Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Amid a miserable start to this Knicks season, there have been a few positive developments. Frank Ntilikina has shown that he's -- at the very least -- a capable NBA rotation player in the league. Marcus Morris has shot incredibly well from beyond the arc (52 percent). And, of course, there's RJ Barrett.
On most nights, Barrett has impacted the game on both ends of the floor and played with a poise and awareness that you wouldn't expect from a 19-year-old.
Before Sunday's loss to the Celtics, Boston head coach Brad Stevens offered his thoughts on Barrett: "The first time I saw him in person up close here was the third game of the season and his body, physicality, skill level, all ready for the NBA. I think that's pretty unique for a wing in the league"
"Even some of the better wings fill out over time. He already looks way above his age both from a maturity standpoint, playing standpoint and certainly from a physical standpoint."
You often see Barrett use his 6-6, 200-pound frame to bully defenders on drives and create space for himself around the basket. He also rebounds well and is a physical presence on defense. In short, Barrett has been everything the Knicks could have hoped for after his uneven showing in the Las Vegas Summer League.
In a season full of poor results/unclear direction, it seems like the Knicks may have found a foundational piece in Barrett.
FREE THROW WOES:
Of course, the rookie hasn't been perfect. He's had poor shooting nights (after a solid start, Barrett is shooting 41 percent from the field, 32 percent from beyond the arc). He's averaging 2.6 turnovers per game. And Barrett, like most of the Knicks rotation players, has struggled from the free-throw line. He's shooting just 52 percent from the line on 5.4 attempts per game. On Sunday, he missed five of 13 attempts from the line.
As a team, the Knicks are shooting a league-low 67 percent from the line -- four percent lower than the club that ranks 29th.
"It's biting us," Fizdale said on Sunday after the Knicks' nine-point loss to Boston. "We missed 11. Can't miss 11 free throws against the Boston Celtics and think you're going to win a close game.
"We're just going to stay with it. We're going to keep coming up with creative ways to try to make them better at it. Right now I think it's much more mental than it is technical. But we've just got to stay with it. Again if you go through, say eight of our losses, nine of our losses, we either didn't shoot enough of them or we missed the ones that we did get."
DSJ GETTING HIS LEGS BACK?
Dennis Smith Jr. got to the paint several times against the Celtics, creating a shot for himself or his teammates. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting and seven assists off the bench. Depending on Ntilikina's status, Smith Jr. may start on Monday against Milwaukee. Ntilikina is questionable due to a back issue.
Smith Jr. adds a needed element for New York: he's one of the few Knicks who can penetrate the defense and create open looks. The third-year guard had an uneven season so far (he missed two weeks due to the death of his step mother). But if the Knicks' coaches can help Smith Jr. find consistency on offense, it gives the club the kind of threat that its lacked for much of the season.
Here's what Fizdale said about Smith Jr. on Sunday: "I thought Dennis Smith Jr. finally had a game where he could look at it and say, 'OK here it goes. I'm going to get my legs back.'"
Players sticking together:
You can criticize the coaching staff, players and management for the Knicks' poor start, but it's worth noting that players say that they have remained together during all of the losses. That's significant.
Here's veteran Taj Gibson on how tough it is for locker rooms to stay together in the NBA in general: "It's always a challenge in the NBA to stay together. You've got 14 different personalities, everybody's coming from (a place where they are or were) the top guy in their community or college. Everybody has somebody in their ear - family, coaches. So you've got to deal with so many different personalities (in a locker room). Then you've got to deal with guys getting the right kind of shots, guys sacrificing to make the right plays. So this locker room is awesome even with the chips stacked against us. Guys are always cheering for eachother, guys are always encouraging eachother. In practice, guys are challenging each other."
Again, it doesn't impact the win-loss record, which indicates that the Knicks are a bad team. But the coaches and players deserve some credit if they've remained connected amid this ugly start to the season.
Here's the advice that Gibson is giving some of his teammates: "Stay solid, don't listen to the outside noise. Just stay focused. The bandwagon's empty. The only people you can really rely on are the guys in here and the coaching staff."
Gibson has said that he thinks the Knicks overlook some of the finer details of the game at times. He elaborated on that a bit after Sunday's loss.
"We're still figuring out how to win, the execution and believing that we're going to get it done. When you've got a young group sometimes the small details (get overlooked). The screen down to get guys open, getting yourself open. The physicality of the game picks up a lot more in the fourth and the refs aren't - most of time - going to bail you out."
Robinson's foul trouble:
Knicks have worked with Mitchell Robinson to try to limit his fouls on defense. The results have been inconsistent. Robinson fouled out against Boston, the third time he's fouled out in the last four games. Robinson's averaging 3.7 fouls in 20 minutes per game. Only Dwight Howard and Mo Wagner average more fouls per game and play around the same minutes per game.
"I think there's a little bit of a regression, but I always expect that from these kids," Fizdale said Sunday. "The young guys, it's not like they just get it and that's it and go onto the next thing. I still think he has a lot of work to do when it comes to staying disciplined and focused in on not getting in foul trouble. Because it does hurt us when we can't play him significant minutes."
Robinson said he's working on his foul issues. When asked about the touch fouls he gets whistled for, Robinson agreed with the premise that some of the calls aren't warranted.
"Some of them, yeah. I don't feel like all of them," he said. We get touched too, why we don't get the same calls? But it is what it is."