According to Vegas’ over/under projections for this season, the New York Knicks won’t make the playoffs. Here’s how they can shock everyone.
Vegas Insider has the New York Knicks projected at 29.5 wins for the approaching campaign (right around where they were last season). Going off last season, that would put them about fourteen games away from the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Given LeBron James’ departure, however, there are new wins to be picked up in the Eastern Conference.
It would be a long shot, but not impossible for the Knickerbockers to make the postseason this coming year. Let’s take a look at three things that would need to happen for this to happen.
1. Early comeback for The Unicorn
One thing that would need to happen for the Knicks to outplay their projections would be an early return for Kristaps Porzingis. This would seem unlikely, but if you have been keeping track of his rehab videos, you wouldn’t think it’s impossible. There have been a lot of rumors floating around about Porzingis, but the timeframe for his return has not been formally announced. He could be back as soon as Christmas, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. Others say that he may be out until February, which would be a full year of recovery.
The Knicks would need the earlier return date to contend in the weaker Eastern Conference. The Unicorn was playing the best basketball of his young career before he got hurt. He was averaging career highs in points, blocks, and three-point percentage. If they are to make a run at the eighth seed or higher (okay, the eighth seed), then they need their best player back.
2. Production from the point guard position
The Knicks had trouble getting production from their point guards last season. Jarrett Jack has now departed, leaving more minutes for both second-year project Frank Ntilikina and rising fan favorite Trey Burke. One of them must step up this season for the Knicks to take an unexpected step.
Ntilikina would be the logical player to take that step. The former eighth overall pick is coming off what was a modest NBA rookie campaign. He struggled shooting from the field, like the scouting report predicted of the young Frenchman. He looked better later in the season; he shot 40 percent from the field in the month of April, where he started in five games.
Burke was a surprise on the Knicks roster last season. After blowing away the G League, the Knicks signed him in January to boost their production from the position. Another former lottery pick, Burke impressed fans with his ability to play out of the pick and roll. He created offense himself at times as well, something the team certainly lacked. He averaged 14.6 PPG in the final two months of the season, including an incredible performance in March where he scored 42 points against Charlotte.
It is a tough choice for new Knicks head coach David Fizdale to make, but one of these two guards must be a leader and surpass expectations for the Knicks to make a run. The case can be made for both. Ntilikina could emerge in his second season as an elite defender and an improved shooter. Burke showed flashes of his potential last season as a bonafide scorer at times. Which one will Fizdale choose? It will certainly impact the Knicks season and if they can make a run at the playoffs.
It isn’t rocket science when you look at the way the Knicks are currently constructed to say that something magical would have to happen for a playoff run to be made. There are two players that could make that difference on the roster.
One would be Kevin Knox. The standout rookie was dominant in summer league play and was the team’s ninth overall selection in this year’s draft. The 19-year-old from Kentucky has the potential to be something special and could swing the Knicks season in the process. He showed the ability to take over games in college. His flash in these summer games gave Knicks fans something to look forward to as well. Could Knox be the same surprise they got when they took Porzingis in 2015? If so, it would give the Knicks a powerful 1-2 punch, perhaps as soon as the end of December.
The other standout rookie in summer league play was center Mitchell Robinson. The former McDonald’s All-American was set to attend Western Kentucky but pulled out before playing a single game. This led to him falling to the second round of this year’s NBA Draft. College recruiters praised Robinson’s shot-blocking ability, which he showed off this summer. He has been compared to a younger DeAndre Jordan, maybe even another Clint Capela. If New York struck gold with this pick, it would make them a real force this season. They will have a fantastic big lineup: Porzingis, Knox, and Robinson could be the younger core Knicks fans have been dying for.
It is a stretch to say that the Knicks may make the postseason this year. However, if just a few things go well, they could be looking at that run before a lot of people expect them to.