You know what’s nice?
Writing about basketball.
Like, actual basketball.
Not what could happen, not what already happened, not what we think may happen if so and so could just adjust one part of his game, not “for the love of God and all that is holy, why didn’t it happen?!?!”…
I hope you feel the same way reading about it. At the very least, after last night, you most certainly feel the same way watching it. Following a summer in which we’d all have had a more pleasant time starting every morning with a nice walk over some hot coals than reading and hearing about the Knicks utter state of hopelessness, it was…refreshing.
On that note, welcome to the recap. These will be in the newsletter after every Knicks game, and like I hinted at recently, will follow some type of regular format. That format will adjust as the season goes along, but what it won’t be is your typical game story. There are enough of those out there already (and full disclosure, I won’t always have time to wax poetic about a game, so these will be more bullet point than prose).
So on that note, here’s what stood out from last night’s preseason opening victory:
One Big Thing: They’re not awful anymore.
It’s pretty clear that whether New York winds up with 26 or 30 or 34 or whatever number of wins, they won’t be the laughingstock they were last season, when it felt like every game was a date between a supermodel and a regular person; we knew the evening wasn’t going to end well, it was just a matter of how long they could hang on for dear life and postpone their eventual fate of sitting alone on the couch and watching reruns of The Office. Pass the salsa, please.
This season should be different. They’ll be worse than their opposition on most nights, but their front line talent and depth should prevent too many utter atrocities. They also have a bunch of guys who can move with the ball, which should lead to easier shot opportunities than they regularly saw in 2018-19.
Randle is an absolute monster who can’t be guarded when he gets going, and Morris - when he’s not bopping fools on the noggin - has a really unheralded skill set. They’re each better than anyone the Knicks had last year.
As for the depth, it was clear when the Knicks recaptured control of the game in the second half that they will always be able to put five honest-to-goodness NBA players on the court at the same time. The combo of one starter (RJ) and Frank, Knox, Ellington and Taj - who, granted, were playing against a bunch of glorified G-Leaguers - showed some really nice cohesion.
Speaking of which…
Unpopular Opinion: RJ Barrett should come off the bench.
You can send the hate mail to my Twitter DM’s, please and thank you.
Look…RJ pretty clearly looked the part of the number three overall pick. He’s good. Someday, he’s going to be really, really good, and it wouldn’t totally shock me if he’s the Knicks’ best player by the end of this season.
Here’s the thing though: he struggled immensely in the first half last night. First game jitters? I’m sure there was some of that, but there’s also the small matter of him not getting the ball all that much alongside Randle and Morris. Add DSJ to that starting five, and he’s really going to struggle for opportunities.
In the second half, leading the second unit, he saw the rock a ton, which is when he’s at his best. It also allowed him to play against lesser defenders, which might not be the worst thing. This would also get (I’m guessing) Wayne Ellington into the starting lineup, and we saw last night just how much that dude loves running around without the ball in his hands. As far as guys in the NBA who don’t need to rock to be a pain in the ass for opposing defenses, he’s near the top of the list.
Of course I know this almost certainly isn’t going to happen, but I hope for Barrett’s sake, he gets a lot of quick hooks and becomes something of a “starter emeritus” as the season goes along.
Key Stat: 6 Knicks had seven or more rebounds.
Fizdale wasn’t lying when he said this team is going to hit the boards. Barrett and Morris both have immense size for their positions, and Knox’s newfound beefiness has already been well documented. They should win the rebounding battle more often than not.
Made me smile: Frank. Just Frank.
There’s a part of me that thinks he played 23 minutes to Allonzo Trier’s eight because the organization is still wrestling with whether or not to pick up his fourth-year option and wants to give him an extended audition. I really hope that’s not the case, but I can’t rule it out.
Regardless, it was great to see him out there, being the confident version of himself we only saw snippets of through two years but who emerged full time during FIBA.
My personal favorite (and something David Fizdale made a point to mention in the postgame) was when, after missing a few consecutive shots, he fired away from deep without hesitation despite bricking from the same exact spot a few possessions earlier.
Pick up the damn option already.
Marcus Morris is probably going to shoot it every time he gets it. On some nights, like yesterday, this will be awesome. Others, not so much. Just fair warning.
We also saw a little bit of the tunnel vision that has plagued Julius through his young career. During the third quarter, when the lead was slipping away, he tried to put the team on his back and rescue them single-handedly, as opposed to using his bulldozer finesse (we missed you Clyde!!! Come back to us!!) to set up his teammates. He needs to find a better balance where this is concerned.
Taj Gibson is going to be a delight. Not to be talking-head guy, but dude’s just a pro’s pro. Knows what he’s doing and won’t hurt you when he’s out there. He’s like what Lance Thomas always was in my eyes only.
Mitch had four blocks like it was nothing. God, what a talent. He did get pump-faked a few times though. Like I wrote yesterday, I expect him to clean those up in short order. He’s going to be a monster this season.
Knox said yesterday that his goal is to shoot 40% from deep this year, and after watching his form last night, I think I believe he can do it. He’s going to get open looks regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench. Like Frank, Knox just looked like a different guy last night.
Fiz only played 10 guys. That might not seem like a big deal, but considering how most teams treat preseason, where almost everyone on the bench usually gets some run, it was notable. In their first preseason game last year, 17 men saw time.
The message was pretty simple: no more effing around. This team, for better or worse, is going to try and win games this year. If last night was any indication, maybe they actually succeed where that’s concerned.