New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek‘s inability to play his young talent hurts the franchise in the short and long term.
It is no secret that the New York Knicks are in the throes of a rebuilding season in which they need to develop their young talent. Everybody seems to know this. Everybody except Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek.
In New York’s season opener against the Thunder on Thursday night, Hornacek opted to give big minutes to his veterans.
Willy Hernangomez, fresh off an NBA All-Rookie First Team season, failed to check in until there was slightly under four minutes left in the game. In other words, Hernangomez, despite being an invaluable piece of the next Knicks core, did not see any meaningful minutes in the team’s first regular season game.
Despite Hernangomez’s 62 percent field goal percentage in the post, the second-year man must improve defensively to stay on the court. This is no secret.
However, the only way for Hernangomez to pair his impeccable post game with an improved defensive awareness is for him to see minutes.
Instead, Hornacek decided to give Hernangomez’s minutes to newly acquired forward Enes Kanter, a player remarkably similar to Hernangomez. Both players are able to score the ball with ease but struggle to defend their position. The only difference between the two is Hernangomez is in the long-term plans of the Knicks.
On Willy Hernangomez, Hornacek basically said Kanter & O'Quinn earned their minutes based in the preseason but nothing is set in stone.
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 20, 2017
But even in the short term benching Hernangomez in favor of Kanter did not make sense.
Kanter was routinely punished underneath by Steven Adams, who finished with 12 points on the night. Kanter finished the game with -21 plus/minus in 22 minutes.
He also did this:
Here’s the Spain PnR, fascinating to watch Kanter on defense pic.twitter.com/DRqgNz7p7a
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) October 20, 2017
Meanwhile, Knicks first-round draft choice Frank Ntilikina, arguably New York’s most critical piece outside of Porzingis in their rebuild, played only five minutes in the entire first half. He didn’t see any playing time in the second half until a little under three minutes left in a 20-point blowout loss.
Ntilikina, viewed as a tremendous project, needs to see action in order to work on virtually his entire offensive game, but more importantly simply adjust to the speed of the NBA. This was clearly evident in the rookie’s limited minutes.
Ntilikina’s struggled mightily offensively in his debut, missing the rim entirely on his first two NBA field goal attempts. While nerves certainly had to do with Ntilikina’s struggles, there is no denying that the next cornerstone in the Knicks’ rebuild must see more minutes to grow offensively.
Instead, Hornacek opted to play 31-year-old Ramon Sessions over his young point guard. The veteran Sessions received 21 minutes compared to Ntilikina’s eight minutes.
While the reason for Ntilikina’s lack of minutes could be due to a nagging knee injury he suffered before the season, he told reporters before the game his knee was not
Frank Ntilikina says his knee is 100 percent healthy and he's felt fine after participating in scrimmages. "I'm ready to play tomorrow."
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 18, 2017
Despite receiving big minutes Sessions failed to give the Knicks valuable playing time. The veteran guard scored three points, netted one assist and was tied for the worst plus/minus on the night, 23.
Damyean Dotson, New York’s second-round draft choice, also failed to see minutes until late in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks hope Dotson, who hit more than three threes a game while shooting 44 percent as a senior at Houston, can develop into a valuable three-and-d rotation piece. This simply can not be accomplished if he fails to see the floor.
They are not under contract to log more than twenty minutes per game, and they are certainly not expected to remain on the court during the fourth quarter in a 20-point blowout.
Yet this is exactly what took place on Thursday night in Oklahoma City.
The New York Knicks are one game down in their 2017-18 campaign. Veterans are going to see the floor every game, however, this can not happen at the expense of the team’s young talent.
The Knicks’ next game will take place at Madison Square Garden against the Pistons on Saturday night. Hernangomez, Ntilikina and Dotson should all see an increase of playing time in the team’s home opener.