Practice? We Talkin' About Practice?!?
The Knicks practiced, Thibs spoke about it, and I'm dissecting.
News & Notes
The Knicks practiced as a team yesterday, but Mitchell Robinson was the one young player who wasn’t present. As first reported by Ian Begley, he left the team’s bubble due to personal reasons.
Many have speculated that it has to do with the baby that’s been popping up in his IG videos. I checked in with someone with knowledge of the situation, and it seems his departure is indeed baby-related. More on this if it comes, but hopefully this is a non-story and everything is fine.
The Miami Heat went up 3-1 over the Boston Celtics last night behind 37 points from Heat rookie Tyler Herro. Remember a month and a half ago when I had the audacity to suggest on my podcast that there would probably be a few NBA general managers who’d take Herro ahead of RJ if the draft were done over, and some people acted as if I’d said the world was flat? That was fun.
The NBA added some clarity to their version of a draft combine in this very strange year. Players will video conference on interviews from September 28 to October 16, and measurements and testing will be done at the nearest team facility to the player’s home.
Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson joined Adam Taylor and I for the latest Hoops Spy podcast, where we dove head first into the Chris Paul rumors, touched on some KD stuff (brought up by Scoop, not me), spoke about who James Dolan apparently wanted as Knicks coach, and hit on a few other topics of interest as well. Plus, Adam and I had a debate about LeBron James. Check it out.
Ian Begley dropped an interview with NBA life & skills coach David Nurse in which Nurse spoke a lot about new Knicks associate head coach Johnnie Bryant. It’s worth your time to read in full, but this particular passage caught my eye:
Player development gets thrown out there as a buzzword, like culture. No one really knows what it means. Most (people think of it as) being just rebounding for players, shooting spot shots. But that’s not player development. Johnnie realizes it’s about the details with helping these players that he works with, focusing on their strengths. Because you can give me an NBA player who is good in every area, but he’s probably not going to have a ton of success in the NBA (if he isn’t elite in one category). But if you can figure out what that players’ strengths are and how to get them … (to an optimum level) that’s the key to player development.
Seems like New York got a good one.
Tweet(s) of the Day
I’m going to invoke the name of a player who positively no one wants to see in this newsletter at any point in time ever again: Jarred Jeffries.
Isiah Thomas signed Jarred Jeffries for five years and $30 million, which doesn’t sound like a lot now, but back in 2006 when the cap was $53 million, it was a ton. Because of that contract and Jeffries middling offensive output, he was constantly derided by Knicks fans as a waste of space.
Here’s the thing though: Jeffries wasn’t an unhelpful player; he just made way too much for what he did and didn’t do.
That brings us to Jeremi Grant. Grant, to be clear, is better than Jeffries ever was. His 3-point shot has become a real weapon over the last two years, he can guard all five positions, and as we saw when he poured in 26 points the other night, he can occasionally score in a variety of ways. He’s also just 26 years old.
But none of that hides the truth that if Grant is one of your three best players, you probably aren’t an elite team, and depending on who the top two guys are, you might not be very good at all. That’s the conundrum the Knicks have this summer with guys like Grant, Fred VanVleet, Christian Wood, Joe Harris and a few others that fans wouldn’t mind overpaying for. How desperate should the Knicks be to upgrade their talent level from poor to good but not great? Opinions differ.
My rule is to never sign a contract that you aren’t confident you can trade in a pinch if need be. For me, that means three years and $39 million for Grant. Is it an overpay? Yeah, a bit. Don’t forget: he’s basically the same player this year as he was last year, when Sam Presti essentially salary dumped his $9 million expiring deal.
Still, after this season, he’d only have two years remaining and there’s no team in the league he wouldn’t be able to help (assuming the long ball is legit, which it seems to be).
Do I think the Knicks can get him on this number? Almost certainly not. The Nuggets would be crazy not to beat that offer after how much he’s helped them. But the number it would probably take to pry him away - the Timmy deal, if I had to guess - puts Grant squarely in the Jeffries Zone that I’d like to avoid if at all possible.
Them’s the breaks in a summer where there simply isn’t any elite talent on the market and the best available guys stand to benefit.
Practice? We Talkin' About Practice?!?
The Knicks played basketball yesterday!
It seems that Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson, Iggy Brazdeikis, RJ Barrett, Dennis Smith Jr, Kenny Wooten, Kevin Knox, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson and possibly some additional players, including G-Leaguers not currently under contract with the team, were present for New York’s “Delete Eight” bubble.
Afterwards, Tom Thibodeau spoke for about 16 minutes and was especially evasive whenever it came to any specifics. The running themes of Thibs’ press availability were:
This is very early, and they’re merely laying the foundation right now
They’re going to adjust to the personnel that’s on the roster
The roster is still very much in flux
With that as the backdrop, here are the interesting things I took away from what he said:
The Knicks are “putting a new system in”
He seemed to be referencing the offense when he said this, at least based on something else he said later, which I’ll get to momentarily.
Anyway, the interesting thing here isn’t that a brand new coaching staff is going to be installing a brand new offensive system next year (especially since they didn’t really have a cohesive one last season aside from “get as close as you can to the basket and shoot.”)
No, my question is how they can install anything right now with – as Thibs acknowledged – the roster being so uncertain. Thibodeau even said that he ran one offense in Chicago when they had a healthy Derrick Rose, another one utilizing the strengths of Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler, and still another one in Minnesota. If the Knicks dealt for Chris Paul, he would seem to be the caliber of player who would warrant bending to.
More likley, Thibs feels that there are certain foundational principles he wants to install that a) weren’t present last year and b) will exist regardless of who is on the team. As to what those might be…
The Foundation will be “Defense, Rebounding, Low Turnovers, and Sharing the Ball”
I suppose when he said “installing a system,” this is what he meant, and these four tenets are as good as any. Good teams, after all, do all these things, while bad teams don’t.
(For what it’s worth, last season the Knicks finished fourth in the NBA in rebounding rate, 14th in turnover rate, 23rd in defensive rating, and 27th in assist rate. There is, it would seem, some work to be done)
Thibs also mentioned getting easy shots like free throws and corner threes (something the Knicks have done very little of - only three teams had a lower frequency of corner 3’s last season according to Cleaning the Glass), but he seemed to be implying that they’d need to hunt for these shots because every other team does too, so of course they need to keep up with the Joneses.
One thing we didn’t hear that often gets said in such settings: Playing fast. It was actually refreshing.
There’s no set defense yet
In regards to the defense the team would play, Thibodeau again echoed that they would lay a base first, and then decide later whether to “blitz a pick and roll, ICE a pick and roll, or switch a pick and roll” and that they’d eventually wind up doing all three.
On one hand, this is what you want to hear. The best defenses, like Miami and Toronto, throw a variety of looks at their opponents. It also shows that Thibs is willing to adjust to the times (his reluctance to switch was a common sticking point with fans in Minnesota).
On the other hand, David Fizdale had similar notions last season, and him trying to get a young, not very good Knicks team to play defense like the defending champs was part of his undoing. The obvious difference is that Fiz was already on thin ice, whereas Thibs will have a longer runway. It also seems like he’s not going to try and get these kids to bite off more than they can chew, and will progress gradually up the ladder of difficulty.
Thibs sees the future
In response to a question from ESPN’s Tim Bontemps about the offensive revolution we’ve been seeing in the bubble, Thibodeau acknowledged that positions have gone out the window and most teams play with “a point guard, three wings, and a center.” He also noted how there’s now a premium on players who can defend multiple positions.
None of that sounds like Julius Randle’s music to me (good thing I just spent two days discussing him!)
Of course, just because Thibs acknowledged that most teams are playing this way doesn’t mean that the Knicks will follow suit. On that note, I found it interesting that both Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis took part in yesterday’s practice. Portis was clearly playing out of position last year, and if we’re being honest, so was Randle, who should probably be playing center roughly half the time he’s on the floor, if not more.
Does Thibodeau truly want want to emulate the Miami’s and Boston’s of the world, or will he look at the Western finals as a sign that playing big hasn’t necessarily gone out of style yet (although having Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis certainly helps matter)?
My guess is that we won’t find out until opening night, probably around four month from now.
Before I go…
Yesterday, a grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky, declined to charge the two officers who fatally shot Breonna Taylor in March.
I think I’ve run out of words at this point to describe how living in this country has made me feel for some time now. I’ve seen people get into arguments over whether this was the correct or incorrect decision based on the law and the facts of the Taylor case, to which I can only reply (as someone who practiced law for a number of years) that the law and the facts rarely gets in the way when there’s an agenda at stake at those in power are the ones pushing it.
But then again, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation if Breonna and her boyfriend were white.
As it stands, we have become a nation divided - some read above sentence as gospel, others as nonsense - and there seems to be very little chance of bridging that gap. And that, more than almost anything, makes me sad.
That’s it for today. See everyone tomorrow to close the week out with a fun walk through Knicks history. #BlackLivesMatter