The Knicks’ youth has been the key ingredient to their surprising 5-4 start, a rare occurrence in the Big Apple.
The New York Knicks have come out of the gates firing on all cylinders, and the biggest reasoning for their ability to do so has been the energizing play of their youth — which this franchise has not seen in a long time.
The Knicks have strung together some impressive wins both at home and in enemy territory. Blowing out the Cleveland Cavaliers, 114-95, on the road, defeating the Denver Nuggets at home, 116-110, and, most recently, overcoming a 19 point deficit to the Indiana Pacers, the Knicks have showcased resilience and a willingness to compete on both ends; that mentality starts and ends with budding superstar, Kristaps Porzingis (22).
The third-year big man, Porzingis, has played like an All-Star and the franchise player management has always aspired for him to become. Going into the 2017-18 season, Porzingis’ ability to play out on the perimeter, force the issue at the rim and block shots was well-documented, but what has made his junior campaign so remarkable, nine games into the season, is his post play.
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Throughout his rookie and sophomore season, Porzingis’ most glaring flaws were his post game, or lack thereof, and inability to consistently create his own shot without Carmelo Anthony on the floor — who is no longer present. However, without Anthony, Porzingis has done the unthinkable.
Being granted the ball in the post often, Porzingis has delivered. He has overpowered opposing defenders in the paint, and/or drained turn around jumpers. When the Latvian has been given the ball out on the perimeter or been double teamed, he has also thrived. Whether it be using his 7-foot-3 stature to his advantage, posting up, or simply dribbling past defenders, Porzingis has found a number of different ways to put the ball in the cup. Averaging 30.2 points per game on a career-high 50 percent shooting, Porzingis is rapidly evolving into being one of the most well-rounded offensive players in the association.
However, Porzingis hasn’t been the only youngster to impress in the early moments of the season.
In addition to the seven-footer, rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina (19) has proven his worth to Jeff Hornacek and the Knicks. Despite not manning a starting gig, Ntilikina has showcased an ability to compete and produce on both ends. Dishing out four assists and coming up with just under two steals per contest, Ntilikina has been a two-way presence for the Knicks. And while he’s shot below 32 percent from beyond the arc, the rookie Frenchman hit two crucial three-pointers down the stretch in the Knicks’ Sunday night comeback versus Indiana.
Ntilikina possesses a nearly seven-foot wingspan, can push the ball up the floor, finding his teammates, and has been a gnat on the defensive end. The rookie’s backcourt comrade, Tim Hardaway Jr. (25), has also played some noteworthy and exciting basketball.
After inking his mega four-year, $71 million deal to come back to the team who once drafted and simultaneously traded him, expectations are sky high on Hardaway. Based on his encouraging play with the Atlanta Hawks last season, there’s been reason to believe Hardaway could piggyback off that 2016-17 success — averaging a career-high 14.5 points per game — and be a focal point of the Knicks’ offense.
While he hasn’t been stellar, the shooting guard has seen his fair share of success and is beginning to turn a corner.
Averaging, yet another, career high in points per game (16.2), Hardaway has been a huge piece to the puzzle for this Knicks’ team. While shooting a disappointing 30.7 percent from beyond the arc, Hardaway is beginning to attack the rack, forcing the issue and finishing at the rim. His standout performance came in the Knicks’ road victory versus the Cavs, where he finished the night with 34 points. If the Michigan product continues to play with an attacking mentality on the offensive end and doesn’t settle, his outside game will come into its own.
Two other relatively young players who Hornacek and the Knicks have received valuable minutes from are center Enes Kanter (25) and forward Doug McDermott (25). Both acquired in the package that shipped Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kanter and McDermott have contributed in a big way to the Knicks’ offense and defensive commitment.
While not a defensive savvy player, Kanter has been a presence in the paint for the Knicks. Averaging 13.6 points and a career-high 11.3 rebounds per game in just 25.6 minutes per game, the Turkish center has finished in the paint — in both the post and at the rim — and hit the boards on both ends; he’s reeled in 4.4 rebounds per game on the offensive glass.
On the other hand, McDermott has been an outside shooting threat and fastbreak finisher. Despite averaging just seven points a night, the fourth-year forward has been an efficient product. Shooting a career-high 49 percent from the field and executing powerful dunks in the paint to finish off fastbreaks, McDermott has been a welcomed addition to Hornacek’s bench.
Porzingis, Ntilikina, Hardaway, Kanter and McDermott have all contributed a great deal to the Knicks’ success nine games into the regular season; what’s even more remarkable is that all five players are 25 or younger. Another youngster, though, that could have the opportunity to prove his worth down the road is second-year center Willy Hernangomez (23).
Despite playing just 48 minutes in the team’s nine games, given his inconsistent defensive play, Hernangomez is still just 23 and could have a role on this team in the future. If and when such a role presents itself, Hernangomez can only add onto the play of this young Knicks’ core.
It’s been a long time since the Knicks, as a whole, have thrived with youthful legs as their driving force. Last year, while Porzingis was present, the Knicks were powered by Anthony and point guard Derrick Rose. The year before, it was Anthony and free agent signees Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez. In the 2014-15 season, the Knicks won 17 games — which speaks for itself. The two years prior, they were a team built around veteran players such as Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Anthony.
This year is different for the Knicks. Their world revolves around the play of their 22-year old phenom — Porzingis — as well as other intriguing, young players. It’s a fresh, drama deprived, energetic grouping of players, and so far, it’s everything the Knicks could’ve hoped for.