The Knicks won their season opener 98-93 over the Toronto Raptors, thanks largely not to Amar’e Stoudemire but to the just-relegated-to-the-bench Wilson Chandler. Just last week we asked who would be the Knicks #2 behind Stat. Danilo Gallinari was the runaway favorite by our voters, followed by Raymond Felton and even Toney Douglas before we got to Chandler. Okay, in fairness, after Gallo the next highest total was that a different player would step up each night, and chances are that’s what’ll happen rather than Chandler regularly being this unstoppable.
What are the takeaways from this game? Just as we said during the preseason that there’s a danger into reading into too much from those games, clearly it’s equally presumptuous to make large scale assumptions based on a single game. But that won’t stop me. Here are my comments:-Chandler has had nights like these before, but the issue is that he usually isn’t this aggressive game to game. Nor this confident. As mentioned yesterday, perhaps coming off the bench where he can be the offensive focus will make him feel like he has the green light to go nutzzz. Add in the fact that he probably felt like he had a little something extra to prove after losing his starting job, and maybe we can see nights like this more regularly than we have in the past.
-Amar’e was pretty awful during most of the game, often forcing things. Yes, he came through in the fourth quarter hitting some huge shots, but for some reason during that period the Raps stopped doubling him. After that game, every coach in the league is just gonna pack the paint/double him every time he gets it. There were several times when he was being doubled and a teammate was wide open under the basket and Stat didn’t seem them. Instead he just tried to put it up anyway, resulting in a 43% shooting night plus nine turnovers. He needs to either see those players or kick it back outside and let the rest of the team rotate the ball to the wide open shooter. If he does this enough, then the opposing teams won’t feel quite so free to double him every time, thus actually making it easier for him to score.
-Felton, after being the second coming of Duhon during pre-season, finally played the way he has in the past with Charlotte. Almost eerily so. His career averages are 6.4 assists and 13.3 points on 41% shooting in 35 minutes. Last night he had 6 assists and 15 points on 42% shooting in 37 minutes. These aren’t brilliant numbers, but they are worlds better than we’ve had the last few years. And as he grows more comfortable with the team I expect his assists to edge up (no, I don’t expect him to learn how to shoot, so his field goal percentage should remain the same).
-Timofey Mozgov had 4 fouls in 7 minutes. I really have trouble seeing him last the whole season in the starting lineup. Heck, I don’t think he’ll even last through the end of 2010. But he will get better at avoiding foul trouble. Somewhat.
-The Knicks, believe it or not, actually played some good defense. They seemed interested in doing it (which in and of itself is a change from the last two years) and held Toronto to an awful 38.3% shooting.
-Even though the Raptors’ starting power forward, Reggie Evans, yanked down 16 rebounds, we managed to outrebound them 49-45. Then again, beside Evans, the Raps don’t have a great rebounding team. We really need to focus on the boards if we wanna compete. Last night, besides Amar’e's 10, we got help from Chandler with 8 and Felton with 6. Gallo added 6 too, but I think he regularly needs to get us that many, if not more since we don’t get a ton of rebounding from our two-headed-center combo of Mozgov and Ronny Turiaf (they’re both good at blocking shots and defending the rim, but not so good at vacuuming up missed shots).
-Gallo wasn’t great, but at least he wasn’t awful. As I mentioned some days ago, during the pre-season he was either on fire or literally missed nearly all his shots. Gallo may’ve posted a woeful 33% shooting percentage last night, but he was an impressive 40% from three-point land. This is the Gallo from last year, who even on off-nights was still able to give us something. Last night that was a still-somewhat-decent 12 points, 6 boards, a steal and a block.
-Landry Fields played a whopping 30 minutes (4th most on the team) and only took good shots, resulting in him hitting a darn nice 50% from both the field and from outside.
-How deep will D’Antoni’s rotation be? Still unknown. Yes, last night he went 10 deep, but as mentioned Mozgov only played 7 minutes, ditto Roger Mason, and Bill Walker was only on for 10 minutes himself. In other words, it was mostly 8 guys, ranging from 23-37 minutes. Although to be fair, Anthony Randolph was out too, so the rotation could’ve been even larger with him (and presumably Moz would’ve gotten more run had he not accumulated fouls quite that quickly).
-By the way, Mason was 0-for-3 after also shooting miserably during the pre-season. I’m saying if he doesn’t get his shot straight soon, it won’t be long before he’ll find himself permanently locked to the bench.
-Don’t get too psyched about this win, ‘cuz as I’ve predicted, I think this Raptors team could end up being the worst team in the league. So it ain’t great that they hung around until the end and even took the lead for a bit in the fourth quarter. However, on the flip/positive side, it was nice to see that our team didn’t get rattled after being safely ahead for most of the game when the Raps did make that push. Instead we remained focused, Amar’e put us on his back, and we reclaimed the lead. Truth is, a situation like that can be more useful for future growth than had we lead by 10 points the whole way.
-Lastly, remember our next 4 games are against teams expected to be solidly above .500, so don’t get disappointed or read anything into it if we lose ‘em all. We’ll then have a string of five much more winnable games.