Bryan Gibberman and TKW Podcast co-host Kyle Maggio share their first impressions from the Knicks’ 3-0 start to the NBA preseason.
Bryan Gibberman: With three preseason games in the books we finally have some actual things to talk about withe the Knicks.
Let’s start with how Emmanual Mudiay performed in his start against the Pelicans.
I thought how head coach David Fizdale characterized what happened was on point. Mudiay did a nice job controlling the pace, pushing the tempo and creating for others. His defense is never going to be great, but the effort was better than the previous two games. There’s always going to be a cap on how good Mudiay can be unless the shooting and finishing gets dramatically improved.
Kyle Maggio: He wasn’t great, despite trying to push the pace. The tempo was there, and he had some assists (six), but Mudiay wasn’t able to really make an offensive impact without his shot falling (1-of-7).
I will say this, though: his struggles don’t entirely seem to be a lack of effort, he’s just simply not good, consistently. One play that exemplified this effort level was when he sprinted back on defense to stop a fast break by the Pelicans, as the ball was dumped in to Anthony Davis, from whom Mudiay knocked the ball loose. The kid tries, but he just doesn’t have it.
We’ve dumped on Mudiay a lot lately (rightfully), but props where it’s due; he breaks up what would’ve been an easy basket for Davis, which leads to Timmy finding Kanter for an easy bucket. pic.twitter.com/BKdRdmkt1u
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) October 6, 2018
Bryan: The other player I think we have to discuss is Lance Thomas. He looks healthy for the first time since Jeff Hornacek’s inaugural season, and it’s showing. What he brings on the defensive end is dramatically improved when he has increased lateral quickness. The player that was once used to defend anyone from point guards to power forwards seems to be back. Thomas is also playing more aggressive on the offensive end with success.
Having Thomas and Kevin Knox at the two forward positions can in some ways help minimize Enes Kanter’s weaknesses and highlight his strengths if everything goes according to plan. I’ve been a fan of the new look front court so far.
Kyle: I’ve loved that front court pairing thus far. For me, it’s twofold; I’ve always been a fan of Lance Thomas, and I think he’s largely bashed unfairly by Knicks fans. He’s a low usage guy who hits his threes at an efficient clip. Thomas is often asked to guard the best defender on opposing teams and generally has had to play with a lineup devoid of defensive talent. Seeing him play well and within his role is great.
I also think it’s great that Kevin Knox can learn an awful lot from playing with an unselfish guy like Thomas, who plays a position that Knox will spend time at as well. As a rookie, playing with other high-I.Q. players helps your growth immensely, and I really think it benefits Knox to play alongside Lance.
Easy dime for Knox to Lance for the first bucket of the game. pic.twitter.com/hxlpdgxJ3l
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) October 1, 2018
And to your point about accentuating Kanter’s strengths, how about those back-to-back 20-20 and 20-15 performances? Kanter’s been eating early and often, an absolute monster in the glass. What have you seen from him so far?
Bryan: I’ve never been a big Kanter, guy but if you can find a way to insulate him on the defensive end you can manage positive value from him. It’s hard to do that when he’s going to play a good amount of his minutes with Tim Hardaway Jr.
This brings me to the starting lineup. I’m fine with giving Trey Burke, Timmy, Knox, Lance and Kanter a shot. The problem is in time teams will force Burke and Kanter to defend too much pick-and-roll together leading to the defense collapsing. Coach Fizdale has a tool at his disposal that can help minimize Kanter’s defensive shortcomings—his name is Frank Ntilikina.
There’s some questions to be asked if a lineup featuring Frank, Timmy, Knox, Lance, and Kanter will have enough individual shot creation, but I think a smart scheme can make it work. Frank’s doing a better job breaking down a defense, he’s showing more confidence in using his body to create space in tight areas and then attacking the rim.
Having Frank and Lance to defend the opposing teams top two offensive initiators is helpful and with all the handing off Fizdale seems to be implementing someone with Frank’s size is extremely useful. You’d have three switchable pieces that can defend anyone and two liabilities versus two switchable pieces and three liabilities.
Kyle: I don’t mind that starting lineup at all in the context of what this season means. No Kristaps, no playoffs, so why not experiment with all these reclamation toys? I do agree, though, that teams will expose Burke and Kanter if they play too often together. I wonder how long of a leash Fizdale gives them when they’re getting burned?
As far as Frank goes, if he’s not going to start, bringing him in as the sixth man makes almost too much sense. Whether you bring him in to play the 1 or the 2, he’s a dramatic improvement defensively the second he steps onto the floor. Frank’s offense wasn’t there on Friday night, but he once again brought the heat on defense. Stout rotations, perfect recoveries, and a knack for cutting off the ball handler’s passing angles and driving lanes. Fizdale would be able to balance out the offense and defense some in giving Frank the keys to an expanded bench role like that, if nothing else.
Unfortunately for Frank’s offense, it’s still inconsistent despite the flashes of aggression we’ve seen lately. The game versus Brooklyn was his best of the short preseason so far, but he was passive once again. Is it really a bad thing to suggest Frank should play off-ball? I’m not sold on him at either spot, but I’m starting to come around in taking the pressure off of him as the lead ball handler, and letting him attack using his length with a little more ease. I feel as though they’re hesitant to start Frank at point because they view him as a two, or at least as a combo guard of sorts. I don’t care what he ends up playing as as long as he’s good there.