The trade deadline has come and gone, and with a roster more or less shaped, the Knicks face the Pistons again—this time on their home turf.
After a two-day rest, the New York Knicks (10-43) rematch with the Detroit Pistons (24-29) at Little Caesar’s Arena, Michigan. New York fell to the hands of the mighty Blake Griffin and the Pistons at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, but both rosters have slightly changed since the last bout.
The NBA’s trade deadline came and went—with little significance affecting either team. For the Knicks, beyond the Kristaps Porzingis trade with the Mavericks that occurred one week before the deadline, the team quietly waived Enes Kanter, 26-year-old center who they acquired in the Carmelo Anthony trade with Oklahoma City then opted in to his contract last summer, and Wesley Matthews, the expiring swingman who was acquired via Dallas. The Knicks will keep center DeAndre Jordan on the team, too.
The Pistons, meanwhile, traded their 2015 draft pick, Stanley Johnson—selected one pick after Emmanuel Mudiay—after numerous seasons without demonstrative growth. Detroit received the Milwaukee Bucks seven-footer Thon Maker in their deadline deal. More pressing, however, was the Pistons’ deal with the Lakers, which sent Reggie Bullock, who scored 19 points and torched the Knicks from outside, for Svi Mykhailiuk, the Ukrainian rookie small forward and a future second-round pick. Also, late and breaking, the Pistons are reportedly signing perimeter-shooting threat Wayne Ellington to a contract, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, assuming Ellington clears the waiver wire.
The two rosters are settled for the most part (the Knicks could promote a G Leaguer or two before all is said and done). So, what do we have to make of a rematch between a team on the outside looking into the East’s playoff picture and the NBA’s bottom-dweller scratching the surface of a ritualistic sacrifice of a Unicorn in hopes the gods will provide Zion?
All Eyes on Dennis
Dennis Smith Jr. had a calm debut for the Knicks against Memphis—but versus the Pistons on Tuesday, the second-year lead guard opened eyes with his playmaking ability (hitting a few shots from deep didn’t hurt either).
Smith Jr.’s 25-point, six-assist performance against the Pistons didn’t come without critiques, however. The former NC State standout had a nice game in spite of efficiency—it took 25 shot attempts to score 25 points. Smith is the presumptive starter going forward, as the Knicks lean into the Porzingis trade return while Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina are sidelined with ailments. Until the end of the season, team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry will have time to evaluate how DSJ fits with the team in the future. Can the 21-year-old stick to New York’s roster next season, or can he be dangled with the 2019 first-round pick (and more) for New Orleans’ Anthony Davis?
Kevin Knox Needs to Turn the Corner
2019 hasn’t been too kind for Kevin Knox, the Knicks’ first-round selection in 2018 with the ninth overall pick. February, however, has gifted Knox with an invitation to the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge in place of Lonzo Ball—an olive branch of peace for the struggling rookie who was honored with the Eastern Conference’s Rookie of the Month in December.
Knox scored 11 points on Tuesday against Detroit on 12 field-goal attempts. The University of Kentucky product shot 36.6 percent from the field in January and is shooting 35.3 percent in three games in February, per NBA Stats. It’s time for Kevin to perk up—hopefully, the initial rookie-sophomore game snub-then-inclusion will give him a chip on his shoulder and further motivation to improve and display stability on the wing for New York.
The latest addition to the Rising 🌟 Challenge
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 6, 2019
Matchup to Watch: Griffin vs. Vonleh
One move that never materialized on Thursday, by the way, was the Knicks trading Noah Vonleh. The 6-foot-9 springy power forward has been a blessing in disguise since Perry signed the former lottery pick to a one-year, partially guaranteed contract in the offseason. He’s matched up against Griffin again, though, who dismantled Vonleh and the Knicks three days ago—scoring 29 points, pulling down six rebounds, and dishing out eight assists.
The smartest for Vonleh to do is force Griffin to dribble—and hopefully fumble—the ball. The former Clipper forward is an adequate but willing ball handler for Motor City, but five turnovers peppered his stat line in Tuesday’s clash and the Knicks would stand to benefit to create fast-break opportunities, run in transition, and utilize Dennis Smith’s full-court quickness to provide instant offense for the 10-win team.
Griffin has expanded his shot profile and range to perimeter distance, too. The first overall pick in 2009 from Oklahoma shot 3-for-6 from deep on Tuesday; that’s not a likely outcome on most nights, though. Griffin is a career 33.8 percent three-point shooter, per Basketball-Reference, although he’s having a bit of a renaissance from deep this year, shooting a near-season-best 36.3 percent on a greater volume. Griffin’s shot profile has dramatically changed in recent years, with a 20 percent shift to three-point shooting from 2016–17 to 2017–18. Blake is the team’s primary playmaker has Pistons fans grumble about point guard Reggie Jackson’s performance. Force Blake into making poor plays, telegraphed passes, and intercept lanes. The Pistons, despite hiring last year’s Coach of the Year in Dwane Casey, are the eight-worst offense with only a respectable defense, top 10, carrying them near .500.
Fizdale on DeAndre mentoring Robinson, and Robinson’s play:
“He keeps doing stuff that we haven’t seen. Blocks a shot in the corner, chases it down, keeps it inbounds .As the game continues to slow down for him, I think we’ve got a nice steal” pic.twitter.com/FjLlu1iL9g
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 6, 2019
Lastly, on Andre Drummond, the imposing center tallied 17 points and 16 rebounds on Tuesday. Don’t mind the rebounding numbers, however. The Knicks actually out-rebounded Detroit—those numbers on the glass are more layered since Drummond can be a one-man show on the boards. A team shooting often and willingly and creating a greater number of possessions will undoubtedly create more rebounding opportunities and total number of defensive rebounds for a player like Drummond, who prides himself as a premier rebounder (for a 6-11 center). If the Knicks are forcing turnovers, playing at a higher tempo, and generally playing a game with more possessions than they have earlier in the season (they’re now 16th in pace), then the individual, end-of-game numbers Andre accrues are of little import. Attempt more three-pointers, create vertical lanes for guys like Mitchell Robinson and keepsake DeAndre Jordan, and let your playmakers catch guys like Jackson, Griffin, and Drummond sleeping.
It’s likely to be an ugly game, again, but the Knicks should be able to close the gap this time around and not lose double digits. (Insert Freezing Cold Facts snapshot here.)