While the New York Knicks aren’t playing for the playoffs, select individuals are looking to showcase their worth in the last 14 games of the regular season.
When you’re 24-44, there aren’t many bright spots to point to, but there are select individuals on the New York Knicks that have a lot to play for and prove down the stretch. Here are the three players who have the most at stake in the remaining 14 games of the 2017-18 season.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
In hindsight, Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s $71 million deal was fair for both parties. The shooting guard has been a reliable source of offense all year long and being just 25-years-old makes him an asset going forward for the organization. Simultaneously, with Kristaps Porzingis gone for the year with an ACL tear, the Knicks will continue to rely on Hardaway to carry the scoring load in a big way.
Averaging a career-high 17.4 points per game going into Tuesday night, Hardaway has showcased the ability to be a go-to scorer with or without Porzingis. Whether it be creating separation, getting to the rim or finishing off fastbreaks, he’s been a well-rounded product on that end of the floor. But it’s important that a starting shooting guard plays at that level through the season’s entirely and not fade in the final month of the year. One facet of Hardaway’s offensive makeup that needs fixing is him becoming a less streaky scorer. For example, in a Feb. 14th matchup with the Washington Wizards, Hardaway put up an astonishing 32 points in the first half but then didn’t make a single field goal the ensuing half as the Knicks blew a 27-point lead.
Imagine the impact and production he’d provide the Knicks with if he can become a more potent scorer as the go-to man before Porzingis returns or the Knicks add another premier scorer?
Point guard Frank Ntilikina has endured a rollercoaster rookie year. Averaging just 5.5 points, 3.1 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game in 21 minutes a night going into Tuesday night, he’s been productive in the minutes he’s played, but not at an overly impressive level. While he’s showcased the ability to defend his man at a high level and lock down the perimeter, the Frenchman has struggled on the offensive end.
Outside of his ability to find the open man with ease, the 19-year-old hasn’t been able to make a profound impact on the team’s scoring efforts. Shooting just 35.6 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from beyond the arc going into Tuesday night, Ntilikina has been unable to get into a groove on that end of the floor. With Emmanuel Mudiay and potentially Trey Burke under contract for next season, Ntilikina has to show he stands out from the pack. Granted, he’s been starting at the off-guard recently, the Knicks are mostly experimenting with the players at hand; it may not be an indication that Ntilikina will be a two-guard going forward.
Plus, while the idea may sound absurd, history shows that no point guard is ever safe with the Knicks. In fact, in each of the last five years, the Knicks have gone into opening night with a new starting point guard (Raymond Felton, Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Derrick Rose and Ramon Sessions). The Knicks are never afraid to wheel and deal in the offseason. To avoid such a drastic transaction from taking place, while grabbing and holding onto a starting gig, Ntilikina must strengthen his offensive arsenal and continue to play at a high level defensively.
When you miss the playoff in back-to-back to seasons, the head coach tends to get the boot or get placed on the hot seat. Knicks’ head coach Jeff Hornacek finds himself in this predicament.
While the Knicks were expected to miss the playoffs going into this season and the devastating ACL tear that Porzingis encountered couldn’t have been predicted, management may be on the look for a new head coach. Hornacek is in a situation where he’s coaching for his job, and based on those set circumstances, the head coach will play whoever gives him the best chance to win games — which means sticking with the veterans. At the same time, in what’s a lost season, president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry likely want to see what they have in their youth.
While Hornacek has granted Ntilikina a starting role over the past two weeks, his rotation has been inconsistent. For example, forward Troy Williams scored 18 points in a Mar. 9th matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks and then played just six minutes in the Knicks’ ensuing game versus the Toronto Raptors.
Also, Burke, who has emerged as a spark plug offensively off the bench, has been given an inconsistent amount of minutes as of late. Just 25 years old and possessing the ability to drop 20 points on any given night, there’s no reason why Burke shouldn’t be consistently playing around 25 minutes a night.
To secure his job or help his chances in doing so, Hornacek has to get the youth on the court more often and put in place a rotation that won’t be altered every other game; consistency and showing the willingness to not be as stubborn as usual are must-do’s if Hornacek aspires to keep his job past this season.