The Knicks confront a slumping sophomore in Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz in the second game of their road trip.
The month of December has been one long, rocky, slippery slope for the New York Knicks (9-27). After back-to-back losses against the Milwaukee Bucks, New York is currently on a six-game losing streak and is now 2-11 in December. Up next, New York faces Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and the Utah Jazz (17-19) on the road, where the Knicks are 5-15 on the season.
Leading up to the teams’ first matchup of the season, both squads have struggled in their own ways. For the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell has returned to Earth after a fantastic rookie season and is currently in the midst of a sophomore slump.
Mitchell could and should use this game against the 29th-ranked defense in the NBA to return to his former glory. Through the month of December, the Knicks have given up 118.8 points per game to their opponents on a ridiculous 48.5 percent shooting from the field, per NBA Stats. However, one area in which the team has improved is its perimeter defense, where it has held opponents to 33 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Kevin Knox’s play through December has been the sole bright light for these struggling Knicks. In 13 games, eight of which he has started, Knox has posted a very solid 17.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game on 40 percent shooting from the floor, 36 percent from three, and 64 percent from the line. If New York has any hope that this game will remain competitive into the fourth quarter, Knox will have to continue his stellar end to the calendar year while also making a concerted team effort to shutting down Donovan Mitchell and Co.
Here are a few things to note before tonight’s game.
The Emmanuel Mudiay vs. Frank Ntilikina Conundrum
In the first 13 games of the season, Frank Ntilikina led the New York Knicks in assists six times. Since then, due to various reasons, he has not led the team in assists once. To be clear, Ntilikina has not led the team in assists since November 10, 2018.
Through those first 13 games, Ntilikina was averaging 27.5 minutes per game and seemingly had taken over the lead guard role. Since that game, Frank is averaging just 18 minutes per game and in those minutes, hitting just 34 percent of his shots from the field and an even worse 28.9 percent from deep. Meanwhile, Fizdale made adjustments accordingly and out of the rough, a diamond has appeared in the form of Emmanuel Mudiay.
Mudiay has been legit. Since the start of December, Mud is averaging 19 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game on 46 percent from the field, 33 percent from three, and 80 percent from the line (via Basketball-Reference). He has been the utmost successful tank commander.
Mudiay will start again tonight against the Jazz and will defend the pesky Ricky Rubio. Normally facing guards smaller than him, Mudiay may have a tougher time driving to the lane when going against a guard his size and DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert. He’ll need to disrupt the paint and distribute the ball accordingly in order for the Knicks to win.
Did Kornet Seal Kanter’s Fate?
After a career-game against the Milwaukee Bucks, when he carried the Knicks with 23 points (7-of-11 shooting from deep), five rebounds, and three assists, the controversial decision to start Kornet over Kanter makes Fizdale look good.
Enes Kanter is a great offensive player, even Fizdale has been quoted saying that he’s a “top-five back-to-the-basket player” in the league. However, he’s severely inept defensively. See below:
🤦🏽♂️ “Pick n Roll at 00 every time” https://t.co/riaizpFpZV
— Devin Booker (@DevinBook) December 18, 2018
It’s no secret that Kanter is a sad defensive player, but lately his lack of effort on that end has been putrid, and he must be punished for that. Kornet has played the majority of the season either in the G League or off the bench. In his second career start, Luke showed that he not only can compete against fellow NBA bigs but can also thrive. If he can continue to stretch the floor and play, at the very least some defense, watch out Kanter.
Noah Vonleh Does Much More Than Rebound
After perhaps the best game of his career, Vonleh was tasked with stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo, a nearly impossible feat.
Knicks forward Noah Vonleh defended Giannis Antetokounmpo on 181 possessions this season. Giannis shot 25/48 on those poss (52.1%). He shot 58.7% against everyone else. Of the 15 players to defend Giannis for at least 35 possessions, that's the 5th lowest shooting percentage.
— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) December 28, 2018
Averaging career-highs in almost every statistic, Vonleh has been the Knicks’ most complete player, by far. Against the Jazz, he has another tough task of containing Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. As a pair, the two don’t fit very well together, but individually both are offensive threats that will have to be contained.
The combo of Kornet and Vonleh is pretty interesting because for the first time this season, the entire starting frontcourt can stretch the floor. The presence of Kristaps Porzingis is missed, but the two hit a combined nine threes last game. Vonleh is currently hitting 39 percent of his threes and his ability to post up and stretch the floor has been a vital development for this Knicks team.
The game starts at 8 p.m. EST and will take place in Salt Lake City, Utah.
UPDATE: Rubio Rubio will not play on Saturday vs. the Knicks (per Utah Jazz).