Bucks Remind Knicks of How Far They Still Have to Go

Jonathan Macri

The Knicks have reached the halfway point of the season. They get there having had a few bursts along the way, but also having been involved in their fair share of collisions. The damage sustained has been substantial, and an overhaul of the engine may be required before all is said and done.

This, of course, is only one race. There will be another one next season, and the one after that, and so on and so on. 

It has been a long time since they were in the running for anything other than a draft pick beyond the midway point - one of many trends that was supposed to end this season.

It is not to be. After getting blown out 128-102 in Milwaukee by the best team in the league and maybe the best non-Warrior team the NBA has seen this century, they were given a reminder in no uncertain terms:

They are not close. At least not when it comes to serious contention, they aren't.

That is, theoretically, still the goal. And if that is indeed the case, a night like tonight is a reminder that many of the questions surrounding the direction this front office will go leading up to the trade deadline - whether to keep or move Marcus Morris, or attempt to acquire starter or even star-type players, among others - will have some very sobering answers.

That isn't to say there aren't pieces of a possible future contender already in place. No, they don't have their Giannis. No one close, really.

But barring some draft luck, a player like that is never going to consider New York as a possible destination unless they begin to lay a sustainable foundation. The swing-for-the-fences trade this front office seems to think will befall them at some point is one path, but far more sustainable would be to continue to foster the talent already in house.

That path begins with RJ Barrett. The number three overall pick in June's draft had perhaps his most encouraging evening as a pro considering the shooting struggles that have dogged him since his one season at Duke. He finished the game with 22 points, but was 5-of-7 from deep and 5-of-6 from the free throw line, and chipped in eight boards and three dimes to boot. He may not be the answer, but he is an answer.

Joining him atop the box score was Julius Randle, who had his second 25 & 15 game as a Knick. He kept the game close early with 14 points in the first quarter and made Antetokounmpo work for his buckets on the other end, as much as any mere mortal can do.

But he also showed a noticeable lack of defensive intensity to start the third quarter, when a 25-point halftime lead quickly ballooned to over 30, and that was that.

Is it unfair to expect a team's best player and self-anointed leader to maintain a certain level of intensity throughout an entire night, even when its clear his team has no chance? Perhaps, but as the Knicks attempt to figure out which pieces are worth keeping around for the long term, these sorts of things shouldn't go overlooked.

No other Knick stood out, aside from an amalgamation of abysmal shooting from New York's collective backcourt (Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, Damyean Dotson and Kadeem Allen were a combined 4-for-30 from the field. Payton was also ejected after back to back technical fouls early in the third.)

Mitchell Robinson's struggles also continued. Mike Breen pointed out on the broadcast that Robinson has been in a noticeable funk of late, seemingly not fully engaged with the proceedings on the court. Is it a coincidence that this malaise began when the Andre Drummond rumors started? Maybe not.

On the flip side, Kevin Knox was again a bright spot, albeit in far quieter fashion than his 18-point afternoon on Sunday. He finished with only 10 points, but did so on just seven shots, and had several nice passes which displayed the type of court vision he'll need to reach his ceiling as a complete player. Whether that ceiling is anywhere close to what the Knicks thought they were getting with the eighth pick in the draft remains to be seen.

Overall, the Knicks will once again lick their wounds and look forward to the second half of the season, one where they play 24 of 41 games against teams currently under .500 and 22 of 41 at home.

Who remains on the team, and how the roster continues to take shape ahead of another offseason filled with more questions than answers, will likely overshadow many of the games remaining.

And maybe that's not the worst thing.