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Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Knicks Dominate Sluggish Spurs

The New York Knicks defeated the San Antonio Spurs 126-105 in a game that received a lot of attention/hype because it marked Victor Wembanyama's first appearance at the fabled Madison Square Garden. San Antonio's Wembanyama may have been the headliner, but New York's Jalen Brunson, R.J. Barrett, and Julius Randle stole the show: Brunson scored a game-high 25 points while tying Barrett for team-high honors with six assists, Barrett added 24 points, and Randle contributed 23 points, a game-high 16 rebounds, and five assists. The Knicks shot 19-42 (.452) from three point range--with Brunson (5-8) and Barrett (5-9) leading the way from beyond the arc--and they committed just three turnovers. Each New York starter had a plus/minus number of at least +26, while Wembanyama had a game-worst plus/minus number of -25. Wembanyama finished with 14 points on 4-14 field goal shooting, plus nine rebounds, two assists, and one blocked shot. Jeremy Sochan led the Spurs with 16 points. 

While Wembanyama may be a legend in the making, a true legend was courtside calling the action: Hubie Brown provided color commentary for ESPN's national TV broadcast alongside Mike Breen. Brown's most recent ESPN national telecast was Denver's 125-100 win over the Phoenix Suns in game six of the Western Conference semifinals. Brown was an assistant coach with the 1970s Milwaukee teams featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and Oscar Robertson) before he led the Kentucky Colonels to the 1975 ABA title with a frontcourt featuring Hall of Famers Artis Gilmore and Dan Issel (and Hall of Fame guard Louie Dampier), so he is well-acquainted with championship-level big man play. Here is Brown's pregame assessment of Wembanyama: "The weight is a problem because he gets moved by the big people. He's got to be able to gain the weight and hold his spot, but when he gains the weight will he lose his quickness? That is all part of his development." Brown added that Wembanyama's incredible wingspan enables him to block shots without fouling. Brown is also impressed by Wembanyama's ballhandling and shooting stroke: "He handles the ball like a guard, and shoots the three pointer like an established two guard." Throughout the game, Brown noted how Wembanyama's lack of strength was a liability on offense because bigger, stronger players could prevent Wembanyama from holding his position and they could knock him off balance when he tried to drive. 

The Knicks started the game with a 13-0 scoring burst, and they led 33-16 by the end of the first quarter. Brown commented, "You have to like the pace that the Knicks are setting." Wembanyama scored just two first quarter points, missing all three of his field goal attempts. Despite the widespread perception that the NBA is a fourth quarter league, the reality is that it is often a first quarter league (as Doug Collins often pointed out during his broadcasting career), and that was the case tonight, as the Spurs never got closer than 14 points after the first quarter. 

The Spurs are not a good team, and Wembanyama is a talented but still raw player. It is evident that the Spurs' tanking to get Wembanyama did the franchise no favors; no one on the current roster knows how to win consistently at the NBA level, and it shows. The team lacks veteran players who can show Wembanyama the ropes. Wembanyama should not be judged by his best games or by his worst games. He is very much a work in progress, and his growth process will take however long it takes, regardless of how eager people are to crown him as a superstar right now. 

During the telecast, Brown provided his insights about the new NBA Cup, and about the Knicks' prospects this season. Brown thinks that the NBA Cup is a great idea, provided that both the players and the fans fully accept it. His only gripe is that the special NBA Cup courts do not have the traditional lines on them, because he noted that coaches often teach their players to set up by certain lines for specific plays, an option that is not available during NBA Cup games with the special courts. 

Brown--who coached the Knicks to game seven of the 1984 Eastern Conference Semifinals in a memorable series featuring Larry Bird versus Bernard King--said that the Knicks' defense is good but their problem is that they just don't score enough on a consistent basis. The Knicks' blazing shooting combined with low turnovers versus the Spurs does not look like something that can be sustained.

Although this game did not turn out to be as competitive or memorable as one would have hoped, it is always a treat to watch Brown call a game, and to hear his insights about yet another generation of NBA players. Brown can always be relied on to provide objective analysis devoid of both hype and rancor; many of ESPN's other basketball commentators/analysts would benefit from emulating Brown's approach, even if they have no chance to match his knowledge and experience.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:55 PM



At Thursday, November 09, 2023 11:56:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

I could not believe the hype surrounding Wembanyama before he even played a single second of NBA basketball. Basically, he is expected to be at least as great as David Robinson and equal or greater than Tim Duncan. Anything less than that will qualify him as a “bust” and many people don’t seem to understand how unrealistic those expectations are. It takes at least three full, healthy seasons to get an accurate profile of a player and sometimes it takes up to five seasons. There are players who have had excellent rookie seasons who went on to have relatively average careers, Tyreke Evans had a solid career but I would put him in this category, and then there are players who were largely invisible during their first few seasons and literally started winning MVPs and rings, Stephen Curry is the poster child for this category. A realistic and reasonable prediction for how Wembanyama’s career will play out cannot happen this early into his career as his game is so raw and underdeveloped.

At Friday, November 10, 2023 2:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you that there is too much hype about Wembanyama, but that has been true of many rookies; the NBA and the media outlets covering the NBA are always thirstily seeking "The Next" one, whether that is the next Dr. J., the next Michael Jordan, the next Kobe Bryant, or the next LeBron James. I hope that Wembanyama becomes great, but we should let the process unfold naturally instead of making proclamations unsupported by evidence. Right now, all we know for sure is that Wembanyama has the height, length, and skill set to suggest the possibility that he could become a great player. He is not a great player right now, and does not figure to become a great player as a rookie.


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