The New York Knicks jumped out to a hot start, reaching 2-1 with impressive victories over the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards, respectively. In the three games that have followed, however, New York has looked like a postseason-caliber team for three quarters and collapsed in the fourth.
To avoid further self-destructions, the Knicks desperately need Arron Afflalo to return.
For all that’s been made of New York’s three-game skid and the inefficiency of the starting lineup, not enough attention has gone to Afflalo’s potential return. He should help stabilize the starting lineup on both ends of the floor as a 3-and-D specialist who can create his own offense.
Unfortunately, Afflalo is expected to miss yet another game when New York plays the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, November 8.
That’s a winnable game, but playing without the starting shooting guard is never a positive sign.
The Lakers are 1-4, but they’re also a guard-oriented team that’s capable of exploiting a severe athletic advantage over Jose Calderon and Sasha Vujacic. Langston Galloway and Jerian Grant match up well, but they’re coming off of the bench and being limited to less than 30 minutes of playing time.
Beyond this individual game, the Knicks need to have a legitimate and dependable No. 2 scoring option. The likes of Galloway, Grant, Robin Lopez, Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Williams can all put up points, but not—yet—with the same consistency as Afflalo.
Afflalo has a career average of 11.4 points per game on a slash line of .453/.385/.819, but he’s elevated his game in recent seasons.
The former UCLA Bruins star averaged at least 15.2 points per game in three straight seasons from 2011-12 to 2013-14. In a not-so-distant 2013-14, he tallied 18.2 points per contest on a slash line of .459/.427/.815.
Afflalo’s average dipped to 13.3 points in 2015-16, but he still shot 35.4 percent from 3-point range.
Now tasked with being the No. 2 option in New York, Afflalo has a big role to fill. He doesn’t need to be No. 2 in points every night, but his ability to shoot with range, go to the post and work off-ball will prove invaluable.
The question is, when will he be available?
Afflalo missed a vast majority of the preseason and has been sidelined for all six regular season games. That tally is expected to rise to seven on Sunday, which is a big hit to New York’s early attempts at developing rotational chemistry.
Afflalo is understandably frustrated by his inability to take the court.
One has to wonder where New York would be right now if Afflalo were healthy.
Three of New York’s four losses has been by at least 10 points, but that’s a very misleading statistic. It held a fourth quarter lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers, tied the Milwaukee Bucks with less than eight minutes remaining and trailed the San Antonio Spurs by five with 6:46 on the clock.
The loss to the Atlanta Hawks wasn’t quite as close, but New York never let the opposition pull away; it simply couldn’t close the gap.
The issue has been the Knicks’ inability to produce points during the final quarter. Carmelo Anthony is notoriously clutch, but the rust he’s acquired in recovering from knee surgery has hindered his production.
Afflalo has been known to thrive in such situations.
Those shots would’ve been quite helpful against Atlanta, Cleveland, Milwaukee and San Antonio.
Afflalo isn’t a cure-all who’s going to push New York from 2-4 to 78-4. What he is, however, is the starting shooting guard who’s superior to his replacement in virtually every phase of the game.
Between his sharpshooting and his defense, the Knicks would add significant 3-and-D depth. With a rare ability to operate from the post and mid-range, as well as convert in clutch moments, it’d have a chance to exploit the opposition late in games.
There’s simply no way around it: the Knicks are desperate for Afflalo to return.