Now sitting at a below average 10-12 on the season, we break down the New York Knicks chances of qualifying for the NBA Playoffs.
By Skylar Darel
The NBA season is six weeks old, and already has had no shortage of dramatic moments.
The Golden State Warriors are still undefeated, Kobe Bryant announced his impending retirement, and only two teams realistically are out of playoff contention. It’s gearing up to be another classic campaign in the Association, one that could see dramatic changes in the playoff picture from a season ago.
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One of those aforementioned changes could be the New York Knicks who sit at 10-12 at the time of writing. After an eventful offseason featuring numerous free agent signings and two first round draft picks, the Knicks already have over half of the victories they did a year ago, when they went 17-65 and finished dead last in the Eastern Conference.
President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, General Manager Steve Mills, and Head coach Derek Fisher deserve a ton of credit for returning the Knicks franchise to respectability.
The question is, will they take the next step and leap into the playoff picture?
Looking at the current Eastern Conference standings, there are a lot of teams in play for the postseason. The difference between the top seeded Miami Heat, and the fifth seeded Atlanta Hawks is one game. The difference between the top seed and the eighth seed, the Detroit Pistons, is 1.5 games. The difference between the Pistons and the Milwaukee Bucks, who are currently the 13th seed, is four games.
Clumped between them are, in order: the Orlando Magic, the Boston Celtics, the Knicks, and the Washington Wizards. Clearly, it’s anyones race at this point.
Let’s take a look at the current crop of teams. First, we have the locks.
It’s safe to assume that the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat, the Atlanta Hawks, the Chicago Bulls, and the Toronto Raptors are going to make the postseason. Cleveland has three of the league’s best players. Miami is much improved and have already blown the Knicks out on two occasions. The Bulls, led by Jimmy Butler, have the fourth stingiest defense in their conference. The Hawks, the reigning top seed in the East, remain one of the best offensive teams in the East. And the Raptors are anchored by early MVP candidate Kyle Lowry, and have the super-important blessing of rap mogul Drake (not really).
Steph Curry’s pressure forces Cory Joseph turnover…right to Drake. Warriors 21-0 pic.twitter.com/A6ChRs97rF
— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) December 6, 2015
That leaves a group of nine teams firmly in the playoff hunt, including the Knicks, who are currently in 11th in the East, but only two games outside the final playoff spot.
The team with the best chance to make the postseason out of that group are the Indiana Pacers, who are currently sitting in fourth. The Pacers have superstar forward Paul George at full strength, and are reaping the benefits. George is averaging almost 28 points and 8 rebounds a game, and his team is benefiting from it — Indiana is scoring 103.3 points per game, which is tops in the Eastern Conference.
That leaves the Charlotte Hornets, the Pistons, the Celtics, the Wizards, the Bucks, and the Knicks in a dogfight for the final two spots in the East.
The Hornets, who are 1-1 against New York, have gotten off to a strong start. In particular, UConn product Kemba Walker has been strong averaging a career high 17.6 points per game. Steve Clifford’s group is averaging the third most points per game in the East, but only have the 11th best defensive unit.
A high octane offense with the likes of Walker, Nic Batum, Al Jefferson, and Jeremy Lin has done well so far, but without a true defensive stopper, this team could be vulnerable towards the end of the season. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s separated shoulder surgery has hurt this team on the defensive side of the ball, and if he doesn’t return, the Hornets postseason hopes could evaporate down the stretch.
The Boston Celtics are in the top five in the East in total offense and defense, and also possess the second best point differential in the Conference. Despite this, they are only 11-9 and have split their last 10 games. The Celtics are led by a brilliant head coach in Brad Stevens, but lack a bona fide All-Star player.
Isaiah Thomas has been close — his 21.0 points per game and 6.4 assists per game represent career highs in both categories. Boston are deep, balanced, and have the benefit of postseason experience (they were the seventh seed in 2014-15). Boston represents the team with the best chance at securing the seventh seed.
The Pistons are led by transcendent big man Andre Drummond who is averaging 16.9 rebounds per game, a whole 3.7 more than second placed DeAndre Jordan, and leads the league in double doubles with 19, six more than second placed Russell Westbrook.
He’s had help, however: Reggie Jackson is averaging 20 points and 6.6 assists per game after inking a big contract in the offseason, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, and rookie Stanley Johnson have provided great two-way depth. The question is, do the Pistons have enough?
Can Drummond and Jackson sustain their ridiculous statistics? I think Drummond can, but the rest of the team still has to answer some questions.
The Orlando Magic have been very impressive thus far. The team as a whole has bought in to Scott Skiles and his grind-it-out, defensive philosophy. The young core of Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladpio, Nic Vucevic, and Evan Fournier continues to impress, and the whole group has shown incredible maturity.
The defensive is there — opposing teams are shooting the fourth-worst percentage from the field against the Magic — but the offense has taken an even bigger leap, scoring the fourth most points per game in the East, compared to 11th a year ago.
The Bucks and Wizards have been equally disappointing this season.
Last year, Washington was the fifth seed in the East while Milwaukee was the sixth. The two teams are a combined 16-23 thus far, after combining for eight playoff victories and a series win last Spring. This is surprising considering neither team is substantially different than a year ago. The Bucks actually got stronger, adding Greg Monroe to bolster their offense.
The Wizards lost Paul Pierce to the Clippers, but Bradley Beal and John Wall each aged a year, which was considered a positive. Wall is shooting at his worst field goal percentage since his sophomore season, and the team as a whole has the worst defense in the East, by almost two whole points (the 1-20 76ers have a better defense than the Wizards, who went 6-4 in the playoffs a year ago). The Bucks are in the bottom four in team offense and defense.
New York Knicks
That brings us to the Knickerbockers, who have held steady thus far. Led star scorer Carmelo Anthony, rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, and a much improved supporting cast, the Knicks are pretty much guaranteed to finish better than they did a season ago. However, the playoffs might be ambitious. When you look at the teams in the hunt with the Knicks, all of them have a claim to finish above Derek Fisher’s group.
The Celtics have the experience and the depth. The Magic have the athleticism and defensive guile. The Hornets have the offensive firepower. The Pistons have the best big man in the conference. The Wizards have a perennial All-Star backcourt. And the Bucks have the core of their playoff team from a year ago, plus polished offensive big man Greg Monroe down low.
It isn’t impossible for the Knicks to make the postseason. In fact, winning 35 games would be a very pleasant surprise for this group, who, despite having enough talent to stake a claim at the eighth spot in the East, probably don’t have enough for much more than that. The Knicks could finish anywhere from seventh to thirteenth in their conference, but right now, the latter looks a lot more likely than the former.
Don’t despair, Knicks fans. No one expected this team to make the playoffs, anyway. It’s all about building a foundation to build on, something that the Knicks have already begun to accomplish.
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