A teaser of Mitchell Robinson’s potential in film study

Saying Mitchell Robinson has a high ceiling is already one of the biggest cliches surrounding this Knicks squad.

It’s brought up constantly, but despite that, the concept of Robinson’s ceiling remains startlingly nebulous. The glaringly obvious lack of polish, while making Robinson an intriguing prospect, also makes it really freakin’ hard to see exactly what he could be in the long term.

That’s part of what makes Mitchell Robinson so fun to watch on film. For all the mistakes he makes, and for all the experience he lacks, we all get to experience glimpses of the potential that lies in his wiry frame. And when I say “we”, I really do mean it — the Knicks organization had no idea Robinson would be this good this quickly, either. Literally everyone interested in seeing the orange and blue find success on the court is watching with the same feeling of mystical wonder as Robinson does all kinds of wild shit on a night to night basis.

Saturday’s game in Toronto was the perfect example. While the Knicks as a team were heartily demolished by an absolutely loaded Raptors team, there were two plays that really stuck out to me when reviewing the film. Two plays that demonstrate how Mitchell Robinson can impact the game on the defensive end of the floor. Two plays that, despite falling on opposite ends of the spectrum, show the immense breadth of talent he can bring to the table. Let’s take a look.

This one is pretty simple — nothing more than a well-timed rotation leading to a blocked shot. We’ve seen Porzingis do this dozens of times. The first thing that pops out is Robinson’s timing on the rotation, because it’s perfect, something we haven’t seen much of. The timing of a rotation is a fine line to walk — rotate for the block too early, and it gives VanVleet an opportunity to dump it off to Valanciunas for a dunk; rotate too late, and it’s either a goaltend or a make. Blowout or not, this is promising.

The second thing that pops out is…

RobinsonPeakOnBlock.PNG

Remember how I said Porzingis has done this dozens of times? That might be a lie. I don’t think Porzingis could have blocked this shot. That still image shows Robinson’s functional length off a ONE STEP JUMP. That is absolutely OBSCENE. I can count on one hand the amount of guys in the league who can do what Robinson did in this clip. His ceiling as a shot blocker is immense.
When it comes down to it, though, defense from a big man comes down to more than blocking shots. Plus, it’s beyond obvious that Robinson is a natural shotblocker who can do stuff like this regularly. What’s even more impressive is this play right here:

That’s the kind of play that separates the standard rim protectors from the all-NBA defensive talents.

First, Robinson “shows” by stepping out … 35 feet from the rim … to keep Kawhi Leonard contained. He’s on his own for a split second, because Dotson is pinned on a screen, and it’s executed quite well. This is already impressive, and a clear win. The Raptors, though, progress into a natural counter, one that often makes true 5’s look absolutely silly. The roll man (Ibaka) bails out (you can see him turn his head, notice Robinson showing, and immediately roll). The Raptors, being a smart basketball team, immediately went to one of the counters to that style of pick and roll defense — instead of risking a dangerous pass over the top of Dotson and Robinson, Kawhi hits Lowry on the wing, who ostensibly has a better angle to hit a rolling Ibaka.

You can even see Noah Vonleh cheating off the corner, ready to rotate to Ibaka if Robinson can’t recover in time. That’s because this point in the play represents the exact inflection point where most 5’s wouldn’t have had the physical abilities required to recover in time. It’s asking a lot for a true center to show 35 feet from the hoop, let alone recover 20 feet about one full second later. Mitch Rob, however, has no such issues getting back to his man, and after all of that, there’s no easy place to attack for the Raptors. Of course, as a cherry on top, Big Mitch completes the shutout with some excellent one on one defense to force the miss.

On a certain level, Mitchell Robinson snuffed out this play entirely by himself.

Try to imagine someone like Brook Lopez doing this. It’s laughable.

That’s the real ceiling of Mitchell Robinson. A monster defensive backbone who can show and recover on one play, only to block your shot 13 feet above the ground on the next one. He continues to get better with every game. For all the questions about this franchise, on every level, let’s collectively agree to enjoy watching this guy grow, even through the inevitable painful spurt. As trite as it may be … Mitchell Robinson’s ceiling really is above the clouds.


QUICK BONUS

About a week and a half ago, I dissected some of the things Robinson had to improve on as the season progressed. One of the things I mentioned was Robinson’s seeming inability to reverse screens when it would be advantageous to do so. So as I’m watching the Raptors game, I was exceedingly happy to see the following play:

HE REVERSED THE SCREEN! Even more evidence the guy is learning quickly. Good stuff.

Until next time!

The Metagame: How one play influences the next play

The metagame is an essential part of basketball that doesn’t get discussed nearly enough.

By definition, metagaming, or the game about the game, is any approach to a game that transcends or operates outside of the prescribed rules of the game; uses external factors to affect the game; or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game.

Basically, it’s just a fancy word for the mind games between opponents.

For example, if Tim Hardaway Jr. hits a three off the catch, the next time he gets the ball, his defender is probably going to play up on him a little more, since he remembers the previous play. That gives Hardaway the opportunity to blow past the defender and get into the lane.

Essentially, the basketball metagame is the context of every single possession — everything that has happened up to that point dictates how both teams react to a play, even if they’ve both seen it 10,000 times.

Here’s a perfect example. Early in the 3rd quarter against the Hawks, the Knicks ran an interesting variation on two of their most common actions (double pindown to the corner, and double drag screens at the top of the key).

The pass from Hardaway to Ntilikina was designed, and the subsequent action reveals the twist on this standard play — Tim Hardaway Jr. is actually the primary screener, with Mitchell Robinson playing the secondary role. That’s not a common role for Hardaway, and that’s exactly why Fizdale drew it up. This play represents a unique look that the Hawks might not have been prepared to defend. By doing so, Trae Young, an undersized rookie known for poor defensive tendencies, is forced to cover a situation he may have never seen in the NBA. That’s gonna lead to breakdowns. As a matter of fact, you can actually see Bazemore pointing for Trae to switch onto Hardaway as the play develops.

That’s good coaching, but I like the follow up even better. Here’s the very next play:

They ran the same exact play. This is an aggressive mindset — I’m gonna run this play until you stop me — but the cool thing here is how Frank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway adjust this play because of what happened on the last one.

Let’s walk through their mindset (or at least what we could logically expect these players to think).

Hardaway Jr. just got a wide open three off a unique and pretty obvious play call. The Hawks are probably going to be better prepared this time, because they know exactly what’s coming, but this is where the metagame kicks in: The Knicks knew what the Hawks knew, and it altered their decision making, which in turn provided an advantage. One successful play led to another.

Instead of running the same play again, Frank Ntilikina makes it look like he’s running the same play, only to cut hard backdoor. To Trae Young’s credit, he was ready for it, but Ntilikina’s size is too much. Fortunately for the Hawks, Ntilikina misplays it and doesn’t get the easy layup he earned. However, as you may have heard before; process over results. The process here was outstanding.

This is important to me for two reasons: 1) because it’s pretty cool to see the metagame in action; and 2) because it shows me this team can play smart basketball. Young guys will make dumb plays; it’s basically guaranteed. We saw tons of it in this game alone. But in the long term, something like this represents a strong indicator of high basketball IQ.


DOUBLE DRAG SCREENS, AKA JEFF HORNACEK LIVES ON

While we have you here, let’s throw in a bonus film note about an offensive set that carries over from the Jeff Hornacek days.

The double drag screen action is a standard play. A ton of NBA teams run it. We saw a variation of it in the previous section, but here’s a pretty standard example of the play:

If you remember Sasha Vujacic and Brandon Jennings, you probably remember this play. The Knicks have consistently used this play since the drafting of the OG Unicorn. And for good reason — with an elite shooting big man like Kristaps Porzingis, double drag screens can cause havoc for opposing defenses.

This play is from the Hawks game, with Noah Vonleh filling the role of KP:

This play is from the 2016-17 season (trigger warning, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose are present in this clip). Look familiar?

Vonleh obviously isn’t Kristaps, despite a stellar impression in the first quarter of this game. But this staple of the Knicks offense in past years remains in place despite a complete changing of the guard, and it’s not a bad decision to do so. Best of all, it’s going to get substantially more effective with the return of the Porzingis.

The Knicks are off to the start we expected for a young team that is developing. While there are areas of concern, there are also little glimpses in the film that suggest a coach and team coming together to form a more structured unit. That’s all I have for now. Until next time!

Zach’s Film Notes: Damyean Dotson and Mitchell Robinson

By Zach DiLuzio

The Knicks had a real nice win for a young team on the road on Friday in Dallas. Typically, young teams will struggle on the road, particularly on defense — even against a moribund, sad, and largely unwatchable Mavs squad, so this was a nice win.

The best part, of course, is watching the game-to-game improvements of a literal (figurative) horde of young players. It’s a lot to manage, actually, and it’s making film review tough as hell. Having Courtney Lee playing rotation minutes was nice because you could … well … pretty much completely ignore him. You know who he is; you don’t need to watch vets like that very closely.

Now we’ve got seven or eight dudes who are all worth monitoring. In a basketball sense, it’s awesome. But let me tell you … the coaching staff has to have their hands full trying to monitor the development of these guys across the board. They’ve done a great job this season.

And with that, let’s get into some of the interesting tidbits I found upon rewatching Knicks @ Mavericks.


DAMYEAN DOTSON’S SHOOTING

Dotson has been a consistent and steadying force since arriving in the starting lineup. He’s been largely exceptional on the defensive end, he’s hitting his shots, and he’s doing it without the ball.

The interesting thing is, watching Dotson on film has me constantly thinking of a guy I already mentioned — Courtney Lee. Now, Lee is a pretty uninspiring player, so I should immediately make it clear that the similarities are in playing style and role ONLY; this isn’t a straight comparison. But look at these plays. These are the kind of plays Jeff Hornacek used constantly to get Courtney Lee great looks at will:

It’s hilariously ironic, to be honest. Hornacek ran these exact plays for the real Lee while he stapled the turbocharged version of Lee to his bench. Great stuff!

The main difference between the two, though, lies in the overall aggressiveness Dotson brings to the table on both ends of the floor. Obviously, Dotson is more athletic than an older Courtney Lee. But it’s deeper than that. I want to focus on the offensive end; specifically, the 3-point shooting.

Despite having slightly higher percentages, Courtney Lee was always hesitant to shoot 3’s unless he was wide open (to his slight credit, Hornacek was constantly harping on that exact thing when speaking to the media). Dotson does not have that problem, and it really changes the game for him compared to Lee:

That shot, while simple, is a big deal for a 3-point shooter. If you can hit that shot consistently (which Dotson has done so far), defenses need to guard you COMPLETELY differently. That’s when you get special attention as a shooter. That closeout from Harrison Barnes really wasn’t bad; Dotson made him pay anyway. When you make them pay anyway, defenses get panicky very quickly.

Of course, hitting those shots has a snowball effect. Defenders will close out harder, they’ll close out faster, and they’ll be hyper vigilant whenever they consider helping off Dotson. The extra spacing isn’t gonna help much right now due to the way the rest of the team is built, but the extra hard closeouts allow Dotson to get in the lane despite a generally subpar handle.

Watch how hard the Mavs are trying to recover to him in these clips, and as a result, how easy it is for Dotson to get in the paint:

That first play in particular is illustrative of what I’m trying to describe. Doncic is RIGHT THERE, in a solid position to contest, when Dotson catches the ball. But he hops out an extra step as soon as Dotson shows the ball, because he already saw Dotson shoot over that kind of contest earlier in the game. That extra step, combined with the change in momentum, gives Dotson the ability to completely blow by him. If that was Courtney Lee, there is NO WAY Doncic takes the extra step towards him, which means there’s no way he gets to the rim.
I applaud Dotson for taking those tough shots (and making them). Continuing to do so will be a game changer in the long term.


MITCHELL ROBINSON’S POTENTIAL

Pretty obvious breakout game for Big Mitch. I’m not here to throw the obvious stuff in your face. He’s improving at an astronomical rate — after seeing him in Summer League, I wrote a whole article about how he might need to start off in the G-League. David Fizdale alluded to the same idea before the start of the season.

That’s not gonna happen.

One of the biggest issues I had with Robinson in Summer League was his proclivity for really dumb fouls. He loved to reach on EVERYTHING, and he bit on EVERY pump fake. It was actually funny at points. I thought he would be fouling out in literally five minutes, barring a big change. Fortunately, that change has already begun, and it’s making a huge difference.

(Notice how he does kinda reach in a bit at the end? He’s still not quite there. But it’s been, like, 4 months. This is great progress).

Later in the game, he stayed down on JJ Barea and cut off the driving lane. Unfortunately, his muscle memory kicked back in two seconds later, as he reaches in on Harrison Barnes driving the lane and gives up the make plus one.

These are growing pains, and it’s totally normal. The same goes for the other end of the floor; Robinson, while having improved exponentially since Summer League, is still pretty bad at understanding the complexities of setting screens in the pick and roll. There were several examples, but this was the most egregious:

In this case, the focus needs to be on what Mitch Rob ISN’T doing. In that situation, with the defense forcing the ball handler away from a screen, Robinson should look to reverse the screen. Instead of setting the screen parallel to the sideline, Robinson can step across and screen parallel to the baseline, which provides a much more effective angle against a defense that chooses to defend the pick and roll that way (it’s called ICE, by the way). Here’s a great video that provides an overview of some effective counters to an ICE defense.

Of course, reversing the screen isn’t the only way to counter that kind of pick and roll coverage. In fact, if you watched far enough into that video, you saw a reference to the short roll, which is what the Knicks appear to be trying here. But even if that’s what they were instructed to do (which I don’t know — that would be a good postgame question for Fizdale), the spacing on the play is wildly off, which ties into Robinson’s inexperience anyway. ICE defense is a common defensive coverage in the NBA, and Robinson still doesn’t know how to correctly attack it.

(As a slight aside, it should be noted that Hardaway deserves some blame here as well; neither of them seemed particularly interested in running standard counters to ICE coverage. But we already know he’s not a lead ball handler. For the purpose of this review, we should focus on Robinson).

Anyway, I don’t say this to denigrate Robinson. The guy has played like 15 games against college and NBA competition combined; this type of stuff is expected. Even so, his performance was awesome, and highly encouraging on every level. I say this to point out that, despite his stellar showing, he still has SO MUCH TO LEARN. It’s mind blowing.

Watching him night to night will literally be watching a guy learn how to play NBA basketball. It’s going to be so much fun. Robinson still moves with a herky-jerky weirdness that clearly indicates a level of uncertainty when it comes to where, and when, he should be moving. But there are stretches where that goes away, and you really see the peak of his eye-popping athleticism, along with a glimpse of what he could be long term.

What makes the coaching staff happy, and what makes me happy, and what should make you happy, is that despite so many mistakes, he’s getting better every day. The sky really is the limit.

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

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


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

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

Let’s get to it.

FIZDALES ADJUSTMENTS

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

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

ADJUSTMENT #1

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

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

This was the first play they ran after the half:

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

ADJUSTMENT #2

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

But Fizdale had a counter ready.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

More high horns – imagine Porzingis in place of Vonleh:

 

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

 

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

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

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

Zach’s Film Notes: Knicks vs Hawks

Zach DiLuzio provides us with some film notes after rewatching the Knicks win over Atlanta.


The Hawks are trash, but trash teams still win 20-30 games, unless you’re the prime Process Sixers. Winning a game is something to celebrate regardless of who it’s against. The Knicks played well, and blew the Hawks out of the water. That’s a great start to the Fiz era!

Now we officially have 48 minutes of game film to break down. That means it’s time to pick it apart, isolate stuff we can learn from, and form a knowledge base that we can build off for the rest of the season. This is something I’m hoping to do on a fairly regular basis; normally, I’ll be including good stuff, bad stuff, and everything in between. But on Wednesday night, there really wasn’t much bad stuff. Let’s take a look.

ALLONZO TRIER

This guy really is something. We all saw the highlight dunk. His scoring ability jumps off the page. I’m not here to tell you the obvious stuff. What we’ve seen from Trier, from Summer League until now, is a player in search of balance. Toeing the line between selfish scorer and Ron Baker. If (when?) Trier finds that balance, he’s going to make a pretty significant leap.

To illustrate this: watch this play.

Notice how Trier, after driving baseline, has drawn two defenders to his immediate vicinity, and an another dude is cheating off Knox in the corner.

As a general rule, if you see three guys within five or six feet of you, that means one or more of your teammates is WIDE OPEN. With 15 seconds on the shot clock, nobody should be taking that shot. Trier did. That’s the kind of stuff Trier showed in Summer League that had us all mad as hell.

Literally one possession later:

The window dressing is different, but this is almost exactly the same situation. Trier drives baseline and brings two defenders with him. This time, he makes the right decision and finds an open teammate. It’s a snowball effect from there — Hezonja attacks the closeout well, draws the help, and dumps the ball off to Vonleh for a dunk.

Trier’s box score did not change from this play. But this is the exact type of play he needs to learn from. I hope the video coordinator pulled this clip and made Trier’s screensaver. If Trier can edge away from play #1 in favor of more stuff like play #2, his ceiling rises quite a bit.

OFF BALL DEFENSE

A big reason the Knicks played such effective defense (when the game actually mattered) was because of excellent ball denial by several players throughout the entire game (Lance, Burke, Baker, and Ntilikina) that kept Atlanta from getting into an offensive rhythm.

Here’s an overly simplistic but useful example:

All that happens is Baker getting his hand in the passing lane, which forces the ball to the other side of the floor. But this is super helpful, for a bunch of reasons:

1. It forces the ball away from the playmaker (in this case, the primary playmaker in the Hawks’ lineup, Jeremy Lin). Get the ball away from the primary playmaker, and that’s a win. Dorsey got open here after an apparent miscommunication, but in the aggregate, doing this kind of thing makes a big difference

2. It can potentially ruin an opposing playcall. A lot of plays rely on the initial swing from one wing to the other. Disrupt that, and you can disrupt the entire play; at the very least, you can potentially make the timing all screwy. Smart teams can avoid this, but they can’t avoid it forever, and even tiny delays add up over the course of a game. Disrupting rhythm is hugely important on the defensive end.

3. It just flat out wastes time. Pressure a ball handler full court and deny the swing pass, and all of a sudden the opponent’s secondary or even tertiary ball handler has the rock with 14 left on the shot clock and no play to run.

Cheating too far can backfire — that’s how you get back cuts for layups — and that will happen (and did). But this is something the Knicks basically never did as a team under Jeff Hornacek. I like the aggressive mentality on defense.

FIZDALE’S PET PLAY

The first regular season game means we get to see the first assortment of regular season plays. I always love looking for a coaches pet play — Jeff Hornacek, for example, LOVED to bring double drag screens in transition. That was his thing. And I think I’ve already figured out Fizdale’s.

If you’re gonna have a pet play, it’s gotta be reliable, versatile, and effective. This one fits the bill. It’s a simple one — it’s essentially a double pindown to the corner from a small and a big. But it has a decent amount of reads built in, ones that account for several potential defensive coverages. The more shooters involved, the better. You can run this for any ball handler on the team, to either side, and it doesn’t require much organization, so it’s something you can use in transition as well.

The above play is the cleanest view I saw of it unfolding in real time. In that one, Knox probably could have dumped it off to Vonleh for a dunk, so I’d consider it a success despite scoring zero points. But you can see from the various ways that same set played out during the game that there’s a ton of potential reads and secondary actions you can move to, depending on how the defense reacts.

This is something I’m looking forward to monitoring the rest of the season. This play becomes exponentially more difficult to defend with a floor spacing screener, so I’m excited to see what happens once Kristaps is incorporated into the fold. Maybe Fizdale throws Luke Kornet out there one of these days if the offense is a complete disaster.

That’s all for now! As always, I’d love to hear any thoughts on any of the above. Hopefully we’ll have a lot more good to unpack after the double slate this weekend.

Make sure to follow @zjdiluzio

Key things to watch throughout this Knicks season

Photo: @nyknicks

Zach DiLuzio takes a look at some high-level points to keep an eye on throughout the season.


The season is finally here! And it’s off to a pretty good start.

The first few weeks will be overwhelming as we begin to overanalyze everything we see (myself included). With that in mind, it would help to have a list of things to watch for this upcoming season.

For now, I’m going to focus on the young individuals that could end up being the future of the New York Knicks. Ideally, we can continue to check back on this throughout the season and see how if/how our guys measure up. This one in particular will focus on the main pieces of the so called puzzle (although some may take umbrage with that terminology once they see who’s on the list). But there’s reasons for my choices — for example, I haven’t watched nearly enough Hezonja tape to speak with authority on what to watch for. Emmanuel Mudiay needs to do, like, anything at a high level. It’s still unclear if Luke Kornet is an NBA player. So on so forth.

Anyway, introductions are boring, so let’s dive in.

KEVIN KNOX

Any assessment of Knox’ game comes from his short, small sample Summer League stint in conjunction with his college tape. I already broke down his college film for Posting and Toasting, but it’s already looking outdated, as Knox’ Summer League performance assuaged a ton of my concerns.

The most important area for Knox to improve in is his finishing around the rim. He’s got the athleticism, but a clear lack of confidence in his left hand will give opposing coaches an easy out while scheming to stop Knox early in the season. While I think concerns about his left hand are overblown — you’d be surprised at how much a guy with the size and athleticism of Knox can get away with, even at the NBA level — Knox needs to work on his overall finishing, particularly through contact, in order to fully realize his potential as a monster mismatch. It’s been pretty ugly in the preseason, but that’s OK! Remember, he’s 19 years old. We’ve already been through this with Frank. Let’s not get crazy here.

Knox has already shown underrated passing ability, and he’s more than willing to make an extra pass, so that’s not on my radar right now. He won’t be a ball stopper. It’s tempting to focus on his defense, but in the context of a Knicks team without Kristaps Porzingis, he’ll have a much larger offensive burden than you would otherwise expect. He deserves at least a year before we start ripping him apart for defensive struggles. And I’m a big believer in his jump shot despite relatively poor percentages in college, summer league, and preseason. The more I read that, the dumber it sounds, but I stand by it.

We’ll have a better idea of where to go with this in a couple of months. Stay tuned.

MITCHELL ROBINSON

Robinson is an insanely intriguing young talent, but he’s equally raw. His few early minutes (if he gets any…) will be hugely important for assessing his game; all of his “professional” tape (Summer League and preseason) was one part “holy shit this guy is going to be a monster” mixed with two parts of “does he think that’s what a screen is” and a healthy serving of “oh boy he’s tired already”. Don’t take that the wrong way — I don’t particularly blame Robinson for those things, and I went into depth on this HERE if you’re interested in a full explanation. That kind of performance, however, is really, really tough to assess. How much of his poor defensive positioning was fatigue, or the fact that he hadn’t played 5 on 5 ball in a year (let alone against NBA caliber talent)? It’s impossible to dissect.

For now, I think Robinson can at least be a reasonable backup 5 if he focuses purely on shoring up his basketball fundamentals. Setting solid screens, at the right time, will snowball into ally-oops. Getting his hands up on defense, instead of reaching for the ball almost literally 100% of the time, will yield a higher defensive impact at the cost of some blocks and steals (and he won’t get 14 fouls per 36 minutes, to boot). By incorporating those two things alone, Robinson can take the first step towards transforming his sky-high potential into actual ability. This is the biggest thing to watch for early in the season, and those areas may dictate whether he spends his season in Westchester (which would be OK!) or in the big leagues.

KRISTAPS PORZINGIS

This is easy. Health is obviously the main concern here, but in terms of X’s and O’s, Porzingis’ biggest weakness remains his passing ability, particularly out of double teams. I could throw some really damning stats out here, but this is a relatively low concern — last season, I wanted to see Porzingis dominate out of the post, and he was able to do that (and more). The next step is making the right read when those doubles start coming. It’s not as easy as it looks, but interestingly, Kevin Knox might be the type of guy who can help coax it out of our Latvian demigod.

If Porzingis can start to add that to his game — it’s not gonna happen overnight — he could become one of the most game changing offensive players in the NBA. I’m not exaggerating. Shit, you could argue he already is (see: Jarrett Jack’s season last year). There’s other minor stuff to nitpick, of course, because nobody is perfect. But this is the final piece of Exodia, and it’s within reach.

FRANK NTILIKINA AND RON BAKER

This one is fun, because it’s super obvious, but it’s also 100% of the reason these two don’t have as much of an impact on the offensive end of the floor despite having certain valuable skills. Ntilikina and Baker are really similar players; they specialize in defense, playing team ball, and doing the little things that tend to only be seen on tape after the game is long over (bumping screeners, organizing the offense, making the right pass at the right time, etc).

And yet, both of these dudes are held back by the same attitude that makes them so great at everything else: they don’t score. They often don’t even try. When Ron or Frank gets in the lane with a head of steam, everyone knows they’re looking to pass. It’s on every scouting report in the league. And even though it’s a little counterintuitive, Baker and Ntilikina have to at least TRY to score in order to open up passing lanes, which allows them to do what they actually want — pass the ball at a high level.

These guys have to be more aggressive. They don’t even have to make the damn shots in order for this to pay off (see: Marcus Smart). They just need to keep the defense honest. If a rotating defender isn’t sure if Ntilikina is gonna try to finish at the rim, he can’t overplay the passing lane; if he does overplay the passing lane, it’s an easy layup. Therefore, aggressiveness can actually open up opportunities for others. And it pays off on defense as well — when opponents overplay those passing lanes because Frank and Ron refuse to shoot, it leads to live ball turnovers, which is easily the worst result of any offensive possession in the modern NBA.

Both Baker and Ntilikina need to internalize an aggression on offense that matches their aggression on defense (although it’s definitely more of a priority for Frank; Baker just needs to hit some damn 3’s to be a solid role player). The fact that Frank has thrown some absolutely sick dimes despite this fact is what makes me a true believer in his potential. But in order to unlock it, he’s gonna need to understand that playing aggressive, in this context, is actually unselfish. Frank has clearly looked to improve on that facet of his game, but I haven’t seen anything from Baker in that regard.

TREY BURKE

Everyone seems to have forgotten about this guy, for some reason. Burke had an absolutely stellar showing in the NBA last year, but a quick glance at his shooting percentages, and you worry that he is bound to regress this season.

Burke ranked in the 100th percentile (yes, the highest) in mid-range frequency and in the 98th percentile in mid-range efficiency last season, per Cleaning the Glass. Those are INSANE numbers. He will not repeat that. Remember when Kristaps came out the gate shooting 60% from midrange and scoring 30 PPG for a month? That’s what we saw from Burke last season.

With that in mind, I’d like to see Burke take on a larger role as a playmaker…but his passing was good enough last season, and his defense was fine for a player with his size and physique. He tries, and that makes a difference. What I’ll be monitoring is Burke’s midrange percentages (both the volume of his attempts and his percentage of makes), as they’ll likely be a strong barometer for his overall level of play.

I’m not one of those guys who wants to avoid the midrange completely — a contested 3 point shot, taken by a bad 3 point shooter, is NOT a better shot than an open midrange jumper taken by a good midrange shooter. I don’t care that 3 is better than 2. That doesn’t mean I disagree with the modern offensive philosophies of the NBA…it just means I believe the midrange shot can be undervalued by analytics. Burke is a really good midrange shooter. If he’s getting those shots, he should take them. But he’s almost certainly not gonna shoot as well as he did last season over the course of 82 games. And that’s fine!

To combat that, however, I’d like to see Burke’s shooting profile trend more towards pull-up 3’s. He doesn’t need to be Steph Curry or Dame Lillard — he just needs to keep the defense honest. If he can hit those at a 33% clip, and hit the midrange pull up at about 45%, he can get those shots any time he wants. And when he gets hot, he can play off those shots to get to the rim at will. Trey Burke should absolutely continue to take the shots he’s comfortable with…but converting 5% of his midrangers into 3’s will help his efficiency, even if his overall percentages drop.

And that’s all for now! Stay tuned, as I’ll probably try to check in on this every once in a while for some progress reports and updated goals. Feel free to hit me with your thoughts and ideas on Twitter, as I’m sure there’s stuff I overlooked.