Forget Small Ball: The Knicks Should Start Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez Together 2
Jan 27, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks power forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) celebrates after a dunk against the Charlotte Hornets with New York Knicks center Willy Hernangomez (14) during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the NBA’s “small ball trend”, the New York Knicks should opt to, for the meantime, go against the philosophy and start their promising big man duo of Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez.

With the NBA offseason nearly a month away, the New York Knicks are currently in the process of pinpointing their top targets for when the clock strikes midnight. With the team bound to undergo a full on rebuild in the near future, the Knicks are likely going to attempt to begin building a young core around their two promising young big men — Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez.

What makes this big man duo unique though, is that, when they are paired together, they go against the current NBA “small ball trend”. Given their skill sets though, the Knicks, for the meantime, should stick with the two of them on their starting frontline.

On one hand, the Knicks have Porzingis, who while has been at the center of attention the past few weeks, is the key to the Knicks’ future. The 21 year old Latvian has two successful seasons in the NBA under his belt.

In his rookie campaign, Porzingis played at a level many deemed impossible, given that he was a bit of an unknown, coming to the NBA from overseas. Averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, as well as 1.9 blocks a game, Porzingis showed an ability to play on both ends of the floor — an attribute of his game that gives him the potential to achieve greatness going forward. Porzingis, though, also showed an ability to play above the rim.

Whether it was flying high for alley-oops, putting the ball on the floor and driving the lane, or even executing putback dunks, Porzingis showcased an exciting factor to his game. That play, as well as his well rounded skill set, helped him progress even more in year two.

After a successful first year campaign, Porzingis progressed in his sophomore season. Averaging 18.1 points on 45.0% from the field and shooting 35.7% from beyond the arc, Porzingis saw an increase in his production on the offensive end, as he was more efficient from the field; he also averaged two blocks a game, helping cement in the notion of him being a two-way player.

While Porzingis has shined thus far with the Knicks, Hernangomez has also found success in the big apple.

Last year, Hernangomez played in his rookie year with the Knicks after staying overseas for another season (he was drafted by the Knicks in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft just a year before). While he did get off to a rough start, backing up free agent signee Joakim Noah, Hernangomez was able to put together a successful freshman season, after he began to outplay him and injuries presented themselves.

Averaging 8.2 points, as well as 7.0 rebounds a game, Hernangomez showcased an ability to score in the paint and also hit the boards. The biggest facet of his game that stands out though, is his ability to play in the post. Hernangomez’s ability to do so is interesting, given how the majority of big men in the NBA are evolving into being perimeter threats, as opposed to playing in the paint. That brings about the question as to whether the Knicks should go against the modern day “small ball” trend and stick with Porzingis and Hernangomez?

With the point guard driven league that’s the NBA, many teams, if not all of them, rely on their perimeter play, as opposed to forcing the issue in the paint. Teams doing so now have a number of big men developing a jumper, to become threats out on the perimeter. The Knicks though, have a unique situation, given their towering duo inside of Porzingis and Hernangomez.

While Porzingis is, for the most part, a threat from the outside, he does find ways to play and score in the paint, whether it’s attacking the rack, or putting back missed shots. However, Hernangomez, unlike Porzingis, clogs the paint. By doing so, he helps position himself for interior post up opportunities and offensive rebounds.

When you take into account that he averaged seven rebounds a game in just 18.4 minutes per game, one must wonder how many rebounds he’d haul in if given a full-time starter’s role? The same goes for his offensive output. If given 28-30 minutes per night, Hernangomez would likely produce at an even higher level.
While the two together go against the NBA “small ball trend”, Porzingis and Hernangomez both have too much room to grow to not start side by side. While Porzingis would likely be a five on any other team, and Hernangomez doesn’t play out on the perimeter, the two both have promising games’ and one’s that only improve in the coming years.

Their potential to succeed and grow side by side should persuade the Knicks to stick with Porzingis and Hernangomez, going against the “small ball” trend.

Robbie Stratakos is a New York Knicks/Giants Beat Writer for Elite Sports NY (ESNY); he also covers the NBA nationally. He previously wrote at Last Word On Pro Basketball and Empire Writes Back. In addition to writing for ESNY, Robbie is an MLB columnist at Baseball Essential. He previously wrote at HardBallScoop - part of Scout/CBS Interactive/247Sports, Last Word On Baseball and District On Deck. He is attending Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Follow him on twitter @RPStratakos