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At least they can still do what they’re supposed to. On Monday against a subpar Kings team without De’Aaron Fox, the Knicks wrapped up their brief two-game homestand with a blowout win. If you’re still optimistic about this team’s playoff chances, this was one that the Knicks absolutely needed to take and they did.
You had some positive contributions from both units. Amongst the starters, Evan Fournier led with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting; Julius Randle added 17 points, nine rebounds, and four assists; & Mitchell Robinson was strong up front, going for nine points, 13 rebounds, two blocks, and one steal. Off the bench, Alec Burks led the team in points with 21 on 6-of-9 while Quentin Grimes & Obi Toppin combined for 28 points on 65% shooting.
I thought the Knick defense was especially good. They were making the right rotations and doing so very crisply. They did a real nice job closing out at the three-point line and forcing the Kings into some contested looks. Overall, New York held Sacramento to 29% three-point shooting. At the line, the Kings were only 50%. Meanwhile, the Knicks–to most of our surprise–shot the ball well from both spots, going 37% at the arc and 79% on free-throws.
In the third quarter, Thibodeau did the usual and left the starters in for most of the term. But he did roll with the bench unit for the fourth and that’s when the Knicks gained legitimate separation and pulled away, taking this one 116-96.
As bad as Kemba Walker (0 points, 17 minutes) continues to be, it’s at least good to see Alec Burks back in his natural role these last two games. Burks is not a point guard. Other than his size giving Thibodeau some switch-ability with the defense, Alec does not bring anything as a lead guard. So it’s refreshing to see him more off the ball again, back in his role with the second unit playing on the wings. Burks has scored in double-figures in each of the last two games, shooting 64% from the field. He’s putting together solid two-way efforts.
Fournier might be the most confusing Knick of all-time. He gives me anxiety trying to figure him out. There is no doubt he has underachieved this season but he’ll have those Ray Allen nights–or quarters like in this one–where you sit back and watch in awe. Against the Kings on Monday, Fournier started off on fire. The Knicks were getting him involved early, having him coming off curls at the top and he took advantage.
The Frenchman scored 16 in the opening period on 6-for-7 shooting and 4-for-5 from three. The only shot he missed at the time was a heat check three falling to his left. Fournier did cool off the rest of the game with just two points in the second quarter, none for the second half, and had zero rebounds in 27 minutes, but he gets a pass. Without Fournier’s hot start, the Knicks probably do not win this basketball game.
Randle shot at least 50% for just the third time since Christmas (16 games). There really is not much to add to his effort other than the fact that he made his shots, moved the ball, played hard defensively, and played within the offense. He had four turnovers though as he still needs to work on making quicker decisions when the double-team comes, but I suppose some things just never change. I will take 17 points, 14 shots, and a combined 13 rebounds & assists any day from him. It was a respectable showcase game against Randle’s future team (let’s hope).
I know I’m going back and forth here so will finish up the starting unit before we bounce back to the rest of the bench. Mitch was great in this game. Between his aggressive rebounding and scoring around the rim all the time, he’s back to being that paint menace. He also moved up the blocks leaderboard to fifth all-time in franchise history. Let I remind you he’s only in year four. I will continue to stress though, that we need this level of play against opposing bigs who aren’t undersized as well. That will be Robinson’s next task. He also of course has some other tweaks to work out like screening and free-throw shooting.
RJ Barrett was off again with his shot and this time he wasn’t as aggressive with it, unlike Friday when he took 20 shots. He scored 11 points on 4-for-14 and was 1-of-8 from three. I did not love that the Knicks used him in spot-up as much as they did in that first half. In the third quarter RJ was being more aggressive on the ball and got to the rim and line three or four times, but with the Knicks up 18 entering the fourth, he never got a chance to continue, finishing with 27 minutes after three.
The Kings also did a nice job taking away RJ Barrett’s left hand. So without the three-point shot, and without his finishing, he brought very little as a scorer. That’s why I wish RJ would use that mid-range more. Even on this run he’s started to go away from that free-throw line jumper despite it working. But hopefully this is nothing but a two-game stretch for the 21-year old and not one that will spiral him into a slump again. These next few games will really portray how much he’s actually grown over the last month.
Alright, let’s talk Grimes for a minute. The kid looks like a keeper. I buy into him more as a potential foundational piece every single night. In 23 minutes, he scored 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting with three more steals, played some excellent second half defense on Tyrese Haliburton (21 points) in particular, and even displayed a few things we don’t see often from the kid. Grimes was of course doing his usual, freeing himself open off backscreens and squaring up his feet in spot-up, but he also made a few plays off the dribble. If he can add just a little bit of ballhandling the Knicks might have more than just your typical 3-&-D wing.
I am enamored with this kid’s ability as a two-guard with size to defend positions 1-3. It’s so important to have that especially with a wing like RJ not exactly taking the next step defensively we’d hoped. Grimes pressures the ball constantly and forces bad decisions even if it doesn’t always come up as a steal on the stat sheet. I love his game. And the player comp I’m going to make in a second may either come across as disrespectful or maybe the upmost praise, all depending on where you stand/stood, so hear me out.
Grimes reminds me of who Frank Ntilikina could have been. A lot of Knicks fans who were Frank fanatics were Frank fanatics. I almost want to joke and call it cult-like. If you liked Frank you loved him. You thought he was a guy with tremendous upside to be an excellent two-way, winning impact wing who did not need the ball to contribute. But it didn’t exactly work out that way. At least not here in New York. Although hopefully Grimes can be that guy, because he possesses a lot of those same traits as a player, but instead is actually showing it consistently thus far.
Now maybe for non-Knicks fans (or Mavs fans now) who don’t know of Frank Ntilikina can’t relate, so let me mention some bigger names who Grimes could have the upside to mold into. I am hoping he can some day be a JJ Reddick type with defense. A guy with a high and quick release who is always ready to shoot. Or maybe a Danny Green. Green was very successful player in his heyday and has contributed to three NBA titles so far. Again, those were similar comps to when Frank first came up through the system as well. Let’s cross our fingers this time.
I can’t not mention Obi now because he’s been just as solid but for the majority of the season. On Monday he dropped in 14 points on 6-of-8, and added four rebounds, two assists, and a block, all in 19 minutes. It’s been the usual for Obi as well, cutting, rolling, playing on the break, and rebounding aggressively. However, also like Grimes, Obi has been flashing some different aspects of his game lately too.
He’s been putting the ball on the floor and attacking in recent games a few times. We all saw that dribble-fake on Friday vs. the Bucks, but on Monday Obi had a few more attacks as well. In the first quarter he had the crossover on Chimezie Metu (five points) and finished right, and in the fourth he finished strong going left on Harrison Barnes (11 points) and added in a euro-step finish later.
What I am also glad to see is that Obi–little by little–is knocking down the three-ball more efficiently. The sample is still small so it’s not much of an indicator yet, but it’s hard not to get hopeful with young players sometimes. In this one he went 1-for-2 from deep, and overall across his last eight games he is 41% from there, shooting 7-for-17.
So along with the ballhandling improvements, if Obi adds just an average three-point shot to his game it gives the Knick frontcourt so much more hope. It gives them a stretch forward that they do not currently have and desperately need in an era like this. Among Randle, Robinson, Noel, and Gibson you have four guys who do the bulk of their scoring inside the paint. It’d be such a plus for Toppin to bring in a new dynamic from 22+ feet away.
Now in a game like this it would have been nice for Cam Reddish to see actual time earlier in the game. The third-year player asked out of Atlanta despite averaging 23 minutes. With the Knicks, he’s been available for six games now but has only played 21 total minutes across three games. And most of those minutes have been in garbage time. Monday’s game was more understandable with guys like Fournier & Burks playing well and the younger wings also thriving, but eventually he’s going to need to get some legitimate burn out there. Hopefully the reports are true that the Knicks are trying to move some of their veterans by February 10th to clear up room for Cam. We shall see.
All in all, it was a win the Knicks needed. Tonight, they have a tough task in Memphis. Ja Morant is on fire right now and this game is on national television. This is going to be one of those games that will either leave me feeling very well or very, very bad after. We will find out. Thanks for stopping by and reading The Bomber-Bocker Blog. I appreciate the support as always and I’ll see you in the next one.