Pop on Knicks young core: "Haven't watched them"

David Vertsberger

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has 23 seasons, five championships and three Coach of the Year awards notched in his NBA belt, a resume that's cemented him as one of the greatest basketball coaches and minds in history. With all this knowledge and experience, how he feels about the budding stars he's going up against tonight would carry a lot of weight.

If only.

"I haven't watched them," Popovich responded when asked which of New York's young core stood out to him. 

It was a typically curt answer from Popovich, though hard to back up given these two teams met to open the season. The Spurs won that game 120-111, pulling away late in the fourth quarter despite the Knicks' efforts. 

Julius Randle put up 25 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists, R.J. Barrett made his NBA debut with a 21-point, 5-rebound performance on 9-13 shooting from the field. Kevin Knox also had a solid game, with 13 points and 5 boards on 3-4 shooting from deep.

The Knicks team Popovich will face tonight won't be the same as the one from October. They've been much more competitive in recent games and more of their young crop have found their groove. Frank Ntilikina has emerged as the starting point guard and defended at an elite level while finally being aggressive and efficient on the offensive end. Dennis Smith Jr. has shaken off his early-season woes and Mitchell Robinson has cut down on the fouls. Damyean Dotson didn't even play on opening night, and he's led a revitalized bench unit. 

Popovich may have good reason not to lend a positive word to his competitors prior to the game. Years of building up their young core is beginning to pay off for these Knicks, whether you're watching them or not.