I moved to the Charlotte, NC area from New York in 2013, and have been attending nearly every Knicks-Hornets game at the Spectrum Center (formerly the Time Warner Cable Arena) since. While the games have usually been extremely entertaining (remember KP’s almost game-winner?), the Knicks always failed to do one thing when visiting Charlotte – win the basketball game!
Finally, on a rainy, chilly Friday night in mid-December, the Knicks snapped their infamous Carolina drought as they rode the backs of. . . . . . Emmanuel Mudiay, Luke Kornet, and a Syracuse-esque zone defense?
Kornet, who had not scored in his previous seven appearances this season, put up 13 and 6 while anchoring Fizdale’s zone throughout the second half.
Mudiay dropped a career high 34 – ironically, I had witnessed Trey Burke hang a career high 42 on the Hornets only nine months earlier!
Here are some of the things I caught keying in on the Knicks throughout the game.
Just about every active Knick came out to shoot an hour-plus before the game – save for Courtney Lee and Damyean Dotson. Even Trey Burke and Allonzo Trier, who each missed the game, were out there getting some shots up before the game.
While they were never all out there at once, I had never seen that many players come out for the Knicks before the game – usually the most you would see is 4 or 5. It was very cool to get to see basically the entire roster.
I was able to get signatures from nine Knicks (my previous career best was four!) – Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Noah Vonleh, Enes Kanter, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Allonzo Trier, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Mitchell Robinson.
Good luck trying to guess whose is which!
Kevin Knox was one of the first players out there and I believe had put in the most time getting some work in of all the players on the team (from when I was there). Our own Spencer here at KFS has done some tremendous breakdowns of Knox’s shot form, and we’ve had some discussing of the intricacies of his shot, so I focused a lot on watching the fluidity of his form.
Knox worked almost exclusively behind the arc during his shootaround. You can see in that kind of calm environment the potential he has as a shooter – such a smooth release at a high point where he can get it off unaffected from any spot on the court over any defender.
At one point, Knox hit nine straight pull-up jumpers from a couple of feet behind the line at the left elbow. He can make it look as effortless as I’ve seen any player make it look live – I’m pretty sure Knox hit a higher percentage of his practice 3’s that night than any other Knick.
Here’s a look at Knox getting a few up.
A few other notes from the shootaround:
- Trey Burke had a knee brace on but did a lot of extended work before the game shooting off the catch and off the dribble. He didn’t seem very limited at all.
- Same goes for Allonzo Trier. He was out there shooting some corner threes and mid-range pull-ups, didn’t seem too limited.
- Frank Ntilikina worked a lot on his mid-range game. He spent a lot of time around the elbows trying different isolation moves and shooting out of them. He was inconsistent, coming up short frequently, but his makes tend to be about as pretty as they come.
- Enes Kanter spends a surprisingly decent amount of time shooting threes during his warmups. He was making at least half of them, too.
- Conversely, Mitchell Robinson barely even shot any jumpers. He worked on his free throws and his short corner J’s a bit, but he mostly focused on finishing out of pick-and-rolls.
- Non-basketball note here, but I asked Kanter when we could expect him to appear on the truTV show Impractical Jokers (he’s a noted fan of the show) – he laughed and said “we’ll see!”
Let’s move on to the game! Here are some things I noticed being there live.
- I’m 100% convinced former Knick Willy Hernangomez was acquired by the Hornets simply for a cheerleader role. Willy had very long and detailed handshake routines unique to just about every other individual player on the Charlotte roster that he went through pregame. He had one routine with I believe Deonte’ Graham that involved a frozen position for what felt like almost ten seconds. I’ve never seen anything like it. He may not be able to defend the pick and roll, but the man has handshake game!
- David Fizdale is so fun to watch coach a basketball game. Obviously we still have a long way to go before we can be certain he is the man to lead the Knicks back to the promised land, but all we can say for sure right now is that this man is a ton of fun to root for. He is standing for the majority of the game and reacts to each play just as I was in the stands; fist pumps after good plays, stunned silence when the team was playing terribly, and that “that ball was halfway down!” look after Mudiay’s missed game-winning attempt.
- Michael Jordan had the best plus-minus in this game. He sat on the Hornets bench for the first half, but left to a suite in the second. Shouldn’t have done that. Not GOAT material right there.
- Muggsy Bogues was honored by the Hornets at halftime. I never watched him play and first knew about him from Space Jam, but I’ve seen his highlights and am aware of his achievements – and you can’t help but love the guy. Possessing a frame that would get him picked on in a sixth grade classroom, he once had a season where he averaged FOUR REBOUNDS PER GAME in the most elite basketball league in the world. 7’0 Andrea Bargnani had four seasons in his career where he couldn’t hit 4.0 ‘bounds a game! Bogues averaged 2.6 rebounds per game for his career – 6’10 Steve Novak never even averaged 2.0 rebounds per game in a single season! Overall Bogues averaged 9 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals over 10 seasons in Charlotte. He was top ten in assists in six seasons and sits at 21st on the all-time list. Heck of a career.
- Mudiay had 5 points on 1 of 4 shooting from the field in the first half, Hardaway had 3 points on 1 of 5 shooting. When the team came out for the second half, neither shot the ball around, as both came out of the tunnel late and sat quietly on the bench. Their methods of isolated thought worked out, as Mudiay scored 29 points on 13 of 17 shooting in the second half while Hardaway scored 9 points on 4 of 7 shooting.
- The Knicks were playing awful defense in the first half of this game (72 points allowed, and 12 made threes on 60% shooting) – so in the second half when me and my dad started noticing Mudiay, Hardaway, and the other guards seemingly floating around on the perimeter guarding nobody, we chalked it up as more classic terrible Knicks defense. However, after the Knicks came down on the defensive end and did this multiple times in a row, we quickly realized they were playing a zone defense.
- Early on, the zone wasn’t very fruitful. The Hornets were getting some good looks, but just couldn’t get them to drop (after hitting 60% from deep in a half, you have to expect things to average out regardless of how good the looks are). Fizdale’s team did try this sparingly in a few games this season, but never for too long of a period, so I expected the Knicks to revert back to man soon enough. It never happened though, and the comeback began on the strength of that zone due to one change – Luke Kornet’s entrance into the game. Kornet’s length and mobility advantage over Kanter changed the dynamic of the defense, and things started to click when he entered that 5 spot. While they missed a lot of solid looks, especially in the corner spots that the zone defense will often yield, the Hornets seemed befuddled by the zone look at times. They made a lot of uncharacteristic sloppy mistakes, throwing the ball into the stands multiple times and allowing the Knicks to create transition opportunities off of defensive rebounds and live ball turnovers. The zone defense was as much of a star in this game as any individual player, adding to the shock of this improbable win.
Fun victory for the Knicks! There are always a lot of Knicks fans in the building there (I’d estimate 30-35%), and as always, home teams love few things more than to beat a visiting New York opponent and send us rowdy fans packing.
Finally, we were able to leave Mike’s house with a victory! Take that, MJ!
From Yonkers to KFS! @Michael_Nania on Twitter