Knickerbocker swagger: Rivers delivers in another Knicks comeback

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau watched Austin Rivers grew up with the swagger of a Knickerbocker.

It runs in the blood.

Austin’s father and Thibodeau’s good friend, Doc Rivers, played two-plus years in New York.

On Wednesday night, Thibodeau watched the younger Rivers flaunt that swagger in his first game as a Knickerbocker in The Garden.

Rivers delivered dagger after dagger in a scintillating fourth-quarter show. His 14 straight points in the final 4:16 sucked the life out of the Utah Jazz in a 112-100 come-from-behind win.

“I’ll tell you one thing he’s never lacked. He’s never had a lack of confidence,” Thibodeau told reporters, recalling one episode in Boston when he was Doc’s assistant coach.

“When we had all these Hall of Fame guys. I think [Austin] was still in high school. And when he comes up to visit his dad, he wants to play all of them one-on-one. One day, in particular, Kevin Garnett wouldn’t want anyone to score on him. So he’s coming out to practice, and he sees Austin. And Austin wants to play. Austin really believed he could beat him. That’s the mindset that he has. He never lacked the confidence,” Thibodeau continued.

That’s what the Knicks lacked in the past seven years — confidence.

Rivers has injected that to these gritty Knicks that have suddenly become emboldened.

Before the season, Rivers preached that their job is to make New York attractive to stars and make the Knicks great again.

But with the core of last season’s lottery team infused only with a pair of rookies and veteran role players led by Rivers, these Knicks were hardly given a chance.

Rivers talking about playoffs during the media day was as crazy as the idea of him beating Garnett one-on-one.

Then the Knicks routed Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, 130-110.

People dismissed it as an aberration—just a part of the weird day in the NBA where upset became the recurring theme.

And it looked like it was after the 17-point loss to the Toronto Raptors in Rivers’ season debut.

Even after they found themselves at the wrong end of history, Rivers’ confidence remained intact. He went to Instagram to assure the anxious Knicks fans.

Rivers has since walked the talk.

“He understands what it takes to win,” Thibodeau said of Rivers. “He understands the difference between the first three quarters and the fourth quarter and the intensity that’s involved.”

The next three games saw Rivers delivering clutch plays in the fourth quarter. But none were bigger against the Jazz.

With the game tied at 96-all, Rivers scored on a floater and a barrage of three-pointers that could have rocked The Garden if fans were allowed.

“Oh man, I can’t imagine. I can’t wait! They’re gonna be here soon enough. We just keep building and get better for them,” Rivers told Rebecca Haarlow in the postgame interview.

The Knicks (5-3) keep on building and grinding, showing the grit and heart that defines the city of New York.

For the second straight game, they stared at another huge deficit and fought their way back.

The Jazz led by as many as 18 in the opening half before the Knicks cut it down to a dozen halftime deficit.

New York native Donovan Mitchell, French big man Rudy Gobert, and Filipino-American guard Jordan Clarkson each had 10 points in the first half.

After allowing the visitors to shoot a staggering 42.1 percent from three and 53.5 percent overall, the Knicks tightened their defense after the break.

“Everybody is all-in. At halftime, when we were down, everybody just said ‘chip away.’ We have so much spirit. Coach [Thibs] just doesn’t let us quit,” Rivers said.

“EP (Payton) was huge in the second half. Julius (Randle) was huge. RJ (Barrett) stepped up. Reggie (Bullock) hit big shots. Kevin (Knox) played great defense. I can go down the line. Mitch (Robinson) was great. It’s a total team effort,” Rivers added.

The beauty of this Knicks team is the sum of all its parts.

Mitchell Robinson once again anchored the Knicks’ defensive wall in the second half. He continued to hold the fort sans his backup Nerlens Noel (sore knee, ankle sprain).

The youngest starting center in the league held his ground against Gobert stuffing the stats sheet with nine points, 13 rebounds, two assists, three steals, and three blocks.

Gobert, who had 14 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks, was rendered ineffective in the second half scoring only on two field goals.

The Knicks were also able to slow down the usually prolific Mitchell. The Jazz star was a measly 4 for 14 after the break that was emblematic of their offensive woes.

The Knicks’ suffocating defense choked the Jazz to just 24.4 percent from three and 35.4 percent overall in the brutal second half.

After watching rookie Immanuel Quickley close out the game in Atlanta on the bench, Payton got his turn.

The Knicks starting point guard played sharp throughout (22 points, eight assists, +/- 25). Thibodeau stuck to a seven-man rotation to close out the game after Quickley went scoreless in six minutes in the opening half.

Thibodeau referred to Julius Randle as their engine. And he played exactly like that, especially in the third quarter where the forward pumped in 14 points. RJ Barrett and Payton contributed eight apiece during that 15-point turnaround.

Randle bucked his worst first quarter to still finish with All-Star numbers — game-high 30 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists.

Reggie Bullock, who was questionable until the warmup, chipped in 12 points, 10 coming in the second half.

“I’ve been on bad teams before. This is not one. I can promise you that. I don’t know where we’ll end up, we have so much work to do, it’s really early in the year, but I do know the spirit is different,” Rivers told reporters after the game. “The willingness to work and learn is different.”

Rivers’ last sentence encapsulates the swagger of these Knickerbockers.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: Kevin Knox will have to earn playing time

New York Knicks, Kevin Knox

Nothing is given.  Everything is earned.

That’s how Kevin Knox‘s life under new head coach Tom Thibodeau.

The former lottery pick has started to come along in the New York Knicks‘ Bubble-like organized team activity thanks to the culture of accountability that Thibodeau has set.

“I think the first step is preparation.  That’s where you get your confidence from.  How he practices every day that will allow him to continue to develop.  He’s played very well here. He shot the ball very well.  He’s put a lot of time into that,” Thibodeau said of Knox’s performance in the Knicks’ Bubble.

Knox was oozing with potential when he was selected as the ninth pick in the 2018 Draft ahead of the likes of his Kentucky teammate Shia Gilgeous-Alexander, and Michael Porter, Jr.

Those three players who were picked after him have made great strides, while Knox has yet to pan out after a promising rookie season. The 21-year old Knox was hounded by inconsistencies and got buried on the bench in his sophomore year. That killed whatever momentum he has built in his rookie year as his confidence dipped.

“I think it’s the same thing.  I think there’s been ups and downs for him.  Hopefully, he continues to learn from those experiences,” Thibodeau said.

With the new Knicks front office zeroing in on player development, Knox has been rejuvenated, especially with the arrival of former Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne. But even with Payne now on his corner, Thibodeau has made it clear that Knox has to earn his minutes.

“Everything will be based on performance.  It’s how you practice first.  You have to practice well with the team before you can begin to talk about playing time.  And when you’re playing in the game, everything will be based on performance,” Thibodeau said.

It’s a make-or-break year for Knox, who has been the subject of trade rumors. Thibodeau’s message is clear: shape up or get shipped out.

New York Knicks: Randle-Conley swap unlikely as Jazz don’t want to compromise spacing

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

It appears the reported interest of the Utah Jazz on New York Knicks‘ forward Julius Randle will remain just a rumor.

Dennis Lindsey, the Utah Jazz VP of Basketball Operations, indirectly shut down the rumor involving Randle. He told reporters on Wednesday that their priority in the offseason is to bring in athletic defenders and floor spacers around their franchise cornerstones Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

“Anybody who could obviously have defensive integrity at their position, can be an active, athletic defender will be someone that would interest to us, especially if they don’t compromise the spacing,” Lindsey told reporters via Zoom.

Earlier this week, a Randle for Mike Conley swap and draft considerations was floated around.

But the profile of the Jazz targets this coming offseason doesn’t fit Randle who became a subject of scrutiny in his first year in New York.

Randle, who signed a three-year deal worth $63 million, regressed this season as his ball-dominant and post-up style of play irked the fanbase and even some of his teammates according to an April report.

His three-point shooting dipped from 34.4% to 27.7% this season although that can also be attributed to his ill-fitted role as a leader in a team that lacked talent and floor spacers. His defensive rating of 111.6, 230th among forwards, isn’t something that can move the needle for the Jazz who went from having the second-best defensive rating in 2018-19 to 13th this season.

In the same interview, Lindsey also indirectly said that they will do everything to keep Mitchell and Gobert in Salt Lake City.

Mitchell, who was also linked to the Knicks because of his New York roots and CAA ties with the new team President Leon Rose, is expected to sign with the Jazz long-term as per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports earlier.

“I’m limited on what I can say in regards to extensions and renegotiations per NBA rules. With that said, we’re extremely pleased at who both of those players are as people,” Lindsey said.

Gobert’s $106-million, four-year contract extension he signed in 2016 is set to expire after next season while Mitchell is eligible to get a $170-million max contract extension over five years.

“It’s really, really hard to get core franchise-level talent in any market, big or small, but it’s exponentially hard to get that level of talent that has a high level of character and competitiveness. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re working to add players of Rudy and Donovan’s physical talent and competitive makeup and so by definition, we’re going to want to keep those types of players moving forward,” Lindsey added.

 

Quin Snyder excited for Johnnie Bryant’s impact in New York Knicks

Johnnie Bryant, New York Knicks

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder raved about his assistant Johnnie Bryant ahead of his move to the New York Knicks.

News broke out last Tuesday that Bryant, 35, has agreed to a deal to become Tom Thibodeau’s associate head coach.

Snider said the whole Jazz organization is excited for Bryant.

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“I’m happy for Johnnie and his family. It’s an opportunity that he’s earned and deserved. We’re really excited for him,” Snyder said. “He’s been someone who’s been with me since I got to Utah.”

Bryant has worked his way up to become one of the brightest young coaches in the game.

Tactically, he’s learned [a lot] in the game and on the bench. He’s great on the court with players and you see him develop guys. It’s something we take pride in with our program. Johnnie’s been a big part of that,” Snyder added.

Bryant, who played at the University of Utah, has built his resume around his solid player development acumen.  Prior to joining the Jazz in 2012, Bryant was running his own training gym (Bryant Sports Academy). Former Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin was so impressed with the work he’s done with Ronnie Price and Paul Millsap and his son Tyrell Corbin that he invited him to join his staff.

Two years later, Snider replaced Corbin.

Bryant continued his work under Snider, helping Gordon Hayward become an All-Star.  After Hayward left for Boston, he took then-rookie, Donovan Mitchell, under his wing, and the results bolstered his credentials even further.

His close relationship with Mitchell fueled speculations that the Connecticut native could soon find his way home.

Jazz radio announcer David Locke said that Bryant will be a big loss for the organization.  But more than that, his move will make the Jazz fan base uncomfortable because of his close relationship with their team’s rising star.

“It’s gonna be scary. Donovan and Johnnie are guys.  That’s the relationship there,” Locked told KUTV’s Dave Fox.

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Mitchell is expected to sign a lucrative contract extension with the Jazz this offseason.  But even if he doesn’t, he will still become a restricted free agent in 2021 where the Jazz can match any offer from other teams.  Unless Mitchell forces his way out, there’s not a chance the Knicks can get him in the next three to four years.

More than the lure of Mitchell, Bryant’s hiring will greatly impact the player development of the Knicks’ young core, especially RJ Barrett.

New York Knicks: How realistic is a trade for Jazz star Donovan Mitchell?

New York Knicks, Donovan Mitchell

Would the New York Knicks be looking to trade for Donovan Mitchell amid relationship issues with Rudy Gobert?

If only Rudy Gobert didn’t go around touching microphones and teammates as an ill-advised joke before the coronavirus pandemic became an established force. Gobert’s relationship with Mitchell Robinson has reportedly disintegrated, opening up a doorway for a lowly team like the Knicks to pounce on one of the league’s young stars.

However, it would take a lot more than the Knicks are willing to offer to land Mitchell. Reports have indicated that the Jazz would need RJ Barrett or Mitchell Robinson and two first-round picks to land the star guard.

SNY’s Ian Begley stated regarding a potential deal:

If Mitchell were to seek a trade from the Jazz, one opposing executive, speculating, said that any Knicks package would probably have to include either RJ Barrett or Mitchell Robinson, and two first-round picks (one of them unprotected). So if you are putting together potential Knicks trade packages for Mitchell, it makes sense to start there. And, obviously, if Utah was trading Mitchell and keeping Gobert, the club wouldn’t want to deal for Robinson.

That’s an interesting point — there would be no need for Robinson with Gobert already on the team, a premium level center with elite defensive attributes. Barrett would have to be included, and the Knicks aren’t looking to deal the 3rd overall pick from the 2019 NBA draft.

To conclude, this deal ‘isn’t’ realistic by any means, and the Knicks will likely never touch Donovan Mitchell. They’re better off waiting for free agency next season and pursing a star player like Anthony Davis instead of trading away youth pieces for Mitchell. An alternative argument would be — trade for Mitchell now, sign Davis and solidify two elite players to build a foundation around.

Frank Ntilikina’s defense is getting even better for the New York Knicks

Mike Miller, Frank Ntilikina

The New York Knicks have defensive all-star in the making.  Frank Ntilikina’s defense continues to improve each game, especially in crunch time.

In the Knicks most recent defeat, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell praised the defense of Ntilikina.  He stated that “He’s one of the toughest defenders I ever have to face…it’s great the Knicks continue to give him multiple shots because he deserves it.”

Ntilikina does get a lot of criticism from Knicks fans, however, his overall game has improved this season.  This is coming after a very good outing with his native country of France in the FIBA World Cup.  Especially of recent, you can see that Ntilikina’s confidence gets stronger and stronger each game.

Some with also say that the comments made by Mitchell was “just being nice.”  He have a pretty in-depth analysis to just be nice.”  So, to say that Mitchell “is just being nice” is inaccurate.

His defense will always be there.  That is why Ntilikina is always in at the end of the game on the opponents best guard player to put the ‘clamps’ on them.  It first happen when the Knicks played the Luka and Mavs then against Russell Westbrook and the Rockets.

When given the time to develop and grow, Ntilikina has proven that he can be a defensive stud for the Knicks.  His offensive will hopefully come in time but the confidence is there.  He’s been aggressive and shooting more often, building off his productive games of recent.  If he can nail down that mid-range jumper, he’ll be an instant starter for the New York Knicks.

New York Knicks: Can Frank Ntilikina earn starting minutes next season?

New York Knicks, Frank Ntilikina

Most fans have seemed to write off New York Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina before the beginning of the 2019-20 season. The reality is, he’s been a lackluster scorer since entering the league two years ago. Averaging just 5.9 points per game in two seasons has thrust him to the bottom of the pecking order. He will likely start behind Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton this season as he claws for playing time.

While Ntilikina has failed to produce for the Knicks in the NBA, he has been in menace for the French national team this FIBA World Cup. He played a key role in derailing the USA basketball team and their 58-game win streak. He dominated against NBA quality players and showed that he can compete at a level high enough to succeed in the pros.

Frank is known for his defensive quality while his offensive production is reduced. However, against the USA basketball team, he looked even better than stars like Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell. The 21-year-old swung the momentum towards France in the fourth quarter, playing incredible defense and hitting a buzzer-beating dagger with two minutes and 15 seconds left to play.

The interesting thing about The Frenchman is that his stat line never jumps off the page. He recorded 11 points and five of nine shooting with one rebound and three assists. But he was +22 for the game, the second-best mark of any player on the floor.

His impressive performance begs the question:

Can Ntilikina earn playing time for the New York Knicks during the regular season?

Slated behind Smith Jr. and Payton, it will be difficult for him to crack the roster and play serviceable minutes. Despite that reality, he is still an outstanding defender and can be used in that facet.

If he can continue to hound opposing guards and shoot and even average level from the field, he could be a valuable asset for the Knicks in today’s NBA. Acting as a glorified utility player and situational point guard, Frank can be an integral part of the team, but he must play with confidence and understand his strengths and weaknesses.