“And here’s my job, Mr. Robinson. Fizdale loves you more than you should know. Woe, woe, woe…”
You’ve got to give it up for these veteran ballers on the Atlanta Hawks. Colonel Schlenk’s senior lieutenants would make for an awful waffle commercial – each of them Leggo their Ego so easily!
But like a Waffle House buffet, they still get to eat… plenty! Pretty much everybody does in coach Lloyd Pierce’s egalitarian rotation. Eleven different Hawks are averaging at least 15 minutes per outing, including ten hoopers in last night’s loss up the road in Charlotte.
Except for Miles Plumlee, who knows his role well, four of the five members in Atlanta’s 29 And Up club found time to shine on Tuesday night, even with the Hawks starting three first-round rookies in the lineup due to player injuries. Jeremy Lin, Dewayne Dedmon, Kent Bazemore, and Vroom-Vroom Vince Carter all had their moments.
They’re not thrilled about the losses that pile up, including yesterday’s action, where the Hawks defensively ran out of gas during the second half of the Hornets’ 113-102 victory. But they are pleased that they are appreciated for their readiness and their contributions on and off the court, cheering on the sidelines, intervening only when asked and when necessary, while the young guns learn the NBA ropes on the fly.
More critically, Atlanta’s vets are not deluded into believing they’d be winning a lot more, if only they had just a few more minutes per night, preferably at the beginning of games and in crunch time. It’s not like that around the league, where the consternation has already grown palpable.
In Minneapolis, Jimmy Butler has been side-eyed about his younger co-stars since September. Over in Tinseltown, LeBron James’ struggles to connect with his greener future stars continue to be well-documented. The demotion to the bench in Chi-town, in deference to an energetic lottery pick, isn’t sitting well with the grungy Robin Lopez.
His playing status yo-yo’d by upper management, J.R. Smith is throwing Insta-shade at rookie teammate Collin Sexton. Doncic-to-DeAndre should be all the rage in The Big D. Yet the center, and his fellow veteran teammates, seem reticent to share the ball with their star rookie at critical times, literally fighting him over defensive rebounds, taciturn on the sidelines, hogging up the shot clock on possessions until there’s not much left for Luka to do. Need I mention that none of these teams have been charging up the NBA standings?
And then, there’s the New York Knickerbockers, who happen to visit The Highlight Farm this evening for a quick run with the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL). Never mind the sound bites coming from Enes Kanter, the uber-rebounding center who is fuming over a lost spot in the Knicks’ starting lineup. Many veteran players really don’t mind losing, as long as they are the ones put front-and-center, both starting and finishing games, during the losses.
On a rebuilding roster that just happens to sit in the nation’s biggest media market, the starry-eyed Kanter wanted assurances that he’d be the keystone. Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Emmanuel Mudiay and Mitchell Robinson are all cool stories. But especially while Kristaps Porzingis is supposed to be out of action, 2018-19 was supposed to be The Year of the Kanter, at least in Enes’ mind.
David Fizdale believes his center can still have a major role, just as one of the first reserves off the bench. The Knicks’ new head coach is under little pressure to win now, particularly while the Unicorn remains a mythical notion. He also has familiarity with a team reaping the benefits after bringing a relatively clueless NBA team up slowly, having sat beside Mike Woodson as an assistant with the early-Aughts Hawks.
Beginning with the 13-69 season in 2004-05, Atlanta started pushing aside the likes of Antoine Walker, Tom Gugliotta, Kenny Anderson and Kevin Willis to make way for the Joshes (Smith and Childress), Zaza, and the All-Star and future lottery picks that were soon to come. “The toughest year of my career, from a win-loss standpoint,” Coach Fiz recently recalled to ESPN’s Ian Begley about that 13-win season. “By the fourth year (2007-08), we were playing Boston in the playoffs taking them to seven games. Just (by) adding a couple pieces, and keeping those young kids growing.”
“Now, I’m not saying we’re going to take four years (in NYC), but I do lean on that as my experience to say, ‘Hey, it’s never as bad as you think.’” That message is falling on the deaf ears of Kanter, who is only 26 years of age and, armed with an expiring contract, hopes to make bank during next summer’s free agency period. He feels he needs not just the minutes, not just the boxscore stats, but whatever laurels that come with the prestige of being an 80-plus-game starter on a big-city NBA club.
Exhibit A: over 40 overtime-boosted minutes of floortime on Monday, 23 points, 24 rebounds, and 7 assists, all team-highs as the Knicks’ double-OT campaign versus the visiting Bulls fell just a couple points short of victory, dropping the club to 3-8 on the season. Fizdale was not short on praise for his backup big man during postgame commentary. Kanter was, “a guy that’s going to have his hat in the Sixth Man of the Year award,” said an effusive Coach Fiz. But much like Positive K, Kanter is not tryna hear that, see.
“I don’t worry about trophies,” Negative K told the New York Post when queried about Fizdale’s “sixth-man” compliment. “My thing is, we promised this city the playoffs,” he insisted, catching himself just in time to add, “My thing is, just go out there, and my job is, how am I going to make my teammates better, whether I’m first unit, second unit or third unit.” Between the lines, you can read that Enes doesn’t want anyone, especially his head coach, to rule him out of the first unit.
Kanter thought he was rolling in the previous game, with team-bests of 18 points and 12 boards, when Fizdale yanked him midway through the final quarter in favor of the starting Robinson. The Knicks’ offense floundered for the remainder of the contest as they handed sad-sack Washington just their second win of the season.
Literally putting too fine a point on his emotions, Kanter tweeted a “.”, shortly after Saturday night’s 108-95 defeat. The passive-aggressive tweet, which still exists, could just as well have been an exclamation point to the ravenous Manhattan media outlets. To be fair to Robinson, New York played behind the Wizards virtually the entire game, never getting over the hump to seize the lead while Kanter was still on the floor.
It’s not as though the Knicks were swimming in victories while Kanter was a starter, either. After beating the Hawks in the October 17 season-opener, New York dropped four straight games before Coach Fiz made the switch, including a 23-point loss in Miami where Kanter’s notorious defensive shortcomings were on full display. Fizdale insists he isn’t “chasing wins,” the way Kanter believes the Knicks should be. But it’s notable that all three of New York’s victories, to date, have come in games where Enes was granted less than 30 minutes of floortime.
Filtered through the relatively tame Hawks media sources, all you’ll see from the 29 And Up Club is Dedmon playfully pestering Coach Pierce like Ivan Johnson about his “promised” minutes. Dedmon proved himself a steady starter option to close out last year’s 24-58 run with the Hawks, much as he did at his prior NBA locales of San Antonio and Orlando. Dedmon returned to Atlanta for another go-round, and has been just fine ceding the starter’s role in support of the Alex Len Reclamation Project, particularly as he returns from offseason ankle rehab.
In contrast to Kanter, Dedmon’s tweets are instead land-line-phone emojis, celebratory retweets of his successful three-point bombs, ones that Coach Pierce is encouraging his seven-footer (4-for-11 3FGs, 35.5 3FG% last season) to take when it’s within the flow of the Hawks’ otherwise disjointed, wild-and-woolly offense.
He’ll be back on the court after missing yesterday’s Election Day game with an ankle sprain, but I’m not so sure I’m ready for the Hawks’ Taurean Prince to majority-lead the Hawks’ House. “I’m going to stop being conservative w/ the heat I bring to the court, Prince tweeted after last night’s game, adding, “Watch (eyes emoji) this lol.”
I’m willing to “watch” this “heat,” I guess, so long as the tepid Prince (38.8 FG%) joins rookie Trae Young in being committed to improve his shot selection, and if he diminishes his 5.7 turnovers per 100 possessions. Taurean (team-high 21 points, 6 TOs @ NYK on Oct. 17) will replace rookie Kevin Huerter, who got his first start at Charlotte but will be out today for personal reasons.
Tim Hardaway, Jr. (31 points on 30 total shots, zero TOs vs. ATL on Oct. 17) suffered a back injury midway through Saturday’s game, but similarly returns to the starting lineup after missing out on Monday’s matchup. He’ll pump up the offensive volume for a New York starting unit that is almost as inexperienced as Atlanta’s.
Ntilikina, who struggled mightily during Monday’s loss, continues to get the nod starting point over Mudiay, who nearly pulled off the win over Chicago before fouling Zach LaVine with seconds to spare in the second overtime. Frank “Le Tank” and Hardaway will be joined by 2017 second-rounder Damyean Dotson, another reclamation project in Noah Vonleh, and Robinson. Recovering from an ankle sprain, lotto-rookie Knox can be expected to get more minutes and touches while coming off the bench.
Guard Allonzo Trier is making it hard for the Knicks to keep him as a two-way player. He dropped 21 points (9-for-9 FTs) on Monday in his first NBA start, mere days after pouring 23 bench points on the Mavs in New York’s last victory. Much like Hardaway, Trier will have to find more ways to contribute than just the scoring column if he intends to supplant Dotson (6.0 RPG) on the Knicks’ top line.
Joakim Noah’s been cut loose, Courtney Lee has been stashed with a sketchy-sounding neck injury, and Lance Thomas’ minutes have been flushed, all to the content of the Knicks’ fanbase. You’d think that Kanter (career-high 4.0 offensive RPG) would understand and get with the long-range program. Instead, you’ll likely catch him taking his frustrations out on Atlanta (t-23rd in D-Reb%) tonight, playing wall-ball with the offensive glass to boost his rebounding figures up his teammates look on.
Tomorrow can Start Today, but not if the Yesterday Gangs keep holding the day hostage.
Let’s Go Hawks!