3 keys for the Knicks to defeat struggling Magic team

rj barrett, knicks

The New York Knicks are coming off an impressive victory over the Indiana Pacers, holding them to just 84 points. The team needed a resilient defensive game, holding Indiana to 21.6% shooting from three-point land. Their perimeter defense was far more aggressive and efficient, as the second team once again took hold and provided a strong performance.

Next on the docket is the Orlando Magic, who have been struggling considerably this season, losing five of their last six games. They are one of the worst defensive teams in basketball, giving up 129 points to the Atlanta Hawks in their most recent game.

Three keys for the Knicks to defeat a struggling Magic team:

1.) RJ Barrett bounce-back game

If there was ever a game for RJ Barrett to bounce back, it would be this one against Orlando. Barrett hit a few ice-cold three-point shots against Indiana, but he still only shot 30.8% from the field. While he connected on 43% of his three-point attempts, he needs to be more efficient around the rim and finish his layups.

RJ has scored double-digit points just twice in the last five games, portraying a bit of inconsistency. Against Orlando, the Knicks need to highlight him as their primary scorer, getting him back on track and building a bit of confidence as they look ahead to the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls over the weekend.

2.) Immanuel Quickley’s production

One of the catalysts for the Knicks lately has been Immanuel Quickley, who has not only shown improved defense but elite shooting. While his regular-season stats don’t reflect the past few games, he has recorded a low of 40% from three-point range and high of 100% against Indiana in the win. He has scored double-digit points in four of his last five games, recording a high of 18 against Milwaukee last Wednesday.

If Quickley continues to develop at this speed, he may start to eat minutes from other players, notably Kemba Walker. Tom Thibodeau is loving Quick’s impact off the bench, and pairing him with Derrick Rose has been a godsend with the starters currently struggling to keep pace.

3.) Taj Gibson holding down the boards

While Thibodeau indicated that Mitchell Robinson’s sore left ankle isn’t anything serious, it is possible they rest him for one game against a weak Orlando squad. In that scenario, we should expect to see plenty of Taj Gibson, who showed resilient defense and awesome energy against Indiana.

Gibson finished the contest with eight rebounds, three assists, and a +22 +/- over 29 minutes. His veteran leadership has been a huge benefit for the Knicks, which is why they offered him a two-year deal this off-season with an out after the 2021–22 campaign.

If Nerlens Noel and Robinson fail to make a come-back in the coming days, Thibs is confident that Gibson can hold down the fort in the meantime.

Cole Anthony displays New York toughness in Magic’s stunner over Knicks

knicks

New York Knicks basketball under Tom Thibodeau is all about toughness and resiliency. But it was Cole Anthony, an Archbishop Molloy High School product, who displayed those traits to rally a young Orlando Magic team against them.

Anthony scored a season-high 29 points and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds for his first career double-double to help the Magic stun his hometown Knicks, 110-104, Sunday night in the Garden.

Anthony grew up in New York, where his father, Greg Anthony, played his first four seasons in the NBA.

“I was happy to be home. Hostile environment. I came in and I got the dub,” Anthony said after leading the Magic to their first win of the season, exacting revenge of their embarrassing 121-96 beatdown in Orlando at the hands of the Knicks last Friday. “Good times!”

Good times indeed for the Anthony family.

Anthony played an inspired game in front of his family and friends. He gifted his mother, Crystal McCrary, who celebrated her 52nd birthday, with one of the finest performances in his young NBA career.

When he was not busy scoring, Anthony was a daredevil attacking the teeth of the Knicks defense and kept on finding his open teammates. He added eight assists and led the Magic’s comeback from 13 points down in the first half.

The 21-year old Anthony and the 30-year old veteran Terrence Ross dealt the biggest blows that knocked the Knicks out.

Anthony torched the Knicks in the first half with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and five threes. Ross caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring all of his 22 points as the Magic outscored the Knicks, 36-24.

The once-vaunted Knicks’ defense was nowhere to be found with their cold shooting night zapping out their energy.

After making nine of their first 17 three-point attempts, the Knicks missed 27 of their next 31. The shots that buried the Magic in Orlando did not fall in New York. It was the exact opposite of the Knicks’ franchise-record setting 24-of-54 threes two nights ago.

They lived and died with the three-point shot.

“We picked up the ball pressure a little bit understanding who are the [Knicks] shooters, and non-shooters,” said Magic rookie coach Jamahl Mosley. “Our guys did a good job recognizing who was where and we flew around the court. We had multiple efforts making sure we contested shots.”

Julius Randle stuffed the stats sheet with monster numbers (30 points and 16 rebounds). But he only shot 8-for-24 from the field. The Magic baited him to beat them one on one. The ploy worked, which kept the rest of the Knicks’ starting unit out of rhythm.

Evan Fournier missed eight of 11 shots. RJ Barrett misfired a dozen of his 17 attempts.

Their usual gunners — Randle, Barrett, Fournier, Walker, Immanuel Quickley, and Alec Burks — were a combined 8-for-37 from downtown.

Only Derrick Rose waxed hot from the outside, hitting 5-of-8 threes. He had 23 points off the bench as the closer again while Walker watched from the bench down the stretch.

After a season-high 34 assists in Orlando, the Knicks did not move the ball well enough to get rhythm shots. They dished out only 20 assists on 37 field goals. They missed a total of 73 attempts overall that doomed them in their first loss of the season.

The Knicks seemed to have just settled after grabbing a 13-point lead, 47-34, on a 15-0 run. They allowed the Magic to creep back into the game and cut their lead down to five, 57-52, at the half.

“We knew (Magic) would play with intensity but we didn’t play with great urgency. We have to have great intensity. In this league, the players are too good. So, if you allow someone to beat you to loose balls, make hustle plays, you’re playing with fire,” Thibodeau lamented.”

The Knicks paid dearly for their lackadaisical effort losing to the third-youngest team in the league. As a consolation, they avoided a double whammy after surviving another Mitchell Robinson injury scare.

Robinson seemed hurt after colliding with Magic rookie Jalen Suggs for a rebound in the third quarter. After the brief scare, Robinson returned to finish the game. He had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, but he fouled out for the first time since January 26, 2020.

Taj Gibson returned from a two-game paternity leave but hardly impacted the game in 12 minutes as Robinson’s backup. The only impact he did was cut down into Toppin’s minutes. Thibodeau abandoned the small-ball lineup, which worked well in their first two games when Robinson was resting.

Toppin was held to only one field goal — a left-handed alley-oop slam and got abused in the paint. The Brooklyn native only played 12 minutes, his lowest playing time in three games. Toppin, the toast of New York in the last two games, missed his next three shots and ended the game with a whimper.

Instead, the other New Yorker from the opposing team stole the thunder with a homecoming party.

Anthony, selected seven picks later after Toppin in the 2020 NBA Draft, showed out with his game made in New York playgrounds.

Aside from his mother’s birthday, Anthony also drew inspiration from Mosley’s pep talk in their film session Sunday morning.

“It’s more about the resilience that you have to have in these games,” Mosley said. “There was a point when we got down 10, then I think it was Cole [Anthony] who referenced the fact that ‘hey, we talked about that this morning. Down 10, we can’t hang our heads. We got to keep fighting back.’ That’s what we’ve talked about this morning.”

Fight back, they did.

The Magic wiped out a Knicks’ nine-point lead in the second half. In the fourth quarter, their defense held Randle and Barrett to an identical but brutal 2-for-7 shooting.

“All of us were disappointed and we have to do better,” Thibodeau said. “When you lose, the most important thing is to learn and to move it forward.”

So, when the Knicks have their film session on Monday, the view of Anthony, the undersized Magic point guard, outrebounding them would be a painful reminder of their lack of fight in this game.

“Cole (Anthony) came back home and played with that toughness, that confidence, that resilience,” Mosley said. “The one thing that stands out most is his ability to rebound the basketball, and he made the right plays.”

When a reporter asked how a 6-foot-2 guard grabbed 16 rebounds against a big and physical team like the Knicks, Anthony contested that he’s 6-foot-3 before answering the question.

“Rebounding is all about effort. It’s about who wants it,” said a feisty Anthony.

In a game they were not supposed to win, Anthony stood tallest and played with a big heart, usually displayed by his hometown Knicks.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Report: Knicks in trade talks for Magic’s Terrence Ross; Lakers offered Kyle Kuzma

terrence ross, knicks

The New York Knicks‘ phone lines are busy exploring all their options ahead of tonight’s NBA Draft — from trading up into the lottery and swapping their picks for a veteran.

Chris Duarte remains the trade-up target for the Knicks, according to several reports. At the same time, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer added that they are also in trade talks to acquire veteran guard Terrence Ross from Orlando Magic. Ian Begley of SNY was the first to note Ross’s involvement in trade discussions with several teams.

“League sources say the Knicks are involved in trade talks for Magic guard Terrence Ross. They would also like to move up in the draft, possibly to select Chris Duarte,” O’Connor wrote.

Ross is owed $24 million over the next two years and is due for a $12.5 million salary next season. With the Knicks having an ample cap space this summer, they can just absorb Ross’s salary in exchange for picks. The 30-year old guard is coming off his finest season, averaging a career-best 15.6 points and 2.3 assists. He shot 34 percent on 5.7 three-point attempts.

Ross torched the Knicks last season with a pair of explosive games. He had 19 points on 4-of-8 three-pointers and three assists in their first meeting back in January. He came back with a 30-point outing on 5-of-6 shooting from deep in their second meeting that he laced up with six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks.

The Knicks are looking to add more shooting and veteran presence at the wings with Alec Burks, and Reggie Bullock set to become free agents.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers balked at the Knicks’ offer to trade up for their 13th pick in the lottery with their eyes on Oregon swingman Chris Duarte, per J. Michael of Indy Star.

“The New York Knicks have cap space and have expressed interest in jumping up from Nos. 19 and 21 for a shot at Duarte. They’re open to part with players on their roster to get it done but they don’t have a desirable group,” according to the Indy Star report.

Kevin Knox, who is still on a rookie contract with a cap-friendly $5.8 million owed next season, used to be high on the Pacers’ list, but that has dipped after the former lottery pick failed to carve out a meaningful role under coach Tom Thibodeau last season. Suffice to say that there’s no clear pathway for the Knicks to move up to the Pacers’ spot in the lottery.

“A little more than a season ago, Kevin Knox generated some interest from the Pacers, league sources said at the time, but that never went anywhere and he has since fallen off. With their cap space, the Knicks are able to absorb any undesirable contracts to make a deal but the Pacers don’t have any,” the report added.

Interestingly, according to the same Indy Star report, the Knicks were one of the teams who received a call from the Los Angeles Lakers involving Kyle Kuzma.

“They offered Kyle Kuzma to Indiana for a pick swap that was declined (also have offered him to Utah, Minnesota, Cleveland, New York, and likely others),” the report said.

It is not clear if the Knicks-Lakers discussion gained traction. But it seems that talks are dead now as the Lakers have reportedly pivoted and stepped up their efforts to land Sacramento Kings’ Buddy Hield with a package centered on Kuzma.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks fall under Magic’s spell in tough loss

Terrence Ross outscored the entire New York Knicks‘ bench as the Orlando Magic rolled to a convincing 107-89 victory on Wednesday night.

Ross fired 18 of his season-high 30 points, presiding over Magic’s breakaway from a tight first half.

The Knicks shot 54 percent in the opening half and led by as many as 11 behind Julius Randle’s 17 points. But the Magic tightened their defense and started packing the paint.

“It was really the second quarter. Normally, our bench is a big plus for us, and we lost an 11-point quickly. We didn’t challenge shots the way we should have, and they got going,” Thibodeau said.

The spark Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley usually provided off the bench went missing. The duo typified the Knicks’ offensive woes, shooting a combined 2-for-22 from the field.

If there is one man in the NBA who can figure out Tom Thibodeau, it’s Magic’s coach Steve Clifford. Both coaches spent years together from the Knicks to the Houston Rockets as assistant coaches under Jeff Van Gundy.

Orlando outscored New York, 30-14, in the third quarter and turned a 53-56 halftime deficit into a 13-point lead.

Led by Ross, who was all over the court with six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks, the Magic’s bench outscored their Knicks’ counterpart, 42-26.

The loss snapped the Knicks’ three-game winning streak and prevented them from reaching .500. They fell to 14-16 with six games left before the All-Star break.

The Knicks’ offense turned stagnant as they ran into a maze of errors and forced shots. The Magic’s defense held the Knicks to only 26 percent from the field and six assists in the second half.

Randle outplayed Nikola Vucevic in a battle of All-Star candidates but drew little help.

Vucevic got his usual double-double (16 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists) but only shot 8-for-24 from the field.

Randle picked up from where he left off and dropped 13 points in the opening quarter as the Knicks seized a 30-19 lead. Then the Magic zeroed in on him on defense.

Despite that, Randle still came away with 25 points on 11-of-19 field goals, seven rebounds, and three assists.

RJ Barrett and Elfrid Payton were the only other Knicks in double figures with 15 and 13 points, respectively. But they spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench.

“We’re such in a hole, and you want to find a way out. Those guys (second unit) started to make a run, and so that’s basically it,” Thibodeau explained.

A back-to-back three-pointer from Alec Burks brought the Knicks within 10.

But it proved to be their last gallant stand.

Ross, Evan Fournier, and Vucevic put the game away with a 7-0 answer.

The Knicks will have three days to recover.

Thibodeau will face his old team, Minnesota Timberwolves, for the first time since his unceremonious firing in 2019.

The Knicks, though, earned an extra day of rest after their Saturday matinee game against the San Antonio Spurs was postponed after four Spurs tested positive for COVID-19.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: 3 keys to beat the Orlando Magic

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

The New York Knicks are having an arbitrary season, showing a lack of consistency and then blowing up against the Boston Celtics following a five-game losing streak. At 6-8, the Knicks are just good enough to demand some respect — against the Celtics on Sunday afternoon, they showed what they’re capable of doing against quality teams.

They posted 105 points against Boston, who entered the game with eight wins and three losses. New York’s defense was phenomenal, holding their opponents to just 75 points, with the majority coming from starting shooting guard Jaylen Brown. The Knicks, however, saw contributors from the starting roster all the way to their depth from the bench.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau knew that his team was close to finding a victory, as they’ve been practicing extremely well and showing quality.

“I told our players this: The way they’re practicing, the attitude, the approach and how they’re practicing has been a positive,’’ Thibodeau said. “I thought going to Cleveland, I thought we were ready to play. I thought we were terrific in the shootaround and we played well enough to win [Friday] on the road. We didn’t close out the game the way we would’ve liked. Then [Saturday] in practice I thought was terrific. As long as we’re doing the right things. I know we’ll improve and we’ll keep getting better.”

Thanks to a few key performances from players like Julius Randle, Immanuel Quickley, and RJ Barrett, New York is finally in the win column again and looking to pick up another against the Magic on Monday afternoon.

Three keys for the New York Knicks to beat Orlando:

1.) Dominate the boards

One thing the Knicks did extremely well against Boston was control the boards, picking up 43 defensive rebounds and 10 offensive rebounds. Their dominance around their own rim was impressive, as Boston recorded just 29 defensive rebounds. Orlando has a few solid big men who can control the boards, but if the Knicks can win in that category, they will put themselves in a great position to walk away with a second consecutive victory.

2.) Shut down Nikola Vucevic

Orlando’s biggest threat is Nikola Vucevic, who leads the team with 22.8 points per game, 10.8 rebounds, and also manages to spread the ball with 3.8 assists. If the Knicks can take him out of the contest or at least limit him, it will increase their probability of winning tenfold.

Vucevic is dominant on the boards, though, a category that the Knicks need to win if they want to stay competitive. He is a monster rebounder who shoots extremely well from the paint. He should be the focal point defensively for Tom Thibodeau and his squad.

3.) Shoot efficiently from 3

Another great thing New York did against Boston was hit on the three-pointers. They connected on 38.7%, hitting 12. Rookie power forward Obi Toppin hit two timely long balls, contributing 12 points on the day.

Fellow rookie Quickley also contributed two three-pointers, with Reggie Bullock posting three. The Knicks did a great job of getting shooters open with time to spare, and uncontested shots are exactly what they need to get more of if they want to beat quality teams like Boston. They did a good job on Sunday, and hopefully, it boils over into Monday afternoon.

Quick like a Fox: Knicks’ prospect Kira Lewis stock on the rise in New York

New York Knicks

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats tried to downplay his FaceTime call with the New York Knicks top brass and his speedy point guard Kira Lewis, Jr. last week. But there’s a link between him and the Knicks that’s too hard to ignore, making Lewis an intriguing possibility to land in New York on Nov. 18.

The Knicks, under Leon Rose, have been operating like a fraternity. The new regime is looking to score big by leveraging on relationships at its core. Tapping on Rose and his senior advisor William Wesley’s vast network, the moribund franchise has succeeded in luring great minds from inside and outside the league to come and help rehabilitate the Knicks.

It appears they’re operating the same way in their pre-Draft process.

In a draft that is so unpredictable, intel is king.

Without the NCAA March Madness and the benefit of a regular Draft Combine, those forged relationships and strong networks have come in handy for the Knicks.

The connections are coming from everywhere. It’s not just confined within the Creative Artists Agency where Rose was its former head of basketball or Kentucky, where John Calipari shares a strong bond with Wesley.

The ties that bind

The FaceTime call last week transported Oats back to his early days in his coaching career. 

When Oats got his first head coaching job at Romulus High School in Michigan in the early 2000s, he used to drive to Detroit and observed the Pistons’ practice. 

Around that time, the Knick’s current general manager Scott Perry was a Pistons’ team executive. At the same time, Williams was already a ‘players’ whisperer’ and was involved with The Family, an AAU basketball team based in Detroit supported by former Pistons’ guard Rip Hamilton. Wesley became a regular fixture at Pistons practices and games, especially when another close friend, Larry Brown, took the head coaching job in 2004 that resulted in one of the NBA’s unlikely championship runs.

“I’ve known those guys for a little bit,” Oats told Empire Sports Media during his zoom call press conference on Thursday. “They made a connection with Kira when they were interviewing him. They FacedTime me.”

“I coached Kira for a year. Kira is a great kid. They got great staff there in New York. [I have] No idea where’s that going, and I’m sure they are going around interviewing all kinds of people leading into the Draft. I don’t want people to take too much out of it. It’s just a common connection. I coached Kira, and I knew those guys during my time in Detroit.”

Oats tried his best to sell the FaceTime call short, saying it was merely a sort of introduction to make his point guard a little more comfortable during the meeting. But there’s a certain level of comfort and trust between Oats and the Knicks’ top brass that may pull Lewis to New York.

“They’re good guys, and I guess they just want Kira to feel a little bit more welcomed. We chopped it up and joked around a bit. We talked about Kira’s game for a minute then I got off. I know the Knicks are getting a lot of media attention there in New York, and they have a high draft pick,” Oats said. “They gotta make sure they get the right pick.”

Alabama’s sweet spot?

The Knicks are at an inflection point since Rose, a former player agent, took over from James Dolan’s right-hand man Steve Mills.

They are looking for a lead guard, and Oats’ connection with the past (Perry) and the new (Wesley) regime in New York could play a vital role in the franchise’s search.

“I think Scott Perry is going to be really good for them. Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) is going to get their defense squared up, and I think Kira’s defense got a lot better last year,” Oats said. “We talked about that.”

“I think he is a very talented kid. I think the way the NBA is played now — it’s so spread out and wide open — you can’t put your hands on guys defensively. With the speed and skill level Kira has, he can get in the paint whenever he wants and makes plays. He was great in our system. We played a lot like what the NBA is doing that is so wide open, and I think he’ll make a great NBA player.”

Lewis, a 6-foot-3 guard with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, has been a blur in the SEC ever since he stepped into Division I as the youngest player at 17 years old in the 2018-19 season. He skipped his senior year of high school and went straight to college.

“He’s really a smart kid. He was such a good student in high school that he only needs a couple of core classes to go and reclassify,” Alabama assistant coach Antoine Pettway told Empire Sports Media in a separate exclusive interview.

“So he had like either go up in high school and score 40 points a game or go to college. He always wanted to challenge himself and try to get to the next level.”

As the youngest freshman under former Alabama coach Avery Johnson, Lewis took over the starting role vacated by Collin Sexton, the eighth pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. The Knicks, barring any trade, are scheduled to select at the same spot where Sexton was picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago.

Will that eighth slot become Alabama’s sweet spot?

Leader by example

Pettway, who recruited Lewis to Alabama, observed that the 17-year old freshman was shy initially. But it didn’t take long before Lewis began to put his stamp on the team.

“Our team respects his work ethic, his talent. Coming in, he should have been a senior in high school and came in as a starting point guard on a pretty good team. It took him a little while before he warmed up to everyone, but I thought he made a lot of great strides his second year being more vocal, leading guys,” Pettway said.

As Lewis’ game expanded, so was his role in the team. He wasn’t only the Crimson Tide’s floor general. His leadership extended beyond the hardcourt.

“I always tell this story. He’s a guy that gets up at six in the morning and works out. And during the first couple of days, he hit it on his own. Then after a couple of weeks, he’s bringing the whole team with him; he’s already organizing. He’s the guy that leads by example. He’s very personable,” Pettway said.

Lewis comes from a small and simple family in Huntsville, Alabama. Their family owns a small barbershop. His basketball exploits are always a headliner in the barbershop talk. Recently, another member of the Lewis family has joined the conversation.

“His sister just got a degree from UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham). They’re really a tight-knit family. When you meet the rest of the family, you can see Kira has a really good upbringing,” Pettway said.

It wouldn’t be long before Lewis’ NBA exploits would soon dominate the barbershop talk when his name is one of the first to be called by league commissioner Adam Silver later this month.

“It will mean the world to them. His parents were there in every step of the way. His mom, Natasha, said she’s not going to cry when they put the hat on him, but I know a hundred percent it won’t be dry in that room when his name gets called,” Pettway said.

“It’s always good to see good things happen to good people. I’ve dealt with some good people from top to bottom and Kira is a product of that, you know Kira is a class A kid. As good as he is as a player, he’s even a better kid. And when you meet his mom and dad you’ll know why he’s a good kid.”

Love at burst sight

Pettway first scouted Lewis when he was a ninth-grader going up against Alabama’s older and better players. In a game that featured Lewis against Michigan State’s Joshua Langford, who was two years older, Pettway went to see what the hype was all about.

Pettway fell in love right away.

“He really held his own against Langford. He played really, really well. And you can just tell, his speed even at that age, oh man just the way he moves and gets into the lane and finish, how fast he was, you can really, really tell he’s going to be a good player. That’s my first time seeing him in person,” Pettway said. “He’s close to 15 (years old) at that time. I watched him that whole summer.”

Pettway recognizes a great point guard when he sees one.

Before becoming an assistant coach and the top recruiter in Alabama, he was the Crimson Tide star point guard during the school’s quarterfinal run in the 2004 NCAA tournament.

Pettway secured Lewis’ commitment after the latter’s stint in the 2018 Nike Skills Academy, an exclusive camp reserved for the top 25 high school players in the country.

Lewis didn’t disappoint because even when he was the youngest freshman, he played with so much poise. Pettway won’t forget the exact moment when he realized Lewis is special and has a shot at becoming their next NBA Lottery pick after Sexton.

The reckoning came in a tight game against the visiting Arizona Wildcats in December of 2018.

“It was a close game. We were up by two; Arizona just made a run,” Pettway recalled.

“He (Kira) drove hard right, and pulled back his dribble. He hit a big-time three-point shot with less than a minute to go to ice the game. That’s the first big shot he’s made here, and I looked at him, and I was like ‘yo, this kid is different!’”

Lewis didn’t look back since then.

He led Alabama in assists (2.9 apg), 20-point games (5), and minutes (31.6 mpg) and earned a spot in the All-SEC Freshman Team. The next summer, he suited up for the Team USA that won the gold medal at the 2019 FIBA Men’s Basketball U-19 World Cup.

Lewis was just getting started. He took off when Oats took over from Johnson.

Oats, the former Buffalo Bulls head coach, brought with him his coaching philosophy, which is based on “max effort, continuous growth, and selfless love.”

Lewis embraced Oats’ tenets, and he flourished in the new Crimson Tide’s up-tempo style.

Career game vs. The Ant

Lewis’ arrival to the national spotlight came at the expense of the potential No.1 pick Anthony Edwards.

He picked the right time to set a career record in scoring when he dropped 37 points against Edwards and Georgia in a 105-102 overtime victory. His arsenal was on full display. He completed his virtuoso performance with seven assists, five boards, two steals, and one block, which turned the heads of many NBA scouts.

Edwards had a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds), but he was limited to 5-of-17 shooting and 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Lewis is the engine that kept the Crimson Tide’s high-octane offense humming. He’s the Michael Schumacher of Oat’s Ferrari.

Lewis’s blinding speed has an impact on both ends of the floor. He was a blur on offense and a disruptor on defense.

His sophomore year saw him record eight 20-point games and three 30-point explosions, two double-doubles (point and assists) and could have been more if not for the Covid-19 shutdown.

Lewis finished his last season in Alabama as the Crimson Tide leader in scoring (18.5 ppg with 46/36/80 shooting splits), assists (5.2 apg), steals (1.8 spg), minutes (37.6 mpg), and field goals made (206) and attempted (449). As if that’s not enough, he also led the whole SEC in minutes while ranking third in assists and steals and fourth in scoring.

His game’s only knock is his high turnover rate (3.5) and his finishing at the rim. But the inefficiency could be attributed to his high usage rate and heavy minutes playing at an ultra-fast speed. There’s a belief that once he goes up in the NBA and the game begins to slow down for him, chances are he could become more efficient.

He has the potential to become an elite scorer with that kind of blinding speed in the era of pace and space in the NBA.

“The speed, from baseline to baseline, I think he’s the fastest guy in this Draft. I think his scoring ability, his decision making, just his reads coming out of the ball screen, his skill set, being able to pass or get into the lane are already a given, but what’s going to surprise a lot of teams is how well he shoots the ball,” Pettway said.

“If you see him work out and watched him closely, he can really, really shoot the ball, especially on catch and shoot situations, and with all the space that they have in the NBA, he’s going to be a blur. He constantly gets into the lane and looks for scoring opportunity. And another underrated part of his game is his ability to take floaters. He has a really, really nice touch on his floater.”

Per Synergy, Lewis scored 1 PPP on all jump shots (73rd percentile), 1.238 PPP when shooting off the catch (89th percentile), and 0.926 PPP on shots off the dribble (79th percentile) during his sophomore year in Alabama.

Even Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm, who has his own point guard Tyrese HaliburtonTyrese Haliburton in the draft, was impressed with Lewis.

“He’s pretty good, a phenomenal kid. He has really elite quickness that can get the ball from A to B. He can get to the free-throw line, and he can shoot it,” Prohm told Empire Sports Media.

Quick like a Fox

Lewis already knew what he could do. But he’s not resting on his laurels.

He’s smart enough to realize that speed alone doesn’t cut it to the next level. A strong game to match his blazing speed is what he would need. Described as a gym rat by his coaches, Lewis tripled his efforts in preparation for the NBA.

“He’s working out every single day. He’s eating right. He’s done a great improvement with his body in terms of getting strength. He’s constantly in the gym working out two to three times a day,” Pettway said. When he’s away from the gym, he’s watching a lot of films.

Lewis has put on 15 pounds to his once scrawny 165-lb frame.

Derek Murray, Babcock Hoops director of scouting, recently saw a vastly improved and stronger Lewis scouting trip in Miami.

“Right off the bat, Lewis showed off his dazzling speed. It didn’t matter if he was in an isolation or in the pick-and-roll; he was easily getting around his man for easy lay-ins. He always got downhill quickly, staying on par with his success at Alabama. One of the most noticeable things during the runs, however, was how Lewis absorbed contact in the lane,” Murray said.

With a stronger body, Lewis exudes more confidence on the court attacking the rim.

His burst of speed reminded Pettway of another speedy playmaker — former Kentucky Wildcat and current Sacramento Kings’ lead guard De’Aaron Fox.

 

“That kind of speed is hard to deal with,” Pettway said. “Based on their finishing, I think De’Aaron is really good at finishing while Kira is a guy who’s crafty who knows how to finish. De’Aaron is probably bigger, longer right now, but Kira shoots better at this stage.”

Fox shot 25 percent from deep as a one-and-done under John Calipari. In contrast, Lewis shot an average of 36 percent during his two-year stay in Alabama.

Fox eventually improved his outside shot in the NBA, becoming a 33-percent three-point shooter in three seasons with the Kings.

Lewis’ shooting mechanics are more precise that more than makes up for his lack of size.

Murray also saw his potential as a small-ball two-guard in the NBA.

“We also saw Kira play next to Terry Rozier and operate a fair amount off the ball, something that he did not do very often while at Alabama. It was interesting to see him without the ball in his hands as both a cutter and a floor spacer. His ability to shoot off movement may unlock a whole other level to his offensive ceiling due to his speed; a defender tasked with chasing him off screens for extended periods of time would be in for a miserable evening. While he’s not regarded as a combo guard or off-ball shooter right now, we got a glimpse into that becoming a possibility,” Murray said.

Ready for prime time

Pettway believes Lewis is the type of player who can immediately impact any NBA team, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.

“I think with the spacing in the NBA, he’s going to have the opportunity and will be a problem every single night that he’s on the floor. I think he’s going to fit wherever the situation he goes. If there’s a veteran guard whom they want him to learn from in a couple of years, he could fit in, and if he’s thrown into a situation where he has to be the lead guard from day one, he’s really capable of doing it,” Pettway said.

“Super respectful kid. He’s a joy to coach. You can push him hard, and he won’t complain. He’s never disrespected us. He just goes about him being coached the right way and applies it. He’s a dream to coach.”

Lewis said he has talked to “just about everybody” in the NBA, which Oats also had done the same, adding that teams have been very inquisitive.

“He’s got zero red flags as a kid. He’s a great person off the floor. He works hard. He’s always at the gym. That’s the type of stuff they want to know. They can see how good he is on film. And they want to know what it’s like being him off the court. They give you some really detailed questionnaires, like interesting questions that I told one of those guys to send me those questionnaires for me to ask the recruits when we recruit kids to come here. It’s a lot of interesting questions,” Oats said. 

But as the NBA Draft approaches, the Alabama coach said he’s still getting a decent amount of calls. And based on those conversations, he already has a pulse where his point guard might fall.

“Lately, those teams who are a little bit interested are those teams from the middle to the end of the lottery to mid-first round. And everybody on that range has reached out doing their homework. And there are a few others who are maybe looking to make trades. The team with the No.1 pick has reached out to us. I don’t think he (Kira) is going No.1 in the draft. Who knows? But I think those teams that are doing homework with the possibility of maybe there are trades going to come up, have reached out,” Oats said.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have indicated that they are open to trading the No.1 pick. Either Lewis is a trade-down candidate, or he’s on their radar for their No.17 pick. But it’s unlikely that he’ll still be on the board when the Wolves get their second crack.

In this unpredictable draft, analysts’ projections of Lewis’ draft position have been varied.

Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report has him at No. 10 going to the Phoenix Suns. Both Kevin O’ Connor of The Ringer and Sam Vecennie of the Athletic peg him at No. 14 with the Boston Celtics while ESPN’s Jonathan Givony slots him at 20th pick with the Miami Heat. Babcock Hoops has him going to the Pistons at No. 7.

O’Connor noted that the Celtics are offering their three picks (14, 26, and 30) to move up in the Draft. It’s unclear if that’s enough to entice the teams in the upper echelon of the lottery. The Wolves and the Golden State Warriors are looking for an established player that fits their core’s timeline.

So far, Lewis has worked out with the Knicks, Orlando Magic (No.15), Pistons, and the Chicago Bulls (No. 4).

It’s going to be a shock if the Bulls pick him at No. 4. So he’s most likely on the Bulls’ radar as a trade-down candidate.

On the other hand, the Magic are intrigued in pairing Lewis with former top overall pick Markelle Fultz at their backcourt. But with Lewis’ stock rising after his impressive workouts, the Magic may need to trade up if they want the Alabama guard. Because the Kings, who are picking at No. 12, also have their eyes on him as Fox’s backup guard. It’s going to be wild to have both speedy playmakers in Sacramento’s backcourt.

The Suns are interested as well with their starting point guard Ricky Rubio entering his 30s.

Meanwhile, the Knicks and the Pistons are both in the hunt for a lead guard. And if the FaceTime call is any indication, you can tell Lewis’s stock is rising in New York.

Pettway loves the idea of Lewis going to the Knicks as a potential lead guard.

“I love it! They have some good pieces — Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. I think he will mesh with those guys. Kira is the kind of guy who comes along well with everybody. That speed that he has, he will fit anywhere, but I love it with the young core that Knicks have with just a few years in the league whom he can relate to; I love that fit,” Pettway said.

“I just think he’s going to make it work wherever he goes. Guys will like to play with him because he’s unselfish. He loves the game. He wants to succeed so badly. He’s so competitive and confident and he’s going to do whatever it takes and allows his team to win the game,” he added.

Thibodeau has never had a dynamic scoring point guard since he had a prime Derrick Rose in Chicago. None of the current Knicks’ point guards so far has panned out yet.

Lewis could provide that burst of speed and outside shooting that will put pressure on the defense.

Lewis is ready for prime time.

Oats can’t wait to see his point guard star in the Broadway if ever he lands on the lap of his old friends in New York.

“It will be interesting to see what happens. I’d love for him to go to New York. I think he would be great there. Shoot, I’d like to come to New York and watch a few games. So give me a good reason to go to New York and watch some games when our season’s over.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Fizdale’s coaching decisions drop the New York Knicks to 1-4

New York Knicks, David Fizdale, Julius Randle

After an exciting first victory of the season, the New York Knicks took on the Magic down in Orlando.  This trip to Florida wasn’t so magical for the Knicks, as they fell to 95-83.

The Knicks came out in first half looking good.  They were in the game and all aspects of their play was solid, except for their 3-point shooting.  The Knicks were 7-31, 22.6%, for the entire game.  The highlight from beyond the arc was Frank Ntilikina half-court heave at the end of the first half.

And once again, as all Knicks fans know, the 3rd quarter happened.  The Knicks came out sluggish, careless and not boxing out.  The Magic were able to build a 12-point lead and take over the game.  The Knicks went on a run to get back into the game.

Then the head-scratching coaching decisions from David Fizdale continued.  It began in the first half where the Knicks were needed offense.  Allonzo Trier sat snug on the bench.  The guy who proven to give you offense, when needed, didn’t sniff the court.  Fizdale decided to go with Daymean Dotson instead, as Trier didn’t play all game.

It makes sense to get Dotson back into the rotation coming off his shoulder injury.  But, in a game when you need offense it’s not time to ease someone in.  However, it didn’t make sense to start Wayne Ellington over Ntilikina.  Ellington has been struggling shooting and the Knicks need more defense in the starting line-up.

The biggest coaching decision came late game when the Knicks and Kevin Knox got back into the game, only being down by a score.  Knox had the hot hand after a poor shooting performance to begin the game.  Fizdales decides to take Knox out for Marcus Morris, who had an awful outing.

The entire flow and control of the game for the New York Knicks changed once Morris checked in for Knox.  Morris was taking contested shots, like always, and ruining the momentum.  That swap of players killed the game for the Knicks, ultimately losing.  It might be time to start Knox over Morris, as Knox is part of the future not Morris.

This lose was all on Fizdale.  He continues to make unnecessary substitutions that ruin the flow of the game for the Knicks.  It is only a matter of time until the fans get restless and start to call for a new head coach.