Still Better than Cleveland

Thank goodness for that.

In this newsletter:

Going to open today’s letter with something I don’t usually do, which is plug my podcast…but for good reason.

Like most sports fans in this city, I’ve grown up listening to WFAN. Over the last decade, thankfully for me and everyone else, that has meant listening to Evan Roberts.

Roberts, famously, is a Nets fan (booooooooo), so what better excuse to invite him on the pod than to talk shop ahead of the final Knicks / Nets matchup of the season?

He graciously accepted. We spoke for a half hour and it was as good as you might expect. Check out the iTunes version here, the Spotify version here, or just subscribe to the Knicks Film School Podcast on any major podcast platform and give a listen.

Thanks for indulging. Now on to yesterday’s game…

One Big Thing

Over the weekend, the Utah Jazz made a quiet move (when is anything they do loud?), signing Royce O’Neal to a four-year, $36 million extension.

It’s the type of thing done by steady organizations across the league: bring in talented players that need work, make them better in house, and then keep them in house at a price everyone can live with.

The Knicks, famously, never do this. We could go into all the reasons why this is the case, but it’s Tuesday at 7:30 am and my principal really doesn’t care for when I show up to work tipsy. Suffice it to say they have failed.

Last night, the best things about their win over the Cavs doubled as Exhibits 1 and 1A for my presentation entitled “How to be a Real Basketball Organization, for the Love of God.” Frank Ntilikina (six points on five shots, three dimes, two blocks, and 20 minutes of absolutely suffocating defense) and Damyean Dotson (12 points on 5-for-7 shooting, plus five boards) both stood out. This was not an anomaly.

Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson have now played 972 minutes together in the NBA. Here is the Knicks net rating by year when they share the court, followed by the overall team net rating in that season:

2017-18: plus 1.0 in 278 minutes (Knicks: minus 3.4)

2018-19: plus 1.4 in 477 minutes (Knicks: minus 8.9)

2019-20: plus 7.3 in 217 minutes (Knicks: minus 7.9)

In the NBA, a 100-minute sample size might be an accident, a 200-minute sample size a trend. I don’t know what 972 minutes is, but it’s enough to sign each of these dudes to a nice, tidy, Royce-esque extension this summer.

Look, Frank and Dot aren’t perfect. Far from it. O’Neal, meanwhile, is hitting 43 percent from deep this season and plays 30 minutes of dogged defense every night.

He’s also a quirky fit - essentially a 6’4” wing - and averages a grand total of six points per game (the same, oddly enough, as Frank & Dot). The Jazz made it work, because organizations like Utah always seem to make it work with talented if imperfect players who are clearly part of the solution, not the problem, if only someone smart enough comes along to figure it out.

It’s time for the Knicks to figure it out with these two, even if it is just to make them their backup 1/2 combo for the next four years.

The advanced stats speak for themselves. Ntilikina has made steady improvements as an all-around offensive player (up to .450 eFG%, up out of “we might not be able to play this guy” territory and into “barely passable as long as he does all the other stuff well (which he does)”). Dotson has grown as an off-ball defender and pick & roll ball-handler, and even though he’s slumping from deep this year, is at 35 percent for his career.

Both players will be eligible for an extension this summer. My guess is that Frank and Dot can each be had for a fair number.

Sometimes getting the small stuff right is a precursor to bigger things. This one is a layup.

Fact Check

Someone on Twitter last night gave me shit for not praising Elfrid Payton’s defense as well as Frank’s. Colin Sexton, after all, was guarded by Elf too, so shouldn’t he get some of the praise?

Maybe, maybe not.

I went back and watched every one of Sexton’s shot attempts. Here’s the breakdown of his night, split up into when he was guarded by Payton vs when he was guarded by Ntilikina:

Payton on Sexton: 25 minutes, 5-for-15 shooting (4-for-14 with Payton guarding), one stolen pass, two blocked shots

Ntilikina on Sexton: 10 minutes, 1-for 5 shooting (1-of-4 with Frank guarding), two blocked shots, one drawn offensive foul

Ntilikina’s hounding of Sexton through and around screens pops in a significant way, and anyone watching (including me) came away the perception that he was the stronger defender on the night. This feeling is only backed up by plays like this:

This was one of a handful of times Payton got whirligigged by Sexton, who just happened to miss on several of those occasions.

But Payton also came away with a block and two swipes. Does he gamble for steals too much and offer little defensive resistance when these gambits don’t pay off? Yeah, you might say that. But those turnovers also count, and helped contribute to the cause.

So I’ll whisper a “mea culpa” and say that, yes, Payton’s defense was, all in all, a helpful contributor to the win.

He’s just not in the same category as Frank.

Humble Suggestion

Mitchell Robinson played 27 minutes last night and finished the evening with one - one - shot attempt.

After the game, I saw some people complaining about Robinson, saying that he isn’t doing enough on offense. I’m sorry, but this is patently rediculous.

A little basketball 101 folks: Robinson is a dive man. He’s not KAT or Jokic - centers you can build an offense around because they do so much incredible stuff. But he’s also not Andre Drummond, or his precursor, Dwight Howard - inefficient post-up players who nonetheless demand their allotment of paint touches, even if it hurts the team.

This is a good thing. There’s a reason why according to Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks score 5.4 more points per 100 possessions (and are a more efficient team across the board) with Robinson in the game despite the fact that he averages less than six field goal attempts per night.

Last night, we saw some of the good Mitch can do even when he doesn’t touch the ball, but also how the Knicks still aren’t using his minutes as effectively as possible.

I spotlighted four plays from the later part of the first quarter to spell this out. In the first play, a quick fake from a driving Randle to Mitch in the dunker’s spot is enough to make Nance bite momentarily and give Julius an open lane to the hoop:

Mitch won’t show up in the box score here, but without his presence, there’s a good chance the play doesn’t develop like it did.

On this next play, Mitch sets a high screen for Marcus Morris and then proceeds to dive to the rim. With Cedi Osman dislodged, Tristan Thompson has a choice: come up to guard Morris at the foul line, or stay back to prevent the lob to Mitch.

He chooses to stay home, and Mook makes him pay:

All night long, we saw Thompson make this choice. The Cavs made the decision ahead of time that whoever was going to beat them would beat them, but it wasn’t going to be Mitchell Robinson.

Teams have been making that decision more and more, which is part of the reason Robinson has attempted four or fewer field goal attempts in five of his last eight games.

And if the Knicks make smart choices like they do on the above two plays, that’s totally fine! The problem is that they haven’t been smart enough, as their 97.2 offensive rating with Robinson on the court over those last eight games shows.

In the third play, we see an example of this:

Here, Thompson again backs off, but unlike the previous Morris jumper, Osman recovers nicely, forcing Mook into a tough step back. He takes this shot despite having a wide open Frank and Portis at his disposal, both of whose men are shading towards the paint because they’re worried about the threat Robinson presents.

Morris doesn’t make them pay.

Similarly, on this next play, Damyean Dotson gets a step on Darius Garland thanks to Robinson’s screen. I paused the play at the pivotal moment, when Dotson has a free runway to the hoop because Donte Exum doesn’t want to leave Knox in the corner and Thompson is shading closer to Robinson than Dot:

Why Dotson pulls up here is beyond me (sorry, I know I praised him earlier, but this was his one boneheaded play of the evening). If he keeps driving, he forces Thompson into an impossible choice, potentially opening up a lob opportunity for Mitch…but that never happens.

The Knicks needs to wise up if teams are going to continue to make these choices when Mitch is on the court. They also might be smart to work some plays into the playbook for Robinson to show some other abilities besides being tall, springy and having great hands.

I’ve now covered four games this season, and before every one, more than two hours before tip off, there’s Robinson on the court, going through the same shooting drill with Knick assistant coach Pat Sullivan. It’s an “around the world” style drill, starting just a few feet away from the hoop, extending out to the midrange, and then culminating in some corner threes.

Point is, it’s not like he isn’t putting in the work.

It’s about time for the Knicks to reward his efforts.

Final Thought

Wins are nice. The minutes/shots distribution isn’t where most fans want it, but the occasional victory is still important to prevent morale from completely falling off a cliff and reminding the kids that their hard work is paying off.

A happy night when all is said and done.

Player Spotlight

Quick one today, just because if I write for too long about this person, it will send Knick fans into convulsions…

Kyle Kuzma comes to the Garden on Wednesday night. Hopefully, it is the last time he sees the Garden floor this year, that the predictions I’ve made will be wrong, and New York won’t be the team to execute a trade for the not-really-a-star Laker wing/big.

But someone is going to trade for this dude. Los Angeles is a piece away and he’s the only trade chip they have. When he does get moved, I’d count on his new team upping his usage in a big way. That means a good opportunity to make a buck:

You can get the Kuz for under two dollars a share right now. I think he’s going to be putting up a bunch of meaningless stats for some team (just hopefully not ours) over the last 30 games of this season. The time to get in might be now.

Want to get in on PredictionStrike, but haven’t had a chance yet? Click here and use code KFS for $10 added to your first investment of $10 or more!

News & Notes

compiled by Michael Schatz (@mschatz99)

That’s it…see everyone tomorrow!

Where to from here...

With 39 games left in a season that's effectively over, finding the right path now isn't as easy as it seems.

Here’s the problem with writing the obituary for a team after only the midway point of a season, as I did on Friday:

Where the hell do you go from here?

In a way, we got our answer Saturday night, and the irony for Knick fans cut deep:

For the first time all year, New York had an all-vet starting lineup, filled with not a single player on a rookie deal. Counting Kadeem Allen and Kenny Wooten, the Knicks have nine first, second or third-year players on their roster. Four of them played on Saturday, and none to begin the game.

This isn’t typically the way the end of lost seasons go, as many people were quick to point out after, during and even before the game started. I chimed in afterwards, and was called out by someone who gets a lot of shit but whose opinion I respect a great deal:

Here’s the thing: Berman isn’t wrong. Not completely, at least.

Right now, some of the young players available to the Knicks probably don’t give them as good a chance at winning as most of the vets do. After the best 10-game shooting stretch of his career, Frank Ntilikina is 3-for-15 since returning from injury. Mitchell Robinson is still the most impactful defender the Knicks have, but he’s a little out of it right now, and might be playing hurt. Kevin Knox’s struggles have been well-documented. Allonzo Trier has been out of the rotation all year for a reason.

Why does this matter? Simple: The goal of any NBA season is to avoid playing meaningless games. Falling deep enough in the standings is only the first step; trotting out lineups that have no chance of being competitive is when the other shoe unofficially drops.

The Knicks’ summer spending spree at the $0.99 store was partially made in an effort to avoid this fate for as long as possible. I’ve said it many times: playing in games that you feel you have no chance of winning is not the way to develop young players.

From that perspective, you can see the thinking behind Saturday’s starting five. And hey, they put forth one of the Knicks’ better defensive efforts of the season, two days after submitting what might have been their worst. There should be some theoretical value in that.

And maybe there is. Maybe the young players were inspired by holding a team to 90 points after giving up an average of 124.1 over their previous eight games. Maybe they got a boost by seeing the older guys play hard in a game of no real consequence. Maybe the roar of the Garden was a refresher they desperatey needed.

But playing in competitive games was only supposed to be half of the equation. The other half - and arguably the far more important half - was making sure the young players were a significant part of that goal. The vets they signed were supposed to help, not hinder, that effort, whether by spacing the floor, reliably defending a given assignment, setting a proper screen, or any other of dozens of “little” things that don’t show up on a box score.

This is where things stop adding up. Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson played 36 minutes on Saturday and combined for seven shot attempts. There is no universe where this is either beneficial or acceptable.

Frank Ntilikina, meanwhile, took more shots than the two of them combined and didn’t have a single assist. Perhaps this is what happens when you drill it into a guy’s head for 2.5 years that shooting = good and passing = bad. That notion is only reinforced by watching the players on this team who continue to be rewarded with minutes and take questionable shot after questionable shot.

And I should be clear here: this isn’t on Mike Miller, who I believe has been given a mandate to win as many games as possible. Saturday’s lineup decisions probably did give them the best shot.

But how many times can we watch Julius Randle and Bobby Portis defend the paint as if jumping is prohibited by NBA bylaws? Mitchell Robinson had three blocks in 24 minutes and was the only player to show Ben Simmons even a modicum of resistance:

Kudos to Frank as well for giving Mitch a chance to make that play.

By the way, did you know that lineups featuring Robinson, Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson are giving up only 103.8 points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass, a figure that would be second in the NBA? They also haven’t been able to score worth a damn (101.1 offensive rating) which explains why that trio has only been on the court together for 185 possessions.

But isn’t that what this season was supposed to accomplish? Figuring out a way for three players who clearly prioritize defense to be able to share the court and have those minutes be conducive to winning?

Do you know how many minutes Mitch, Frank and Dot have played with Marcus Morris (someone who spaces the floor and plays defense) but without Julius Randle or Bobby Portis (occasional ball hogs who make Enes Kanter look like Manute Bol)?

That would be three. Three minutes. Total. For the whole year.

That’s what’s so frustrating. There are players already here who can amplify the talents of the young players on the roster - Marcus Morris chief among them, but also Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, and yes, Wayne Ellington (even though he’s apparently forgotten how to make shots) simply because of his off-ball movement that is both willing and constant.

A guy like Randle, meanwhile….well, there’s a reason I compared him to Ryan Fitzpatrick on today’s podcast. He’ll beat the Pats once in a blue moon, but is he taking you any closer to where you eventually want to be as an organization? Maybe on a team that was further along, where he’s but one cog in an already functional machine, but here? Now?

Randle remains the team’s engine, and everyone else functions based off of his performance. It’s not his fault that it hasn’t gone well; he’s simply been miscast, and his warts are amplified that much more as a result. Ditto for Elfrid Payton (can we raise a hand when guarding the arc, perhaps? And maybe not die on every screen?) and Bobby Portis (keep shootin’, big guy).

Maybe there is a world where these guys can help the young players get closer to their ultimate goal, but that doesn’t seem to be the world we currently inhabit. It was fine to center things around them at the beginning of the year, but at 11-32, really…what are we doing here, folks?

I doubt Randle or Elf gets moved before the deadline, so more than likely, this all amounts to screaming at clouds. But if there’s a way to strike a better balance than the one we saw on Saturday, it would be much appreciated.

17 days till the deadline.

Fingers crossed.

Player Spotlight

The Knicks play their usual MLK Day game at 5pm today, against one of the few teams they probably should beat, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs are bad, and like the Knicks, their young players haven’t exactly lit the world on fire. That said, they do have a guy who a lot of Knick fans were hoping for last year and is finally starting to put up numbers commensurate with his draft pedigree.

Collin Sexton hasn’t been leading Cleveland to wins, but he is putting the ball in the hoop. Over his last 10 games, Sexton is averaging 22.5 points and is hitting 43 percent from downtown (he’s at 19.2 points and 34 percent for the year):

Sexton comes into today’s matchup having scored 25 or more in three straight games, and is 11 for his last 20 from downtown. He’ll have Elfrid Payton guarding him for most of today’s game. You do the math.

The price is right at just $1.91 a share, especially with a projection of under 30 fantasy points for today’s matchup. If this is your first foray into the PredictionStrike watersclick here and use code KFS for $10 added to your first investment of $10 or more (so $10 can get you 10 shares of Sexton with some cash to spare!)

With the veteran lineups we’re likely to see for a few more weeks at least, it’ll make the games a heck of a lot more palatable.

Podcast Alert!

Jeremy and I shoveled dirt over the grave that is this Knicks’ season. That might sound really depressing, but really…

Who the hell am I kidding, it was pretty depressing. But misery loves company. Give a listen.

News & Notes

Mike Vorkunov just released an awesome trade deadline primer (I’ll be doing my own soon). Give a read if you’s an Athletic subscriber. If not, feel free to use promo code OVERTIME to get 40% off a yearly subscription. Trust me, it’s worth it,

That’s it! See everyone tomorrow morning.

Here Lies the 2019-20 New York Knicks

The public viewing was held last night, from 7:30-10. If you missed it, lucky you.

As far as Knick descents into darkness go, this one now officially has more rungs on the ladder than usual…

Get embarrassed in free agency? Check.

Get embarrassed by good teams early? Check.

Get embarrassed by bad teams early? Check.

(Musical interlude, played over a video of the Mills/Perry post-game presser at 2-8)

Fire coach? Check.

Get embarrassed by good teams under new coach? Check.

Last night, we got to check the last box. The Knicks were embarrassed - at home, no less - by a Suns team that has the same number of wins as the Knicks do over the last two months (eight) against teams that aren’t the Knicks.

Nail, meet coffin.

How the game unfolded is probably more discouraging than that it unfolded at all. The Knicks led this one by eight points less than a minute into the second quarter, and proceeded to get outscored by 31 points over the next 35 minutes. Their defense gave up 95 points over that span of time, and had many possessions with the look and feel of a team either beginning it’s preseason slate in September or playing out the string in April.

After the game, Mike Miller talked about “owning” this loss. Mitchell Robinson, meanwhile, when asked about the Suns taking it to them as the game went on, responded that “they didn’t take it to us, they just made shots.” A few feet away at almost the exact same moment, Marcus Morris discussed the team’s lack of effort, energy, excitement and how when they should be coming together, instead “they’re pulling apart.”

To say there is a disconnect about what had transpired is an understatement.

Robinson, to his credit, wasn’t wrong. The Suns bigs, whether it was DeAndre Ayton, Aaron Baynes or Dario Saric, were hitting outside shots over Mitch all night long as he remained wary of straying too far from the paint, as is his role in this defensive scheme. He’s the last line of defense in a unit that has often shown little resistance to anything coming their way. He’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

It’s why the Knicks, over their last eight games, have a 120.1 defensive rating, which ranks last in the NBA over that time. It’s a far cry from the 108.6 figure they posted in Mike Miller’s first dozen games, over which the Knicks were 6-6 and the life support for this season was still generating a few beeps.

This is what letting go of the rope looks like, and we probably shouldn’t be surprised.

Marcus Morris was asked after the game about whether the team’s recent 1-7 stretch has made it difficult for the front office to keep this team together as the trade deadline approaches, and he responded flatly that it’s not his job to make those decisions.

It was obvious, but telling nonetheless, as much for what wasn’t said as what was. Morris has maintained a desire to stay in New York all season long. None of that sentiment was present yesterday.

Ironically enough, games like last night and stretches like the Knicks are in right now are both the best argument in favor of the front office’s plan heading into this year and the best argument for why they should not be retained past this season.

Little development happens when the collective mindset is one of defeat before the game is halfway over, which is exactly what Mills and Perry were trying to avoid.

Instead, they enabled it.

If you don’t think the vet core of this team is thinner than tissue paper, go back and watch from the 7:30 mark of the second quarter to the three-minute mark, a four and a half minute stretch that saw the Knicks give up 19 points.

That stretch began, not coincidentally, with Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton checking into the game for Mitchell Robinson and Frank Ntilikina. When the “veteran leaders” you brought in to teach the young players how to win games are very the reason you’re losing them, there is a problem.

As there is when the home team comes out at halftime and this is the first defensive possession they have:

If you know what the hell Elfrid Payton is doing on this play, please email your answer to

Two plays later, following RJ getting beat on a Booker backdoor cut where no one remotely thought of helping, we saw Julius Randle, umm… fronting Deandre Ayton, I guess?

(I’m a bit uncertain here because I’ve been told that fronting your man works better when you attempt to prevent him from obtaining the ball in the first place. When you merely stand in between him and the ball handler and roll out the red carpet to the hoop, I’m not sure the term still qualifies.)

I don’t mean to pick on Elf and Julius today, especially because their defense hasn’t been this porous all season long (although it also hasn’t been that far off). There is a reason the Knicks have been better with Randle and Payton on the court than with them off, and that’s because on many nights, they have been among the best players New York has had.

But this campaign always carried with it the risk that things would turn sour in a hurry – where a playoff push would morph into a lottery free fall well before the All-Star break. Some of the Knick vets – Taj Gibson, most notably – maintain a certain level of professionalism regardless of the team’s record. That alone means his $8 million salary was money well spent.

Randle? His 26 points led the team, but his 23 shots were also twice as many as his next closest teammate (Marcus Morris, with 11). Julius will continue gobbling up possessions and putting up numbers for as long as here, all the while setting the tone as New York’s highest paid player and self-proclaimed team leader.

He is the horse unto which this front office chose to hitch its wagon. And that, perhaps more than anything else, is the biggest indictment on them as anything else. The NBA contains a rare few players who should be setting the tone, but is mostly filled with those who should be following others that do the heavy lifting. When someone is drastically miscast, it can lead to problems. Big problems.

But talented leaders are hard to find. Last year’s team didn’t have one, so they took their cues from the coach. Like many players on the 2018-19 roster, he wasn’t very good at his job, but at least that tanktastic bunch never let go of the rope.

This summer, in the absence of finding a true team leader who fit the bill, the front office had a chance to continue to mold this roster in a certain image – with veterans who, like Gibson, would carry on with the utmost of effort even as the games became meaningless. Instead, Steve Mills and Scott Perry signed talented players who maybe didn’t fit this mold in the hope that the season would never take that turn for the worst. Tragically for them, if they had focused more on character and less on stats, the kids – and specifically RJ, Frank and Mitch, all of whom consistently play with effort if nothing else – would be getting more time, the team’s record might very well be better off, and the most predictable downturn in the history of downturns might instead have been avoided.

But we’re as far from that alternative universe as the Knicks were from a victory last night. What’s left is a 40-game stretch that will inevitably be a hodgepodge of vets and kids without any clear direction as to what the hell is going on.

On that note, I’m going to end this obituary by showing just how fickle I am, and just how little conviction I have.

Yesterday here, I predicted that the Knicks would trade at least one of their young players, acquire a “win now” piece, and that the Knicks’ brass would survive the season. After last night, I’m going back on all three.

Sorry for the flip flop, but having been in the building last night and witnessing that debauchery first hand, I just can’t see a world where James Dolan signs off on any trade that doesn’t involve a vet going out and a pick coming back.

I also can’t see him entrusting this leadership group with another season. How could he? Not when the intent of this year has completely backfired. The emperor’s new clothes have been revealed. There is no “there” there when it comes to what remains.

Thankfully though, there is talent here, and assets, and they are not boxed in by bad contracts or future years with no pick.

At this point, as long the organization can make it past February 6 with that situation still intact, I will be thankful, and we can move on to what we as Knick fans do best: Looking forward to next season, when the dead will rise again.

Maybe next year, they can actually keep the blood flowing through their veins for all 82 games.

As we look down at the corpse that is the 2019-20 New York Knicks, that much alone would be worth celebrating.

Predictions, Round 2

I didn't do so well in the first batch of these. Let's try to do better.

In this newsletter:

The Knicks open the second half of the season tonight at home against the Suns.

As usual, there’s far more that’s unknown about this team than is known, but isn’t that always the case ‘round these parts.

Before we get to my predictions for how the second half of the season is going to play out, let’s check in on the 17 (lightly) educated guesses I made before the year started:

1. Mitchell Robinson will emerge as a Star & foundational building block: Hasn’t happened yet, and he’s mired in perhaps his worst funk of the season, but he’s also had some brilliant stretches mixed in. I’m not calling this either way yet.

2. Julius Randle averages 25, 10, 5…and 5: This was admittedly absurd at the time, but hey, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Right now Randle is averaging 18.8 points, 9.2 boards, 3.3 dimes and 2.9 turnovers.

3. Allonzo Trier establishes himself as a helpful NBA rotation player: Umm, moving along…

4. One of Frank or Dot is not here past the trade deadline: Happy as hell to be wrong about this so far, but not marking it down as a loss yet.

5. Frank gets a real chance: Might have happened by default, but we don’t need to call bank in this game. It’s a win.

6. Dot gets traded: TBD.

7. RJ Barrett will be bad...and no one will care: Yesterday I spent 1000 words in this space singing the praises of RJ, but I also don’t think I was wrong here. He’s shooting under 40 percent from the field, so I’m not sure you can say he’s been good, at least not by normal NBA standards. As a rookie though, he’s doing perfectly fine.

8. DSJ isn't the Knicks long term answer at point guard: Wish I was wrong here.

9. Marcus Morris will be everyone's favorite Knick by November: I mean, he has been the best Knick, and there are a ton of you that don’t want them to trade his expiring contract, soooo…win?

10. The early season rotation leaves a lot of people upset: Big Win!

11. The Knicks are a top five team in free throw attempt rate: They’re 11th right now. Fiz was huge on getting to the line, even at the expense of better offense, so this kind of went out the window when he got canned. For what it’s worth, they were 4th the day he got fired. I’m taking a half point.

12. They still finish near the bottom of the league in assists: Another one that was hurt by Fizdale’s ouster, but not too much. The Knicks were 27th in assist rate on December 6, and have been tied for 25th since.

13. The Knicks will finish in the top 12 in transition points per 100 possessions: Easily my worst prediction, which is my fault for buying into the fool’s gold that was the early preseason. They rank 29th in this stat, both under Fiz and since.

14. There will be another media dustup: Sending out the President and GM for an impromptu postgame presser after the 10th game of the year wasn’t quite what I had in mind for this prediction, but the hell if I’m not taking credit for it.

15. Fiz will start running the offense through RJ Barrett by Valentine’s Day, if not Christmas: Little did I know that RJ Barrett would be the team’s starting point guard on Opening Night! Fizdale ran the offense through Barrett early and often, to the tune of a 24.4 usage rate. It was too much, too soon. Less has been more for the Knicks’ rookie since Miller has taken over, as his 21.9 usage rate since December 6 shows. I would like to see this tick back up before the end of the year though.

16. The Knicks power structure (Mills, Perry & Fiz) survives the season: Oh well!

17. The Knicks win 33 games: Anyone think this team is going 22-19 from here on in? Beuller? Beuller?

My my count, I went 7.5 for 14, with three TBD’s. That’s a better winning percentage than the Knicks, so I’ll take it.

Let’s see if I can do any better with these:

1. Marcus Morris gets moved by the deadline.

I flip-flopped on this a few times. Hell, last night on the podcast with Andrew Claudio, I said if you gave me even money on Morris staying or going, I’d bet that he was staying. As I type these words, I already think this will turn out wrong.

I think the front office genuinely wants to keep Mook, and I really don’t think they care what the reaction will be if he’s here past the deadline. I think they are approaching the rest of this season with the mindset of trying to win as many games as possible without doing something that will be an obvious mortgage of the team’s future (RJ Barrett for DeMar DeRozan is the only blatant example that comes to mind).

But I also have to trust what I’ve heard, which is that for as much as Mook loves the organization and means what he’s said about wanting to be a part of this over the long haul, he also wouldn’t mind playing some meaningful basketball between now and June. And who the hell could blame him for that.

If nothing else, this organization likes to cater to its players, and I think there will be a good enough deal on the table that they can’t say no to. Miami or Philly would be my guess.

2.     The team under Miller finishes top-ten in the NBA in pace.

Right now, under Miller, they’re exactly 10th, and hundredths of a percentage point behind the Nets in 9th. As younger players get more time as the season continues, this should only go up.

3.     Bobby Portis and Dennis Smith Jr. get traded.

I feel more strongly about Smith Jr. than I do Portis, mostly because I’m not sure what playoff team thinks Bobby is an upgrade on whatever they have currently, but he has hit 40 percent of his threes since starting the season 0-for-7, and that has real value, especially on a roster that can cover up his defensive shortcomings.

DSJ and Portis for Jeff Teague and a second-rounder still makes the most sense in my eyes. I’m sure they’ll also kick the tires on Dennis Schroder, but my guess is that OKC asks for Knox, and the Knicks balk.

4.     RJ makes the All-NBA Rookie First Team

This isn’t as much of a layup as it seems. Morant is a lock, but Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, P.J. Washington and Brandon Clarke all have real cases. Someone else might emerge (including Zion, who will allegedly make his debut next week. He could Embiid his way into the conversation, especially if he leads a Pels playoff push).

I don’t think RJ gets edged though. Even with a further dip in efficiency, the counting stats will be good enough such that even more analytically-minded folks won’t be able to ignore the numbers.

5.     The Knicks acquire a name.

Maybe it’s only Jeff Teague, who I guess still technically counts as a name because he made an All-Star team once upon a time (a fact I’m sure will be made clear to Dolan when they go to get his signature on this deal).

But…I don’t know. I can’t shake the feeling that there’s going to be someone bigger coming along as well. Maybe it’s Drummond, if only because I don’t think anyone else in the league is going to want to give up anything of value for his services.

My guess is Kuzma. It would have to be a 3-way deal, because of salaries and because none of the Knicks’ kids are what the Lakers need right now. But I wouldn’t be surprised if something happened, which leads us to…

6.     The Knicks deal one of their young players.

Either Frank or Knox would be my guess, to a team that would then send a win-now piece to LA, with Kuzma coming back to New York. The Knicks would also send out the unprotected 2021 Dallas pick in this trade, and maybe the protected ’23 pick as well.

The problem is that their aren’t many good players who a) don’t make a ton of money and that b) their teams would be OK moving for an unproven prospect. Maybe Sacramento ends up moving Bogey, but I have to think they’d want more than Kevin Knox in return. I also don’t think he’s the type of guy LeBron wants. The Wiz want to hang onto Davis Bertans, according to reports, so that’s probably a no go.

My prediction: Derrick Rose.

How poetic would it be if the man who interrupted James’ five-year MVP run becomes the final piece of LA’s championship puzzle. He would be perfect to prop up non-LeBron units that feature AD (the Lakers have been getting outscored by 2.5 points per 100 possessions during those minutes, according to Cleaning the Glass).

More poetry (the type that would leave me crying): Frank Ntilikina, the man drafted to replace Rose in New York, is the piece going back to Detroit in the deal. His fellow countryman Sekou Doumbouya is there (and fresh off a career high last night), and the two Frenchmen share an agent. The Pistons are clearly ready to rebuild.

This almost makes sense on too many levels not to happen. The Knicks love names, and Kuzma is a name. I don’t think anyone else in the league is clamoring for his services. Nor, for that matter, does any other contender need Rose as much as the Lakers do. LeBron loves himself some names too. The Knicks have been trying to get rid of Frank almost since the day they drafted him, and while I’m sure there are some within the organization who are encouraged by his recent stretch of strong play, I’m sure there are others who think it’s the perfect time to sell high.

There would be haggling over who gets what picks, but I have zero doubt that New York would put at least one Dallas pick on the table here, if not both.

I’m not sure there’s enough brown liquor in the world to get me through the day this inevitably takes place, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

7.     New York get to 30 wins.

Under Miller, the Knicks are 7-12. Using that pace, the Knicks would end up with 15 more wins, which puts them at 26 for the year. If trade season goes like I think it will, the Knicks will be taking one step forward in the short term even if it does mean multiple steps back in the future.

(Is that the way it’s supposed to work? I feel like no…)

If they end up keeping Morris, it only makes this prediction more likely.

8.     The front office stays.

If New York gets to 30 victories, that means they’ll be able to go to James Dolan and say the following:

“Hey Jim. You doing good? Great. So check it out: We went 26-34 under Mike Miller even though he had no training camp with the roster. That’s a 35-win pace, which would have put us in the playoffs this year. Next season, our entire young core, including the recent additions, profiles to be even better, and we have another top-eight pick coming our way in what we’re hearing is a very strong draft.

(Cut to Spencer crying)

We also have max space this summer, and while I know the names aren’t as well known as last summer, we’re confident that we’ll be able to acquire someone who will help round out this core for years to come.”

So what’aya say? Can you give us some more time to Make the Garden Great Again?”

I say it works, and they get to come back for another year…

…unless Masai Ujiri makes it known through back channels that he wants the job, in which case, all bets are off.

The rest of the season starts tonight.

Giddy up. It’s going to be a bump ride.

Player Spotlight

The Suns are in town, and the last time these two teams got together, they combined for 232 combined points, which feels like a lot.

I wrote about Kelly Oubre Jr. as a good candidate to buy before the game two weeks ago, and he responded with 29 points on 16 shots. His stock price was $1.63 then, and he’s up to $1.70 now (and that’s after a bad effort in his last game that caused a 14 percent dip).

The message, as always: I am a master of prognostication.

Tonight, I hate to do it, but with Mitchell Robinson struggling I’m going with Deandre Ayton. He’s trading at just $0.45 a share, and he put up 15, 13 & 5 the last time he faced off against his draft counterpart.

I hope seeing the guy that went 35 picks ahead of him snaps Mitch out of his funk, but the price is right to invest in Ayton now, even if it is just as a hedge. He started the year off at $7.52, so he’s essentially bottomed out after being injured for most of the season. No better time to get in.

Hopefully you got your free RJ stock yesterday, but if you still haven’t signed up for PredictionStrike, click here and use code KFS for $10 added to your first investment of $10 or more.

New Podcast!

I shot the shit with Andrew Claudio, who I’m sure many of you remember from the Nothin’ But Knicks pod on the Gotham Sports Network. This was fun.

On This Date: Knicks beat the Cincinnati Royals

by Vivek Dadhania (@vdadhania)

The Knicks blew out the Cincinnati Royals 132-106. The Knicks had 8 players in double figures as Willie Naulls led the way with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Jack George scored 20 points, Richie Guerin scored 16, and Jim Palmer scored 15 as well to lead the Knicks quarter.

Continue Reading… 

That’s all she wrote! See everyone tomorrow for the Friday edition, hopefully after a home win.

A Bright Spot in the Darkness

RJ Barrett's rookie year is half over. Where does he stand as a building block for the future.

In this newsletter:

Happy Midway Point of the Season, Knick Fans. We made it. Check for previously unseen cuts and bruises. Gauze bandages are located in the medicine cabinet.

New York ended the first half of the year with a good, old-fashioned ass whoopin’ courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks. Analyzing this game would be about as valuable as examining why the cowboy who brought a knife to the gun fight left in a coffin. Next time, come prepared.

The Knicks, of course, don’t have a gun yet. Not a real one at least. It’s more frustrating than normal because they may have missed one by a single pick in July. Last night, Ja Morant had 26 point and eight dimes, shot 10-of-11 from the floor, and scored 11 in the fourth to take down the Rockets and solidify Memphis’ position as the eighth seed in the West. He’s really good.

But such is life when you depend on the whims of lottery balls. Who New York ended up with instead of Morant is a player that is clearly very, very good, and will likely get a good deal better, but whose ceiling is still a mystery.

On that note, let’s spend today looking at the first half of the rookie campaign for RJ Barrett, who was the lone true bright spot for the Knicks last night.

(Julius Randle - who single-handedly kept the team in the game in the first quarter - would have qualified had he not come out of halftime with one foot already on the plane back to New York. I’m sorry Julius, but when you’re the highest paid player and self-anointed team leader, you don’t get to stop trying on defense just because your team is getting whipped. If I could see it, so could the kids on this team. It’s a bad look.)

Effort has never once been an issue for Barrett over the course of his short career. His intangibles are more notable than they might be for another franchise, simply because over the last two decades, the Knicks haven’t lacked for talent as much as talent that inspired those around them.

Every franchise who has ever been in the doldrums needs someone to come in and begin leading the charge out of the muck. Barrett is just 19, but the way he has carried himself this year speaks to the possibility that he has the DNA of a locker room leader for a long time to come. Losing bothers the hell out of him - you can see it all over his face in the locker room after games - but he also doesn’t let it affect his play.

Last night, as the second half wore on and most everyone around him was just trying to pad their stats, there was Barrett still trying to make the right play and get others involved.

(Kudos to Kevin Knox on this front as well. He had some passes last night that were among the best of his young career.)

But intangibles and effort and all that jazz only mean so much if you don’t have the game to back it up, and that’s where the questions about RJ begin to arise.

Morant has single-handedly turned around the Grizzlies because he is an engine; someone who powers their offense in all the ways necessary in 2020. He gets to the line (4.4 attempts per game, second among rookies to Barrett), to the rim (17.4 drives per game, ninth in the league), is enough of a threat from deep (over 40 percent, albeit on low volume) and gets others involved (6.9 dimes per game, almost twice as much as the next highest rookie).

Ja is also nearly a year older than Barrett. His rise from draft afterthought to lottery prize happened during his sophomore season, which RJ is having the equivalent of right now. That can’t be ignored.

It also doesn’t mean Barrett will ever reach those heights. RJ thus far seems like a jack of all trades but master of none. An NBA engine has to possess the ability to generate his own offense, which is an area where Barrett struggles. His lack of elite athleticism shows up on a regular basis, like last night when he was blocked by the not-quite-Mutombo-esque Donte DiVincenzo:

One of the ways that RJ figures to be a plus offensive player is by using his size at the shooting guard position to either draw help or convert easy looks himself. Plays like this one show that he’s almost always going to have to get his buckets around the rim with craft as opposed to physically overpowering smaller guys, at least when he doesn’t have a runway to start from.

On the very next possession, Barrett indeed tried to get that head of steam we’ve seen him gather time and time again. Unfortunately this time, the reigning MVP was there to greet him:

These are the moments that make you question whether Barrett can ever be a guy who can take the rock, wave everyone else out of the way, and take over a game.

But he also doesn’t need to be. The Knicks may not have found their Morant, but assuming they can get that player at some point, Barrett may be a perfect partner. Being a guy who can do a little bit of everything on the court means you can easily compliment just about anyone.

(Being a decent shooter certainly helps, which is why RJ’s 5-of-7 showing from deep last night was so important in the grand scheme of his development.)

There’s real value in being able to check a lot of boxes. This season, there are 21 players averaging at least 14 points, five boards, two dimes, one steal and four free throw attempts per game. 20 of them have either made an All-Star team or are a good bet to make their first one this season. RJ Barrett is the 21st.

According to, there are four teenage rookies in NBA history to hit those statistical benchmarks: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Luka Doncic, and right now, RJ. For all of the woes about Barrett’s shooting, his .439 effective field goal percentage is a smidgen higher than LeBron’s .438, and within earshot of Melo’s .449 (he’s also playing fewer minutes than any of those guys did as rookies, for all the hand-wringers out there).

And it’s not like there aren’t ways Barrett can get easy buckets. We discussed his propensity to get to the line here on Monday, and on cue, he got the the charity stripe six times last night, making five. He’s also been solid in transition, like we saw here in the third quarter:

(Great play by Mitchell Robinson, by the way. For as out of it as he’s been since the Drummond rumor surfaced, he’s still been making as impact on defense. Last night, he had two nice steals and a block in 18 minutes. Please don’t trade for someone who will further block his development. K thanx bye.)

Over the second half of the season, the Knicks would be wise to give Barrett a bigger share of the offensive responsibility in situations he can be successful in, even if it does include some bumpy patches. The Knicks are 11-30. If the rest of this season can’t be used to get RJ some good reps, I don’t know what we’re all doing here.

One suggestion: more time with Mitch, Frank (get healthy buddy) and Knox and without Randle or Morris. Thus far this season, that has happened for only 32 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass. Maybe we can up that a tad.

All in all, no Knick fan should be disappointed with what we’ve seen from RJ thus far. He may not be the hero Gotham needs to put it back on the map, but he’s probably the one we deserve, because when has anything ever come easy for this franchise.

On to the second half we go.

FREE RJ Barrett Stock!

Who’s ready for free stuff!

You are, hopefully, because that’s exactly what’s coming your way.

Yesterday, the votes were tallied and you all decided that RJ Barrett was the preferred Knick to start your PredictionStrike stock portfolio with (and given everything that I just wrote about him, who could blame you?)

So here’s the deal:

1.    Visit by clicking on this handy link;

2.    Sign up for a new account (don’t worry, you won’t get asked for any credit card info, just name and email);

3.    At the bottom, where it says “Referral Code,” type in KFSPlayer.

At that point, you will officially be the owner of one share of RJ Barrett stock…and what better day could there be to start your investment? After besting his predicted fantasy score by 8% last night, his stock price rose from $0.56 to $0.61.

This promo will be good for today only, so take a minute right now to sign up. I promise, as the second half of the season starts to drag, this is an easy way to keep the games fun and interesting.

And hey…what’s better than benefiting from this kid’s continued emergence?

News & Notes

compiled by Michael Schatz (@mschatz99)
  • If you’re a glutton for punishment, I wrote about last night’s game.

  • Good stuff from Ian Begley yesterday on a few topics of note, including RJ’s maturity and Kevin Knox’s growth.

On This Date: The birth of the Trent Tucker rule and the Marcus Camby punch almost heard around the world

by Vivek Dadhania (@vdadhania)

On this memorable MLK day in 1990, Trent Tucker enshrined himself into Knicks folklore with a buzzer-beating shot to defeat the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden. With the game tied at 106, Tucker received the inbounds pass and made the game-winning three pointer with 0.1 seconds left to win the game 109-106. 

Continue Reading…

That’s it…see everyone tomorrow!

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