The Sixers take on the Knicks this evening at the Wells Fargo Center at 7:00 pm. To get us caught up to speed on the Knicks, I reached out to Posting and Toasting about a Q&A. Matt Miranda was nice enough to lend me his time and answer my questions. A big thanks to Matt for doing so; I really enjoyed this one, Matt’s a great writer and I genuinely laughed out loud at many of his responses.
Kevin F. Love: How have the Knicks played this season compared to preseason expectations?
Matt Miranda: The Knicks are what was expected. What was expected depends on your worldview: while they’ve only suffered a few bad losses (if “bad losses” are even a thing when you’re a bad team), their only wins vs. good teams came during the three-game streak Detroit snapped last night. They’re going to win twentysomething games. Que sera, sera.
KFL: What is the team doing well this season, and where have they been vulnerable?
MM: For the first time in anyone’s memory, the Knicks actually get to the free throw line, thanks in large part to Tim Hardaway Jr.’s diversified game and rookie Allonzo Trier’s fearlessness. They’re also seventh at forcing turnovers, which helps them get out and run more than they have in recent times. They’re a young team throwing a lot of stuff at the wall to see what sticks, so perhaps not surprisingly they don’t shoot well or pass well, and they foul a ton. When they’re at their best, they’re out in transition and dribble-penetration is creating open three-point attempts. When they’re at their worst, it’s a lot of one-on-one garbage and a defense like a colander.
KFL: In a national sense, the Knicks have been synonymous with dysfunction for a while now. Is David Fizdale righting the ship, improving the culture?
MM: It’s New York City, so if Fizdale were to push a toddler out of the way of an oncoming bus, someone would complain that Jeff Van Gundy could have scooped the kid up in one swoop and not risked skinning their knee. Any meaningful culture change will have to be measured after a prolonged period of winning, because under about 20 years of current ownership there’s literally been one single season of success. What’s refreshing and new about this year’s team is the seemingly steadfast commitment to a sustainable and sensible approach. They really are focused on playing young guys, developing them, letting them fail, fall and rise. In the past the Knicks would have traded multiple 1st-round picks and young talent for Jimmy Butler -- or worse, John Wall. Thankfully, the patient finally seems to recognize a band-aid won’t cut it when a tourniquet is necessary. Fizdale has played to his strengths: youngsters are showing improvement and the overall vibe around the team is a positive one. They lose, but they’re likable. They’re failing better. That’s nice.
KFL: Which players have been real bright spots for the Knicks this season? Who do the Sixers need to worry about tonight?
MM: The biggest surprises are probably Emmanuel Mudiay and Mitchell Robinson. Last season Mudiay was yawn-inducing at best and cringe-inducing at worst. This year, he looks like a legit hybrid NBA combo guard who can score, set up teammates and -- most exciting to anyone who’s followed his career -- not fall down every time he drives to the hoop. His finishing at the rim has improved since his departure from Denver, and his confidence is clearly on the up-and-up.
Robinson is so raw you risk salmonella just watching him play. But for a project who hasn’t played since high school, his game is mouth-watering for Knick fans. He might lead the league in shots contested per-36 minutes, and his athleticism and upside have fans thinking big. Unfortunately he also may lead the league in fouls per 36; if you, while reading this, throw a head fake, look up and you’ll see Robinson fly by you falling for it. I suspect he’ll have a couple highlight moments against Joel Embiid before fouling out in ten minutes.
KFL: How are Knicks fans feeling about Kevin Knox so far?
MM: The Chicken Littles want Knox traded or shipped to the G-League yesterday. Knox suffers in part because the other rookies, Trier and Robinson, have already shown glimpses of tantalizing upside, whereas Knox mostly looks like a baby colt trying to run when he really hasn’t mastered walking yet. Plus Knox got everyone all hot and heavy from his Summer League exploits, and apparently not everyone has received the memo that the Summer League is not the NBA. While he has struggled and has a lot to learn, Knox has had his moments, too. He’s as capable of putting up 12 and 10 as he is of posting goose eggs.
KFL: I just looked into my crystal ball, and the Knicks have won tonight’s game. What happened?
MM: Joel Embiid lands on Enes Kanter’s ego after taking a jumper and breaks his ankle. Ben Simmons gets tired of people arguing about which hand he should shoot with, pulls an Alexander the Great and shoots with neither. Jimmy Butler grows weak at the knees at the sight of one of the teams on his initial preferred destinations list. Markelle Fultz plays 40 minutes.
Editor’s note: I don’t think Matt is expecting an upset tonight.
KFL: What are some of the Knicks goals the remainder of the season?
MM: There are a lot of balls in the air at the same time for New York to manage. Developing the youngsters is a priority. So is building up veterans like Kanter and Courtney Lee to bring back assets and clear up cap room in possible midseason deals. So is landing the best draft pick possible, not only ‘cuz duh but because they don’t have Pat Riley in charge to toss a bunch of championship rings on the table when pitching free agents. The biggest goal this year is one that no one even knows when or if it may happen: showing the league that Kristaps Porzingis is healthy and happy and back. All the other priorities relate to re-signing KP long-term and landing premium talent to pair alongside him. So, as 76er fans can relate to, all the losing is really a win-win: every win feels good because winning feels good; every loss feels good because it increases the chances of the Knicks gaining more chances to land a draft pick whose chance of success is dependent on the randomness of what chances other teams ahead of them take on teenagers whose chances of succeeding in the pros are too random to predict. For many Knick fans, that is the brightest forecast for this organization since the 20th century.
Again a big thanks to Matt and the folks at Posting and Toasting. You can check out their game preview here.