Donte DiVincenzo isn’t just breaking records; he’s also showing why Knicks’ plan is working

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Donte DiVincenzo could feel the crowd as he neared a New York Knicks record.

“You feed into it. It’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “But also, it’s like every time you touch the ball, they’re like, ‘Shoot! Shoot!’ ”

On Monday, the crowd was justified in its requests. DiVincenzo did not stop shooting — and for the most part, he did not miss.

The Knicks guard broke the franchise record for most 3-pointers made in a game during Monday’s 124-99 win over the Detroit Pistons. He sank 11 of 20 long-range bombs, and it would have been 12 had a jumper that originally counted not been taken away later because DiVincenzo’s foot hit the out-of-bounds line (J.R. Smith sank 10 3-pointers in 2014).

DiVincenzo topped it off with a career-high 40 points. His Knicks career was not supposed to go this well. And yet, it has.

DiVincenzo’s record-tying jumper came with the former record-holder Evan Fournier defending him. DiVincenzo sliced to the right dribbling out of a pick-and-roll. Fournier got caught on the screen and the 27-year-old lofted in his 10th triple of the evening.

“What he’s done, he’s in the record books for a reason,” DiVincenzo said on Fournier, who the Knicks traded to the Pistons in February. “Evan is a hell of a player, and the one thing I respect the most about Evan is how good of a teammate he was.”

After a few misses, DiVincenzo finally swished his 11th from the right wing, this time over Malachi Flynn, a short-lived teammate of his in New York who quickly and unforgettably earned the nickname “Evil Donte” because he looks like DiVincenzo with Wario-like features.

But even with reminders of the Knicks’ history all around, another undeniable thought emerged: The Knicks’ present is in a good place, too.

DiVincenzo is now one of the NBA’s scariest high-volume bombers. Defenses become frantic trying to stop him, sending one or two guys his way. His looks against the Pistons, a last-place team that was missing many of its best players Monday, weren’t as difficult as they might’ve been on other nights. But the Knicks rarely ever employed someone capable of even taking 20 3-pointers in a game, let alone making 11 of them.

“It’s extremely difficult (to shoot 20 3s in a game),” Knicks teammate Josh Hart said. “I don’t even know – Steph (Curry), maybe will get up 20. That’s a lot of work to get up 20. That’s a mini-workout right there.”

Now, DiVincenzo has evolved beyond the four-year, $47 million contract he signed this past summer. For a second consecutive offseason, New York has nabbed one of the league’s best contracts.

DiVincenzo isn’t done breaking records. He is only seven 3-pointers away from tying Fournier’s single-season record of 241. He has 11 games to do it. If DiVincenzo makes his season average, he will pass Fournier by the end of the week. Albeit, he just made 11 3-pointers in a game. At this rate, he could knock in eight Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors and it would shock no one.

He has a chance to vaporize a record that Fournier set only two years ago.

DiVincenzo is on pace to finish with 271 3s, 30 more than Fournier’s record. That would get him into the top 20 for a single season in league history. Only five players have reached that territory: Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Paul George and Buddy Hield.

He is now third in the NBA this season in 3-point makes, only six behind MVP candidate Luka Dončić for second place. Curry, DiVincenzo’s former mentor, is in first. And DiVincenzo won’t catch him — nor will he need to for the Knicks to look at this signing and smile ear to ear.

DiVincenzo wasn’t even supposed to start at the beginning of the season. Instead, he usurped the job from Quentin Grimes. He makes only $10.9 million this season, far less than your average first-stringer and he’s performing at levels far above what just an average starter does.

Once again, the Knicks have created one of the league’s most team-friendly contracts.

In 2022, it was Jalen Brunson, who signed a four-year, $104 million contract, and is now about to make his first All-NBA team. He can become a free agent in 2025. His max contract (and if he keeps playing at this level, he will be a max player) will nearly double his 2024-25 salary.

Another player, Isaiah Hartenstein, has morphed into an enforcer and starter after signing a two-year, $18 million deal. He is set to hit free agency again this summer and will receive a massive raise.

It’s almost become the Knicks’ signature: New York has built a viable roster, one of the Eastern Conference’s best, through free agency during an age where that strategy has become increasingly more difficult to execute. And they’ve done it while holding on to draft picks and young players to justify going after a second star on the trade market.

In the meantime, they’re identifying talent in players who have been in the league but had never reached the levels they are at today until arriving in New York.

For all the talk of the front office and coaching staff being out of sync with previous moves — such as the Cam Reddish one when head coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t play the wing the Knicks traded for — there are examples of them being in lockstep, too.

Thibodeau wanted to sign Hartenstein not just because of his passing but also because his rim protection data showed he was an undervalued defender. Now, Hartenstein is anchoring one of the league’s top defenses.

Hartenstein credits his improvement to Thibodeau, whose preparation is unmatched, he says.

“The best way to say it is, we approach every game like it’s a playoff game,” Hartenstein said.

DiVincenzo made similar comments about Thibodeau to The Athletic’s Sam Amick last week. Thibodeau has always been a backer of Brunson, too, insistent that the point guard has room to grow, even when most are amazed by his vault into the NBA’s elite.

Thibodeau coached and now employs Brunson’s father on his coaching staff. He’s known Jalen since he was a child.

He was on board with signing DiVincenzo, too, an off-ball menace. Even as the guard’s percentages dropped amid a miniature shooting funk, alarms didn’t go off with the coach.

“He’s getting a lot of attention,” Thibodeau said. “And so, the challenge is just keep moving. And so, if he keeps moving and if the initial look is not there, just keep moving without the ball and then we can screen it and give him a second look. And so, when we do that, you’re gonna create good shots.”

What DiVincenzo did Monday, even if it came against the Pistons, was the personification of the Knicks’ emergence.

They identify someone who is a good player, sign him and then help transform him into a much more consequential difference-maker than anyone realized.

Brunson’s contract is arguably the NBA’s most team-friendly non-rookie deal. Hartenstein’s is on the list, too, as is Divincenzo’s, considering a defensive-minded pest who is breaking 3-point records will make less than the midlevel exception for the next three seasons.

The Knicks have loaded up on midsized contracts, a description that fits more than just the three aforementioned players.

Julius Randle’s extension has worked out. He just made his third All-Star Game in four seasons. Josh Hart has performed well and is eating rebounds like they’re Mike and Ikes. Mitchell Robinson signed a reasonable deal that declines in salary annually and was playing at an All-Defensive level before injuring his ankle in December. Before entering the rotation, Miles “Deuce” McBride added three years and $13 million to his deal in December and now is an everyday presence whom Thibodeau won’t take off the floor.

And now, they have a team that isn’t just winning games, sitting fourth (43-28) in the Eastern Conference, only a half-game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for third. It’s also set up for the future.

They have their point guard. They have their center, whether it’s Hartenstein or Robinson. And they have a defensive menace who is already shattering 3-point records.

“Donte has been amazing for us this season,” Hart said. “The way he played tonight was great. He was aggressive. And somebody we were always looking for.”

(Photo of Donte DiVincenzo: David L. Nemec / NBAE via Getty Images)

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