Trey Burke New York Knicks
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Despite what their record might indicate, the New York Knicks are impressing early and keeping the big picture in mind.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Say, what you want about the New York Knicks, but they are checking off all the boxes so far. They’d like to have both wins from Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets and Saturday night against the Boston Celtics. Any New Yorker knows you play to win the game.

But with the Knicks, it’s about more than the wins and losses. It’s about progressing and building for the future — when this young team is really prepared to contend.

It’s ridiculous to judge this season based on wins and losses. It fails to see the bigger picture. One of the biggest question marks following Friday night’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets was why did David Fizdale have Tim Hardaway Jr. covering Caris LeVert rather than Frank Ntilikina? After all, Ntilikina is the team’s best on-ball defender and his length surely would bother LeVert.

But Fizdale was thinking about more than just winning a game in October. Hardaway had 29 points and for the second straight game, he was leading the Knicks. Fizdale wanted to challenge him. He believes Hardaway can be a leader and an impact player on both ends of the court. What better time than now to let him, “Go through it,” as Fizdale loves to say.

Ntilikina was the better matchup on LeVert. That much is clear. But it’s impossible to blame Fizdale for giving Hardaway the assignment on the final possession. Hardaway is playing on another level thus far.

He’s averaging 28 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.0 steals per game and he is the clear leading man for New York. His shooting percentage could be a bit higher — it currently sits at 41.2 percent — but he is the “go get a bucket” guy for the Knicks and he’s forced into some tough shots as the first option. That comes with the territory when you’re a high usage player

And if you’re wondering about whether or not Fizdale is serious about challenging Hardaway or he’s just paying lip service to cover a bad decision, he doubled down by giving Hardaway the assignment of Jayson Tatum — who was dealing — in the final minutes of the slugfest.

Hardaway “let” Tatum score on a pretty fadeaway to put the Celtics up three with fewer than 25 seconds to play. This was far different than the LeVert play because Tatum’s shot was unguardable. There’s no way to blame Hardaway for that play. It was great defense, Jayson Tatum is just a ridiculous scorer.

“Tatum made a tremendous shot. Turnaround, fadeaway, contested high,” Hardaway told reporters following Saturday’s game. “I wish my arms were longer.”

But the Knicks still had a chance down the stretch. A wild final inbounds pass was batted away by Jaylen Brown, but the inbounder, Trey Burke, scooped it up. Jayson Tatum fouled Burke, sending him to the line with the potential to tie the game.

Burke missed the first, hit the second, and there was no magical tip in on Burke’s intentional miss on the third shot. Burke wasn’t the reason for the loss, but no doubt he would be wearing it after missing that first, crucial free throw.

But before reporters even had the chance to ask Burke about the final sequence, Fizdale put his hand up.

“Oh, I stunk that play up,” Fizdale said. “I drew up a crap play for him, but somehow we got three free throws out of it. So, that’s just what I was expecting.


“Yeah, I drew a crap play. Terrible, I told them. That was the first thing I said to the team. I owned that. That was a bad play and I had two really nice plays I wanted to look at.”

Of course, Burke missed the free throw and that was what ultimately lost the game, but the loss isn’t the end of the season. The great thing about the NBA is there’s a quick turnaround. The Knicks won’t have to dwell on these losses for long. Furthermore, the final record isn’t what’s important. How they are improving with each game is what really matters.

They took the Eastern Conference favorites down to the wire. There are no moral victories, but this one shouldn’t sting so bad.

Second Unit

Kevin Knox went down early after rolling his ankle in ugly fashion. The x-rays came back negative per Knicks PR, but Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting that Knox will be out somewhere between two to four weeks.

Damyean Dotson saw his first action of the season and he didn’t disappoint. In (MINUTES) he put up (POINTS). In the waning minutes of the first half, Ntilkina was set to check in, but Dotson wasn’t willing to check out. He hit a three and Ntilikina started his trot back to the bench. Dotson rewarded Fizdale’s “keep what you kill” approach with another three on the next possession.

Enes Kanter hit the first three of his Knicks career in the fourth quarter from the top of the key. Teams are allowing that shot. If he can knock that down it wouldn’t open up a lot for him and the offense. He’s also the first Knick to start a season with three straight double-doubles since Zach Randolph did it in 2007-08 per Knicks PR.

Allonzo Trier had 15 points in 25 minutes. He’s cementing his spot in the rotation. His ability to score on the second unit is noticeable. He and Noah Vonleh anchored the second unit following Kevin Knox’s injury. Vonleh only scored seven points, but he hauled in 13 rebounds and he played in key crunch time minutes. It’s clear that he’s playing with confidence because he’s grabbing defensive boards and starting the break with the dribble.

Looking Ahead

The Knicks hit the road for a game at the brand new Fiserv Arena in Milwaukee. It should be a fun one. Giannis Antetokounmpo is always worth the price of admission and this young Knicks team is heading into its first true away game of the year. The Knicks game in Brooklyn on Friday was a mix between Knicks and Nets fans so it wasn’t the same atmosphere the Knicks will see when they land in Milwaukee.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.