Knicks Buzzer Beater: 3 Observations, 2 Questions, 1 Prediction

3 Observations

1. Mitchell Robinson rebounding in traffic

Mitchell Robinson has earned every bit of praise he’s received the last couple weeks. And his surge couldn’t have come at a better time for Knicks fans – like seeing a lighthouse after spending the last five months adrift in a sea of Tim Hardaway Jr. iso pull-ups. Seriously, it’s been a tough year for us, between Frank Ntilikina’s injuries/ lacking development and Kevin Knox’s recent struggles. Personally, I’ve felt unmoored, utterly lost in space. At least now I know how Enes Kanter feels defending a pick-and-roll.

Half-jokes aside, Robinson’s glaring weakness all season has been his defensive rebounding. He began this year biting on virtually every pump fake he saw, jumping out of position and rendering him unable to finish defensive possessions with a board. Through January 31st, Robinson was grabbing just 10.4% of available defensive rebounds, one of the worst marks in the league among centers. But, in his last 12 games since February 1st, Mitch is snatching up almost 20% of available defensive rebounds. That’s still not an elite number, but it’s an enormous upgrade over his early season numbers.

More impressive has been Robinson’s improvement rebounding in traffic, a must-have skill for bigs who don’t bring (or project to bring) a modicum of shooting or playmaking. Through January 31st, he was collecting 2.2 “contested” rebounds in his 17.3 mpg, per Since, he’s been grabbing closer to 5 contested rebounds in his 23 mpg. Watch his pursuit on this one:

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Or this one, where he is literally at half court when D.J. Augustin starts his jump shot:

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Those are the types of rebounds I’m looking to see more of as this season winds down.

2. Damyean Dotson as a distributor

For much of the season, Dotson has been statistically one of the worst-passing guards in the league. Through February 1st, 69 rotation guards had usage rates of 15% or higher. Dotson was tied for dead-last with Jaylen Brown in Assist Percentage at just 8.1%. That’s not quite Kristaps Porzingis-level pathetic, but it’s remarkably low for a guard, even for one that plays mostly off the ball. You need to be Klay Thompson on offense to get away with that lack of playmaking.

It’s a skill, even more so than three-point shooting, that is valued at a premium in today’s league. Thankfully, Dotson has taken it upon himself to strengthen that weakness in his game. In the 12 games since February 1st, Dotson’s Assist Percentage is up to 13.1%. I like to attribute some of that bump to the Mitchell Robinson Effect:

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Robinson’s threat as a roll-man really does open up new possibilities for passers. But the reality is, Dotson has just flat-out improved operating out of a pick-and-roll. He even recorded a season-high 6 assists versus Cleveland on February 28th, including this impressive look:

If Dotson wants to be a part of the rotation if and when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are running the show, he’s going to need to incorporate more secondary playmaking into his game.

3. Kevin Knox has stopped running

When Kevin Knox is at his best, he’s getting out on fast breaks and using his size and athleticism to attack the rim. It’s really his only opportunity to finish with force since his half-court game has devolved into flinging passive floaters from every angle and distance. During those halcyon days of December, Knox averaged 2.4 fast break points per game, a very respectable number. Knox frequently put himself in position for easy buckets off of grab and go’s or simply running the floor:

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During the past eight games (not including last night versus the Kings), Knox has not made a single fast break field goal. He has two made free throws coming from a shooting foul, and that’s it. He was averaging more fast break points in a single game during December than he has scored in the previous eight games combined.

He’s had some opportunities on fast breaks, but they are few and far between. When he does get out to run, he just looks tired and plodding compared to his early-season springiness:

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The end of that play reminded me of Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer.  The simple explanation is the 19-year-old has gotten worn down during his first NBA season. He’s going to have a long off-season during which he can work on his body and conditioning to ready himself for next year. But, without question, transition scoring will need to be a major part of his offensive game for the foreseeable future. He doesn’t have the ball-handling or “wiggle” to elude set defenses…yet.

2 Questions

1. What other areas of development are Knicks Fans homing in on?

This whole season has been about player development, but now that we’re in the home stretch, it’s time to really focus on specific skills. I mentioned Mitch Rob’s defensive rebounding, Kevin Knox’s transition scoring, and Dotson’s passing. What are some other things you guys want to see? Tweet me @Tom_Piccolo and I may include your response in my next column.

2. Have we seen the last of Kadeem Allen?

I gotta say, I loved watching Kadeem Allen play. He was like a hungry Emmanual Mudiay – big and physical and rude. I didn’t see him play enough to say whether he could actually move the needle for a successful team, but man, he was fun! The Knicks need more of that this season. Bring back Allen.

1 Prediction

DeAndre Jordan will be a Knick next season.

On The Ringer’s most recent JJ Redick Podcast, Redick asked Tobias Harris who has been his favorite/ best teammate (aside from Boban, obviously). Here’s an abridged transcript of that conversation:

Harris: I love being around DeAndre Jordan.

Redick: He’s one of my all-time favorites, too.

Harris: When I got traded to LA I was very impressed with his work ethic, how he took care of himself and what he put into making sure his body was right. He was the first guy at the arena. He is one of the ultimate leaders.

Redick: I would describe him as a connector. He connects people. He bridges gaps. So, if there is a clique on a team or a couple cliques, he’s the bridge between the different facets. Maybe even just the bridge between the old heads and the young guys. He’s always had that role.

Harris: I enjoyed playing with him for 26 games.

If the Knicks do end up bringing in big-name free agents of Kevin Durant’s and Kyrie Irving’s caliber, they will need as many connectors as they can get. If the Knicks get him on a reasonable deal, I’d be all for bringing him back as a locker room presence and Mitchell Robinson’s mentor.

Graphic by Aidan Lising

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