Yeaaahhhh, it didn’t really turn out all that much better for the Knicks tonight. And, on a night that began fairly promisingly, pounding the Raptors on the glass and bullying our way to the free throw line, it’s only in keeping with the rest of this comparison that this game turned ugly very, very quickly.
Knicks v. Raptors
The Raps came into the Garden on Monday fresh off playing host to the 2016 Star-Studded festivities and a nice, solid home win over the Grizzlies the night before. In addition to their 2nd seeded record and All-Star backcourt, Toronto is one of the five teams in the league that can boast the top-10 rating in both offensive and defensive efficiency usually required to contend for a championship. (Interestingly enough the 5th team on that list isn’t the Thunder, but rather the Los Angeles Clippers). Although the Raptors defied expectations by staying pat at the trade deadline instead of upgrading their power forward position, this is a team that has accomplished a good deal still without Demarre Carroll who “should” return before the offseason to give them a proven wing stopper and another shooter for Lowry to work with.
And then the Knicks are the Knicks.
After a much-needed win over of one of the league’s other worst 7 or 8 teams and a bizarre news story with recently-minted head coach Kurt Rambis “caught” liking some kind of NSFW picture on Twitter, the Knicks looked solid in the first quarter. Their frontcourt was very active defensively, blocking shots and forcing Kyle Lowry into some ugly turnovers. While there wasn’t a lot going on offensively, Ro Lo continued his strong play from Saturday night by basically eating Jonas Valanciunas’ lunch. Dude was everywhere, tipping in teammates’ misses, canning his awkward little jump hook, and keeping the Knicks up by a couple as the Raptors went ice cold from the floor.
Then the rest of the game happened. And, even against one of the better teams in the association, a lot of ugliness went on. While I hope that some of this was an off night, I’m worried that a lot of these are permanent trends we will need to get serious about in the offseason:
Calderon is Terrible:
I understand that the triangle naturally de-emphasizes the most important position in modern basketball, but the spot-up caretaker Ron Harpers and Derek Fishers of Phil Jackson’s past could at least play a LITTLE defense.
The way Calderon was thoroughly and repeatedly shredded by Lowry in this game was depressing. Lowry finished with 22 points and a triple double after not making a field goal in the first quarter and tortured the Knicks’ bigs again and again in the pick-and-roll as they came in to help Calderon. Calderon was so bad defensively, he made Porzingis and Lopez look awful and out of place as their assignments ended up with dunks off of hard rolls to the basket and back-door cuts. We’re basically deciding at this point whether we want the guard or the big man to score a lay-up at the basket while he’s out there.
Not only that but CALDERON DIDN’T SCORE! Not a single point in 20 minutes, taking only two shots. I know he’s theoretically out there for spacing and the threat of his 3 point shot, but that scenario becomes more and more abstract when you put up a big, fat goose egg.
The Disappearance of Secondary Scoring:
So yeah, Calderon 0 points. Langston Galloway, 0 points in almost 25 minutes. Arron Afflalro, 7 points in nearly 35. Lance Thomas, another goose egg. (Check out this excellent Knicks podcast that details how much superior this team is when either of those last two guys goes for 20 or more). Even Porzingis, who finished with 17, picked up 10 of those in the 4th quarter, which was practically garbage time with the Raps up around 15-20 points.
I could bemoan Calderon again and say that another downside to his game is that he doesn’t have the kind of athleticism and aggression to drive to the basket and create a pick-and-pop game with Porzingis, who desperately needs someone to help get him open looks at this point in his career. However, I think the larger issue is a lack of athleticism on this team in general. All of those guys I just mentioned generally rely on jump shooting for their points, and when the shots weren’t falling in the first half, the Knicks did an uncommonly good job of drawing contact and getting to the line. They had a pretty miserable shooting night there (at one point after going 0-6, fans in the Garden started booing them forcing me to explain to my roommate how, at times, it is acceptable to boo your own team at home over perceived lack of effort), but they did end up with 25 free throw attempts, which is well over their season average. Again, the triangle is very much a jump shooting offensive system, but if you rely on too much of that, your team is going to see more than a couple ice-cold games.
Can Kurt Coach?:
I’m not saying the Knicks should have beaten Toronto last night, even with the Raptors on a back-to-back. But there were more than a couple of decisions that seemed more than a little troubling given Rambis’ already less-than-stellar reputation.
Firstly, WHY IS VUJACIC still playing? I know he only got 6 minutes, but Rambis again superseded Jerian Grant in the pecking order and only let Grant play in absolute garbage time during the fourth quarter. Calderon and Galloway are SCORELESS!! Play Jerian, would it kill you? Mr. “Point Guard who Can’t Shoot” hit a three almost immediately after checking into the game, making the decision to keep him sitting look even more boneheaded. Even new-Knick “Jimmy” Fredette scored in his three minutes off the bench.
Also, is Rambis using Porzingis correctly? He looked completely out of sorts last night, after finishing with only 12 minutes because of foul trouble in Minnesota. While he hit a three early in the first, he seemed oddly hesitant after that, causing Rambis to pull him early (in all fairness Lopez was absolutely killing it), but then put him right back in the game at the start of the 2nd. I might be reading too much into the rotations they’re using, but it seems as if you are effectively asking him to stay out of the way with the starters on the floor and then take on all of the scoring responsibility with the 2nd unit – an odd transition for any player. After Porzingis again hesitantly passed on a three in that second quarter, leading to a gross near shotclock violation, Rambis called a timeout, but instead of pulling him out, again dialed up another three point opportunity for KP that he missed. I guess I like that kind of reassurance, but it can also mess with a player’s head if you keep insisting he stand outside the arc and fire away instead of giving him a chance to put the ball on the floor.
Well anyways, the Knicks had some nice moments in the 4th quarter with the Raptors basically on cruise control, but his was a gross one in general. Let’s hope to rebound a little and stall some of these “trends” Thursday night in Indiana.