It is said that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Longtime Knicks fans have had every right to be skeptical, and even Tom Tibodo warned of a “drift” with what was a mostly positive pre-season debut for newcomers Galen Bronson, Isaiah Hartenstein and the Knicks retooling in Tuesday’s 21-point win over the Knicks. pistons.
Obviously Bronson was the central story After debuting as the Knicks, by all accounts, it was hard to find anything wrong with the former Villanova star’s initial performance in the park a few months after signing a four-year, $104 million contract as a free agent over the summer.
However, there was plenty to unravel as Thibodeau’s team began their quest to recover from last year’s disappointing whirl of decline.
Let’s kick off this week’s newsletter—and the first time I’ve since long-time writer Mark Berman retired—with five notable notes from our pre-season opener entering Friday’s home game against the Pacers.
The most important things first
Bronson certainly looked as advertised in his 20 minutes on the field Tuesday night, keeping the Knicks’ offensive combinations organized, keeping everyone engaged, reaching the edge and dropping his shots (7 vs. Defensive end with two charges and face attachment.
As RJ Barrett noted after the match, Brunson “made it easier on everyone, and that’s what he’s here for.”
As I said For SNY’s Dexter Henry ahead of Tuesday’s game, the point guard has been largely a black hole of the franchise for the better part of the past two decades. That includes last season, apart from a few memorable moments from the return of New Yorker Kemba Walker. Knicks also tried to force Alec Burks into this unfamiliar role, pegging a square in a circular hole if there was one.
An immediate impact from Bronson, who averaged 21.6 points in 18 games after last spring’s season with Dallas, could help return the Knicks to the post-season mix — at least in the 7-10 playing range — after a 37-45 setback one year. Ago.
“I think that’s it,” Tibodo said of Bronson after Tuesday’s game. “If you need him to do more scoring, he can do it. If you need him to do more gamemaking, he can do it. If you need him to create speed and create movement, he can do it. You need three big players, big shot.” , he can do that.
“I like the way he can control and manage the game. For me, that’s the #1 rule of thumb. Not to rush, not to panic. … So I think it’s a calming effect. … I like the Julius method. [Randle] I played in the third quarter, that was great. …i think RJ [Barrett[ played a really good game. But they all played off each other really well.”
Flexibility in the middle
Thibodeau trusted Nerlens Noel and longtime lieutenant Taj Gibson as rim protectors on the second unit the past two seasons, and even in a starting role whenever Mitchell Robinson has been unavailable due to injuries.
Those two veterans are no longer here, with Isaiah Hartenstein signed to an affordable two-year, $16 million deal to provide a different dimension to the second unit. The Knicks haven’t had a stretch big man since Kristaps Porzingis was traded in 2019, and the 7-foot Hartenstein nailed two 3-pointers and scored eight points with seven boards in a team-high 27 minutes against the Pistons.
“Both guys have been terrific in training camp so far,” Thibodeau said. “Mitch has really put a lot of extra work in. I think the game has slowed down for him. But he’s playing really well. He’s standing out in practice all the time.
“And Isaiah has fit in seamlessly. He can play away from the basket and so it opens up the floor a little bit for our cutting game, driving game. It’s different looks, but defensively, the rim protection is really good. Mitch, putting pressure on the rim especially, I think he’s the best offensive rebounder in the league. He’s grown quite a bit. So I’m very pleased with his progress.”
The 24-year-old Hartenstein should complement rim-rocker Obi Toppin on the frontline with a second unit that will feature some combination of guards Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes (who missed Tuesday’s game with a foot injury) and perhaps even sparkplug guard Miles McBride, who registered six steals against the Pistons.
“I think we could be one of the best benches in the league, to be honest,” Hartenstein said. “I’m excited. I think it was a good first start. A lot of things to learn off of it, but I’m excited for the future.
“I think we take pride in just coming in and building off what the first unit has done. I don’t think we’re just trying to keep the lead; we’re trying to expand it. So, I think with the unit we have, with the second unit, it’s different. You have a lot of stuff to interchange. You have Quick and D-Rose that can really put it down. Me and Obi can roll, but also pop and spread the floor, so I think it’s just a different dynamic that even a lot of benches in general in the league don’t have.”
Deuce is loose
McBride said after his energetic six-steal, seven-point opening performance (22 minutes) that “Thibs controls the minutes, but I’m obviously going to do anything I can to get on the floor and make a great impression.”
The 2021 second-round pick logged only 372 minutes over 40 appearances as a rookie, and, with the addition of Brunson and the return of longtime Thibodeau favorite Derrick Rose, the speedy guard probably starts the season on the outside of the Knicks’ 10-man rotation unless injuries arise.
But with Rose only playing six first-half minutes by design in his first appearance since Dec. 16, Thibodeau admitted he “wanted to get more minutes for Deuce” for a longer look at the former West Virginia star. The coach liked what he saw.
“His gift is his defense, physicality, competitiveness, anticipation, seeing things early,” Thibodeau said. “I thought the ball pressure from Quick and Deuce really got us into the open floor, and that gave us a big spark. The beauty of those guys is they can play together, and it speeds up the game.”
As for Rose, Thibodeau said, “I know where [Derrick] he is. It will increase as we progress.”
In the meantime, 22-year-old McBride should get more opportunities to show how he can make an impact.
Seeing Redd on injuries
With the Grimes sidelined, Cam Reddish was among the first players to leave the bench, but his stay on the field was short-lived. He suffered a sprained ankle late in the first half when he appeared to trip over a referee’s foot.
“I was pissed about it, and I still am. Reddish’s former teammate, Duke, said Barrett.” I checked it out. It will be fine. “
Reddish, acquired from Atlanta for the first round in January, missed five of his six field goal attempts in 11 minutes. He still thought that he would be under heavy pressure for a few minutes once Grimes were healthy.
He still holds that grudge
Barrett continued where he left off last season with his home and away matches, scoring a team best 21 points in 23 minutes. But that last takeaway was more than what he said during the pre-game run.
Even with a guaranteed $107 million contract extension in hand, it’s clear that the 2019 No. 3 overall draft pick is still driven by many perceived troubles over his first three seasons, including his disqualification from the first and second All-Rookie in 2019 -20.
“I wasn’t an All-Rookie and looking where I ended up,” Barrett said. “Where are some of these guys, do you know what I mean?”
22-year-old Barrett’s scoring rates have increased from 14.3 to 17.6 to 20.0 points per game over his first three seasons, and a similar boost to the 23-point range will put him in line with all potential superstars. Whatever motivation he needs to get there, so be it.
The Big O
The Knicks do not provide their assistant coaches to speak with the media, but newcomer to the Tibodo crew this year is Othel Harrington, the former Knicks man. He went on to Hall of Fame positions Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Morning and Dikembe Mutombo in Georgetown and played a dozen seasons in the NBA from 1996 to 2008.
Harrington was also a member of the Knicks for parts of four seasons from 2001-04, when Tibodo was assistant coach.
“I’ve known him for a long time, and obviously trained him,” Tibodo said on Tuesday. Then he participated in American basketball. [Knicks assistant] Andy Greer worked with him, and Jeff Van Gundy worked with him. The fact that he was an ex, I thought he was a natural fit. So obviously we’re happy to have him.”
Rick Bronson is also new to the Knicks coaching staff, but not to Tibodo, who has worked for him in Chicago and Minnesota. Bronson’s larger addition helped the organization gain access to Galen over the summer, the first time the father and son had teamed up in the NBA. The elder Bronson was also the first client of Knicks president Leon Rose as an agent.
How’s the family reunion going so far?
“It was great. Being here every day is better than hearing him on the phone,” Jalen Bronson joked. “It’s good. He’s someone who taught me this game since I was born. He still has endless knowledge. I’m happy to have him here.”
However, the former Mavericks guard said there was always a deliberate disconnect when it came to his football career with his father, whose nine-year NBA career included 69 games as a base guard with the Knicks between 1999 and 2001.
“Yeah, he was always someone to, say, let my coach. So my coach is Tom Thibodeau,” Galen says. At every level, people think he is an arrogant father. But he was always the father who was like, ‘He’s the coach, you’re going to listen. I’m going to help you be successful in his philosophy.’
“It’s always been like this. But being here, not having to leave messages about how things are going, he can just see it. So it’s much easier from a communication point of view. The conversations are much less – sometimes they can take 20 or 30 minutes – But now it’s just easy, quick five-minute conversations.”