Changing Tides, KP, Frank, Playoffs?
Just over 2 weeks ago the Knicks were returning from Boston, reeling from a disappointing 21pt loss to the Celtics. KP looked flustered and the team looked sloppy in a game where the corpse of Ramon Sessions played 26 minutes – and Kyle O’Quinn played only 6.
Those were the dark days of the winless Knicks, 3 games into what appeared to be another long season filled with dreams of a top draft pick and little hope of competitive basketball.
Fast forward 2 weeks and there is a stark contrast in mood around the team, yet more
importantly there is a contrast on the court – ‘stark’ just doesn’t do it justice. In his 3 rd NBA season, Porzingis has blown all expectations out of the water, and his play has been bolstered by a functional and dynamic offense brought forth by coach Jeff Hornacek.
When they’re not turning the ball over, the Knicks have a half-court set that still contains triangle concepts, with lots of high-low action helped by a physical and offensively gifted frontcourt. However, unlike last season, the team no longer runs the triangle as a means to itself – that is to say that there is a clear goal for each possession – to give Porzingis the ball.
Never is this more apparent than in the first possession of the game, where KP almost always receives the ball above the elbow for routine, in-rhythm jumpshot. Remarkably for a player that leads the NBA in usage rate (35.7%, > 15mins avg), the first shot can make or break KP’s performance in a game. As researched by reddit user /u/B3rzingis, in the opening 6 games of the season, KP hit his first shot 4 times, scoring 33ppg and shooting 52.6% from the field. In the 2 games where he failed to score on his opening shot, the numbers drop to only 21.5ppg and 35.9% from the field.
Unfortunately, KP did not play last night, officially out with an elbow injury that he admitted could require offseason surgery. Thankfully this is only a minor issue given he is expected to play Saturday night at the Garden, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to rest your star player every now and then.
We may only be 11 games into the season, and fans may remember the fall from grace after a promising start last season, but with a galvanized MSG crowd and KP averaging 30ppg (second only to MVP-tipped Giannis Antetokounmpo), the playoffs should absolutely be the goal for the Knicks in a weak Eastern Conference.
It might not even be a stretch to say that the Knicks could get above the 8th seed, providing the roster stays relatively healthy over the course of the season. Currently sitting in 6th place, both the Pistons and the Magic sit above the Knicks, and those aren’t team’s you would necessarily expect to keep up form and stay in the 2nd and 3rd spot. Admittedly both the Cavs and Bucks are not in the top 8 currently, and it would be very surprising to see them to miss out on the post-season, but the tight spread of wins between the current playoff squads give hope that there will be a chance for a playoff push late in the year.
The next few weeks could definitely reveal a lot about this New York squad, and the
management also. GM Scott Perry has already discussed the possibility of a trade by Sunday evening to make room for returning $72m center Joakim Noah, although it seems more likely that a player will be cut given that there won’t be much interest in the pieces the Knicks have – this is presuming that KOQ won’t in fact be traded due to his excellent contribution to the team so far. Not many would be sad to see Ramon Sessions cut despite a lack of depth at the PG position, and the slightly more favoured Kuzminskas is another name that could be on the chopping block.
More interesting than the 15th spot on the roster is the schedule ahead for the team, with matchups against the Kings (H), Cavaliers (H), Jazz (H), Raptors (A), Clippers (H), Raptors (H), Hawks (A) and the Rockets (A) all in the next 2 weeks. Even with the Eastern Conference being so vastly subpar to the West, a playoff calibre team would be able to compete with the majority of those squads. Sure, the Rockets blew out the Knicks already this year, but you could argue that a historic 3pt shooting team such as Houston is simply a poor matchup for the frustratingly evident Achilles heel of the Knicks that is defending the 3pt line.
Other than the Rockets game, good performances (and more importantly, wins) in at least the home matchups in the next 2 weeks would go a long way in convincing even the most pessimistic of Knicks fans that we have a really competitive and exciting year ahead of us.
These matchups will also be a great test for rookie PG Frank Ntilikina, who despite only shooting 35.3% from the field and 26.3% from 3, has already had a great impact on the defensive side of the ball, averaging 9 assists and almost 3 steals per 36. With a little more confidence in being aggressive with the ball, and more game-time to get comfortable with his shot, the Knicks will have a very serviceable starting PG this year – and potentially, a 1st team All-NBA defender for years to come.