: we never wanted to run ads for nonsense products, and we loathed the idea of pop ups and click bait. We knew when the right partnership presented itself, it would be obvious, and would be beneficial both to us and to our readers. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to love it.

So from now on, there will be an occasional “Stock Up, Stock Down” section in the newsletter, and anytime we mention a player, you’ll see how their value increased or decreased based on the previous game. It won’t get in the way of the analysis and commentary we provide, and if you’re not into it, it’ll be easy to skip right by.

If you do want to give it a whirl though, click here and type in KFS when signing up to get an extra $10 to play with once you deposit $10 or more.

I’m obviously biased, but I think if you give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed.

Well…as long as you don’t invest heavily in a certain Latvian, that is.


Come drink & watch the Knicks for a good cause

Remember, a portion of all proceeds will go towards helping feed needy NYC families on Thanksgiving!


(Quote)Tweet of the Night

If you’re looking for the world’s thinnest silver lining…


News & Notes

compiled by Michael Schatz (@mschatz99)
  • Insightful and revealing look at the dissolution of the KP/Knicks marriage by Marc Berman, if you’re interested.

  • Posting and Toasting also has you covered with the recaps, both the good from Friday…

  • …and the bad.

Knicks Kicks

by Tiffany Salmon (@tiffstarr815)

On This Date: Knicks acquire Earl Monroe

by Vivek Dadhania (@vdadhania)

The Earl Monroe trade will forever be remembered as one of the greatest trades in Knicks history. Leading up to the moment, Monroe requested a trade from the team and preferred to be sent to one of the Lakers, Bulls, or 76ers.  While away from the team, Monroe received a call from his agent stating that there was a deal with the Knicks.

Continue Reading…

That’s all for today…see everyone tomorrow!

Avoiding the Crocodiles

How to fix the Knicks offense

I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid.

They combined a great sense of excitement with the safety of knowing that if you fell into a chasm or were attacked by a tiger or contracted the Bubonic plague (did yours not have that as a possible outcome?), you could just flip back a few pages and all would be well.

If only David Fizdale had that as an option.

We are eight games into the season, and thus far, he has tried out five different starting lineups, with a sixth different one highly likely to debut tonight thanks to Mitchell Robinson being out with a concussion. If that does indeed transpire and we include the preseason, tonight would make eight different lineups in 13 games. The Knicks have two wins to show for their trouble.

The problem is that David Fizdale continues to go into the same spooky cave without a flashlight, all the while thinking the result will change simply because he is wearing a different hat.

Sadly, it hasn’t worked out that way. As a result, he and the Knicks continue to walk headfirst into the same pit of doom: a starting lineup that doesn’t have enough shooting.

I spoke about this extensively on today’s KFS podcast (are you subscribed? Subscribe!) with Posting & Toasting’s Dallas Amico, who astutely pointed out that the Knicks’ current starting lineup includes not a single legitimate deep threat.

Sure, RJ Barrett, with his early-season Splash Brother impersonation, is sort of a threat, as is Marcus Morris, who is hitting 46.7 percent from deep on the year. But even with both of those guys shooting at a higher-than-expected clip, any defensive possession that ends with a current Knick starter taking even a lightly contested three is a huge win for the opponent. Defenses are thrilled to give up such looks because it allows them to crowd the paint and make life difficult for the man who has been the sputtering engine of the Knicks offense thus far, Julius Randle.

Julius Randle, to be clear, can be a brilliant offensive basketball player (we won’t talk about his defense from the last few games, because it’s Friday, I’m in a good mood, and I’d like to keep it that way). Last season, he played 650 possessions without Anthony Davis but with Jrue Holiday and Darius Miller, the Pels best deep threat from a year ago. According to Cleaning the Glass, those lineups scored 119.7 points per 100 possessions, which would have led the league by a mile.

The reason they worked (aside from the fact that Jrue Holiday is really, really freaking good) is because Randle was surrounded by shooting and didn’t have to do too much. This year, he’s been surrounded by no shooting and he’s being asked to do everything.

So let’s get some more shooting into the starting lineup, right?

And with that, our adventure begins…

To insert Kevin Knox for Marcus Marris, turn to page 3.

To insert Wayne Ellington for Marcus Morris, turn to page 5.

Ahhhh…both times we get stuck in the mud! Or is it elephant poop? Does it make a difference? This analogy has gone off the rails.

Why didn’t this work? On it’s face, putting even one of these guys in the starting five should accomplish the intended purpose. Let’s start with Knox, who is the closest thing this team has to a legit deep threat (Think about it: every time the ball leaves his hands this year, you think it’s going in, right? Can you say that about any other Knick?)

As for Ellington, I know people are already ready to pull the plug, but this is a man who has fired over 2500 3-pointers in his career and made them at a 38 percent clip. Many of these also have a higher-than-normal degree of difficulty, as his specialty is coming off screens and shooting almost while he’s still in motion.

The problem here is that in either scenario, you’re only inserting one plus shooter, and doing it at the expense of probably the best deep threat in your starting lineup already: Morris. It’s borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. At the end of the day, you’re still in tattered rags.

This solution also means you’re taking arguably your most consistently sound defender off the court. No Bueno.

To insert Knox or Ellington in for Frank Ntilikina, turn to page 8.

Wow, I didn’t know a firing squad could appear in a children’s book.

We saw this play out already, when Ellington started at Orlando. 83 points later and we knew that Point RJ was best left in small doses, if used at all.

So whether it’s Frank or Payton or DSJ or Kadeem Allen or Walt Frazier, a real point guard needs to be in the mix somewhere, and sadly none of them can be considered a plus shooter (sorry Clyde).

To Insert Bobby Portis in for Mitchell Robinson, turn to page 10

Aaaaaaand the book just lit on fire. Luckily I purchased two copies.

To Insert Taj Gibson in for Mitchell Robinson, turn to page 13

Oh no…attacked by a swarm of angry gnats! They’re in my orifices!

There’s a delicate balance this team needs to achieve between development and winning. At this point, it seems like those two things aren’t really at odds, as their youngest, most high-pedigree guys have largely been their best.

This would tilt the scales too much in the wrong direction.

It’s not that there aren’t benefits. Taj sets one of the meanest screens in the league - something that would also help juice the offense, albeit not nearly as much as more spacing - and he can hit a corner three.

Still, defenders would shade off him nearly as much as they would Robinson if he were off the to the side. The benefits of this wouldn’t nearly outweigh the drawbacks.

To Insert Kevin Knox or Wayne Ellington for RJ Barrett, turn to the unemployment line.

Well that’s just not very nice.

So if you’ve been following along, we’ve realized that:

  • The Knicks need to start a real point guard, and none of those guys are going to stretch an offense in a away that makes the defense actually bite.

  • Mitchell Robinson is the only real center on the team, they need his defense, and they should be invested in his development.

  • RJ is not going anywhere.

  • Inserting a shooter in for Marcus Morris isn’t going to make enough of a difference, the drawbacks may actually outweigh the costs.

That means there’s only one solution left…

To Insert Kevin Knox or Wayne Ellington for Julius Randle, turn to page 15 and pray

The Knicks have spent the better part of a year talking about culture, accountability and “doing things the right way.” Now it might have to be put to the test.

David Fizdale sending Julius Randle to the bench could either result in him stumbling into a pack of lions or escaping the jungle to safety.

If such a move is the right one - and by all evidence we have, that certainly can’t be ruled out, at least given the pieces on this particular roster - then what happens if Fiz send the organization’s $63 million free agent prize to the bench? Would Randle be up for maintaining his role as team leader, but as a sixth man? Would he cause holy hell in the locker room? Or would he still be OK getting 30 minutes a night and being the fulcrum of the offense, just not in a starting role?

If all of the above questions can be answered in a positive way, the move makes sense on too many levels to not at least try out. It wouldn’t solve every problem, but inserting Knox for Randle and then surrounding Julius with Wayne Ellington (who should find getting open looks easier against bench units), Bobby Portis and his Pelicans pal Elfrid Payton ticks some different boxes. Then fill in the blanks from there.

What would it take for this to actually happen? Maybe a 3-20 start, maybe a different coach, maybe a trade, or maybe all of the above.

Either way, it’s time to start thinking outside the box for possible solutions. There can be good ending to this story, somewhere amidst all the dangers lurking in the darkness.

It’s just a matter of having the guts to pick the right path.


Come drink & watch the Knicks for a good cause!

Don’t forget: all of the Knicks content creators will be getting together to root hard against Slimey the Snake this Thursday at Penn 6 (31st Street, just off 7th Ave.), starting at 7 pm. We’ll be raffling off tickets to a game later this season, and part of all proceeds from the evening will go towards our KFS Thanksgiving Drive, in which we’re raising money to help feed needy families on Turkey Day with the help of Feeding NYC.


News & Notes

compiled by Michael Schatz (@mschatz99)

Knicks Kicks

by Tiffany Salmon (@tiffstarr815)

On This Date: “Bomb Squad” roster wins their first regular season game against the Chicago Bulls

by Vivek Dadhania (@vdadhania)

After losing the first two games of the regular season on the road, the Knicks got back into control in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. Johnny Newman scored a then-career high 35 points in a 126-117 home victory against the Chicago Bulls in Madison Square Garden. Newman scored 35 efficiently, shooting 12-15 from the field, 2-3 from three, and 9-10 from the free throw line.  

Continue Reading…

That’s it! Knicks in Dallas tonight. If you’re going to go 2-80, can tonight be the other win? Please?

This is fine

(Sips coffee)

Ever the weatherman in search of sunshine, I woke up this morning struggling to find something - anything - positive to latch onto as the Knicks travel to Dallas with the worst record in the league.

As I was searching, I took a minute to scroll through Twitter, and I noticed people already throwing around the “T” word, which, after last season, I vowed never to utter again as long as we all shall live.

And then it hit me: this team can’t tank! Through eight games, their four most encouraging players - the four that most make you feel like good things will happen when they’re on the court - have been RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina.

If the definition of tanking (something I wrote multiple columns on last year, shoot me please) is playing your highest pedigree young guys a bunch, then the Knicks are already in a position where there best option for tanking is also their best option for winning.

This is either encouraging or terrifying, and probably a bit of both. It’s encouraging because it means that there is, amidst the stench that has quickly arisen around this team, a quality young core in place. It’s terrifying because, on its face, it would seem that the moves made to amplify this core have not only failed, but failed spectacularly.

This is, of course, a reactionary oversimplification. Reggie Bullock hasn’t played a game. Elfrid Payton has been hurt, and was pretty good when he was healthy. Taj Gibson has been fine. Wayne Ellington is in a vicious shooting slump, but is still doing Wayne Ellington things to try and juice the offense. It’s just that the orange has been squeezed dry.

Really, this falls on Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, and Bobby Portis, and by extension, David Fizdale, Scott Perry, and Steve Mills.

The former three are the additions that have seen by far the most time and have been by far the biggest emphasis of the offense, sporting the second, third and fifth highest usage rates on the team among guys who have played every game.

It is not working.

There are reasons (excuses?) to be had. The team’s brass likely envisioned the offense being initiated, at least somewhat, by a penetrating guard, and Payton and DSJ have been unavailable and/or ineffective. On top of the lack of their preferred point guard, the Knicks have only played eight games. The schedule has been rough, although not overbearingly so.

All of these may be valid, but 1-7 is 1-7, and the numbers surrounding that record indicate that it is anything but a misnomer:

Last night was the clearest example yet that running the offense through Julius Randle - something that was quite clearly part of the plan going into this season - can only get you so far.

On one hand, it’s incredibly encouraging that the Knicks generated 72 points through just under 28 minutes in Detroit, which is phenomenal. On the other hand, almost every one of those points felt earned, with nary an easy bucket in the mix. Even though New York’s offense has had some nice moments this year, nothing about it has felt easy.

Randle and Barrett are doing what they can, but it’s not an accident that among 51 NBA players seeing over 30 minutes a game and sporting a usage rate of at least 21, Barrett (50th) and Randle (51st) have the lowest true shooting percentages of the lot.

Barrett, notably, is 19, and can be forgiven for not yet having the wherewithal to carry an offense on his back.

Randle is different. He’s in the prime of his career, and thought he was ready for this responsibility. Perhaps more importantly, so did this coach and this front office. All parties involved deemed him the leader of the group. His struggles adapting to being an offensive fulcrum - which, frankly, should have been expected and are more forgivable - are one thing. Letting go of the rope on defense - which he did several times last night, including in the first half when his offense was rolling - is quite another.

He is pressing, and learning on the fly, and many of his turnovers have been in an effort to make the “right” play. But right now, the Knicks are scoring four more points per 100 possessions when Randle sits, which even amidst struggles is not what you want to see. The calls to move him to the bench in favor of someone who would add some more fluidity suddenly don’t sound completely insane, but remember: he is not hijacking possessions. The offense is moving through him by design.

At this point, the only question is what - or who - is to blame. Randle alone is an overly convenient target. This isn’t all on him. The excuse that they’ve only played eight times is still valid, barely, but will hold far less water after 12 or 14 games, and none at all after 20. The lack of a penetrating guard is palpably felt on every possession, but really, the wisdom of banking on Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr. as necessary components to an offense may have been fraught to begin with.

Which gets us to the big guns. How much more could David Fizdale be doing to generate offense? The Knicks complete fewer pick and rolls than all but one team in the league (h/t to @DallasAmico_ for that one), and instead lead the NBA in plays off screens, generating only 6.2 points per possession on such opportunities, which is second to last. Perhaps these scales should tip in the other direction. Rotations and playing time have also been question marks since Day One.

As for the team’s brass, it’s now fair to wonder whether there was a Ricky Rubio-esq addition that they could have unearthed, perhaps even Rubio himself. Replace Randle’s (or Morris’ or Portis’) minutes with a defense-first, penetrating guard who lives to get others involved, and it’s not hard to see the positive effects that could be had on both ends.

But who knows if such an option was even on the table, which gets into whether the guys that New York signed were indeed hand-picked, or the best options willing to come. Neither choice is appealing.

If it’s the former, one would imagine that flexibility for 2021 was part of that equation (Rubio signed for three guaranteed years, as did Thomas Satoransky, who was probably the second best “gettable” point guard on the market. Either would be helping immensely right now).

Maybe Payton or Smith Jr. comes back, takes the reigns just competently enough to get the offense flowing, Frank & Mitch spearhead the effort on defense, and the young core continues to improve enough to make that decision to remain flexible seem pertinent. Or maybe not, and what we’ve seen will continue to be what we get.

Is it too early to be asking any of these questions? In fairness, it probably is. I’ve written myself that adjustment periods often manifest themselves in ways we don’t expect, and eight games is a short amount of time to draw any conclusions, let alone the first eight with a brand new team that is also incredibly young.

As is often the case, things are never as bad as they seem during a losing streak, especially in this town. You have to like what you’ve seen from the young players, and for as much as we may want to question whether this coach and this front office should be the ones to shepherd these kids from here on in, they also have to get some credit not only for the good things we’ve seen from the neophytes thus far, but for the fact that they are here to begin with.

Still: there is now officially a sense of unease surrounding the 2019-20 New York Knicks. To some, that’s probably the understatement of the year; to others, it’s so obvious that it need not be said at all, and almost any year from the last 20 could be inserted to make the statement work, like the sport’s most devious Mad Lib, where hilarity is sure to ensue, and the only question is what’s generating the laughter.

Regardless, the new culture that they’ve spoken about for over a year is now officially already being put to the test, and it’s perfectly valid to wonder whether whatever it was that got KP to sour on this organization to begin with has indeed been fixed, and whether the young players who have been the lone bright spot to this season will be susceptible to the same ills.

It’s not a question I, nor any Knick fan, wanted to ask ever again. And yet here we are.

If ever a team needed a win, just to feel good about itself for a moment, it’s this one, right now. It won’t be one that comes easy.

On to Dallas they go, surely searching for answers, and maybe avoiding some questions as well.

They won’t be able to avoid them for much longer.

Let’s very quickly hit the categories:

One Big Thing

Why put Mitch back in?

While I haven’t yet gotten on the “RJ’s minutes will be the death of us all” bandwagon, what happened last night is inexcusable:

Like, that can’t happen. Ever. It’s the first time I felt like the pressure on this coaching staff to win truly took away from their ability to make a responsible decision.

It needs to be addressed.

Unpopular Opinion

Marcus Morris should remain a starter

There were a lot of early season calls for him to go to the bench, but at this point, it feels like defensive accountability is (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) the most important thing this team needs to sort out. Offensive struggles are inconvenient; the defense we’ve seen in snippets has been embarrassing.

The on/off numbers indicate Morris has actually been the team’s worst defender, but early season numbers like this are noisy, and the eye test says otherwise. He is far from perfect, but he does not engage in what anyone would call “lazy” possessions.

As for the right pieces around him, who knows…

Stat of the Night

50.0 percent

That’s what the Pistons shot from deep last night. Granted, they’re 3rd in the league in this stat, but if anything, that goes to show that New York was ill-prepared for what was coming.

Made Me Smile

Frank. Just Frank.

I’ll let Clarence Gaines express how I felt watching Frank Ntilikina in the first half last night:

Keeper.

Final Thought

Figure it out. Just figure it out. No one is coming to rescue this situation.

It’s on y’all.

Must Win in Motown?

The Knicks could use some good vibes. Badly.

Hello friends.

It’s good to have friends at times like this, no? When all the news about your favorite team is seemingly terrible, and you’ve just done your first Tankathon simulation and goddammit we came in fourth! Fourth!?! Can we not catch one freaking break, for crying out loud?!?!?

//deep breaths//

Yeah. It’s like that.

Thankfully, this is the NBA, and there is no such thing as a must win game before April. If the Knicks go into Motown, look solid, lose a close game in the fourth, and then rip off four or five of six, including one against He Who Must Not Be Named, we’ll all be getting the ticker tape ready. Sports are funny like that.

But we are at the first crisis point of the season. Regardless of your stance on the issue, this RJ/minutes thing has legs (and if you haven’t already, check out Alex Collins’ excellent deep dive into the relationship between NBA player minutes and injuries in recent years). It’s going to be an issue for as long as a) he keeps playing so much and b) the team keeps losing.

There’s also already been some friction between the twin peaks of winning and development that are supposed to be the tent-poles of this season. Before David Fizdale (who still hasn’t learned that every word he says will be picked apart ad nauseam) even finished saying that he wanted to move Mitchell Robinson to the bench to get Julius Randle going, the torches were already lit and the pitchforks raised.

(Thankfully this seems like only a one-game experiment. Mitch will be back in the starting lineup tonight against Detroit.)

In reality, Robinson probably had his best game, looking sprier than he has been on defense and playing five more minutes than he had in any night this season, in part because he avoided the early foul woes that have been sending him to the bench early.

Toss in Kevin Knox’s early season emergence (among 125 players who have seen at least 20 minutes a night and sport a 20 usage rate or higher, Knox’s eFG% of 51.7 ranks 56th. Last season, using the same parameters, he was 143rd out of 145 guys) and RJ Barrett’s early season ROY campaign (rather than quote some stat, just check out Tom Piccolo’s excellent Barrett breakdown), and the whole “take care of the guys that matter” box seems to be checked.

If only the “winning” part of the equation would take hold, a lot of the noise we’ve heard the last several days would easily die down. It’s why tonight’s game, and the six that follow it before the schedule gets positively brutal, are so important. It’s not because this team is going anywhere this year; it’s because life is just a lot simpler and more pleasant when the buzzards aren’t circling.

It reminds me of something Woj said on his podcast way back in early July. Referencing nobody’s favorite Latvian, he said that playing for the Knicks “wears on you.” It was in the context of a conversation about Dolan, but I’m reminded of it now, simply because it’s true. Things are different here.

Here’s a simple example: RJ Barrett is fourth in the league in minutes at 37.1 a game, sandwiched by Dame Lillard (3rd, 37.7) and CJ McCollum (5th, 36.6). Portland is struggling at 3-4, is adjusting to a lot of new faces, and has a coach that would feel awfully uneasy if his team missed the playoffs this season. Lillard and McCollum are 10 years older than Barrett, have a higher usage rate, and don’t have nearly the physical makeup of the wunderkind.

Yet no one is asking Terry Stotts about the minutes his two stars are playing because it’s Portland, and (apologies to the great northwest, which I hear is a lovely place) nobody gives a shit about Portland.

Here in New York, Mike Vorkunov has been developing this story, because he’s an excellent reporter and is doing his job in a market where if you’re not standing out, you’ll be out of a job. I have no idea whether RJ’s minutes are a problem or not, but I do know that it’s yet another thing that this kid, this coach, this locker room and this franchise has to deal with that 29 other franchises don’t.

Right now, he’s a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed bundle of energy. I mean, c’mon…you can’t write this stuff:

The goal has to be to keep him this way. Losing + general negatively from the outside world has a tendency to beat this kind of enthusiasm out of you.

Would anyone care nearly as much if the Knicks would have emerged victorious in Boston and Brooklyn, two games that were tied in the final minute, and were sitting with a record of 3-4? I doubt it. But, as they say, this is the business we’ve chosen.

This is all to say that winning cures a lot of ills, and quiets a lot of potential conversations, whether they be about the wisdom of getting certain players going, moving others to the bench, who’s playing what minutes, and so on and so forth. It’s the reason why, amidst all the barbs and arrows slung at the organization this summer, I supported their moves, because in this town at least, a few extra wins go a long way towards quieting the masses.

Although it does make me wonder: if New York had gone a different route, taken on all the salary dump trades the critics implored them to seek out (all two of them – I love how people continuously gloss over this minor fact) and not proclaimed through their actions that “we might not be great, but we’ll damn sure be better,” would the conversation be more forgiving right now?

I tend to think no, just because losing tends to evaporate context real quick. It also should be noted that New York is on track to once again end up with a great pick in a draft loaded with exactly the type of lead guards they need…and no one really cares. If they hadn’t gone on a spending spree, would the narrative be more inclusive of the fact that more help is on the way through the draft? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Most importantly, we should probably take stock of the fact that this summer may have actually had the intended effect of taking the heat off the kids while simultaneously lighting a fire under their ass.

Is Kevin Knox performing this well if it weren’t for Julius Randle attracting double and triple teams? Knox is shooting more and getting better looks from Randle than via any other player. Elfrid Payton (who will unfortunately miss at least two more games) has assisted to RJ Barrett more than any other Knick, and RJ is shooting 50% on field goal attempts off Payton passes. The Knicks have a 49 eFG% when Wayne Ellington is on the court vs 46.9 when he’s off. New York is defending at a top ten rate when Taj Gibson is on the floor.

These are all helpful things to the present and the future. Unfortunately, that balance is still being achieved, and the positive aspects in either column haven’t been as prevalent as they need to be.

Perhaps the next seven games will help tip the scales in the right direction, and by the time the team gets to the gauntlet part of it’s schedule in two weeks, they still won’t be flying, but may at least be falling with style.

After Sunday’s dud, that process needs to start tonight.

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