Everything Old is New Again

Taking stock after 20 games provides glimmers of hope but mostly harsh realities

Aaaaaand…we’re back!

Did you miss us?? I missed you. Of course that’s mostly because Thanksgiving weekend with kids involves a broken ladder, broken lights, a unicorn lawn decoration that seemed like a much better investment this time last year, and a giant inflatable Olaf that your daughter doesn’t understand is not a toy. At least for me it does.

The Knicks’ weekend, of course, wasn’t much better. Two games, two playoff teams, two sizable second half leads, two late breakdowns, zero surprises, and in the end, two identical ten-game samples, at least where wins and losses are concerned.

How much or how little you care to parse out the improvements between those first 10 games and the ones we just saw is your personal litmus test as a fan. The good news is that there is no wrong answer. If Randle sucks and Fiz sucks and everything sucks and will always suck and my God I never knew so much suck could happen in so short a span of time, you’re well within your right. If you choose to see the progress and focus on different young players showing assorted signs of hope and a team that, despite its struggles and all the noise around those struggles, hasn’t yet let go of the rope, that’s fine too.

For those in the former group, today’s newsletter is mostly for you. We have two phenomenal pieces to kick off your week by Jeremy Cohen and Tom Piccolo, one of which features pain in video form and the other in song form (yes, Jeremy wrote a song).

For those stragglers left on the Hope Express, you’ll enjoy those stories too, because even in darkness, here at Knicks Film School, we always remember to pack a flashlight (Battery Life: 20 years and counting, baby!) But in case you need one more uplifting something to get you through it all, a quick story from last night:

The locker room had all but cleared out, yet one Knick remained: Taj. A few of us sidled over, hoping to get a quote or two. Sitting in his towel while the rest of the team was already dressed and gone, he sat with us for six and a half minutes, most of which featured him pontificating about where the team was and how it could get to where it needs to go.

The depth with which Gibson thinks about the growth process this roster is in the thick of was encouraging, and frankly, inspiring. We should all take our jobs so seriously.

I put a few of his better quotes into my postgame story for SI Knicks (including a one-liner that had us all cracking up), but there was one more goodie that didn’t make it but which I found significant. When asked if it was difficult to hold a locker room together when everyone insists the sky is falling, instead of giving a stock answer (“no, we block out all that noise,” for example) he was honest:

“It’s always a challenge in the NBA to stay together,” adding that there’s always so many people from so many different parts of your life in your ear, encouraging you to look out for number one. “But this locker room is awesome. Even with the chips stacked against us, guys are still cheering for each other, guys are encouraging each other in practice, guys are challenging each other…we just have to keep chipping away.”

Maybe you think it’s nonsense, maybe you think it’s meaningless, or maybe you don’t care because Gibson is 34 and won’t be here if and when this team gets good. But if you’ve been around long enough to remember so many Knick teams come apart at the seems, just know that they haven’t let go of the rope here, not yet at least.

We’ll see if it ends up making a difference.

The Only Way Up is Down

by Jeremy Cohen (@TheCohencidence)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the vets not excelling
And everyone telling you the end is neeeeeeeeeeeear
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s the crap-crappiest season of all
With some December beatings and the season’s fleeting
Randle please pass the baaaaaaaaaaaall
It’s the crap-crappiest season of all

There’s allowed coast to coasting
Knox defense for roasting
And several DNPs for Zo
There’ll be plenty of stories
And tales of the glories of
Ewing’s Knicks long, long ago

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be some players going
And we’ll soon be knowing
If Fizdale’s still heeeeeeeeeeeere
It’s the most wonderful time
Yes the most wonderful time
Oh the most wonderful time
Of the yeeeeeeeeeeeear

Ah, December, the month that seemingly always breaks the Knicks. New York hasn’t survived December without either a losing season or some sort of skid for six years. It doesn’t appear this year will be any different.

Here we are, a quarter through the season, with the Knicks at 4-16. Since the 2000-01 season, 83 teams have posted a winning percentage of .300 or worse as of December 1st. Of the 83, only four qualified for the playoffs: 2003-04 Miami Heat (.294), 2010-11 Philadelphia 76ers (.278), 2004-05 New Jersey Nets (.200), and 2004-05 Chicago Bulls (.167). That’s a whopping 4.8 percent. The Knicks have played 20 games thus far, whereas those four teams played between 12 and 18 during their respective seasons. Their winning percentages after game 20 were .250, .300, .350, and .250, respectively. This means that no team in this current millennium has made the playoffs after having a .200 winning percentage or lower at the conclusion of the 20th game of their season.

You knew the Knicks weren’t going to make the playoffs this year, so why even discuss it? Well, this isn’t an annual obituary eulogizing another lost season. This is about a brand new season, one that is all the more competitive, if the front office allows it: the race to the bottom so a top-five pick is guaranteed. 

If you’re a dissenter of such an idea, your argument is likely “The draft lottery is a crapshoot,” “The draft is a crapshoot,” “Losing is immoral,” “Tanking isn’t proven to win a title,” and/or “There’s still time.” We’ve been so entrenched in the to-tank-or-not-to-tank debate that I don’t need to lay out all the pros and cons of gunning for the league’s worst record. Call it semantics but selling off pieces and giving the kids who were drafted more minutes does not constitute as “tanking” to me. There was a clear strategy to improve upon last year, and while that hasn’t happened record wise, changing course doesn’t necessarily mean a tank will ensue. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what it’s called, so long as it happens.

So why the emphasis on securing the worst record in the league? Talent can be found all over the board, but historically speaking, superstars are drafted in the top-five of the draft. Last season was unprecedented: The top-three in MVP voting (James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Paul George) were originally drafted third, 10th, and 15th, respectively. Nikola Jokic came in fourth place and was drafted 41st overall. Kawhi Leonard, the best player in the NBA last year when healthy, was originally drafted 15th.

Should you wish to declare the regular season MVP as the best player in the league, here’s the list of the winners’ draft slots going back to the 1976 NBA-ABA merger: 15, 3, 4, 7, 7, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 13, 9, 15, 15, 5, 1, 1, 1, 1, 13, 3, 13, 3, 1, 1, 5, 3, 3, 1, 1, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 5, 5, 12, 1, 5, 1, and 1. In case you couldn’t tell, the mode of this set is 1, while the mean is 4.37. And if we’re to take away Julius Erving from this set because he was drafted in the ABA and not re-drafted in the NBA like Moses Malone was, that number comes down to 3.85. Either way, both averages fall in the top five of the draft.

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Breaking Down the Knicks’ Crunch Time Struggles This Weekend

The Knicks came away from this weekend with two home losses against teams that are virtual locks to make the Eastern Conference playoffs.

If you’re looking for silver linings (I understand if you’re not in the mood), it’s that both games were competitive. Philadelphia and Boston each needed to come through in the clutch to pull out these victories.

Conversely, that means New York let two winnable games slip away. Sure, the most important parts of these games are less about the wins and losses; instead, it’s about the development of our young core. But, it would certainly be encouraging to see that young core pull off an upset win or two and show flashes that they can produce when it’s winning time.

Despite their record of 4-16 while sporting the 27th ranked point differential in the league (per Cleaning The Glass which eliminates garbage time), New York has surprisingly seen a lot of crunch time action this year. According to NBA.com, which defines “clutch” situations as the score being within five points with five or fewer minutes left, the Knicks rank 10th in the league in total clutch minutes played. Their record is 3-8 in games featuring clutch minutes and they are -16 in 43 such minutes.

Considering they possess the league’s worst offense, it may surprise you that, when it matters most, the Knicks’ primary issues have not come on that end. They’ve actually managed to score a respectable 107.7 points per 100 possessions in the clutch, which is right around league average. That said, offensive rating doesn’t tell the whole story. There are unquestionably issues around team identity, play calling and execution on the offensive end during crunch time.

New York’s biggest problem has (somewhat surprisingly) come on the other end. Their crunch time defensive rating of 120 points per 100 possessions ranks 25th in the league and they routinely fall apart defensively during the most crucial times.

Here’s a look at what went right and (mostly) wrong in the two games this weekend:

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Making Cyber Monday Fun Again

Hey, did you know it’s Cyber Monday? I didn’t, until my wife sent me several emails about things we apparently need in our life and it would be crazy not to take advantage of all the sales and get those things right now (it’s funny…when I was single, all I ever needed was beer and Hot Pockets. How times have changed…)

Anyway, it’s as good a time as any to remind everyone that PredictionStrike is the official sponsor of Knicks Film School, and that even though I’m incredibly biased, if you aren’t getting in on the awesomeness, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you’re like me, your fantasy season may have taken its last gasp of air this weekend, so there’s no better time to fill that void than by building a portfolio of players who, unlike the Knicks, may actually exceed our expectations and fill up our wallets in the process.

I built my own PredictionStrike portfolio a little over a month ago, and my initial $44 investment is up to $55.60, thanks mostly to Jarrett Culver, who was criminally underpriced at $0.65 when I got him and is now up to $1.41 a share.

If you’re looking to start with a Knick or two, there’s probably no better time to get in on Kevin Knox than right now. He’s trading at $0.88 a share, but is up 41 percent after yesterday’s rise from the ashes.

I was on the court two and a half hours before game time yesterday afternoon, and there was Knox, along with RJ and Iggy, getting shots up with the coaching staff. I asked him after the game how it felt to get back out there, and he…well, he gave his usual, semi-programmed answers.

But I took it as a good sign, because if there’s anyone on this team who never gets too high or too low, it’s Knox. With the window to trade offseason signings now less than two weeks from opening, there’s a world where Knox doubles the minute averages he’s had over the last several weeks. If that happens, you know he’s putting up shots. If you’re a believer, the time to get in is now.

(and remember: use code KFS when you sign up to get $10 in free money to help build your portfolio)

News & Notes

compiled by Michael Schatz (@mschatz99)
  • Marc Berman of the Post chatted with Trey Burke about KP, if you’re into that sort of things. FWIW, at least one of the Knicks players knows about this story and, umm…let’s just say he’s dubious.

  • J. Cole and the Knicks: a marriage made in heaven, clearly.

  • Chris Iseman looks at the Knicks progress (or lack thereof) after the most recent 10-game stretch.

On This Date: Knicks crush Cavs and Latrell Sprewell remains with Knicks

by Vivek Dadhania (@vdadhania)

The Knicks capped a three-game winning streak, crushing the Cleveland Cavaliers by 32 points. For the Cavs, this game marked the 15th straight loss for the team which further put them in greater odds to win the LeBron James sweepstakes.

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That’s it…see everyone tomorrow!