The Knicks face last year’s Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball and the Hornets on Friday following an identity-shaking home loss at the hands of the Bucks.

After losing three of their last five, the New York Knicks (7-5) hope to return to their winning ways when they take on the Charlotte Hornets (6-7) Friday. These teams will meet twice more in the 2021–22 campaign on January 17th and March 23rd. 

Like New York, Charlotte has hit a rough patch after a hot start to the season. The Hornets head into tonight’s game with a 1-5 record over their last six; they just recently snapped a five-game losing streak against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. But recent struggles notwithstanding, the Hornets are no pushover with budding superstar LaMelo Ball and an early-season Most Improved candidate in Miles Bridges. 

Buzz City big man PJ Washington (elbow) will miss his fifth-consecutive contest. For the Knicks, Nerlens Noel (sprained knee) is considered day-to-day.

Fournier needs to turn things around on both ends

Evan Fournier is still searching for his rhythm with New York. The Frenchman has yet to reach the 20-point mark since dropping 32 on Boston in the season-opener. Aside from a few exceptions here and there, Fournier is not shooting the ball well as of late—he’s converting just 39.7% of his field goals in November. His scoring woes came to a head in New York’s latest outing versus Milwaukee, when he logged perhaps his worst performance as a Knick yet.

In 19 minutes of play, Fournier scored just two points on 1-for-5 shooting from the field. He was borderline unplayable, missing open looks and not contributing in any other facet of the game. With that said, there are bigger concerns with Fournier. Yes, he has had a rough offensive stretch lately, but he’s a well-documented streaky shooter. His perimeter shot will come around. If not on Friday, then soon.

It’s his recent play on the other end that’s truly concerning. Fournier’s defensive effort has been, at times, inexcusable. It’s hard to tell whether Fournier is going through the tribulations of adjusting to a new defensive scheme or simply doesn’t have his head in the game. Whatever the case may be, Fournier must improve his intensity and attention to detail. If not, it may be only a matter of time until he falls out of favor with the defensive-minded Thibodeau and gets booted from the starting lineup.

Get to the rim against a porous Hornets defense

The Hornets are the epitome of an “all offense, no defense” team. Averaging 114.5 points per game, they have been undoubtedly one of the deadliest offensive clubs in basketball. With Ball, Bridges, Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre, and Terry Rozier, Charlotte is replete with guys who can put up points in bunches. But they don’t get stops. In fact, the Hornets rank among the worst defenses in the league in several metrics, such as defensive efficiency, opponent fast-break points, and, most notably, points in the paint (48.6 per game). 

There’s a simple explanation for why the Hornets can’t stop a traffic cone from scoring inside: they don’t have a rim protector. Mason Plumlee is their de facto man in the middle with Washington sidelined, and he’s an average paint protector at best (ranks in the 51st percentile in opponent shooting percentage at the rim). Just like what the Knicks did against New Orleans and Valanciunas, they should hammer the pick-and-roll early and often. Get RJ Barrett and Julius Randle downhill and force Plumlee to make the tough decision to check his man or the ball. 

 

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