Rudy Gobert dominated the New York Knicks on Saturday, Kevin Knox learned on the fly, and the veterans are getting frustrated.
Starting 5 is a weekly column that dives into five different New York Knicks topics. We’ll discuss one positive, one negative, dive into some film, preview the road ahead, and touch on one national story.
Positive: Kevin Knox Maturation
This season is all about player development (more on that later) and the No. 1 priority seems to be Kevin Knox. The Knicks’ most recent first-round pick is having a roller coaster season. He’s up and down.
Despite his inconsistent play, the Knicks are letting Knox learn on the fly. In his last three games, Knox has had trouble with efficiency. He’s only shooting 34 percent from the floor, but he’s playing just under 40 minutes in those games.
That’s exactly what this season is all about. Let the young guys play through their rough patches and learn on the fly. Wins and losses are secondary to player development this season. It’s relieving to see the Knicks allow Knox the opportunity to fail. He’ll be a better player with the experience.
On the other hand, the same can’t be said for Frank Ntilikina. That might say more about Ntilikina than it does about how the Knicks develop their young talent. Either way, it’s nice to see Knox play big minutes despite his struggles.
Negative: Veteran Frustration
Enes Kanter is not happy with his situation. The veteran center wants to be in the starting lineup and that’s no secret. Kanter doesn’t seem happy with the team’s focus on player development. Furthermore, Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas are suffering as a result of the shift in focus as well.
It’s a very fine line that David Fizdale, Steve Mills, and Scott Perry are forced to walk. There must be a balance between building a “winning culture” and developing their young talent.
It’s up to Fizdale to keep the locker room in check and make sure everyone is buying into the plan. That’s not an envious task, but it’s for the best. The Knicks should be focusing on the future. A situation like this seemed inevitable at some point this season. Although veteran frustration is not an easy thing to deal with, the trade deadline is closer than it seems.
Mini Film Room: Rudy Gobert Domination
During the summer, I wrote about how Mitchell Robinson should try and emulate Clint Capela. The same can be said of Rudy Gobert. Robinson’s athleticism lends itself to the style of play that is turning Gobert and Capela into two of the best centers in the league. They’re rim-running bigs who excel at rim protection and finishing around the basket.
That’s exactly the type of player the Knicks need Robinson to morph into. He is out with an ankle injury right now, but hopefully, he paid close attention to Gobert’s dominant performance on Saturday against the Knicks.
New York’s scheme was bad and their execution was even worse. The early pick-and-roll from Dante Exum and Gobert decimated Luke Kornet and Emmanuel Mudiay. Gobert’s 16 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter prompted the Utah Jazz’s dismantling of the Knicks.
Gobert is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and that’s where he’s most valuable, but he’s having the best offensive season of his career. He’s excelling in a few areas that Mitchell Robinson is well suited for.
The first play is cleverly designed by Quin Snyder. He uses Joe Ingles as a decoy and has the Australian run baseline as if he’s looking for a screen for his shot. Dante Exum and Donovan Mitchell run a quick back-and-forth with Mitchell flaring out to the three-point line. Exum and Gobert run a quick pick-and-roll and Gobert’s athleticism takes over.
The funny thing about this play is that the Jazz don’t execute well. They aren’t running tight off of screens and they look like they’re going through the motions. Still, Gobert’s athleticism takes over and punishes the weak Knicks defense.
This next play is all about positioning. Gobert runs a dribble handoff into a screen, then a re-screen with Exum. As soon as Gobert realizes he’s not getting the ball, he looks seeks out real estate. He gets inside position on the smaller defender and grabs the rebound among a sea of blue jerseys.
This is actually something that Kanter does very well and it’s something Robinson needs to learn. He’s sleight in frame at the moment, but he’ll bulk up as time goes on. As he grows into his body and figures out how to position himself, he can develop into an elite offensive rebounder.
This last play is more of a defensive breakdown than anything, but it highlights the importance of running the floor. Exum pushes the pace, but for a moment, it looks like the Knicks have stopped the Jazz advance. Without hesitation, Gobert dives to the rim, a miscommunication ensues, and Exum finds Gobert for the lob.
Gobert is the gold standard for rim-running centers in the NBA. The Frenchman is a defensive stopper and a major threat on offense. He’s making a strong case for an All-Star bid although it may be difficult to make the squad in the crowded Western Conference.
With this in mind, Robinson’s development is crucial. He has all the tools to develop into a player in the same mold as Gobert. It’s unfair to say that Robinson will be as good as Gobert in the future. Regardless, the Knicks rookie has all the makings of a star.
Look Ahead: Man Your Stations
If things weren’t ugly enough this season, the Knicks have four more games on the road against likely playoff teams. Their six-game road trip finishes with games against the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, and Golden State Warriors.
It’s difficult to see the Knicks winning any of those games considering their play of late. They have lost seven in a row and 12 of their last 13. It’s possible that the team returns home on an 11-game losing streak. As a reward for gutting out this brutal road trip, the Knicks will face the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers in a two-game homestand.
This is undoubtedly the toughest part of the schedule this season and the losses are piling up. This is great news for their lottery odds, but it’s bad news for the “winning culture” Fizdale is trying to instill in his team.
Around The League: Rookie Sensations
It’s easy for Knicks fans to get lost in the eyes of rookies like Knox, Robinson, and Allonzo Trier. The rookies playing in Madison Square Garden are showing tremendous upside. All three are significant signs of progress for the front office.
But there are plenty of exciting rookies around the league, not just in New York. Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks is the early favorite to win Rookie of the Year. The Slovenian looks like a potential superstar and he can do a little bit of everything.
He also might be the most insufferable player to hear people talk about. Doncic wasn’t labeled as a “European Bust” by many, but now his biggest fans want to push the narrative that no one thought he would be successful. It’s exhausting and it would be nice if everyone could just enjoy watching him play rather than playing “I told you so.”
Although some may try and tell you he is, Doncic isn’t the only rookie turning heads. The two guys drafted before him, Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III, are playing pretty well in their own right. Ayton of the Phoenix Suns is averaging a double-double and his defense is slowly, yet steadily improving. Bagley is already giving the Sacramento Kings solid minutes off the bench and he’s a big reason for their early-season success.
This looks like one of the best draft classes in a long time. The top three picks are all living up to the hype, but as you continue to look through the draft, there are tons of exciting young players. Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young, Wendell Carter Jr., and Collin Sexton are just a few rookies with tremendous upside.
The Knicks have to be thrilled with their rookie class, but they are just one of many teams who hit the jackpot in the draft.