How Sweet It Is
The Knicks - the KNICKS - are over .500 and sitting at 4th place in the East. Let's enjoy.
What’s that smell?
Winning, BABY! We have a full recap of this weekend’s action, including a special Saturday night Game Diary from Anthony Mannarino below, in today’s complementary newsletter. If you’d like to become a full subscriber and get on the bandwagon, take advantage of today’s “We’re Over .500, Here’s 20% Off” Special:
Let’s get to it…
5 Takeaways from a Perfectly Imperfect Weekend
1. I so badly want to say the Knicks are good.
Last night, during my somewhat subdued postgame livestream following a 109-90 laugher in Detroit, someone told me to smile. After all, the Knicks - our New York Knicks - were over .500, alone in fourth place in the East, and heaven finally was a place on earth.
We had come so far, and dealt with so much pain and aggravation and jokes and nonsense to get to this point. We did not adopt the darkness; we were born in it.
But now, finally, there was light. When that final buzzer sounded, we had the ability to look in the mirror and say “Yes, I am a fan of a good basketball team,” and not feel ridiculous.
So if not now, when? When could there to be better time to revel in coming out the other side intact? With a legitimate identity, an All-Star, a promising young core, and a front office with a clue, why not bask in the glory of hitting the finish line a head’s length ahead of mediocrity?
Simple: because I can’t.
As much as I am the primary disseminator of orange and blue Kool Aid, I can’t yet bring myself to to bestow the hallowed “G” word on a team that still goes entire segments, quarters and even halves of games during which it feels like they may never score again.
With an rating of 108.5, the Knicks’ sit a comfortable 23rd in the league in offense, a full point per 100 possessions worse than Tuesday’s foe, the 22nd ranked Spurs. They’re 1.2 points per 100 away from the 20th ranked Wizards and 2.8 points per 100 away from the 15th ranked Bulls, which is slightly more than how far away they are from the 27th ranked Wolves.
They have scored enough to occasionally put sound beatings on bad teams and be in every game with mediocre ones. To be a good team though, to me at least, it means that if everything is hitting on all cylinders, you have what it takes to compete against the very best. That’s a designation I’d bestow on nine, maybe 10 teams right now. We’re not quite there.
But we’re damn close. And, I’d argue, one move away from getting there. What is that move? I’m not sure, but I’m confident that if it’s out there, and the price doesn’t require compromising the future integrity of what Leon Rose is building, he won’t hesitate to make a splash.
So while 18-17 may not get them to “good,” at least not from me, it does justify any and all responsible win-now moves that might be in store.
And that’s certainly not a bad thing at all.
2. The defense is real.
Maybe it’s an odd flex after beating up on a bad team.
Nevertheless, last night at around 9 pm was the moment I realized the Knicks defense - now ranked second in the NBA - was legit.
Like, legit legit.
I can’t explain it. Maybe it was the fact that they came out in the second half of a back to back, on the road, and gave up 37 points in the first half against a team that had been off since Friday. Maybe it was Nerlens Noel (81 minutes this weekend) putting forth his best defensive performance as a Knick, with three blocks, three steals, and a consistent ferocity on the defensive glass. Maybe it was Detroit only getting 34 points in the paint. Or maybe it as Julius Randle getting in on the action with his 7th (!) block of the season:
Whatever it is, this team will be in almost every game because of how they compete on that end of the floor. Even when their sputtering offense leaves them down - like when they trailed Indy by 16 on Saturday - they are rarely if ever out.
3. Tired: Julius Randle, All-Star; Inspired: Julius Randle, All-NBA
It’s time to at least begin having the conversation.
I can barely put Randle’s performance on Saturday into words. He took the matchup with Domantas Sabonis very personal, putting what might have been the best defensive showing of his career. Domas was given no quarter, no food or water, and no room to cook. Every one of his 15 points came with a black and blue.
Randle, meanwhile, went for nearly double that much, and then followed it up with a casual 25 against Detroit. He does not tire. On this team, no such luxury exists.
Since January 31, Randle has averaged 25, 11 & 5 with a steal per game and shooting splits of 49/48/80. Anthony Davis is missing an awful lot of games for LA, so it’s possible that after Giannis, KD, LeBron, Kawhi and PG13, there will be an open All-NBA spot that Randle competes for against the likes of Tatum, Butler and Zion.
It’s no longer nuts to think about.
4. RJ Barrett had a BIG weekend
Last night, some asshole went on Twitter and said that the Sacramento Kings had five players better than the second best player on the Knicks.
It was, of course, an indirect shot at RJ Barrett, who started off the weekend not having one of his better games. He was at one point 1-for-8 on 2-point field goal attempts against the Pacers, and as I have often been loath to point out here, was forcing the sorts of shots that were clearly hurting his team.
And then a funny thing happened: RJ took command. Kid just grabbed the reigns of the offense, kicked his heels, and off to the races he went. Over the last 4 minutes of the game, RJ:
Hit a three to cut a five-point deficit to two
Tied the game with a floater
Nailed the free throw for the and-one
Patiently penetrated the defense until he drew help, which allowed him to kick to Randle for an open three, and
Converted a beautiful layup to put the Knicks up six.
Boom: 11-0 run, and a 20-yearold was directly responsible for all of it. Yes, he missed two potentially huge free throws late, but those’ll just make him work that much harder moving forward. It’s far more important to me that he followed up the Pacer game with 21 points on 13 shots (and three dimes) last night.
Since February 6, among 169 players who have taken at least 30 attempts from long range, Barrett is fourth in 3-point percentage at 52.9. That jump from two separate stretches of 0-for-21 and 1-for-21 is a massive boon for his long term viability as a key piece on a great team, as are the playmaking flashes he continues to show at key moments of games.
5. Give Thibs his due.
If you haven’t joined me for the postgame live streams, you’ve probably missed my occasional frustration with fans who have been overtly critical of Tom Thibodeau this season.
My reasoning has never been too complicated. The team was picked to finish last, and they have been playing far better than a last place team. When that happens, a certain amount of deference should be awarded, even if you may quibble with the particulars of his approach.
And, oh, are there quibbles. Julius Randle played 38 minutes yesterday, one night after playing 42, in a game the Knicks had locked up. Kevin Knox, meanwhile, didn’t see the floor despite an open rotation spot thanks to Taj Gibson’s ankle injury against Indiana. Most want to see Obi and IQ more, regardless of whether their play warrants as much. Toppin in particular is barely averaging 12 minutes a game, which is a tough number to associate with optimal development.
And yet, here we are:
This could change in a hurry. By the time they head into the All-Star break, they could be out of this top eight altogether.
But at press time, Tom Thibodeau’s New York Knicks have the 11th best net rating and second ranked defense in basketball. They have given up more than 116 points just three times: on opening night, on Saturday thanks to some late garbage time buckets, and in late January against a Clipper team that was hitting everything.
Bend? Yes. Break? Never. Thibs doesn’t know the meaning of the word. The co-favorite for Coach of the Year was the most important free agent acquisition of the NBA offseason and I’m not sure it’s close.
He has taken a franchise that people around the league couldn’t wait to find the next opportunity to poke fun at and turned them into a team that no one wants to play. Just as importantly, the Knicks are now a place where other players can feel confident their stock will rise, not fall. That will matter sooner rather than later.
Thibs will wear out his welcome at some point, because unrelenting can only sustain for so long (he reiterated after the game “I’m never happy.” I guess better to be this way as a coach than a spouse). Between now and then, Leon Rose has some serious work to do. But you don’t get to Steps 2, 3, 4 and 5 without getting past Step 1 - becoming respectable - first.
On his back, they’re there.
Give the man his due.
News & Notes
Obi Toppin will compete in the Slam Dunk Contest, to be held at halftime of the All-Star Game.
Elfrid Payton missed both games this weekend with a bum hammy, and Taj missed yesterday with an injured ankle he suffered in the first half of Saturday’s win. The status of both are unclear for Tuesday in San Antonio.
With the trade deadline under a month away, I’m going to be sticking this section into the newsletter from time to time whenever I see something that piques my interest on the trade front. Today, I’d like to go a little deeper on someone I mentioned in last week’s 29-team trade primer..
Do you see him?
He’s hiding behind the preseason favorite for MVP, just barely peeking out.
That would be Terrence Ross, and according to our friends at the BBall Index, the quality of his 3-pointers is lower than literally any player in basketball. The only three who come close - Luka, Dame and Steph - are among the best alpha dogs in the league, and the next closest two after that - Harden and Tatum - aren’t too shabby either.
Those guys are all also max players, whereas Ross will make just $24 million over the next two seasons on a declining contract.
Obviously those other dudes are the engines driving their teams’ offenses, whereas Ross is a one trick pony, there to make shots and not much else.
For the Knicks though, that trick would be worth its weight in gold, and certainly worth more than $12 million annually. Right now, the Knicks have three off-ball marksman in their rotation in the form of Alec Burks, Reggie Bullock and Immanuel Quickley, but none of those guys are proficient at shooting off movement like Ross is. He also doesn’t know the meaning of hesitation, which has been something Thibs has complained of from time to time in reference to his shooters.
Who knows if the Magic would ever make Ross available via trade, but he’s one of the few role players I’d strongly consider putting this year’s Pistons’ second rounder on the table for. His contract isn’t prohibitive and could be flipped in a larger deal in a pinch. He’s also averaging a career high in assists, so there may be some untapped upside in that areas as well.
Just something to keep an eye on.
In what might have been the game of the year, the Knicks upended the Pacers 110-107 Saturday night. It was a back and forth affair, and ultimately, a 48-minute gut check for both teams. To celebrate New York emerging victoriously, Anthony Mannarino takes us through an unforgettable night as only he can.
Running Game Diary: Knicks vs. Pacers
It’s February 27th, I just spent the day on the beach acquiring my first sunburn of the year. Things are good, but not only because I live in a lovely part of the south. Tonight also brings the opportunity for the Knicks to win the third of their three games against Indiana and push their record to .500 We’ve split the first two this season but both of those games came against a Pacers team that still employed Victor Oladipo. The Pacers haven’t quite been the same since moving Dipo and tonight we’re also catching them with Brogdon on the shelf. These Knicks have had two or three games this year to really prove themselves and ratchet up the expectations for this season. Thus far they have failed to capitalize on those opportunities. I think they get it done tonight. But also TJ McConnell will probably go for 25…
10:35 - Ball not really moving great early. OAKAAK Justin Holliday with two quick ones from deep and we’re down 6-0. But hey at least Elf is out again.
9:41 - Super early timeout from Thibs with the team down 8-0. I like it, didn't seem like our focus was there right away.
7:33 - Really big block on Sabonis by Noel…
…who then quickly finishes with a slam on the other end off a nice feed from Randle. Felt like a big sequence with the Knicks previously shooting 1-9. 13-7 Pacers though.
5:49 - All-star Julius Randle (That’s his legal name now) cashes for the first time tonight to make it 17-13 Pacers. We’ve gotten REALLY used to how automatic he’s become from mid-range.
2:19 - Frank checks in alongside Quickley. Knicks down six in what has been a slow paced affair thus far. Let’s make an impact and cement this tandem.
0:35 - Frank bangs a three the team really needed, cutting the deficit to 10. Has not been a ton of life out there from the boys. Or as Clyde would say, “No Knicks with the nack thus far.”
10:21 - One possession a terrible foul called on Frank, the next a nothing goal-tend call on Obi. Zebras looking to show off their stripes tonight it seems. 37-27 Pacers.
9:13 - Knicks play 23 seconds of great D only for Obi to foul Sabonis on a three with 1 on the shot clock. The big man hits 2 of 3 and we’re down 12. Just really not a ton of life from the Knicks tonight. In need of a spark.
6:24 - Rebecca just announced Taj is out for the remainder with a sprained ankle. Noel already has three fouls. We’re gonna have to see if Thibs can get a little creative tonight.
5:02 - Knicks picked up the pace the last couple possessions and its worked. Quick knocks down his second three of the night and what had grown to a 16 point deficit is cut to 9.
3:57 - Turner with a big transition block on Bullock. Bill Simmons thinks he can speak it into existence that the dude is on a bad contract and the Celtics can get him on the cheap. Miles earns those checks as far as I’m concerned.
2:26 - Thibs going small. Brings in Knox which means Randle is running at the 5. Very interested to see how this plays out.
1:17 - RJ bangs his third three of the night to cut it to 1!
Back to back three balls from Rowan Barrett JR! His spot up jumper has looked SMOOTH the last couple nights. Can’t understate how big him stepping up in a lethargic game like this is.
0:00 - WE ARE THE ROSES. THIS IS THE CONCRETE. THESE ARE MY DAMAGED PETALS!!Derrick Rose pulls from 30 feet as the half expires and wets it! Knicks lead 54-52 at the break. WHAT?! HOW??
11:06 - Yo fuck Doug McDermott.
8:40 - Rose with a nice floater, gets fouled, and finishes off the old fashioned three point play. Knicks up 4 and the game has started to get some rhythm here in the 3rd! Also, yeah let’s never play Payton again.
7:30 - Yo FUCK Doug McDermott.
5:48 - Just wish Thibs would have a quicker hook sometimes man. 6+ into the 3rd and the starters just look out of sync together. Make a move Thomas.
**Celebrity Row Check In**
Michael K. Williams in the house! OMAR COMIN’!!
4:07 - GREAT defense by Randle on Sabonis leads to a steal, Rose to RJ in transition, RJ slams it home! Knicks up 70-67 and Bjorkren (Not checking that spelling) gets T’d up!
2:31 - Randle from three two possessions in a row. Man, I just really can’t say enough about how completely he has changed himself as a player from last season. Say it with me folks, “Julius Randle 3rd Team All-NBA.”
11:28 - Frank consistently gets the worst defensive whistle in the league.
11:04 - Quickley from deep and gets the foul called as well!
He’s an absolute master! (obviously he hit the free throw, do I actually need to even type that?)
8:48 - Refs have absolutely gotta be kidding me with that offensive foul call on Quickley. Maybe the most egregious flop from McConnell that I’ve ever seen. Gimme a goddamn break.
7:27 - Knicks have gotten a little sloppy as Sumner (??, legit don’t know this guys first name) slams the breakaway dunk off the Rose turnover. Ties the game at 91.
4:38 - Randle gets an offensive foul for a chin knock on Sabonis. Literally nothing in that. Making his move to shoot. These refs have kinda been booty. Pacers now lead by 3.
3:55 - 4th three of the night for RJ! Go off kid!!
3:32 - RJ across the lane, throws it up, it goes, and-1! This dude fucking loves playing the Pacers. The kid hits the free throw. He’s got 22. Knicks up by one. We’ve got a finish on our hands.
1:55 - Bullock fumbles a very nice pocket pass from RJ and turns it over. If there is one thing I’d love to see us do its upgrade Bullock’s spot in the starting rotation. Sorry Reggie.
1:16 - Noel of all people knocks down two free throws and the Knicks lead by three. Nerlens has played 40 minutes. Thibs did not get creative lol.
0:29 - Randle gets saucy and draws the big foul on Sabonis. Knocks them down. Knicks up five.
0:24 - Sabonis banks in a three because of course. Up 2.
0:14 - RJ misses two at the line. Didn’t need that. Definitely didn’t need that. Don’t worry. I wouldn’t worry. I’m not worried. Pacers ball, Knicks up 2.
0:02 - Frank in for defense and gets the steal off a Rose deflection!! Pacers foul and the French Prince knocks down a pair to ice it!! Knicks win (after the refs made themselves a story one last time)! The Knicks are .500!
THAT IS A PROFESSIONAL NBA WIN FROM THE NEW YORK KNICKS!! TIED FOR 4TH IN THE EAST!! WATCH OUT FOR US BABY!
-Til next time, Diary.
That’s it for today! If you enjoy this newsletter and like the Mets, don’t forget to subscribe for free to JB’s Metropolitan. See everyone tomorrow! #BlackLivesMatter
I love Richaun Holmes as much as the next guy, but this level of dumbfuckery is off the charts.
I love you always and forever, Dougie McBuckets - Ed.
Still love you - Ed.
I am a proud resident of Bullock Island, but strong co-sign here -Ed.