GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The dunk on opening night drew comparisons to The Dunk — capital letters required — around Madison Square Garden for John Starks’ memorable flight to the rim over Michael Jordan and Horace Grant. And maybe the story is similar for Allonzo Trier, joining the Knicks as an explosively talented yet undrafted free agent.
When Trier soared in for a dunk Wednesday night in the Knicks’ season opener, it was in the midst of a blowout of an Atlanta Hawks squad that might be the worst in the NBA, not the 1993 playoffs against the eventual NBA champion Bulls. But maybe there still is a commonality between the flash of talent that Trier has provided to desperate Knicks fans and what Starks gave the team decades earlier.
What the two have most in common is an unwavering confidence and competitiveness. For Starks, it brought him from bagging groceries in Oklahoma to the Knicks. Trier’s path was not nearly as arduous. He starred at the University of Arizona but still went through the draft without hearing his name called.
But the failure of teams to draft him didn’t change his belief that he belongs. So while Knicks lottery pick Kevin Knox talked after Wednesday’s game of his stomach going crazy as he prepared for the opener, Trier felt none of those jitters.
“I was totally comfortable,” he said. “I was doing something that I’ve always done my [whole] life, playing basketball. That doesn’t change. It just happened to be in an amazing arena like Madison Square Garden with an amazing crowd. But the game is played the same. If anything, I was more anxious to get out there and play my first regular-season NBA game. That’s exciting, something you only get to experience one time in your life. I look forward to many more times.”
Trier was given a two-way contract by the Knicks, meaning that he is able to spend approximately the next two months in the NBA before the team must either send him to the G League or convert his contract to a fully guaranteed deal. He has never shown a hint of doubt that he will be a part of the Knicks’ future, and the team has not, either.
On opening night, he scored 15 points in 26 minutes off the bench. The dunk drew the most attention, raising the fans out of their seats, including fellow Seattle native Nate Robinson, who hugged and high-fived him from his courtside seat. Trier beat four Hawks on the play, dribbling around Trae Young at the three-point line, driving through Tyler Dorsey, Omari Spellman and Taurean Prince in the lane and throwing it down over Prince at the rim.
Knicks coach David Fizdale has openly talked about creating a different rule for Trier in regard to moving the ball, trusting him to create his own shot. Fizdale worked in player development with prospects who were similarly unheralded arrivals and saw something in Trier that reminded him of those players.
“[Former Miami Heat head of scouting] Chet Kammerer down there does a heck of a job identifying those kind of guys,” Fizdale said. “Scott Perry and his staff have a lot of the same viewpoints the way they see guys like that. What’s important when we evaluate those in-between guys, the one thing I can say about those guys is they’re big-time competitors. Zo, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, those kind of guys all have the same gene of toughness and competitiveness. We value that as well. Scott does a good job about that.”
“I’ve always had confidence,” Trier said. “For the most part of my career, I’ve been in the upper echelon, top tiers of players in the country, coming from high school, being one of the best players in college basketball. So I’m nothing short of confidence and belief in myself. That confidence and belief comes from the work ethic and the time and preparation I put into my game in trying to perfect my craft. You put a lot of time in, it’s easy to be able to go out there and believe in yourself. When you put time in, you expect to do well.”