After the Knicks' players were introduced at The Garden yesterday for their annual open practice -- sans Eddy Curry -- Mike D'Antoni, wearing an all-black warmup suit, addressed the fans. He said, "You won't get a more hard-working group than you have now." Once practice began, the crowd saw why. For the next hour and a half, D'Antoni put his team through a series of fast-paced, full-court drills to have them adapt to his run-and-gun style of play. Most casual fans, who simply see a D'Antoni team that likes to speed up the tempo, really got to understand the different elements of his offensive schemes, especially thanks to Allan Houston, who provided some color commentary throughout the practice.
First, D'Antoni started with a five-man drill with a shadow defense that had the one push the ball up the court and come off a pick-and-roll with the five, and then kick it out to the two or three on the wing. From there, the players utilized quick passing, backdoor cuts and step-outs to the three-point line to score usually within 10 seconds from when the opposite-end rebound was made. Houston said the point of the drill was to help the players find a rhythm and timeliness on the court, especially because there are 11 new faces this season, and to score quickly without hardly dribbling the ball.
Second, D'Antoni introduced consecutive 3-on-3 drills, each one lasting a minute and thirty seconds, which was then followed by free throw practice. This time, the exercises included the defense and the offense had three focal points: the point guard, a wing player and a big man. With only a shortened amount of time on the clock and D'Antoni keeping score, the players not only had to adjust to pushing the ball quickly, but they had to focus on capitalizing on scoring opportunities quickly. It was as if D'Antoni was recreating the closing minutes of a tight fourth quarter game.
Afterwards, D'Antoni increased the stakes. While staying with the same 3-on-3 drill, this time he made it where the first team to score three points was the winner. The level of play became much more intense like the score was tied 95-95 with 10 seconds to go in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Overall, the Knicks seem to be adjusting well to D'Antoni's system, and they look in sync with each other on the court. On defense, you can really see the impact the Knicks' increased length and athleticism have in the paint area, led by Amare Stoudemire, Anthony Randolph, Timofey Mozgov and Ronny Turiaf. Even Stoudemire himself was getting his shot blocked.
Mozgov has no trouble dunking on the run or off screen passes, but he'll need to work on his moves around the basket, especially his layups and jump hooks. He also needs to be more under control with his dribble.
While Roger Mason is shooting 28.6% from beyond the arc during the preseason, he was on fire from downtown during practice. But his shot looks very flat, and you have to question how he'll do with the Knicks. While Mason did average 148 threes in two seasons from 2007 to 2009, he only made 88 last year and shot 33.3%, versus 42.1% previously.
Second-round pick Andy Rautins has played very limited minutes in the preseason, but he looks on point in practice running his unit and he's not mistake-prone. And on defense, he's right up in the grills of the guys above him on the depth chart: Raymond Felton and Toney Douglas. Even if Rautins doesn't get any minutes early in the season, that intensity should prepare Felton and Douglas well for gametime.
The Knicks' other second-round pick, Landry Fields, brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to practice, and it's not even with his own play. After another teammate scores, it's not uncommon to see him pump his fist and then show him some congratulatory love.
At the end of practice, an assistant coach worked out Kelenna Azubuike's recovering knee by having him go through some light jogs, and he seemed satisfied with its progress. While that was going on, some of the players competed in a halfcourt shooting contest.
Houston provided some insights into the wireless heart monitors on the back of each player's jersey. The team's training staff tries to maximize the players' physiological conditioning by monitoring their heart rates during exercises. Each player's target heart rate is 85%, which is measured by their age.
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