Tom Piccolo gives us the Friday feels.
Good morning! We have a special treat for today…Tom Piccolo graces the newsletter with his presence for the first time in a while, and he delivers a banger. It was so good, I had to make this a special free Friday edition for all to read. Of course, if you want to bump up to a full subscription, you know what to do:
🗣 News & Notes ✍️
🏀 Another former Knick point guard has found a home.
It’s kind of amazing that for a while there, we weren’t sure whether DSJ was going to get an NBA contract at all. As it is, this deal doesn’t seem to be guaranteed.
It’s a stunning fall from, if not grace, somewhere pretty decent. It’s not that easy to come into the league and average 15 & 5 as a 20-year-old, even for a bad team and with terrible efficiency. When the writing was on the wall after the Luka pick and Smith Jr got shipped out, he had a few moments that made us think we really had something…25 and 31 in back to back games, one with 19 trips to the line, another game with 13 dimes…there was something there.
And now, just two seasons later, he’s fighting it out to make a roster. Here’s hoping he figures it out.
Tweet of the Day
Presented without comment.
by Tom Piccolo
This is about the Knicks. And music. But, first it’s about New York City.
When I moved to the city in the summer of 2011, I was 22 years old, and despite having spent my teenage years in Connecticut, I had no relationship with New York. I had popped in for the occasional ball game, a couple field trips. But, each time I breached the city’s borders in my youth, I became dumbstruck, overwhelmed by the bustle. I was intimidated. Quickly, though, the place morphed from hostile to home.
What I found so captivating (and ultimately welcoming) about Manhattan was the sheer energy coursing through the island. For years, my job required that I travel out of state every Monday; then, at the end of each week, I’d take a cab home from LaGuardia, often bone-tired. Without fail, when I’d see the city’s silhouette lit up against the night sky, I’d feel the same current of energy pulsing through me as if it were the first time. This is no exaggeration; coming home to New York never got old. The thrum of the city set into motion some kind of internal alchemy, spinning my exhaustion into excitement.
Even after I moved to the suburbs, my job still brought me into the city four or five days per week. For years, I begrudgingly made that commute. Now, in my 18th consecutive month of working from home, I desperately miss the city’s energy. There is no way to recreate it and perhaps you’ll find my attempts to do so laughable. But, most days, the closest I come to New York is listening to the music that takes me there. Throughout the pandemic, that has meant regular listening sessions of The Strokes.
The Strokes were the definitive New York City rock band of the early aughts, a time when I lived in Indiana and New York was nothing more to me than a place I saw in the movies. I’ve always liked The Strokes. But, when they released their first album in seven years, The New Abnormal, in April of 2020, I rediscovered them in a whole new way. They became a part of my daily routine, as essential as breakfast.
There’s something about The Strokes’ sound and style that feels authentically, quintessentially New York. With their noisy, hooky guitar riffs and fuzzy, lo-fi vocals, they create a perfect blend of chaos and harmony - not unlike the city itself. It’s Hard to Explain, but at times the band feels like a balancing act. They walk a fine line between classic and trailblazing. Their lyrics are mostly fun, but even when they’re thoughtful, they’re not overwrought. They emanate a quiet confidence and an effortless cool as epitomized by their lead singer, Julian Casablancas, ostensibly a Knicks fan himself.
On the surface, the band, like most New Yorkers, come across like they simply don’t have time to care about what you think of them. You might even mistake their appearance and attitude for casual indifference. That is, until you see the group’s meticulously mussed hair and stylishly disheveled clothes, and most importantly listen to their music and realize the amount of precision and painstaking care that must go into everything they do. It’s frankly Thibodeau-ian.
The Strokes released their debut album, Is This It, in 2001, and in the decades that followed, Knicks fans had ample reason to ask themselves that same question about their team: Is this it? Now, after several years, The Strokes are back. And, finally, the Knicks are good - call it “the new abnormal.”
Beyond listening to The Strokes, the other way I've been able to import some much-needed NYC vibes to my Connecticut home has been via Knicks Twitter. Sharing the experience of last season with this unendingly passionate fanbase was the most energized I’ve been by this team in years.
What follows below is a brief soundtrack of song titles by The Strokes, and how they relate to some of the more interesting plotlines surrounding the 2021-22 Knicks season.
“Selfless” (The New Abnormal, 2020)
Let me state the obvious: Julius Randle was not selfish last season. Not only did his six assists per game lead the team, but he assisted on 27% of his team’s made buckets while he was on the floor, ranking him in the 97th (!) percentile among bigs last season, per Cleaning The Glass. Randle’s drive-and-kick game was an integral part of the Knicks’ offense, recording assists on 13.5% of his drives. Per NBA.com, 55 players recorded at least 550 drives last season; Randle ranked sixth overall in AST% out of drives, better than Trae Young, Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic, among others.
The Knicks desperately needed Julius Randle to carry the offensive burden (and an immense minutes load to match) last season for a couple reasons: New York lacked capable secondary creators and Obi Toppin wasn’t ready to play a significant role as a rookie. This year, that’s all changed. Combine the arrival of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier with RJ Barrett’s assumed development, and there will be more creation on the floor. Plus, Toppin has shown signs that he’s ready to meaningfully contribute in Year Two.
The selflessness we need to see from Randle this season is in terms of his role. It’s a difficult ask given the accolades and praise he earned for last year’s campaign. But, after watching him wither in the playoffs, a strong argument can be made that his minutes load and offensive responsibilities wore him down and at least played a part in his postseason struggles. This year, Randle will need to take a step back in his role -- fewer minutes, fewer touches, fewer shot attempts, etc. -- for this team to take a step forward. In the long run, that should benefit Randle’s individual productivity as well, in both the regular season and beyond.
“Under Control” (Room on Fire, 2003)
I previously mentioned RJ Barrett’s assumed development -- nowhere is that more necessary than at the rim. Per Cleaning The Glass, RJ shot 55% at the rim, placing him in the 24th percentile among wings in the league. Remember those 55 players to record at least 550 drives last season? Barrett ranked 53rd among that group in field goal percentage on shot attempts coming off drives. Clearly, he has a long way to go when it comes to converting from close range in the half court, and I fully expect him to make strides in that regard this season. But, it’s becoming a more efficient player in transition that could make a huge difference for RJ.
Last season, RJ finished 236 possessions in transition - by far the most on the team and 13th-most in the entire league. On those plays, RJ was slightly below average, ranking in the 45th percentile in efficiency. At times, RJ had a tendency to just put his head down and barrel down the lane without a plan.
RJ is way too strong, with too good of footwork to be a below-average transition player. As he continues to improve his touch and awareness around the basket, he has the opportunity to truly become a monster in the open court.
“One Way Trigger” (Comedown Machine, 2013)
Make no mistake, Reggie Bullock was a tremendous three-point shooter last season. On many nights, his chemistry with Randle was the buoy that kept the Knicks’ offense afloat. But, as a shooter, Bullock is about as one-dimensional as it gets -- he has a “one way trigger.” He simply couldn’t create offense for himself. Per Cleaning The Glass, 93% of his made shots were assisted, putting him in the third (3rd) percentile among wings. That kind of reliance on others is debilitating in today’s league when opposing defenses aren’t afraid to hide their weakest defenders on non-creators, regardless of position. That issue was most obvious during the playoffs when Atlanta put tiny Trae Young on Bullock and dared him to do something about it. Alas, he could not.
Enter Evan Fournier.
Throughout the Frenchman’s career, he has proven willing and able to create looks for himself, particularly from deep. Last year, during his 26 games played in Orlando, he was assisted on just over 70% of his made threes, which put him in the 88th percentile among wings, meaning only a handful of wings created more of their own threes than Fournier.
And, on those self-created threes, Fournier was extremely efficient. One proxy to measure that is off-the-dribble three-point percentage where he was elite on solid volume. In 2020-21, 61 players attempted at least 100 three-pointers off the dribble. Among that group, Fournier ranked sixth overall in 3FG%, connecting on 40.3% of his pull-up threes during his 42 total games played.
We just didn’t get that from Bullock.
And last season wasn’t just a small sample anomaly either. Every year, Fournier is in the upper echelon of three-point self-creation. Because of this element of Fournier’s game, opponents will now have a much more difficult time deciding where to stash their worst perimeter defender. Expect this to open things up for guys like RJ and Kemba Walker.
The Modern Age (Is This It, 2001)
One of the most surprising developments from last season was the team’s ability to knock down three pointers. The Knicks finished the season hitting 39.2% of their threes, ranking them as the third most accurate team from downtown in the entire league. However, they took just fewer than 30 3FGAs per game, which ranked 27th in the league. And, normalizing for a slower pace, their three-point frequency ranked 25th in the league.
Surprisingly, though, the Knicks were down right prolific from the corners. The reason for that low frequency was entirely due to an extremely low volume of above-the-break threes.
Enter Kemba Walker.
For each of the last two seasons, Kemba has taken a whopping 47% of his total shots from above the break. Last season, that ranked in the 91st percentile among point guards. Kemba lives above the break:
(clips h/t MaxaMillion711)
Going from Elfrid Payton to this kind of above-the-break threat will have cascading effects downstream, opening up passing lanes for the team’s perimeter players and diving lanes for bigs. I predict, given the major changes in the team’s backcourt, that the Knicks will finish the season at right around league average in three-point attempt rate -- a major shift from previous years (Note: the Knicks haven’t had a league-average or better three-point frequency since 2013-14).
Barely Legal (Is This It, 2001)
As much as Knicks fans hated watching Trae Young use dubious foul-drawing tactics in the opening round of the playoffs, we can’t ignore that New York is home to a beloved player who similarly uses the Dark Arts: Immanuel Quickley.
Quickley was fouled on 8.7% of his shot attempts which puts him in the 62nd percentile among combo guards per Cleaning The Glass. On its face, that’s not an absurd number, but then you remember that Quickley rarely attempted shots going towards the rim. Plus, you likely noticed that many of IQ’s fouls drawn last season were of the non-shooting variety. The numbers bear that out. IQ’s “fouled on the floor” percentage ranked in the 92nd percentile at his position!
With new rules being set in place to cut back on “non-basketball moves,” it will be interesting to see how Quickley adjusts his game. His ability to get to the line and be a knock-down free throw shooter has been a key part of his offensive value, so here’s hoping he finds some moves that continue to blur the line between newly illegal and barely legal.
Someday (Is This It, 2001)
Last season marked a seismic shift in the Knicks’ perception both in the media and league-wide. The foundation for a winner has now been laid. This has been the first off-season in a long time where I feel comfortable saying: someday, a superstar is going to want to make their way here and join what this team has been building. Someday, a truly special player will see the city’s skyline lit up against the night sky and feel that same energy I felt, endlessly circulating up and down the streets and avenues. Someday, a future New York Knicks legend will call this city home. And, if I had to guess, I think it will be someday...soon.
That’s it for today! If you enjoy this newsletter and like the Mets, don’t forget to subscribe to JB’s Metropolitan. See everyone soon! #BlackLivesMatter