The New York Knicks will miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, but the future is not all doom and gloom for the orange and blue.
It’s been another disappointing season for the New York Knicks in terms of not making the playoffs and the unfortunate situations that presented themselves. While it’s not going to make or break their season, the Knicks have won two of their last three, and their youth is beginning to come into its own — which provides hope going forward.
The best thing the Knicks have going for them, regarding active players, is their depth at point guard. With Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke present, head coach Jeff Hornacek has a lot of versatility and upside in his backcourt. While Mudiay has struggled to finish at the rim and pose a threat defensively, he’s quick, long (Mudiay stands at 6-foot-5) and can, at the very least, get to the hoop with ease.
Ntilikina hasn’t wowed anyone with his arsenal, but the rookie point guard has shown signs of encouragement. Serving as a pest in one-on-one sets, defending the perimeter well and pick-pocketing ball-handlers, the Frenchman has made his presence felt defensively. On the other end of the floor, Ntilikina is adept at finding the open man and plays with a selfless mentality. And while his jump shot is a weakness, Ntilikina is garnering confidence when it comes to hoisting it up from deep and attacking the rim.
Burke is arguably the Knicks’ most polished point guard. While not a lockdown defender, Burke is electric offensively. He can take anyone one-on-one, break defenders’ ankles with ease, pull up from mid-range and push the ball up the floor; he’s a complete scorer. Outside of their point guard trio, the Knicks also have shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and crafty forward Troy Williams.
Hardaway has been a driving force behind the Knicks’ offense. Whether it be playing in isolation, shooting off the dribble or taking the big shot in crunch time, he’s been a critical piece of their offense. Averaging 17.5 points per game, the shooting guard has grown into a complete player on the offensive end and played better defensively this season.
On the other hand, Williams signed a ten-day contract just three weeks ago and made the most of the opportunity, eventually convincing management to grant him a two-year deal. Averaging 8.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and a steal per game in just 16 minutes a night, the forward has made an impact on both ends. Ranging from his ability to sky above the rim, hit the boards and run the fastbreak, Williams provides the Knicks with much-needed athleticism.
Williams and Hardaway give the Knicks two intriguing pieces to work with on the perimeter past this season in addition to their point guard trio and, of course, Kristaps Porzingis when he returns from his gruesome ACL tear.
The most depressing moment of the season for the Knicks was when Porzingis went down with a torn ACL in early-February. Before the tragedy occurred, the 22-year-old Porzingis was putting together an encouraging season. Averaging 22.7 points per game, he embraced being the Knicks’ go-to man and focal point offensively. Whether it be finishing in the paint, putting the ball on the floor or playing out on the perimeter, he’s been an intriguing product on the floor offensively in his two and a half years on the scene. Porzingis has also dazzled on defense.
Leading the NBA in blocks per game (2.4), playing respectable post-defense and backing down to no opponent, the 7-foot-3 specimen was making a profound impact on that end of the floor before his injury. While he has struggled to develop a reliable post game and become more consistent, Porzingis is just 22 and entered the year with the daunting task of stepping into the void left by Carmelo Anthony; and he impressed in his first run as the go-to scorer.
Plus, despite the early 12-month recovery diagnosis, Porzingis was walking without crutches or limitations at Madison Square Garden last week and was seen shooting at a gym; the recovery appears to be going quite well. And whenever Porzingis returns, the Knicks will get their franchise player back — adding more optimism towards the foreseeable future.
The Knicks need Porzingis if they aspire to achieve any sort of success down the road. With that said, they also need quick, athletic guards — which they have — as well as “three and d” wings. And with a potential top-ten pick in this year’s NBA Draft, management will be able to add another prominent player to their core. In what’s a very deep draft class, the Knicks will certainly have the chance to get their hands on a prized prospect.
As a result of the youth and potential impact players under 22 that are on the way, the Knicks will likely look to clear out some cap space and veteran players. One name that comes to mind is Courtney Lee. While the veteran wing is a two-way player, his role in Hornacek’s rotation has been diminished, and the Knicks could get back a nice haul for him. Center Enes Kanter has an opt-out in his contract after this season and although he is likely to return to New York, it’s not a foregone conclusion as to what he’ll do for the 2018-19 season.
You may be able to count on one hand how many more games the Knicks will win this season, but no matter the end result, the youth and potential for growth exists. It’s better to win and develop the youth than it is to so-called “tank” and play to lose. Don’t forget that players are competing for roster spots past this season because their job is to perform and not stink up the joint; just like yours.
As long as they possess intriguing youth and a healthy amount of draft picks, the Knicks will be on the right track to becoming a relevant and competitive team — no matter how dark the situation may seem at the moment. There’s no such thing as a one-year rebuild.
There’s no perfect rebuild, but patience and trust are must-haves for an organization in such a process. At the moment, the Knicks appear to be grasping that.