It...It Can't Get Worse...
I’m not going to write about last night’s game.
I mean, really…why the fuck would I?
(What are you doing!?!?!)
(You can’t say that in the newsletter!)
(And at the very start, no less???)
(Clean it up, Macri)
I respectfully decline to write about the basketball match that occurred between the Memphis Grizzlies and the New York Fuc-
This is what we’ve come to friends.
A Tourette’s episode between me and the little voice inside my head that says all of the things about this team I wish I could say but usually don’t for fear of getting cited by the FCC.
That’s what this season has done. I’m in full-on, Edward Norton in Primal Fear mode. Which one is the real Macri? The stuttering idiot who defended the Knicks’ offseason? Or the one coming out of the MSG Executive Offices with blood all over his throwback Ewing jersey?
Wouldn’t you like to know…
But hey…at least I’m not the only one with blood on his hands:
On a night where every Knick fan had to reassess their life choices, this made me laugh, not only because Clarence is indeed correct, but because it serves the front office who assembled this team right to have their blatant effort at “showcasing” Smith thrown right back in their faces.
(By the way, I appreciate the excuse Mike Miller offered when I asked him after the game why Frank never got off the bench, which is that his troublesome groin acted up. It certainly sounds valid. But I found it odd that this is the first time since I’ve been following the team that their PR staff hadn’t released a statement mid-game about the unavailability of an injured player who wasn’t on the injury report beforehand. I’m sure that if someone with the Knicks is reading this right now, and if there was such an instance, they’ll let me know, and I’ll be happy to include it in tomorrow’s newsletter, but I’ll be damned if I can think of one right now…)
DSJ, of course, was the least of the problems on this evening. The game went like so many before it this season…blah offense, little defense, some true bright spots from the young players (we’ll get there, I promise), and countless reminders that you can’t assemble a team simply by looking at Basketball Reference’s stat pages and playing Pin The Overpay on Whoever Wants James Dolan’s Money.
But that’s not the least of what went wrong. Oh, no…no no no.
Regardless of whether you come down on the side of “Jae Crowder was simply playing ‘till the buzzer” or “That was a punk-ass move with Memphis up 18 and under a minute to go,” we can all agree on two facts:
the Knicks were within 10 with just over 11 minutes to go in a home game against a sub-.500 team and proceeded to allow 28 points in the next 10:14, and
this was not in the least bit surprising to anyone in attendance
Put together, it felt more than a little audacious for Elfrid Payton to push Jae Crowder out of midair and for his teammates to then start shoving various Grizzlies like they were the ‘89 Pistons and had earned the right to do anything other than sit quietly on the bench and take their medicine.
But of course, it got worse:
I was standing two feet from Morris’ face when he said this and thought I had misheard him. It was so out of the realm of anything that is even remotely acceptable in 2020, and no, I don’t care about the carefully crafted apology Tweet shortly thereafter. The fight was in the heat of the moment. These comments, made after Morris had calmly and quietly gotten dressed at his locker in front of the assembled press, more than 20 minutes after the game ended, were not.
That said, I very much hope the apology minimizes the legs that this story has, because for as much as I’m offended as the father of a daughter who will undoubtedly grow up in a world where these sort of comparisons still get made (in the heat of the moment or otherwise), I’m almost as offended by the thought of Marcus Morris still being on this team after the deadline. Last night will do nothing to help his trade value.
Ditto for any of these veteran Knicks. Did you know that of NBA players who have appeared in at least 20 games and play more than 15 minutes a night, only 25 have a usage rate of at least 20 with an effective field goal percentage under 50, and four of them are Knicks: Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Dennis Smith Jr. and RJ Barrett.
(It amuses me that both KP and Melo also appear on this list)
News flash: teams don’t want guys who monopolize touches but aren’t efficient with the touches they get.
Barrett, of course, can be excused. He’s a teenager, and fellow top-ten picks Coby White and Darius Garland join him on this list. You gotta learn sometime.
Even Randle gets a bit of a pass from me, because he’s been featured so much, so often in this offense, which is a design flaw with this roster as much as it is his fault.
But guys like DSJ and Portis - both of whom I’d bet you a doughnut the front office has been desperately trying to pawn off on someone for weeks - are almost irredeemable, especially given their flaws on the other end of the court.
Maybe some team looks at the fact that Smith Jr. is still only 22 and ignores literally every other number on the back of his basketball card, as well as performances like last night’s first half, when he managed to cram four turnovers and a technical foul into six minutes of action.
(Seriously, I didn’t know who to be more concerned about: Smith himself - a young man who looks like he’s auditioning for Space Jam 2, post-powers-being-stolen segment - or the young woman in the front row who he nearly decapitated with one of his passes.)
Either way, it was bad. Really bad.
It makes you wonder what the optimal outcome is between now and a week from today. Do we want this front office to successfully move some of these parts, even for a middling return? Or would it be best if they sat tight, perhaps allowing the next front office to work with a clean slate?
I honestly don’t know the right answer.
What I do know is that this season has surely been every bit as frustrating for Steve Mills and Scott Perry as it has been for us. We joke and poke and prod, but the reality is that this team probably isn’t nearly as far away from competence as it seems on a day like yesterday.
I mean, in the nearly 500 minutes Elfrid Payton, Julius Randle and Marcus Morris have played together, the Knicks have outscored their opponents by over a point per 100 possessions. The second unit they’d been rolling with before Frank’s mysterious sore groin has steamrolled teams to the tune of a positive 16.3 net rating, albeit in a relatively small sample size. There’s a version of this season where “suck” isn’t a troll that lives under the Chase Bridge and feasts on unsuspecting tourists hoping to see competitive basketball.
But that season doesn’t exist. Perhaps that’s because building a basketball roster is really, really hard, and you’re one Bobby Portis or Dennis Smith Jr. away from going from a plucky underdog story like the Memphis Grizzlies to the bile we saw strewn about the court and the locker room last night.
But such is life, and here we are.
But before you decide to take a swan dive off said Bridge, remember: all is not lost. For as much as the front office may have whiffed on the finer points of team-building, they also haven’t done any irreparable damage. There are no immovable contracts on this roster, no upcoming years without a draft pick, and a locker room that does feature hope for the future.
So if you’ll allow me, I want to end today on a positive note, and sing the praises of a young man who played 31 minutes and managed to post a positive point differential in a game the Knicks lost by 21.
Mitchell Robinson posted a 10/9/4/3/2 stat line last night - the first Knick to do so since Amare in 2011, and only the third since Ewing last accomplished the feat back in 1996, according to Basketball Reference. He did a little bit of everything, often in grand fashion:
But for as cool as those splash plays are, it’s the little things he’s getting better at doing on more and more possessions per game that impress me the most. He’s setting real, actual screens now, and usually waiting until roughly the right moment to begin his roll to the hoop. The reach fouls that plagued him for so long are now few and far between. And best of all, he’s figuring out how to use his mere presence on the defensive end to make an impact, even when he doesn’t directly alter a shot.
Take a look at this Memphis pick and roll, which occurred, appropriately enough, on the first play after Robinson was removed from the game in the third quarter.
(Dotson had a wonderful game - 4-of-5 on threes, now just below 36 percent from deep on the year - but he still takes some of the worst paths around screens you’ll ever see, which is why playing him with a few other strong defenders is so pivotal)
Aside from lacking any semblance of shot blocking presence because he doesn’t, umm…jump…like, ever, Portis doesn’t have the agility to bother the ball-handler while still serving as a deterrent to the roll man.
Now check out this play from the second quarter. It resulted in a Dennis Smith Jr. steal, but Robinson is the reason the possession goes awry:
Robinson holds his contest until the moment that Anderson picks up his dribble, unnerving him just enough to throw an errant pass and allowing Smith to reach into the Cracker Jack box and grab the free toy.
There have been moments like this littered throughout Robinson’s recent games which get lost because he hasn’t been getting his usual buffet of lobs, partially thanks to defenses adjusting and partially due to poor vision from the ball handlers.
But they’re happening. Knox has also had his moments, like this one from last night - a little reminder that there’s a player in there somewhere that’s worth keeping an eye on, if nothing else:
Throw in Frank (assuming these phantom injuries finally subside), RJ and whoever gets added to the pot in this year’s draft, and while the Knicks may seem like a million miles away from the team they played last night, both from a roster and an organizational standpoint, the truth may not be quite so harsh.
Now they just need their Morant, one, and two, leadership that we can all be confident knows what to do when they get their Morant.
The dawn is darkest before the light.
It can’t get much darker than yesterday. Hopefully that’s a sign of better days ahead.
Going to do something a little different today.
If you’re reading this, hopefully you’ve taken advantage of one of the free PredictionStrike Knick stock giveaways we’ve done, first for RJ Barrett, and last week for Mitchell Robinson (up 13% after last night!)
If so, you might at least be interested in the whole player stock market idea, but still be uncertain about putting actual money into it.
I’m here to help. Thanks to the way PredictionStrike works, where everything depends on beating or falling short of projections, there are a bunch of NBA players who are the equivalent of penny stocks - guys you can load up on for cheap but who are still capable of big gains if they put together enough of a hot streak.
Today, I’m highlighting three of my favorites:
OGAnunoby - $0.10 / share
You can get 100 shares of him for $10, thanks to a recent six-game stretch where he’s averaged just 4.5 points a game. The Raptors just keep winning though, currently riding an eight-game winning streak, and OG has started almost every game this season. It’s only a matter of time before his stats turn around.
De’Andre Hunter - $0.20 / share
Another guy who has started virtually every game this year for a Hawks team that’s been frisky of late (four wins in their last eight games). He poured in 25 a few nights ago, and seems to finally be figuring out the NBA game.
Nas Little - $0.24 / share
If the Blazers fall out of the playoff race - a decent bet at this point - you can bet Little’s playing time is going to skyrocket. He’s averaged 16 minutes a night over his last four games, and just put up a double-digit scoring effort in a win against Houston. Probably the guy on this list I’m most excited about over the final 35 games of the season.
Remember, if you’re new to PredictionStrike, just click here and use code KFS for $10 towards your first investment of $20 or more. Happy investing!
News & Notes
compiled by Michael Schatz (@mschatz99)
Here’s my recap of last night for SI.com. You know how you can repay me for this wonderful free newsletter? By clicking on this link right here and checking out the story. Love ya, thanks.
And of course, here’s Joe Flynn of P&T with a recap only he can write.
Finally, Vivek takes us back to the day the Knicks acquired the man, the myth, the legend, Othella Harrington.
That’s it…see everyone tomorrow!