Among the many surprising aspects of the Knicks‘ season is that their defense has been able to survive the loss of center Mitchell Robinson, who is recovering from surgery on a fracture in his right foot. Mitchell’s shot blocking has been replaced by Nerlens Noel, who swatted five shots in Saturday’s win over the Hornets and now ranks second in the league with 2.1 per game, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News.
“His gift is obviously the rim protection,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “… He alters a lot of shots because everyone is looking for him. He has great value, he’s the anchor of the defense.”
Noel was a lottery pick in 2013, but wasn’t able to find a stable situation as he bounced from the Sixers to the Mavericks to the Thunder. He signed with New York during the offseason and has been a valuable addition in the wake of Robinson’s injuries, starting 40 of the 63 games he has played.
“I just feel like I’ve got something in me that comes alive, especially moments like (crunch time),” Noel said. “I live for moments, the big moments, and anything for my team.”
There’s more from New York:
- Thibodeau offered a medical update on Robinson, who has started on-court activities but remains a long way from playing, Bondy adds. “He’s still in the rehab phase,” Thibodeau said. “… As I’ve said before, we’re not going to rush him along. We’re going to be cautious and make sure he goes through every phase of it properly. We just don’t want to take any chances with him.”
- The Knicks can wrap up the fourth seed by beating the Celtics this afternoon, but their point guard situation remains muddled, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. Elfrid Payton played less than 13 minutes on Saturday and Berman suspects Thibodeau is losing confidence in him. Alec Burks ran the point with the second unit, and Frank Ntilikina was inserted late in the game for his defense.
- The dramatic turnaround in New York has made the draft an afterthought this year, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. Before the season began, the Knicks started scouting with the expectation that they might have a high lottery pick, along with the Mavericks’ first-rounder from the Kristaps Porzingis trade. New York’s selection is currently at No. 18, while Dallas’ is at No. 23.