Everything you need to know about the Knicks loss to Indiana

KNICKS LOSE ANOTHER HEARTBREAKER

It seems like this same headline is repeating itself, but the Knicks, once again, battled, but couldn’t put together 48 minutes in the loss.

Knicks Fan TV Postgame

MACRI'S GAME NOTES

The Knicks lose another heartbreaker 107-101, but the mission of this season continues to be a success, as the young guys are getting valuable minutes and learning what it takes to pull out these types of games…

  • Tim Hardaway Jr. had arguably his best game as a Knick. He was lights out from deep, finishing the game 7-for-10 from behind the arc, a career high. More importantly though, he got to the line at the level of other elite guards around the league, finishing 10-for-10 from the charity stripe. While he won’t always be automatic from deep, this version of Timmy is absolutely an asset, even on his current contract.
  • The Knicks had no answer for Domantas Sabonis all night long. He had his way down low, usually against Enes Kanter, who was exposed on defense more than usual, which is saying something. Sabonis showed how a true low post presence can still be a weapon in today’s game, as every one of his shots came within the flow of the offense. Meanwhile, the Burke / Kanter pairing on the second unit is revealing itself to be more untenable by the game.
  • The Frank Ntilikina Point Guard Tour had its first bump in the road, with Frank having arguably his worst offensive game of the season. He was 2-for-8 from the field, and while he had some nice passes throughout the game, couldn’t get the team into its offense late in the game. This was definitely a learning night for the young Frenchman, although his coach did say after the game that he, along with the other young guys, are “making some jumps,” and that he was happy with his aggressiveness.
  • Noah Vonleh continues to impress in every way. He had another double-double, and every one of his 10 boards seem to come in traffic. He is an asset on both ends, along with…
  • Damyean Dotson. Phew…the Knicks might have themselves something here. There should be a federal investigation as to why he didn’t get minutes last year under Jeff Hornacek. Perhaps he Dot roomed with Kurt Rambis on road trips and refused to push the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube. Who knows. Moving forward though, the Knicks should play the former second round pick upwards of thirty minutes a night. It’ll be interesting to see whether his spot in the starting lienup is secure even after Kevin Knox makes his return.
  • Lastly, Allonzo Trier keeps doing his thing. 6-for-7 from the field in 23 minutes is pretty good for a guy who nobody bothered to draft.

See everyone on Friday for the Knicks Game Watch – Slattery’s Midtown Pub on 36th and 6th!

Highlights from the game

Knicks Film School Presents…The Strange Case of Dr. Wario and Mr. Hezonja

It’s Halloween so you know what that means. Time for some poorly crafted sports connections to wonderfully creepy works of fiction!

Today’s case is Mario Hezonja, whose game for the Knicks so far can be said to at times embody the good and the bad that Robert Louis Stevenson hinted may be in all of us, when he wrote Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Every great book has some redemption themes in it. Knicks GM, Scott Perry, the former Assistant General Manager of the Orlando Magic, may or may not have had that in mind this summer when he signed Mario to a one-year, $6.5 million deal. After all, he was an executive in the Magic’s front office that drafted the handsome Croatian 5th overall, just one spot behind Kristaps Porzingis in 2015.

Here was what NY Daily News’ Stefan Bondy wrote about that back in March:

2015: Mario Hezonja (5th): Another mistake. Chosen right after Kristaps Porzingis, Hezonja could barely crack the rotation in his first two years and will likely leave Orlando this summer because the team declined to pick up his contract option.

This will be a redemption story for both Hezonja and Perry if everything works out in New York. Mario played well enough last year to shed his less flattering nickname among disappointed Magic fans on Twitter and re-earned the  “Super Mario” moniker he was drafted with when he bulked up from 190 pounds to, at one point, 230 pounds.  

He’s settled into a healthy looking 215 pounds in New York. Now he has a chance to turn his career around and continue the tradition of late bloomers like Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo, who improved significantly once they left the Magic and the lair of temptation and sin known as Downtown Orlando.

Hezonja is a player with a really large range of outcomes, isn’t he? On the one hand, if he sort of fizzles out, and a year from now you hear he’s on the Kings or playing for the Croatian Club Cibona, you wouldn’t be stunned. But if he blossoms and earns himself a contract as a stretch 4 for a title contender, like the one Ersan Ilyasova signed with the Bucks, or a larger one year prove it deal, you might find that pretty likely as well. Some truthers may even still be hopeful for an All-Star appearance one day.

I don’t know if he has a long-term future in New York, if Perry wants to showcase then trade him with others to help clear cap space to afford a superstar like Kevin Durant, or something else. But he’s here now so let’s break down his game so far.

We’ll start off with bad Mario, known by Nintendo fans as Wario. I know in the real book, Dr. Jekyll was the good guy and Mr. Hyde was the bad guy. But I was a Mario Kart guy so I wanted to go with the Mario vs. Wario angle, and in the NBA, ferocity is a good thing. All you need to know is that Dr. Wario is our villain and Mr. Hezonja will be our fearsome hero. But this is Knicks Film School and you’re not here for just words, so like the great New York sports anchor Warner Wolf says “Let’s go to the videotape.”

Dr. Wario

On this play above Wario turns the corner on a pick. He sees quite possibly the Heat’s two best defenders, Bam Adebayo and Josh Richardson, spying him, while the Heat sag off Allonzo Trier, Ron Baker, Damyean Dotson, and Noah Vonleh to protect the rim. Naturally Wario decides to cup it and try a running banking hook over Bam. It turns into a “Kobe assist” but yikes was that a poor read for the situation.

One of the things Magic fans know about Hezonja is that he can be a bit … ambitious. Here is some of what the Orlando Sentinel wrote last year from former teammate Shelvin Mack:

He’s always trying to make spectacular plays instead of just making the simple play…. He’s a very confident player,” Mack added. “He thinks he’s hot as soon as he steps on the court, like everyone should do. But there’s a time and place [for that]. Trying to figure out the way to get the right shot and the best shot kind of sets the tone.

He has not been shy since his arrival in The Big Apple:

(Who does that remind you of? Maybe another former high lottery stretch-four “walking bucket” who recently heard a few tongue-in-cheek “MVBease” chants last year on 7th ave?)

But the much bigger challenge for Dr. Wario is the defense.

Above is a three play sequence where Dr. Wario draws Coach David Fizdale’s ire.

On the first, there are five Knicks back to guard four Celtics, and whether Terry Rozier was his man or not, he needed to read this situation better. Wide open 3.

In the second play above, a pick and roll is defended poorly. It’s also Vonleh’s fault for taking a ridiculous angle on Jayson Tatum’s drive and then jumping harmlessly, but you can see Fizdale signal the hook towards his bench for the both of them right there.

The third play is just gas on the fire. With subs already at the scorer’s table set to check in because of defensive lapses, Mario sneaks in one more brick and then one more space cadet play leaving Rozier to walk into another open three. Boom 41-31 Celts. A quick 8 points in a game they only lost by two! Watch all three plays again and this time keep your eye on the coach’s reaction to each.

Imagine a parent scolding a child for taking a cookie from the jar. The kid looks bashful but pushes the boundary and takes another! Then dad yells “that’s it Mr. you’re going to timeout right this minute!” And the kid slinks off bashfully towards the timeout… then pivots and bolts back to the jar and scarfs down a third cookie! DAD BLOWS HIS STACK!

Enes replaces Mario and Burke replaces Vonleh, and with 5:52 to go in the second, Dr. Wario was done playing for the rest of the night. Yeesh.

Our own resident Irish Knicks fan, Mr. Alex Collins, spotted another instance where Wario may be at fault again in a similar circumstance days later:

In a reply I defended that maybe his man here was Andre Iguodala, who isn’t even in the picture yet. But I concede it feels like when the Knicks give up a head-scratching wide open three, it’s often when Dr. Wario is out there. Keep your eyes out for that.

Mr. Hezonja (our fierce hero)

A total credit to Mr. Hezonja’s character, just one game after being put on blast by Fiz, our hero responds with his best game of the young season in a tough road battle against the scorching hot Milwaukee Bucks. Here he drills the crunch time contested three:

Below he makes a crafty defensive play on future MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Mr. Hezonja “pulls the chair” and pokes it away to ignite the break. If you make plays like this on guys like Freak into a drinking game you only get one shot a night so enjoy:

Four plays in a row in the clip below. First: how do you attack a lethal Turkish charge-drawing machine like Ersan Ilyasova? Make him move his feet but don’t go into his chest for contact. Stopping on a dime for a baby-pull up is the way to go on this guy. Nice awareness and touch Mr. Hezonja! Let the clip play for a few more nice stop and pops, screen action, and another pull up. Great touch by the stretch four.

So does he have a favorite spot on the court?

God I wish I were that confident.

So after the Bucks game, below, Coach Fiz acknowledges that he was mad after the Boston game. Credit to both player and coach here. Coach was tough but fair. Player took it on the chin and came back stronger.

Knicks Twitter has begun to notice the chemistry developing among the second unit as well.

Like Mr. Hezonja’s hockey assists:

Funny, the reason Kevin Knox surged up draft boards late was reportedly how he looked as a ball-handler in pick and rolls during pre-draft workouts. Well not to be out done, subbing for Mr. Knox, Mr. Hezonja, below, threads the needle on a gorgeous pass for another hockey dime:

Beasley could score but he didn’t make tons of passes like that. Sparks flying off the bench in New York. And now some more defense!

Putting it all Together

From all the film I’ve been watching, my overall impression is that the defensive end needs work and there are some lateral limitations, but at least awareness has been the biggest flaw and that is probably coachable to a degree. He may not be a good isolation player now, but when he makes a quick shot or pass, plays the pick and roll or pick and pop game, or gets to run and be creative in transition, he’s at his best. And of course he can stroke it when he is disciplined enough to take good shots.

Oh, and in case you doubted the impact of these splash plays from our film review, here are some more interesting statistical trends to keep an eye on. Per Basketball-Reference Lineup Finder, apparently, Hezonja comes up in quite a few of the Knicks best performing lineups in terms of  “points minus opponents points,” like netRTG. His name is included in the Knicks 1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th and 10th best performing lineups per that metric to date. Not bad!

In four player lineups, he shows out pretty well too. He’s in 3 of the top 6 four player lineups. 

You can see the top lineups in this tweet below or in the links I attached above.

Obviously +/- lineups data is noisy this early on in the season and will fluctuate. And it’s very possible the Knicks second units are simply less outmatched than the starters because second units play against opposing second units. It’s a mouthful all to say these stats may not last. But the noise so far is music to Mario fan’s ears. Something to keep an eye on.

Overall, his netRTG is negative, but the Knicks are not a good team and that’s going to be a running theme for many of them this year. I’m excited to keep an eye on how he and his coach work to defeat his inner Wario and keep up the fierce, unselfish, and creative Super Mario play.

Hezonja has the tools to become one of the team’s most talented players if he can bring it all together. Of course, Scott Perry has heard that before, and if it had already happened, Perry and Mario may both still be resisting temptation down in Orlando.

Let’s check back in later to see how our redemption story goes.

Happy Halloween everyone, and let’s see some of yours, your kids’, and your pets’ best Knicks costumes. Make sure to follow @behindcurve on Twitter.

How Kevin Durant’s rookie season serves as a strong model for Kevin Knox

Scott Perry and Steve Mills stayed true to their course when they made their lottery selection this past June, tabbing the ’99-born, 6’9, 215 pound high-potential forward Kevin Knox as the next piece in their developing championship puzzle.

This new iteration of the Knicks front office has quite smartly taken the long-term route, holding very tightly on to their draft picks as if they were their own children (or the children of every Knicks fan). With those picks, the Knicks have heavily tended to opt towards the more exciting and slightly riskier buzz words of “upside,” “future,” and “ceiling,” over ones like “safe,” “high floor,” and “NBA-ready.”

It’s a route that in exchange for a much higher potential reward down the road calls for two things — patience and time. Luckily, the Knicks have plenty of both. Thus, Kevin Knox comes aboard as yet another enticing long-term piece the team can afford to take time to develop.

When a route like Knox’s is chosen, in addition to the increased amount of time that tends to be required for a raw prospect like him to reach his ceiling, it also needs to be expected that there are going to be a lot of growing pains along the way that sometimes border on ugly to watch. The path from the clay mold of a teenage NBA prospect to superstardom is rarely straight and narrow, and often features long stretches of ineffectiveness on the statsheet and indecisiveness on the court.

With all of these factors in mind, the one rookie season that might serve as the best model of goals for Knox to follow might just be Kevin Durant’s.

I know, I know, this one seems like a low-hanging fruit. Any lanky teenager known for his scoring chops and outside shooting is going to be compared to KD.

While it’s preposterous to hold almost any prospect to the high standards of career production that Durant has set, his rookie campaign is actually a very good model for a score-first prospect like Knox.

The self-proclaimed “Easy Money Sniper” – and potential future Knick (wink, wink) – has fully lived up to that nickname and will go down as one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game. However, quality shooting was not an asset of his from the beginning.

Like Knox, though of course at a different level, Durant entered the NBA coming off one successful college season in which he flashed tantalizing ability as a shooter and scorer. But those things did not click for him right off the bat once he reached the professional ranks.

As a rookie SuperSonic in the 2007-08 season, Durant shot a horrid 28.8% from deep and a mediocre 45.5% from two-point range. He registered a free throw attempt rate (free throw attempts relative to field goal attempts) of .328, decent but below the standards he has now set for himself. Those three numbers, all career lows for him through the 2017-18 season, culminated in a poor eFG% (efficiency from the floor) of 45.1% and a subpar TS% (true shooting percentage – overall shooting efficiency) of 51.9%. Each of those remain career lows for him by an extremely sizable margin.

After a season like that, it’s easy to have doubts that the player will ever become a quality shooter, right? Those numbers are plainly below average. Even if you dig deeper, Durant struggled to put the ball in the hoop at an efficient rate from all over the floor. He connected on 61% of his shots within three feet and 36% of his shots from 4-16 feet – both of those numbers remain career lows.

Obviously, Durant has had no problem moving on from that campaign. Since that rookie season, he’s shot 50% from the field, 39% from deep, 54% from two-point range, and 88% from the line. Altogether, he’s compiled a 54.9% eFG percentage and 62.0% true shooting percentage since then. The only non-bigs with a more efficient TS% in that span (with at least 500 games played since 2008-09) are Kyle Korver and Stephen Curry.

How does this all relate back to Knox?

Knox is in an extremely similar boat. He is a raw teenage rookie who played only one season of college ball. His status as a top-ten selection was mostly based around his upside as a scorer, with his unique physical tools, potential as a shooter, transition ability, and creative driving skills among other things.

While all of those exciting pieces are there, like Durant, Knox clearly does not seem to be the type of rookie who will be a plus contributor for his team from the jump. On high volume usage in Summer League, Knox posted a poor TS% of just 48.1% and an eFG% of 41.6%. In his 56 NBA minutes, he’s posted a TS% of 42.2% and eFG% of 41.9%. The efficiency just doesn’t seem to be there yet – and that’s completely OK – which is the point in comparing Knox to another teenage volume scorer in Durant.

While Durant struggled to score at a quality level of efficiency, he did not let that stop him from pulling the trigger again and again. Durant launched 1,366 field goal attempts in his rookie season. In this century, the only rookies to shoot more have been Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James.

That right there is the most important factor for Knox this season. He needs to shoot the ball, shoot it again, and then after that, shoot it some more. After he does that, he should shoot the rock ten more times.

Keep. On. Firing.

Promisingly, this is something Knox has absolutely not had an issue with at all since his first steps on an NBA court.

In the Summer League, Knox was entrusted as the focal point of the Knicks offense, and he took a substantial 19.3 shots per game in 32.2 minutes per game. In his 3 regular season appearances for the Knicks prior to his injury, Knox shot a whopping 10.3 shots per game in only 18.7 minutes per game, which would equal 19.9 field goal attempts per 36 minutes.

If he held that gargantuan number throughout the entire season, it would set the record for most field goal attempts per 36 minutes by a rookie in the 21st century (minimum 500 minutes played), edging Joel Embiid’s 19.6 rate in 2016-17.

Quite a few eventual greats were not efficient scorers as rookies – but made sure to get their shots up. In addition to Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Dwyane Wade, and even the great unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, all had subpar shooting numbers from the floor as rookies, but they each put the ball up at rates that ranked among the very highest for rookies.

For a rookie with the freedom to develop without the pressure of needing to contribute to victory, whether the shots drop or not is of little importance. What really matters is getting the mental and physical reps in to nail down the little nuances of scoring efficiently at the professional level. The only way for a player to build confidence and feel out his strengths and weaknesses as a scorer in the NBA is to put as many looks at the hoop as possible on tape and in the muscle memory.

As all Knicks fans know and have fully accepted, this is not a team that is looking to compete for a playoff spot this year. It’s a season about evaluation and progress. Giving Knox a bright green light throughout the year to get his rookie bumps in is going to be a key part of this season.

Early returns on his shooting aggression are positive. Upon his return, Knox should look to continue his aggressive mentality as a scorer, and hopefully he gets more sizable playing time to rack up reps. As fans, we should hope for the best in terms of Knox’ percentages and efficiency, but we should be comfortable with whatever amount of production Knox puts forth so long as he is staying on the attack and take steps towards developing positive tendencies.

The buckets will come eventually. Like most eventual stars, Knox is just getting the misses out early.

Make sure to follow Michael Nania on Twitter!

Knicks Film School: A Vocal Mitchell Robinson

Rasheed Wallace took time to work with Mitchell Robinson over the past few days. We saw an immediate impact in the way Robinson asserted himself on the court, trying to be more vocal in calling out defensive coverages. The players still need to learn how to react off each other, but it’s a good start.

Make sure you subscribe to the Knicks Film School Youtube channel for more breakdowns.

The New York Knicks Starting Lineup Safety Rankings, Part 2

Yesterday, we covered the nine players least likely to play meaningful minutes this season as a starter for the Knicks. Now we’ll get to the eight names who figure to show up on the lineup card most often moving forward.

Trey Burke, 17.5 %

Hold that thought. We’ll get back to Trey in a bit.

Enes Kanter, 30%

Let’s sort through some tea leaves here, shall we…

Both before and after the Warriors game, David Fizdale was clear that his starting lineup was a fluid organism, likely to change with the ebbs and flows of the season and to match up with particular opponents. Yet, when Kanter spoke at his locker after the game, he was peeved, parroting the company line that “coach wants to me lead the second unit, so I’m leading the second unit.”

IMG_7707

What gives? Is Kanter such a prideful guy that even a temporary demotion would have him sounding like Bill Belichick after a bad loss? Or is it that despite Fizdale’s public comments, was he told that this was going to be a permanent move?

The on-court evidence would suggest the latter. We have years worth of evidence suggesting Kanter’s teams are better when he’s on the bench, and this season is no different. According to Cleaning the Glass, which weeds out garbage time, the Knicks are 13.7 points per 100 possessions worse when the big man is on the court. That’s…not great.

Is it all his fault? Of course not. The advanced stats actually suggest that Hardaway Jr. has been the more harmful presence on defense. The difference is that New York can’t get Timmy’s shot creation or volume 3-point shooting – both necessary evils – from anywhere else. Kanter is a beast on the block, but the only time those traits have led to his team scoring significantly better when he’s on the court has been when he came off the bench in Oklahoma City two years ago1. It’s not that his skills don’t translate to the modern NBA, it’s just that they’re better in small doses against worse competition.

So what do the Knicks do if Kanter remains upset? Should they cut him loose, as some have suggested on Twitter, like another former center we all know and love? They’re going to wind up renouncing his ginormous cap hold in eight months anyway2, so why not, right?

Here’s why: the most significant thing the Knicks have done over the last year is up their image around the NBA from the “Laughingstock” category all the way up to “Competent.” If they want to graduate to “Respectable” – and they’re well on their way to doing so – playing nicely with the players on the roster is step one.

Simply buying out disgruntled players is a bad look. Kanter might be looked at as a bit of a clown around the league, but he’s still a guy who’s been nothing but a good soldier since he’s arrived. Fiz has to make sure he continues to feel needed, even if it’s not in a starting role.

Damyean Dotson, 35%

I really, really, really wish this number was higher.

Fiz says he’s earned his spot in the starting rotation, and assuming the organization moves on from Courtney Lee sooner rather than later, he’s the closest thing they have to a true two-way player3.

So why not higher? I could say it’s because he’s so positionally versatile, and can be subbed in for whoever happens to be playing the two, three, or four at the moment4.

We all know that’s BS though. He’ll probably find himself on the bench for most of the rest of the year because of two numbers: 9 – where Kevin Knox was drafted – and 44 – where Dotson was drafted. While I think Fiz means every word of what he says about time and status being earned, as I’ll get to when we hit Knox, there are a lot of jobs tied up in the Knicks’ 2018 lottery pick looking the part of a future All-Star before season’s end. That’s a lot easier to pull off if Knox is starting, and although he’ll see time at the four here and there, Fiz isn’t going to start him there anytime soon.

Dotson will still get a ton of minutes though. He needs to. They don’t have many5 better options.

Mitchell Robinson & Noah Vonleh, 50% each

I was as shocked as anyone when Fiz essentially went with a double-center starting lineup, especially against the team that has exploited big men (see above) perhaps more than any in league history.

And wouldn’t you know it…they didn’t do half-bad.

True, the starting quintet was a minus eight overall in just over 19 minutes, but save for the last two and a half of those when the Kevin Durant snowball was already three quarters of the way down the hill, they outscored the Warriors by five points in nearly 16 minutes of action. That’s good.

So does this mean the big-big pairing is here to stay? It does make some sense.

On Vonleh’s side, he just seems to be a better fit with the rest of the group. He’s a decent passer, a brick house on screens, and his defense makes the absence of Lance Thomas more than palatable. His skill set is also more necessary alongside Timmy than what Kanter brings in the post and on the offensive glass.

As for Young Mitch Rob6, by starting him, you get the best of both world. If he’s effective, fantastic – you ride him until the wheels fall off, and showcase his skill set in the process. If he’s a foul-mongering jumping bean who can’t control himself, it’s all good – just pull him and let him soak up knowledge from the bench. Either way, starting him is a fantastic way for the kid to learn on the job.

The pairing won’t work against every team, but against most, it’s at least worth a shot.

Kevin Knox, 65%

It’s coming. You know it and I know it. David Fizdale knows it too, despite relegating Knox to the bench to start the year.

His initial placement in the starting lineup never meant that he was ready or deserving, but he looked so raw at times that Fiz knew he couldn’t keep him in there and still sell the whole “you keep what you kill” mantra to his young team.

Knox doesn’t have to be one of the five best players to make his way back into the starting five. He just needs to be good enough7 for David Fizdale to be able to make the move with a straight face. He knows that his long term job security rests largely on how the Knicks do next year and beyond. Getting Knox ready sooner rather than later only makes sense8.

Tim Hardaway Jr., 95%

As much as it pained me to put Kristaps Porzingis so low, it’s equally annoying that I have to put Timmy this high.

It’s not because he isn’t a good player. Tim Hardaway Jr. actually has it in him to be a very efficient player in this league, and maybe even a great one on some nights.

Those nights won’t come, however, until he’s in the role that he’s destined for: a sixth man who plays starters minutes and only has to worry about scoring when he’s in the game. The problem is that scoring is all Tim worries about right now, and as the ill-suited first banana on a young, talent-depleted team, that’s both necessary and a problem. It also means he’s assured of starting until the blatant tanking begins in April.

The more interesting question will be what happens long term. Assuming Free Agent X and Draft Pick Y are indeed in uniform to start next season, the writing about Tim’s destiny as a fireplug off the bench will be on the wall. Something tells me he won’t want to read what’s written.

Throw in the fact that Allonzo Trier is a far cheaper option who might be better suited for the role, and it’s fair to ask if THJ might not be here this time next year. If he can keep his efficiency numbers at this level the entire season9, there will be some free agency loser willing to take on his contract.

For now though, he’s as safe as anyone.

Well, almost anyone…

Frank Ntilikina, 99.8%

Halloween is this week, so I think a Ghostbusters reference is in order. Let’s harken back to the scene inside the Mayor’s office, when the four heroes tried to give Hizzoner an image of what would happen if he didn’t act fast:

Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling…Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…The dead rising from the grave…Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

That’s nothing compared to how this city would react if Frank Ntilikina was taken out of the starting lineup. Gozer wouldn’t have shit on the hell New Yorkers would unleash if our French son was relegated to the bench.

More importantly though, the same point I made about Kanter applies here: the Knicks want to continue looking smart to the rest of the NBA. If they don’t fully flush out whether or not Frank can be a point guard10, it will not play well around the league.

Other than maybe a stretch five11 who can guard the perimeter12, there is no greater positional advantage in the NBA than a point guard who can shut down the opposing team’s best wing. This is still very much in the cards for Ntilikina, and Fiz is smart enough to realize that. Also, he has eyes, and saw this:

The rest of the NBA is watching. Could there be a few more games at the wing, maybe to ease the transition to full-time starting point guard, or possibly to advertise Trey Burke around the trade deadline? Of course…it’s why Burke’s percentage is as high as it is.

But make no mistake: the Knicks have found their point guard of the future.

The future just got here a lot sooner than we thought.

John Starks, Rod Strickland excited about Knicks future

Knicks greats John Starks and Rod Strickland join Stephen A. Smith to discuss New York’s young players and outlook for the NBA season. Starks is confident that 2018 draft picks Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson will lead the Knicks to future success, while Strickland explains why Kevin Durant and other superstars should consider playing in New York City because it is “still a mecca of basketball.”

Know Your Opponent: Brooklyn Nets

KNOW YOUR OPPONENT

Get ready for the Knicks next match-up against the Nets.

NETS LOST YESTERDAY TO GOLDEN STATE

Caris LeVert & His Strong Start to the Season

By Justin Carter

NETS NOTES

Brooklyn is 2-4 and playing on the second night of a back-to-back.

D’Angelo Russell thinks he complements Caris LeVert well.

“I think we both are able to play off the ball. We’re both able to create. We just flow. We’ve got a chemistry that’s connecting well together,” Russell said. “I think the next step is getting other guys involved at the same time and finishing games.” They combined for 48 points and 13 assists against the Warriors on Sunday, and coach Kenny Atkinson said he likes their chemistry as well. Russell is heating up after a slow start with 23.3 points, 6.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 4.3 triples over his last three games.

Allen Crabbe hit 4-of-11 shots and four 3-pointers for a season-high 14 points, five rebounds and two assists in Sunday’s loss to GSW.

The rise of Caris LeVert and the strong play of Joe Harris might impact Crabbe’s usage going forward, but he does appear to be over his ankle injury. And this was a far cry from his 0-for-7 shooting night last Wednesday.

D’Angelo Russell hit 9-of-14 shots and five 3-pointers for a season-high 25 points, six rebounds, six assists and a block in 30 minutes of Sunday’s loss to the Warriors.

He got off to a slow start this season, but has rendered Spencer Dinwiddie somewhat useless of late, and has really turned it on over his last two games. He’s averaging 24.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 5.5 3-pointers over his last two games, hitting 18-of-30 shots, good for 60 percent, and has also knocked down 11-of-17 3-pointers in his last two, good for 65 percent.

Joe Harris hit 2-of-6 shots (all 3-point attempts) to finish with seven points, three rebounds, three assists and two turnovers in 30 minutes of Sunday’s loss to the Warriors.

Harris entered the game at No. 4 in the league in 3-point percentage (59.3%), and hit his first two of the night. However, he missed his next four triples (and shots), but has still hit 15 of his last 23 shots from beyond the arc, good for 65 percent. He’s been a bit quiet in his last two games, scoring just seven points in each of them, but if you are looking for 3-pointers in your fantasy league, he’s probably available.

Notes via RotoWorld

📜 On this day in Nets history 📜

Nets acquire All-NBA First Team guard Jason Kidd from Phoenix

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The New York Knick Starting Lineup Safety Rankings, Part 1

A few hours before the Knicks tripped and face planted as they rounded third base against the Warriors on Friday night, David Fizdale made his first starting lineup change of the regular season.

It does not figure to be the last.

Fiz said after the game that “we’ll see how it goes” when asked about who would start moving forward. It begs the question: is anyone safe? And if not, who stands to benefit moving forward?

To answer these questions, the Committee of One at KFS has created the New York Knicks Starting Lineup Safety Rankings, where I’ll look at how likely it is that each player on the roster will start meaningful games for the team this season.

The percentages aren’t an exact science, but they essentially measure two things: the likelihood of a player starting and the importance of those starts. If a guy whose name may or may not rhyme with Bon Raker is likely to get a start but it probably won’t come until April, he’s not going to have a very high number. On the other hand, if Timmy’s a safe bet to stay in there until he develops a mysterious groin ailment in March, his number will be nearly 100%.

Without further ado, our rankings:

Luke Kornet, < 1.0%

When I was in eighth grade, after years of not trying out for the basketball team at my school, my friends convinced me to join. I knew I would make it because everyone who tried out made it. The previous coach actually got fired for not letting kids like me on the team, so the new coach didn’t have a choice. Lucky him.

We played something like 20 games, many of them blowouts because we weren’t half bad. As a result, I saw more time than I probably should have. Despite this fact, I was the only player on our team not to score a single point the entire season. Even my friend George, whose shooting form resembled an orangutan throwing a discuss, made a basket. I was that bad.

And yet, my chances of starting a game for that team were higher that Luke Kornett’s this season. Even if the Knicks engage in some Process-level tanking as we get closer to April, Mitchell Robinson is ready and waiting. Kornett is thus about as useful as a white crayon, which is funny because he kind of resembles a giant white crayon.

Isaiah Hicks, 1.2 %

Only higher then Kornet because the Knicks are so woefully short on natural power forwards. I could see them trotting out a Frank/Dotson/Knox/Hicks/Robinson starting lineup at some point towards the end of the season. Even if KP is back, he’ll be resting often, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

IMG_7707

Ron Baker, 5.0%

Would anything infuriate Knicks fans more than Ron Baker starting? I mean really piss people off? Short of the team bringing back Andrea Bargnani, it’s tough to imagine a move that would make people get in their feelings more.

It’s strange when you think about it. Knicks fans have spent the better part of the last 17 years watching players give questionable effort, and yet most of them can’t stand the guy who tries harder than anyone13.

Is he part of the future? No…but he’s smart, and he knows how to execute the systems at both ends of the court that David Fizdale is trying to put into place. Having a guy like that out there is valuable as you try to ingrain good habits throughout the rest of the roster.

Still, this isn’t a team that has had effort issues so far. As long as that continues, Sunshine figures to remain glued to the bench.

Emmanuel Mudiay, 7.5 %

I know, I know … just hear me out…

The funny thing about Mudiay is that even though he’s the butt of a thousand jokes2, there’s a universe in which an alternate version of him is really a nice fit on this team. If he played within himself, used his athleticism to break down the defense and deployed the elite passing chops we’ve seen on occasion, he could be a happy medium between Trey Burke and Frank Ntilikina. Defense for him has always been more about effort and technique than ability, so it’s not like that’s a lost cause either.

It’s all true, every word of it. And if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon. Still, the talent is there, and if the Knicks are serious about becoming a place where high pedigree players can come to rehab their careers, it makes some sense to give Mudiay one more chance to show what he can do. Fiz seems to think so too, at least according to Stefan Bondy’s tweet on Sunday night.

Yes, we’ve all seen Mudiay and it hasn’t looked pretty. David Fizdale knows that. He also knows that a coach’s reputation in this league depends as much on how you treat the last guy on the roster as it does the first.

No, his leash won’t be long (nor should it be), and no matter what he does, Frank will continue to get the lion’s share of PG minutes … but if culture really is going to become more than a buzzword around these parts, giving the former Nugget a chance after a solid summer of work is the right thing to do.

Courtney Lee, 8%

I’ve been thinking about something for a while that I think I’ll name the Courtney Lee Paradox3.

It goes like this: on one hand, Lee isn’t good enough for another team to willingly take on his $12.7 million salary for next season without (apparently) the Knicks attaching a sweetener. On the other hand, whenever anyone got on them for not tanking hard enough last year, Lee was always the guy they point to as the culprit, as if his presence was the difference between them being in a position to draft Luka Doncic or not. It’s kind of annoying.

Ultimately, sweetener or no sweetener, if the Knicks are going to move Lee, they’re going to have to play him. It’s easy to see him getting the Kieth Bogans treatment4, starting a game or two but then getting pulled for good after a few minutes. So let’s call it the Bogans Bump.

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Kristaps Porzingis, 10.5 %

It is obviously painful to have him this low.

At this point, it’s as likely Porzingis sits out the whole year as it is he returns by Christmas, especially with the Knicks not looking like they’ll have even a prayer of hanging around the playoff race. Should we split the difference and say he’ll be back after the All-Star break? That leaves 24 games, including four back-to-backs that we know he’s not getting into.

Given the apparently copacetic decision between the Knicks and KP’s people to delay his extension talks5, the team clearly has an interest in keeping him happy. If Kristaps wants to play, he’s going to play.

Will he want to though? On one hand, if Janis & Co are worried about the Knicks trying to sneak some injury protections into his next contract, coming out and looking all unicorny and whatnot will help quell those fears. On the other hand, if the Knicks already agreed an under-the-table deal to give KP the max they’re confident Scott Perry and Steve Mills will do the right thing, why risk re-injury in meaningless games?

On the Knicks end, do they need to see Porzingis play a few games before giving him the deluxe sushi boat for two6? With medical technology being what it is, they probably don’t feel like it makes a difference.

It might though to a certain someone who just rolled through the Garden on Friday night. If we believe the fact that KP was fine with waiting to extend until next summer specifically so the team could have room to sign Kevin Durant, it follows that both sides might want to give their prized free agent target a look at his future teammate, post-ACL. Zach Lowe brought this up on his podcast Friday, saying that of the 30 or so execs he spoke to around the league, it was roughly 50/50 as to whether they thought KD would feel the need to see a healthy unicorn before considering New York.

Here’s betting they give him some run. Just not a lot.

Lance Thomas, 12 %

If you’d have asked me before the season which starter was tsafest for the duration of the season, I’d probably have said Thomas.

Save your insults7. Thomas is the one player on a team full of newbies and misfit toys who always knows where he’s supposed to be and what he’s supposed to be doing. His execution on both ends can leave a bit to be desired, but for a coach trying to remodel a house using only a screwdriver and duct tape, I figured the unsightly yet stable side room would remain as is.

But 26 percent shooting from a starting wing isn’t something any team can live with, even one that values Thomas’ stability as much as the Knicks do. That, plus Noah Vonleh’s inspired play and Kevin Knox’s impending return, mean that Lance has probably seen his last moment as a starter for this team. I wouldn’t rule out some spot starts here or there though, which is why he’s even this high on the list.

Allonzo Trier, 13.5%

This may seem low for a young player who has clearly butted himself into the team’s future plans, but this is more about role than anything else.

Trier pretty clearly profiles as a spark plug, isolation scorer off the bench in the classic Jamal Crawford mold (or Vinnie Johnson, for you old folks). Fiz has already used Lou Williams as a comp, and his nickname is Iso Zo for Christ’s sake. This is what he is as an NBA player, and it makes sense to continue getting him used to that role. If he ever starts, it won’t be until late.

Mario Hezonja, 15%

The early returns on Super Mario have been mixed. On one hand, he’s displayed the talent and skill that got him drafted one pick after Kristaps in 2015. On the other hand, he’s reminded everyone why the Magic declined the fourth year team option on his rookie contract – an extreme rarity for top-ten picks.

Hezonja’s inconsistency on defense has been the most troubling thing, and given David Fizdale’s stated desire to emphasize defense in the starting lineup, this doesn’t feel like a move he’d make.

The only caveat is that Mario is still just 23, and while it’s unlikely the light bulb goes on, it’s not out of the question. We’ve already seen him play stretches of solid defense. If it becomes a regular occurrence over a sustained period of time, would Fiz reward him for the effort?

Maybe … although of the other potential starters, Mario is among the least likely to be here next season8. Fiz isn’t stupid, and as we saw with Friday night’s moves, he may already be coaching for next season and beyond.

COMING TOMORROW: PART 2

 

 

 

Film Study: Why the Frank we saw vs Golden State is the real one

@FrontOfficeEye highlights Frank Ntilikina’s strengths and weaknesses from his October 26 start against the Warriors. He then shows why the “aggressive Frank” we saw vs Golden State is not a flash in the pan, but something that simply needs to be unleashed.

Combining clips from last night’s game and his U18 championship run, you will be able to see that Frank hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of his offensive potential.

Quick hitting FIBA U18 stats from Frank on offense:

  • 88th percentile on offense
  • 99th percentile in PnR offense (for himself)
  • 65th percentile spot up (off ball drives off the catch + catch and shoot)
  • 75th percentile on catch and shoot
  • 100th percentile on dribble jumpers

During the U18s he took on a bigger offensive load…and he still produced. We saw some of that potential against Golden State and watching the Knicks unlock more of it should be fun to watch going forward.

Follow Spencer on Twitter and YouTube.

Subscribe to the Knicks Film School YouTube playlist for more breakdowns.

Music: Roy by JBlanked

Everything you need to know about the Knicks loss to Golden State

KEVIN DURANT PUTS ON A SHOW

For three quarters it looked like the Knicks were going to shock the Warriors, but then 25 fourth quarter points by Kevin Durant happened.

Knicks Fan TV Postgame

Highlights from the game

Postgame Interviews

MACRI'S GAME NOTES

The Knicks entered the fourth quarter with a lead against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, possessors of all six infinity stones and lords of the realm. With 7:46 left in the game, New York was still up by one following a Trey Burke 3-pointer. They were outscored by 29 the rest of the way thanks to a Kevin Durant onslaught for the ages.

Let’s hit the big points:

  • Frank Ntilikina started at point guard, and seemed to answer a lot of questions in the process. He scored 17 points in 26 minutes on 6-of-11 shots, including 3-of-7 from deep. Other than a couple miscues, his defense on Steph Curry (29 points, 10-for-18 overall, 6-of-11 from deep) was solid, which the two-time MVP himself noted after the game. Most importantly, he looked in control and unafraid of the moment, taking what was given to him where appropriate and putting the ball in spots where his teammates could be successful. The Knicks might have found their point guard.
  • Less heralded but similarly impressive was Damyean Dotson, who started alongside Ntilikina and was also a two-way force. He had 12 points and put up another six shots from deep, upping his total to 27 attempts in four games. He looks to be the definition of a modern 3 & D wing (as long as the “D” doesn’t come against “KD”)
  • The Knicks – finally – had a shot profile that resembled a modern NBA offense, jacking 39 threes and making 13. While the percentage wasn’t great, it was a step in the right direction for a team thats been stuck in the 90’s for far too long. It’s the most deep balls New York has attempted since putting up 51 in a quadruple overtime loss to the Hawks on January 29, 2017, and the most in a regulation game since the 42 they tried on April 6, 2014 vs Miami.
  • The Knicks starting front court of Mitchell Robinson and Noah Vonleh didn’t look overmatched. Vonleh continues to shine, especially with his defensive versatility, and while Robinson is clearly raw, he impressed his coach on defense, as David Fizdale noted postgame.
  • Speaking of Fiz, he characterized the fourth quarter dam breaking as the Knicks young players feeling like “we’ve done enough.” He stated they still think they’re playing a 40 minute college game, and that he needs to get them believing they can win these sorts of contests against good teams. Overall, he continues to remain upbeat. If there’s a better coach for this team at this time, I can’t think of one.
  • Fiz didn’t comment on whether the starting lineup would remain in place, only saying “we’ll see how it goes.” Ok.
    Timmy had his moments, but as usual, took several ill-advised threes throughout the game. I’m starting to think this might be a thing.
  • Twitter was ablaze as KD started his fourth quarter takeover, imploring Fiz to remove Kanter and Burke (who had some nice moments in the second half) sooner than he did. Sorry folks…this would have made about as much difference as a kid getting under their desk during those old 60’s air-raid drills. The heat was coming.
  • Lastly, Enes Kanter didn’t sound thrilled during his postgame interview in regards to his being removed from the starting lineup. It’s a situation that bears watching.

Knicks have the weekend off, and then come back to the Garden for their rematch with the Nets on Monday night. The season of development continues.

IN A FEW SENTENCES

Frank was unbelievable in the first half.

Frank also did his thing on defense.

Kanter and Durant exchanged a few words.

Tim Hardaway Jr. took a scary fall, but returned to the game.

Trey Burke found his game again in the third quarter.

As Kevin Durant put up 25 fourth quarter points, Fizdale had something to say.

How do the Knicks create enough cap space to sign Kevin Durant?

Rumors will continue to swirl around the Knicks and Kevin Durant until we reach that fateful date in July when Woj, or someone else, breaks the final news of where he signs.

Putting the reality of the Knicks being able to sign Durant aside, let’s understand the cap mechanics required.

Durant 2019 Contract Options

How much money can the Knicks offer Durant?

Kevin Durant is a veteran with at least 10 years of NBA service, which means he qualifies for a maximum starting salary of up to 35% of the salary cap. With the 2019-20 salary cap projected to be $109 million, that means Durant’s first year maximum salary on a new contract in 2019 would be $38,150,000.

The Knicks can offer Durant a four-year, $164 million contract next summer.

How much money can the Warriors offer Durant?

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement was written to protect teams from losing players to big market teams. It seems strange to say so in this situation, but the Warriors have the rules in their favor to keep Durant by being able to offer him more money than any other team.

Golden State can offer Durant an extra year and a higher annual raise (8% instead of 5%) than the Knicks. They can try to keep Durant by offering a maximum contract of five-years, $221 million.

Why would Durant ever pass up so much money to come to the Knicks?

While it seems like a big difference between what Golden State can offer Durant and what the Knicks can offer him, the difference in salary mostly comes in 2023.

Between 2019 – 2022, Durant would essentially make the same amount of money no matter where he signs. There is only a slight increase (8% vs 5%) in annual raises between the two offers that equates to Durant making $6.9 million extra between 2019-2022 if he resigns with the Warriors.

The question for Durant would be whether he thinks he can still demand a maximum salary in 2023 to essentially make up for the difference in money left on the table from Golden State.

He could also decide to sign a shorter-term deal in New York, so he has the opportunity to become a free agent one more time during his prime (which he would be smart to do) and then cash-in on a long-term deal at that point.

If Durant wants to get paid, he could make pretty close to the same amount of money whether he stays in Golden State or leaves, it’s just a matter of when he guarantees himself making that money.

How do the Knicks create enough cap space to sign Durant?

By waiving and stretching Joakim Noah, the Knicks opened up close to $13 million extra in 2019 cap space, but there is still work to be done to create enough room to offer Durant the maximum salary of $38.1 million next summer.

The graphic below illustrates the Knicks cap situation by separating what I am calling “core pieces,” all of the young players from recent drafts + their 2019 lottery pick, from players on the roster who might have promise but aren’t necessarily fundamental to the team’s rebuild. The Knicks can waive Lance Thomas and turn his $7.6 million salary in 2019 into a $1 million cap hit, so I will assume they take that easy route in this scenario.

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 2.04.02 PM

For the Knicks to create max space for Kevin Durant, while keeping their core pieces on the roster, it sort of becomes a choose your own adventure game.

By keeping Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier, and their 2019 draft pick, they would only have $22.8 million of salary to play with in order to preserve the amount they need to sign Durant.

The graphic above orders the non-core players by the relative level of difficulty to eliminate their salary from the team’s books. Damyean Dotson is the easiest salary to remove, because his salary is non-guaranteed. There is then a long list of players who count against the cap in order for the Knicks to preserve their respective early-Bird or Bird rights, but the Knicks can simply renounce all of them to open up cap space.

Really, it all boils down to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee.

The Knicks could sign Kevin Durant and have some extra space to sign additional players, IF they are able to move one of Tim Hardaway Jr. or Courtney Lee without taking too much 2019 salary back. It’s more likely they would be able to move Courtney Lee at a lower cost than Tim Hardaway Jr. based on the term and value remaining on their respective contracts. They could also decide to waive and stretch either player.

Any way you cut it, if you want to keep the core pieces and go for broke on Durant, you have some decisions to make with the players highlighted in the non-core area of the graphic above.

So keep this post handy as you hear rumors about the Knicks signing a max player, like Durant, or if roster moves are made to help create 2019 cap space.

And if you want to know whether the Knicks could have enough cap space to sign TWO max players … well, that requires some more work.

Some early statistical trends worth monitoring

Michael Nania looks at the early sample size of data to find some individual trends that are still worth monitoring.


GOOD: Tim Hardaway Jr.’s Free Throw Attempt Rate and Transition Frequency

Since returning to New York, Hardaway Jr. has been a frustrating player. Every night, there are at least a couple of moments where you see exactly why the Knicks front office was so confident in putting him at the forefront of this transitional period. Athletically, he’s special. His speed and acrobatic ability flash constantly. He has a quick trigger and has shown he can make clutch contested shots from any spot on the court. Underneath the rim, he’s capable of some really eye-popping finishes – the type that make you wonder: why doesn’t he do that more often?

Over the previous three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Hardaway Jr. shot 52.8% from two-point range. That ranked third best among the 68 guards to play at least 4000 minutes over that span, behind only Gary Harris and Stephen Curry.

The key for Hardaway Jr. in reaching such an efficient level inside of the arc has been his willingness to attack the basket.

Forty-eight percent of his two-point attempts during that span came within three feet of the basket, and he connected on 66% of those. Comparatively, Curry shot 67% in that range with 48% of his two-point attempts near the rim, and Harris shot 66%, with 55% of his two-point attempts coming near the rim.

Hardaway Jr. is only a 34.5% career three-point shooter. Relative to his position, it hasn’t been nearly as effective a weapon as his inside game. Yet, the Michigan product has been over-reliant on the outside shot. Among that same group of 68 guards over the past three seasons, he has attempted three point shots at the 13th highest frequency, with a .477 3PAr, in spite of shooting the 3 at an efficiency ranked 54th/68. Marcus Smart was the only other player to take over 40% of his shots from deep in spite of shooting below 35% on those shots.

This season, in as featured of a scoring role as he has ever seen in the NBA, Hardaway Jr. has taken promising steps towards maximizing the weapons he has proven most efficient at using.

Demonstrating his increased willingness to attack the basket are two trends in particular – his increase in free throw attempts and fastbreak possessions. In the free throw department, he currently owns a FTr (free throw attempt rate – free throws relative to field goal attempts) of .238 – a career high. It’s barely edging out the .235 he posted as a Hawk in 2016-17 – not coincidentally, that was the year in which Hardaway Jr. posted his career highs (through last season) in win shares, true shooting percentage (TS%), and minutes, earning the trust of coach Mike Budenholzer and an ensuing $70M+ deal the following summer.

Hardaway Jr. has always been a solid free throw shooter, entering this season shooting 81% for his career, but he is on a red-hot start from the line, connecting on 92% of his looks from the stripe so far. His 5.0 makes per 36 minutes this season beats out the career high of 2.8 he set last season by nearly double.

In addition, Hardaway has led the charge of a young Knicks team that is embracing their collective speed and looking for more fastbreak opportunities. With 5.3 transition possessions per game, Hardaway is currently tied for 8th in the league in that category, an increase of 4.0 over his average of last season.

Of course, it is extremely early into the season, and it’s going to be hard for Hardaway Jr. to maintain all of these numbers. However, it’s very promising to see him working towards a scoring approach that better fits his skillset and will help him be the most positive impact player he can be.

BAD: Frank Ntilikina’s Shooting Efficiency

Don’t get me wrong – I’m on Team Frank all the way. His defense is tremendous, his IQ is off the charts, and the kid is as raw as they come. Certainly, he should be expected to have more growing pains and a longer growth curve than just about any other prospect who starts out in the pros from the jump.

Now, is it a bad thing if Ntilikina simply settles into the role of an elite defender and superior passing point guard whose scoring and ball-handling limitations restrict him to a key reserve role? Certainly not. As Knicks fans know well, you can do way worse than getting a key reserve out of a draft pick, even if it is a high one. Any draft pick that gets you a long-term contributor is a win.

With all of that said, with Frank still only 20 years old and possessing the mold of a guy who looks like he can be shaped into a superstar, we are all holding out hope he can become more than just a good glue guy. All of the tools are there, and the flashes have been there.

Perhaps the most important facet of Ntilikina’s game that needs to grow, if he is to provide legitimate hope of becoming a star, is his shooting efficiency. While the eye test shows a player who has smooth fundamentals in his jump shot, the production hasn’t measured up yet. So far this season, Frank has not progressed much in that area.

From the outside, there have been small slivers of growth. Frank shot 31.8% from deep last year. He’s up to 35.3% this year – a solid number – but the sample size is so small to this point that it doesn’t tell us very much. At 6 for 17, his percentage would drop to a ghastly 29% if he had missed just one of those makes.

While it’s too early to be harsh on the efficiency posted in a 17-shot sample size, the positive trend for Ntilikina in this department is his increased 3PAr. The NBA is becoming a layup-or-3 league; mid-range shots be damned. Frank has upped his 3PAr from .314 last year to .472 this year. That’s a positive trend to work from. While the sample size is minuscule, if Ntilikina can maintain a .353 3P% and .472 3PAr over this entire year, that would be awesome.

Here’s where the downside has been: Ntilikina’s offense inside of the arc. Frank shot only 38.5% on two-pointers last year and is down to 36.8% this year. He’s in a less-than-ideal clique with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova, and Malik Monk as the only guards on pace to shoot below 40% from two-point range for the second consecutive season.

Worse is Ntilikina’s inability to get to the line. After posting a .136 FTr last season, he’s dipped to a paltry .056 so far this year. To put into perspective how poor that is, the worst FTr posted by a PG last season (with at least 1000 minutes played) was a .080 – by Raymond Felton. Frank has only attempted 2 free throws in 149 minutes this year. That’s a rate of 0.5 per 36 minutes – Pablo Prigioni-esque.

Frank’s lack of free throw attempts is what really hampers his overall offensive efficiency. He posted a TS% of only .437 last year and is only up a tad to .447 this year.

The odds have been extremely rude to modern NBA guards who have tried to carve out a career after posting a TS% below .450 in each of their first two seasons. Here’s a look at the group of guards over the past decade Ntilikina would join if he can’t puff his TS% up beyond its current point by the end of the year:

It’s an ugly list.

There have been players who have struggled shooting from the floor as youngsters who have gone on to have great careers – neither John Wall nor Russell Westbrook posted eFG% rates over their first two years as high as Ntilikina’s .444 so far this year – but those guys made up for poor floor shooting with free throws.

It’s become a major, major part of efficient NBA offense, especially at the point guard position. Ntilikina really needs to see some growth in this area especially. You want to see him take more pick-and-rolls straight to the hoop without hesitancy rather than always having a pass-first mentality.

Whether or not Frank can finally bring out the aggressiveness inside of him at some point this year is one of the biggest question marks on the team. Does he need to score 20, even 15 points a game? Certainly not! You just need him to be at least an adequate scorer to compliment his outstanding defense and maximize the potential of his unique passing ability.

Make sure to follow Michael Nania on Twitter for more great analysis.

All stats via Basketball-Reference and NBA.Com

 

Know Your Opponent: Golden State Warriors

KNOW YOUR OPPONENT

Get ready for the Knicks next match-up against the Warriors.

WARRIORS LAST GAME

OPPOSING VIEW

Marcus Thompson: This time, Kevin Durant isn’t trying to please everybody or limit his free-agent process

WARRIORS NOTES

  • Tonight’s game at New York is the first game of a three-game road trip for the Warriors… Golden State was 24-6 against the East last season, in- cluding 11-4 at home…. Since 2014-15, the Warriors have a 102-19 (.843) record against Eastern Conference teams, the best record in the NBA.
  • The Warriors have won the last eight meetings against the Knicks, including the last five at Madison Square Garden.
  • After a 51-point night against the Wizards, Stephen Curry is now ranked first in the NBA in scoring, averaging 34.6 points per game in five contests… He also had made 33 treys this season, tops in the league (second is Kemba Walker with 24).
  • Curry has made at least five 3-pointers in each of the first five games of the season… According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest streak at the start of the season for consecutive games with at least five made 3-point field goals.
  • Notes via via Warriors PR

Kevin Durant made 13-of-18 shots to score 30 points on Wednesday, adding eight rebounds, seven assists, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer.

On most teams this would be the headline, but the Warriors aren’t most teams. Steph Curry stole the show with an incredible shooting exhibition en route to 51 points, so KD’s hyper-efficient, stat-stuffing game gets second billing. His fantasy owners appreciate it, of course, and he’s cruising along with his typical elite value through five games.

Jordan Bell saw daylight in the Warriors’ rotation on Wednesday, scoring eight points on 4-of-4 shooting with three boards, three assists and two blocks in 21 minutes.

Bell’s fantasy upside hasn’t been in question, but he’s fallen out of the rotation with Steve Kerr starting Damian Jones at center and deploying Kevon Looney as the primary backup. This matchup vs. the center-less Wizards was tailor-made for Bell, so it’s hard to get excited about his playing time. Let’s see if he earns minutes again on Friday (at New York) and Sunday (at Brooklyn).

Damian Jones started Wednesday’s game but played only 12 minutes, scoring five points with three rebounds and two assists.

Jones has been very impressive as a starter to open the season, and his reduced role tonight wasn’t a product of his play — he simply wasn’t a good fit against a Wizards team that went extremely small by default. Jones should be back to the 20-minute range vs. Enes Kanter and the Knicks on Friday.

Klay Thompson played through a left ankle injury to finish Wednesday’s game with 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting, two rebounds, one assist and one steal.

Klay only made 1-of-5 triples and his slow start continues in that department, but fantasy owners have nothing to fear. As coach Steve Kerr said before the game, “You know how it is with Klay. Once he gets a few to go, the dam breaks.” He’s a combined 4-of-27 from deep through five games, but the storm surge is coming.

Notes via RotoWorld

Favorite food?
Hidden talent?
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How Linsanity made a kid uninterested in basketball a diehard Knicks fan

The Knicks have not won a championship since 1973. They have advanced past the first round of the playoffs only once since 2000. Yet, they have some of the most passionate fans in basketball. Why do people root for the Knicks? It’s about more than wins and losses. In our first installment of Why I root for the Knicks, Alexander Cohen tells his story.


By Alexander Cohen (@DaRealBootum)

As a kid, I hated basketball.

Sure, I played in rec leagues, but I looked more like a ref than a player; I did nothing besides run up and down the court and watch the game. I played with the same offensive philosophy as Frank Ntilikina; I’d pass the second I got the ball. I counted the seconds till I could go home and play games on the Wii.

Occasionally my dad would watch basketball games, and I’d watch a few minutes with him. The only value I got out of it was attempting to seem cool to my friends by making insightful questions and statements such as, “You see the game last night? I did.”

Even Amar’e’s called-off buzzer beater three against the Celtics didn’t intrigue me at all.

I had a vague understanding about what was going on in basketball through little comments my dad would tell me that I was half-listening to like, “Knicks got Tyson Chandler. They’re making the playoffs this year, which is nice.”

Then one Friday night in 2012, my dad and I were watching the Knicks play the Celtics at home, and everything changed. Well, my dad was watching, my focus was on beating my friend’s high score in Doodle Jump (Sorry, Kevin Durant)

My father’s offseason declaration was wrong: the Knicks were 8-14 as they played Boston that night. They were clearly not making the playoffs. Another lost season.

As we are watching, a player checks into the game that looks unalike any NBA player I had ever seen before.

It’s Jeremy Lin.

My dad gives me a few details on what makes this guy so interesting: he’s the first American of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to play in the NBA. He went to Harvard, known more for their smarts than their sports. Yet here he is in the NBA. He’s getting a chance with the Knicks because practically every point guard on the roster is injured. It would be pretty neat if this guy was good.  

Barely a minute after Lin enters the game, he turns it over. “Wow,” I think to myself, “no wonder this guy hasn’t been playing.” I go back to my iPod Touch. Lin finishes the game 0-3 from the field and the Knicks lose.

The next Friday night, I have a sleepover at my friend’s house. Jeremy Lin has just shocked the world. My friends and I were playing video games. The next morning, we turn on SportsCenter. It’s all about Lin. “Wait a minute! I know this guy, I think,” I boast to my friends.

SportsCenter starts off the show talking about how great Lin was going into the game, leading the Knicks to 3 straight wins while averaging 25 points and 8 assists. They show an interview of Kobe Bryant, one of the few athletes I actually know at the time, being dismissive of Lin. Bryant says he doesn’t know what Lin has done. When he’s asked whether he would choose to guard Lin if he’s having another sublime night, he retorts, “Jesus Christ. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

Finally, SportsCenter gets into the game highlights. Lin bested all-time-great Kobe Bryant, putting up 38 points and dishing out 7 assists en route to the Knicks’ fourth straight win. If Kobe truly didn’t know what Lin had done before, he knew now. After hearing the same SportsCenter story about Lin being looped what felt like 100 times as I waited for my parents to pick me up, I also now knew. I was starting to understand why people like basketball.

My dad bought tickets to next Friday’s game. Linsanity was in full effect, and we had to see it live. The Knicks had won 7 straight–surely this would be an easy win over the 6-23 Hornets. It was not. Lin turned it over nine times. The Knicks shot 4-24 from three and 19-29 on free throws. Perhaps the Knicks were distracted by the Hornets’ wild Mardi Gras jerseys. In the fourth quarter, the Knicks trailed by 12, but cut the lead down to two with five minutes remaining. Down 4 with 40 seconds left, Lin misses on a wild layup attempt. Linsanity is over. When my family stands up to leave, I’m still sitting. I’m nearly in tears. (Ok, I was in tears. That’s not so weird for an 11-year-old is it?)

“We could have won! We should have won!”, I scream.

I was upset over the result of the game, but I was now hooked on basketball. I was enamored by the story of Jeremy Lin, the thrill of the comeback attempt, and the atmosphere of the arena. Lin would go on to get hurt only a few weeks later and miss the rest of the season, but it was not enough to stop my new interest. I watched the rest of the season, exhilarated by our 17-6 record to close out the season, Carmelo Anthony’s game-tying and game-winning shots against the Bulls, Steve Novak and J.R. Smith scorching it from three, and lovable scrubs Josh Harrellson and Jerome Jordan.

When I’d go back to that friend’s house where I saw the SportsCenter report in the future, instead of playing video games, I’d follow the Knicks play-by-play on my phone. They’d play Smash Bros while I’d be astounded by Raymond Felton already having 5 assists when it was only the first quarter, wondering if he could finish with more than 15.

Basketball brings me to tears for the second and only time ever when the Knicks elect to not re-sign Lin in the offseason. I still stood by the Knicks and that next year, I witnessed the best Knicks team I had ever seen play, when they won 54 games in the 2012-13 season. I moved on from Lin, and my new favorite player became 28 year-old rookie Chris Copeland, who similarly beat the odds to make the NBA.

I took an interest in playing basketball as well. The week after the Hornets game, for the first time ever, I took a basketball and went to the park to work on my shot. I knew it would be hard to catch up to the skill level of my friends as they had been taking it seriously longer than me, but that did not dissuade me. If Jeremy Lin could make the NBA, so could I.

I didn’t end up making the NBA, because 6’3” post up centers aren’t a hot commodity at the moment. Though, I did hold my own against new Louisville commit Aidan Igiehon in high school and helped lead my 3-on-3 college rec league team to the playoffs. I no longer have the offensive mindset of Frank Ntilikina. Instead, I have the mentality of Cole Aldrich, if he had a score-first mentality: I shoot nothing but hook shots, nailing them half the time, air-balling them the other half.

Now I’m the one telling my half-interested dad facts about the Knicks, informing my dad on interesting developments such as how undrafted Allonzo Trier might go from not even having a real roster spot to one of the best players on the Knicks.

In 2012, the Knicks piqued my interest and in 2013 they peaked. In 2014, they won 37 games, and they have not hit 35 since. Since that Hornets game, I’ve seen countless more fake-comebacks by the Knicks. When I tell people I’m a Knicks fan, they rightfully laugh.

Now that I have found this team, I’m not going anywhere: I still have hope that one day the Knicks will be as exciting as they were during Linsanity. These struggles the past few seasons will make that day all the more sweeter.

Everything you need to know about the Knicks loss to Miami

KNICKS BLOWN OUT IN MIAMI

After showing effort and resiliency in each game to start the season, the Knicks lost this one in a laugher.

Knicks Fan TV Postgame

GAME NOTES

After losing a string of close games, the Knicks finally “let the rope go,” as Fizdale put it after the game, and ended up losing in a blowout.

Here are the key takeaways from the game:

  • Miami outscored the Knicks 45-20 in the third quarter. They shot 8-10 from three, while the Knicks missed every attempt they took from downtown (0-8) during the third quarter.
  • Damyean Dotson continues to make the most out of his minutes, after starting the season at the end of the bench. He had 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
  • The Knicks bench outscored Miami’s bench 47-24, and yet the team lost by 23 points. Fizdale said after the game that he will not overreact to one game but look at the 5 games and decide if any lineup changes are needed.
  • I thought Enes Kanter had his lowest energy game I’ve seen in a while. Forget the defense, he had trouble pulling down a rebound, finishing with only five.
  • This might have been Trey Burke’s worst game as a Knick. He shot 1-10 from the floor and had an embarrassing moment when he dribbled the air out of the ball on offense, missed, and then didn’t get back on defense, leading to an open Miami three.
  • Hezonja’s defense continues to be an issue. He shot 4-15 from the field, so if he doesn’t provide offense, it’s tough for him out there.
  • On to the Warriors!

Highlights from the game

Postgame Interviews

IN A FEW SENTENCES

Damyean Dotson was the bright spot, with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Hezonja’s defense was less than ideal.

Fizdale said he would evaluate the lineups after tonight’s game.

David Fizdale and Dwyane Wade share a nice moment at the end of the game.

Film Study: Fizdale’s on-the-fly adjustments vs Milwaukee

Zach DiLuzio takes us through some adjustments David Fizdale made in the Bucks game as examples of how the coach is able to read the game on the fly and make the most of his personnel.


Through four games, I am frankly thrilled with the way the Knicks have played in every single contest. The record is irrelevant — I’m pretty sure they went down by 10 in every single one (except the Hawks drubbing, of course), but managed to fight it out until the end every time. No way last year’s team does that, even with Kristaps Porzingis, who is sorely missed.

I unfortunately didn’t have time to review the weekend games (3 games in 4 nights is a lot for me, too), but David Fizdale gave me some real juicy stuff to work with in the Knicks loss to the Bucks, so I’m going to focus on that.

Let’s get to it.

FIZDALES ADJUSTMENTS

David Fizdale made a couple of stellar adjustments on the offensive end in the second half of this game that really showed off an ability to read the game on the fly, take advantage of his personnel, and leverage the versatility of the offensive sets he prefers.

To set the stage, the Knicks were trounced in the first half, on both ends of the floor. Enes Kanter was absolutely shut down by Brook Lopez, who has the heft to keep Kanter off his spots, and the Knicks offense as a whole was sputtering. That changed in the 3rd quarter, when a huge run erased a 19 point halftime deficit. The focus, rightfully, went on Trey Burke. But Fizdale had a huge hand in this as well.

ADJUSTMENT #1

Let’s start with the minor piece of the puzzle; it wasn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the process that matters, not the results.

For this one, we need to focus on Enes Kanter, who couldn’t move Brook Lopez on the low block in the first half. Kanter post ups were going nowhere, and to add insult to injury, they were stagnating the offense as a whole. The very size that allows Lopez to stonewall Kanter, however, also means he is one of the few people in the NBA who may actually be slower than Kanter. So Fizdale took Kanter away from his traditional low block post ups and set him up in the midrange area to face up.

This was the first play they ran after the half:

 

Kanter rarely faces up, but this adjustment makes sense conceptually — if you can’t beat your man with size, beat them with mobility (I know how ridiculous it is to refer to mobility as an asset for Enes Kanter, but this is real!). And it worked, from a process standpoint. In the play above, Lopez couldn’t keep up with Kanter on the one dribble hook, and it gave Enes his only comfortable post up look of the night.

Here, Kanter, uses his speed (!!!) to get around Lopez again, this time to the baseline. He gets blocked, but the process here is still good — Lance Thomas (I know) is wide open at the top of the key, but Kanter doesn’t see him. Enes is not a good passer, so this isn’t expected, but these cracks were not there in the first half.

 

It’s also a smart move to keep Kanter happy — you don’t want him posting up Lopez, but the dude is going to want the ball even if he doesn’t particularly deserve it on a given night. The coaching staff also appeared to make a concerted effort to use Kanter more as a roll man after the break.

It’s also possible that was Trey Burke — not joking. Look how annoyed he gets when Kanter doesn’t roll hard to the rim in this clip (shoutouts to Ashwin Ramnath for pointing that one out during the game). Once Kanter actually rolls, Lopez doesn’t have the foot speed to come out of the paint, and Burke gets to the rim for the traditional 3 point play.

 

These are relatively small things, but it shows me this staff is ready to make even the slightest of adjustments if it gives an advantage.

ADJUSTMENT #2

This is the good one, and it’s another one designed to attack Brook Lopez on the defensive end of the floor.

We’ll have to backtrack for a minute to get to the crux of this. Last week, I broke down the blowout win over the Hawks, and noted that Fizdale’s apparent pet play was a double pindown to the corner, on either side.

 

The Knicks ran this quite a bit in the first half of the Bucks game, but it wasn’t really working that well. That’ll happen. The reason they weren’t working, however, is important.

In this case, the double screens were actually backfiring — Brook Lopez was sagging back, willing to give up any pull up 3’s (or 2’s, of course) in favor of securing the painted area. This is a viable strategy for the Bucks because of the staggering amount of length and athleticism they have on the court at all times.

Watch this clip — Lopez hangs back in the paint as Hardaway comes off the double screens and curls middle, but Middleton, who is actually guarding the ball handler (!!!) still manages to dig down. Hardaway picks up his dribble and hits Frank, who should be wide open… but Middleton manages a decent contest anyway. That’s the luxury of size, length, and athleticism.

 

This type of stuff was keeping the Knicks from exposing Lopez in the first half, and credit the Bucks coaching staff for pulling out the strategy.

But Fizdale had a counter ready.

After the break, the Knicks basically ditched the double pindown they’ve run so often this year. Instead, they switched to a more traditional single screen, which, in effect, forced Brook Lopez into defensive scenarios more reminiscent of traditional pick and roll defense. Brook Lopez does not like defending the pick and roll, because he’s bad at it. The Knicks took advantage.

 

They ran that concept for the majority of the second half. That double pindown I saw so many times in the first 7 halves? I think they ran it one time the rest of the game.

That shows the mindset of the coaching staff entering the second half — if Lopez is going to play, we’re gonna make you pay. There were several other plays designed to exploit Lopez; but unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to really dive in deep. You can watch them yourself below; brief descriptions are included:

Single pindown flowing into pick and roll – this is a standard read for the double screen version of the play. They just pulled one screen out and ran it right at Lopez. Midrange jumper, but you get the Kanter Effect here — the shooter knows the big man has no hope of contesting, so they get perfect rhythm and perfect confidence. See: Khris Middleton draining 3’s in Kanter’s face after a switch:

 

High horns (this is at the end of the first half, but the Knicks had yet to run this play in any previous games) – Hardaway somehow air balls the cleanest look from 3 he’s gotten through 4 games:

 

More high horns – imagine Porzingis in place of Vonleh:

 

Side pick and roll right at Lopez – Ntilikina strings Lopez out on the attempted show and recover, because Lopez is so damn slow. Frank beats the rotation with a nice skip pass, and the possession snowballs into a layup for Hezonja:

 

The Knicks lost, again, but I’m seeing a TON of encouraging signs. Fizdale and his staff have shown an ability to adjust quickly on the fly, and they’ve clearly shown an ability to motivate their players and put them in a position to succeed.

This is a great start. Let’s see if they can keep it up.

Make sure to follow Zach on Twitter for more great insight!

Know Your Opponent: Miami Heat

KNOW YOUR OPPONENT

Get ready for the Knicks next match-up against the Heat.

HEAT LAST GAME

Miami Herald: Here’s why Spoelstra and Fizdale never expected to be on opposite sides of Heat-Knicks.

HEAT NOTES

Injury Report (via RotoWorld)

  • Hassan Whiteside (groin) is expected to play Wednesday.
  • Justise Winslow (hamstring) is probable.
  • Derrick Jones Jr. (foot) was a limited participant at Tuesday’s practice and is questionable.
  • James Johnson (groin) practiced with the team on Tuesday but has been ruled out of Wednesday’s game.
  • Wayne Ellington (left ankle) has been ruled out of Wednesday’s game.

Down to the wire in Miami

  • Miami’s first three games have been decided by a total of just five points after losing by three to Orlando, winning by one vs Washington, and losing by one to Charlotte. The five-point difference is the least amount of difference over the first three games to start a season in Heat franchise history.

Miami has a sellout streak?

  • I wouldn’t have guessed that Miami finished last season selling out every game and has now sold out 379-straight overall games, which includes both the regular season and playoffs, the eighth-longest sellout streak in NBA history

Assist streak

  • Goran Dragic has dished out at least 1 assist in 187 games, fourth longest in franchise history.

Knicks Film Study: Noah Vonleh stands tall vs Giannis and Bucks

Noah Vonleh has been impressive since grabbing the final roster spot on the Knicks. He did a little bit of everything in New York’s loss to Milwaukee, setting screens, rebounding, passing, and most impressively, standing tall against Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Please make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more film breakdowns all season long!

What is a Point Guard, anyway? Dissecting the Frank Ntilikina question

Frank Ntilikina has forced Knicks fans to examine the very idea of a point guard. Maybe we’re thinking too much into it. Jonathan Macri explains.


Ask any basketball fan who came of age during the early to mid-90’s what their earliest image of a point guard was, and the answer should be John Stockton.

It has to be. When you’re a kid just learning about sports, the back of a trading card is your holy grail. Your mind isn’t that well-developed, so when you turned the card around and saw certain numbers in bold, you took notice.

Besides MJ, no one had more bold numbers on the back of their card than Stockton. Not only did he lead the league in assists nine consecutive years (including seven of the top nine seasons in history), but he finished first in steals twice and played the maximum 82 games 16 times. For a few years after Magic and Isiah and before Kidd and the Glove, he was the Point God.

Maybe it’s just my outdated sensibilities, but somewhere deep within the recesses of my brain, when I think of a point guard, I still think of the little white guy in the little white shorts.

On one hand, that notion is silly. Stockton was more athletic than people give him credit for, but he couldn’t hold a candle to what we see today. Forget style or pace of play; the game we’re witnessing is qualitatively different from what we saw twenty or even ten years ago. Three is more than two, and most of the NBA9 seems to have caught on to the basic math2. The game is now played from the inside out, not the other way around, and the best way to assure yourself open looks from distance is by getting the defense to collapse towards the basket, and the best way to do that is by having a guard who can get to the rim at will.

Think back to last season…how many times did we see someone wearing orange and blue sprint from the paint back out towards their man in one of the corners as a guard kicked it out, usually after driving the lane unencumbered? More than we’d like to remember, sadly. Often, the defender didn’t get there in time, and yet another player had availed himself to the most efficient shot in basketball – the short corner three – at the Knicks’ expense. Of course, the alternative isn’t great either: don’t send help, and let the man driving the lane have a relatively easy layup. This is the impossible choice NBA defenses face on a nightly basis.

Back to Stockton. Once upon a time, the things he did better than anyone – find the open man, own the pick and roll, make shots and defend the point of attack – were all that was expected of a point guard. Now, if you’re a lead ball handler who can’t shake the man that’s guarding you and own the paint, the general consensus is that you’re not doing your job. For many fans, Russell Westbrook – the antithesis of Stockton – is the new ideal for what a point guard should be.

If there’s any question about this, just follow the money. Four of the eight highest NBA salaries next year will go to players who finished in the top 15 in drives per game in either of the last two seasons. Two others – Steph Curry and Chris Paul – are guards who’ve proven over the years that they can get to the rim when they need to, and they consistently use their opponents’ fear against them to open up other parts of their games. It drives home the popular notion that if a team doesn’t have one of these lightning bolts, it makes it nearly impossible to put together an offense capable of contending for a title.

This all brings us to the young Knicks Frenchman, eleven in our programs but first in our hearts, Frank Ntilikina. If you put all of the comments on Knicks Twitter into a pie chart, those discussing Frank would represent the daddy-sized piece. He dominates the conversation. Is he or isn’t he a point guard? Does it even matter? Should he get more time on the ball than Trey Burke? Is the team jeopardizing his (and its) long term ceiling by playing him off ball? Does the team need to sign a big-time lead guard at some point? Does Frank realize how much trouble his boyish good looks will get him into in this city3?

Every one of these questions essentially boils down to one basic unknown: are there things Frank can’t do that the Knicks need him to if he’s going to run the offense moving forward?

The organization seems to be asking itself this now, and they hope this season will give them the answer. Following the loss to Brooklyn last week, David Fizdale said that Frank “is going to fill out his role as we play more games. And I’m going to let him tell me what that is.” Translation: everything is still up in the air, but the ball is in Frank’s court.

If this were twenty years ago, it wouldn’t even be a question because Frank would have all the boxes checked. The defense, well…the defense needs little discussion:

Ditto for the passing, which, for a 20-year-old, is damn near elite:

The shooting isn’t there yet, but everyone seems to agree this will come in time. The same goes for his aptitude on the pick and roll. Last season, Ntilikina’s 259 possessions as the P&R ball handler produced an average of 0.67 points. That’s not good, but was right in line with most of his contemporaries4.

More than the numbers, the eye test tells you everything you need to know about Ntilikina’s aptitude with the ball in his hands and a screener who know what the hell he’s doing:

For an in depth view of just how good Ntilikina is on the pick and roll, check out this super detailed film study by our own @FrontOfficeEye. He’s way more advanced than any 20-year-old has a right to be.

And yet, despite all of this, there are questions, largely because so many guys in the league today can just pull this out of their hat when need be:

That’s Dennis Smith Jr., the man some Knick fans will compare Frank to until the day one of them hangs it up. He finished last year 13th in drives per game, and this season sits at 11th, with 14.5 paint forays per contest. Frank, meanwhile, had 4.5 drives per game during his rookie year. Just five years ago – the first year the NBA began keeping track of this data – that would have ranked inside the top 100 league-wide. Last season, it was tied for 144th.

The lack of athleticism needed to attack the basket with abandon was the major knock on Frank throughout the pre-draft process. Have we seen instances of him using deceptive quickness to make his way to the basket? Of course, because he’s smart and crafty, especially for someone his age:

Still, it would be foolish to expect regular rim runs to become a huge part of his game. It will be one of many tools Ntilikina keeps in the garage, but it’s not the oversized hammer others have at their disposal.

Does it make a difference though? The short answer: it depends.

If we go on the premise that an NBA contender needs to have a top-ten offense5, a look back at the top ten offenses from the last few years provide us with some clues.

Over the last five years, according to NBA.com/Stats, 44 of the 50 teams that ranked in the top 10 in offensive rating also had someone on the roster that ranked in the top 30 in drives per game, each totaling at least 10 drives per contest6. The exceptions? Golden State – the greatest shooting team of all time – in each of the last four seasons, and the Denver Nuggets – who might have the most talented passing big man in history by the time all is said and done – in each of the last two.

So yeah, if you want to have an elite offense and you aren’t banking on being a monumental historical outlier, it’s somewhat necessary to have a guy who can get to the rim.

Does that mean Frank is out of luck? Not necessarily, because as much as the data is clear, there are a couple of caveats.

First and foremost, the penetrator on your team doesn’t need to be the point guard, or even the primary ball handler. Of the top offenses over the last five seasons, a few were led in drives by players who played other positions: DaMar DeRozan, Andrew Wiggins, Tyreke Evans, Dwyane Wade and James Harden (pre-2017). There’s no reason someone else on the Knicks can’t pick up the slack7.

Second, we’ve seen nontraditional point guards figure out ways to penetrate the defense on a regular basis before. Prime Tony Parker routinely found himself among the leaders in this category, and while he’s one of the NBA’s all-time great maestros with the ball, he was anything but speedy. Frank’s handle has already come a long way; it’s possible he has another level to get to.

One comp for Frank that hasn’t been talked about much8 is Chauncey Billups. No, the Warriorsation of the league hadn’t yet happened when he was in his prime, but Billups’ Denver offenses ranked seventh and third in the NBA, while his last three Detroit teams ranked seventh, sixth and fourth. If there’s an analog for the effect on an offense that Frank could have, it might be Mr. Big Shot. He didn’t enter the NBA until he was 21, and didn’t come into his own as a point guard until five years after that. As with many young ball handlers, this stuff takes time.

Of course, all the comparisons and analysis in the world can’t provide us with as much information as we’d get if the Knicks just put the ball in Frank’s hands and forced him to run the offense for 25 minutes a night.

Yes, forced. Much has been written about what the Knicks are and aren’t “letting” or “allowing” Ntilikina do when he’s on the floor, but anyone who’s watched the games knows that’s not accurate. There are plenty of possessions where Frank will touch the ball with the opportunity to make something happen, then survey the situation, and finally toss it back from whence it came.

Is that evidence of a passive player? Of someone lacking confidence? Of a player who has unselfishness hardwired into their brain to the detriment of his team? Or is it a 20-year-old learning how to play the toughest position on the court in the hardest league in the world against perhaps the greatest crop of point guards to ever grace the NBA at one time?9

Whichever side of the debate you fall on, what seems foolish is the idea of force-feeding a player who seems to possess a head for the game and knows when he should and shouldn’t push the issue. The numbers aren’t yet there to back it up, but when Ntilikina is running the show, things just seem to be under control. To the extent that any offense with so few reliable options can have a flow to it, when Frank has the ball in his hands, it sure seems to. This, and his seemingly unwavering confidence, might just be his best qualities moving forward.

Maybe, just maybe, all of us should chill out and trust the kid. He sure seems to be wise beyond his years, boyish good looks be damned. There’s a chance he knows exactly what he’s doing after all.

Everything you need to know about the Knicks loss to Milwaukee

KNICKS BATTLE BACK BUT LOSE

Once again, the Knicks showed great heart and resiliency in erasing a 19-point deficit, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a barrage of three-pointers by Khris Middleton.

Knicks Fan TV Postgame

MACRI'S GAME NOTES

The Knicks continued the theme of their early season: coming out a little flat, not letting go of the rope, and then fighting back to make it a game against a more talented team. It ended up being too much Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and a barrage of threes from the Bucks, and the Knicks fell 124-113 in Milwaukee, dropping their record to 1-3.

Here are the key takeaways from the game:

  • Several Knicks had standout performances in the loss, perhaps none more so than Damyean Dotson. After being out of the rotation over the first two games of the season, he scored 14 points in 32 minutes thanks to making 4-of-8 from deep on a shooting stroke that might be the prettiest on the team. Throw in his rebounding (eight boards) and defense (all over the floor), and it’s no surprise that David Fizdale confirmed postgame that Dotson will be a part of the rotation moving forward.
  • Mario Hezonja was key during a few stretches tonight, stabilizing the offense in the first half and hitting several big buckets late. He ended up with 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting, and while he still took a few shots you’d rather not see, he showed why the Knicks were so excited to get him this summer. It was all the more impressive considering he was benched last game for an apparent lack of effort on defense. Said Fiz after the game, “he responded to the last game.”
  • Trey Burke had his best stretch of the season, helping the Knicks rally back from a 19-point halftime deficit with 15 points in the third. He was aggressive looking for his shot, which seems to be when he’s at his best. It helped make up for several instances in the first half where he was beat badly defending the pick and roll.
  • The Knicks slow starts continue to be a concern, something David Fizdale acknowledged postgame, even going so far as to say he’ll consider a starting lineup change after he assesses the tape of the first five games following the trip to Miami on Wednesday. This came after a question about Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh’s impact on the second unit, although it’s unclear what change he might be considering.
  • It’s only four games into a season that will likely contain many other close losses, but so far, the new coach’s attitude remains where you want it: “This is the suffering you must go through to become a good basketball team.”
  • Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to score at a solid rate, netting 24 points on a slightly less than efficient 10-for-23 from the field, including 3-of-9 from deep
  • Frank Ntilikina didn’t have a great box score night, but then again, when does he ever. He did lead the team with 35 minutes and looks calm and composed running the offense for several stretches, including most of the fourth quarter.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like the MVP of the league, getting basically whatever he wanted on the floor throughout the night. No one could stop him, although the continually feisty and effective Noah Vonleh came close a couple times. Khris Middleton should book his tickets to Los Angeles for All-Star weekend now. He missed once from deep tonight, allegedly.

Highlights from the game

Postgame Interviews

IN A FEW SENTENCES

Noah Vonleh was impressive on both ends of the court.

Trey Burke sparked the Knicks comeback with 16 third quarter points.

Damyean Dotson used his newfound minutes and didn’t waste them.

These things seem to happen to Ron Baker.

 

Film Study: Frank Ntilikina’s scoring run vs Brooklyn

@FrontOfficeEye explains how Frank Ntilikina used “pace” to spur his scoring run against Brooklyn.


Frank Ntilikina sparked a Knicks run against Brooklyn with seven consecutive points during the third quarter last Friday. Let’s take a look at how he did it.

But first, something needs to be said about playing with pace. Guys like Jrue Holiday, Shaun Livingston, Chauncey Billups, etc., all played with great pace. They weren’t necessarily blowing past defenders on every possession, but they did a nice job of surveying the court to create good looks.

Frank Ntilikina has shown an ability to play with good pace, helping his pick & roll game. Over the past two years, we have seen him not only get to his spot in PnR, but make proper reads and hit rollers with accurate passes.

Ntilikina can be overly cautions in picking his spots, which is good and bad: it’s good because he doesn’t force things that aren’t there; and bad because it allows the defense to sag off him too often. We saw against Brooklyn how he is starting to take advantage of the defense sagging back.

Below is a thread of videos that showcase Ntilikina’s ability to use pace to his advantage in the pick & roll.

While the Knicks continue to experiment with Frank in different positions, it seems that if they give him enough opportunities in the PnR and let him actually run an offense in the halfcourt, he would thrive.

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