After yet another loss, the fanbase seems to be at a fork in a road: to the left is tanking; to the right is competing. But tonight, the Washington Wizards play a franchise that has been dealing with elevated hopes/crushed feelings/mediocrity-at-best for the better part of a decade — the New York Knickerbockers. If there’s any franchise we can mock, or commiserate with, it’s them.
Call it Bulletin Board Material.
Ron: I’m jealous of y’all. Woj and ‘em broke the news that you all gussied up your ugly offense by trading for the youngest MVP in league history, Derrick ‘Pooh’ Rose. Pooh is one of my all-time favorite players; I love his game and resolve so much that I wagered $1K with a good friend that he’d make the Hall of Fame within 10 years of retirement.
And last year y’all nabbed who I think will ultimately be the best player from the 2019 draft — RJ Barrett. The spawn of two St. John’s University graduates, the Maple Mamba has the right demeanor to thrive in New York City. They told him he wasn’t one of the top 10 rookies in the league — he came back better. The Knicks refuse to give him spacing — he still puts it in the basket.
And y’all have Tom Thibodeau as head coach. Forever the architect of stingy defenses that put teams in hell, when he runs the tread out on Julius Randle and RJ’s legs, Coach Thibodeau should go design maximum security prisons.
Then again, I’m not that jealous of y’all. It’s been, what, seven long years since you sniffed meaningful basketball. And each year, it seems y’all are the poster boys for When Tanking Goes Wrong. All that losing for zero #1 picks? I guess it’s why you can’t attract the free agents you covet. But who am I to talk? The Wizards free-agent signings are, as Kevin Broom puts it, “a thrift store grab bag of castoffs, returns, and refurbs.”
But I do respect y’all. They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. But I’ll remix that and say: If you can stay a Knicks fan through all the pain and shame, you’re a person worth being around. Loyalty abounds. And the Wizards fanbase can surely learn a lot from the proof of y’all loyalty. Because down here, there’s zero esprit de corps; at 6-16, folks are already turning on players. Y’all are built differently, and I respect it.
Brian: I’m sorry for y’all, sincerely. I’ve been rooting for the Wizards. I’m a huge fan of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, and I used to give one of the Wizards assistant coaches BUCKETS in the pickup games at the Georgetown courts. It hurts my soul every time Beal drops 40 just to end up on the sidelines looking like someone killed his puppy.
I feel like Knicks and Wizards fans have been through some similar struggles. Your owner is low-key trash. How long did he let Ernie Grunfeld run your team into the ground as GM again? Reminds me of when I thought Isiah Thomas would be executive for life in the 2000s. That was a bleak stretch. Grunfeld should’ve been fired when he first suggested paying Ian Mahinmi $16 million a year. Even Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov were looking at that contract with the confused Nick Young face. And you want to talk about free agent signings? HA!
I don’t want to be too mean to Scotty Brooks. He seems like a nice man. But at best he’s an average coach, and I think that’s being a little generous. He doesn’t hurt the team as David Fizdale did for us, but he’s not going to be the guy to help elevate your team like Thibodeau is doing. I’ve never seen a real offensive system from a team he’s coached, and we saw over and over again how the predictable sets in OKC led to struggles in the playoffs. Not sure that’ll be a concern this year for y’all, unfortunately.
But if you’re going to have a bad year, this is a great year to do it. The draft is going to be LOADED. You could end up with a real franchise-changing player in the lottery, even a player at the level of a John Wall before the injuries. Remember him?
Be careful with too much praise for Knicks fans, though. We’ve been getting #LOLKnicks from the media and fans for so long that once we finally start winning, we’re going to be obnoxious. Just wait on it.
Playoffs? You’re talking about ... PLAYOFFS?!
Ron: Jim Mora will have to forgive me for talking playoffs with a 6-16 team. In my opinion, we currently suck, man. Our marquee free agent signings are either hurt, lack athleticism, or are being paid to have teammates set hella screens to free him for a (missed) three. And even though the franchise traded for its biggest personality since a former second-round draft pick signed here in ’03, some are treating the former-MVP like an interloper. Implying that Westbrook is holding the team back, they mention the Wizards’ 4-3 record without him.
I guess Westbrook’s fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants style of play is an acquired taste. But the 4-3 stat tells only half the story; those same folks fail to mention the Wizards have a 6-16 record with its other marquee offseason acquisition, Robin Lopez. (Lopez doesn’t deserve that stray — forgive me, Robin — but the facts are facts).
Yet somehow — likely due to my self-diagnosis of CTE — I think the Wizards make the playoffs. The team is only four games out of the play-in situations. Now, four games read like a lot, but due to the Covid postponements, the Wizards have games in hand.
With the Wizards playing .500 ball over its past couple of games, I think now is the time to go for it before capitulating to the “Tank for the next Jan Veselý” crowd. If they get to the second half no less than four games out, they should make it into the tournament.
Brian: Leon Rose brought Rose back to NY; now the Garden is ready to bloom. Well, as soon as Elfrid Payton’s hair stops blocking out the sun so the starting lineup can grow.
This is the most excited I’ve been about a Knicks team since we mortgaged the franchise to trade for Carmelo Anthony. And Thibodeau is the best coach we’ve had since Pat Riley —we’ve seen massive improvements in players quickley under him.
Randle went from a journeyman Beyblade to a spinning-and-winning All-Star, putting up Jokic-type numbers as a primary playmaking big. Barrett looks like a young Kobe, making a legitimate leap from year 1 to 2. And he’s done everything in his career with almost no spacing!
Mitchell Robinson has solved his foul troubles and is now one of the best defensive bigs in the league. And Immanuel Quickley...WOW! The float goat! When is the league going to stop sleeping on guards who played at Kentucky? I seriously don’t understand how the SEC Player of the Year fell so far in the draft. How was he consistently mocked in the 2nd round? Just goes to show that online draft gurus don’t know anything (and that most don’t watch games).
I’m so confident that we will make the playoffs this year that I put money on it. I feel great about those 6-1 odds.
Who Wins and Why?
Ron: Washington Wizards get lucky tonight and win. Why? Simply put: the Knicks can’t score. I know, I know, “well, the Wizards can’t play defense” is the response. They cannot. But that’s in the definition of making it harder for the other team to score by providing some resistance, such as staying in front of the man, rotating to cut off a drive, and contesting/blocking shots.
As always, the deciding factor between a good and bad defense is simply whether the player makes the shot. You lot don’t make a lot of shots. And the Knicks players who can score have an offensive game that is, as one guy famously put it, akin to “go to hell ball.”
go to hell ball is very simple... pass me the basketball and everybody else can go to hell— 73-9 and they LIED (@CuffsTheLegend) February 9, 2021
With the Wizards playing a switch-everything defense, teams have noticed and now hunt opportunities to isolate the likes of Davis Bertans, Alex Len, and Lopez. And those three can end up in hell when isolated against the likes of Quickley, Randle, Rose, or RJ.
But since the Knicks lack spacing in this go-to-hell system, I think the Wizards can avoid the devil’s door by shrinking the floor, making the Knicks play in congestion. Correction: I know it can work because it’s what Westbrook faced every playoff series when his OKC teammates couldn’t make open threes. And it’s what Beal currently deals with when Wizards not named Bertans pass up open threes due to fear of missing.
Prediction: Wizards eke out a single-digit win against the Knicks.
Brian: I think the Knicks win this one. Our defense will make it tough for the Wizards. With Beal resting, Westbrook and the rest won’t be able to overcome the talent and interior size differential. I’m not sure how the Wizards plan to guard Randle or box out Mitchell on the offensive glass. With Bertans? Good luck. Like Shaquille O’Neal says, “BBQ chicken down there, Ernie.”
It’s hard to win a basketball game when you’re consistently giving up second chances and easy looks inside and I think that ends up as the story on Friday night. Plus that switch everything defense is going to cause issues for y’all.
Prediction: The bench and interior scoring carry the day, leading the Knicks to a 10-point win.