A three-game winning streak was buried under a pile of bricks in Detroit and the continued struggles of the team’s lottery picks from the last two seasons is reaching a point of concern, while the undrafted kid is emerging as one of the top rookies in the league.
Allonzo Trier proved he can handle the point guard spot with relative confidence as he had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists in 30:47 off the bench to drag the Knicks into the final minute within striking distance. Daymean Dotson, a 2017 second round pick who had been a DNP-CD for the previous four games, also provided a spark off the bench with 17 points and a +5 in 23:15.
But the lead characters in the winning streak, which had Trey Burke ambitiously uttering the word “playoffs” before the tree was even lit at Rockefeller Center, collectively struggled, which led to the Knicks chasing almost the entire game. Burke was 1 for 8, Emmanuel Mudiay missed his first 6 shots and finished 4 for 13 and Tim Hardaway Jr. was 5 for 15. The Knicks missed 7 layups and were 6 for 20 in the painted area in a frustrating first quarter that saw them take an early 15-7 lead only to fall behind 24-19. The Pistons defense was tough, but they didn’t make it that difficult.
“I think it was no difficulty, to be honest,” Hardaway Jr. said. “I think we missed a lot of lay-ins, a lot of easy floaters that we normally make, threes that we normally take and go in weren’t falling.”
David Fizdale saw it the same way. “When we did get our open shots, we didn’t shoot it well,” he said. “Early on, we missed a lot of chippies around the rim and I think over time that wore on our defense a little bit.”
Truth be told, the game turned when the bench came in. Burke (0-for-5), Frank Ntilikina (no stats other than a turnover) and Mitchell Robinson (2 fouls in 4:58) were each -11 in the first quarter. Ntilikina had yet another invisible game on the stat sheet. He was scoreless with no rebounds and no assists in 14:47. The only numbers he produced were three fouls and a turnover with a -5. Fizdale eventually sent him to the bench and called on Dotson, who came in ready to compete and shoot.
“That’s what you call a pro,” Fizdale said of Dotson.
Ntilikina did play late in the game, when the Knicks went down 18 and battled back to cut it to 7 with a minute to go. It could have been a 5 point game with 32 seconds left after a steal and drive by Trier, but replays reversed a call for goaltending on a chase-down block by Stanley Robinson.
So while Ntilikina seems to be regressing in a role off the ball — when he does have it, Fizdale often has to yell at him to push the ball up the floor and play uptempo — the team’s lottery pick from this year, Kevin Knox, is continuing to look physically overwhelmed by the NBA. The 19-year-old was pushed around again and badly missed on open jumpers en route to a 1-for-7 performance. Fizdale also had him out on the court in the latter half of the fourth quarter and he too was out there for the comeback fueled by Trier and Dotson. Knox, however, did have a good drive for an and-one play with 2:13 left to cut the deficit to 10.
But overall, the rookie’s last few games have been a concern. He’s gotten roughed up on the defensive end — 11 fouls in the last four games — and on offense he’s hit just 9 of 31 from the field (29%) and 3 of 15 from three-point range. But the kid doesn’t hesitate to shoot the ball. This season he’s averaging 16 field goal attempts Per 36 Minutes. Much like Ntilikina did last season, Knox looks like he desperately needs an offseason of weight training and track work. He talked about the “motor” issue he had in college and it’s noticeable at the game’s highest level against the best players in the world.
Would a G-League stint help him find his shooting rhythm and confidence? Or is it better for him to continue getting rotation minutes and taking his lumps at the NBA level?
Robinson is also in a funk lately and there’s no coincidence he has struggled the most against teams with big front lines, such as the Grizzlies and Pistons. Robinson fouled out in 16:44. He did record a blocked shot in the game, but as much as he’s proven to be a quick study in pick-and-roll coverages against small teams, another quick disqualification showed his inexperience against physical bigs. Robinson’s determination to stop every shot that comes his way is an excellent trait, but also works against him at times. So he’s averaging 3.8 blocks Per 36, but also 6.6 fouls Per 36.
Might be time to bring Sheed back for some tutoring.
Robinson wasn’t the only Knick in foul trouble, however, as Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh also fouled out. Fouls have been an issue for Vonleh, as well, and the Knicks aren’t the same team without him on the floor, which says a lot for what he’s developing into under Fizdale.
The Pistons benefited from 31 fouls by the Knicks and turned it into 32 points from the foul line (on 45 free throw attempts).
– With neither point guard producing much in the game, Fizdale used it as an opportunity to give Trier a look at the top of the offense. “I thought he handled it well,” Fizdale said of Trier, who is averaging 3.8 assists per game over his last 4 games and putting a focus into being more than just the scorer his moniker “Iso Zo” suggests. “Every week I’m learning more and more,” he said, “something different about the game.” Trier said he played some point guard “at school” and added, “so it wasn’t anything I wasn’t ready for.” The stat line he posted and his continued rise in the rookie scoring ranks (he’s currently 7th at 12 points per game) may punch him a ticket to Charlotte for the Rookie Challenge game at All-Star Weekend. Consider that, so far, no rookie this season has posted a stat line of 24 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. In fact, according to Basketball Reference, only two other rookies have ever posted games with at least 24/10/7: Terrence Williams of the Nets in April 2010 and Andre Spencer of the Warriors in April 1993. T-Will was an 11th overall pick. Spencer was also an undrafted rookie, but he was a 28 year old rookie who played overseas before he signed with Golden State.
– Fizdale was smart to downplay the whispers of playoff ambition following the modest three-game winning streak brought the Knicks record to 7-14 before the loss in Detroit. Burke was quoted by the New York Post as saying “I think we believe we have a chance — and it’s early for me to say this — but I believe we have a chance to get in the playoffs this year. That should be our goal. I think that is our goal. It starts now.” Players don’t want to hear about rebuilds and lottery picks, but Fizdale is aware of the priorities for this season go beyond trying to get the 8th seed. The team certainly needs to be competitive to help develop the culture, but they can’t forget that player development and experience comes first. Beyond all of that, Burke was right when he said it’s early to talk about that kind of a mission. Perhaps he was caught up in the emotion of the win in Memphis, which is understandable. “You just try not to get seduced by our success,” Fizdale said at the shoot-around on Tuesday in Detroit. He continues to reference the “chop the tree” mantra, which comes with a prop: an axe he bought and had all the players sign as a promise to keep working though the long season. And the team has adopted that mentality, even as the game was slipping away in Detroit, down 18 in the fourth quarter, they kept battling and forced Dwane Casey to bring back his starters to finally put the Knicks away.
– Little Caesars Arena is the fifth different home arena the Pistons have had in their NBA existence in Detroit (Olympia Stadium, Cobo Arena, Pontiac Silverdome and the Palace at Auburn Hills). But the Knicks have a significant win in their franchise history on the road against the Pistons that did not take place in any of these buildings. Coincidentally, this arena has seen more championships than any other sports venue in that city’s history. So what arena did the Knicks get this big win and when?
[Coverage Of Knicks – 76ers Begins Tonight at 6:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]