Knicks’ GOAT, poor clutch-time shooting, Rudy Gobert in New York and more

We’re not done taking questions.

Earlier this week, we published a mailbag touching on Knicks-related trades, but there are more to be answered.

Below are leftover questions, including ones about the Knicks’ unlucky point differential, the mysterious Rokas Jokubaitis, Miles McBride, a fake Rudy Gobert scenario and more.

Let’s get to it.

(Questions have been edited for clarity.)


Fred, the Knicks have an overall point differential of a team that should have several more wins. Do you know what accounts for that difference? Is it luck? Poor coaching? — @marcreiner

The Knicks got outscored by 0.4 points per 100 possessions this season, which should correspond to 40 or 41 wins if the math works out perfectly. Instead, they finished eight games below .500.

It wasn’t the league’s biggest disparity in that direction. Knicks fans, just for this one time, be happy you don’t root for the Spurs. San Antonio had a positive point differential this season, outscoring opponents by a fifth of a point per 100 possessions. Yet, it went a disappointing 34-48. With the Knicks, it’s all about games.

Forty-four Knicks games came down to what the NBA defines as “clutch time,” within five points with five or fewer minutes to go, the sixth-most in the NBA. Yet, the Knicks won only 41 percent of those games, the league’s sixth-worst winning percentage in those scenarios.

To break it down simply, the Knicks played in a lot of close games but were one of the worst teams in close games. That’s not a recipe for success.

For all the justified talk about the late-game offence, the defense was just as poor. New York was 29th in points per possession during clutch time this season but also was 28th in points allowed per possession. It had the worst per-possession point differential in clutch time, too.

Julius Randle shot 38 percent in clutch time. Alec Burks shot 30 percent. Immanuel Quickley shot 22 percent. Evan Fournier shot 35 percent. They are four of the six Knicks who played the most end-of-game minutes. This lends itself to questions about lineup selection. There were times head coach Tom Thibodeau rolled with hot hands through fourth quarters, but there were others when he returned to units that the numbers said underperformed all season.

Mitchell Robinson did Mitchell Robinson things, and RJ Barrett’s 3-point accuracy was the lone uptick from the norm — 8 of 17 in clutch time — though using shooting numbers from such specific, spread-out situations is no way to project what could happen in the future.

So, why did the Knicks underperform their net rating? They couldn’t close out games. And why couldn’t they close out games? They couldn’t score, and they couldn’t stop anyone from scoring.

Any rumblings on Rokas Jokubaitis? He’s not the answer to our issues today but seems like he may become one of those what-if European players. — Ozair A.

I am yet to hear any timetable about when Jokubaitis, the 21-year-old who the Knicks traded for on draft night last summer, could come to the NBA.

He stayed overseas this past season, starring for FC Barcelona in the Spanish Liga ACB, possibly the world’s highest-caliber pro league outside of the NBA. Of course, I am no authority on the Spanish league, but I hit up a scout to ask about Jokubaitis, the No. 34 pick last June. He averaged 7.8 points and 3.0 assists in 17.8 minutes per game for Barcelona this season. He did it efficiently, shooting 58 percent on 2-pointers, 57 percent on a small volume of 3s and 80 percent from the line.

The scout said he could see Jokubaitis becoming an NBA rotation player down the line, but the guard is “still far from” being there. “At most, I think he’s a third guard on an NBA roster (one day), but (he’s) most likely a long-term Euro player,” the scout added.

He called Jokubaitis “shifty” and thinks of him as a possible combo guard. He “can create off the dribble and make solid plays” for others, he said. He noted that Jokubaitis can pass with either hand, which is a major plus, and also can make plays in transition.

Jokubaitis shot well from deep in Spain this season, but it takes time for him to get off his shot. He averaged only 1.2 3-point attempts a game. The scout noted the guard’s shooting form as something to watch. It’s “slow” and somewhat of a set shot, he said, but it’s “good (and) not broken.” He believes Jokubaitis “gives effort defensively” and “works to get over screens,” but he questions his foot speed at the NBA level.

GOAT Knick? Ewing or Frazier? — @CoolClyde10

It’s Clyde. Ewing did it for longer — 15 years, compared to 10 in New York for Frazier. Ewing has all the counting numbers. But it’s Clyde. We all know it’s Clyde.

I’m interpreting GOAT Knick as the one with the best legacy, the most impactful person to the franchise. Frazier has two titles — the only two titles. He’s been on the broadcast for so long that he has invented a new lexicon for an entire fan base. He may have the highest Q rating of any New York athlete. In an age when even the most likable people have haters, Clyde is completely uncontroversial and immensely popular.

People misuse the unique word to mean original, but it means one of a kind. Clyde’s legacy is unique.

Why the Deuce McBride distrust? He was playing like the best guard in the G League during his minutes there, but beat reporters seem to eye-roll at fans who want to see him on the court more. Ayo Dosunmu and Herb Jones both got more runs on better teams. — Nicholas S.

It’s not distrust. McBride could become a helpful player down the line, but his NBA playing time during his rookie season didn’t deviate from the norm.

The Knicks took McBride with the sixth pick in the second round of the 2021 draft. He played 372 NBA minutes this season, 13th amongst rookie second-rounders. The guy selected directly behind him, JT Thor, played only 262 minutes for a non-playoff team in Charlotte. Neemias Queta, drafted three picks behind McBride, played 120 minutes for 52-loss Sacramento. McBride’s playing time during his first pro season was middle of the pack, an unremarkable experience in either direction for someone drafted where he was.

Yes, Dosunmu (selected two picks behind McBride) played, as did Jones (selected the pick ahead of McBride), but that’s because both of those guys produced. Jones already is one of the best defenders in the world. Dosunmu helped Chicago right away, draining nearly 38 percent of his 3s and fighting hard defensively. McBride ran up numbers in the G League, which is better than not doing so, but it’s also not always an indication that he’s ready to contribute at the highest level. He shot worse than 30 percent from the field in the NBA.

The most valid criticism to levy about McBride’s playing time this season is one targeted at his G League minutes, not his NBA minutes. He played only nine games with Westchester, good for 355 minutes there. That gives him 727 total minutes between the two levels, which is unnecessarily low. If the Knicks knew he wasn’t going to play with the NBA squad, they could have gotten him more time in the G League.

But that’s a different conversation.

Most second-round picks don’t play right away for the same reason they fall to the second round.

Outside of Donovan Mitchell, has there been any talk of being interested in Rudy Gobert? I understand that he’s 29 and has a ridiculous contract, but he would maximize what Thibs and Co. want from their center and would most likely be easier to acquire in a trade. — @jface_22

I am intrigued by the Knicks as a potential Rudy Gobert team. Even if Utah is willing to answer calls about both of those guys (and we don’t know if or how that will happen), it’s not like it’d be a fire sale. The Jazz would want the world for Mitchell; the same goes for Gobert. The man running their front office now, Danny Ainge, historically trades players too early instead of too late, but he’s also famous for asking for arms, legs and any other kinds of extremities in trade negotiations. That wouldn’t change if he were swindling deals that’d send away All-Stars in their primes.

That said, the Gobert market would be somewhat limited, just because he’s a specific fit: a rim-diving, paint-protecting center.

But he’s also a one-man defense in the regular season. Some teams should do whatever they could to get him. For example, why shouldn’t Dallas, a squad in desperate need of more rim protection, go all in for Gobert in this hypothetical scenario where he becomes available? Imagine what Gobert and Luka Doncic could do together.

I see the pros of the Knicks getting in on the Gobert conversation. No one loves rim protection like Thibodeau, and no one protects rims like Gobert.

For all the flak Gobert gets, and despite Utah’s bad-vibes season, he’s still the league’s best defensive center. The Jazz dropped out of the top 10 in points allowed per possession this season, but not because of him. They gave up 104.5 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, which would have been the best figure in the NBA if it belonged to a team. Opponents shot only 49 percent on dunks and layups when he was the closest defender, according to Second Spectrum. That mark was second-best in the league. He is better guarding on the perimeter than his reputation says. He can engulf most ballhandlers with his length, which he also uses to close up passing lanes in pick-and-rolls. Thibodeau would play Gobert for 49 minutes if he could.

I did not vote for awards this season (though I was a vote the previous three years). If I did have one, I would have seriously considered choosing Gobert as the NBA Defensive Player of the Year once again.

Yet, the more I think about it, the more I feel like something would be off with this made-up-out-of-thin-air hypothetical of Gobert to the Knicks. He’d be the first big name in the door. He’s 29 years old. He has four years and nearly $170 million remaining on his contract. I don’t think he’d take as much to pry away from Utah as Mitchell would, but the price tag wouldn’t be cheap.

If I were Atlanta, I’d get in the mix. If I were to take on the mentality of, say, the Hornets — an organization thirsty for the playoffs, already with a young, dynamic point guard in LaMelo Ball and more desperate for a rim protector than maybe any other NBA team — I’d push all my chips into the middle for Gobert.

It’s different with the Knicks. Given how abstract this hypothetical is, I’ll avoid potential packages, which would take lots of salary along with either picks or young guys. But here’s the underlying issue with New York as a destination for Gobert: all those other options I mentioned already have a big-time guy who fits well with him. Dallas has Doncic. Charlotte has Ball. Atlanta has Trae Young. All of those players would be intuitive matches with Gobert’s type. But Gobert, in this fake Knicks scenario, would be max player No. 1. He’s great, but he’s flawed. And given those flaws, it could create clashes with max player No. 2, whoever that may be. And the goal, of course, would be to find and acquire max player No. 2.

He’s not ideal with Barrett, who’s a slasher. Gobert in the middle would present similar issues to Robinson hanging there. It’s imperfect. So, I wouldn’t give up what I imagine Gobert would be worth to advise him the main target.

If you can trade a Xerox machine and two staplers for him, then sure, go get Rudy Gobert. Any time you can make an objectively great trade, you should make the objectively great trade. But without more details, I’m skeptical, even if having Gobert on the floor essentially guarantees you’ll produce a stout regular-season defense.

(Photo of Obi Toppin and Tom Thibodeau: Geoff Burke/USA Today)

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