3 Observations

1. Emmanuel Mudiay is up to his old (bad) tricks.

Before sitting down to watch the Knicks at Denver, I saw the following tweet from Knicks Twitter stalwart Jeremy Cohen:

I didn’t have to wait long to see what he was talking about. Not even three minutes into the game we had our first sighting:

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That’s not a turnover, but it’s in line with the spirit of Jeremy’s tweet. Then, just a few minutes later, it happened again. Though, this time it fortunately did not result in a Denver score:

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And then again at the end of the second quarter:

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Plays like these are a major reason that New York’s defense ranks dead last in points allowed per possession after a missed shot per InPredictable. It’s why I wrote this whole piece about the Knicks’ transition defense woes. As Jeremy noted, Mudiay isn’t the only culprit. Here’s Tim Hardaway Jr. sulking after a bad turnover:

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Though his reluctance to get back on defense didn’t result in immediate fast break points, it did cause Mudiay to be mismatched onto Jokic, leading to the eventual bucket. Cohen said it best: kindly get back on D.

2. Mudiay is still an excellent driver.

Since I wrote this piece on November 21st, Mudiay has struggled to hit his close-range shots. Specifically, his field goal percentage within the restricted area has precipitously declined. Through his first 18 games, Mudiay was connecting on 56.7% of shots in the restricted area. In his last 10 games, he’s down to 49% in the restricted area. Even though he’s not finishing around the rim as well, he has still managed to be productive on drives to the basket.

His 141 drives in the last 10 games ranks 10th in the league, per NBA.com. He isn’t just driving for the sake of driving, either; he’s making things happen. His 69 field goal attempts out of drives is the sixth-most in the league, and he’s averaging a robust 55.1% on those shots. A major reason for his efficiency has been his ability to knock down short mid-rangers like this:

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On the season, he’s hitting 49% of those chip shots, which puts him in the 88th percentile among point guards per Cleaning The Glass. In the last 10 games, he’s hitting a ridiculous 60.5% on floater-range shots (in the paint, non-restricted area). I don’t believe this kind of hot shooting is sustainable long-term, but as long as Mudiay is producing like this, I’ll recognize it.

He’s also been solid distributing out of the drive. He has assisted on 13.5% of his drives in these last 10 games, which is towards the top of the league among high-volume drivers. I loved this kick-out to Kornet which came when the Knicks most needed it:

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I’ve been harshly (but reasonably) critical of Mudiay recently. But, there’s no denying that his frequent drives put pressure on the defense. Now, we just need to make sure he gets back in transition.

3. We can already see the benefits of Luke Kornet’s spacing.

In the last five games the Knicks’ offense has been just fine when Kornet is on the court, scoring 107.9 points per 100 possessions. That’s OK, not great. But, when Kornet has sat, the offense has crumbled, petering out just 92.1 points per 100 possessions. That enormous disparity is a lot of noise and small-sample stuff, but it’s not irrelevant. It’s not hard to see why the Knicks’ three-point percentage has been so much better with Kornet on the floor. The guy is shooting 59.4% from deep attempting over six threes per game in his last five games. Even more intriguing, the Knicks are shooting so much better from two when Kornet plays in these past five contests: 49.2% when he’s on the floor vs. 36.9% when he’s off per NBA Wowy. Again, some of that is small sample size related, but some of it definitely has to do with the spacing Kornet provides. Check out my favorite play from the Denver game:

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Mason Plumlee is so worried about the possibility of an open three from Kornet that he physically shoves Malik Beasley to the floor and gives (a driving!) Mudiay an open layup. Now that’s respecting a shooter. The spacing Kornet provides won’t always be that obvious, but his gravity is undeniable.

2 Questions

1. Will Enes Kanter finish the season with the Knicks?

With Kornet proving to be a legitimate NBA rotation player, it makes you wonder whether it’s worth putting up with Kanter’s fussing (it’s not). If Kanter is really as much about winning as he says he is (he’s not), then wouldn’t he want the Knicks to buy him out so he could play for a contender? That way, he would have an opportunity to prove his worth on a good team, potentially increasing the pool of bidders when he’s an unrestricted free agent next summer. Well, a guy can dream. When Mitchell Robinson comes back (any day now), he and Kornet can split the center minutes with Vonleh filling in during small ball lineups. I think I speak for a lot of Knicks fans when I say it’s time to move on from Kanter.

2. Why didn’t Frank Ntilikina see more minutes versus Denver?

The most frequent and reasonable argument I’ve heard for David Fizdale sitting Frank during long stretches this season is that the coach is trying to change his young point guard’s mindset. Fizdale doesn’t mind Frank making mistakes as long as they are mistakes borne out of aggressiveness. Take Allonzo Trier, for instance. Since December 1, he’s had the worst true shooting percentage of all 120 rotation players with a usage rate over 20%. And, he’s certainly not out there for his defense. What Fizdale likes is his assertive, confident style of play.

But, if that’s the case, then what happened in Denver on Tuesday? Ntilikina put up 10 points and five assists in 18 minutes. Even more, he was aggressively looking for his shot as well as creating offense for others. The difference between Frank and Trier is that Frank can do it within the flow of the offense. Watch this nifty left-handed pass out of the pick-and-roll that resulted in two Kanter free throws:

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And this drive in transition which freed up a cutting Kanter:

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I just want to see some consistency from Fizdale in terms of his approach to allocating minutes. If Frank comes out with an aggressive mindset, I want to see that rewarded with playing time, regardless of his production.

1 Prediction

I’m going to start drinking when I watch these games.

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