The present may be bleak, but the future of the New York Knicks looks surprisingly bright. Here’s why you should be optimistic.
The New York Knicks are undefeated in February. How long that lasts is entirely up to this Knicks team.
Despite trailing for a majority of the game, the Knicks managed to mount a comeback and get a road win against the now 9-40 Brooklyn Nets. Granted, the Nets are the worst team in basketball.
Still, the Knicks need every win they can get.
Surprisingly, the Knicks mounted this comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench.
Anthony had a bad shooting night, scoring 15 points in 26 minutes on 6-of-22 shooting. When he was subbed out late in the third quarter, the Knicks made their run.
Head coach Jeff Hornacek utilized all of his players against the Nets. Sasha Vujacic, who hasn’t played much recently, was given 22 minutes of playing time.
In return, Vujacic scored 12 points, including two separate pairs of four-point plays. Prior to this game, the Knicks had no four-point plays all season.
A lineup of Brandon Jennings, Vujacic, Justin Holiday, Kristaps Porzingis, and Willy Hernangomez propelled the Knicks to victory against the Nets.
With Derrick Rose sidelined the past three games, Jennings has played 134 minutes. Averaging that total over three games, and Jennings has played 44.7 minutes per game.
Over that span, Jennings is averaging 15.5 points, 7.7 assists, and 3.3 steals per game.
Holiday, who’s play has gone relatively unnoticed since the emergence of Hernangomez, has also seen an increase in minutes. In 28 minutes of play, Holiday recorded seven points, four rebounds, four assists, and a +/- of 26, the highest on the team.
With solid contributions from several role players, the Knicks put the weight of the comeback on the shoulders of Porzingis and Hernangomez.
Porzingis, who had been battling foul trouble for the first three quarters, came into the game in the fourth quarter and took over.
In 25 minutes of play, Porzingis scored 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He added 12 rebounds, two blocks, and a +/- of +15. Most importantly, he scored 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Aside from the stats, Porzingis played good defense down the stretch knowing he already had four fouls.
Hernangomez, the new crowd favorite in New York, played stellar down the stretch.
In 25 minutes, Hernangomez scored 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with 16 rebounds (seven offensive), two assists, two steals, and a block.
In the final minutes of the game, Hernangomez made a great pass for a Holiday three, and had two clutch baskets to essentially seal the game.
Personally, I like to stay away from comparisons like “Porzingis is the next Dirk Nowitzki.” However, every game I see him play, I can’t help but see Marc Gasol’s game in Hernangomez.
While Porzingis is a basketball unicorn, Hernangomez is a basketball hybrid.
He can play old school, back-to-the-basket basketball and finish with a flurry of stutter step moves with either hand. He can also play a newer age of big-man basketball, with the ability to pass the ball and shoot from the perimeter.
With the emergence of Porzingis and Hernangomez, the Knicks’ future is looking bright. Here’s why:
Phil Jackson has taken a lot of heat from the media lately, myself included. It’s been for his recent obsession with trading Anthony, his inability to confront the media when his offseason acquisition disappeared for an entire game, and for giving Joakim Noah $72 million over the next four years.
However, credit must be given where credit is due.
It may seem like a distant memory, but the 2014-2015 season for the Knicks was abysmal. It’s clear they were purposely tanking, and ended the season with a putrid 17-65 record.
When it came time for the draft lottery, the Knicks were unable to secure a top-3 pick, which led to many people saying the, “Knicks are so bad they can’t even tank properly.”
Looking back, it may have been a blessing in disguise. If they had secured a top-3 pick, it’s unclear whether Jackson would have abandoned his decision to draft Porzingis.
Either way, with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Knicks selected Porzingis, who was welcomed by a crowd of boo’s in the same venue he and Hernangomez took over against Brooklyn.
Imagine being a 19-year-old European kid being drafted by the Knicks in New York City and hearing an entire crowd boo you in front of your family. Immense pressure.
Fast forward to this offseason.
Jackson signed Hernangomez, who had played with Porzingis in Spain, to a low-cost deal. Hernangomez is expected to make roughly $5.8 million over the next four seasons combined.
With that, the Knicks’ front court of the future is set.
Additionally, Jackson traded Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant for Rose and Holiday. At the time, Holiday was viewed as an extra piece in a trade surrounding Rose, but this season has showed that he’s much more than that.
When trading players, management must asses risk. Rose, with a history of knee injuries, was definitely a risk. However, given that he was in the last year of his contract, the risk was well worth the investment.
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Rose has shown flashes of his old self, and has played relatively injury free. Yes, he’s battling some nagging injuries at the moment, but overall, has played well—offensively, at least.
When the season ends, the Knicks can choose to re-sign Rose or let him walk. Given that Rose’s agent is looking for a contract in the ballpark of five years and$150 million, the Knicks will likely choose the latter.
Jennings, who also has a history of injuries, was signed to a one-year, $5 million contract. He, like Rose, will be a free agent at season’s end. If Jennings is willing to work out a decent contract, it would be a smart move for the Knicks to re-sign him.
Although Jennings has a tendency to over-dribble, his main priority is creating for others. There aren’t many backup point guards, if any, that lead their team in assists.
Courtney Lee, who was played his best basketball in recent weeks, was another offseason acquisition by Jackson. He was given a four-year, $48 million contract, which is an average salary of $12 million per year.
Lee is a two-way player, and has been a great addition to every team he’s been on. For a Knicks team that struggles mightily on defense, Lee is a player they needed.
Lee is 31 years old, and will be 35 years old when his contract expires. While that isn’t ideal for a team rebuilding, Lee’s play on both sides of the ball warrants $12 million a season.
Jackson also opted to keep Kyle O’Quinn this offseason. Unfortunately, his minutes have been limited since the emergence of Hernangomez.
However, those aren’t the minutes that Knick fans should care about.
The other minutes at center have been awarded to Noah, Jackson’s worst offseason pickup. Noah brings intangibles to the Knicks as a team player and former Defensive Player of the Year.
Unfortunately, his inability to score or hit free throws has hindered his overall game. O’Quinn, on the other hand, has increased his value by adding a midrange jumper to his game.
With O’Quinn, the Knicks can run the pick and roll and the pick and pop. With Noah, it’s limited to the pick and roll, and even a layup isn’t a guarantee.
Anthony’s performance against Brooklyn didn’t help silence the critics. Anthony was benched in the fourth quarter, and the Knicks held the Nets to 15 points, their lowest scoring quarter of the game.
As the trade rumors continue to circulate, Anthony’s future in New York is in limbo.
Is trading Anthony the best move for the future of the Knicks? Yes, it is.
Trading Anthony for a minimal return is not.
Unless Jackson can pull of a miracle in the next three weeks, Anthony should stay. With Rose set to return, the Knicks can set their eyes on the playoffs, and live with the results.
If they make the playoffs, Anthony increases his trade value, and young players like Porzingis and Hernangomez can gain invaluable playoff experience.
If they don’t, the Knicks increase their chances at a higher draft pick, and Jackson can look to trade Anthony in the offseason where there’s much more time to negotiate.
How many offseasons in recent memory have the Knicks had a draft pick and cap space?
With their win in Brooklyn, the Knicks are just 1.5 games back of the No. 8 seed.
Remember: The Knicks have regular season tiebreakers over the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers—the teams in sixth, seventh, and eighth place.
Knicks fans have lost hope after seeing the team in January, and rightfully so. However, we must keep in mind that many of those games went down to the final shot, and the Knicks came out on the wrong end.
It’s possible that the 14-10 Knicks team we saw to start the season could resurface once Rose makes his return. Hopefully, his return comes Saturday, when the Knicks host the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.