New York Knicks in perfect position for youth development
Dec 22, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks power forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) controls the ball against Orlando Magic power forward Serge Ibaka (7) during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While the New York Knicks may not win a championship this year, they are setting themselves up very well to develop their youth.

Whenever you hear NBA fans talk about the state of their team, one adage remains true: you don’t want to be in the middle of the pack. In a superstar league like the NBA, you’re either competing at the top, or you’re next in line to get a superstar in the draft lottery.

Quite simply, the middle of the pack is either not good enough to compete for championships or not bad enough to secure the player who could get them to the championship level.

However, this year’s edition of the New York Knicks is the exception to that rule.

A year ago they got their young superstar in Kristaps Porzingis, who has been everything fans hoped for and more in his sophomore season. Despite KP’s growth, he is very clearly not ready to take over the wear and tear that comes with carrying an NBA team on a nightly basis.

That duty instead belongs to Carmelo Anthony, who has proven time and time again this season that he is still the focal point of this Knicks team. He has also served as a magnificent mentor for Porzingis, helping him grow into one of the best offensive players in the league.

However, with Melo and KP, the Knicks are simply not good enough to make the playoffs. They demonstrated that last season, as they fell just short of their stated goals.

Thus, the decision for the front office this offseason was two-pronged: either let KP and Melo duke it out on their own and hope for a high draft pick or bring in some veterans to help the cause.

Obviously, the Knicks opted for the second option, and now they are seeing major dividends. Derrick Rose has played his best season since his initial knee injury in Chicago. Joakim Noah has shown flashes of defense and rebounding prowess. Brandon Jennings has rejuvenated his career as the Knicks sixth man. And best of all, the Knicks are currently tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.

However, what’s so great about this plan is how well the veterans have helped develop the youth on the team. Not just Porzingis, but his former teammate Willie Hernangomez has made major leaps this season, compared to where he was just a year ago in Europe. Hernangomez has now become a stalwart matchup on offense and a tenacious defender on the post on the other end of the court.

That likely doesn’t happen without the veterans on the team.

Furthermore, even veterans like Mindaugus Kuzminskas and Kyle O’ Quinn have made leaps this season. If this Knicks team isn’t competitive or loaded with veterans of the NBA, that doesn’t happen.

What the Knicks are currently building in New York is an organizational culture. It’s the reason the Spurs have been so good for so long. It’s the reason teams continue to pay Phil Jackson money. It’s something that comes from veterans and is cultivated by winning.

Without a commitment to winning this season, even in a year when they know they likely won’t contend for a championship, the Knicks would massively stall that process. For a team who’s future centers on the growth of a unique European with very little concept of how NBA locker rooms operate, that winning culture is essential.

Thus, it makes sense that they would take this season in the dreaded middle. The Knicks are laying the foundation for what will help grow their young players, attract future free agents, and hopefully secure the team’s first championship since 1972. Without a commitment to winning, even if it’s not at the highest level, there’s no way the Knicks can accomplish that.

Billy Nayden is an SMU Mustang from Connecticut born and raised on New York sports. Avid fan of nearly every sport from MMA to handball. His heart is in NYC, but Billy has seen games on multiple continents, and has frequented arenas ranging from high school gyms to world class meccas.