The Knicks are 17-38 at the All Star break — 55 games played; 27 games to go. Precisely at the 2/3 mark of the season. Which means — 1/3 of a season to go, and plenty of opportunity for good times in Knicks City.
So here are Knicks.City grades for Knicks so far:
Mike Miller (Coach): A-
Mike Miller can’t get an A because the Knicks record under him is 13-20. But what a rejuvenation he has done to this team. You could argue that if the Knicks still had Marcus Morris, they would have won the two games before the break, and would be riding a 6-game winning streak right now and talking playoffs. One hopes the late 1st-round pick for Morris will be worth it. Miller has the Knicks playing their best Defense in 20 years — better than Mike Woodson‘s Knicks who relied on complicated switching that only Jason Kidd made work; when Kidd left, the Knicks fell apart. On offense, Miller has the Knicks passing the ball (again unlike Woodson’s Knicks who relied on Melo Iso). My gut feeling is that:
- Mike Miller has the inside track on being next year’s coach and the coach of the foreseeable future, and
- Scott Perry will still be the GM after the new VP Leon Rose arrives. Owner James Dolan lifted Steve Mills, which is what all the fans and media were crying for — and allowed Perry to operate independently of any Mills interference. Rose is bring brought in to land the big free agents like Greek Freak.
Marcus Morris: A
He was the Knicks’ star student. But he’s gone — which makes coach Mike Miller’s job harder for the stretch run. With Miller gone, Julius Randle‘s job becomes tougher — the two played so well together on an inside/outside game — but now teams are gearing to stop Randle’s drives as we saw in the Atlanta game especially. But they couldn’t resign Morris if they are going to make a run at Greek Freak — so it was always going to be a one-and-done year. Trading Morris may cost them a run at a playoff spot this year however, which is important in building the “winning culture” that is needed to lure the elite free agents. The pressure is on coach Mike Miller to show he is laying down a good system the last 1/3 of the year, without Morris winning games for him with his late-game heroics.
Elfrid Payton: A-
The only reason he doesn’t get an A is because of his outside shooting and free throw shooting. In the last 27 games (1/3 of season) he has played the point as well as any point guard in Knicks history, including Mark Jackson, Rod Strickland, Stephon Marbury, Walt Frazier, or Michael Ray Richardson.
He penetrates the lane almost at will, opening up the defense, orchestrates with a commanding presence, telling players where to go, and his defense has been exceptional, with a torrid current of steals. He is 25 years old, the age that most point guards come into their own — see Kyle Lowry, Walt Frazier, Michael Ray Richardson amongst many others.
Elfrid Payton might be the Knicks point guard for a long time. A great pickup by Scott Perry, who drafted him in Orlando and has always believed in him.
To get an A — he has to improve the free throw shooting (currently at .536 — but last year shot .743) and the 3-point shooting (currently horrific at .237). How does someone get an A- when they’re shooting .237 from 3? Because Payton has been THAT GOOD at the point, and you don’t really need your point to be taking 3’s (see Rondo).
Julius Randle: B+
After a horrible start, where he was a Tasmanian Devil turnover machine trying too hard, he has settled down and is giving the Knicks excellent performances on a nightly basis. His spin moves to the basket are fun to watch — when he makes them! And lately he’s been making them a lot. Some of that is due to him calming down and settling down; some of it is due to having a point guard who penetrates (Payton) which means the defense can’t key on him as much; and some of it was due to Morris’ presence — he and Randle played well together.
Randle’s Defense — a big concern coming into the year — has been excellent. He has been blocking shots and playing good D on his man. He’s also a good passing big — typically getting 4 or 5 assists a night (averaging 3.1). He gets a B+.
Mitchell Robinson: B+
The Big Block Shot numbers are gone — because Robinson was asked by coach David Fizdale to guard the paint more this year, and not run out for the blocks of the 3-pt shots. He has also been improving in keeping himself out of foul trouble. He had a lull in his play in January — someone on Twitter was saying it was because he was playing with an injury — but has taken off in February. Robinson has said it was due to an inspirational talk from Taj Gibson. In any case, Robinson has been Dynamite the last month — on the Defensive and Offensive glass; an alley-oop slam dunking machine, but also an offensive-rebound-and-slam machine. Remember his teammates knicknamed him “Skinny Shaq” during his initial pre-season and summer league with the Knicks.
Slammin' and jammin' is Robinson pic.twitter.com/rFIoyjh1bp
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) February 13, 2020
The one thing we have not seen yet, is any kind of a post-up game, or outside shooting game. We continue to be teased with videos of him hitting 3 after 3 in practice with a smooth motion; one had him even sitting down at the sidelines and hitting a 3 from the sitting position. But his not unleashing this side of his offense seems to be on coach’s orders — when he gets the ball outside he immediately looks to pass as if by order — and he has taken to Twitter to say his friends know he has an offensive game.
RJ Barrett: B+
Looks like he will be a star. He is 19 years old and has been inconsistent offensively at times. But has shown great skills — a command of the court — like he is the leader and it’s his game; an urge to drive against traffic and bodies to get to the rim and score in many ways; excellent Defense; a big body — he is a legit 6’7 big guard; and has an improving jumpshot from 3, and improving free throw shooting.
In discussing Barrett and the 2019 draft we HAVE TO REMEMBER that elite players are playing only one year of college these days; so they are coming out at 19, not 23 years old like they used to. So you can’t judge a draft until 5 years into the future. Barrett looks destined for stardom — his skills and mentality.
Little hesi and lefty finish from RJ pic.twitter.com/hLedHjnDt2
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) February 13, 2020
Taj Gibson: B
Has been playing a tough, heady game at center to start games for the Knicks, setting a defensive tone to the game (and keeping Mitchell Robinson from getting into foul trouble by the half). He also finishes often (like he did in Chicago). Has been a good tutor to the young players like Robinson as well. If the Knicks had a better record, he’d get a B+ maybe even an A he’s done what has been asked of him and done it well.
Frank Ntilikina: B-
He has at times this year looked like a “dog” aka a guy who can play NBA basketball and help a team win. He has spun to the basket aggressively, and set up teammates, and orchestrated the offense, and played a good Defense, intercepting passes to set up the fast break in the other direction.
But then there are times when he doesn’t look like that — is still not aggressive on offense — comes up and passes the ball around the perimeter causing the Knicks to be a (contested) jump shooting team. He can play excellent defense against certain guards, but still has trouble with quick guards who blow past him as Ntilikina is not quick on his feet and not great at getting in front of, and staying in front of, quick guards. He does not fight through screens well — he goes around them.
His jump shot is starting to become decent; he has great form and a soft touch hopefully it is a matter or repetition and confidence.
He plays 10 to 14 minutes per game because coach sees all of the above; both Fizdale and now Miller. Coaches want point guards who penetrate in today’s NBA. But overall he has played well and gets a B-.
What were some of yours? 👀 pic.twitter.com/CJn7as1iRn
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) February 15, 2020
Damyean Dotson: B-
Has played pretty well. Can go on streaks as a shooter where he can help the team, and has an NBA body for a shooting guard — seems a legit 6’7 although now listed as 6’6 in stocking feet. In the old NBA he’d be a legit 6’7. Considered to be a good Defensive player although there are times when he gets beat off a pick, or loses his man a lot. A bit overrated there. His shooting also is a bit streaky. Should really be a C+ but we’re being generous.
Kadeem Allen: B-
Has played well when out there. Comes out of the G league to play backup point during injuries to the three regular point guards (Payton, Smith, and Ntilikina). Quick and aggressive and penetrates and can run the offense like a true point guard; a tad on the small size (listed 6’1) and that is probably the only reason why he is currently bouncing to/from the G League.
Kevin Knox: C
Has been absolutely horrible this year, and then.. not. Not recently — the last 15 games or so, where we have seen a steady, nightly improvement to his … Defense. Yes that’s right and some fans are picking up on it. His Defense is becoming .. Good. He is staying on his man, with great intent, and blocking shots also. His offense — he has that pretty, high-arcing and accurate 3, and is aggressive on driving to the basket as he has always been — but his drives have always been awkward. Some of the awkwardness appears to be diminishing somewhat.
The start of his bad year began in the summer when NBA required everyone to be measured in stocking feet and Knox came up as 6’7 1/2″ — a far cry from the 6’10” everyone was saying he was, with his father saying docs said he could grow another 2 or so inches, causing others to say he could be the next Kevin Durant.
But he still looks a good 6’8, 6’9 on the court — especially when he blocks a shot — in the old NBA a solid 6’10”. Everything we see is an illusion.
At the start of the season, Knox was playing well — a very efficient 20 minutes off the bench. But then soon seemed to lose all confidence. He seems to be coming out of it now. Because of his recent good play on D, Knox gets a C; passing.
Reggie Bullock: C
A solid C on a 17-38 team. Missed the first half of the season coming back from back surgery. He has an NBA body for a shooting guard; listed 6’5 and seems it, and has muscle to defend big shooting guards. He can hit the 3 or the 2. He’s played ok; he has shot well at times, and has not shot well in some games where the Knicks needed him to. He has not picked up the scoring needed after Marcus Morris was traded. His overall percentages are 40 pct field goals, and .330 from 3 — his lifetime is .386. Knicks need better than that from him. But he’s only played 21 games so far so has 27 more games to ‘warm up’.
Bobby Portis: C
Boy does he have a temper! No wonder he got a fight with his own teammate in Chicago. Is the most likely Knick to get into a fight with another player. He’s 6’10 and rebounds and can shoot the 3 (.403 last year; .348 so far this year), which is why the Knicks got him.
He’s first man off the bench, but has been very inconsistent for the Knicks; some games giving them a scoring lift off the bench, and tough rebounding that helps the Knicks out-rebound most opponents on most nights. But he can also do some boneheaded things on the court and have poor shooting nights.
When Morris was traded, he was quoted as saying the Knicks would not miss him, as they have opportunity to pass the ball around more now, and not worry who the leading scorer is. Woo boy.
Wayne Ellington: C
Old man river — the oldest guy on the Knicks at age 32. With a name that sounds like a Jazz player. Acquired to hit 3’s. And he has done that at times to help win games. Especially recently during the 4-game winning streak under coach Mike Miller.
Hangs in there on Defense. And hits the 3.
Allonzo Trier: D+ or I
Poor Allonzo Trier. The odd man out. And we have to give him a D+ that he doesn’t deserve. We were thinking of giving him an incomplete. He played so well just before the start of the season (and last year) that he was named starting point guard, 2 hours before the first game by Fizdale. Then played badly for the first 6 minutes of that first game, and was benched for the rest of the game — getting only 2 minutes more. Then the next night came off the bench to electrify the arena with his 4th quarter scoring to almost beat Brooklyn.
Trier can score with the wind and is fun to watch; he has been gigged for not passing the ball enough and being lite on D. But I’ve seen him studiously trying to be a pass-first player since January of last year, when his training at this part of the game began. And I’ve seen him be intent on Defense; he is especially good at blocking shots on the break.
Here is a video is from Last Year — Remember when:
Allonzo Trier has them @JCrossover at MSG vibes 🔥 Kid is a hooper and plays with a chip on his shoulder.
(Via @nyknicks) pic.twitter.com/ABSwrXyruX
— Ball Don't Stop (@balldontstop) February 27, 2019
Problem is he is 6’4 in stocking feet and slender — which is not the big NBA body that Damyean Dotson or even Reggie Bullock present — when trying to guard another team’s 6’7, muscular shooting guard. And so Trier found the bench.
Then, under Miller, in December and January, when Trier was injected into games — he played like he was looking over his shoulder — a shell of his former self.
And so, he gets a D+ — even though he doesn’t deserve it. Life is like that sometimes. I feel like a horrible, nasty teacher. Since Trier is one of my favorite players, I am going to give him an option to drop this class up until the Finals — and/or draw an Incomplete.
Dennis Smith Jr: D
His stock has gone so down this year. What a Horrible year for him so far. Makes lots of mistakes on the court, and has a horrible shooting form. But holy cow his Defense — can be phenomenal! He is an incredible athelete who can take off to the rim and blow past defenses like Superman. On Defense, when he gets into it — with his quick feet — can be stifling, with lots of steals. He has been a big part of the DEFENSE that the Knicks have been laying down under Miller — him, and Payton, and Ntilikina — can really take a team out.
He came into the year after off-season back surgery and didn’t look comfortable. Coach Fizdale tried to play him through mistakes he was making, which ended up in a horrible early season night at Madison Square Garden against the Celtics and Kemba Walker when the crowd was chanting for Frank Ntilikina, but Fizdale stubbornly kept Smith in there even though he was having a horrid night. The fans booed Smith off the court — which was all on Fizdale and his stubbornness — Fiz had a guard in Ntilikina who had just shut down Kemba Walker in the summer FIBA tournament, leading France to a victory over the US. But Fiz refused to bring Ntilikina in to guard Kemba Walker; instead Ntilikina started the next game (which Kemba Walker was obviously not playing in). Which reminds we — we have to grade David Fizdale, don’t we.
David Fizdale (coach): F
The only thing good about this Knicks season so far is that Fizdale coached so badly, and the Knicks lost so much, that the Knicks replaced him as coach, and brought in Miller. It opens up the future for the Knicks. Even Kevin Durant intoned that he chose Brooklyn over NY because he liked their ‘system’ — aka he saw the same things we all saw — Fizdale was not a good NBA head coach.
Maurice Harkless: I
Incomplete. He’s played 1 game as a Knick since the trade. Made an excellent pass on the break.
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