I’ve often told fans who express frustration with the win-loss column that this season you can’t watch the Knicks for what they do as a team on the court.
This is the type of season you have to watch as a scout, where you’re merely looking for talent. By the end of this season, maybe even by the February trade deadline, you need to be sure of who you want to keep and who you need to try to turn into an asset.
And along the way, you can’t get caught up in the results of the games. That’s not easy to do for fans, who are so emotionally involved in team success. Just imagine how tough it is for a coach, who wears the win-loss record for the rest of his life.
“All of us as are bred, as athletes, our whole life: win at all costs, if you don’t win, it’s death,” David Fizdale said before the game. “That’s just how you’re bred. You’re hard-wired that way. But now that I’m coaching this team and I understand that we’re going to go through struggles, I’ve had to kind of re-boot myself to say, ‘OK, what’s really a victory?’
“A victory for us is Kevin Knox getting a double-double, Mitchell [Robinson] not fouling when his hands are in here. Little stuff like that, where I start to see more consistency, because I know if I get that part consistent, the real wins will come. So, I’m really trying to stay focused on that, in the details of them just improving individually.”
That’s understandable. It’s how Brett Brown survived all of those years of “The Process” in Philadelphia before last season showed their promise and this season is showing them as a contender. But it’s easier to say you want your franchise to endure a rebuild, it’s harder to go through it when you can’t check out for weeks at a time. As long as there are referees and a scoreboard, there is a reason to be competitive.
The Knicks (9-24), without Kristaps Porzingis from the start and with the youngest roster in the NBA that is now dealing with injuries, typically don’t have enough experienced talent on the floor to be competitive. So, you take note of Knox scoring 21 points for his sixth straight game with 15 or more points.
The issue is he’s the only rookie playing right now. Robinson (ankle) and Allonzo Trier (hamstring) missed this game, so there was nothing new to see from either of them. While Damyean Dotson (14 points) seems to be getting his shooting touch back after returning from a shoulder injury, fellow sophomore Frank Ntilikina (3 points, 1 for 7 shooting in 16:08) had one of those uninspiring performances that led to his string of DNP-CDs a few weeks ago. It’s one thing if his shot isn’t falling, but it’s another when you look for him to be that defensive stopper and instead T.J. McConnell blows by him twice on the dribble.
Ntilikina has to enter games with the mindset of being a difference-maker on the defensive end, where the Knicks are now getting shredded on a nightly basis. This was the third time this season that they allowed over 130 points and the second game it happened in regulation time.
But more glaring trend to underline just how poor the defense has been is that over the last 12 games, the Knicks have not only failed to hold a single opponent to under 100 points, they haven’t even kept them under 110.
It’s easy to point to coaching, that’s where schemes and preparation are supposed to come from. But this isn’t a new trend here. Poor defense has been a major issue for this franchise from coach to coach. So perhaps that leads us to what this season is all about: establish what you want your identity to be — Fizdale uses the term “Knicks DNA” which suggests a tough, defensive mindset — and then identify the players who fit that identity.
That’s the only way to watch this season.
– Knox had another strong start with 10 of his 21 points in the first quarter and had 14 at the half. His challenge now is to put together a full game, but you can’t take away from his consistent production in the month of December. In fact, Knox has emerged as one of the top rookies in the NBA this month (and, as a result, finds himself now on NBA.com’s “Rookie Ladder”, which power ranks the best 5 rookies’ week-by-week). In December, Knox leads all rookies in minutes (33.4 per game), field goal attempts (15.2), three-pointers made (25), and is second in points per game (17.0), just behind Luka Doncic (18.1).
– Tim Hardaway Jr. returned from a one-game respite to calm a plantar fascia issue in his foot and the rest did him good. He had one of his best games in quite a while, with 27 points and 5 assists. Hardaway made 7 of 16 from the field and was 10 for 10 from the line. The plantar fasciitis was revealed by Fizdale as something Hardaway had been trying to play through. The numbers showed the affect the nagging pain in the foot has on his performance, as he shot 35.1% over the 13 games prior to him sitting out Monday’s game against the Suns.
– Emmanuel Mudiay had one of those frustrating duds in the midst of some of the best basketball of his career. He made just 3 of 12 from the field and 1 of 5 from downtown for 11 points and 5 assists. After the game, “Mud” praised the performances of Knox and Hardaway while offering this assessment of his game: “I sucked tonight.”
– Knox’s run of 6 straight games of 15 points or more doesn’t seem like it should be historic for a Knicks rookie, but it is. Neither Kristaps Porzingis nor Danilo Gallinari, previous top-10 picks, had done it. Nor did Hardaway Jr. or Iman Shumpert or Wilson Chandler, who now plays for the 76ers and is one of the veterans on that team. You have to go back 32 years and to a franchise legend: Patrick Ewing in Jan. 1986. Knox will need to keep up the scoring for a while to match Ewing’s run of 14 straight games with 15 or more points. But that’s not the longest streak of at least 15 points as a Knicks rookie. That record is 24 and it wasn’t done by Ewing or anyone with a jersey in the rafters. But this player was once teammates with Ewing, was the second-highest draft pick the Knicks have made since 1967 and played on three NBA championship teams. So, who is it?
[Coverage Of Knicks-Hawks Begins Friday At 7 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]