By John Schmeelk
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Arron Afflalo made his long-awaited regular-season debut for the Knicks on Wednesday night and had an immediate impact on the team. He wisely gave his hamstring an extra 10 days to heal and it allowed him to hit the floor running. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds on 6-of-13 shooting. He gave the Knicks’ offense exactly what it needed: another player who can shoot off the dribble and get to the basket.
The other important thing his return did was send Sasha Vujacic to the bench. Any concern that Fisher might still try to use Vujacic off the bench and disrupt the second unit was unfounded, at least for one game. The team played with more movement, urgency and speed with Afflalo on the court, and the first group looked as good as it has all year.
Jose Calderon continued his strong shooting, going 6-of-9 with 13 points and five assists. The moment Charlotte defenders gave him even an inch of room he was knocking down his jumper like the Knicks expected he would when they brought him in. He put himself into more pick and rolls, where he can still very effective. Calderon continues to struggle keeping opposing point guards in front of him, and that isn’t going to change, but if he can shoot well he is an important floor spacer with the starting five.
Kristaps Porzingis was a clipped fingernail away from hitting the game-winning three and having his first iconic Knicks end-of-game moment. But it was still a step in the right direction for the Knicks’ rookie, who flashed some shooting in the first half, protected the rim with two blocks and grabbed a career high 15 rebounds. He continues to grow, and is already one of the most important players on the Knicks’ roster.
Despite a missed shot late in the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony played one of his best games of the season, shooting 12-of-25 for 29 points with six rebounds and four assists. He is slowly rounding into form, as his mid-range jumper is once again showing up as one of the deadliest weapons in the NBA.
As the first team played its best ball, the second unit had one of its worst showings of the season. Langston Galloway looked a little sluggish on the second night of a back-to-back and scored just four points on 2-of-6 shooting. Jerian Grant got into the paint and scored eight points with five assists, but he turned the ball over three times in just 18 minutes. Derrick Williams barely played and struggled when he did. Kevin Seraphin continues to make his case for being stapled to the bench. Lou Amundson and Kyle O’Quinn were the only backups that had positive +/-‘s when they were on the floor.
It will be very curious to see whether or not Amundson continues to get serious minutes when the team isn’t in back-to-back situations. He is better defensively and more of a team player than Seraphin, but the question needs to be asked whether his minutes are better off being given to Williams and Lance Thomas with O’Quinn playing more center. The Knicks’ second unit worked so well early in the year because it played so fast. It’s harder to do that with Williams at SF instead of PF, and with guys like Seraphin and Amundson on the floor. It’s something Derek Fisher needs to monitor.
One other interesting note over the last few games that bears watching is the ever-decreasing minutes for Williams. He played only eight minutes two nights ago against Toronto, and four on Wednesday night. As was to be expected, his hot perimeter shooting has cooled off from the preseason, but he is still great at getting to the free-throw line. Fisher is sitting him in favor of Thomas for defensive reasons, which are warranted given Williams’ struggles on that end. But Fisher needs to be careful not to lose Williams, who might end up being an essential offensive contributor for a team that doesn’t have a ton of players that can create their own shots.
The other thing Fisher needs to do a better job of is substituting offense/defense at the end of games. It was obvious he had Thomas out there at the end of the game for defense, but he took Porzingis off the floor instead of Anthony, a far weaker defender. He then kept Thomas on the floor on a couple of offensive possessions. Fisher also missed several opportunities to take Calderon out of the game when the Knicks were on several key defensive possessions (though he did do it on the final one). Those are little things that Fisher still needs to get better at as the season moves along. The Knicks’ roster has many more complete players than it has had in the past, but there are still some that Fisher will have to make special accommodations for, like Calderon.
Overall, though, the Knicks needs to be happy where they are given their schedule. Their players have shown good poise in late-game situations, even as their coach has shown that he still has some learning to do. The Cavs come to the Garden on Friday, and it could be a statement win at home for a team dying to prove it will be a long-term player in the Eastern Conference playoff picture this season.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports.