The Knicks had another chance to upend their crosstown rivals, but again came up just short.
Good morning! Not the most ideal end to what was shaping up to be a spectacular week, but all things considered, things are good in Knicks land. On that note…
As promised last week, I want to take this newsletter to a new level - one that allows me to communicate with subscribers and give detailed thoughts on relevant NBA news as it happens, well before the newsletter that hits your inbox with full analysis the next morning. With the trade deadline now 10 days away, the time seems right to flip the switch.
On that note, this week I’ll officially be kicking off the Knicks Film School Chat via the Substack App. Just download the app on your phone, go to the “chat” icon on the bottom of the app…
…and click for new chats that I’ll post. You can also configure your settings to get an email notification every time I start a new thread.
My goal here is pretty simple: when there’s a piece of NBA or Knicks news that I find interesting but doesn’t warrant a blurb in the newsletter or that I want to address immediately, I’ll put my thoughts in the chat. For those who enjoy the comments section on Substack, it’s like that, only more seamless.
Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys. As always, if you’re not a full subscriber and want access to this feature (in addition to getting newsletters five days per week, every week, and the occasional bonus edition on weekends), feel free to subscribe now, or test it out with a one-week free trial:
Game Recap: Knicks 115, Nets 122
⌚️30 Seconds or Less: From the opening tip, it was easy to tell the Knicks were a little off their game, giving up more early turnovers and offensive rebounds than usual and failing to guard the 3-point line with the proper level of respect for Brooklyn’s bevy of shooters. While they cleaned up some of those issues, guarding the arc remained a problem, eventually yielding 22 Nets threes. Yikes.
Even so, New York got their offense in gear after halftime and defended with enough ferocity to cut a 19-point lead down to three. But it was too much unstoppable shot-making from Kyrie Irving down the stretch, and his 21 fourth quarter points were a hill too high to mount.
🤕 More 3-point Woes: Every team has their bellwethers for winning and losing, and for these Knicks, it continues to be 3-point defense. New York is now 1-10 when they give up at least 17 threes (with their only win coming against the lowly Pistons), while they’re 17-6 when they give up a dozen or fewer. There have been 25 games this NBA season in which a team has converted at least 22 threes, and Saturday night was the fourth time it happened to the Knicks. Charlotte has three such games on their ledger, while no one else has more than two.
When you put it like that, it makes it sound pretty bad. And when you go back and re-watch all of the makes, like I did on an otherwise pleasant Sunday morning, it…doesn’t get a whole lot better.
That said, this was a mixed bag of mental lapses, poor execution, some effort issues, and a healthy dose of high-level shot-making by an opponent up for the challenge. Very few of the errors were truly egregious, but none more so than the second 3-pointer in the clip above, where Julius Randle inexplicably hangs down in the paint after what was unnecessary help defense to begin with.
The first shot in the clip is no picnic either, where Randle simply loses track of Yuta Watanabe in transition and has to hustle for a late, fruitless contest. It’s one thing to play far off of 34 percent 3-point shooter Edwin Sumner when he’s several feet behind the arc (which Randle did on another possession, and then watched as Sumner drilled it); its quite another to forget about the most accurate deep baller in basketball this season.
Randle was the most flagrant violator of 3-point defense in this game (I counted five makes where his defense was downright poor, and one that was so-so, where he was late recovering after a help situation but with a spirited effort), but he wasn’t the only one. Obi Toppin isn’t playing much, so perhaps it’s a lot to ask for him to come in and be locked into a tough assignment, but that’s no excuse for forgetting the scouting report:
Watanabe has made nearly half of his 93 attempt from behind the arc this season. Going under the screen here is inexcusable. A few plays earlier, Toppin got similarly sidetracked while guarding Joe Harris, who has long been one of the league’s best marksmen.
And then there were other moments featuring multiple responsible parties on the same possession, contributing to the eventual result in different ways. Take this Irving make from early in the fourth quarter when the Knicks were making a frantic push:
In no uncertain terms, Deuce McBride should never be helping this far off of the league’s leading fourth quarter scorer, but the genesis of the poor possession comes when RJ Barrett gives up the baseline so easily to Harris, who is more than capable of executing a drive and kick. But even that reaction by Barrett (who was directly responsible for a couple Nets threes thanks to some poor transition defense) was a byproduct of New York’s D being petrified by Brooklyn’s 3-point shooting.
When people think back to this game years from now, they’ll remember an incredible Kyrie Irving performance in the closing minutes, which is fine. And again, New York played some really strong defense throughout the second half, including on arguably the biggest shot of the game, when the Knicks were down by just three and the ball swung to Seth Curry, who nailed a corner triple just as the shot clock was expiring. It happens.
But this night was a painful reminder that New York can become an incredibly vulnerable team when they don’t bring the requisite effort and execution on every defensive possession. They’re down to 17th in the NBA’s defensive rating rankings - the first time they’ve fallen out of the top half of the league in over a month and a half. Fall much farther, and this season could get away from them in a hurry.
💫 Stars of the Game 💫
⭐️ Jalen Brunson: There’s a real case to give this spot to Isaiah Hartenstein, who has turned his season around over the last week and again made a positive contribution against Brooklyn. I-Hart only had eight points, but they all came in a key late 3rd/early 4th quarter stretch when the Knicks were making a push with their bench on the floor. Each basket showed an offensive skill level that hasn’t been on display much this season.
But this has to go to Brunson, who had another “just OK” game by his lofty standards, totaling 26 points on 19 shots with four assists and one turnover. It took him a while to get going, but he saved the best for last, scoring 18 points in the final 19 minutes, including a perfect fourth from the field.
I will yet again make my public service announcement, both to myself and readers: let us not take this level of shot-making prowess for granted:
He might never make enough passes to satisfy the “traditional point guard” crowd, but you know his intentions will always be in the right place amidst his perpetual search for the right pass/shoot balance. This game wasn’t his best, but he was still plenty good.
⭐️ ⭐️ RJ Barrett: Before his gruesome finger injury, RJ had already started to turn his season around after a rough start, making it through 34 games with averages of 20.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists on 42.7 percent shooting overall and 33.2 percent from deep.
He now has 10 games under his belt post-injury. The numbers, following a tidy 24 points on 16 shots in Brooklyn: 22.2 points, 5.3 boards, 2.2 dimes, 45.9 percent from the field, 38.3 percent from deep. He’s one of 40 players averaging at least 22 points in that span, and while his overall FG% ranks 30th of those 40, his 3PT% ranks 19th…good news for a player who we always seem to measure by his efficiency.
As he’s been doing a lot lately, he had a stretch in the third quarter when he was in full command of his offensive arsenal:
What made this play even better is that it came after an offensive rebound on a Grimes missed three - an attempt that came after a driving Barrett found Quentin open in the corner.
Far more than inefficiency, a lack of finding the open man has been what’s dogged RJ since his return, so that kick out was a good sign. Over these last 10 games, among those 40 players putting up at least 22 a night, only three are averaging fewer than RJ’s 2.2 assists. Non-passes like this simply can’t happen:
You can see Obi’s frustration after the shot. It’s hard to blame him.
I trust that it’s all part of the process for RJ. If we’re going to look at the last few games from Quentin Grimes and contextualize it with “he’s only 22” and “development isn’t linear” (which is the responsible way to discuss his recent mini-slump, IMHO), Barrett deserves the same benefit. The downs can be more frustrating with RJ because the highs are so high, which is all the more reason to be patient.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Immanuel Quickley: As I was yet again preparing to write some flowery praise for IQ after his 16-point, six-rebound, three-assist night in Brooklyn which featured a massive three to cut the lead to five with 3:36 left, I stopped and wondered: when is the last time this player had a bad game?
If we’re just looking at shooting, Quickley has had an effective field goal percentage of at least 50 percent in 11 of his last 12 games, and in the 12th - New York’s escape act against the Pacers - I awarded IQ one of the three “Stars of the Game” because, as I wrote then, “Tom Thibodeau knew he couldn’t take Immanuel Quickley off the court.” He’s always played well even when he doesn’t shoot well. Now he’s just shooting well a whole lot more.
Over his last 20 games, he is New York’s best player by on/off metrics, and it’s not particularly close:
IQ on: 659 minutes, plus-6.9 net rating (118.1 OFF RTG; 111.1 DEF RTG)
IQ off: 364 minutes, minus-10.1 net rating (116.8 OFF RTG; 127.) DEF RTG)
The degree to which their defense falls off a cliff when Quickley sits is staggering. Even Mitchell Robinson - owner of the Knicks’ next largest on/off differential in this time frame - doesn’t impact the defense as much as IQ according to the numbers.
On an individual level, Quick is now one of seven NBA wings who are in the 50th percentile or higher in all five of Cleaning the Glass’ base evaluation metrics: usage rate, points per shot attempts, assist rate, assist to usage ratio, and turnover rate.
The other names are a healthy mix of star players, star role players (yes, I’m slapping this designation on old friend Mr. Burks) and another young stud from the class of 2020, Devin Vassell.
Unsurprisingly, four of these seven players - Quickley, Burks, Booker and Huerter - are also four of the top eight wings (out of 90 qualifying players) in on/off efficiency differential. Quick is the best of this group, barely trailing only seven-time All-Star Paul George, plus-12.0 to plus-11.4, for the title of top difference-making wing in the NBA.
It makes me think: what is the value of a player who, while not currently one of New York’s offensive fulcrums, essentially takes nothing off the table in what is still a key role? His usage rate in the 69th percentile for his position league-wide, so it’s not like we’re talking about a small cog in a larger machine. When you factor in the specifics - 17 a night & 39 percent on threes over his last 20, a 3.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in that span, and a burgeoning offensive game that shows no signs of slowing down…
…it’s fair to wonder where this goes from here.
Here’s what I do know: as someone who spent all sorts of time penning newsletters about why the Knicks would be idiots for trading Immanuel Quickley rather than re-signing him, I don’t feel like a single word of those missives were wasted.
Long live IQ.
That’s it for today! If you enjoy this newsletter and like the Mets, don’t forget to subscribe to JB’s Metropolitan, or his hockey newsletter, Isles Fix. Also, a big thanks to our sponsors:
See y’all soon! #BlackLivesMatter
Here's to Immanuel Quickley as the second coming of Emanuel Ginobili!
I think IQ has benefitted from playing with and watching Brunson every day. He seems to have adopted some of Brunson's probing style using his acceleration/deceleration to make/find holes in the defense. While IQ doesn't work to get to the midrange as much, their style of play is starting to look similar tactically, given the differences in their innate athletic skills and body type.
RJ is such a conundrum. He can go from ice cold to hot in alternating quarters. Make a great play and then dribble into a triple team. He seems like a player that just decides what he is going to do (on O and D) and has trouble adapting to his opponent's actions. Given his frame and strength, not sure why he can't just stay squared up in front of players on defense. He seems to give up more blow byes than anyone else on the team. I wonder if he overcommits toward the player and does not have the athleticism to recover? Hope he figures it out.