Will the Knicks make the post season?
The Mecca has been rocking of late with some impressive Knick performances, even the heart breaking come back loss handed to them by Cleveland was great to watch. Porzingis’s down tick in shooting percentage has gone unnoticed with Tim Hardaway Jr coming out party, highlighted by the dagger three at the end of the Utah game on Wednesday, a week after scoring 38 points against Toronto at MSG. Production from other role plays has also been important in jumping out to a good start. Lee, O’Quinn, Jack and Thomas have all been better than expectations at the beginning of the season.
So, what’s next for this gritty new Knicks team? In this unpredictable Eastern conference, it is too easy to fantasize about playoff basketball, and the Knicks will have to continue to improve to make it there.
The triangle is out of sight and out of mind. Horneck has been given full control of the
offense and now the offense is going to run. Unsurprisingly (given the Knicks personnel) they have managed to create an identity as a team that can run in transition, ranking in the top 10 in points added through transition (per 100 possessions). Getting out in transition is one thing but the Knicks have also remained efficient ranking 7th in transition points scored (per 100 transition plays), and 12th at finishing at the rim.
The numbers illustrate how the Knicks are trying to play, however to be successful against the better teams they will need to emphasis transition opportunities more often. We have seen New York resort to iso situations even off a steal, which slows the offense down and lets the opposing defense set up.
Another warning sign that the offense maybe struggling more than it seems is the inability to turn steals into transition points. So far, this year the Knicks rank 27th in transition points added through steals. This combined with the efficiency or lack of the Knicks are showing in transition is a worrying sign for the 10-7 New York squad.
Defensively, the Knicks have been dramatically up and down. Just over a week ago Kyle
Korver highlighted the main blundering point, defending the three-point line. This weakness was also taken advantage of by the tanking Hawks. The Knicks are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the three-point line, especially from the corners. In a three-point shooting league the team will struggle to make it to the post season without improving their close out defense. Otherwise we may start to see even more games get away from the Knicks like we saw against, Toronto (at Air Canada), Cleveland, and Atlanta.
The Knicks can’t rely on Kristaps through 82 games.
Versus both the Clippers and Raptors this week the Knicks have taken some further baby steps towards consistency. Even more encouraging for the blue and orange is Tim Hardaway Jr’s performances. Offensively the shooting guard has grown into his roll, taking less contested 3-pointers and getting to and finishing at the rim. Hardaway Jr’s performances have meant the Knicks have pulled out wins without completely relying on KP. As the season continues Timmy’s offense will become even more important, and he has to stay aggressive in attacking the rim if the Knicks are serious about staying over .500.
Unbelievably, THJ’s defense has also been worth writing about. Defensively, Hardaway has become more like his team mate Courtney Lee instead of 2015-16 James Harden. Once-upon-a- time, the young shooting guard would reach constantly, and become a turn table when confronted with a driving opponent. Nowadays, NY’s number 3 is moving his feet, muscling over screens, and stealing the ball from lackadaisical ball handlers. Hardaway Jr will never transform into Tony Allen, but if he can remain average on the defensive end the Knicks become a much better team.
Nothing illustrated the Knicks defensive improvements more than the third quarter on
Wednesday night vs division rivals Toronto.
However, the defensive effort has to be there for the Knicks 8/10 games if they want to hold on to one of those magical playoff seeds.
So, can the Knicks finally make a playoff run?
That’s to be decided, but they are making progress.
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.
Last year as a Knick, Carmelo Anthony surpassed the 24,000 point mark becoming just the 25th NBA player to reach that milestone. He is a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the great scorers in NBA history. The accomplishment though, got me thinking about his tenure as a New York Knick. In his first three seasons in New York he led the Knicks to three brief playoff berths (one series win). After this modicum of success though, four straight seasons of missing the playoffs, one more disappointing than the next ensued. Last year specifically he had some decent talent around him. A burgeoning if at times enigmatic star in Kristaps Porzingis, a one dimensional, still athletic but flawed former MVP in Derrick Rose, and a mix of seemingly decent role players in Courtney Lee, Willy Hernangomez, and others. Nobody other than Rose himself would describe this as title contending talent, but to not even compete for the 8th seed in a perennially weak Eastern Conference? And its not like Melo, at age 33 couldnt play anymore. He was right at or around his career averages in just about all major statistical categories. But this is not to say I’m not a Carmelo Anthony fan. His deficiencies and weaknesses are well documented and often accurate, but again, he is still a first ballot Hall of Famer, like it or not. In fact, as puzzled as I was by another disastrous Knicks season, this milestone had me thinking less about Carmelo and more about a previous Knicks great, Patrick Ewing.
After coming into the league in 1985-86 and playing for bad teams in his first two seasons, he went on an incredible run of success. From 1987-88 through 2000-01 (his age 38 season) he made the playoffs 14 consecutive seasons, winning 17 playoff rounds, and reaching two NBA Finals. For a player to be the clear star of a team for that long with that consistency of success (despite not winning the ultimate prize) one or both of the following things would need to be true for him not to be considered an immortal player: His playoff runs must have been ended by poor teams, teams that his greatness alone should’ve been able to overcome, and/or he played with other great players, leaving him without excuse for playoff series losses, no matter his opponents. Lets delve into these questions a bit deeper.
The following is a list of the teams that ousted the Knicks from the playoffs during Ewing’s 14 year stretch:
1987-88 – The Larry Bird, McHale, Parish Celtics.
1988-89 – The young but still Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen led Bulls
1989-90 – The Champion Bad Boy Pistons
1990-91 – Jordan and the Champion Bulls
1991-92 – Jordan and the Champion Bulls
1992-93 – Jordan and the Champion Bulls
1993-94 – Lost in Game 7 in the NBA Finals to the Rockets
1994-95 – Finger roll loss to the Pacers
1995-96 – Jordan and the Champion Bulls
1996-97 – Heat (more below)
1997-98 – Pacers
1998-99 – Lost (an old, breaking down Ewing was injured) in the Finals
to the Spurs.
1999-00 – Finals bound Pacers
2000-01 – Raptors
To review, they lost to the dynastic Jordan led Bulls fives times, four of which were during Bulls championship years. Nobody beat Jordan. That is well established. Ewing just joins a list of all time greats (Barkley, Malone, Stockton, Payton, and everyone else in the 90’s). In the year that Jordan decided to give baseball a try, the Knicks won the East and held a 3-2 lead in the Finals only to fall just short to Olajuwon and the Rockets in 7. In 96-97, the Knicks got some reinforcements and were a 57 win team gelling at just the right time. They swept their opening round series against the Hornets and were up 3-1 to a 61 win Heat team before PJ Brown body slammed Charlie Ward, most of the team including Ewing got suspended, and they lost in 7. The Bulls were up next. By the late 90’s, Ewing was no longer the best player on the team as he hit his late 30s but he still helped them to a second Finals appearance in 1998-99 but could not play in the Finals against the Tim Duncan/David Robinson led Spurs. In all, I don’t think the argument could be made that the Knicks lost to bad competition during Ewing’s playoff run. Maybe the one series where they underachieved was in 1994-95 where Game 7 against the Pacers ended on the infamous missed Ewing finger roll. It is worth noting though, that the Knicks were down 3-1 in that series and won Game 5 on a Ewing buzzer beater on the brink of elimination and then won game 6 handily in Indiana before losing the aforementioned Game 7.
Ok, so what about the talent surrounding Ewing during his illustrious but ultimately unfulfilling career? Lets have a closer look. To have that run of consistency and success, this guy must’ve been surrounded by stars and HOFers. The following are the awards/recognitions handed out to Ewing’s teammates from 1987-2001:
1987-88 Rookie of the Year – Mark Jackson.
1988-89 All Star – Mark Jackson
1993-94 All Star – John Starks
1993-94 All Star – Charles Oakley
1994-95 Sixth Man of the Year – Anthony Mason
1996-97 Sixth Man of the Year – John Starks
1999-00 All Star – Allan Houston
2000-01 All Star – Allan Houston
2000-01 All Star – Latrell Sprewell
In 14 playoff seasons Ewing played with 6 All Stars and 2 top bench players. Thats it! In 88-89 Mark Jackson was a second year player and the Knicks were not contenders. In 99-00, and 00-01, Sprewell and Houston were the stars of the team and Ewing was a third banana at the end of his career. The only other year with an All Star teammate was 93-94, the year they came within a John Starks 3-pointer from winning it all. During this era, Jordan had Pippen for all six of his titles (and of course he’s Jordan). Karl Malone (the second all time leading scorer in NBA history) and John Stockton (the NBA’s all time leader in assists and steals) played together every year of the run. Barkley played with Dr. J, Moses Malone, Hersey Hawkins, Kevin Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler and more over his career and
never won a championship. David Robinson didn’t win until his twilight years when he got Tim Duncan. Shaq didn’t win until he got Kobe Bryant. Both top 15 all time players. Who was Ewing’s best teammate when he was at the top of his game from 85-97? John Starks? Charles Oakley? He never played with a first, second or third team all NBA player and won 17 playoff rounds. Frankly its remarkable. And when I think about this and compare it to the Carmelo Anthony led Knicks that failed to sniff 8th seed in a weakened East for four years, its hard to even comprehend how this warrior and consummate performer and winner was so under-appreciated. If Carmelo Anthony is a Hall of Famer, what does that make Patrick Ewing?