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We go through each Knick's performance at All-Star weekend, plus a special look at the surprising Quentin Grimes courtesy of Tom Piccolo.
Good morning! Today we start off the post-ASG festivities with a great piece from special guest columnist Tom Piccolo, plus a look at the weekend’s results.
🗣 News & Notes ✍️
🏀 We got to see several familiar faces throughout the NBA’s All-Star weekend festivities, starting with Quentin Grimes, who got things started off with a bang.
Between the two abbreviated games he played, Grimes had 27 total points on 10-of-14 shooting and 6-of-10 from deep. His performance was highlighted by a game-winner to send his team to the championship game, during which the opposing squad had to blanket him with Jose Alvarado to emerge victorious.
Much more on Grimes courtesy of Tom Piccolo below.
On Saturday, Julius Randle competed in the 3-point shootout…and didn’t finish last! He ended up with 13 total points, which was better than Kevin Huerter’s eight. Dame Lillard won the event.
In the dunk contest, Philly’s Mac McClung stole the show, but Jericho Sims represented himself admirably.
Finally, Julius Randle was selected 10th overall by Team LeBron in yesterday’s All-Star game and finished with 11 points in a loss. Jayson Tatum set the All-Star scoring record with 55 points, winning MVP in a game that did not feature much defense, to put it politely.
by Tom Piccolo
Quentin Grimes corralled the pass in the right corner, the kick out from Julius Randle having caught the fingertips of his defender, skewing the ball’s flight pattern. The ball moved sluggishly towards him, its lack of urgency entirely at odds with the demands of the moment. By the time it found Grimes’ palm, Madison Square Garden’s scoreboard showed 3:42 remained in the fourth quarter, the home team trailing by four points. Even more pressing, seven seconds flashed high above the backboard, the shot clock’s patience wearing thin.
Grimes, wasting no time, hit Isaiah Hartenstein at the wing and instantly relocated, looking for the dribble hand-off. At that very moment on the bench, Evan Fournier, the man whose place in the starting lineup and rotation Quentin Grimes supplanted, stood up, alone. Did he already know what was about to happen? Within three seconds, nearly every person at MSG would be joining Fournier on their feet.
Grimes’ decision to move without the ball was no aberration. He has been the most intuitive off-ball mover and cutter on the Knicks this season, especially among the team’s perimeter players. Per NBA.com, Grimes scores 1.45 points per possession when he finishes plays off a cut, ranking in the 80th percentile league-wide.
It’s an invaluable skill for a team that is often mired in stagnation. Some of that inactivity is a feature, not a bug, to this offense. When you have guys like Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson who can efficiently make tough, contested shots, it makes sense to let them create in isolation, particularly against mismatches. If you have elite offensive rebounders who can clean up those difficult looks, even better.
But, there are also times when the Knicks seem to suffer from either an obliviousness or inattentiveness to the pockets of space that opposing defenses are willing to concede. When defenses buckle down, during crunch time for instance, having someone like Grimes who is able to relieve some pressure with a well-timed cut is imperative.
Upon receiving the DHO from Hartenstein, Grimes did something almost imperceptible in real time: he squared his body to the hoop, pointing his right foot towards the basket. For a fraction of a second, it appeared that Grimes was going to rise up and shoot. The mere possibility of a Grimes three caused his defender to leap out to contest the shot, biting on a pump fake that never was. To be clear, on this particular play, the defender who ran Grimes off the line is no one’s idea of a good or even average defensive player. But, the threat of Grimes’ shot routinely elicits fear from opposing defenders throughout the league.
Maybe you just rolled your eyes. Maybe you’ve been fooled by Grimes’ recent struggles from behind the arc. In his past 12 games, he’s connected on just 27.9% from three, dropping his season-long average to a pedestrian 34.8%. Maybe his inconsistency this season has led you to snicker at the bad-faith “untouchable” label bestowed on him following the Donovan Mitchell saga. Maybe you’ve lost faith in his shot. But, I assure you, opposing defenses have not. His gravity remains crucial in a starting lineup that features three high usage guys who prefer to operate inside the paint, plus a traditional center permanently affixed to the dunker’s spot.
Make no mistake, Grimes needs to be better from behind the arc. The threes he attempts are often open, catch-and-shoot looks – the fruits of the hard labor done by his team’s primary creators. But, don’t let his recent inconsistency distract you from the fact that he has been lethal when it matters most this season, shooting 50% (9-of-18) on “clutch” three-point attempts.
Can you guess how many players have shot a better percentage on clutch threes this season among the 36 guys who have taken as many attempts as him? Stop guessing, it’s none. Quentin Grimes has been statistically the best clutch three-point shooter in the league this season. You have my permission to clip that and share it on Twitter for likes.
But, we shouldn’t even have to bring statistics into play here. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you have seen Quentin Grimes shoot a jump shot with your eyeballs. And, if you’ve witnessed such a thing, you should understand. His jumper is a thing of beauty: an unlikely marriage of art and science, all angles and propulsion and rhythm. It’s like if Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man decided to (mercifully) throw on a pair of shorts and get some shots up. His posture is immaculate. The motion is fluid and fast (sometimes too fast for his own good). His release point seems impossibly high for a player his size, due in part to the uncommon lift he gets. Everything is aligned, balanced, smooth. Maybe you’re concerned about the long term viability of Grimes’ jumper. I would suggest you open your eyes.
Then, with his defender in the rearview, Grimes attacked the closeout. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before. By now, it’s no secret that Grimes is elite at beating scrambling defenders. Fred Katz of The Athletic brilliantly wrote about Grimes’ talent in this area, citing, among other things, his league-leading blow-by rate.
What stands out while watching Grimes attack closeouts is the instantaneousness of it, the decisiveness. When a player catches the ball on the perimeter, there are nearly limitless options. Pump fakes and jab steps to be had. And, for some players, you can feel the heaviness of those options weighing on them. The bounty of choices can cause a kind of momentary paralysis, and in those moments, advantages are squandered, possessions are lost. Grimes attacks closeouts like he never really had a choice at all. His gift is in making improvisation look like choreography.
With Grimes past his defender and Hartenstein rolling, he had two options. For one, he could take it all the way himself, an understandable choice given he’s been tremendous at scoring around the basket this season. On the year, Grimes has shot 71% at the rim, ranking him in the 83rd percentile among wings, per Cleaning The Glass. He has an explosiveness around the basket that sneaks up on you. He often launches himself at the rim with such velocity that it feels unlikely that he’ll be able to find the touch to convert. More often than not, he is able to maintain his body control, absorbing contact or contorting his body in surprising ways to get a clean look. Or, sometimes, he’ll just throw it down on somebody's head.
This time, Grimes chose option B: creating an easy bucket for his teammate, an area in which he has truly taken a leap this season. Time and again, Grimes has beaten his defender, forced the help defense to commit, then dumped it off to a big for a dunk. Per NBA.com, Grimes has recorded assists on 13.4% of his drives, a number that leads all Knicks rotation players and is better than guys like Trae Young and James Harden. Grimes is not, at this point, a guy who can consistently bend defenses to create for teammates. However, once a defense is bent, Grimes’ elite skill is to break it.
But, not so fast. While it’s true the Knicks had a two-on-one going towards the rim on this play, as ever, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Not all “ones” are created equal. This particular “one” happened to be a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate whose combination of size, speed, and instincts make him look like he was genetically engineered to smother two-on-ones. This is the type of player who makes you question basic mathematical principles: is two actually greater than one? Safe to say, this guy is different.
So, Grimes had to get creative. He started by taking one dribble with his left before crossing over to his right, a peculiar decision at first glance. Isaiah Hartenstein was rolling mere feet to Grimes’ right. If Grimes had intended to make the pass, it might’ve made more sense to drive left to create a little more space. Plus, his left hand would have had the more intuitive angle to whip the pass to his big. Instead, Grimes picked up his dribble and threw a Houdini-like, right-handed, no-look pass over his right shoulder to the cutting Hartenstein. It was the type of pass you had to watch in slow-motion to even understand. The defending big was flummoxed, completely turned around. He couldn’t even see the pass, let alone touch it. You could say the pass was untouchable.
The defending big didn’t expect this. He was surprised by Quentin Grimes’ skill, his composure, his savvy, his creativity, his ability.
Maybe he isn’t so different from us after all.
Tom Piccolo is a contributing writer and frequent podcast guest for Knicks Film School and the co-host of Talkin’ Knicks. When he’s not sharing his insight on the Knicks, he’s doing PR and communications for Jomboy Media.
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