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  • Monday Musings: Configuring a Jenga-Assembled Centers Rotation

Monday Musings: Configuring a Jenga-Assembled Centers Rotation

Photo: Bailey Carlin/TKW Illustration
In the last iteration of his Monday Musings on the Knicks roster, Bryan Gibberman talks about the big men that roam the paint in New York.

We wrap up the positional look at the Knicks with center. The two words that sum up this part of the roster is: “it’s complicated.”

The five players involved in this current situation are Enes Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn, Kristaps Porzingis, Luke Kornet, and Joakim Noah. Last season, head coach Jeff Hornacek entrusted almost all of the minutes to Kanter and O’Quinn. With Kanter on the court, the Knicks had a 104.5 Offensive Rating and 110.7 Defensive Rating, good for a -6.2 Net Rating. With O’Quinn on the court, the Knicks had a 105.8 ORtg and a 107.3 DRtg, -1.5 NetRtg.

New York was better offensively and defensively when O’Quinn played rather than Kanter.

In the month of November, the Knicks did have success with Kanter on the floor, but it didn’t prove to be sustainable. Kanter is truly a skilled basketball player; he’s an efficient scorer that rebounds well on both ends. In the right circumstances, Kanter’s skills can be useful, but the trouble is his flaws make those circumstances extremely hard to obtain. Kanter clogs the lane for dribble penetration on offense, and on the other end he can’t protect the rim, hold up in switches, or defend the pick-and-roll.

I can’t see him opting out of his contract despite the signals he’s putting out. The Knicks organization should be clear with him that his role on the team will not be the same next season. It needs to be minimized to give others a chance where he proved not capable of playing to the level needed in a larger role.

O’Quinn’s statistical profile from 2017–18 looks pretty much similar to what he’s been doing recently outside of a bump up in his two-point field goal percentage. KOQ played significantly better this past season despite what his raw statistical numbers showed. The prevailing thought is he’ll opt out as O’Quinn is scheduled to make a little over $4 million next season. It’s fair to assume he could get $6-8 million on the open market, depending on which team is willing to offer how much on the Queens native.

If KOQ continues to play at the level he did this past season and decides to opt in, it’d be very hard to keep him out of the rotation. He earned the right to play.

Looking at this position from another angle, one of Hornacek’s biggest mistakes as coach was not incorporating Noah for a variety of reasons, the first being that the Knicks are stuck with him so he might as well play if he’s not injured. Noah is never going to be what he once was, but there were flashes of competence whenever he got limited run during the regular season and preseason.

Maybe he would have performed well enough to help move his contract at some point or he’d eventually get hurt again and him not playing would have been less painful from a team chemistry perspective. Noah’s a widely respected vet around the NBA and it seems to be a pretty safe assumption to make that the next coach will be able to mend fences with him.

The Noah contract was awful the minute it was signed, but there’s nothing that can be done about it now. The Knicks need to make the best of the situation—give him a chance to play and see what happens. If he stinks, they can always bench him after giving him a fair opportunity.

Kornet is the Knicks’ most intriguing option at center in the non-Porzingis category. He shot 35 percent from three on 79 attempts and blocked 1.8 shots per 36 minutes this past season, showing flashes of promise. If Kornet can keep his three-point shooting in that range and protect the rim, the Knicks could be looking at a valuable NBA rotation player. He gives any team the ability to play five out basketball, creating space for guards to penetrate into the lane (hopefully the Knicks can cultivate such guards).

For Kornet’s skills to be truly maximized, his game does need to expand. It’s too easy for teams to switch a smaller body onto him because of his inability to score in one on one situations. This can partially be mitigated with better offensive structure than Hornacek’s dull attacking mismatches philosophy, but it’s impossible to always hide.

It’d be smart to give him run to let the Knicks young guards get used to playing the pick and pop game that they do with Porzingis once he is back healthy. No one else on the roster can give them the practice at those passing angles and try to take advantage of the spacing created by having a three-point shooting five. I was pleasantly surprised with Kornet’s agility on defense. He moved better laterally than I was expecting and was solid at leveraging his length to cut off angles. When you’re that long, it gives you an ability to play off ball handlers and still be able to contest from a distance.

Porzingis’ biggest flaw in his game is also what makes him most difficult to construct lineups around. In theory, this is all very simple—Porzingis should be the Knicks starting center for the next 10 seasons.

That’s not reality though. Until lineups with Porzingis at center prove to be capable of closing out possessions with defensive rebounds, him playing there full time is not tenable. Finding a way to rebound well enough and keep Porzingis near the rim as much as possible on defense has to be one of the Knicks top priorities in constructing this roster going forward. Whether that means more rebounding from guards or finding a unique four that can defend on the perimeter in addition to crashing the glass, a plan must be devised to accomplish this goal.

On offense, there’s not much to be concerned about with Porzingis unless he pushes back against a smarter offensive system. Balancing out the post ups with utilizing him in PnR, pick and pop, and off the ball is an obvious adjustment for the next coach to make. Everything should go smoothly here as long as he’s not hell bent on having the shot selection of LaMarcus Aldridge.

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