This was a night Brett Brown might have had some nostalgia as he looked down the sideline at David Fizdale trying to guide his team through an ugly performance with an emphasis on getting something out of the night.
Fizdale allowed himself to pump his fist down 30 because rookie Kevin Knox executed a move the coaching staff has been teaching him.
There was a stretch of three consecutive years where Brown’s 76ers, in the early days of “The Process” couldn’t get to 20 wins. Then Joel Embiid arrived and they almost got to 30. Then Ben Simmons arrived and they hit 50. Now, with Jimmy Butler in the fold, they’re hoping to prove to be ready to contend.
Along the way, Brown worked with several young prospects with the effort to develop some into keepers while also finding some diamonds in the rough. Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor weren’t keepers, but Embiid and Simmons certainly were. T.J. McConnell proved to be a diamond in the rough, as did Robert Covington, who eventually helped the Sixers land Butler.
The moral of the story is, not all of them turn out to be success stories. But they’re all worth your time until you figure out what they can be. The trouble is, that process is the most difficult to endure.
Fizdale is going through it right now. He has lottery picks that need experience and seasoning, and he also has diamonds in the rough that need to be polished. Out of this group, only a handful will be on the roster that the Knicks hope eventually resembles something like what the 76ers have become. It’s up to Fizdale and the coaching staff to find them.
Knox is one of the most important projects they have. The 19-year-old has shown flashes of potential while also showing evidence of being overwhelmed in the first quarter of his rookie season. He just went through a stretch of games where he shot 29% from the field and was often picked on by opposing veterans. But in Philadelphia, Knox once again had a few moments where the light bulb flickered on. He finished with a modest 9 points and 7 rebounds in 23:26 and made just 3 of 9 from the field, but it was the awareness that he spoke with after the game that suggests he’s not as lost as he sometimes seems on the court.
“I’m just trying to get more comfortable going to the basket,” Knox said. “Tonight, I tried to be more aggressive getting towards the rim and not settling for outside jump shots . . . I’ve got a lot of work to do, because I’ve missed some easy shots and got bumped away from the basket. That’s all just learning and growing and getting stronger getting towards the rim.”
We asked in the previous game recap if perhaps a G-League stint might be in the offing for Knox. Perhaps some run in the minors would help him find his rhythm and maybe develop some confidence. But Fizdale quickly squashed that idea before the game in Philadelphia.
“No, I want him with us,” Fizdale said. “Even if he’s not playing a lot of minutes some nights, just being around the group, being around the NBA, watching the game from that perspective is all experience and learning. I don’t want him spending a minute there right now.”
Fellow rookie Mitchell Robinson is also going through the education of a young pro in an unforgiving league. He struggled early once again with foul trouble but managed to avoid any more foul issues in the second half to finish with a performance he, too, can build on. Robinson had 5 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks, including two against Embiid. In fact, evidence of work he’s putting in during film session to correct his foul troubles was on display after he played outstanding defense on Embiid on one post-up in the first half, where he kept his hands off and altered Embiid’s shot.
Damyean Dotson followed up his statement game off the bench in Detroit with another solid performance, with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. And in a game the Knicks trailed by 25 in the second quarter and as many as 31 in the second half, Dotson managed a +5 in 23:37.
Fellow sophomore Frank Ntilikina, however, struggled yet again. In Detroit he did not record a single traditional stat. In Philly, he was once again scoreless and did not get a rebound, but he did have two assists to his name. He was -11 in 14:23 and struggled to do anything to slow down JJ Redick (24 points), who had torched Emmanuel Mudiay from the opening tip. During this back-to-back, Ntilikina shot 0 for 8 and 0 for 3 from three-point range. Over the last four games, he’s made only 3 of 17 from the field. There is still a lot of work ahead for the 20-year-old.
The team, as a whole, looked worn down in the second game of a road back-to-back and the 11th road game of the month of November. While Mario Hezonja got involved early to score 10 of his 17 points in the first quarter and Enes Kanter (17 points) battled Embiid (26 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists) in the paint, the starting backcourt of Tim Hardaway Jr. (1 for 11 and 0 for 6 from three) and Mudiay combined fohttps://www.msgnetworks.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=74878&action=edit&ip-geo-block-auth-nonce=d2561b10c6#r 2 for 16 shooting and 0 for 9 from three. Noah Vonleh was in foul trouble again. Trey Burke suddenly has gone cold again and rookie Allonzo Trier (3 for 11, 8 points and -25 in 21:41) did not have nearly the same quickness or energy he did in Detroit.
“We just got blitzed,” Fizdale said.
– Jimmy Butler finished with a very quiet 7 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 25:02. The day before the game, he was asked about the reports that the Knicks were one of his preferred destinations when he requested a trade from the Timberwolves. “I don’t know,” he said, “and to tell you the truth, I don’t even talk about the trade no more because I’m here. And I’m loving it here.” When reports of Butler’s trade demands first surfaced, very well-connected and credible NBA writers cited sources that had the Knicks on his list of teams. But the Knicks made it known that they were not willing to trade assets for a player they could sign as a free agent (Butler can become a free agent this summer). Butler had hoped to land in New York and get a max deal from the Knicks and you can bet Butler’s friend, Dwyane Wade, put in a good word about Fizdale. But once the Knicks resisted the urge to make a deal, Butler’s attention turned elsewhere. It’s quite possible that would have been their only chance to land Butler, who may not even be available to them this summer.
– While Embiid and Simmons were major hits by the 76ers in their years of lottery pick collecting, they’ve missed on many others, such as Noel, Okafor and perhaps even last year’s No. 1 pick, Markelle Fultz. The 20-year-old is now away from the team and reportedly meeting with specialists in New York regarding his shoulder and wrist. The belief is Fultz may have a condition in either his wrist or shoulder that has contributed to his stunning troubles with the simple motion of shooting the basketball. There has been talk that Fultz wants out of Philadelphia, but his agent has since denied any trade requests have been made. It’s an interesting situation to monitor, however, because of the awkward fit with Simmons dominating the basketball as a point-forward and the presence of Butler as someone else who will command the ball. The first priority, of course, is for Fultz to find out what is going on with his shoulder/wrist and if it can be fixed. He went from being a prolific college scorer to someone whose free throw shooting resembled that of Charles Barkley’s golf swing.
– Courtney Lee could return to the lineup in time for Saturday’s game against the Bucks at The Garden. Lee had been cleared for full contact but wanted to get through a few practices before he suited up for his season debut. After a tough back-to-back, and third game in four days, the Knicks have two days off before they face Milwaukee, which should allow Lee enough time to get in some work with the team.
– As we completed the first quarter of the season, Wally Szczerbiak and I debated four topics around the NBA on the pregame show. Watch the video and tweet at us (@alanhahn and @wallyball) to let us know who you agree with and, most importantly, who you think won the debate. The control room says I won, but we had an executive chime in and give the win to Wally. I think we need to hear from the people on this one!
[Coverage Of Knicks-Bucks Begins Saturday at 4:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]