Two Weeks 'Till...
...well, we don't really know what. But the trade deadline is 14 days away. Hopefully that's a good thing.
In this newsletter:
Yesterday, I discussed/tried to speak into existence the possibility of a Julius Randle trade before the February 6 deadline.
It generated more than a few responses.
In the daily text chain I have going with some buddies, the words “downmarket Kanter” were used, as well as an offer by my buddy to allow someone very unpleasant to do some very unpleasant things to him if the Knicks could get “any sort of quasi-valuable return” for Randle’s services. Someone else messaged me during the game and asked I thought Julius was getting paid under the table to throw it in the Lakers’ favor.
Many on Twitter shared similar sentiments to these, both throughout the day and especially last night, when Julius Randle Julius Randled his way to the type of evening we’ve seen all too often this season.
Game to game plus minus, as I’ve said in the past, is fairly meaningless without more context. But “context” can simply mean “having eyes and using them,” and last night, what I saw didn’t contradict the fact that the Knicks were outscored by 12 points in the 35 minutes Randle played and bested LA by four in the 13 he didn’t.
Against the Lakers, we were all privy to the biggest knock on the Knicks’ big man, and the reason why it’s going to be darn near impossible to find anyone willing to give up anything of value for him in the next two weeks. Some players can still help you when they’re not hitting shots. Others might be a net neutral. When Julius doesn’t have it going, he actively kills your chances of winning.
How’s this for an unsurprising stat: in the 21 games Randle has six or fewer field goals this season, the Knicks are 1-20. In the games he has seven or more, they’re 11-10. This feels like a problem.
My issue isn’t that Randle keeps shooting even when the ball isn’t going in at first, because that’s true of every team’s (giant air quotes alert) “best” player. It’s that when the ball isn’t going in, what little effort he normally shows in other parts of his game completely cease to exist.
Exhibit A: The play everyone will remember about last night:
The turnover is bad enough, as is the effort to get back in the play coming down the other end, but not looking to box out the trailer here (Anthony Davis) is probably what annoyed me the most.
Lest you think this was an isolated incident, here’s a play from a few minutes earlier, when Kyle Kuzma decided “I think I’ll go grab an offensive rebound now” and Randle was all too happy to oblige:
You may notice that Julius never once leaves his feet on the play. Fun fact: jumping often helps in many facets of the game of basketball.
Do I feel bad piling on Randle after a particularly poor showing against his former team that I’m sure he was overhyped to play against? A little, yeah. As I pointed out yesterday, his on/off numbers suggest that no Knick has been more important to the team since Mike Miller took over. He has largely been better than this.
My beef really isn’t with Randle though; it’s with the front office that brought him in.
Basketball teams are a delicate balance of a lot of things. If ever there were a roster that could have embodied an “all for one, one for all” ethos, it was this year’s Knicks.
But the team’s brass felt they needed a “best” guy, and so they went and got the player with the best counting stats they could find who was willing to sign on for the fewest amount of years.
Nothing about Randle has ever suggested he is cut out to be a leader, which this team unofficially christened him from Day One, both by the contract they gave him and how they’ve presented him to the media. They followed through by giving him the most shots on the team and ensuring he finishes every game, no matter how piss poorly he’s been playing.
Would the Knicks have won last night had, say, Reggie Bullock been in the game late in place of Randle? I have no idea…but I sure would have liked to find out. Same goes for a few handfuls of other games this season.
But of course that hasn’t happened.
When the Knicks hired David Fizdale in the summer of 2018, part of the reason I and many fans were so excited is because we thought maybe he would bring some of that Heat culture with him. Down in Miami this season, Goran Dragic – a former All Star – has been willingly coming off the bench in favor of Kendrick Nunn, an undrafted rookie.
Randle, umm, isn’t Dragic, not even on his best day, and yet if you brought up the idea of him being on the bench to close games (let alone not starting him at all – something I proposed early on this season but quickly realized that was a waste of time), something tells me you wouldn’t get a kind response, either from him or the men who signed him.
Also seeing action last night was Dennis Smith Jr., just back from an oblique injury that kept him out for a month. To say he looked rusty would be an understatement.
Not to beat a dead horse, but the Heat’s James Johnson missed the start of training camp after failing a conditioning test. Miami has famously high standards when it comes to the shape their players must be in to play, and they bring in players who are OK being held to that high of a standard. It wasn’t until Johnson passed the test that he was even considered for playing time. Last night, DSJ didn’t look like he could pass 7th grade Phys Ed.
But there he was, getting four pivotal minutes of action. The Knicks were outscored by nine points in those minutes. They lost by eight.
Damyean Dotson, meanwhile, has gotten seven DNP-CD’s this year. All he does when he comes in the game is play like there’s a jet pack strapped to his ass. Does it get him into trouble sometimes? Sure. Has he shot it well this year? Not really. But give me Dotson any day of the week and twice on Sunday as someone I’m sticking in my starting lineup as an example to everyone else on the roster: “You want to play? Give the same effort as this guy, and then we’ll talk.”
But Dotson is a second round pick made by an executive no longer here, not the primary return in the KP trade. Is that why he hasn’t started a game this season? Your guess is as good as mine.
This, in a few too many words, is why the Knicks are the Knicks, and why for all the talk about how much the culture of the team has changed - and maybe it has in some respects - it still hasn’t come far enough.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, of course. This stuff takes time. Perhaps this front office deserves more of it. Hell, New York is as out of it as a team can possibly be, but over their last three games they have the third highest defensive rating in the NBA. That shows that guys are still trying, still care, and haven’t given up.
And maybe Perry and Mills surprise us all and flip Randle at the deadline, get whatever they can for guys like Smith Jr. and Portis (who actually dished five assists last night amidst his pu pu platter of running hooks. Kudos for that), and this team starts to play more in the image of what I’m suggesting here.
Or maybe they do the complete opposite, and use Frank and/or Dot to acquire more talented players whose teams want to move on from them for a reason.
Or maybe they do something in between. Or nothing at all.
Nothing would surprise me. I just hope that the people making those decisions see the same things that I’m seeing and agree that the status quo isn’t necessarily pointing in the right direction.
Crazy loves company, after all.
Ok sports fans, here you go: your opportunity to vote for which Knick player you’ll receive a FREE share of if you sign up for PredictionStrike tomorrow:
A complimentary share in either Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson, Frank Ntilikina or Marcus Morris will be given away to anyone who signs up for PredictionStrike as a new user tomorrow, Friday, January 24.
(If you’re in it for the cash, Dotson is currently trading highest at $6.77, and one has to wonder if that’ll go up even more after trades happen and he gets more time on the court. By the way, I recommended Dotson here weeks ago, waaaaaaay back when he was trading at under $2.00. Just sayin’…)
Vote now, and then check back tomorrow for the special code to get your complimentary player!
News & Notes
compiled by Michael Schatz (@mschatz99)
Dwyane Wade really likes RJ Barrett.
The Knicks might want to trade for Malik Monk, according to Ian Begley of SNY.
LeBron loves playing in MSG. Whoop dee freakin’ do.
Vivek Dadhania has some words about a Knicks/Sonics classic.
ICYMI, here’s Alex Wolfe on last night’s game.
Finally, here’s Part Two of a wonderful look at Lisa Willis, the Knicks’ female assistant coach in Westchester. Definitely worth a read:
That’s it for today, see everyone tomorrow!