Is it Jarrett Jack??
With the 33 year old point guard inserted into the starting lineup for 31 year old Ramon Sessions (goddamnit), and Frank Ntilikina taking over Ron Baker’s backup minutes, the Knicks started to resemble a real offense on Friday, dropping 107 on Brooklyn and holding the NBA’s highest scoring team to a measly 86 points in the Garden. It’s certainly early in the season – including way too early to say that one win will pull New York out of the running for one of the more electric players in the 2018 draft – but the dub was more than encouraging for Knicks fans that have been desperate for a win.
For starters, after an ice-cold Tuesday night in Boston, KP was back in a big way, notching 30 points on 24 shots (3 games out of 4 breaking the 30 point mark for those keeping track at home), on a dizzying array of dunks and pull-ups. Conventional wisdom would say that switching a smaller player onto the 7’3″ Porzingis should initiate a post-up. Instead, Kristaps repeatedly showed off his ability throughout the entire night to simply turn and face, shooting over the top of everyone from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to Jarrett Allen. Porzingis still has a ways to go as a defender, particularly in terms of neglecting the shotblock to better position himself under the rim as a rebounder, but he had some world-class stuffs, letting his man by him only to deny the crap out of him at the rim.
Box score aside, Frank also played well in this game, showcasing his defensive length and passing chops. It might be years, if ever, that Ntilikina is able to drive into the teeth of the defense and dime up a corner shooter, but he completely bought into New York’s agenda to push the pace and threw some nice outlets to a streaking Kyle O’Quinn. Between Jack playing a solid facilitator role and Courtney Lee finally becoming more assertive making plays off the dribble (PULL THEM THREES COURTNEY!!), the Knicks finally looked like an average squad passing the ball.
Which takes us to the center position. In the first half, Kyle O’Quinn was the unquestioned MVP. For a big man, his ability to grab the ball at the top of the arc and orchestrate can be almost Jokic-like (albeit with a few more turnovers), while being an absolute monster on the glass. Hardaway has continued to be a certified nothing shooting the rock, but with he and Lee cutting off the ball, O’Quinn dished some nice passes while beasting the undersized Nets on the glass. Of course, in the second half, he was a ghost, as Hornacek’s bizarre rotations continued to reign supreme. Kanter, the starter, got the look, but he turned out in a big way converting his post touches and rattling Knicks’ misses home into the basket. If this team is ever going to reach playoff heights Kristaps will need to play the 5 but until then New York seem to be as far from figuring out the center position as anyone could ever be.
Which, fuck it. Because, ultimately this was a great win for the Knicks. The Nets might not be as good as their record, but this was still a New York team that showed energy rotating on defense and protecting the basket. The continued disappearing act of Hardaway is disconcerting (run some plays for him maybe?? Some curls? An ATO?) , but this team showed they could win by pairing a dominant performance from KP with some solid role play from guys like Kanter and Courtney. These guys will still struggle all year, and likely continue to be in the running for one of those top 3 picks come June, but a win tonight (however meaningless) should make all the fans smile.