In a year that hasn’t gone as expected, the New York Knicks need to look in another direction — and that starts with playing the youngsters.
By all accounts, the 2016-17 edition of the New York Knicks was supposed to be a playoff contender.
Were they a “super team,” as Derrick Rose so eloquently put it? No. But the addition of the former league MVP was supposed to give the organization a big three. The signing of Courtney Lee gave the team a prototypical “three and D” type of player that is a commonplace on winning franchises and while Joakim Noah’s contract was seen as a disaster before the ink could dry, his gritty play, leadership and heart were all positives.
These Knicks were never going to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Hell, they probably would’ve had trouble with the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, too.
But, it was widely believed New York had the potential to be as high as a four seed with the chance to advance to the second round of the playoffs — something they’ve only done once since 2000.
Fast forward exactly three months from Opening Day and nothing has gone according to plan.
Sure, Rose has brought the Madison Square Garden crowd to its collective feet with his awe-inspiring offensive prowess. But when he’s not going AWOL, he’s an absolute liability on the defensive end of the floor.
For all the positives that Noah brings into the locker room, he’s that much more of a negative on the court. His defense isn’t what it used to be, he can’t do much of anything on the offensive end, and frankly, the Knicks are better off with him out of the lineup.
And it doesn’t stop there. Lee has been solid but a player of his caliber doesn’t mesh well on a sub-.500 team. Carmelo Anthony continues to believe he’s one of the NBA’s top players but injuries and ineffectiveness have been more visible than ever.
Head coach Jeff Hornacek is doing his best to make Kristaps Porzingis the focal point but he, too, is plagued by the inconsistent effort of his colleagues.
Knicks fans are losing hope by each passing game. But not all hope is lost — there is still light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s easy to bash Phil Jackson. And a lot of said bashing is justified.
When Tyson Chandler was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, he passed up on Jae Crowder so he can get a second round pick, which in turn became Cleanthony Early. He turned J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert into only Lance Thomas. Two of his three coaching hires were complete messes. And the aforementioned Noah pact could potentially make fans miss the days of Jerome James (imagine that?).
It’s easy to bash — but you have to give credit where credit is due. As Jackson was giving out big-time money deals, he was also making smart and shrewd signings and draft selections that flew under the radar.
After taking Porzingis with the fourth overall pick back in 2015, the Zen Master gave the Philadelphia 76ers two future second round picks for draft and stash prospect Willy Hernangomez.
Fast forward one year later, and Justin Holiday accompanied Rose in the trade to New York. From there, Jackson signed prolific college baller and undrafted free agent Ron Baker to a non-guaranteed deal and also inked international standout Mindaugas Kuzminskas to a two-year contract.
Rose, Noah, Lee and Brandon Jennings stole the headlines.
More than half way through the season and it’s Hernangomez, Holiday, Baker, and Kuzminskas who have impressed the most.
The presence of Noah and the outstanding play of Kyle O’Quinn has limited the minutes of Hernangomez but he’s impressed nonetheless. Averaging around 14 minutes per game, his numbers are far from great (six points, five rebounds).
Hernangomez, however, has drawn comparisons to Pau Gasol. And while that’s a lot of hype, his touch around the rim, improving jumper, ability to rebound, and strong passing skills are slowly but surely being showcased.
Holiday, too, has stood out. The most consistent rotation player out of the foursome, the three-year veteran has had a positive presence at either shooting guard or small forward. Holiday has done a strong job as a knock-down three point shooter, but he’s also showcased his talents as a slasher, competent defender, and as a surprisingly good rebounder.
In what was a surprise to many, Baker found his way into the starting lineup after impressing in multiple outings in the fourth quarter. He’s not going to wow you with anything he does, but his team-first mentality — whether it’s helping on defense, making an extra pass, or taking a charge — has made Baker an asset as of late.
Like Hernangomez, Kuzminskas has shined bright despite limited minutes. But just because he hasn’t played much doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there. The man now known as “Kuz” has proved to be a scorer no matter where he is on the floor and has also gained strides on the defensive end as well.
At 20-26, the future of the Knicks is — once again — bleak. Can they sneak into the seventh or eighth spot? Sure. But all that means is a first round exit.
Instead, it’s time for Phil to think of the future and not the present.
It’s time for him to look for takers on Rose and Lee. It’s time for him to decrease Noah and Anthony’s minutes to get Hernangomez and Kuz more playing time. It’s time for him to swallow his pride and to let his young talent play. Even if that affects that win/loss column negatively, the organization will be rewarded with a quality spot in the draft.
Even if that affects that win/loss column negatively, the organization will be rewarded with a quality spot in the draft. The addition of veterans has yet to work out for the Knicks.
From Porzingis to Hernangomez, from Kuzminskas to Thomas, from Holiday to Baker — it’s time to let the kids ball.