The Emmanuel Mudiay Conundrum

David Fizdale has a soft spot for Emmanuel Mudiay. This much is obvious. Jonathan Macri decided to take a look at just how warranted, or unwarranted, that is, and just how worrisome his affection should be to fans moving forward.

You can’t drink out of it like the Stanley Cup.

You can’t wear it like the Heavyweight Championship Belt.

But make no mistake: the title of Knicks Punching Bag is as esteemed an honor as exists in the world of professional sports. John Starks is the first Knick I can remember holding the title, and he held it with the utmost dignity. He was followed by such luminaries as Chris Childs, Othella Harrington, Tim Thomas, Steve Francis, Jarred Jeffries, Iman Shumpert, Andrea Bargnani, JR Smith, Derrick Rose, and of course most recently by Enes Kanter.

How does one attain this most prestigious of honors?

For one, you can’t hold the title if you outright stink. There has to be at least a segment of the fan base that thinks you’re good, or at least that you hold the faintest potential to be good. Kicking a man when he’s down is only fun if there’s someone there making an effort to drag him out of the mud. Or so I’ve heard.

Second, and most importantly, you can only have one title-holder at a time…but there’s almost always someone wearing the crown. I wasn’t alive in the late 60’s, but I can imagine a young version of my dad watching number one overall pick Bill Bradley as a rookie and shouting obscenities at the television…

Rhodes Scholar my ass! Don’t they teach rebounding at Princeton? Holzman hates Cazzie Russell otherwise he’d be starting. They’re definitely tanking.

I’m not ashamed. We’re New Yorkers. If we’re not complaining about something, we’re either sleeping or dead.

As such, there’s been a bit of a void ever since Kanter moved on. With six weeks remaining in another losing season, it wasn’t going to be long before someone took the baton and ran with it. Following some early jostling for the gig, we have a winner:

Almost from the day he was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay has made his fair share of enemies. Now, with Kanter gone, he’s ascended to his rightful place on the throne.

On one hand, the hate seems a little unfair. Playing on an already terrible team, Emmanuel Mudiay has made the Knicks no more or less  terrible than they otherwise would be.

According to ESPN’s RPM calculation, Mudiay currently sits 59th out of 97 qualified point guards – a stark improvement after finishing dead last and fifth from the bottom the last two years. If we go by the Expected Wins formula on Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks would have two more wins over an 82-game season given Mudiay’s efficiency differential. has his individual net rating at -7.9, which is almost identical to the team’s -7.8 overall number.

To Booty-ay Backers (they’re out there!), this is all evidence of a talented point guard trending in the right direction. They see a shooter who has finally crept above league average, a point guard who takes pretty good care of the ball1, and a unique athlete who can get into the paint using his size against smaller players or his speed against larger ones2. Still days away from his 23rd birthday, supporters see no reason to give up on him yet.

His detractors, well…his detractors see everything else. They see a player who has performed far better against backups than starters3. They see a reversion back to form around the rim 4. They see 3-point accuracy that is only a hair above his dreary career mark5. They see a playmaker who doesn’t make plays for others6. They see someone who gives back as much on one end as he might add on the other7.

In short, they see a player who, even if he continued to make incremental improvements at both ends of the court, probably tops out as a high end backup. Best case, he’s a spot starter who might win you a game every now and then, as he has a few times this year (see: home wins vs Milwaukee and New Orleans and road victories in Memphis and Charlotte stand out).

As a player who the organization has now invested over a year’s worth of development time in, there would seem to be some logic to continuing to play him, if not as a starter, then as a backup to the higher ceiling, cost-controlled Dennis Smith Jr. For others, every minute of court time given to Mudiay amounts to a minute not devoted to a worthier cause. Why is that the case?

The easy answer: “It’s the contract, stupid.”

Yes, as we all know, Emmanuel Mudiay is on an expiring pact – one that carries with it a cap hold that comically outsizes his real life value. What we don’t know is what is going to happen this summer. Once the Knicks renounce Mudiay’s hold (a certainty) and then attempt to sign two max players (less so), they will still have a roster to fill out. In the Knicks’ perfect world, those spots will be commanded by minimum salaried players hoping to go ring-chasing.

Are we positive Mudiay has played himself out of such a menial contract? Don’t be so sure. Last offseason, former sixth overall pick Nerlens Noel signed a minimum salary deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, while former 10th overall pick Elfrid Payton signed for just $3 million in New Orleans. Derrick “Once a Knick, Please God, Make it Stop” Rose had to settle for the minimum in Minnesota. Hell, Noah Vonleh – the ninth selection just four years ago – didn’t even get a fully guaranteed deal.

Of course, if the Knicks strike out, bringing some of the band back on one-year contracts for continuity’s sake wouldn’t be the worst idea either.

So yes, while the contract is one factor, by itself, it’s not the reason Mudiay’s continued playing time has everyone so up in arms. If that were the case, Kadeem Allen – who is four years older than Mudiay and also not signed past this year – would have caused the pitchforks to come out when he was averaging 22 minutes a night before being sent back to Westchester.

No, the fury goes much, much deeper than money. Over the course of this season, Mudiay and his playing time have become nothing short of a referendum on David Fizdale. That conversation inevitably turns into a discussion about what is and isn’t the purpose of this season. It’s all interconnected.

I’ve sung Fizdale’s praises more than is probably deserved and won’t add to them here. It is interesting to note, though, that while opinions on Mudiay really aren’t that divergent – he’s some shade of “meh” any way you cut it – opinions on Fizdale shone through the prism of Mudiay run all the colors of the rainbow.

When looking for reasons why the former Nugget is still playing, the common refrain skews towards the negative: David Fizdale plays Mudiay because he doesn’t care about defense…or analytics…or development. That he cut his teeth in an organization that has been at or near the forefront of all three is conveniently placed aside.

Sometimes, the accusations can get a little uglier than that. Some feel Emmanuel Mudiay has been Fizdale’s personal pet project ever since “we gonna get you right” and that it’s the coach’s ego driving his decision to stick with Mud. Others feel he’s Fiz’s personal tank commander and his PT is simply an easy way to rack up L after L. Some just think he hates Frank Ntilikina…or foreign players in general…or has been given a directive not to prioritize holdovers from the Phil Jackson regime. It’s all been floated.

There are other theories…less devious ones that coincide with Fizdale’s reputation as a coach who gets buy-in from players like no other. Could it be that he feels obliged to support Mudiay, someone who’s diligently if not aptly taken to coaching since the summer? Does he feel that casting off a 22-year old just because he doesn’t neatly fit into the organization’s future plans is not only inherently wrong, but a bad look for a team trying to rebrand itself as someplace players want to come? Does he want to maintain DSJ’s drive and kick style when he goes to his second unit? Might he simply want to stay with the hot hand when it’s warranted, as he did to positive results Tuesday night vs Orlando?

All of these glass-half-full options require looking at a basketball team as a living, breathing organism rather than a balance sheet or a collection of statistics. Is that wise? Or an inherently flawed approach?

As you ponder that, consider the coach’s words after New York’s recent home loss to the Timberwolves – the one that had many fans flummoxed over Emmanuel Mudiay playing the final 17 minutes of the game. Fizdale was asked about divvying up playing time between the kids and the vets. His response8 was instructive:

It depends on how the young guys are messing up. If their mistakes are mistakes that I have to show more discipline about, then the vets are going to play more in that situation.

The question came on the heels of a night where DeAndre Jordan saw 33 minutes to Mitchell Robinson’s 13 – something the coach attributed to Robinson’s lack of focus and inability to stay “locked in.” Did this tough love approach have anything to do with Robinson responding by playing perhaps his best game of the season vs the Spurs? Or was it merely a matter of opportunity thanks to Jordan being out with an injury?

Just like the Mudiay questions, we simply don’t know. In fact, none of the theories about Fizdale’s approach can be confirmed or denied, but their mere existence drives home a salient point: unlike a smoking gun, decision making in a tanking season isn’t definitive evidence of anything. This is “eye of the beholder” at it’s finest. Playing Emmanuel Mudiay proves David Fizdale is an idiot. Or that he’s a genius. Or somewhere in between. It’s up to you to pick which one is true.

In reality, on such a shitty team, there are arguments for and against playing any player, just as there are arguments for playing them four, 14 or 40 minutes a game. Just like the Mudiay discussion, opinions on those arguments are colored by one’s own personal views on development, culture, accountability, tanking, analytics, and a whole host of other team-building tenets that have yet to be settled one way or another.

The best part is that all of this talk is likely meaningless. Golden State is a dynasty neither because nor despite the fact that Dorell Wright averaged more minutes per game than Steph Curry during the future MVP’s sophomore season; they’re a dynasty because Steph Curry became Steph Curry. Nothing in anyone’s control was ever going to change that.

If this summer goes according to plan, the fretting about Emmanuel Mudiay will seem comical in retrospect. There will be no guesswork involved as to whether David Fizdale is doing a good job. The record will speak for itself.

In a season like this one, however, there are no answers, only questions…questions that aren’t likely to be answered until the dust settles in July and the season begin anew in October.

Until then, we’ll have Emmanuel Mudiay to argue about, because we’re New Yorkers, dammit. It’s what we do.

On This Date: Terry Cummings scores 18 to help the Knicks defeat the Bucks

February 26th 1998: Terry Cummings scores 18 to lead the Knicks to victory

With a myriad of injuries in the frontcourt, the Knicks relied on newly acquired Terry Cummings to help propel the Knicks to a 102-90 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Cummings came off the bench to score 18 points in 22 minutes.

The Knicks acquired Cummings, the 1983 NBA Rookie of the Year, from the Philadelphia 76ers for Ron Grandison & Herb Williams.9 Neither player played meaningful minutes for the Knicks before the trade.

With Patrick Ewing sidelined with a broken wrist, the Knicks relied on a diverse group of players to fill his minutes. Chris Dudley was the only traditional center on the roster that received a bulk of the starts. In the instance the team played small, the then-38 year old Buck Williams and Chris Mills received a chunk of minutes.

With Buck Williams sidelined until April due to arthroscopic knee injury, the Knicks acquired Cummings to reinforce the frontcourt depth. While a devastating knee injury zapped Cummings of most of his athleticism and scoring prowess, he could still be relied on for playing adequate defense and making the mid-range jump shot. At 37 years old, he was also another elder statesman in the Knick frontcourt.

After the Indiana Pacers exposed the Knicks’ overall age in the 1998 NBA Playoffs, the team shipping Cummings, along with John Starks and Chris Mills, to the Warriors shortly before the 1998-99 season for Latrell Sprewell.

On This Date: Knicks win Shooting Stars Competition during All Star Weekend

February 25th 2012: Team New York (Allan Houston, Landry Fields, Cappie Pondexter) win the Haier Shooting Stars Competition

As part of the 2012 NBA All Star festivities, the Knicks had a team – Allan Houston, Landry Fields, and New York Liberty player Cappie Pondexter – represented in the Haier Shooting Stars competition (“Team New York”).

The competition consisted of the players making four shots in sequential order in different locations of increased difficulty. The first three shots typically featured a simple bank shot, a shot on the top of the key, and a three point shot. Each player in the team was responsible for making one of the three shots. The final shot was a halfcourt shot in which every player on the team is given the opportunity to make the basket.

The final round consisted of the Knicks squad and the Houston Rockets squad that included Chandler Parsons, Kenny Smith, and Sophia Young of the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars (“Team Texas”). The Rockets took 47.6 seconds to complete the final round. The Knicks reached the half-court shot within 22 seconds. After multiple attempts, Allan Houston finally hit the half-court shot with 37 seconds remaining to win the contest for Team New York.

The Haier Shooting Stars competition lasted until 2016 when the NBA officially retired it from All Star weekend. Fields also participated in the 2012 Rising Stars competition during All Star weekend.

On This Date: Knicks officially buyout Stephon Marbury

February 24th 2009: The Stephon Marbury era officially ends

The New York Knicks finally agreed to a buyout with Stephon Marbury on this date.2 Steph hadn’t played a game for the team since January 2008. He was officially banished from the team early in the 2008-09 season after refusing to enter into the game.

As this was Marbury’s last year of his contract, the Knicks had no urgency to play him major minutes. Both Mike D’Antoni or Donnie Walsh attempted to negotiate a buyout with Marbury earlier in the year. However, conversations stalled after Marbury stormed out a meeting early in December.

The Knicks did give Marbury permission to speak to other teams. Eventually, the Boston Celtics found a need for him after various injuries to their guards. As a result, both parties agreed to a buyout allowing Marbury to join Boston shortly before the March 1st deadline for players to become playoff eligible.

The Knicks are on a winning streak!

You try.

You reallllly, really try not to get ahead of yourself as a Knicks fan.

There’s been so much heartbreak, so much false promise, so many “there’s no way this can go wrong” things that have gone horribly, horribly wrong that you know better. I know better. We all know better.

But dammit if Mitchell Robinson isn’t making every Knicks fan question what they know and don’t know as this season winds down…

Two days after tying his career high with 15 points and setting a career high with 14 rebounds, he topped the points (17) and tied the rebounds – eight of which were off the offensive glass – while adding three steals and a ho hum six blocks.

We are watching a radioactive lump of clay turn into a monster before our very eyes, and it is stunning. As I said on Twitter tonight, I’m not sure what his ceiling is. He was everywhere, and he was as responsible as anyone for a come-from-behind, out of nowhere 108-103 win against a Magic team that came into the night with the best net rating in the league for the month of February.

He didn’t do it alone. Henry Ellenson, who Scott Perry signed off the street a week ago, had 13 points, nine boards and five dimes. The talent that got him drafted as a mid first-rounder was evident, and maybe the Knicks have found themselves another diamond in the rough.

Not to be outdone, Allonzo Trier had 18 points on five, count ’em, five shot attempts. He is the posterboy for efficiency, and yes, he is still a rookie.

Last but not least, everyone’s favorite tank commander Emmanuel Mudiay once again closed out the game. Unlike Sunday night, though, he helped bring this one home. He’s not efficient, doesn’t defend all that well, and has assist numbers that often rival opposing centers, but he seems to have a knack for big moments from time to time. He has had a hand in most of the Knicks big wins this year, and will continue to be a lightning rod for the fanbase. I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Don’t look now folks, but the Knicks might be reaching the “feisty” level of bad.

I’ll take it, happily.

Future Focus, Part II: Mitchell Robinson

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Knicks were MAJOR players. Now that the dust has settled – vets gone, cap space created, draft picks added – we can spend these last few months focused on what was supposed to be our top priority in the first place: YOUTH.

The three months between now and May 14th will feel like years. Losses will be ugly and abundant. Guys we’re counting on to be cornerstones for the future will look horrible at times. But that’s to be expected. With only two guys left over the age of 25, this stretch is about seeing what we have and projecting what they may become.

Part I of this series focused on Frank Ntilikina.  Part II focuses on the most hyped, most improved player on the roster – Mitchell Robinson.  

Patience should work both ways, right?

We shouldn’t get too down on Frank when he struggles, so we also shouldn’t get too worked up over Mitch when he thrives. I know you don’t want me raining on your parade, but it’s only logical to stay even-keeled with raw talent.  We at Knicks Film School live by this code: never get too excited, one way or another…

You know what? F*** it. It’s been a horrific season, 90% of the press has been negative, the weather’s been sh***y like every other winter, so I’m hopping aboard the Mitch Hype Train, transferring to a ferry bound for Mitch Island, and hitting the beach with my rose-colored glasses to drink my Mitch Kool-Aid.   

[Takes sip]

[Takes another]

If you’ve watched him at all, you can’t deny he passes the eye test with flying colors. His gifts literally jump off the screen – the athleticism, the rim-running, the lob-catching, the shot-blocking, the uncanny ability to cover so much ground and close out effectively on jump shooters. It’s all obviously impressive, so you don’t need numbers to know that star potential is there. But just in case…

That’s right – Mitch compares favorably across the board with some of the best defensive-minded, rim-running bigs of recent years, a group that sports both All-NBA and All-Defensive selections, 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards, 3 Rebounding titles, 6 FG% titles, 2 Block titles, and 23 playoff appearances.

View from Mitch Island: Future DPOY and All-Star Mitchell Robinson will anchor a playoff-bound defense as soon as next year.

Oh, I’m getting ahead of myself? [Takes sip] FOH.

Seriously, how am I supposed to temper expectations? He’s suddenly staying out of foul trouble, has risen to 3rd in Blocks per Game despite playing only 18 MPG, is averaging 10.2 points (on 71.4 TS%) and 8.3 rebounds in February, and then his trainer goes and says he can be an “Anthony Davis-type player”?  

Now that’s unreasonable. Even drunk off this Mitch Juice, I’m not crazy enough to make that comp…


He’s a little bit behind AD in scoring, but it’s close enough – 9 Points Per 100 Possessions is the same gap between James Harden and Steph Curry this year.  

[Takes sip]

View from Mitch Island: If AD is to Harden as Mitch is to Steph, then that means…Mitch is a future unanimous MVP who’ll lead us to multiple titles!  

And look at the rest of these numbers: defensive impact is comparable, FG% gap is embarrassing for a certain disgruntled Pelican, and those O and D Ratings! Mitch must have gotten some really good coaching last year in college to be…wait, what? He didn’t play in college?

So you’re telling me that while Anthony Davis was molded at an NBA factory under Coach Cal prior to his rookie year, Mitch was just at home training by himself? And the numbers are this close?

View from Mitch Island: That wing at Springfield that @JCMacriNBA suggested? Won’t be enough. He’s gonna need his own free-standing, three-level museum.  

You doubters thought the All-Star break – and the fact that he was NOT selected to the Rising Stars game – might get us happy citizens of Rob City to calm down a little bit. Well, you were wrong:

We saw him trying to perfect the J pre-draft.  We see the mechanics – not great, but good enough.  We’ve seen the stark rise in FT% to over 69% this month. And now we’ve been blessed with a clip of an effortless three?  

[Refills cup and chugs it]

[Refills again]

I’m trying to wrap my head around this: these former All-Star bigs came into the league with no semblance of a 3-point jump shot and over time developed range? You mean it’s possible for NBA players to add skills they don’t currently have through dedication and hard work? 

Mitch clearly works hard. His sudden significant improvement is evidence enough. If he gets anywhere close to league average…

[Pours Kool-Aid over self, bathing in it]  

View from Mitch Island: With the 36th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks selected Rudy Gobert meets Anthony Davis meets Steph Curry.  

He’s the pegasus…or was it unicorn?  He’s the unicorn everyone’s been talking about, right?

Jokes and hyperbole aside, he’s still super raw. Just like Frank, his future is impossible to project. But think about what your eyes tell you. Think about the improvement you’ve seen on both screen and paper. Think about the developmental paths all bigs mentioned above have taken.

It is entirely reasonable to think that Mitchell Robinson is the steal of the 2018 NBA Draft. It is entirely reasonable to think that surrounded by better players next year, he (and his numbers) will improve significantly. And it is entirely reasonable to think that Steve Mills and Scott Perry may have found a franchise cornerstone with that 36th pick.

View from Mitch Island: Forget reasonable. I’ll be reasonable in July. For now, someone just get me a refill.     

How Dennis Smith Jr. fits with Frank Ntilikina

Coming off the Knicks’ 2016-17 season, one thing was abundantly clear: the team needed a point guard.

The Derrick Rose experiment had profoundly failed, finding new ways to disappoint a fanbase that thought it had seen it all. Brandon Jennings had been waived in February and was slowly making his way to China. Significant back-up minutes were going to rookie Ron Baker. Again, the team needed a point guard.

With their pick in the 2017 draft, the Knicks weren’t just selecting a player; they were seemingly choosing a philosophical direction for the franchise.

By the time they were on the clock, the Knicks essentially had two options – Dennis Smith Jr. or Frank Ntilikina.

The two players didn’t just possess contrasting styles, they were diametrically opposed in every way. They weren’t two sides of the same coin. They were altogether separate currencies.

Ntilikina was steady, deliberate, defensive-minded, team-oriented. His impact was going to be mostly hidden from the box score – lost in translation between your eyes which struggled to see his value and your gut which told you good things happened when he was on the court. His playing style was like coastal erosion, slowly and silently shaping each game’s landscape through persistent energy and effort.

Smith was more like a tidal wave. He was dynamic, aggressive, explosive, prickly and  headstrong. His on-court impact would be more transparent – both his strengths and weaknesses on display for everyone to see. Each gravity-taunting dunk and misguided turnover apt for House of Highlights. When Smith was on the court, there would be no subtlety. You would notice him, for better or worse.

When the team chose Ntilikina over Smith, it signaled to fans that they were now a Serious Franchise. One that ostensibly valued fundamentals and defense over viral highlights and empty-calorie box score stats. It was a serious gamble. Both players had significant upside, but their peaks were on different sides of the world.

The pick was met with polarizing responses from fans and analysts alike. Some were optimistic. Jordan Schultz of Yahoo! Sports gave the pick an A+. Adi Joseph of USA Today Sports gave it an A. The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks graded Frank’s value at a B and his fit in New York an A.

Other journalists felt the Knicks made the wrong choice. Sam Vecenie of the Sporting News wrote, “If the Knicks were set on point guard, I would have gone with Dennis Smith.”

Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp said that it was “inexplicable” for the Knicks to pass on Smith, giving their draft a D+ grade. Wrote Sharp:

“Ntilikina is an interesting prospect but he’s probably a few years away from contributing in a meaningful way. In any case, he’s not Dennis Smith. Knicks fans are understandably bummed and wondering what might have been with one of the most explosive guards in the draft.”

Over the ensuing season and a half, Frank has been one of the most divisive players among Knicks fans in recent memory. His supporters will point to his strong perimeter defense, unselfish playmaking and high motor. His critics will direct you to his historically bad shooting numbers and diffident offensive style.

Meanwhile, Smith didn’t exactly set the world on fire in Dallas, either. His box score stats were more impressive, as expected. But, questions about his attitude, decision-making and defense still lingered. Regardless, there was always going to be a prevailing pang of wistfulness every time Smith did something spectacular. A collective “What if?” feeling among Knicks fans.

Then, something crazy happened.

The Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis for a package that would pair 20-year-old Frank Ntilikina with the 21-year-old Dennis Smith Jr. The trade was so earth-shattering for Knicks fans that it may as well have caused time to loop back and fold over itself, allowing the fanbase to live both realities simultaneously. It’s like if Robert Frost’s traveler went back to that divergence in the woods and was able to walk both roads at the same time. No more What Ifs.

Now, the question is whether either guard will be a part of the Knicks’ core moving forward. Obviously, so much hinges on how free agency shakes out. But, it’s worth examining Smith’s strengths and weaknesses to see how he may fit with Frank if both lottery-pick point guards end up on the roster next season.


Attacking the Rim

The most obvious and tantalizing part of Smith’s game is one that Ntilikina mostly lacks, and that’s his ability to get to the rim. Smith relentlessly puts pressure on the defense, attacking the basket at will. Since becoming a Knick, he has averaged 15.4 drives per game, per, the 10th-most in the league during that eight-game span. In those games he’s taken 46% of his shots at the rim, a number that would rank in the 97th percentile for the season among his position per Cleaning The Glass.

The most impressive aspect of Smith’s forays into the paint is how consistently he beats his man off the dribble, particularly in half-court situations. Watch him create an advantage out of thin air against Bruce Brown, one of the Pistons’ better perimeter defenders:

That first step! He turns the corner so fast, often times the big (Andre Drummond in this case) never has a chance to help. However, if Smith does encounter a body in the restricted area, he has been able to finish through contact:

Per The BBall Index’s proprietary talent grading system, DSJ ranks in the 74th percentile in their Finishing category when compared to the 73 guards with at least 800 minutes. Frank, when compared to that same group, ranks in just the 5th percentile. Ntilikina will certainly improve finishing at the rim as his career progresses, but as it stands today, Smith puts a whole different level of pressure on the rim (and therefore the defense). The attention he draws will help Smith’s teammates get more open looks as well.

Playmaking Vision

It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking DSJ is a shoot-first gunner who doesn’t make his teammates better. Smith is not the archetype of a “pure” point guard, but it would be a mistake to underestimate his passing vision and playmaking ability. The guy is far from a black hole when he takes it to the rim. Per, Smith passes the ball on 47.2% of his drives. That’s the 9th-highest percentage among the 64 players to record at least 400 drives this season. Even more impressive, The BBall Index ranks DSJ in the 97th percentile league-wide in their Playmaking category. Check out this montage of five skip/ cross-court passes:

The thing you’ll notice is how he probes the defense and attracts so much attention with the ball in his hands. He forces opponents to commit and understands how the defense will bend accordingly. Several of those plays were out of the pick-and-roll where he’s been ahead of the learning curve. Before the trade to New York, Smith was posting a league average efficiency on pick-and-rolls including passes, per Synergy. Considering Smith’s age and high-volume usage on pick-and-rolls, the fact that he is already average is extremely promising. In addition to kick-outs, Smith also keeps the bigs fed on lobs and dump-offs. DSJ has recorded 49 assists for the Knicks so far; 10 of those have been on alley-oop dunks (8 to DeAndre and 2 to Mitchell Robinson). But, instead of those highlight-worthy passes, I want to show this pass:

Even though it seems unexceptional, that’s one of my favorite passes Smith has made since the trade because he exploits the space he gets from the defender sagging so far off him. Collin Sexton goes way under the screen then camps in the paint, daring Smith to shoot. Instead, Smith uses that space to probe a little more. He’s patient as he lets Deandre Jordan establish a strong position. Sexton is unable to contest the entry pass because he’s sagging too far off. This is what Smith needs to do more often – make the simple play. Many opponents will not treat him as a threat to shoot, particularly off the dribble. They’ll sag off and try to gum up the spacing. He needs to use that space to his advantage — to see more passing lanes, or to gain steam on drives.

Smith’s playmaking ability is one reason I’m confident that he can play alongside Ntilikina in the backcourt. The last thing we’d want is for Frank’s development to stagnate due to a high-usage, ball-dominant point guard. But, I’m confident that Frank will improve as an off-ball guy, in terms of both his cutting and his catch-and-shoot numbers. Smith has the instincts and ability to find and reward him.

Off-ball Ability

That said, there’s no question that Frank’s peak value would come from playing at least some of his minutes at the point guard position. Having your point guard be able to defend positions 1-3 opens up more opportunities for your team’s defense. Also, to reach his potential at any position, Frank would need to learn to penetrate off the dribble, draw help, and make plays for his teammates. Running the offense would likely force him to develop those skills. So, does pairing Smith with Frank mean that the Knicks’ decision-makers have given up on Frank as a point guard? Not necessarily. Even though Smith hasn’t proven he can stretch defenses with his jump shot, he has shown he can be a legitimate off-ball threat. He’s done so by (what else?) attacking scrambled defenses off the dribble. Here, Kadeem Allen initiates the offense, leading to a Mitchell Robinson dribble hand-off and DSJ runway:

DSJ’s instant chemistry with Kadeem Allen bodes well for his on-court relationship with Ntilikina. In the 41 minutes Allen and Smith have logged together so far, they are a robust +12. This pairing works because Allen takes some of the defensive burden off Smith, while performing some of the perfunctory duties of an offense initiator…two things Frank will be able to handle when he returns from his injury.


Shot Selection/ Decision-making

The numbers will tell you that Smith takes too many long twos, and that’s true. But, even worse has been the timing of those long twos. He’ll take some utter head-scratchers – shots he can get at any time – right at the beginning of the shot clock. I audibly gasped at this one:

There must be an emotional toll those types of shots take on your teammates. I’d imagine they linger in your teammates’ heads and lead them to believe that you take more selfish shots than you actually do.

This next shot isn’t quite gasp-worthy, but it’s another early-clock 20-footer that Smith needs to excise from his game:

Another major area for improvement for Smith is turnovers. In his eight games for New York, statistically he’s been OK in that department, but he really struggled as a rookie (as most rookie point guards do). And, in his first 32 games in Dallas this season, he turned the ball over on 18.7% of his used possessions, worse than 98% of other point guards, per Cleaning The Glass. Knicks fans started to see that side of him when he coughed up the ball five times in 22 minutes against the Timberwolves.

But, if DSJ and Frank take turns running the point, these are areas where the French guard can help Smith improve (or at least save him from himself). If Ntilikina is initiating the offense, Smith won’t be able to forfeit possessions with 20 seconds left on the shot clock or throw the ball away with such reckless abandon. Frank projects to be a more dependable, less turnover-prone lead guard. When he takes the reigns you can expect DSJ to play more of a Monta Ellis or Donovan Mitchell type of role.

Off-ball Defense

On defense is where Frank and DSJ can exist in harmony most clearly. Frank has as much defensive upside as any young guard in the league. He has the perfect combination of instincts, mentality and physical tools. Smith, on the other hand, has frequent lapses of judgement and effort on that end of the floor. Too often he’ll torpedo good defensive possessions just by spacing out and losing track of his man. Watch him for all 16 seconds of this clip and please tweet me if you can figure out what he’s doing:

Who is he guarding? Does he think they’re in a zone? Did it turn into an impromptu zone? I need answers as badly as DSJ needs a backcourt partner who can help cover up his mistakes. He routinely gets caught ball-watching:

He doesn’t just lose sight of his man. He seems to lose consciousness of their very existence. Check out this defensive blunder during a crucial possession in crunch time versus the Toronto Raptors:

Here’s the Knicks’ new reality: they have both Ntilikina and Smith. All the hand-ringing and second-guessing over that 2017 draft pick is moot.

Now, it will be David Fizdale’s responsibility to deploy both players in ways that give them opportunities to be successful. That should not be difficult. In today’s league where playmaking at all five positions is so highly coveted, having two point guards who can also play off the ball should be a boon, not a burden.

On This Date: Knicks acquire Melo

February 22nd 2011: Carmelo Anthony finally traded to the Knicks

In one of the most anticlimactic deals of the 2011 trade deadline, the Knicks finally acquired Melo from the Denver Nuggets in what amounted to be a 3-team trade. The trade is broken down below:

Knicks traded:

Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph, 2012 2nd round pick, 2013 2nd round pick, 2014 1st Round Pick, 2016 1st Round Pick Swap

Knicks acquired:

Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Corey Brewer (later waived), Anthony Carter, Sheldon Williams, 2016 1st round pick swap (Nuggets)

Nuggets traded:

Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Sheldon Williams, 2015 2nd round pick, 2016 1st round pick swap

Nuggets acquired:

Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, 2012 2nd round pick (Knicks), 2013 2nd round pick (Knicks), 2014 1st round pick (Knicks), 2016 1st round pick swap (Knicks), Kosta Koufos

Timberwolves traded:

Corey Brewer, Kosta Koufos

Timberwolves acquired:

Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph, 2015 2nd round pick (Nuggets)

This was a very large trade. After the Knicks lost out on LeBron James in the Summer of 2010, the team faced pressure to find a second star to team up with Amare Stoudemire to compete against the Miami Big 3. The Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony were also looking to separate as well. Melo proclaimed to his close friends, at his wedding, of his intentions to join the Knicks.

Donnie Walsh began engaging the Nuggets on various trade offers early on in the season. He was reluctant to give up significant assets for Melo because he assumed he could sign him outright in free agency. As the season progressed, the Nuggets felt a greater sense of urgency to deal Melo to acquire some long-term assets. Likewise, the Nuggets and Knicks were also aware of the impending lockout.

Melo was particularly interested in going to the Knicks before the lockout in order to lock in guaranteed money through an extension. If Melo waited until after the lockout, his market value could have decreased as well.

Heading into the All-Star Break, both Melo & the Nuggets were motivated to get the deal done. Donnie Walsh was also motivated to get the deal done, but was hesitant in giving up an exorbitant package. Melo eventually met with James Dolan during the All Star weekend to discuss the parameters of a trade. Dolan wanted to get a deal done; he was afraid of not capitalizing on the cap space generated from Donnie Walsh’s moves in the prior two seasons.

The deal finalized on February 22nd and ended up becoming a larger package due to the number of assets transferred between both teams. Melo fulfilled his dream to become a New York Knick.

While the package to acquire Melo was substantial, the trade benefitted the Knicks in the long run. Any trade package for Melo would require trading Gallo, who became a fan favorite in MSG. Both Melo & Gallo had a similar style of play. Additionally, Gallinari had several injury-laden seasons since the trade. Wilson Chandler was a free agent at the end of the season and would have to be included in any deal. Chauncey Billups eventually replaced Felton, who the team re-acquired two years later. The loss of Mozgov stung many Knick fans initially, but Tyson Chandler eventually soothed his departure over time.

The inclusion of multiple picks did sting for the franchise as the team reverted back to their losing ways in 2014. The team could have used those picks to accelerate the rebuild during those seasons. However, sacrificing those picks helped the team acquire Melo and fueled a stretch of three straight seasons in the playoffs during his 6+ year tenure. For a franchise that missed the playoffs in all, but one year since 2002, the fans were hungry to get back and compete with the behemoths in the Eastern Conference. Furthermore, the MSG faithful witnessed history with Melo’s 62 point performance in 2014.

The most controversial aspect of the Melo trade is the assertion that the team should have waited until free agency to acquire him. While that assertion sounds good in theory, it was simply not practical due to the impending lockout and the uncertainty surrounding whether they could make a deal work under the new rules.

February 22nd 2001:  Knicks re-acquire Mark Jackson

The Knicks re-acquired Mark Jackson on this date from the Toronto Raptors, along with Muggsy Bogues, for Chris Childs and a 2002 1st round pick (Kareem Rush). The team desperately needed an upgrade at the PG position and acquired Jackson to help the team get back into the playoffs. Jackson took over the starting PG role through the 2001-02 season before he was shipped to Denver in the Antonio McDyess trade.

Bringing The Brow to Broadway: lottery, odds, Cap analysis and NFL weirdness

In order for Anthony Davis to don the blue and orange, it’s going to take some luck, some patience, and some navigation of the weird obstacles which may arise; hurdles like accidentally winning games, CBA quirks, salary cap restrictions, negotiations with NFL people (?!) or someone the team burned a bridge with…these are all possible challenges.

But Davis might very well be the best player in the NBA over the next four years so let’s try to figure out how likely they are to get him as of today.

Step 1: land the first pick in the draft (~14%) and prepare to negotiate with football people and potential rivals

First off, if the Knicks want AD they probably have to land the first pick in the draft. The Knicks (11-47) stink and don’t appear very interested in changing that. The chances of them winding up with the best possible odds for the top pick seem high. Nate Silver’s website, projects them to be the worst team.

Don’t be fooled. That’s great, partly because of Zion Williamson. As Kevin Durant recently said, “Zion Williamson is a once-in-a-generation athlete.” We can infer that the New Orleans Pelicans may have recently felt the same way. It was reported by Frank Isola that former Pelicans’ GM Dell Demps was interested in negotiating with the Knicks in a trade for AD, but not without knowing what pick they had.

Per The Athletic: 

“According to a source familiar with the talks, Demps was not prepared to trade Davis to New York before knowing where the Knicks will select in the 2019 NBA Draft….

Demps was intrigued by the idea of selecting first and possibly drafting Duke freshman Zion Williamson.”

Now that Dell Demps has been fired this may change things, but it’s unclear exactly how. The Pelicans have a very weird power structure. Not only does the President of Football Operations for the New Orleans Saints, Mickey Loomis, the cities’ football team, have the most significant voice in the Pelicans’ front office, but the team is now looking to replace Demps.

Two names that have come up are David Griffin and Mike Zarren, and Isola speculates both could have reason to prefer working with other teams besides New York; the Knicks considered hiring Griffin once before negotiations reportedly went south, and Zarren is currently Danny Ainge’s second in command in Boston and a life long Celtics fan.

Regardless of who New Orleans settles upon to steer their ship, no other projected player in this year’s draft besides Williamson has truly separated himself from the pack. So keeping in mind that the Celtics are prepared to make an “explosive offer” likely headlined by their 20-year-old phenom Jayson Tatum, New York would need all the fire-power it can muster in order to outbid Boston.

Believe it or not, another reason why it is important to land the top pick for a potential Anthony Davis trade are salary implications. Draft picks are paid on a rookie scale amount with the first pick capable of earning about $3 million more than the 5th pick. This is important (as explained in a bit) in trying to match Davis’ salary in trade (which will be over $27m come July 1st).

Step 2: CBA and salary cap hoops to leap through

Special thanks to resident cap expert Knicks Film School (aka Jeffrey Bellone)

Winning the top pick isn’t likely. Even if the Knicks tank as hard as they can, there is an 86% chance the worst team won’t wind up with the top pick because of the league’s lottery reforms designed to curb tanking.

But even if New York gets the 1st pick, there are still more hurdles to clear. Because of the Rose Rule in the CBA, the Celtics (who have the most trade assets in the league) are not allowed to officially make an offer to New Orleans until July 1st, since they already have Kyrie Irving who signed a particular type of extension. Because of this, it does not make sense for the Pelicans to trade Davis before Boston is allowed to join the fray which would force every team to raise their offers.

The Pelicans not trading Davis this February essentially ensured they will wait until Boston can jump into the bidding waters come July.

If the Knicks want to include their 2019 draft pick in a trade, they have their own timing restriction. A draft pick cannot be traded until 30 days after that player has officially signed. Some fans will remember when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the top pick in the draft in 2014 and selected Andrew Wiggins. Because it often takes several weeks to sort out the details of a player’s contract, which it did in Wiggins’ case, the official trade which sent Kevin Love to Cleveland and Wiggins to Minnesota wasn’t consummated until late August.

Now if the Knicks have a winning bid that the Pelicans love, this logistics of when the deal becomes official might not matter. But it won’t make Steve Mills or Scott Perry feel very comfortable if they agree in principle to a deal in late June or early July but have to wait until late August for it to become official.

It simply gives folks like Danny Ainge, Magic Johnson and the rest of the league more time to increase their bids and try to convince the Pelicans to put an end to a saga that will by then have dragged on for about eight months. Think: we can finish this today on July 2nd, instead of waiting until nearly training camp for the Knicks to get their ducks in a row!

If Anthony Davis is indeed a target for the Knicks in this scenario, it would give New York an incentive to get Williamson under contract as soon as possible. They can offer the max 120% salary eligible to a top overall pick (amounting ~$9.7m in year 1) which carries appeal.

But what if Williamson’s camp happens to prefer New York? After all, he did say it “would be dope” to play with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. He could wait to see what happens in free agency and then exercise what little leverage he has by putting off signing his contract. He could indicate to the Pelicans an unwillingness to play there.

For New Orleans, the specter of a lengthy summer-long trade process for a player who may be less than overjoyed to come could be a deterrent. Conversely, it has been rumored that Jayson Tatum, for example, would not mind being traded to the Pelicans.

Hypothetically though…

Acquiring Zion should carry tremendous appeal for New Orleans. Described by many experts as the top prospect since Davis himself, signing Zion would mitigate some of the sting of losing Davis. Being able to get a player of that caliber under team control for likely 7 years (perhaps two more than Tatum, who will be a 3rd year player next season) after extension, in addition to the slew of young Knicks’ prospects (who’d need to be kicked in just to make the contracts match) should be very tempting. The Knicks could legitimately contend with the best offers from around the league in this scenario, a marvel in itself.

OK hypothetically, if the Knicks win the draft lottery, and if they wanted to trade their pick and if New Orleans prefers their offer to that of 28 other teams how might this shake out?

Just for fun, let’s assume the Knicks will have spent all of their cap-space long before a deal actually takes place. That’s likely if the Knicks win the top pick and are open to trading it. Let’s say they can get Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to join them.

(That’s obviously what’s being discussed here at the All-Star Game right?)

The timing of signing two max players like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is important. The Knicks are projected to have just enough cap space to get a 10+ year veteran max and 7-9 year veteran max under contract. If they were to trade for Anthony Davis before signing these two max players, they would no longer have the requisite space to make the signings.

The reason the Knicks can entertain the idea of adding a player like Davis on top of two max players is because they can trade salary on their books to take back more salary (in this case, 125% of the outgoing salary).

So with Davis due to earn $27 million in 2019, New York would need to send out at least $21.6m in salary. Or another way to look at it: they only have to use $21.6 million in cap space instead of being required to have the full $27 million available if Davis were signing as a free agent or being absorbed into cap space in a trade.

The problem is that since the Knicks have cleared most of their roster to make space to sign two max players, the existing salary on the books available to trade is limited.

However, if they packaged Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., and Kevin Knox together, they would have $13.7 million in aggregate salary. This is where the lottery pick becomes important. The rookie salary for the top pick at 120% of scale is $9.7 million, or just enough to push the Knicks over the $21.6 million threshold needed to make the salaries work in acquiring Davis.

Mitchell Robinson’s salary isn’t quite high enough to swap in for any one of the other young players, although he has played well enough lately it seems likely the Pelicans would insist upon including him as well.

Future draft picks don’t count against the cap next season so you can’t substitute those in for a young player but you can include them as well. To top Boston or Los Angeles or a surprise bidder, the Knicks may also have to include a future draft asset or three, although New York could potentially enjoy more assurances they’d be able to re-sign Davis in 2020 than at least Boston, per reports of Davis’ preferences.

Then New York would be looking at minimum roster charges and a ~$5 million Room Exception to fill out the rest of the roster. They could decide to bring back Allonzo Trier using the Room Exception, and sign Damyean Dotson to a minimum deal similar to what he would be earning if the team just guarantees his contract.

The rest of the roster would be thin, although it wouldn’t be surprising if a core of Durant, Irving, and Davis attracted every cheap, savvy “ring-chasing” veteran in free agency or next winter’s buyout market to help flesh out the team’s depth.

What are the chances?

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 1.14.41 PM

Let’s boil this down to a number.

There’s the great chance the Knicks won’t get the top pick. The slim chance they win the lottery but won’t want to trade it away (maybe Kevin Durant comes and would prefer to play with Zion and all the young guys or maybe he stays in Golden State and the Knicks refuse to part with Zion). There is the solid chance that another team simply blows the Knicks’ offer out of the water and the unknown chance that New Orleans wants a swift resolution that a deal with New York would preclude.

All in all, I’d ballpark the chances of the Knicks trading for Anthony Davis somewhere around 5 to 7 percent as of today.

The odds will probably rocket up towards 40 percent or more if they win the lottery come this May depending on things like how much the Pelicans’ future GM loves Zion, if any other college players step up, what happens in free agency, or a player potentially involved in the trade gets seriously hurt.

It really comes down to the lottery. If the Knicks don’t win the lottery, they probably don’t have the best offer to convince New Orleans to complete a deal. They also would struggle to meet the salary matching requirements if they fall out of the top 2 in the draft.

To win a title in the NBA, you need to hit on some long-shot odds more than once. Having a 14% chance at Zion Williamson, possibly landing guys like Kevin Durant, and then navigating CBA hurdles or negotiating on the phone with some folks who may be more interested in football than hoops… that could be the path to restoring the Knicks to glory.

Imagine? You get to tell your grandkids that Steve Mills made a trade with an NFL team President for Anthony Davis, future Finals MVP of the New York Knicks. 

Having a six or seven percent shot at Anthony Davis is a heck of a lot better odds than fans in say, Charlotte or Detroit will ever have. New York is still a cool city players truly seem to want to play in, and even with lottery reform, it still just might pay big to avoid winning games.

Now they’ll have to keep losing, get lucky, and be patient while jumping over some weird hurdles and parting with all of their young guys to bring The Brow to Broadway by August.

On This Date: Linsanity strikes against the Mavs

February 19th 2012: Linsanity strikes against the Dallas Mavericks in MSG

In one of the final games of the magical Linsanity run, Jeremy Lin scored 28 points and dished 14 assists in a 104-97 nationally televised thriller against the Dallas Mavericks. The Knicks started off the game on a torrid run where the team scored 17 straight points in the 1st quarter. Lin scored 10 of those points as the team took a 32-20 lead. However, the Mavericks bounced back and eventually took a 12 point lead by the 3rd quarter.

The Knicks bounced back with contributions from Lin and tough pressure to cut the deficit to three by the end of the 3rd quarter. In the 4th quarter, the Knicks were able to take the lead with the help of Steve Novak. Novak scored all 14 of his points in the quarter, connecting on 4 threes. By the time Novak hit his fourth trey, the Knicks went up by 6 and he pulled out the “discount double check” in delight of the MSG faithful.

Novak’s run helped fuel Jeremy Lin through the end of the game. After Novak hit the three, Lin hit a dagger 3 over Dirk to push the lead up to 9. Dallas did cut the lead to 3 with less than a minute to go, but a couple key defensive stops resulted in transition buckets for both JR Smith and Tyson Chandler helped seal the victory.

The game marked the NBA return for JR Smith as he flew into Madison Square Garden from China. JR scored 15 points and had 3 threes despite struggling from the field. Unfortunately, this game marked the end of Linsanity as Carmelo Anthony returned shortly after and the team spiraled into a tough losing stretch.

Knicks Film School Podcast: Marcie Trier

Jon and Su York are joined by Marcie Trier, mother of Knicks guard Allonzo Trier, to talk about how she raised a son who grew up to achieve his NBA dream. They also talk about her career and off-court efforts to help those in need. Finally, they discuss the season that Allonzo is having, why he’s already one of the most efficient players on the Knicks, and where he can go from here.

LISTEN:iTunes / Google

Knicks Film School Podcast: Outasight

Jon is joined by Platinum recording artist Outasight. They spend some time on his path he’s taken in the music industry before talking shop on all things Knicks, including the latest rumor that James Dolan may sell the team, what’s going to happen this summer, balancing excitement with reality when evaluating New York’s young talent, and which of the 90’s teams they remember most fondly.

LISTEN:iTunes / Google

On This Date: Nate Robinson wins the 2006 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

February 18th 2006: Nate Robinson wins the 2006 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Nate Robinson made headlines as a rookie during the 2006 All Star Weekend by winning the Slam Dunk Contest over Andre Iguodala in controversial fashion. The dunk contest featured the defending champion Josh Smith, Iggy, Hakim Warrick (of Syracuse fame), and Nate. Nate was obviously the shortest competitor in the contest since Spud Webb won in 1986.2

Iggy and Nate faced off in the finals of the dunk contest. Robinson’s first dunk in the finals was a through-the-legs windmill from an off-the-backboard pass. However, it took Nate more than 3 minutes (a ton of attempts) to actually make the dunk. He received a 44/50 on that attempt. After Iggy scored a perfect score on his first dunk, Nate Rob decided to surprise the crowd by bringing out Spud Webb and dunking over him. This dunk resulted in a perfect score. The final round ended up in a tie score that led to a dunk-off.

During the dunk-off, Nate missed his first 13 attempts and eventually received a 47/50 on the dunk. Iguodala purportedly had a better dunk, but the judges decided to give him a 46/50. As a result, Nate won the dunk contest in controversy as fans of Iguodala accused the judges of rigging the score.

In the aftermath of the dunk contest, a time limit was added so that you had to make your dunk within a certain prescribed amount of time. Despite the change, Nate participated in 3 of the next 4 contests winning both in 2009 and 2010. Just like his records in Summer League, he maintains the All-Time record for most Slam Dunk contest victories with 3.

February 18th 2010: Knicks acquire Tracy McGrady

In the path to potentially acquiring LeBron, the Knicks made another salary cap move by acquiring Tracy McGrady from the Houston Rockets in a three-way deal that sent Larry Hughes to the Sacramento Kings and Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, and the 2012 1st round draft pick to the Houston Rockets. In return, the Knicks also received Sergio Rodriguez from the Kings. The deal was made to clear Jared Jeffries’ contract for the Summer of 2010. In return, the Knicks had to part with both Jordan Hill, their 1st round draft pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, and a 2012 1st round pick that became Royce White.

Hill spent his NBA career as a backup big man on several teams. While the Knicks didn’t necessarily miss him, the team could have drafted other players such as Demar Derozan, Jrue Holiday, or Jeff Teague. Sadly, the team was only one pick away from drafting Stephen Curry.

T-Mac was mostly a relic of his past greatness during his short tenure with the team. Back injuries significantly diminished his potential impact on the team after the trade deadline. His athletic body was instead a lumbering 30 year old that was on his last legs in the NBA. Sergio Rodriguez had a few decent moments as a backup point guard for the team. After the season ended, he departed for Real Madrid. He spent his next 6 seasons with the team. After one year with the Philadelphia 76ers, he joined CSKA Moscow.

February 18th 1984: Bill Bradley’s number retired

The Knicks retired Bill Bradley’s number 24 on his date in a home matchup against the New Jersey Nets. By this time, Bradley was a U.S. Senator for the state of New Jersey and was running a re-election campaign. Bradley won re-election and remained Senator until retiring in 1996.

On This Date: Knicks sign JR Smith

February 17th 2012: Knicks sign JR Smith

Desperate for some offensive firepower off the bench, the Knicks signed JR Smith using a prorated portion of the mini-mid level exception. As his contract expired after the 2010-11 season, JR spent most of the lockout period and the beginning of the season playing in China with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls. He reportedly received more than $3 million playing in China during the lockout. While in China, JR had four 50-point games including a 60 point outburst on February 1, 2012.

JR Smith obviously had ties to the city and organization in various ways. Despite being portrayed as a villain in the infamous Nuggets/Knicks brawl, JR grew up in New Jersey and played High School in Newark, NJ. JR also played with Carmelo Anthony during his stint with the Denver Nuggets. JR’s agent, Leon Rose, was also Carmelo Anthony’s agent and had a multitude of ties within the organization via CAA.

With Melo and Baron Davis still sidelined with injuries, the Knicks lacked shot creators off the bench. JR initially became one of the team’s most dangerous 3-point threats off the bench. JR initially struggled at the outset, but picked up his production near the end of the season which coincided with Mike Woodson taking over the head coaching duties. He received more minutes during the 2012 playoffs due to injuries in the guard rotation, but significantly struggled from the offensive end.

JR eventually stayed with the Knicks until midway through the 2014-15 season. JR won the 6th man of the year award after the 2012-13 season. Unfortunately, erratic shooting and on and off-court antics plagued JR’s tenure, and overall career, with the Knicks.

On This Date: David Lee wins Rookie-Sophomore Game MVP

February 16th 2007: David Lee wins the NBA Rookie-Sophomore All Star Game MVP

In one of the more prouder moments in Knicks Rookie-Sophomore Game history, David Lee earned MVP honors after scoring 30 points on 14-14 shooting from the field and grabbing 11 rebounds.

Lee dazzled the crowd his his ability to score off the pick-and-roll. The pick-and-roll buckets eventually became a household staple during his NBA career. He also had a lot of breakaway dunks in this one. The dunks were of no surprise to fans of his, especially those who remember his talents winning the 2001 McDonald’s All American Slam Dunk Contest.

Lee average a double double off the bench during his sophomore season. He later blossomed under Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced system which allowed him to receive an $80 million contract from the Golden State Warriors.

Mitchell Robinson is just getting started

Remember Little Shop of Horrors?

The horror/sci-fi/rom-com/musical period piece from 1986? The description says all you need to know. It should have been too audacious to work, except for the fact that it was so audacious, it worked perfectly. I mean, Rick F’ing Moranis plays the lead, opposite a giant, man-eating plant voiced by the lead singer from the Four Tops. That about says it all.

I thought of the movie recently when I was trying to find a parallel to the season Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson is having. During New York’s just-ended 18-game losing streak, I found myself thinking of Robinson a lot. As other young players on the roster had positive moments here and there, it seemed like every minute Mitch was in the game, he was doing something good. He was routinely – and quite loudly – announcing his presence on the court in a way that made his emergence as a two-way force seem almost obvious.

Less obvious is why LSOH is the perfect avatar for this precocious wunderkind. Like Robinson, LSOH was and is something we’ve never seen before…a movie that throws a bunch of shit against the wall and yet somehow creates a masterpiece.

Mitch, meanwhile, already has a special place among the NBA lexicon because he still hasn’t met a block he doesn’t like. At the rim, midrange, behind the arc, centers, wings, ball handlers, late clock, early clock, stars, nobodies…it’s all the same to him. Jumping at such a variety of attempts should result in disaster, but just like the movie, it hasn’t.

The nature of the rejections or the rate at which they are coming – he’s leading the league in blocks per 36 minutes among guys who’ve played at least 500 minutes – are not the reasons why I thought of the movie though.

No, the reason why LSOH is being remade as the 2018-19 Knicks season2 is because like the true star of the movie, Mitchell Robinson’s game keeps growing…and growing…and growing some more, with no end in sight. Even better, it’s getting nastier by the day. He is becoming a monster before our very eyes…one that deems your shit to be unworthy, and he will vanquish it accordingly.

On the surface, he might look like the same player as he was in October. In fact, when I sent out a recent tweet suggesting he had grown by leaps and bounds since Vegas Summer League, a few people responded that, no, this was essentially the same guy.

Let’s quickly dispel with that notion. If your memory of last summer’s fake games is fuzzy, refresh it with Zach Diluzio’s phenomenal piece on the subject. He details how, despite the obvious talent, Mitch struggled in several aspects of the game, including but not limited to screen-setting, footwork on closeouts, positioning, and general fundamentals. It’s why, like Zach, I though he was destined to spend a good portion of the season in the G-League.

Hey, guess what has two thumbs and shouldn’t make predictions!

When the real games started in October, not only was Mitch getting playing time with the big club, but he looked downright competent in the process. That was impressive in and of itself. What he’s done in the four short months since then is downright astounding.

Let’s start with the foul issues, Robinson’s most glaring bugaboo. Following an initial feeling-out process in October, in 15 November games, Robinson averaged 7.6 fouls per 36 minutes. Among 280 players to see the court for at least 250 minutes that month, that figure was dead last2.

It wasn’t hard to see why either. Mitch left his feet when the shooter so much as thought about pump-faking. The results spoke for themselves.

Since November, Robinson has steadily decreased his hackin’n whackin, dropping to 6.7 fouls per 36 minutes in December, 5.8 in November and just 4.3 so far this month. That it hasn’t hurt his ability to be a human Magic Eraser3 one bit makes it all the more impressive. On the year, opponents are converting 4.9 percent fewer shots when guarded by Robinson. That’s among the league leaders for high volume defenders and is just ahead of his more ballyhooed classmate, Jaren Jackson Jr.

Overall, the effect that Big Meech4 has had on the team’s defense has improved as well. For the months of November, December and January, the Knicks gave up between 109.7 and 110.9 points per 100 possessions when Mitch manned the middle. So far this month though, that number is an even 100.0. For the season, New York has a 107.8 defensive rating when Robinson plays, which would rank ninth in the league and is nearly five points better than their actual number.

Aside from his penchant for fouling, the other major knock on Mitch’s game early on was that he didn’t rebound the ball like a seven-footer with his leaping ability had any right to. Prior to the ankle injury that kept him sidelined for a month between December and January, Robinson’s total rebound percentage was a paltry 10.7 percent, which ranked 78th out of 91 centers through the end of 2018. Since the new year started, that’s bumped up all the way up to 15.3 percent. At 37th out of 86 centers during that time, it’s far from elite but is more than respectable. His 14.1 rebounds per 36 minutes since the calendar flipped to February – higher than Joel Embiid during that short span – means the best may be yet to come.

There are other small signs around the periphery as well. While all of the attention has been on how much less he’s fouling, Robinson is also drawing fouls at a greater rate. Pre-December injury, he was getting to the line just over once per game. Since coming back, that number has more than doubled. His shooting from the field has also reached astronomical levels. Since January 1, of the 309 players averaging at least 15 minutes per game, his 76.4 effective field goal percentage is second in the league.

Again: dude didn’t play basketball for a year.

Are there still things to work on? Of course. For starters, he’s still averaging a hair under 18 minutes per game. The reason he’s not on the court more despite the gaudy numbers is because it would disrupt the tank his conditioning is still a work in progress (although six of his top 11 minutes totals have come since January 27). He also hasn’t shown the propensity to shoot, like, at all. For the season, he’s taken exactly three shots outside of five feet from the basket. His trainer Marcell Scott has already spoken about upping that number.

So yeah…New York has itself a legit, honest to goodness prodigy on their hands. That news is both good and potentially incredibly complicating.

Whether or not Knicks fans want to hear this, the team is absolutely going to put itself in the running for Mitch’s summer workout buddy, Anthony Davis. The Pelicans, justifiably, are going to ask for the moon. I’m not going to get into whether it’s the right move to clear out the cupboard for a 26-year-old generational talent entering his walk year, because considering the ramifications that it could have on free agency this summer, that’s an article unto itself. What’s notable here, though, is that there’s one very important thing that could wind up keeping Mitchell Robinson in orange and blue even if the Knicks go out and get themselves a Brow: money.

If the Knicks want to retain enough cap space to add two maximum salary players5

Here’s where things gets tricky: Anthony Davis makes $27,093,019 next season. Due to the NBA’s salary matching rules, the Knicks would need to send out at least $21,674,415 in any trade. The numbers get tight here, and where New York ends up selecting in the draft could play a large role as the 5th pick makes almost $3 million less than the first pick.

Regardless, this much is clear: the Knicks will need to send out their own 2019 draftee and Kevin Knox, along with Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina in order to have any chance of the money working out for Davis[footnote]again, assuming they’ve spent all their cap space on two max players. Mitchell Robinson makes so much less than those players ($1.5 million next season) that his salary won’t tip the scales one way or another.

So what does that mean for Robinson? Maybe nothing. For as amazing as he is, is Mitch really going to be the deal breaker in getting AD, especially when acquiring Davis in principle before free agency begins could seal the deal for KD and a super friend? Probably not, but the point should still be made: should the Knicks brass take a hard line stance that New Orleans has to leave them with one of their kiddos, because of how little he makes, the default kiddo in that scenario almost has to be Mitchell Robinson.

This, of course, is getting wildly ahead of ourselves. If the Knicks find themselves in a place where they even need to have these conversations means a) the summer has gone exactly as planned and b) Robinson continues to progress at a rapid rate. For as crazy as the first part seems, the latter now appears more likely than not.

In a horror movie of a season for fans everywhere, that alone is something to be excited about.

On This Date: Knicks acquire Tim Thomas

February 15th 2004: Knicks acquire Tim Thomas & Nazr Mohammed 

Isiah Thomas decided to make some noise during All Star Weekend, despite having no All Stars, by acquiring Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed in a three-way trade with the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks. The Knicks sent Keith Van Horn to the Milwaukee Bucks and Michael Doleac and a 2005 2nd round pick (Ronny Turiaf) to the Hawks. The deal was one of the final steps in unwinding the Scott Layden era.

Isiah Thomas publicly admitted in looking for players who were young, athletic, and exciting for fans. Thomas, then 26, originally hailed from Paterson, NJ and was an athletic wing that Isiah believed could blossom in New York. Mohammed, then 26, was more of an offensive threat that could complement Dikembe Mutombo in the center rotation.

Keith Van Horn never fully meshed during his short tenure in New York. Additionally, he had a long brewing feud with Stephon Marbury dating back to their days with the New Jersey Nets. Michael Doleac was just an adequate backup center during his 1+ years with the team.

Unfortunately, neither player had a long future with the team. Tim Thomas’ two years with the Knicks were largely forgettable outside of the “fugazy” moment during the 2004 NBA Playoffs against Kenyon Martin and a slick pass he received from Stephon Marbury:

Thomas was later dealt to the Bulls in the Eddy Curry trade and re-acquired for a short period in the 2008-09 season.

Nazr Mohammed was a serviceable starting center for the team before being dealt to the San Antonio Spurs for Malik Rose and two 1st round picks that turned out to become David Lee and Mardy Collins. Ironically, Mardy Collins was dealt in the 2008-09 season in the deal to re-acquire Tim Thomas.

Knicks Film School Podcast: Knicks WIN! Special Valentine’s Day Edition

Jon recaps the Knicks latest los- WHAT?!?! They won? Woo Hoo! The celebration carries over into the rest of the Macri household as Jon’s wife joins the pod to talk about being married to a crazy person, what this year has been like, and what she think’s of this year’s squad.

LISTEN:iTunes / Google

Focusing on the Youth, Part 1: Frank Ntilikina

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Knicks were MAJOR players. Now that the dust has settled – vets gone, cap space created, draft picks added – we can spend these last few months focused on what was supposed to be our top priority in the first place:  YOUTH.

The three months between now and May 14th will feel like years. Losses will be ugly and abundant. Guys we’re counting on to be cornerstones for the future will look horrible at times. But that’s to be expected.  With only two guys left over the age of 25, this stretch is about seeing what we have and projecting what may be. 

Part I of this series focuses on who else but FRANK NTILIKINA.

If you favor ball-dominant scoring point guards – like the NBA in 2019 seems to do – no amount of patience will bring you around to Frank’s side. But you know what
is on his side? Time. The kid is 20 years old.  

I’ve never spoken to Scott Perry or Steve Mills, but I imagine the main reason they’ve rebuffed interest in Ntilikina during each of the past two deadlines is because he possesses things you simply can’t teach: elite size / length for his position; an IQ beyond his years; deceptively effective quickness and athleticism (just ask Rudy Gobert); and 1st Team All-Defense potential.  

Yet despite all that, he’s one of the most polarizing young players in the league, mainly because of who the Knicks passed over to take him and how those peers have performed in comparison. He simply hasn’t figured it out yet. 

And honestly, I don’t care. The kid is 20 years old. He can still fulfill any destiny. He can become the All-Star that many projected before the draft (highest All-Star odds of any player in his class according to ESPN Draft experts); he can be a solid starter for 12-15 years; he can become an important rotational piece off the bench. But I don’t see any possibility for “bust,” because even if he never lives up to his draft position, whatever he becomes is something the Knicks need.

No way he’ll ever be an All-Star. Look at those numbers. We’d have seen signs by now.

Yeah, you’re probably right. No one ever performs this poorly, especially shooting the ball, and then develops into an All-Star caliber player…

Ideally, this chart would show what each future All-Star was doing at 20. Problem is, most of them weren’t in the league yet. Kyle Lowry is the only 20-year-old on the list. Everyone else is at least 21.

Now this group was not compiled based on similar physical profiles or styles of play; it’s merely to show that for some guys, it takes time. Rondo shot 21% from three as a rookie and somehow figured out a way to survive and thrive throughout his career as a non-shooter. Kemba shot worse as a 21-year-old than Frank at 19, and yet he’s become one of the most lethal scorers in the League, dropping 60 point earlier this season. Even guys reputed as shooters – Billups, Mo Williams – struggled to do what would eventually become their bread-and-butter. Billups was jettisoned 50 games into his rookie year (again, as a 21-year-old) because the results weren’t immediate.    

In fact, four of the six players above went on to become All-Stars after being discarded by their original teams.  What’d I say the key word was?

You’re out of your mind.  The guy will be back in France in three years.

I’ll concede that I don’t expect him to ever represent the Knicks or any other team in February’s scoring bonanza, but you’re missing the point if you think you can declare any definitive outcome for Ntilikina.


And frankly, he doesn’t need to be an All-Star. The Knicks don’t need that either. All they (and we as fans) really need is for him to grow into himself, do what he does best, and fill a role on what will soon be a totally revamped roster. Maybe in a year or two, we’re talking about him as one of the NBA’s bright up-and-comers at the position:

Is it crazy to think he could one day produce like Spencer Dinwiddie has this year?  Or like Terry Rozier does whenever Kyrie is out? The Utah Jazz refused to include Dante Exum in trade offers for MIKE CONLEY…is it crazy to think that Frank could one day have that value for us?  

(By the way, those numbers above – that’s through Dinwiddie and Rozier’s Age-22 seasons.  Exum, 21. Have I mentioned Frank is still 20?)

I don’t know what his destiny is. I don’t know if he has multiple 6th Man of the Year awards in his future, or if he’ll set the single-game assists record, or back up an MVP so well that the team barely misses a beat when he’s in. I don’t know if he’ll ever be the heart-and-soul of a contender like Smart, or a steadying offensive maestro like Rubio. I don’t know if he’ll ever be prime Derek Harper (17+ PPG in six consecutive seasons) or the Derek Harper whose 9 points and 4 assists per game helped us reach Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

And you don’t either. That’s the point. Frank Ntilikina is currently the 19th-youngest in a league that has about 450 players. He plays on the youngest team in the league for a head coach that, as of February 12th, still hasn’t coached the equivalent of two full seasons. The circumstances are not ideal and the numbers are cringe-worthy, but stop worrying about that stuff. Especially the percentages. Sometimes when you play the hardest position in basketball and you’re trying to learn to read the game and adjust to the speed and physicality of NBA competition, you miss some shots. He, like most of these guys, will figure it out one way or another. As a fan in a lost season, instead of checking box scores or living and dying with every make and miss, focus instead on the following post-All Star break:

  • Is he attacking the basket like he’d been before his injury?  
  • Is he taking open jumpers, or is he hesitating?
  • Is he creating shots for himself?
  • Is the quality of his defense back to last year’s elite level?  

Kyle Lowry didn’t hit 30 minutes or double-digit points per game until his Age-24 season. Dragic didn’t crack 20 MPG until Age 25. Kemba didn’t become a plus three-point shooter until the same age. Frank Ntilikina is not a lost cause. The potential is undeniable, and the precedent – overcoming young struggles to lead successful careers – is firmly established.

How successful will he be? Only time will tell. But whether his destiny is well-rounded DPOY like Alvin Robertson or underappreciated-in-the-shadow-of-stars a la Ron Harper or Derek Fisher (or more recently, Shaun Livingston), we should value what he brings. So over these final 26, let’s ignore the numbers. Let’s pay more attention to his mindset, to the way he plays and the intangibles he possesses. And instead of stressing about what he isn’t, let’s focus instead on the possibilities.  

After all, he’s only 20.  

Grading each aspect of Kevin Knox’ game at the All-Star Break

This is a season of development for the Knicks. We always knew it would be.

Things have gone as planned (well, sort of). The Knicks are in control of the top slot in the lottery, and the young guns have almost completely overtaken the rotation. Potential pieces for the future are getting plenty of burn in featured roles, shaking off the rookie rust early in their careers to hopefully set the tone for second and third year leaps going forward.

At the forefront of this movement has been the man selected with the ninth pick in the 2018 Draft, Kentucky product Kevin Knox.

Knox was always going to be a bit of a project. He brought tantalizing physical tools and flashes of greatness to the table, but it was expected that Knox would most likely not be an instant-impact rookie. His ceiling is among the best of his class, but it always seemed that some very rocky bumps were going to be there on the way to reaching that peak.

Fortunately for the Knicks, this season was perfectly constructed to accommodate players of that ilk.

After all, according to my research, Knox is still only the ripe age of 19. The man (is he actually a “man” yet?) has plenty of time.

With that said, as the team prepares for the (much-needed) All-Star break, I thought now would be a good time to evaluate the youngling’s progress. Forty-nine games into his professional career, let’s take a look at Kevin Knox’s performance in each area of the game, and grade each accordingly.


Knox’s shooting has not been atrocious by any means, but he definitely has a ways to go. On the plus side, Knox has been decent enough to where you can reasonably expect a future jump. Paul George shot at a 30% clip from three as a rookie. LeBron James connected on 29%. Since then, they’ve shot 39% and 35%, respectively, over the rest of their careers.

Post-rookie year leaps happen all of the time. It’s normal for a rookie to struggle with his shot. Knox has hit 33.6% of his threes so far, a below-average, but respectable enough number.

Since 2009-10, 61 rookies have attempted at least 3.0 three point attempts per game (minimum 40 games played). Knox checks in at 41st in 3P% among those names. Here is a look at the region around him:

There are some names in this bottom half that give you some confidence, such as Kemba Walker, Jamal Murray, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, and Knick villain Kristaps Porzingis. However, there is a far greater number of busts in this group. Knox could stand to raise his clip just a few points by the end of the season to inch closer to the top of this list, where a high frequency of future stars reside.

Knox has also hit 72.4% of his free throws. Again, it’s not terrible, but it is below league average. That number would place Knox at 49th out of the 61 player group referenced above. There isn’t a single player with an All-Star appearance below Knox (though Luka Doncic is at 72.2%).

Knox has a very pretty shot. He gets good lift and has a nice stroke. With better shot selection and more mental reps, he could definitely become a very good shooter. So far, the results have not been very good, but they have not been catastrophic. Hope is without a doubt alive and well. I think he can certainly get there in time.

Some strides over the final few months would be wonderful to see. Knox was catching fire in December, but has clearly been looking more and more fatigued since the calendar flipped. The All-Star Break should work wonders for him.


Knox is averaging 12.6 points per game and 15.9 points per 36 minutes.

He’s improved from the early portions of the season, where he was posting consistent numbers in the single digits.

While the efficiency hasn’t yet been there (.434 eFG%, .469 TS%), Knox has been aggressive looking for his shot. I think that’s great for him. Mental reps are huge in the NBA for a young player getting accustomed to completely new circumstances and competition. Knox will enter his second season with a lion’s share of tape to look back at and learn from.

Among the 189 rookies to play at least 1000 minutes since 2009-10, Knox currently sits at a healthy 49th in points per 36 minutes.

There are some very impressive names in Knox’s region. As mentioned, Knox currently owns an average of 15.9 points per 36 minutes. Jayson Tatum is at 38th (16.4), Bradley Beal is at 41st (16.1), Kemba Walker is at 44th (16.1), Victor Oladipo is at 46th (15.9), and John Wall is at 54th (15.6).

Knox ranks even more highly when it comes to aggressiveness. He sits at 22nd in field goal attempts per 36, with 15.4. He sits directly behind Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma and ahead of Lauri Markkanen and Kemba Walker.

Among the top 40 names in FGA/36, only five have shot below 40% from the field: Knox, Walker, Dennis Smith, Trey Burke, and Emmanuel Mudiay.

As discussed earlier, a surge in efficiency over the final stretch would go a long way for improving the outlook of Knox’s future odds of success based on past results. With that said, it’s great he has alleviated any concerns regarding complacency as a scorer. He’s going to look for his buckets. That much we know.


Knox is averaging 4.2 rebounds per game and 5.3 rebounds per 36 minutes.

How does that stack up among rookies at his size? Let’s compare the 6’9, 215-pound Knox to fellow rookies in the height range of 6’8 to 6’10.

Since 2009-10, of the 99 rookies in that height range to play at least 500 minutes, Knox ranks 78th in rebounds per 36 minutes.

Among 19-year old rookies, only Brandon Ingram and Andrew Wiggins trail Knox.

Certainly, rebounding was not expected to be a major part of Knox’s game. He currently carries a slender 215-pound frame, and of course, is over a year away from legal drinking age.

Knox could certainly improve his rebounding from where it is. However, rebounding doesn’t seem to be a skill that improves with age. Most players remain steady in that category throughout their careers.

I don’t think Knox’s rebounding number is terrible. If he can carry it with him throughout his career, it should plenty acceptable alongside improved scoring. Still, he could stand to make improving his play on the glass a point of emphasis in the offseason.


Nobody really expects Knox to be a passer, but he has still left a lot to be desired in this area.

Knox is averaging 1.0 assist per game and 1.2 assists per 36 minutes.

Among the 180 players to play at least 1000 minutes this season, Knox is 176th in AST/36, ahead of only JaVale McGee, Hassan Whiteside, Jerami Grant, and Gerald Green.

Touching the ball as frequently as he does (Knox’s 22.2% USG% is 6th among the 24 rookies with at least 500 minutes played), it’s fair to expect a little more playmaking propensity from Knox. He can tend to be far too aggressive looking for his shot, leading to wild basketball. Over-aggressiveness will lead to too many contested looks, missed open teammates, and late passes resulting in a turnover among other catastrophes.

Knox has averaged 24.8 passes per game in 28.5 minutes. Among the 13 Knicks to appear in at least 25 games this season, only Mitchell Robinson has made fewer passes per minute.

His few passes haven’t been very productive, either. Only 3.9% of Knox’s passes have resulted in an assist, 14th-lowest rate in the league.

Specifically, Knox has been too shot-happy when driving to the hoop. Among the 127 players to drive at least 200 times so far this season, Knox has passed on the lowest percentage of his drives, at only 10.8% (24 out of 223). The average number in that group is about 40%, while the league leader, Ryan Arcidiacono, has passed out of 64.0% of his drives.

In turn, Knox’s drives have not been very productive. On those plays, he has shot only 39.7% (13th worst), turned the ball over 8.5% of the time (26th worst), and committed an offensive foul 13.0% of the time (4th worst).

Like the rebounding category, passing is not necessarily a core skill Knox was drafted to bring to the table, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an area he should try to improve in.

Anthony Davis also averaged only 1.2 assists per 36 as a rookie. This season, he is averaging 4.3. Kawhi Leonard averaged only 1.6, but has been above 3.5 in each of the last three seasons. Paul George averaged 1.8 and now has a career 3.5 average.

Hopefully, Knox’s distributing ability will improve as the game slows down for him.

You can liken it to a running quarterback in the NFL who always looks for his first. It may be sexy for a QB to post 50 rushing yards per game, but what if for every 50 yards he gains on the ground, he is passing up on 100 potential yards through the air?

For every contested shot an aggressive scorer like Knox takes, there is most likely a higher efficiency opportunity available for someone else on the court.

An elite quarterback doesn’t look to run first, but he also doesn’t ignore the option completely. He knows when the run is the highest upside play and takes it then and only then.

Basketball follows the same concept. Great players know how to balance scoring and distributing to maximize every possession.

The more refined Knox becomes as he matures, the more often we should see him make the smartest play, be it a smarter shot or the smart pass.


Via, Knox’s 114.2 defensive rating is 20th out of the 21 players to take the court for the team, better than only Tim Hardaway Jr. The Knicks have been 6.3 points better defensively per 100 possessions with Knox off the court versus when he has been on.

I remember reading and watching scouting reports on Knox extensively after the Knicks drafted him. The common consensus seemed to be in line with just about every other aspect of Knox’s game. While his physical profile gave him a tantalizing ceiling as a defender, he had a lot to work on fundamentally.

On the ball, Knox’s defense hasn’t been too shabby. Via, Knox has allowed a FG% to his matchups 0.1% lower than expectation, sixth-best among regular Knicks.

On three-point attempts, Knox has dipped opponent shooting by a very strong 3.8%, allowing only 32.5% shooting.

From watching Knox, his problems have mostly been off the ball and down low. Of course, he has struggled with guarding bigger 3s and 4s early in his career with his lack of size.

Away from the play, Knox tends to get lost and lose his man, a common issue for young players and one that was present for him at Kentucky.

Knox’s defensive upside was probably the number two trait behind his scoring upside that made him a top-ten pick. He has the tools to be a very useful multi-position defender.

But we’ll ask the same question regarding his defense that we’ve been asking regarding every other aspect of his game – can he make the necessary strides to fulfill his sky-high potential?

Don’t quit on these Knicks

Dear Knicks fans,

To say the past few weeks have been crazy would be an understatement. While we were focused on the murmurs around Anthony Davis, the Knicks front office pulled off one of the most polarizing trades in franchise history. To the surprise of most (outside of Steve Mills, Scott Perry & maybe the club medical staff), Kristaps Porzingis is gone. Done. Cancelled in New York.

The temperamental Latvian phenom went from unicorn savior to public enemy number one in a matter of hours. There are a lot of facts swirling about the whos, whats, whens and whys, but I’m not here to dive down that rabbit hole. As the dust settles and New York continues on in its rebuild, separating fact from emotion paints a very different picture for the future of our franchise.

Without the need to slander anyone or trade insults, I want to have an honest talk about Kristaps Porzingis. His skillset can’t be ignored. A 7-foot player who can shoot the three and block shots is ridiculous…on paper. When he was drafted in 2015, Kristaps’ skillset was relatively unheard of…until Steph Curry officially broke basketball. The league has been moving in the direction of perimeter scoring ever since.

KP was essentially the first of his kind (a big man who was a modern perimeter scorer) and the city, hungry for something good…anything good…celebrated him like he was the second coming of Patrick Ewing.

Can we agree that in hindsight this was definitely an overreaction?

Porzingis remains unique as a 7’3″ big man who can both block shots and score like a guard; but his scoring ability, alone, is not as unique as it once was with the rest of the league catching up to the modern style of the NBA. Every functional big man from Brook Lopez to Marc Gasol can shoot the long ball now. Spacing has become more important than ever, and as always, players continue to evolve. Let’s not forget the Lauri Markkanen once set a Bulls franchise record for threes against us. Sigh. The life of a Knicks fan is tough, but I digress. The point here is that Porzingis’ skillset is easier to find than it once was and what he brings to the game can be emulated by a combination of other players (shout out to Luke Kornet).

Another uncomfortable truth about Porzingis is linked to his injury history. It’s been so long since we’ve had homegrown, star-level talent that I think Knicks fans, myself included, got too emotionally attached. I’m the first to admit a bit of clouded judgement, but I have always thought something was worrisome about his injury profile. Even when considered “healthy,” Porzingis never played a full season or shot above 45% from the field. He’s ridiculously skilled, but what good is a star player who isn’t available? A front-court player with recurring lower body injuries is a major red flag for any organization. A cracked cornerstone leads to an unstable foundation.

It’s always bothered me that the “Unicorn” never finished a full season. Richard Gerrafo of Fansided noticed something was up too. He wrote of his concerns, noting that,

“From January of 2016 until February of 2017 (approximately one year and one month), Porzingis suffered six different injuries. He has injured his left Achilles, left groin, left leg, right shoulder, right ankle, and right foot. ”

In his time with the Knicks, Porzingis also had issues with his quadricep (an injury that occurred during his pre-draft workout and again less than a year later), elbow, achilles, and then, of course, a devastating ACL tear.

Scott Perry was well aware of this unfortunate truth. From a purely basketball perspective, Kristaps was too unstable to be a true franchise cornerstone. Not for a maximum contract without injury protections. And as much as people criticize the Knicks for not wanting to offer their resident star player a max contract, it seems they tried to negotiate a contract similar to how other franchises have navigated injury-prone players.

It would have been very “Old Knicks” of Perry to cave under the pressure from the Latvian’s management team, but Scott stood his ground and made a pragmatic move in the best interest of the team. Not only did he refuse to extend KP’s contract last year, he went on record to say his primary goal is “making the Knicks a very good basketball team going into the long term.” He believes in team success over the benefit of any one person and has shown an uncanny ability to think pragmatically about the future.

Team building – real team building, the sustainable kind that we’ve longingly watched from afar from RJ Buford, Pat Riley and Danny Ainge – is a game of chess not checkers. Singular moves must be dissected in the context of a broader strategy.

The news of the Porzingis trade was shocking, yes, but the Knicks’ front office made the right call and the team is set up for future success whether we land a premiere free agent this summer or not.

Yes, Porzingis is gone, but don’t quit on these young New York Knicks. Call me an optimist, but when I look at the current state of affairs in Knickerbocker land – a talented young core, the most open cap space in franchise history and 7 first round draft picks over the next 5 years – I can’t help but notice the upside of so much possibility. Even if the team strikes out on the Kevin Durant/Kawhi/Kyrie sweepstakes this summer, they are under no pressure to sign long-term contracts for anything less than a franchise changing star. There is no rush because our GM has transformed the draft from a desert into a wellspring of possibilities and there will always be another chance to ink a game changer in the future. It’s not a make or break summer when an organization has positioned itself for long-term success through young players and financial flexibility.

Scott Perry is not the inexperienced, short-sighted GM you are looking for. Just the opposite, actually. In just over a year, he has erased years of management failure, properly delegated authority, lifted the weight of bloated contracts and created one of the most talented scouting teams in the league.

I have faith that any future moves are made with one goal in mind – building a championship level roster. As a result of strong leadership, the Knicks go into the summer with an assorted mix of new talent, all the cap space in the world (for this offseason and beyond), no uncertainty about Porzingis, plus the added bonus of seven first round draft picks over the next 5 seasons. SEVEN. More than the last 10 years combined. We finally have picks, money and talented scouts…all at the same time. Recent social media reactions be damned, this regime is intelligent and pragmatic.

The future isn’t guaranteed to anyone, but the Knicks’ front office has done its best to minimize risk while placing the franchise in a position to be master of its own destiny. The change fans have longed for is finally here – if we can manage to see the forest for the trees. Don’t sell low on these Knicks.

Knicks Film School Podcast: Sunday Morning Knicks Chat with Tommy Dee

Jon is joined by Tommy Dee, who you’ve seen on SNY among other places, to have a wide-ranging conversation about the Knicks, including discussion about David Fizdale’s offense, how much the lack of shooting is altering things, what Dennis Smith Jr. adds to the picture, Kevin Knox’s upside, July 2019, the Porzingis trade, a possibly insane theory about Tim Hardaway Jr’s contract and much more.

LISTEN:iTunes / Google

On This Date: Several Knicks honored in the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players Ceremony

February 9th 1997: Several Knicks honored in the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players Ceremony

To commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the NBA, the league honored the 50 greatest players to play in the association. A panel of former players, coaches, and media members voted in the top 50 players. Then-NBA Commissioner David Stern announced the list on October 29th 1996 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. The hotel was the site of the old Commodore Hotel. The hotel is where the NBA signed the inaugural charter 50 years earlier.

The ceremony occurred during the halftime of the 1997 NBA All star Game in Cleveland. At the time, 11 active players were chosen as the Top 50 players in the league, including a then-24 year old Shaquille O’Neal. Additionally, Dave DeBusschere, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Jerry Lucas, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, and Patrick Ewing represented the players who played (or in Ewing’s case, currently playing) for the Knicks.

A calm Knicks trade deadline before the impending storm

After a slow trade deadline, the real fun for the Knicks begins in earnest. A look at where things stand now and in the immediate future.

Aside from paying two men roughly the GDP of a small island nation to not play basketball for them over the next two months, the Knicks had a quiet deadline day. We probably shouldn’t be surprised.

After making a trade that sent shock waves throughout the league, the smart money said the Knicks were going to sit tight. Why? There’s different reasons for different players that fans may have expected to be involved in a deal:

  • Wes Matthews: it wasn’t the player, but the salary. It’s not easy to move $18.6 million and only get back expiring money, which was an obvious caveat in any trade. Once Philly and Sacramento made their respective moves, no suitors with the wherewithal to make a deal were left on the market.
  • Enes Kanter: it was the player and the salary. As I wrote about here and here, there was never going to be a trade market for Kanter. Sorry.
  • Frank Ntilikina: even the most ardent Ntilikina supporters6 would have advocated seeing what was available. That said, it’s tough to imagine anything but low-ball offers for the worst shooter in the league. Orlando made an offer, but was rebuffed. It made more sense to keep him, see if he can figure it out, and get his value up above the basement level.
  • Emmanuel Mudiay: he hasn’t been good enough for a playoff contender to look at and say “he can help us.” Orlando got their reclamation project point guard in Markelle Fultz. Even if anyone has been impressed by his play, his cap hold is so large ($12 million) that it’s hard to see anyone thinking they needed to get him on the books now so they could have an advantage in re-signing him. He will be eminently gettable this offseason.
  • DeAndre Jordan: Every little bit helps.

That leaves Noah Vonleh, the one guy who fans reasonably could have expected to be on the move, especially with his name in trade rumors.

What could the Knicks have gotten for someone who would have been a fourth big on most of the better playoff squads? It’ tough to say. The team acquiring him would have been doing so purely as a rental, which is why, as JB detailed last month, the Knicks should have been looking to move him in the first place.

A look at some other deadline deals may help explain why he’s still a Knick:

  • Nikola Mirotic – a player who could potentially swing a playoff series this spring and who came equipped with full Bird rights – netted the Pelicans four second round picks, two of which are likely to end up in the last 50’s.
  • The Lakers got Mike Muscala – a better shooting, worse defending version of Vonleh – in exchange for an interesting young player in Ivaca Zubac2, who is a restricted free agent to be.
  • The Lakers also acquired 3&D maestro Reggie Bullock for a 2021 second rounder3.

Could the Knicks have gotten a second for Vonleh? Almost certainly. Would it have been a difference-making pick? That’s less likely. Was it worth keeping him around, regardless of the return? It’s a fair question to ask.

On one hand, if the Knicks want to show some semblance of cohesion over the last 29 games – and they should – Vonleh should help them do that despite his less-than-desirable advanced stats of late.

More importantly, though, we just saw the team ship out the one-time franchise cornerstone ostensibly because he didn’t want to be here. By all accounts, Noah Vonleh is a player who has not only bought in to what the Knicks are trying to build, but can attest to the effectiveness of their program as well. Scott Perry would seem to want guys like that in the building for as long as possible. When you throw in the possibility that this summer may not go according to plan, it’ll probably be easier to negotiate a short-term extension for Vonleh operating in house than from the outside.

So Vonleh remains, along with a core group of young Knicks that, as Zach Lowe astutely pointed out yesterday, may be auditioning for jobs in New Orleans as much as they are for playing time in New York next season. Fans should expect to see a healthy dose of Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina together in the backcourt, along with Damyean Dotson, Allonzo Trier, Mitchell Robinson and of course, Kevin Knox.

On Knox, something that hasn’t been said explicitly but seems to be an obvious reality: if Kevin Durant is here next year, Kevin Knox almost certainly won’t be. If Knox is a serviceable NBA player by next season4, it’ll be at the three, which is where Kevin Durant calls home during the regular season. Of course the two could play together, but if Durant comes, he won’t be doing so to watch Knox continue to have his growing pains. Add in the fact that, aside from their draft pick, Knox is New York’s best trade asset, and it’s tough to see a scenario where Knox isn’t the centerpiece of a trade for a veteran following Durant’s (hopeful) arrival.

There are, of course, many bridges to cross before we get to that point though.

Looking ahead…

On one hand, Kevin Durant seems to be in his own universe, and will decide his fate irrespective of anything or anyone else. He is an enigma. While the KD-to-NY whisper campaign has been in full force for months, I maintain that no one has any earthly clue what he will do, including the Knicks.

As for things outside of Durant, the domino effect will be fascinating to watch, and it all starts on May 14.

That, of course, is the night of the draft lottery, and it effects everything that happens from that moment forward. If the Knicks don’t win – and there is at least an 86% chance they won’t – then they will effectively be taken out of the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, as no package New York can offer would beat a Boston one that includes Jayson Tatum.

Losing the lottery sets up a doomsday chain of events for New York: the Celtics trade for AD at the first possible moment they can after July 1, Kyrie knows he can play the next several years of his career with a generational talent in Davis, and then decides to re-sign in Boston. At that point, does Durant even look at New York, or does he wonder if there’s anyone worth coming here to play with? It’s a very real question.

It’s also fair to ask another question – one that will be dominating NBA war rooms over the next four months: would the Celtics even include Tatum in a deal for Davis without the assurance the Brow re-signs?

If the Knicks win the lottery, that conversation is moot, as they would move to the front of the line for Davis, whether Boston is willing to include Tatum or not in their own package. At that point, they’ll be able to gather enough intel to know what a move for AD would mean in terms of who would then come in free agency. Effectively, they may not just be trading for Davis, but for Davis, Kyrie and Kevin Durant as well. Zion Williamson could pee champagne and shit excellence, but if it’s him or those three, I’m taking the latter, and so will the Knicks.

The lottery isn’t the only thing that will have a say in all this. Of the Bucks, Sixers, Celtics and Raptors, two will be going home before the conference finals. With the Bucks currently the one seed and employer of the best player in the East, it’s a very real possibility that two of Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard will be going fishing earlier than expected.

Does that change how likely it is for any of those players to re-up with their current organizations? It very well may. On the flip side, if Boston were to make it to, say, Game 6 of the NBA Finals, would that alter Kyrie’s thinking in a different way? Would it change Boston’s approach if Tatum lit it up in June? Every outcome is on the table.

The ironic part is that the team that easily has the most to lose and the most to gain from all of this will have less of a say in the ultimate outcome than any other party involved. All the Knicks can do is the one thing they’ve been pretty good at doing in a season where not much has gone right: incrementally upping the stock of the young players on the roster.

If nothing else, should May 14 and July 1 not go as New York hopes, continued improvement from the young guys will give fans something they can rest their hopes on moving forward. In that scenario, God willing, the team would continue to emphasize youth, take on some bad money for picks and/or young players, maybe invest in another distressed asset or to, and bide their time until the next big fish became available.

Who knows…maybe Boston getting AD could be the best thing in the long run, making it more likely he hits free agency in 2020, right around when the Giannis talk will start heating up.

It bears repeating: everything is on the table. This is the NBA, remember? Chaos has become the only constant there is.

On This Date: Knicks fire Derek Fisher

February 8th 2016: The New York Knicks fire Derek Fisher

After compiling a 40-96 record as head coach, the Knicks fired Derek Fisher on this date in 2016. Fisher was only in the middle of his second season in a 5-year contract. Despite having a limited roster for much of the 2014-15 season, Fisher rebounded to help the Knicks reach a 22-22 record to start the 2015-16 season. However, things seemed to unravel quickly afterwards losing 9 of the next 10 games.

The trio of Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Lance Thomas (yes, Lance Thomas) helped the Knicks stay at .500 until January. However, Melo’s ankle injury against the Celtics in the middle of January sidelined him for the next several games. Lance Thomas, who provided solid defense and three-point shooting, was sidelined for three games during that losing stretch.

However, it was a combination of various on-court and off-court issues that plagued Fisher’s 2015-16 season, and Knicks tenure as a whole. Fisher started the season on a rough note with the Matt Barnes controversy. Additionally, his offensive and defensive schemes left a lot to be desired. Fisher seemed committed to running the triangle offense upon being hired, but would never fully implement, coach, and execute its various intricacies. Additionally, he even began to waver from running the offense and integrated a pseudo system that had no identity or rhythm. Defensively, the Knicks continued to get torched on the pick-and-roll. The team often employed their big men to drop back to the rim allowing open layup lines.

The icing on the cake were two peculiar comments made off the court. Fisher mentioned on the Michael Kay show that he wouldn’t be disappointed if the team didn’t make the playoffs. This statement was surprising because the Knicks had a veteran-laden team and no draft picks in 2016. Additionally, he took a minor shot at impending free agent Rajon Rondo when the latter mentioned his displeasure about playing in the triangle offense.

Ultimately, Fisher’s inexperience might not have been the best match for coaching in New York; he entered the coaching ranks fresh out of retirement.