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Schmeelk: Knicks Can Build On Good Things In London Versus Washington

John Schmeelk
January 15, 2019 - 2:09 pm

With the Knicks traveling to London to play the Wizards on Thursday, the NBA gave them three straight days off to accommodate the extra travel and everything else that goes into a London trip. The days off could not have come at a better time, with the Knicks coming off one of their better performances of the year against the Sixers on Sunday.

David Fizdale should be taking the extra time with his team to encourage the good things they did on Sunday, and take a good hard look at the reasons they happened and how he can recreate the conditions to keep them going. The Knicks front office should look long and hard at it too, as they approach the trade deadline and consider their plans.

It Starts With Defense

The Knicks played what was probably their best defensive game in about a month and a half, holding the Sixers to 108 points and a 105.9 offensive rating. A 105.9 defensive rating over the course of the season would make the Knicks a borderline top-five defense. It should surprise no one that they did it in a game where neither Tim Hardaway Jr. nor Enes Kanter played.

Along with Kevin Knox, a 19-year-old that is still learning, Kanter and Hardaway are two of the worst defensive players on the roster. The only true defensive liabilities that got major minutes were Emmanuel Mudiay and Knox (depending what you think of Hezonja’s defense). Mitchell Robinson’s potential return in London will help the defense even more.

Fizdale had admitted the Knicks defense has been terrible but he hasn’t been able to bring himself to start making defense the priority when awarding minutes. His mantra seems to be: if you score, you play. Defense is a skill and if Fizdale wants it to improve he has to play better defensive players more minutes.

The game should also serve as a lesson to Knicks President Steve Mills and General Manager Scott Perry as they evaluate what the team should do at the trade deadline. If a team wants Enes Kanter they should move him, as long as they aren’t taking back a long term contract. They should try to attach Courtney Lee to any deal or get back a second round pick, but if they can’t it is a case of addition by subtraction.

They should also entertain offers for Tim Hardaway Jr. He can score in volume but misses a ton of shots (.392/.347/.856) and is a huge negative on defense. They should be patient and try to do more than just a salary dump but whether Hardaway is a winning player needs to be something the front office should be asking itself.

Aggressive Frank

David Fizdale should make Frank Ntilikina sit on the plane and watch the film of the Sixers game again and again until it is ingrained into his soul. This might have been the most aggressive Ntilikina was going to the basket the entire season. He showed a decent first step, creative finishing and a nifty euro-step.

His final stat line, 4-11 FG, 0-1 3PT, 0-2 FT, 8 PTS, 6 ASS, 2 STL, 1 BLK doesn’t jump off the page, but he played with the type of aggression David Fizdale demands from his players. He attacked Joel Embiid a bunch of times on drives and got good shots off. He has to finish better but it was a good step in the right direction in his first game back from his ankle tendon injury.

Ntilikina still needs to learn how to use his big frame better when he gets to the hoop. He tried to finish a couple one-handed scoops often utilized by smaller and quicker guard like his idol Tony Parker. At 6’6 and getting stronger, he needs to start using his body to draw contact and finish through smaller players. With that said, Ntilikina looked like the player we expected to see this season.

Kevin Knox Getting Buckets

It was another game and another career high for Kevin Knox, pouring in 31 points on 12-23 shooting. He hit 4-9 three points and got to the line four times, making three. Knox is scoring at all three levels offensively and picked up some of the volume shooting with Tim Hardaway Jr. missing the game. Knox is going to be a good scorer in this league.

The best sign for Knox is that he is expanding his game by doing new and more efficient things as he is given the opportunity to have the ball more. He isn’t settling for contested jump shots or difficult floaters. He also carried his scoring into the second half, which has been a recent issue. The Knicks should be very excited about his progress just more than halfway through the season.

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