While describing the third quarter thrashing the Knicks put on the Mavericks, with guys like undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier and second-round finds Daymean Dotson and Mitchell Robinson doing most of the damage, the Dallas Morning News described the trio saying “They aren’t even household names in their own homes.”
These are, however, the kind of games where you start to make a name for yourself.
Robinson continues to command your attention. The talk after the game was about another highlight-film-worthy reverse dunk off a lob, but what really gets the coaching staff excited is what he’s showing as a pick-and-roll defender.
Along with 13 points and 10 rebounds in 34:01 was three steals that were the result of an energetic, athletic presence on defense.
And the funniest part about it, David Fizdale says, is “he’s just running around out there.”
Robinson is 20. He started playing basketball six years ago. He hasn’t really been taught much yet so most of what he’s doing is the result of raw athleticism, intangible size and length and whatever he’s picked up in the few months he’s been a Knick, which includes a week-long tutorial from Rasheed Wallace.
Most teams probably would have put him in the G-League to let him learn. But the Knicks are in a situation where they can afford to play him at the NBA level. The more you watch him play, the more you realize they can’t afford to NOT play him.
“He’s going to be our foundation, our anchor of our defense for the future,” Fizdale said. “Let’s get this guy going right now.”
Trier, meanwhile, is another rookie that was supposed to spend most of his time in the G-League, but has instead played his way into a necessity. After the 22-year-old scored 14 of his career-high 23 points in the fourth quarter to help the Knicks finally put away an opponent, Fizdale made it clear that “No Fear Trier” needs to be on the floor in winning time.
“He’s a guy I’m going to have to have out there more often than not,” Fizdale said, “because he’s just not afraid.”
He said similar things about Dotson through the preseason. Dotson was a DNP in the first two games of the season, but since he was thrust into the starting lineup, he’s been another young player that is hard to take off the floor. Dotson had 7 points in the first quarter to help the Knicks get off to a good start and finished another solid all-around game with 11 points, 8 rebounds and an assist and steal with a team-high +18 in 36:21.
He’s appeared now in 7 of the Knicks first 9 games and is averaging 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 30.6 minutes per game.
And no, the three main characters in a character road win for the Knicks aren’t household names, but they are a big reason why this Knicks team might be the most fun to watch in years.
– Rudy Gobert of the Jazz has 37 dunks to lead the NBA so far this season. Mitchell Robinson had three in the game to raise his season total to a team-leading 10 . . . and he’s barely played. The reverse-oop he caught on the pass from Lance Thomas was exciting mainly because of how far above the rim he was when he caught it.
It actually looked like a vintage DeAndre Jordan “Lob City” dunk from the Clipper days. “You should see at practice,” Fizdale said. “I guarantee you if they put him in a dunk contest he’d be a finalist in that one, if not win it.”
Robinson told MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow he opted to dunk it backwards just for fun. “It was an either/or kind of thing,” he said, “but I just wanted to go backwards. I mean I was just high; I was high up in the air so I was like, ‘Why not just go backwards?'”
– The Knicks recorded a season-high 26 assists, with 9 coming in that 33-18 third quarter of zoom. They were led by Frank Ntilikina, who had 7 assists and Emmanuel Mudiay with 4. It was the first meaningful minutes of the season for Mudiay, whom Fizdale praised for getting the second unit “organized”. He also shot the ball with confidence, which had been an issue for him in the preseason. Mudiay finished with 6 points, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 rebounds in 15:58.
– The matchup I was looking forward to was at the point guard position, where Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. — two players that will always be connected from the 2017 draft — were matched up. Smith scored 23 points but also had 6 turnovers. Ntilikina had 3 steals but also 3 turnovers and his shot was way off. He missed 6 of his 8 field goal attempts, including all four from downtown. By the second half, Ntilikina was no longer running the offense and would often be relegated to moving to the corner as a spacer while Dotson or Trier had the ball at the top of the offense. It seemed as if, after what happened Wednesday against the Pacers, Fizdale wanted to close the game by getting the best matchup and letting his top one-on-one player — Trier — go to work against the Mavs’ defense.
– Next up for Ntilikina is John Wall and the troubling Wizards, who are off to a 1-7 start. Remember in the preseason, Wall went right after Ntilikina early and often. The Wizards are in a bad mood after being embarrassed on national TV and booed on their home court on Friday night. This is a dangerous game for the young Knicks, especially coming off a feel-good win. They need a tone-setter and the Ntilikina-Wall matchup could do it. You can get Wall into playing selfishly and also into turnovers, which could derail the already fragile team.
– Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is the President of the NBA Coaches Association. He played one season with the Knicks in the 1980s and in that one season he played for a well-known coach and played with five other teammates who coached (or are coaching) either in the NBA or major college basketball. Can you name them?
[Watch Coverage of the Knicks-Wizards Game Sunday Beginning at 5:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Get the App Now.]