Discover more from Knicks Film School
After a 2-4 start, the Knicks have stabilized, racking up yet another win in Charlotte.
Good morning! The Knicks continued to take advantage of turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving with a nice win against the Hornets, which will be the focus today. And ICYMI, here’s my special Saturday dispatch on Friday’s win in Washington.
Game 13: Knicks 122, Hornets 108
Isn’t it fun when you get to catch up with your college buddies?
In a New York minute…
Once again, the Knicks got off to a hot start against a lesser team and managed to maintain a double digit lead going into the second despite going the final 5:20 of the first quarter without a field goal. From there, the game became tense, with the Hornets making half of their threes and never letting New York attain a sizable cushion despite a nuclear first half from Jalen Brunson. After a LaMelo triple cut the lead to six in the fourth, the Knicks went on a 12-4 run that ended any realistic hope of a comeback.
1. Wire to Wire. Over the last two decades, the Knicks have at times put a product on the floor that could be compared to various forms of excrement.
Then again, we wouldn’t want to insult the excrement.
Still, for as bad as things have been at times, it’s astounding that the Knicks hadn’t achieved consecutive wire-to-wire victories since 2007.
2007! That’s so long ago, Joe Biden was barely a senior citizen. You’d have thought that they’d trip into two consecutive hot shooting nights somewhere over those 16 years, but nope. Never two straight games where they led for all 48 minutes.
Until this weekend, that is. From the opening tip in the nation’s capital to the final buzzer in Buzz City, the Knicks never trailed.
Making their 96 straight minutes of strong play even more impressive is the fact that they tipped off on Saturday little more than 20 hours after walking off the court in Washington.
Yes, this is what good teams are supposed to do to bad teams. But this is also the NBA in the year of our Lord 2023, where everyone makes a run. We’re also talking about the Knicks, who know a thing or two about leaving the door open in games they probably shouldn’t.
Sure enough, after letting most of a huge lead go down the drain in Washington, they were never able to take full command of this game in Charlotte until late. It happens.
But the fact that they never really got close to losing control in either contest is a sign of a team that knows how good it is, and more importantly, knows how to execute to bring that confidence to fruition.
Knicks Film School is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
2. RJ Back. It wasn’t his prettiest performance, finishing 5-for-15 from the field and converting just one of his five attempts from long range, but it was great to have RJ Barrett back nonetheless.
You could tell early on that he wasn’t quite himself, or at least the version of himself that we’ve become accustomed to this season. Forcing a few shots at the rim that we haven’t seen since last regular season, it felt like he was trying to get himself going the best way he knew how. When he finally got a tough attempt in the restricted area to go down, you could tell it meant a little extra:
Sure enough, Barrett persevered through his struggles all the way until the fourth quarter, when he scored five consecutive Knick points that pushed the lead from eight to 13. Charlotte never cut it below double digits again.
3. Still scorching. I wrote on Saturday that since their loss to the Bucks, the Knicks have been the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA, nailing their triples at a 43 percent clip over the six-game span.
Well, guess what: on Saturday night, they hoisted up 37 more deep balls, and converted - wait for it - 43 percent of them.
We’re now moving into some unprecedented territory. The Hornets game was New York’s sixth straight hitting over 40 percent from three. Only twice in their history have they had a longer such streak, both of which lasted seven games: in the winter of 2014, when they hit 88-of-192 from deep for a 45.8 percent conversion rate, and then in the spring of 2021, when the “We Here” team hit 109-of-229 for an absurd 47.6 percent hit rate over a 6-1 stretch.
These Knicks aren’t going to reach that level of marksmanship, but they do have a chance to top the previous franchise high for total 3-point makes in a seven game span. That record is 116, set over the first seven games of the forgettable ‘21-22 season.
Right now, they’re at 97 over their last six. We’ll see if they can notch 20 made threes for the second time this season to set a new mark.
Play of the Day
For as long as this iteration of the Knicks exist, they will never be among the league leaders in assists.
Hell, being in the top half of the league is probably a pipe dream.
But even a group that relies so heavily on its one-on-one maestros is capable of benefiting from the extra pass, and we’ve seen them make that extra pass far more this season than they have in the past. Here was one example from Saturday, which wound up as an easy floater for Immanuel Quickley:
It’s amazing how often New York scores easily when they push the ball up the floor, as Julius Randle does here. He draws the initial attention, and wastes no time kicking it to Brunson, who causes a three-alarm fire amongst several Hornet defenders because of how he’s been lighting it up. From there, all it takes is a few simple kicks to find a wide open shot from IQ’s easy money range.
No one is going to mistake this team for the prime Steph Warriors anytime soon, but after finishing bottom-two in assist rate during both of their previous playoff runs under Thibs, they’re now up to 23rd - a small but important step in their progression.
💫 Stars of the Game 💫
⭐️ Mitchell Robinson: With 11 more offensive rebounds on Saturday night, Mitchell Robinson upped his total to 78 on the season - tied with Andre Drummond and Erick Dampier for the fifth highest total ever through a player’s first 13 games. The list of players to top 70 through 13 games is littered with the greatest rebounders in the history of the sport:
Now roughly one sixth of the way through the season, we can at least start to keep an eye out for whether Mitch will keep up this pace and join Moses (4x), Rodman and Williams as the only players in league history to average at least 6.0 OREB’s over the course of a full campaign.
As if that wasn’t enough, Robinson continues to spearhead the league’s fifth ranked defense by providing the best pick & roll coverage of his young career.
He won’t be a serious part of the All-Star conversation because his usage rate remains the lowest of any full time starter in the NBA, but he once again made his case for being the most important player on this roster.
⭐️ ⭐️ Donte DiVincenzo: Just Donte’s luck. He has new career highs in points (25) and made threes (seven) while tying a previous career high for made field goals (nine) but he can’t even get three stars here. At least he lost out to his old roommate.
For as great as Brunson was though, DiVincenzo has a real argument for top honors. Not only did New York’s newest free agent acquisition set the tone early with two steals and two made baskets in the opening minutes, but he nailed back to back threes midway through the third as the Hornets were making their biggest push of the game. To close out the career effort, he converted two triples in the final six minutes to shut the coffin on Charlotte’s efforts.
Even though most of his damage was done from behind the arc, DiVincenzo reminded everyone of the verve he’s capable of injecting in a sometimes stagnant offense:
So far this season, 15 percent of DiVincenzo’s scoring opportunities have come off of cuts, which is among the leaders for perimeter players throughout the league and by far the highest for any non-center on the Knicks (Randle is second at five percent).
That sort of juice is exactly the sort of thing Jalen and Julius need to take a little bit of the pressure off their broad shoulders. If this keeps up, the conversation about whether DDV should become the permanent starter will only get louder.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Jalen Brunson: The craziest thing about Jalen “Steph” Brunson’s ridiculous 3-point barrage this season? He actually went through a cold spell.
In the five-game stretch starting with the Pelicans game and ending with the Clippers win, Brunson hit just 5-of-21 from deep. Since then? He’s made 26-of-47 from long range, good for a 55 percent hit rate. That included four makes in eight tries in Charlotte that led to a 32, 7 & 4 stat line, including 25 in the first half alone.
If this is what Brunson is now, he’s going to go from one of the toughest covers in the league to simply unguardable one-on-one. On two consecutive makes in the first half, Charlotte learned that the hard way. First, Ish Smith paid the price for going under the screen, and then Mark Williams learned that you can no longer employ drop coverage and live to tell the tale:
The 3-point shooting has been the biggest story, but Brunson’s game is coming around in other ways as well.
After failing to top six assists in any of his first 10 games this season, JB has notched at least seven in the last three. He’s converting passes that we simply didn’t see him attempt last season, including the occasional live-dribble whip to the weak side corner:
This didn’t end up amounting to anything, but if opposing defenses can’t comfortably collapse the paint for fear of giving up an open corner three, it’s going to make Brunson that much more difficult to handle.
As for his bread and butter, Jalen had his second-best 2-point shooting game of the season on Saturday, hitting 8-of-13 inside the arc.
It’s all coming together for a player who looks primed to make his first All-Star appearance this February.
🏀 With RJ back and Fournier out injured, it was an obvious choice for Thibs to go with Deuce as his ninth man. He did, and McBride played well, including dropping an ankle-breaking mid-ranger that left jaws on the floor.
🏀 There was yet another landing area foul that could have been called on a Jalen Brunson 3-pointers, but of course it wasn’t. This is getting a little ridiculous.
🏀 This would have been a very different game without Brunson and Donte. They combined to go 14-to-19 in the first half, while the rest of the Knicks went 8-for-32.
🏀 Another game, another 20-plus-point outing for Julius Randle, giving him seven straight. He also dished eight assists (which were neutralized a but by four turnovers) and grabbed four boards. He had a real case for a star.
🏀 IQ cooled off after his hot finish in Washington, missing all five of his long balls. He’s shooting well from three overall - 37 percent - but its been very hot and cold, with seven games of 0 or 1 made triple and then the rest with 3 or more conversions.
Tomorrow: Knicks at Timberwolves, 8pm, MSG Network
Injury Report: Quentin Grimes remains questionable and is expected to miss the game. Evan Fournier is also questionable.
Halftime Zoom: Come say an early Happy Thanksgiving. Here’s the link.
What to watch for: Despite having the best offense in basketball over the last two weeks, the Knicks have still been atrocious around the basket, hitting fewer shots in the restricted area than any team in the league. That won’t get much better against the Timberwolves, who allow the third fewest shots from close range and are eighth best in limiting opponents’ rim accuracy. It’s helped them become a top-three defense in the early going.
I think there are two ways to look at this. On one hand, the Knicks rim woes won’t improve. On the other, does it matter? They take the eighth fewest shots in the restricted area and it hasn’t seemed to bother them. The more important question is whether the Wolves can keep New York off the offensive glass, and in that department, Minnesota is merely league average in defensive rebounding.
So this game will probably come down to whether the Knicks can keep up their hot outside shooting, and more importantly, whether they can corral some of their misses and win the ever-important possession battle.
The competition is about to get a lot tougher, but that doesn’t mean these last few wins weren’t valuable. Good teams handle their business, and the Knicks certainly handled theirs. Hopefully it imbues them with even more confidence to use as the going gets tougher from here.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”