Digesting this season’s playoffs through the prism of the current Knicks situation, featuring Bryan Gibberman and Charlie Zegers.
Bryan: Man, we’ve been lucky enough to get two Game 7’s in the conference finals.
The Warriors got back to being the Warriors on Saturday and not the iso-happy Kevin Durant–centered outfit they had become through the first five games of the series. Golden State looks like a different team when they get Durant to play within the flow off of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s three-point shooting. Houston was able to slow them down early in the game before the Warriors were able to fully get loose—it’s so damn difficult to defend them when the group plays Steve Kerr’s balanced offense that leans towards his backcourt being the focus over the course of an entire game.
I think, as Knicks fans, we’re conditioned to hate the very idea of isolation basketball. After all, certain players and their…affinity for iso-ball basically ran Mike D’Antoni out of town, ended Linsanity, and destroyed the most promising Knicks team we’d seen since Jeff Van Gundy left town.
Not that I’m bitter.
But I think one of the most interesting lessons we can take away from this year’s playoffs is that iso-ball can work—in the right situation. And the right situation is when you’ve got LeBron James or James Harden and Chris Paul on your team.
I also think it’s sort of fascinating that D’Antoni’s Rockets pushed the Warriors to the brink of elimination playing the sort of switch-heavy defense that drove me crazy when he was running the Knicks. (It’s almost like personnel matters.)
That said, it’s far too easy to make the West Finals a narrative about iso-ball against ball movement, or to make Kevin Durant the selfish player that disrupted the Warriors’ unstoppable balance. I think the real story is a lot simpler. Andre Iguodala’s injury opened the door for the Rockets, but Chris Paul’s hamstring closed it again.
I don’t remember the D’Antoni switching scheme off the top of my head well, but I do remember my issues with it when Mike Woodson was the head coach, for instance. The problem with Woodson was less about the switching and more about how they handled the “mismatches” switching created. It was the double after the switch leading to wide open corner threes that was the real problem rather than the initial switch.
There’s something to your straightforward view of the WCF—the series most likely ended the second Paul went down and a sidelined Iguodala exposed Golden State’s lack of depth at the wing position, which gave Houston a shot. That being said, the difference in the Warriors between Game 6 and the rest of the series was stark. Durant was essentially doing to Curry and Klay what Westbrook did to him when he was with the Thunder, which in part led to KD’s departure. Durant is such a singularly talented player that him going roque at times is going to work, but the Warriors three-point shooting is their engine and taking that away makes them a worse team.
One thing I wanted to discuss after watching these four teams in the conference finals is what players on the Knicks current roster would be able to be on the court in either of these series?
My list looks like this:
Confident: Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, Daymean Dotson
Lean Towards Yes: Kyle O’Quinn, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee
Might Be Able to Do It With Some Development In Certain Areas Or Just For Short Stretches: Trey Burke, Troy Williams, Luke Kornet, Ron Baker.
A Younger, Healthy Version Of Him Could Have: Joakim Noah and Lance Thomas
HAHAHAHAHA: Enes Kanter and Emmanuel Mudiay
I like the way you’ve formulated the question, but there’s one problem. LeBron could take literally any team through the East to the Finals.
(Here’s a thought experiment for you: swap the best player on each of the teams playing in the conference championship games for Porzingis. How far would the Knicks go with Harden as their best player? With LeBron? With Durant? With… eh, take your pick of the Celtics? I’m thinking LeBron gets that squad to the Finals, but Harden or Durant would get knocked out in the second round and “best available Celtic” might not get past the first.)
That said… I think you’re a bit optimistic in suggesting that either Ntilikina or Dotson would get any run in a conference finals series right now, but I’m near-certain they’ll get to that point. (And I love what Fizdale did, taking some of the young Knicks to a playoff game in Boston for a taste of the atmosphere.) But I’m also certain that O’Quinn and Lee could have helped just about any one of the final four, especially the Cavs and Warriors with their depth issues. Lee in particular feels like an unnecessary luxury on this team; I’d like to see him traded to a playoff contender.
I honestly don’t know what to make of Timmy at this point. And I think I like Burke more than you do.
Kanter might have a role on a good team, but I’m not sure he’d accept being “situational bench scorer who can only play with a top rim protector.” KP covered some of Kanter’s liabilities early last season, which freed Kanter to post some pretty impressive-but-superficial counting stats.
I was doing the exercise more in a way of what each players’ skill set was and how they’d fit on the court with these teams. Frank and Dotson’s collective defensive versatility to guard numerous positions would allow them to not get played off the court. Lee would get caught against switches versus bigs and get completely overpowered. I don’t think that happens to the two young kids in time, maybe even now.
We watched how much Hardaway struggled in that game in Oakland when he was forced to play the three and he got eaten alive by Durant, as many players do. I do think if you have the right surrounding players you can find minutes for him, but the length of Klay Thompson and KD is a real issue. He could hang against any non-Dubs team much easier.
That’s the thing, though… nobody matches up with the Warriors.
I do see what you’re getting at. The new prototype NBA player is:
- Able to guard multiple positions—to switch from guards to wings to the occasional big;
- Enough of a threat from the outside that he can’t be totally ignored when setting up for, say, a corner three;
- Willing to pass
And if he’s not all three of those things, he’d better be absolutely amazing at something else.
How many of those guys to the Knicks have currently?
(Looks at your top two groups.)
How many current Knicks have a chance to be a major part of the team when they are ready to truly compete again?
(Looks at those same two groups again.)