By Adolfo Lopez
Here we are, Knicks fans. The moment we all have been waiting for. No matter how level-headed some of us proclaim to be, in each and every one of us there’s the smallest, faintest voice saying, “what if we are better than even WE expect?”
Through conversations with many of you, there seems to be a very large range of opinions on the Knicks season. Most of us agree that we will be better than most media pundits think we will be. How much better is where the gray area starts.
Regardless of opinion, we were left with many takeaways and a lot of small sample sizes of data to take with us into this next season. While I patiently try to cure some of the anxiety and boredom I will face until Wednesday’s opener, here are a few musings.
1. The Knicks Starting PG hasn’t shown himself
– This isn’t really a knock on anyone individual (I’ll save that for my tweets), this is just the way things are after four pre-season games in which no point guard (given the opportunity) has announced themselves as the starter definitively. Frank Ntilikina made a hell of an argument, but I worry that there’s so much following him from season’s past (however fair or unfair that is), that he needed to do a little more to earn the spot. The last game he played in the pre-season was basically his stamp on earning the spot: He’s going to pester the living hell out of other teams point guards. But is that enough? With a roster that has plenty of defensive issues, it should be. But we also have a ton of offensive issues, including getting set up or out on the break quickly.
That brings me to Elfrid Payton. Boy, oh boy does this guy incite some fire in Knicks fans. I’m neither here nor there on him. I don’t think he does any one thing SO much better than any of our point guards (triple-doubles are extremely overrated), but that being said, I wish him no ill will and hope he gets an opportunity in a Knicks uniform. His own personal offense looked bad during the pre-season, and that’s putting it nicely. Think super-duper budget Rondo, like Five Below Rondo. The one thing you can make a case for with Payton is experience, and he has the idea around him that he can run an offense. Make of that what you may.
And lastly, Dennis Smith Jr. I saved him for last because I think he will be the starter. Not because he earned it either. While he played pretty well in the final pre-season game, he was dreadful in the third and missed the first two due to injury. However, he is the incumbent and the fact that no other PG definitively planted their flag as the starter means Dennis will most likely get the nod. When healthy, he can be an exciting match-up problem on offense because of his speed and explosion. He also is better than advertised as an on-ball defender, although he gets lost as hell on team defense. He showed enough in the final pre-season game that I think Fizdale will chalk his deficiencies up to rust and give him the spot.
This point guard spot, unfortunately, is going to be a story to watch AGAIN this season. The Knicks are reportedly picking up Frank and Dennis’ options today, which is a good thing. However, I expect a lot of lineup grievances from the fans as the season goes on, but just remember, your favorite guy (whoever he is) hasn’t done enough to prove they are THE guy. If you think otherwise, you’re really just fooling yourself.
2. Please, no more Point Randle– We get it. Randle is a good and willing passer out of the four spot. That does not mean he should be bringing the ball up the court out of in bound plays like he’s LeBron James. Let him pass in rhythm through the offense, but don’t try and turn him into Magic Johnson. I expect Randle to lead our team in assists in a lot of games this year, however that doesn’t mean he needs to be the primary ball handler. Save that for the next guy…
3. Point RJ, coming to a Garden near you– If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have been campaigning for this since we drafted the stud. RJ showed he’s a natural and willing playmaker. I say “point” mostly in fun jest. He probably shouldn’t be lined up at the point guard spot, but he can (and should) be the primary ball handler in many situations as his Knicks career unfolds. The only point guard that can probably take this duty from him is Elfrid Payton, and I say that solely because Elfird can’t do much else offensively if he is used primarily off the ball. Ntilikina and RJ? I see them working seamlessly, similar to how Houston used Patrick Beverly and James Harden a few years ago. Dennis and RJ? This is interesting. I don’t know how Dennis would be without the ball in his hand. He wasn’t very good in Dallas with Luka. This is more reliant on whether or not we are buying into his “improved shot”. I will second that by saying, if he becomes a better cutter, his leaping and explosion could come in handy off a couple slick RJ feeds.
4. Backup Center could be a problem– Turns out the first pre-season game, where Mitch stood his ass out of early foul trouble, may have been the anomaly. I think he will get better, but he gambles a lot. This could be a problem. I will continue to yell and scream that we should have kept Luke Kornet for this reason alone. Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis aren’t natural fives and both will have some issues protecting the rim as the season goes on and Mitch finds himself in early foul trouble. I won’t even get started on the idea of Randle getting extended run at the five when this happens. This could end up being a story-line that drags on throughout the season. Hopefully Mitch can improve this on the fly.
5. Ease up On Fizdale– It seems that the Frank Ntilikina Stans (I am a fan, not a stan) are by far the hardest on Fizdale. We get it, you want to see Frank succeed. I do too. However, let’s cool it on the “Fire Fizdale” narrative, for now. Mid-season this could be re-evaluated. He needs to get better. He needs to show some semblance of an offensive system that is more than hoping to get out on the fast break and take advantage of athleticism. By all means, that is excellent when we are getting the stops and getting out, but too many times when things break down we don’t see any plays being ran (which could also be a deeper sign of point guard issues, I’ll leave that here). Just guys reverting to iso-ball. If this doesn’t get better, than we might have to re-evaluate his job status as the season goes on. For now though, can we wait until he has at least coached this team in actual NBA games for a month? Thanks. (Sidenote: Who cares that he let Randle take the last three in the last pre-season game? First, I don’t think that was designed, but a breakdown from what was designed. Second, it’s a PRE-SEASON game against the team Randle played for last year. Jeez.)
The season officially starts for the Knicks on Wednesday against the Spurs. Should be a tough test out the bat before heading to Brooklyn to show those Nets who really runs New York. In the meantime, try not to over analyze the small things leading up to the season. Things tend to sort themselves out and we aren’t exactly on a “window” yet. Just sit back, and enjoy. For the first time, in a long time, we aren’t going into a season with expectations, good or bad. Let things work themselves out.
– LoTwitter: @lominatti