Before opening their season with a 122-97 thrashing of Jason Kidd’s Bucks in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, the Knicks held an open scrimmage at Columbia University last Sunday, where the second-stringers beat the starters 31-16.
“We get after each other,” backup swingman Lance Thomas said when asked about how much of a challenge the second unit presents the starters in practice. “We definitely push each other. We get after it, that’s probably the best way I can tell it.”
Not only does the bench push the starters, but they push the pace.
“We put it on ourselves to go in and change the pace of the game,” 23-year old rookie Jerian Grant said. “We want to help the first team out by pushing the pace and playing good defense,” Grant said. “We like to get up and pressure a little bit, and I think it really helps the team.”
Coach Derek Fisher’s new and improved bench rescued the first team on opening night, scoring a whopping 73 points and giving the team a jolt. The starters played to a draw during their 12 minutes on the floor and nearly half the margin of victory was provided by the bench five. It’s not hard to figure out why that was the case either.
“We have a younger group in the second group. We have younger legs, and there’s a tad bit more energy in that group so we come in to make sure that the level of play from the first group doesn’t drop,” Thomas said.
The “bench mob” right now consists of forwards Derrick Williams, Kyle O’Quinn and Thomas along with Langston Galloway and Grant. The group has been very effective and super-entertaining, mostly running pretty basic high pick-and-roll. They also seem to have a good understanding of what their job is.
“The benches goal is to just come out there and just try to bring as much energy as possible, play hard and get a lot of stops,” Galloway told me in the Knicks locker room. “We’re just trying to change the game and just try to build on whatever the first unit does, we go out there and try to build on that. So we’re just trying to help them out.”
Remembering this is basketball and not hockey, we’ll probably never see Fisher sub-in five players all at once (unless it’s garbage time). Thus, the “second-unit”, or the squad that normally closes out the first quarter and starts the second, will technically be a mix of starters and bench players alike. However, for the sake of comparison, let us take a look at how much better the bench has been compared to the starters.
Call them whatever you want. The subs, the second-unit, the reserves, or even the “Bench Mob.” Whatever the nickname, Coach Fisher is going to keep calling on them at crucial points in the game.
“I don’t know if there is a plan in concrete about all second unit guys being on the floor for extended minutes, but if they’re coming in the game and changing the game the way they are so far I don’t see why it shouldn’t be that way,” Fisher admitted after Thursday night’s home opener.
Starting guards Jose Calderon and Sasha Vujacic do not appear to be anywhere close to the best players at their positions at this time. They are being badly outplayed by the young duo of Galloway and Grant. The 31-year old Vujacic is simply a placeholder until Arron Afflalo returns from injury, but the much maligned Calderon has a lot to prove after coming back from an injury-plagued first year in New York.
The 34-year old is still a fantastic shooter, but his foot speed is poor on both ends and he can’t keep up with most of today’s guards, especially on the defensive end. Perhaps the Knicks can play him beside Grant, allowing him to do what he did in Dallas at times — play off the ball and not have to keep up with the most athletic guard. But while many fans are calling for Grant to start in place of Calderon, how about inserting Galloway to man the starting PG position?
Galloway, an undrafted guard out of Saint Joseph’s, was one of the Knicks’ better players during the last few months of last season, and he’s averaging 12.7 points in 26 minutes. He’s also shooting 66.7 from three (8-for-12), 50 percent from the field overall, and has 10 assists to one turnover. Grant has certainly been a breath of fresh air pushing the tempo and displaying his athleticism, but’s it’s been Galloway’s on-ball pressure, outside shooting, and consistent care with the that has caught my attention and hopefully catches Coach Fisher’s sooner than later.
During his postgame press conference on Thursday, Fisher was asked if he would consider making any lineup changes and he responded in the most zen way possible.
“It’s always very interesting to see how things change. Where last night, everything was great and the sun was up. Now, all of a sudden, there is no sun because we lost tonight. That’s the mentality we have to get out of in this organization, everybody,” said Fisher.
Fisher prefers to keep the two youngsters together on the bench since that’s what they’d be doing once Afflalo gets healthy enough to play. This does make sense and the two youngsters seem to have already developed a nice chemistry with one another.
“Me being able to play both positions with size and the way he shoots the ball, he plays well off me and we play well off each other,” Grant told me about playing alongside Galloway. “I think that’s going to work.”
Certainly, the Knicks are only three games into a long season, but it’s not farfetched to believe that the team’s second unit is better than the starting five at the moment. In the meantime, the Knicks have stumbled into an exciting bench combination that brings passion to the floor every game.
“We pretty much been together this whole training camp I guess you can say just building our camaraderie and chemistry with the second unit,” says Galloway. “But at the same time we know what’s at hand, we’ve been cheering for everybody, trying to be as competitive as possible and just trying to help the first unit get better and helping ourselves get better at the same time.”