Knicks cast 3-point spell on Magic on historic night

After teasing a new-look offense tailored to the pace and space era in the preseason, it only took two games into the new season before the New York Knicks shattered their three-point record.

The Knicks hit a franchise-record 24 three-pointers en route to a 121-96 rout of a young Orlando Magic team Friday night at the Amway Center.

Eight different players made at least one three-pointer as the Knicks are off to a 2-0 start for the first time in nine years. The Knicks’ first five field goals came from downtown, setting the tone for the record-breaking night.

The 24 three-point shots made broke their previous record of 20, which they did thrice (2011, 2013, and 2018), while the 54 attempts also eclipsed the 51 they threw up in a quadruple overtime loss to Atlanta Hawks on January 29, 2017.

They also made 24 3s in a preseason win against the Washington Wizards two weeks ago. This time, the Knicks made it official.

“I think it’s a reflection of the team playing for each other and just making the right play,” Thibodeau said. “We talked about it a lot of wanting to shoot more 3s, but we want them to be the right 3s. When the second defender comes, guys are making the right read.”

The Magic had no answer to the Knicks’ vaunted offense, which kept on poking holes in their porous defense.

The Knicks had a smooth sailing save for a Mitchell Robinson injury scare and a Julius Randle technical foul.

Robinson clutched his hamstring before Kemba Walker replaced him with 4:19 to go in the third quarter. But the 23-year old Knicks center, who was playing in his third game back from a fractured foot injury, returned to play five more minutes in the fourth quarter.

“It should be fine,” Thibodeau’s curt reply when asked about Robinson’s hamstring.

Randle flirted with a triple-double (21 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals) before a technical foul forced Thibodeau to take him out with 4:28 left and the Knicks leading by 32.

Randle shoved Orlando’s Wendell Carter, Jr. after the Magic forward knocked him down in a fastbreak play.

“The one thing that I could assure you is that if I play [Randle] too much, you’ll gonna let me know. If I don’t play him enough, you’ll gonna let me know. And the one thing I know for certain it’s never the right amount,” said a smiling Thibodeau eliciting laughter from the reporters.

Walker went 3-for-3 from downtown in the first stanza, where the Knicks seized a 20-point lead that swelled to as large as 34 in the second half. He wound up with 11 points while his fellow newcomer and former Magic Evan Fournier continued his red-hot shooting with four three-pointers and 18 points.

Obi Toppin picked up from where he left off. The sophomore forward scored 13 points — from fastbreak slams to corner three-pointers — in 24 minutes that electrified the large Knicks crowd who showed up in Orlando.

Veteran guards Derrick Rose and Alec Burks also came off the bench and kept the ball moving. They produced identical numbers — 12 points and seven assists off the bench. The Knicks recorded 34 assists on a staggering 50 percent (44-of-88) shooting from the field.

They will aim to keep their perfect start when the Magic visit them at the Garden on Sunday for a rematch at 7 p.m.

After a quiet season opener, Immanuel Quickley came off the bench and joined the three-point party. Quickley finished with 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, including 4-for-8 from beyond the arc.

“Everybody loves playing for each other,” Quickley said. “Everybody can make plays. We can all shoot, dribble, pass and we play for each other. That’s the Knicks culture. — play for each other, play hard every night and that’s gonna get the job done.”

So far, job well done.

Welcome to the new era of Knicks basketball.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Broadway Thriller: Knicks survive Celtics in double OT season opener

evan fournier, knicks

When reporters asked Julius Randle what to expect in the New York Knicks season opener, there was something compellingly prescient about his answer.

“Chaos,” Randle said. “We’re expecting chaos.”

A chaotic final sequence in the regulation nearly cost them the game, but the Knicks regrouped and leaned on their preseason experience to pull off a 138-134 double-overtime win over old rival Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.

It was the first season opener with multiple overtimes since the Knicks’ 118-117 triple-overtime win over the Grizzlies on Nov. 1, 2006.

“Every time before we go out [of the locker room], coach [Tom Thibodeau] always puts on the board, ‘find a way to win.’ They talk about us taking preseason seriously, but this is why we take it seriously so we can win games like this,” Randle said.

Their undefeated run in the preseason kept them sharp and mentally ready for a brutal opening game that needed 58 minutes of basketball to decide the winner.

Randle started the season proving that his All-NBA season was not a fluke. In a battle of All-Star forwards, Randle answered Jaylen Brown’s 46-point performance with a near triple-double (35 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, three blocks in 46 minutes) and clutch free throws in the second overtime. Randle became the first player in Knicks’ history to log in at least 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists in multiple season openers, per ESPN Stats and Info.

Newcomer Evan Fournier validated the hefty contract he signed last summer. The Frenchman gunner scored a career-high 32 points, including the go-ahead three-pointer with 56 seconds remaining.

Derrick Rose showed that he can still close games more than a decade removed from his MVP season. He kept fighting through his shooting woes to hit the dagger — a floating banked shot off Dennis Schroder with 22.2 seconds left for the final tally. He wound up with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting and five assists.

It was a massive win against a conference rival that is projected to finish ahead of them in the standings.

But the Knicks had to earn it the hard way after blowing an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter. They failed to protect a three-point cushion with 4.8 seconds left in the regulation when they seemingly forgot to foul.

“There was a slip but we did want to foul,” Thibodeau later said. “We got to work on it. We’ll learn from it.”

A Jayson Tatum slip caused a chain of reactions, leading to a wide-open Marcus Smart three-pointer that beat the buzzer to force the first overtime. Fournier went to double team Tatum that left Schroder open for the pass. Schroder found Smart as Kemba Walker, who had two costly turnovers inside the final 30 seconds, scrambled for defense.

Fournier atoned for his blunder with four triples in the two extra periods. After an underwhelming preseason, Fournier found his rhythm in his official Knicks debut. He shot 13-of-25 overall and accounted for six of the team’s 17 three-pointers.

The Knicks attempted 45 three-pointers, 34 in the regulation.

“I’ve never worried about him making shots,” Thibodeau said referring to Fournier. “To me, he’s proven throughout his career that’s who he is. It’s nice to see him and Julius build some chemistry together.”

The same cannot be said of Walker, who has yet to make his signature Knicks moment through four games dating back to the preseason. In this game billed as his official homecoming debut, Walker hardly had an impact with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting in 36 minutes. He had more turnovers (4) than assists (3) and watched on the bench in the second overtime.

“I think [with] Kemba, the more he plays with that group the more he gets into a rhythm,” Thibodeau said. “He’s got great instincts in the pick and roll. And I think we can take advantage of that even more than what we’re doing right now. So, we’ll continue to work on that.”

“Kemba and Evan are two terrific players. We’re excited about the possibilities.”

However, their performance in the first 28 minutes did not elicit excitement. The Knicks trailed by as many as 12 points. After a roaring 8-0 start buoyed by a couple of Randle’s three-pointers, New York fell into Boston’s trap.

They could not solve the Celtics’ switching defense that held them to only eight assists in the first half and forced them to rely on isolation plays. Jaylen Brown’s 25-point outburst in the first half, 20 in the opening quarter, compounded their problem.

Not until Thibodeau switched to his small-ball lineup again in the third quarter that they found an answer. Sans Nerlens Noel (sore left knee) and Taj Gibson, who just became a first-time father, Thibodeau leaned on the Toppin-Randle frontcourt to ignite their comeback.

After Toppin replaced Mitchell Robinson with 8:36 left in the third quarter, the Knicks outscored the Celtics, 28-15, to seize an 86-82 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

They pushed the pace, and the space they created gave Barrett enough room to operate. After a scoreless first half, Barrett uncorked 14 of his 19 points during that big run.

“It got us going. It got us into the open floor which was good. That group really played well together,” Thibodeau said.

Toppin then teamed up with Robinson at the start of the fourth quarter. Their back-to-back dunks opened up an eight-point lead for the Knicks, 90-82. Toppin and Robinson combined for 11 of the Knicks’ first 14 points in the fourth quarter.

A Schroder three-pointer cut Celtics’ deficit down to six. But Toppin’s alley-oop dunk over Payton Pritchard restored an eight-point Knicks’ lead, 100-92, with 8:58 left in the regulation.

The second-year pro looked every inch the lottery pick that he was hyped to be as he finally spread his wings. Toppin finished with a career-high 14 points in 28 minutes, the most he’s played since he entered the NBA. He added five rebounds and one block.

His breakthrough performance was a testament to Thibodeau’s player development acumen and his body of work with his trainer David Zenon in the summer.

Robinson delivered a monster double-double in just his second game back from a foot injury. The 23-year old center collected 11 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks against only two fouls in 35 minutes.

“I think we’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg with Mitch. I think Mitch is gonna be really, really good for us,” Thibodeau said. “RJ, in the second half, he was a monster. The thing that I liked was he kept his composure. He wasn’t rattled and just kept playing. He kept working in the game and then the game got going his way. So, it was really good to see.”

More than his offensive contribution, Barrett held his end of the bargain on the defensive end. He played a major role in slowing down Tatum, who bled for 20 points on 7-of-30 shooting, including 2 for 15 from downtown.

After a chaotic first half, the Knicks’ offense flowed like the Hudson river in the last two quarters and two overtimes with 19 assists.

Amid the chaos that reigned in the Garden in their season opener, the Knicks found harmony in their continuity, stability, and flexibility.

It’s going to be a long season. But the Knicks are equipped to battle chaos.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New-look Knicks offense will be tested against Celtics’ switching defense

All eyes will be on Kemba Walker on Wednesday night as he makes his official New York Knicks debut against his old team Boston Celtics at 7:30 pm.

An expected raucous, sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd will be on hand to witness the opening of one of the most anticipated seasons in Knicks history coming off a playoff run.

Walker has a chip on his shoulder after the Celtics dealt him to the Oklahoma City Thunder with a future pick in the offseason before finding his way to New York via a contract buyout.

“Does it matter [that I’ll be facing the Celtics in my Knicks debut]? Of course. It’s my old team,” Walker said after Tuesday’s practice. “But I don’t go into any game thinking I want to lose. So, I definitely want to win. Does it make it that much better than it’s my old team? Yeah, no question.”

Walker, alongside another former Celtic Evan Fournier, will add another layer to the Knicks offense, which heavily relied on Julius Randle’s shot creation and playmaking in the past.

While Walker (39.3 FG%, 29.4 3P%) and Fournier (38.5% FG, 30 3P%) groped for form as they tried to fit in, the Knicks’ new-look offense looked good in the preseason. In their undefeated preseason run heading into Wednesday’s home opener, the Knicks landed second in offensive rating (113.4) buoyed by their spiked three-point shot volume.

Derrick Rose harped that they are targeting to jump from 30 per game (27th in the league last season) to 37-40 attempts. They were above their target with 41 attempts, sixth in the league during the preseason, and hit 38.4 percent of them, which landed in the top three.

New Celtics coach Ime Udoka has taken notice of the Knicks’ new-look offense. Walker’s mastery of the pick and roll and Fournier’s off-the-bounce game have made the Knicks more unpredictable on offense despite the newcomers’ shooting struggles.

“We’re really recognizing that in the preseason, they’re playing with tremendous pace,” Udoka said after Monday’s practice. “I think that’s a league-wide thing but the Knicks are really good up and down pushing with their guards, hunting threes in transition, playing fast, and looking to shoot the three a lot.”

The Knicks, who played with the slowest pace (96.32) last season, played faster in the preseason (102.50).

Whereas the Knicks have been picking up their new-look offense a lot quicker based on their 4-0 preseason result, the Celtics are adjusting to Udoka’s coaching a little bit slower as they went 2-2 in the preseason, splitting their games against Orlando, picking up a close win against Toronto and losing in double-digits to Miami.

Udoka, who previously worked for the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, and Brooklyn Nets as defensive coordinator, is switching up everything on defense. He wants the Celtics to prevent dribble penetration and minimize help defense by keeping the ball in front of the defense. It’s a significant change from Brad Steven’s drop coverage, where the defensive bigs were responsible for containing dribble penetration off screens while teammates recover their defensive position.

The Celtics’ switching defense will be a good test to the Knicks’ new-look offense, which now enjoys multiple shot creators off the dribble with the addition of Walker and Fournier to ease the burden on Randle.

On defense, the Knicks will focus on slowing down the Celtics’ two rising stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum is back at health after a bout with COVID-19 last season. Brown will be playing his first game back from health and safety protocols after experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms.

RJ Barrett, who is embracing the role of the Knicks’ designated wing stopper, will have his hands full against Tatum. But Thibodeau, a defensive genius, will not put the defensive pressure squarely on Barrett’s broad shoulders. His defense relies on the Knicks playing like a string.

“Defensively, they are who they are and they’re gonna play extremely aggressive and hard and deny elbow catches and be physical,” Udoka said. “So, that doesn’t change regardless of who their roster is but offensively, I noticed some different things like they’re playing with a faster pace and shooting more threes. And so we prepare for that.”

With Al Horford still out due to COVID-19, Thibodeau might give his small-ball lineup another run in select minutes to give the returning Mitchell Robinson some breather. The Randle-Obi Toppin frontcourt was a plus-14 against the Wizards that sparked their comeback. But there’s still the ever-reliable Taj Gibson who will likely be matched up against former Knick Enes Kanter in the second unit.

The Knicks bench, led by Derrick Rose, will be Thibodeau’s trump card in this match.

But when push comes to shove, a Cardiac Kemba moment in the Garden could be in the offing.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Kemba Walker is a huge fan of Immanuel Quickley

immanuel quickley, knicks

When Kemba Walker signed with the New York Knicks, it meant there was another former All-Star point guard who would crowd Immanuel Quickley in the backcourt.

But Quickley did not see it that way.

“We added a guy, Kemba Walker, who can do it all, somebody I can learn from, compete with to expand my game. I want to be where he is eventually one day. So no better guy than Kemba Walker to come in — just like I learned from Derrick Rose, I can learn from somebody else,” said Quickley during the NBA Summer League in August.

It turns out the admiration is mutual.

Guesting on ESPN NBA insider Zach Lowe’s podcast on Friday, Walker revealed that Quickley is one of his closest Knicks teammates.

“I’m a huge fan of Quickley. I think he can be really special,” Walker said. “I think I can help him get his game to another level.”

Through the first three preseason games, Quickley’s playing time (19.3 minutes) stayed the same as last season (19.4 minutes).

Quickley’s shooting numbers (36.4 percent from the field, 30 percent from three-point territory) are down, primarily hurt by his last game where he missed all five shots.

With Walker resting, Rose started in his place, leaving Quickley the main target of the Pistons’ second unit defense.

But there’s an encouraging sign that Quickley could be up for a bigger sophomore season. He has improved as a table-setter with an uptick in his assists numbers (4.7 from 2.0 last season) as he has been getting more run as a point guard even when he’s paired with Rose for the most part.

The Knicks have made a conscious effort to let Quickley grow as a point guard starting in the Summer League that carried over in the preseason. Aside from Rose, Quickley has been learning the ropes from Walker, a four-time All-Star and a former All-NBA point guard.

“First of all, he’s just such a great kid. He asks a lot of questions,” Walker said. “He wants to be good and I love that about him. And he’s literally always in the gym like he is such a gym rat. I just see so much of myself in him. So I think he’s one of the guys who I kind of gravitating towards.”

While the preseason games are just a small sample size, and we shouldn’t be reading much into it, it’s different with the Knicks. Coach Tom Thibodeau has been treating it like the regular season. It’s safe to say that there’s a defined role for Quickley, and with a pair of former All-Star point guards to glean from, he can only grow from here.

Quickley wasn’t the only Knicks player that caught Walker’s eye.

“Another guy is Obi (Toppin). Obi is such a great kid. Another guy who is always in the gym,” Walker said. “It’s gonna be a big year for Obi. Obi is gonna be so great for us because he’s gonna do a lot of the small things for us.”

“And his personality is second to none. He’s such a great dude. He’s always smiling, always joking. And he brings energy. He’s gotten so much better and he’s always in the gym.”

Toppin had gotten so much hype as the most ready-made rookie when he entered the NBA. But without the benefit of a Summer League and the sudden rise of Julius Randle as an All-NBA forward, Toppin got lost in the transition. But Toppin’s confidence started growing after the All-Star break and when Rose arrived.

With Rose finding Toppin more in transition, he started to get comfortable and played solid in the playoffs. That spilled over to his first Summer League and the preseason games. Toppin looked more fluid and playing with more confidence.

Last year, Toppin averaged 25.4 minutes in the preseason and produced only 7.3 points on 37.9 percent shooting and 6.0 rebounds. In his first three preseason games this year, Toppin averages 9.7 points on 46 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds despite playing just 18.9 minutes.

“Those two guys are always in the gym. And I know from experience that when you’re always in the gym, it always pays off for sure. Those are the two guys I can highly speak of,” said Walker.

Walker knows it because it’s the same route he took to add a solid outside shot to his arsenal and grew from a 30.5 percent three-point shooter on 3.4 attempts as a rookie to last season’s 36 percent on a career-high 8.2 attempts.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

‘Most GMs never played basketball’ Kemba Walker, RJ Barrett react to NBA GM Poll’s Knicks snub

Three past and present NBA general managers have already given up on Kemba Walker. But on Tuesday night, in an emotional preseason debut with his hometown team New York Knicks, Walker began a new chapter on his career and proved he still has plenty to offer.

Playing with a chip on this shoulder, Walker looked healthy and shifty. He scored 12 points on 50 percent shooting and dished out three assists in 21 minutes to help the Knicks steamroll Indiana Pacers, 125-104, in the Garden.

Walker was in no mood to spoil the sweet homecoming win when asked about his reaction to the latest Knicks snub in the annual NBA GM survey released earlier in the day.

“I could care less. Most [of these] GMs never played basketball. Let’s be real,” Walker said. “Who cares what they think? I could care less. We believe in ourselves. We’re gonna play so hard every night. And that’s gonna give us a chance to win every night.”

Despite his addition to the team, alongside Evan Fournier, the consensus among GMs around the league is that the Knicks would regress this season. Not a single GM voted for the Knicks to finish among the top four teams in the East. Their preseason victim Pacers received fourth-place votes. At the same time, Miami, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Boston got third and fourth place votes behind the top favorites in the East, Brooklyn, and Milwaukee.

While most GMs voted for Tom Thibodeau as the head coach with the best defensive schemes in the league, the Knicks were left off in the list of their top defensive teams.

RJ Barrett was flabbergasted.

“I don’t know. I agree with you. It makes no sense,” Barrett told reporters when the topic was brought up. “First of all, a Thibs-coached team is automatically gonna be a good defensive team. You have Nerls (Nerlens Noel) and Mitch (Mitchell Robinson) on the team like we’re gonna be good defensively. I’m not worried about that.”

Even without Noel and Robinson, the Knicks stamped their signature Thibodeau defense in the preseason opener. The Pacers’ offensive futility Tuesday night was on par with the Knicks’ league-leading defensive stats last season:

  • Points Allowed: 104 (last season 104.7)
  • 3P% Allowed: 34.1% (last season 33.7%)
  • FG% Allowed: 41.3% (last season 44%)

There were concerns that their defense might drop when Walker and Fournier were brought in to replace Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton in the starting lineup. The win against the Pacers proved Walker and Fournier are competitors too on the defensive end.

Barrett was no longer surprised by the doubters and slanders that were coming their way.

“As you know, I’m used to it. It happens all the time. I mean I don’t really care. All I can do is just go out and improve. All we can do as a team is just play together and get wins. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what any other GM thinks, what anybody thinks. [What matters] is what we think, what work ethic that we have, and how that translates on the court.” Barrett said.

“Whether it’s me personally or us as a team, we just get disrespected all the time. As I said, it doesn’t matter. We just do, just like what we did last year — just go out and show we have improved.

The steadily improving Barrett dropped 17 points on an efficient 3-for-6 from the 3-point zone and 7-for-14 overall shooting Tuesday night. He flaunted his much-improved offensive arsenal — from catch and shoot to off the dribble and coming off screens — developed from his thrice-a-day summer training and extra shooting drills the night before games.

The 2019 third overall pick said the NBA All-Rookie Team snub had fueled him. This summer, the ESPN Top-100 snub added to the chip on his shoulder.

“First of all, I’m still motivated by that. That’s never gonna change. Every time I stepped on the court, I gotta prove, I gotta show everybody who I am, what I can do on the court, and why everyone was wrong about me,” Barrett said. “Being the underdog is fun. It makes winning better.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

 

Knicks flaunt new firepower in 21-point rout of Pacers in preseason opener

It’s just the first preseason game, but the New York Knicks treated it like a regular-season game in a true Tom Thibodeau fashion.

Thibodeau scowled and bemoaned on the sidelines despite the Knicks rolling past a hapless Indiana Pacers team, 125-104, Tuesday night at the Garden.

It set the tone for the upcoming season that comes with a heavy expectation.

After the New York Knicks gave up an offensive rebound that led to a Jeremy Lamb three-pointer cutting their lead to a single-digit, Thibodeau was livid and called a timeout with 1:43 left in the second quarter.

“The thing is it’s early on but it was a mental mistake,” Thibodeau later said. “And so I think it’s important to correct those things. And no one’s gonna be perfect. We’ll make mistakes. If we hustle, we’ll cover up for that but when you make the same mistakes twice, we can’t allow that to keep going. So we want to fix it.”

It was the kind of hard coaching and culture-setting that propelled the Knicks to a surprising playoff run last season. But this year, they will no longer be operating under the radar, not after plugging their holes with four-time All-Star in Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, France national team’s leading scorer in the recent Tokyo Olympics.

The new Knicks backcourt quickly settled in and played well as advertised. Walker and Fournier supplied the early firepower when the Knicks seized control in the opening quarter.

The Pacers scored the first four points of the game. But once Walker, a Bronx native, felt right at home, there was no stopping the Knicks.

The 31-year old Walker signed with the Knicks on a bargain $18 million, two-year deal after securing a buyout from Oklahoma City Thunder. A sparse but loud Garden crowd welcomed him with a standing ovation during his introduction.

Walker responded by buckling down to work early in the game. He countered the Pacers’ early 4-0 burst with his first unofficial basket as a Knick — a shifty drive against last season’s shot block leader Myles Turner.

Walker added a stepback jumper and set up RJ Barrett for a wide-open three-pointer in a Knicks’ 10-0 run that broke the game wide open. Fournier had nine points and the new Knicks backcourt tandem combined for 13 of the Knicks’ 36 points in the first quarter.

“It was a pretty unreal feeling, to be honest,” Walker said after the game. “When I first arrived, I was like ‘wow I’m really just back home.’ It came full circle where everything started. It was a surreal feeling but a great feeling. I’m really, really happy to be here.”

Walker started to carve his name in basketball in this arena, starring for Rice High School. He stamped his signature on the Garden floor with his Cardiac Kemba moment that fueled UConn to the Big East title and a national championship in 2011.

Along the way to his stardom, Walker upset Derrick Rose and his Simeon High School team in 2007. More than a decade later, they found themselves playing on the same side, chasing the elusive NBA championship to complete their decorated resumes. Against the Pacers, they alternately led the Knicks’ attack, finding gaps on their opponents’ porous defense.

They led by as many as 27 points.

Then the Knicks momentarily stopped playing. But Thibodeau didn’t stop coaching.

“I didn’t like our defense at the end of the third [quarter],” Thibodeau said.

The Pacers went on a mini-run, cutting the Knicks’ huge lead to 21, 101-80, heading into the final quarter.

“We’ll take a hard look at that. We have to strive to be a 48-minute team and we’re nowhere near that right now. And conditioning is a big part of that.”

The Knicks played without their top two centers. Mitchell Robinson has yet to be cleared to do contact drills six months after his surgery to repair a broken foot. Nerlens Noel was listed out with a sore left knee. But Thibodeau explained before the game that Noel just took a rest and will be available next game. The plan is to rest one rotation player in every preseason game.

It turned out the Knicks were fine despite facing the formidable tandem of Turner and Domantas Sabonis.

The 36-year old Taj Gibson sprang out with youthful zest as a starter. Then rookie Jericho Sims jumped out from the end of the bench.

Gibson, a Brooklyn native, stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists, one block, and a team-best 22 plus-minus. Sims, the 58th overall pick, added eight and six rebounds in a backup role while soaking up learnings from Thibodeau’s tongue lashing. A couple of defensive lapses caught Thibodeau’s ire. But the rookie center responded well.

“It’s a good first step. But we have to understand what this is. This is the preseason. But every time they throw it up, it’s important to compete and establish how are we gonna compete,” Thibodeau reminded.

There was more good stuff to unpack in the Knicks’ preseason debut.

All of their starters finished in double figures — the first sign that their offseason moves will be a boon this season.

Fournier was aggressive from the start hunting for his shots. He scored 14 points, mostly on drives off the dribble that drew fouls. He was 5-for-6 from the free-throw line.

RJ Barrett had a quiet but efficient 17 points, three rebounds, and two assists. He popped up for 3-of-6 three-pointers and shot 7-of-14 overall as he benefited from the much-improved spacing and added playmaking to the starting unit.

Thibodeau said he was pleased to see Barrett in the gym the previous night, signifying that the Canadian wing is back to his routine.

Julius Randle didn’t force the action early on, allowing Walker and Fournier to get settled first. After a quiet 10 points in the first half, he exploded for another 10 in the third quarter before being taken out for good. Curiously, Randle scored his final seven points with Walker on the bench.

Walker had taken the ball out of Randle’s hands, unlike last year when Randle doubled as the lead playmaker and shotmaker by default in the first unit. The Knicks relied heavily on him in isolation to create plays that came back to haunt them in the playoffs.

This time, there will be multiple players to ease the pressure.

Walker said it’s just the preseason. They’re still in the getting-to-know-each-other stage.

“Right now, it’s just the time to get into the rhythm and the flow. Just being out there with my teammates. Get to know those guys, their tendencies, and things of that nature. Get a feel of each other,” Walker said.

If this was just a glimpse of their potential, then their ceiling is much higher than what the Las Vegas oddsmakers thought.

Walker dazzled his way to 12 points, on 5-for-10 shooting, four rebounds, and three assists in 21 minutes showing no ill effects of the knee issues that hounded him in Boston.

Thibodeau lauded him for coming in and setting the tone.

“The game tells you what to do,” Thibodeau said. “And I think he reads the game extremely well. That veteran leadership, shotmaking ability, he’s very good at pick and roll. He puts a lot of pressure on you. And he’s unselfish.”

“If he gets blitzed, he’s gonna get off the ball. He’s not gonna fight the pressure with pressure. I thought we made the extra pass out of the blitz pretty effectively.”

The Knicks flaunted their new firepower sinking 46.5 percent from the field on 26 assists.

They pushed the pace and played with a lot of space but took care of the ball with more precision in their execution. Committing just three turnovers in 48 minutes would attest to that.

With Walker and Rose leading both units, they leaked out when there was an opportunity. The Knicks racked up 15 fastbreak points, six more than their league-worst 8.9 per game last season. It was a lot closer to the league-leading 17.6 transition points generated by Memphis Grizzlies.

It’s a by-product of having more capable playmakers in both the starting and second units.

“I don’t get wrapped up in pace. I’m concerned with us winning. So I want us to be strong on both sides of the ball,” Thibodeau said.

“There’s a lot of different ways to go. It’s just like taking the three. I want to take more threes but I want them to be the right threes. We talked about that in our first team meeting — how are we going to generate the threes that we wanted and to have a balance to get into the paint and spray it out and make good rim reads.”

With more space and ball movement, the Knicks generated 37 three-point shots and hit 11 of them. The number of attempts was just right on their (37-40 range) target.

On the flip side, the Knicks relentlessly attacked the Pacers’ interior defense and came away with 56 points inside the paint, 16 more than the Pacers had.

As much as their offense was popping all night, their defense was on par with the standard they set last season. They forced the Pacers to commit 16 turnovers and held them to 41.3 percent, worse than their league-leading 44-percent field goal shooting allowed last season. The Pacers’ 104 total points were right on their sweet spot. Last season, the Knicks limited their opponents to a league-best 104.7 points per game.

Their much-balanced offense overflowed though it was just a preseason game.

Seven Knicks players ended up in double figures, with second-year players Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin adding 10 each off the bench.

Quickley grabbed six rebounds and issued a game-high seven assists though the bulk came in garbage time. Rose and Alec Burks combined for 16 points and five assists.

It was Toppin who generated the most buzz among the reserves.

Toppin moved with more confidence and fluidity. The Knicks’ 2020 lottery pick scored on transition dunks and around the basket. But his most electrifying bucket wasn’t the one he made above the rim. It was a spin move to the basket off a nasty crossover. 

Kevin Knox put the cherry on top of their preseason-opening win with two successive attacks in the paint in the final moments of the game, signaling the shift in his mindset as he desperately fights for minutes in the last year of his rookie deal.

It was a total masterclass from a deep Knicks team that is getting slept on once again.

In the annual NBA general managers survey, the Knicks did not receive any vote to duplicate or surpass their top-four finish in the East. Seven teams, including the Pacers, received votes and were ranked ahead of them.

“I could care less. Most GMs never played basketball. Let’s be real,” Walker said in response. “Who cares what they think. I could care less. We believe in ourselves. We’re gonna play so hard every night. And that’s gonna give us a chance to win every night.”

It’s a Thibodeau tenet that was on full display Tuesday.

There’s no such thing as fake games to Thibodeau. He demands the best effort in every game as they strive to become a 48-minute team and move closer to true contention.

When Thibodeau called that timeout with 1:43 left in the second quarter, he was disappointed with the dispirited effort. Then he reminded his team of their goal.

Message sent.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

NBA GM Poll: Knicks outside East’s Top 7 despite having best defensive coach

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

Just like last year, the NBA general managers keep on sleeping on Tom Thibodeau and the New York Knicks.

Despite the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to a core that finished fourth in the East last season, the general managers around the league don’t see a top-seven team.

In the annual NBA GM survey released Tuesday, Knicks’ crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets emerged as the heavy favorites to win the title, netting 72 percent of the overall votes, followed by Los Angeles Lakers (17%) and Milwaukee Bucks (10%). 

The Knicks were nowhere to be found among the Eastern Conference’s top seven teams. According to the general managers, the Nets, Bucks, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and Indiana Pacers are better than the Knicks.

But this is the least of concern of Thibodeau, who likes their chances once he gets the same buy-in as last season.

“It doesn’t really matter what outsiders think,” Thibodeau said in the training camp. “What matters is what we think. And we have an understanding of what we’re doing each and every day. And we understand we have to do it together.”

“I think you go into every season and we feel if we’re doing the right things, the results will take care of themselves.”

Naysayers view the Knicks’ surprising fourth-place finish in the regular season as a fluke, inflated by the COVID-related absences of key players of the other teams and the crowd-less games for most of the season. The playoffs exposed the chinks in the armor of the overachieving Knicks.

Leon Rose and his front office tried to plug those holes with the addition of Walker, a four-time All-Star who had knee issues in the past two years, and Fournier. Walker ranked fifth on the list of the most underrated player acquisition.

They have also added two defensive-minded rookies who can shoot the lights out in Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride to add more depth to a roster that can go as deep as a 12-man rotation. McBride, the 36th pick, also received votes for the biggest steal at where he was selected in the Draft.

The Knicks’ front office was also recognized for their prudent decisions, getting votes in the list of teams that made the best overall offseason moves.

Thibodeau, who won his second NBA Coach of the Year award last year over Monty Williams, isn’t considered a top-five head coach in the league next season. Heat’s Erik Spoelstra topped the list for the second year in a row, followed by Williams, Quin Snyder, Gregg Popovich, and Mike Budenholzer.

However, NBA GMS overwhelmingly picked Thibodeau as the top head coach with the best defensive schemes. He also received votes in the head coach who makes the best in-game adjustments.

“Understand what goes into winning, do everything you can to help the team win, and if we get the whole group doing that, we like our chances. There’s no easy way to do this. The teams are good, all 30 teams have great talent so you have to find a way to win games,” Thibodeau said.

Finding that edge is one of Thibodeau’s strongest suits as he has the uncanny ability to squeeze everything he can from his team.

With the crowd returning in full force this season, the Knicks were voted third behind Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets as the top teams with the best home-court advantage.

That will be in full display starting Tuesday when the Knicks host the Pacers in a preseason game at 7:30 p.m. in the Garden.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ Kemba Walker raves about togetherness of team and winning mentality

immanuel quickley, rj barrett, new york knicks

The New York Knicks are on the right path toward becoming a more prominent team in the NBA after years of struggling. The 2020-21 season represented a shift in culture and mentality, aiding in the acquisition of several big names this off-season, including Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker.

Walker has expressed his excitement about joining the Knicks, his hometown club, after being raised in the Bronx. Walker has spent the last few seasons with the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics, eventually being bought out and finding his way back to New York.

Walker’s new team has welcomed him with open arms, and the veteran point guard has reciprocated his excitement. He’s noticed how his new teammates are focused on developing and establishing a winning mine said before the season begins.

“It’s been fun. Guys work hard. And these guys are really together … For the most part, the things that I’ve noticed is how guys pick each other up in practice.”

They say practice makes perfect, and the Knicks undoubtedly take that to another level with their intensity. All-Star power forward Julius Randle mentioned several days ago how the team has been scrimmaging before training camp began — exerting maximum effort to prepare themselves for a grueling 82 game season.

Walker raved about the emotions and feelings of being with the Knicks back in the city:

“Every team gives you sweatsuits and bags. My New York sweatsuit just hit a little bit different. I just feel like me being from here — like, I’m really, really from here. Born and raised in the Bronx, you know? So, it’s definitely just a little bit more special.”

Some of the younger players on the team are looking forward to working with Kemba and fellow veteran Derrick Rose. Rookie Quentin Grimes is ecstatic he will have two of the league’s most famous players at his fingertips to learn from and follow.

“Having two big-time veterans like that is going to be really big for my development”

Head coach Tom Thibodeau has done a great job bringing in talented players who can also act as mentors and leaders for the younger guys on the team.

Knicks: Tom Thibodeau explains why Kemba Walker will start over Derrick Rose

knicks, kemba walker

On Wednesday, New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that Kemba Walker would be the opening night starter.

Derrick Rose, an early Sixth Man of the Year favorite, will reprise his role as the second unit leader, giving the Knicks a solid point guard rotation they lacked last season.

“Pretty much [Kemba Walker will start]. I had an idea going in what we wanted to look at,” Thibodeau said on the second day of the training camp. “The one thing I feel very strongly about is that our second unit played very well together last year. So I want them to stay intact.”

“But that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. A lot of these guys are interchangeable. So yeah, they’re gonna play with both groups. And I’ve never really been concerned with who starts as much as I am with who finishes. So the guys who give us the best chance to win will gonna finish.”

The Knicks front office, led by team president Leon Rose, had assembled arguably the deepest roster that Thibodeau will handle since 2011 when he coached the MVP Rose-led Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 record on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. That team featured a starting lineup consists of Rose, Keith Bogans, and Luol Deng as the constants while Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kurt Thomas, and Taj Gibson rotated in the starting frontline with CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Omer Asik coming off the bench.

Looking at this year’s Knicks depth chart, they resemble that depth or arguably even better in terms of a combination of talent, veteran leadership, and depth. This Knicks team is two to even three-deep in each position.

One of the Knicks’ strengths last season was their bench depth. The Rose trade proved to be a masterstroke that swung their playoff chances to their favor. The Knicks went 24-11 with Rose in the lineup.

Their bench scoring jumped from 23rd (33.9 points) to fifth in the league (39.7 points), per NBA stats tracking data, since acquiring Rose from Detroit in February.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the lineup of Rose, Quickley, Burks, Toppin, and Noel had a plus differential of +6.3 on a total of 78 possessions which ranked in the 85th percentile. That quickly jumped to +17.9 on a total of 252 possessions, ranked in the 99th percentile, when you swapped Noel with Gibson. A small sample of that second unit with Robinson in the middle had the biggest plus differential of +20.0 on 10 possessions, ranking in the 100th percentile.

Last season, there were times when the Knicks bench outplayed the starting lineup, which relied heavily on Randle. The addition of Walker and Fournier is expected to balance out a starting unit that was lacking in shot creation.

With Rose leading the way in the second unit and Quickley and Toppin expected to make a leap in their second year, Thibodeau hopes that continuity will lead to more productivity.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

RJ Barrett ready to become Knicks’ top perimeter defender

knicks, rj barrett

RJ Barrett made a leap as a catch-and-shoot player last season. In Year 3, Barrett wanted to be known as a solid two-way player.

Someone has to step up after the New York Knicks lost their top perimeter defender in Reggie Bullock to the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason. Barrett is more than willing to pick up the slack.

“Being a two-way player is something that I’ve always strive for. Something that I want to do. It’s how I want to be known,” Barrett said Monday during the NBA Media Day. “So if coach [Tom Thibodeau] puts me in that position to be that guy guarding the [opposing team’s main] guy every night, I’m all for it. I’m up for the challenge. And I won’t back down.”

It’s also a pathway to reaching one of his other goals — becoming an All-Star in the league.

Last season, Barrett had shown he’s got what it takes to be a defensive force under Thibodeau’s defensive schemes. While everyone has been raving about Barrett’s remarkable shooting improvement (from 32 percent to a 40 percent three-point shooter), his tremendous improvement on defense got buried in the background.

Finally, Barrett’s stocky 6-foot-6 frame was put into good use that resulted in a 3.00 defensive real plus-minus (DRPM), according to ESPN stats. It was the third-highest DRPM among shooting guards behind Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George (3.89) and Miami Heat’s Duncan Robinson (3.45).

DRPM is the player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions.

Barrett had a -2.68 DRPM during his rookie year, which ranked near the bottom (132nd) in his position.

For comparison, Bullock averaged 3.74 DRPM, the second-best among all small forwards behind Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Harris (4.00) last season.

The Knicks’ projected starting lineup will have Barrett at the wings, joining their new backcourt of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier and a frontline of Julius Randle and Nerlens Noel (while Mitchell Robinson will be eased back into the rotation).

Barrett has the defensive edge over Fournier, who only registered 0.16 DRPM last season, which ranked 32nd. In 2019, Fournier had a slightly better DRPM (0.27). Based on this statistic alone, it’s pretty apparent Barrett will take the most challenging defensive job on most nights.

Offensively, Barrett blossomed into Randle’s Robin to his Batman last season, averaging 17.6 points on 14.7 shot attempts per game. That could take a hit with the arrival of Walker and Fournier. But Barrett also sees this as an opportunity for him to get more open looks which could result in better efficiency. 

Barrett referenced something he saw on Twitter that read like ‘RJ Barrett going to the lane this year,’ and he would be left wide open as an immediate effect of Walker and Fournier’s addition to the team.

“It’s basically how I think it’s gonna be — more attention on other people. All of us can really play. So everyone’s gonna get an opportunity,” he said.

With more space to work on, Barrett projects to take to another leap offensively.

He has worked on his off the bounce game this summer under his trainer Drew Hanlen who has helped develop some of the league’s top wings like Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum.

“Really, I was just working on my shooting, working on threes and certain shots that I need to be able to hit. So yeah, just being able to kind of recreate what I did last year and add on to that,” Barrett said.

Walker and Fournier made the Knicks a deeper team this year. But Barrett also noted that other teams had gotten better.

Chicago Bulls reloaded with Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan. Miami Heat added Kyle Lowry. Boston Celtics re-acquired Al Horford. Three teams that the Knicks leapfrogged last season.

The Knicks were able to address their holes — especially their point guard woes which plagued them when Elfrid Payton was unplayable down the stretch, and the heavy minutes took their toll on Derrick Rose’s body late in the playoffs.

Walker and Fournier could be the Knicks’ answer to their most pressing need, which is more shot creation to an offense that stalled in the playoffs.

“I think it’s great. We really have a team. We have a lot of weapons. That’s what you need,” Barrett said of Fournier and Walker’s signings. “Every night is gonna be different, there’s somebody contributing in a different way. I’m very excited.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo