My favorite night of the week is Thursday night. There is still work on Friday but it’s only 1 day, and by Friday afternoon everyone has that end-of-the-workday spirit. Even if you work 24×7 and thru the weekend — the spirit in the air is the thing. Thursday night has the hope of Friday in front of you. I think a lot of people feel this way — that’s why you see so many Car Groups meeting in parking lots on Thursday nights, and people gathering in local donut shops to play chess. Friday night is date night; Thursday is community night.
The NY Knicks are in their Thursday night. There is still a little bit of work to do to become contenders — but the weekend is in front of them. The reasons why:
The Knicks have Mitchell Robinson and nobody else does. Mitchell Robinson is one of the most exciting young players in the NBA. An “untouchable” on the trade market. He has a ceiling as high as the sky — Hakeem Olajuwon sky. He is a slam dunking, shot-blocking 7’1 athletic big man who jumps to the moon, and outjumps everyone on his SECOND jump. He is a quick learner who seems intent on becoming a star. Last year, after causing people to fall off their couch in his initial summer league in 2018 — he got better and better as the season progressed — getting better at rebounding, free throws, and staying out of foul trouble.
He is now reportedly learning a turnaround jumper, aka Hakeem Olajuwon. He has a good 3-pt shot that everyone has seen him take in practice on youtube but hasn’t been shown in games yet. If he gets the turnaround as a weapon, and develops a postup — it is going to be a very fun next 10 years in NYC to be a Knicks fan.
2. A Good GM
Scott Perry is a man with a plan. He is the best GM the Knicks have had in years. The first taste of Scott Perry was when he did NOT allow Carmelo Anthony to go for nothing and eat his contract like Phil Jackson was about to do. Instead, Perry somehow traded Melo and his contract to Oklahoma City for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a 2nd-round pick that ended up being Mitchell Robinson (see above). Kanter played good ball in NY — especially when teamed with Kristaps Porzingis — and his salary came off the books in time for the Knicks to have 2 max slots of room this summer, which they used for “Money Ball” free agency. McDermott was traded for Emanuel Mudiay, who played well for NY in 2018-19.
That was his first move as GM. He has since laid down a good young core, and is implementing a strategy to move the Knicks to title contenders — all of the points below.
3. A Good Young Core Has Been Laid Down
Looked horrible the first two games of summer league, but then looked good in game 3 and terrific in games 4 and 5. Barrett:
- Is aggressive to the basket and can score in a variety of ways. He is not super quick to the basket, but seems to know what he is doing — he takes what the defense gives; has a good handle and attacks with hesitations, stutter steps, spins, etc.
- He is not only a good passer — but Orchestrates. He has a leadership on the court — playing as if it is his game and his team — looking for teamates as he orchestrates the offense with good passing, or then goes to the hole if he is the best option. You can’t teach that and he seems to have it. It is a star quality.
- Played good defense (blocked a shot at the buzzer to send a game into overtime). Is a legit 6’7. Rebounds well. The last three games of summer league his lines were:
- He looks like a two-way player (offense and defense) who will get triple doubles often.
- Can penetrate defenses like a hot knife thru butter. Can score with the wind — inside and out. Shot 40% from 3. Hits his free throws. Plays pretty good defense. Went through growing pains last year in January and February when he was learning to pass first. A 6’5″ scoring machine and good all around guard.
- Has potential to be a star. He is STILL only 19 years old (turns 20 later this month, in August 2019). He is a legit 6’10 and growing and has a game made for the current NBA — shoots the 3 off the pass with no hesitation and if he’s not shooting the 3, he’s driving to the basket with the Eurostep. He has to improve on his finishing at the basket and his handle — which he has been working at and looked better at this summer league. He has to improve his defense and rebounding. That may come.
- He outplayed Zion Williamson in their summer league matchup. Knox blocked Zion twice and caused him to shoot up airballs. Zion looked small against Knox — even though the one play where Zion ripped the ball away from an unsuspecting Knox and slam dunked it became the play the NBA marketing engine put all over the internet. Zion was pulled from the game he was being outdone so badly by Robinson and Knox.
- Can score and score and score — inside and out. Very, very, very aggressive. Holy cow what a find. At least he looked great in summer league. We’ll see how he does during the season.
4. 2019 “Money Ball” Free Agency & Strategy
This summer Perry was at his best. With the 2 max slots available — and Kevin Durant coming down with the achilles injury — Perry did not overreact and squander the money on players who would not make a difference. He got gigged for this. Gigged for not laying down a max contract on Kemba Walker for example. Or Kawhi Leonard who would not have moved the Knicks by himself.
Instead Perry went to this strategy:
- Go “Money Ball” — filling the roster with a team of young, talented players and ‘shooters’ who should put the Knicks in position to be a 35-40 win team this year and playoff team next year. The beginning of a winning culture — if coach David Fizdale does his job well.
- Sign all of those players to 2- and 3-year contracts with club option for the last year — essentially 1- and 2-year contracts. This puts the Knicks in position to go after Anthony Davis as a free agent next summer, and Greek Freak in the summer of 2021. That is the big score — where you want to spend your max money.
5. Coaching ‘Lined Up’
The Knicks won’t go anywhere without great coaching. So far, David Fizdale has looked like a mediocre coach — a good developmental coach but a poor head coach. He has not been able to build an identity for the Knicks — on offense or defense. Granted he was trying to lose on purpose the second half of last season. Granted when he was trying to win in the first half, he had human monkey wrench Tim Hardaway Jr on the team. Still Fizdale has a TON to prove this coming season.
The good news here is that Mike Miller, who did a terrific job at Westchester the last two years and has spent time in the San Antonio system, has been promoted to Fizdale’s asistant coaching team. He could be a ‘secret sauce’ behind Fizdale this year — sometimes a good coach is only as good as his assistant coaches — see Tom Thibodeau as the magic behind Doc Rivers with 2009 Boston.
If the Knicks do well this season, it will be up to Perry to assess how much of it was Fizdale and how much was attributable to Miller. You wouldn’t want to lose another great assistant coach as the Knicks have done so many times in the past (Thibodeau and Kenny Atkinson to name two).