Kyle O’Quinn: Providing the Impetus Off the Bench

O’Quinn, after two years of showing glimpses of talent, seems to have found his groove this season.
When Steve Mills signed Kyle O’Quinn to a four-year, $16 million deal in a sign-and-trade deal with the Orlando Magic in 2015, optimism was high for the gritty big man.
O’Quinn has been able to demonstrate his talents for the organization occasionally, progressing as each year has gone on. Despite missing over 20 games in his first year, O’Quinn was able to establish himself in the rotation more consistently in year two, even breaking into the starting lineup eight times in the 79 games he played. Now, though, in year three, six games into the season, he is seeing a career high in minutes per game, translating to him being a focal point off of the bench for a Knicks team riding a three game winning streak.
During the young season, O’Quinn is averaging 17.2 minutes per game while posting 7.0 points (career high), 56 percent shooting from the field (career high), 7.7 rebounds (career high), 1.8 assists (career high), and 1.5 blocks per game (career high). Alongside this, O’Quinn’s aggressiveness is paying off, as he is getting to the line at a career high 2.8 times a game, converting 2.3 of those attempts.
Proving to be effective enough for head coach Jeff Hornacek to deploy late in the fourth quarter in a tight game against the Denver Nuggets, O’Quinn has proved extremely reliable on both ends of the court, posting a defensive rating of 99, good for second best on the team, only trailing Willy Hernangómez(95), who has seen extremely limited minutes thus far this season. In addition, he is also contributing an offensive rating of 120, second best on the team behind Doug McDermott (129).

Defensively, O’Quinn leads the team in defensive rebounding percentage, as he has grabbed 32.3 percent of available defensive rebounds — 4.1 percent more than Enes Kanter, who is second to O’Quinn on the team. O’Quinn also leads the team in block percentage, wherein he has blocked 8.5 percent of opponents’ two point field goal attempts while on the court. Oddly enough, despite O’Quinn’s stellar play off of the bench, we find that his usage rate is at a career low, as the Knicks are only utilizing him in 17.5 percent of the team’s plays when he is on the floor.
Though not an indicator this early on in the season, O’Quinn is also currently leading the team in Defensive Win Shares with 0.2 while also third in Offensive Win Shares with 0.3.

Photo: Getty Images

So what does O’Quinn’s strong form mean?
Well, it is currently a blockade for Willy Hernangómez to earn more minutes, and that might be a good thing. Thus far this season, one of the main gripes by Knicks fans has been the lack of usage of Hernangómez, and that is primarily down to the somewhat surprising play of Kanter and O’Quinn, both of whom have formed a tandem that he Knicks and Hornacek feel comfortable utilizing over a 48 minute stretch.
Kanter’s standout play as a starter, coupled with O’Quinn’s fearless, gritty style off the bench to gives the Knicks a solid one-two punch at the pivot. The frontcourt play has been a big reason for the Knicks’ success over the past few games, and while it starts with Kristaps Porzingis, the centers can’t be undersold.
Despite all the positives, there always has to be a negative. Remember when we said O’Quinn signed a four-year deal? Well, the fourth year is a player option, and with him currently earning $4 million annually, he will most likely opt out as his play continues to impress, aiming for the chance to finally start on and up-and-coming roster. With Hernangómez still a valuable asset to New York, it’s unlikely, in the long run, they’d value O’Quinn over Hernangómez when it comes to commitment, making O’Quinn’s recent breakout form somewhat of a hearsay for the Knicks moving forward.
For now, though, let’s see how much we can get out of O’Quinn. During the brief three game streak, fans have seen a team full of young talent, eager to play at a higher level. With the rebuilding process now fully committed to, we are starting to see the true talent of what were bench pieces just a year ago, O’Quinn included. He is one of many stories you can write when looking at the Knicks early on this season, but truly adapting well to his new role, we’re finding his style of play to be perfectly suited for this New York squad.
All statistics courtesy of NBA stats and Basketball Reference.

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Achieving the Vision: Kristaps Porzingis’ Offense Has Arrived

The buzz around KP is noisy, palpable, and warranted. What has he done to get to this point?

You know when things work out exactly as you want? You paint a picture of a beautiful endgame, one that fulfills every burning desire that you had going into a certain situation. After stressful anticipation and thoughts of failure wreaking havoc in your mind, the moment finally comes, and then, boom. Nearly everything falls into place, and you can be content knowing that the positive outcome you so badly wanted came to fruition. This, of course, rarely happens in real life, but it’s been the case for every fan of the New York Knicks as the fall airs swirls around Madison Square Garden. A unicorn has brought the fanbase’s dreams to a reality.
We all knew Kristaps Porzingis was good. To dispute that fact would be an act of lunacy. The question all along was his ability to become the new king of New York, to pick up the crown left behind by Carmelo Anthony as he boarded a flight to Oklahoma City. During the six games last season where Porzingis played without Anthony, he averaged 14.7 points and 5.7 boards on 45.1 percent shooting. Those aren’t bad numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but he also failed to meet the lofty expectations that we held for him when he was given the joystick to the offense. Collectively, Knicks fan were cautiously optimistic this season with the vacated crown atop his tall, elongated frame. Would he be up to the task?
The short answer: you bet. Over the course of the young season, Porzingis has put up a whopping 29.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks on an impressive .478/.364/.810 shooting line. He’s been aggressively picking his spots, attacking the hoop with a vengeance, and showing a new commitment to scoring in the post. Defensively, he’s been the same Kristaps that we know, blocking shots with the best of them. There’s still improvements to be made on that end, but we’ll save the defensive side of the ball for another day. The Knicks have the third leading scorer in the NBA on their team, and he’s a 22-year-old that was supposed to just be getting consistent rotation minutes at this point in his career timeline. Before our very eyes, Porzingis has turned into one of the biggest offensive threats in the entire league.
I’ll repeat, we always knew KP was good. The part that requires a bit of digging is exactly what Porzingis has done to be so effective this year. Well folks, just call me Anna Nicole Smith, because I’m here for all of the digging.

Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Post Up Play
Going into this season, I viewed Porzingis’ game in the post as a big opportunity for improvement. He scored in just the 30th percentile last year in terms of points per post possession, with his lack of strength and poor positioning costing him dearly. Too often, KP would find himself catching the ball far outside of the paint, leaving too much room between himself and the basket for his slight frame to navigate. In addition to poor positioning, which admittedly could have been a product of lackluster guard play and spacing issues, Porzingis also often failed to take advantage of mismatches. When setting a screen, KP found himself with a smaller defender on him every time when the play was executed correctly. He failed to do his best “mouse in the house” act, lobbing up out-of-control jumpers or surrendering his spot.
That has not been the case at all this year. Porzingis is scoring at an amazingly efficient rate in the post, clocking in at the 83rd percentile. He’s exploited defenders and used his athleticism to perform simple moves that lead to laughably easy buckets. This is a small, seemingly innocuous play, but KP did not do this nearly as well last season:

via FreeDawkins

He gets himself deep on the block, turns over the shoulder, and has an easy hoop. For a 7’3″ dude, that shot is essentially a layup. Beyond the mismatches, perhaps most noticeable about Porzingis’ post game has been his willingness to accept contact. With a new, beefier frame, he has been throwing around his weight more in the post, while graciously receiving and doling out contact that allows him to get into a better spot:

via FreeDawkins

I mean, that’s textbook right there. We’ve seen Porzingis do this before, but he’s been viciously lowering his shoulder and ripping through defenders with a real purpose. The frequency with which his shots have been contested tightly is remarkable, and if had it all together, I’d give you the exact number. Send all of your ire their way, folks. Either way, the eye test tells us more than enough here. It seems that Porzingis has finally recognized that it doesn’t actually matter how close the defender is to him. The vicinity of defender makes a shot more difficult for the vast majority of NBA players, Porzingis included, but he is so damn tall that it does not affect him as much. He has the ability to shoot over, oh, about 95 percent of players that will defend him in this league. Taking it to smaller fools that think sticking a hand in his face will actually change his shot has become his favorite pastime.

Nothing in the world ever existed without a small flaw, right? The Death Star, Derek Zoolander, Clayton Kershaw; their imperfections allow us to gain some perspective. For Porzingis, his obvious flaw is his propensity to have tunnel vision. Him and frontcourt mate Enes Kanter have combined for just nine assists through the first six games of the season, which is… low. When he’s scoring at will in the post and shooting an above average percentage from the floor, this isn’t a valid complaint. When the offense dries up, however, and Porzingis goes cold, he has to be able to find the open man. No one is saying he should be a big that can pass like Giannis Antetokounmpo or Nikola Jokic; he just needs to understand the rotating gears that are his teammates around the three-point arc when the defense hones in on him. While in the post, he is going to shoot the basketball unless some divine intervention prevents him from doing so. That sort of hell-bent attitude is what makes reliable scorers who they are, but it can sometimes backfire (shout out to our old buddy Carmelo).
In the waning moments of the Denver game last night, he was posting along the baseline, and despite getting quadruple-teamed, didn’t look to his shooters, and put up an embarrassing shot attempt. He rates in the 4th percentile for assist-to-usage rate among other bigs, a stunningly small number for a player that is the focal point of an offense. For now, this is not negatively impacting him in the slightest, but that doesn’t mean it’s something we can’t watch out for during the rest of the ‘17-’18 campaign.

Back to the good stuff! Ah, shooting, the thing that Kristaps Porzingis does better than anyone else alive. He has been knocking down shots at a career high rate from the floor, and thanks to a couple good nights from deep, has his three-point percentage at a career high as well. Some of the reasons for his success can be tied directly to his improvements in the post, but they don’t tell the entire story. Porzingis’ release time is a subtle, yet effective change that he’s made in his game to reach these incredible heights. As a rookie, he was a tad slower, and was not able to get shots off as cleanly when defenders were hunkering down on him. These things come naturally as experience in the NBA is banked.
Even at a ripe young age, Kristaps’ identity is clear, and he knows where his bread his buttered when it comes to shot selection:

via Cleaning the Glass

The top of the arc has long been Porzingis’ favorite three-pointer to take, and his most efficient one at that. Corner threes are not a part of his game at all, and they never have been. Long story short, he is incredibly self-aware of his game, an underrated part of the equation.
Improved point guard play has helped KP find the soft spots in the defense. Since Jarrett Jack was inserted into the starting lineup, the Knicks have been much more fluid, and they have three fairly impressive wins to show for that. Even with all of these positive, would you believe me if I told you KP could be… even better?
Despite his hot start, Porzingis has shot just 50 percent at the rim, an awful number for a man of his stature. Granted, he has buoyed these struggles with high percentages in the mid-range that could be due for some regression, but either way, if he starts to finish around the rim at a normal rate he could get better.
The possibilities should have us salivating every time he touches the ball.

Photo: Anthony J. Causi

We can talk about all of the numbers we want, but the number one thing above all else that has aided Porzingis’ trek towards super-stardom is his confidence. He looks like a damn world beater out there, and the best part is that he knows it. This is a dude that realizes how good he is at basketball, and he has that look in his eye right now. You know, this look:
“I know this shot is going in, YOU know this shot is going in, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. FOH and let me get buckets.”
So, where do the Knicks and Porzingis go from here? It’s a complicated question, one that requires us to not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Knicks lost their first three games, and we thought they were the worst team in the league. Now, they’ve won three in a row, and we’re getting excited again. The truth is, they’ll be somewhere in between. The part that won’t be in between is Kristaps.
KP has become everything the Knicks had hoped he would be much sooner than they had anticipated. He established himself last year as a top-30 player in the league, and his ascension toward top-20 or even top-15 is well underway. The arrival is legitimate, and he’s here to stay, barring injury. He may be too good for the Knicks to truly tank. There are only a handful of players like that in the league, but is Porzingis one of them? It could be too soon for that type of rhetoric, but let’s live among the clouds for a second here. After all, our reality with Kristaps Porzingis right now is quite possible better than any dream we had.
The Knicks’ slogan for the season is “Be There From the Beginning,” a phrase that instills hope for a brighter future for the team. The Knicks as a whole may never reach the heights we hope, but one aspect is clear: we were already there for the beginning of Porzingis. This is the the rising action, the build-up, with the climax peeking over the horizon, hastily approaching.



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Developing in White Plains: Westchester Knicks ‘17-’18 Season Preview

We analyze this year’s revamped roster and who could potentially make an impact in the NBA this season.
A new season for the Westchester Knicks of the G League (formerly D-League) unofficially kicks off on Monday with a preseason matchup against the Long Island Nets. The regular season begins shortly after on Saturday, November 4th in Chicago against the Windy City Bulls.
The DubKnicks finished a subpar 19–31 last season and were especially abysmal on the road, finishing with a 7–18 record. However, there is quite a bit of promise and optimism under head coach Mike Miller, who is entering his third season at the helm. Due to the frequent roster turnover we see in the G League on a year-to-year basis, Miller essentially has a brand new group of players to work with. Coach Miller demands a lot from his players and will give you an ear full if he doesn’t think you are playing up to your capabilities.
Expect the players to give maximum effort despite the relative lack of familiarity with the coaching staff, playbook, and fellow teammates. Here’s your Westchester Knicks 2017–18 roster breakdown.

The Roster
This season, the DubKnicks roll out a totally overhauled roster that includes only ONE returning player from last season’s opening night squad. That man is Max Hooper, the undrafted free agent swingman out of Oakland University (who would play in two games last year).
This season’s team is a young one, with the oldest DubKnick being former Kansas State standout big man Jordan Henriquez at 28 years old. Guys in their early 20’s and fresh out of college make up a good chunk of the roster and look to work towards a potential call-up to the big boy Knicks:

via RealGM

Looking up and down the list of players this season, you can find many recognizable names who have been a part of big-time college basketball programs and have competed in games of large magnitude in the past. For example, Trey Burke, Isaiah Hicks, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and Nigel Hayes all played deep into the NCAA Tournament and all know what it takes to win, which cannot be said about most involved in the Knicks organization. Hayes, Rathan-Mayes, and Burke were actually cut by the organization just a few days prior but were re-assigned to the G League shortly after their release.
Rounding out the DubKnicks roster are players you’ve probably never heard of from smaller schools/international prospects who look to make a name for themselves as the season progresses.

A couple of notable losses at the guard position from last season include Travis Trice, John Jenkins, and Doron Lamb. Trice, the unquestioned floor general of the team, has moved onto Australia to continue his professional basketball career. Similarly, Doron Lamb, a marksman from the outside has gone overseas to Greece to play while Jenkins has received another NBA opportunity with the team that drafted him, the Atlanta Hawks.
Despite these key subtractions in the offseason, one could argue that the new group of guards could be better than the former three-headed monster of Trice, Jenkins, and Lamb.

Photo: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Trey Burke is the most noteworthy addition to the team, in my opinion. Burke is a fringe NBA player who probably should be professional roster somewhere. The former Michigan stud won Big Ten and National Player of the Year back in 2013 and also has a 2014 All Rookie First-Team selection on his résumé with the Utah Jazz. Since then, the ninth overall pick in hasn’t quite lived up to expectations coming out of college and has bounced around between a few organizations. Surprisingly, Burke didn’t make the Knicks roster, but it’s exciting to know he is still within the organization. Burke is a likely candidate to be called up to the NBA at some point this season considering his solid NBA career statistics (career 10.6 PPG and 3.6 APG) coupled with the fact that Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack are mostly washed up and inept.
In the meantime, while he’s down here in Westchester, Burke can have a tremendous impact on the team directing traffic on the court, scoring and mentoring the young guys. Burke is big time. Expect him to be a quality addition to the DubKnicks.
Another guy who could prove to be a great undrafted find is Xavier Rathan-Mayes out of Florida State. Rathan-Mayes was a very lethal scorer in college and once scored 30 points in the last four-plus(!) minutes of a game against Miami. There is no question he can score the rock, the only issue with XRM is the consistency. Often times he would have extended cold spells from the floor and other games he would drop 30.
Defensively, Rathan-Mayes has the size at the guard position to be a decent defender but hasn’t quite put it all together yet. Hard work has never been an issue for him, so expect him to improve on that end of the floor.
There is an outside chance we see XRM called up the Knicks this season as his playmaking ability makes him an attractive option on a team with not many of them. One could envision him leading the DubKnicks in scoring and showing us why he was one of the steals of the post-draft free agent pool.
The rest of the guards expected to get quality minutes down in Westchester include the sneaky and quick Joey Miller from Dallas Baptist and Jordan Downing from Presbyterian College, the latter impressively averaged 20.2 points per game his Junior season at the D-I level. Downing provides some length (6’5″) on the perimeter with a very well-rounded offensive skill set, while Miller exhibits scrappy and intense play, similar to that of Ron Baker.
The guard unit this season seems very promising. Their potential success could be compromised due to cuts, call-ups, etc., but expect this faction of the team to produce if together throughout the season.

Photo: Alex Kormann/The Daily Tar Heel

Knicks fan favorites Maurice Ndour and Marshall Plumlee who spent some time in the D-League are, sadly, no longer with the team anymore, which means the DubKnicks lost two solid big men down low.
Replacing them this year are Jordan Henriquez, Isaiah Hicks, and Nigel Hayes. All three of these guys played big time basketball in college and bring good size and versatility to the DubKnicks frontcourt.
Beginning with Isaiah Hicks: this dude can really play. As a Tar Heel fan, I was fortunate enough to see plenty of Hicks play, and based on that alone I could definitely see him being a major contributor on the team this season. Hicks is relentless on the glass and a ferocious finisher at the rim. He is a champion who is going to give you 110 percent each night. Although a bit undersized for the power forward position, what Hicks lacks in height he makes up in heart.
The downside of Hicks is that he doesn’t offer much versatility down low in terms of being able to step out and make a jump shot. He greatly improved his free-throw shooting throughout his four years at North Carolina topping out at 78 percent his senior year — a full 20 percent better than when he arrived at Chapel Hill as a freshman (per RealGM). Expect Hicks to get lots of minutes as a DubKnick and even make an appearance in the big league down the road.
On the other side of the paint is Nigel Hayes who, in my opinion, is a perfect complement to Hicks. The hybrid forward is a better all-around player than Hicks and is able to stretch the defense. His athleticism allows him to hold is own down low as well as excel at guarding perimeter players. Hayes also could potentially make the NBA roster at some point, but the Wisconsin graduate will be a very solid player who can dish, score, and rebound from the forward position before a potential big league call up.
To me, he was one of the most underrated guys in college last year. Additionally, his excellent post game even makes great defenders look bad:

Other big men who will contribute to the cause this year are big Jordan Henriquez and Luke Kornet. Both of these guys hover around seven feet tall and are very savvy around the rim. The Westchester County native Henriquez is a load down low and is a very adept shot blocker. Kornet as well is known for swatting shots in the other direction as he blocked a school record 10(!) shots in one game. Don’t expect huge scoring numbers from these guys when they are on the floor but don’t expect much scoring from the other team either.

If you’re sick of consuming the same garbage on a nightly basis from the New York Knicks (I already am), I would highly recommend checking out a Westchester Knicks game this season if in the White Plains area. They are young, exciting, and attending can make for an affordable and fun time for everyone involved.

Although it is difficult to predict the record of a G League team with many moving parts and team transactions I am going to attempt it anyway: 28–22 for this years DubKnicks. Go Westchester.


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We Need to Talk About Tim Hardaway Jr.

The New York Knicks shooting guard has had a rough start to the season. Why is he struggling so much?
Tim Hardaway Jr., the New York Knicks gaudy $71 million dollar free agency acquisition, has struggled mightily to start the season, to the ear-piercing tune of 24 percent shooting from the field and 23 percent from three-point territory. This early season shooting slump has only compounded what was an already unpopular reacquisition of Hardaway Jr. for many Knicks fans. Overpaid and under-performing are difficult labels to live with in New York, a city not known for its patient fan base.
There have been mitigating factors through the opening three games. The opposition has been tough, with the first two games of the season pitting Tim Hardaway Jr. up against Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Avery Bradley of the Detroit Pistons, two of the best wing defenders in the league, who showed no mercy toward the new Knick.
Elite individual defenders weren’t the problem against a frisky Boston Celtics team, yet Hardaway Jr.’s poor play continued. He was a ghost, along with the rest of the roster, outside of box score specialist Enes Kanter. The Knicks as a unit put together 48 minutes of indifference on both ends of the floor. Play after play of defensive malaise, and an offense that stuttered and sputtered it’s way to 33 painfully confused first half points, held equal parts in an ugly loss.
A further mitigating factor is the ankle injury that Hardaway Jr. has been reportedly trying to shake off since preseason. Of course he insists this nagging injury that sounds, looks and smells like an excuse isn’t an excuse.
Regardless, soldiering bravely through an injury a couple of games into a season in which the Knicks are capital-T Tanking seems questionable. If there is an injury, it’s likely negatively affecting his play; but if there is an injury, then he shouldn’t be playing in the first place. This becomes even more true when considering the Knicks depth at shooting guard, and Knicks fans would love to see rookie Damyean Dotson get some run.
As bad as THJ’s shooting slump has been, it’s at least explainable. Shooters are streaky, and slumps are par for the course. J.R Smith has started the season shooting 12 percent from beyond the arc, but it’s unlikely that Smith — a career 37 percent three-point shooter — has suddenly morphed into André Roberson.
More worrying than THJ’s three-point woes is his general lack of production beyond shooting the ball. His overall floor-game has been disastrous. He’s averaging a measly 1.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2.3 free-throw attempts per game so far, and has yet to record a single steal or block in 91 minutes of NBA basketball. Even the staple statistical-crutch of a small sample size cannot mask how feeble these numbers are, especially given he’s playing a career high 30 minutes a contest.
If Hardaway Jr. wants to even begin to chip away at his lofty price tag, he has to do more than shoot. He has to rebound, make plays, get to the rim, and get easy points at the foul line — and do all this irrespective of whether his shot is falling or not, especially if his shot isn’t falling.

Photo: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke/Getty Images

Tonight, the Knicks and THJ are playing a Brooklyn Nets team that has been rolling to start the season after coming off an impressive victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. Coach Kenny Atkinson has the Nets playing an analytically inclined, three-point heavy style on offense, and utilizing a long and switch-y starting wing trio of Caris LaVert (6’7″), DeMarre Carroll (6’8″), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (6’7″) on defense.
If the Knicks want to get their first win of the season, they’ll need Hardaway Jr. to step up and contribute. He’s a better shooter than he’s shown so far, and the shots will fall at some point, but the barometer for Timmy and his second bite at the Big Apple has always been the rest of the box score, where he needs to provide much more than his apathetic contributions so far.
It’s early in the season, sure, but Hardaway Jr. should be on a short leash if he carries on playing with the temperament and tenacity of a lost puppy. To be remembered only as another forgettable free agency footnote in a long line of big money Knick busts will be in his future if he can’t change that. Jerome James circa 2017.
Hopefully, the turnaround starts tonight for the $71 million man.


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The Defensive Warts on New York Probably Aren’t Going Anywhere in a Hurry

The Knicks, struggling on both ends of the court, are producing some really ugly numbers; let’s look at them!
The New York Knicks were not expected to be good this season. That being said, the Knicks are now 0–3 and have been about as competitive as a G League team. Although relatively stagnant on offense, the Knicks defense has been their Achilles’ heel, placing them amongst the league’s worst in nearly every feasible defensive metric.
This offseason, the Knicks supposedly upgraded their group of wing defenders and scorers when they signed Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million deal. Wait, what? Tim Hardaway Jr. upgraded the Knicks defensively?
Well, statistically, yes. Hardaway Jr. culminated 2.1 defensive win shares (DWS) over his “breakout” season in 2016–17, a whole win share higher than the next person on the list: Courtney Lee.
Factoring in his somewhat more consistent shooting stroke, it seemed as if, under a run-and-gun coach like Jeff Hornacek, he might be ready to take the next step in his career. Three games in, it seems to be the exact opposite with the young guard struggling on both ends of the court immensely. Through three games, for any player who has played in all three games, Hardaway Jr. has the team’s worst defensive rating at 120. Although early, Hardaway Jr. has -0.1 DWS through the first three games of the season, making him a hindrance more so than a well-utilized player on that end of the court.
The tale of the tape, though, does not end with Hardaway Jr., rather he is just a stark example of how mediocre the Knicks have been defensively. Utilizing the same win shares statistic for every other player on the current roster shows misery on defense: every player has a flat zero in the category, aside from Enes Kanter who has 0.1 DWS. Not ideal, even if it is early on in the season.
The following are key defensive categories and where the Knicks currently rank in them across the league.
Rebounding: Knicks average 29.7 rebounds per game, 29th in the league.
Blocks: Knicks average 2.7 blocks per game, 28th in the league.
Steals: Knicks average 7.3 steals per game, 23rd in the league.
The aforementioned three categories are effectively the three core statistical of any good defensive unit that immediately jump off the page. The Knicks, as you can easily see, are good at a grand total of zero of those categories.
Individually, it doesn’t get a lot better. Rebounding wise, Enes Kanter leads the team with 12 rebounds per game, follow by Kristaps Porzingis who is averaging 7.3 rebounds per game. Behind those two, the next best rebounder, Kyle O’Quinn, averages 6.3 rebounds per game, followed by 3.3 rebounds per game from Ramon Sessions. Yes, Ramon Sessions.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is off to a 9-37 shooting start. He has struggled mostly in spot-up situations and as a shooter off the pick & roll #Knicks
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) October 25, 2017

As a team, the Knicks’ defensive rebound percentage (DRB%) currently lies at 73 percent, meaning that the Knicks have thus far been able to grab 73 percent of available rebounds, good for third worst in the league.
The best offense is defense, though, right? Well, in the Knicks case, when the ball is in their hands, that hasn’t really been the case. The Knicks currently average 18.0 turnovers per game, the fifth worst in the league, leading to opponents averaging 24.3 points per game off of those turnovers, which is tied for the highest points allowed off turnovers in the league. The team tied with the Knicks? The Bulls. (In tank terms, that’s good! In playing competent basketball terms, it’s very bad.)

Photo: Jim Davis/Boston Globe

Finding themselves in uncomfortable positions regularly, a phrase I’m sure has been repeated an umpteen amount of times with this franchise, the Knicks have allowed 17.0 points per game off the fast break to the teams they’ve faced this season, the third worst total in the league.
Weirdly enough, though, despite this accumulation of horrendous defensive figures, the Knicks only allow 108.7 points per game, the 18th “best” mark in the league if we’re trying grasping at straws here.
Individually, no Knicks player has a defensive rating (DRtg), a figure used to determine an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions, of under 100. As a team, the Knicks DRtg is 109.3, good for the seventh worst in the league. For context, the best figure in the league currently belongs to the 3–0 Los Angeles Clippers who have posted a team DRtg of 86.1 (still a bit inflated in the early season).

Despite the Knicks’ individual DRtg showing a lot more bad than good, there are a few trends that are good:

Despite limited minutes, Willy Hernangómez is slowly putting to bed Hornacek’s defensive concerns regarding the big man, as he is posting a team best defensive rating of 100 over a scattered total of minutes over two games. Putting aside what seems to be an even stronger offense (Hernangómez has made six of his seven shot attempts this season), Willy seems to be shedding his defensive, or lack thereof, narrative.
Kyle O’Quinn and Enes Kanter have done marginally better with DRtg’s of 110 and 107, respectively, over the season, proving the forward and center spots are performing marginally better overall defensively. The Knicks rank 17th in the league in points allowed in the paint.

The Knicks are not supposed to be good, not just because they can’t be, but because it would largely hurt the team in the long-run. We know that this team is clearly inept at producing defensively and while Ntilikina could possibly bring reassurances utilizing his frame on the perimeter, nothing is guaranteed, especially considering his newly formed injury concerns.
Truthfully speaking, these metrics are unlikely to change. Between the current instability at point guard, THJ’s current form — a form that became a constant in his first spell as a Knick — and the team’s reliance on Kristaps Porzingis on offense, hindering his defensive contributions, these Knicks are going to be bad defensively with very little they can do to change that.
The plan to cope with this upcoming season is simply to sit back, continue to give you all the tough-to-digest facts you probably don’t want to know, and then get excited again in June when the NBA Draft Lottery and NBA Draft roll along and the endless cycle of being a Knicks fan resets for yet another year.
All statistics courtesy of NBA stats and Basketball Reference.


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How the Raptors Match Up with the Knicks

Veteran Raptors Look to Literally and Metaphorically Dunk on the Knicks Again This Season
Entering the 2017–18 season, the expectations for the New York Knicks are far different from what they were a year ago.
Instead of being pressured to succeed immediately with a roster built to win, the only expectation the Knickerbockers face this season is to develop young talent and show some improvement from last year’s dreadfulness, which really is kind of impossible not to do.
However, New York’s division rival Toronto is on the opposite end of the spectrum. After re-signing their star point guard Kyle Lowry to a three-year deal worth $100 million, the Raptors are under pressure to make use of their prime years while they can and challenge LeBron and the Cavs for the Eastern Conference title.
Like all division rivals, New York and Toronto will match up four times this season:

November 17 at Toronto
November 22 in New York
February 8 at Toronto
March 11 in New York

While the Knicks are widely expected to finish the season near the bottom of their division, the Raptors have a good shot to take back the Atlantic Division title after dropping it to the Celtics last year. If all goes well for Toronto this season they could very well end up as the second seed in the East, especially following the Gordon Hayward injury. The seasoned Raptors have displayed year in and year out that they can compete with the best in the East, and getting Lowry back for the next three years shows that they’re confident in their roster’s abilities to battle with the rest of the league.

Photo: Ron Turenne/Getty Images

Toronto’s backcourt presents problems for the Knicks … and the rest of league
The highly effective backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan present problems for any team they go up against, however, the Knicks may have an extra hard time containing them due to their weakness at the point guard position, an issue the Knicks have dealt with for almost as long as I’ve been alive. I love Frankie, but he’s still a rookie and certainly won’t be able to clamp the NBA’s premier one-guards right out of the gate. New York will likely look to a vet in Jarrett Jack or Ramon Sessions to try to contain Lowry, but there’s only so much you can do to stop one of the best point guards in the East.
The Raptors’ overall depth is another area where they simply outperform New York. While Toronto’s bench has had seasons to gel together and build chemistry with one another, a good amount of the Knicks’ players are new to the team and still learning the system. Not to mention, New York’s bench talent frankly just doesn’t match up with the Raptors’. This will likely prove to be a problem for the Knickerbockers throughout the season.
One bonus that I could see the Knicks having over Toronto in-game would be their shooters heating up and carrying the team to a win on a strong offensive performance. Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Kristaps Porzingis, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, and Doug McDermott are all proven shooters that, if a few got hot at the right time, could put the Knicks in good positions to close out games.
Overall, the Raptors should once again be one of the top tier teams in the Eastern Conference while the Knicks sit near the bottom of the standings. Hopefully our ‘Bockers will be able to keep it close.
Always remember … #TankForDoncic.

— Peter Saclarides, staff writer

That’s a wrap on Atlantic Division Week. Follow The Knicks Wall on Facebookand Twitter for more coverage, and listen to the TKW Podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud.


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Guest Column: Kristaps the Savior by Joseph Nardone

Guest contributor and free agent Joseph Nardone pens a reflection of the Knicks fan mindset before the season.

The year is 2066. A man and his young son are gazing at a landscape riddled with nuclear fallout. Things have changed since the War of Peons in 2018 but much has remained the same. Here, one true constant, the knowledge passed down from one generation to another, is about to happen.
“What is that father?” the boy asks.
The father-son duo allows their eyes to wander over to see what was once considered a mythical beast. With radiation ravaging the planet, horses have gone the way of the dinosaurs, yet a new creature has emerged to flourish in the hellish Earth terrain.
“Son, that is a unicorn,” the father replies. “When I was your age, we called it a Kristaps Porzingis.”

With Carmelo Anthony now gone to greener pastures, and Phil Jackson sipping some booze out of a cup with an umbrella hanging out its side, there are no longer individuals a New York Knicks fan can easily place blame.
It is still the same flawed roster. The ownership remains in the hands of a guy as inept at roster construction as he is at creating music. And yet, because the fan base can’t help but love this debacle of a franchise, there are relatively high hopes for the Knicks this season.
Relative in the way kissing your cousin is a win, that is. The tanking can’t be stopped, although there is a silver lining in the otherwise gloomy NYK cloud.
All of that hope, naturally, rests on the shoulders of Kristaps Porzingis.
It makes sense. A seven-foot-everything unicorn can do that to a group of fanatics. While the term “unicorn” has since become overused and often tossed around without appropriate attachment, Kristaps does fit the bill. He is unique in nearly everything he does, especially when coupled with his size.
Coming off his sophomore campaign, the numbers are all pointing to inevitable greatness. Last season saw the Latvian average all the pretty counting-stats: 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. As impressive was his efficiency, as he shot 45 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc (per Basketball-Reference).
If a sunset is our parents’ truest expression of beauty, a Knicks fan would instead argue it is some large human from the across the Atlantic blocking shots, then getting back in transition to hit a 30-footer.
Regardless of how New York functioned as a squad last season, and with conscious disregard for the overall record, Porzingis offered hope to the hopeless. A walking, fully functioning human embodiment of what the Knicks can be if things worked in their favor.
All of that hope, naturally, rests on the shoulders of Kristaps Porzingis.
To be crystal clear: Porzingis is already good. That needs to be said, loudly. He has, unfortunately, been operating in the same realm as former New York Knicks saviors. A land as devastated as the (semi-)fictional futuristic landscape mentioned in the beginning, being the direct result of incompetence begetting itself in the front-office.
That’s the context. It is also the calm before the inevitable storm.
With no one left to share — or, more honestly, take the brunt of — the blame, it is officially Kristaps’ team. There’s no ‘Melo, hoodied or otherwise, for fans to trounce upon when things go sour. There isn’t even a poorly aging man trotting about behind the scenes to lambaste with mean tweets. There is merely Porzingis.
There’s also, obviously, James Dolan too. That being said, he isn’t going anywhere. Nor will basketball experts on the mean streets of Twitter call for his head on a stick when the Knicks shoot under 40 percent from the field on a random Tuesday evening. It’s just our beloved, neighborhood friendly Unicorn.

Photo: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke/Getty Images

He will still begin the season with the benefit of the doubt on his back. A city and fan base yearning for a yesteryear that hasn’t actually existed for most of their lifetimes will want to provide it for him. The last time people remember the Knicks being competent was in the 1990s, but it has been even longer since the franchise was earnestly fighting for NBA titles. But after all, without KP, there is no hope for a better tomorrow.
Hope, in all ventures, is the greatest commodity anyone could have, primarily if that venture is currently downtrodden.
It doesn’t matter if it is the NBA, or a guy who got laid off from an industry he loves (hi), or the billion other scenarios, if there is hope, there is optimism. If there is optimism, a certain level of shit can, and will be, eaten by those who want to support the venture.
However, given the years it has spent the Knicks to go from promising young team to Carmelo’s baby, to “please get ‘Melo out of there,” to promising young Porzingis, to now it being Kristaps’ team in full, and everything that came well before all of that, the level of patience asked for things to turn around can never be realistic.
Patience is a virtue and all that jazz, but when you’ve walked the planet for a few decades and your strongest memory of an NBA franchise is its most famous player of the modern era missing a layup, you can’t do anything but forgive those no longer wanting to play for tomorrow — or tomorrow’s tomorrow and the day after that.
Look at the roster. Go look at it. Instead of dropping the names of mostly transitional players on it, go take a gander for yourself. I’ll wait. …
You see that? Did you notice how, objectively, it isn’t exactly formed for success? I’m more likely to finally land a date with Christina Ricci than the Knicks are to battle near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Removing New York Knicks sympathizers from the conversation — the kind who claimed Joakim Noah was a steal and Derrick Rose was still a star — any realist could surmise what awaits when the season begins on Thursday evening. A tanking so hard, Sam Hinkie is likely changing his underwear due to the excitement it brings the former bringer processes and trusts in Philadelphia.
It is with that knowledge the fan base should operate. That, no matter what the record looks like at the end of the season, as long as there appears to be growth in his game, Kristaps Porzingis is still the same guy he was last season. The bringer of hope. The bearer of a better tomorrow. A pearl necklace worn around the necks by the NYK faithful, given, not acquired. The future, operating now, even if the now is still as awful as the yesterday.
Years are going to pass before any resemblance to a quality team in New York is assembled. Like it was for his predecessors, Kristaps is not to blame. His perception will likely be a direct causality as a result of others’ incompetence, but it shouldn’t.
Know this going in; let it wash over your body like a cold shower after drinking one-too-many vodkas and sleeping with something you’re unsure is human. You will need this perspective as the season grows longer in the tooth.
Only bad awaits. Then again, only if you’re predetermined to paint the picture that way. Kristaps can be your Unicorn for as long as you allow him. Don’t lose that.
No matter what the record looks like at the end of the season, as long as there appears to be growth in his game, Kristaps Porzingis is still the same guy he was last season.

“What is a Kristaps Porzingis?” the curious boy asks his father.
“Everything that was right with this world once upon a time,” the father replies.
The son pulls a hoodie over his torso, with JD and the Straight Shot music floating in the background, yanks out his rifle to take aim at the unicorn.
“No, son,” the father stops his son, “Allow that unicorn to prosper. Just let him be…even if only for another winter. No one knows how many we have left.”

Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly 10 years. He is old. He also almost made it. Then he was laid off by the big bad industry that does not love him as much as he loves it. Follow him @JosephNardone. Oh, he’s also not a Knicks fan.


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Crossborough Scouting: Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn’s Quick Backcourt But Sagging Frontcourt Make Up an Interesting Match Up with New York
In the preseason, the Brooklyn Nets looked great against the New York Knicks in both games they played, but so did everyone else.
Interestingly enough, this preseason success doesn’t negate the fact that both teams have been a mirror of each other for around half a decade and continue to be so. Both the Knicks and Nets have been among the most terribly managed in this new top-heavy era, both have acquired young promising talent in the last few years to make up for acknowledged bad management, and both are still in the running to be the worst team in the Eastern Conference this NBA season. Time is a flat circle.
However, this time around they both have hope in their young cores. And, although neither is expecting to win many games, they’re expecting progress.

While the Knicks knew they’d be in the gutter from jump, it took a huge deficit against the Wizards to really drive the point home. The embarrassing loss at home against the Washington Wizards put the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook odds into perspective. Brooklyn doesn’t have much to offer in terms of talent, but the gritty hard-nosed image that has been pushed is starting to be backed up by the roster.

Backcourt matchups
The Nets backcourt isn’t quite oozing with potential, but, in a few years, some combination of these guards could make for formidable opponents. Specifically, the acquisition of D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe this summer bolstered both their 1 and 2 positions on the court. Russell painfully illustrated this against the Knicks in the first preseason game by going 7-for-14 in each meeting. Even though he cooled a bit in the Nets other preseason contests, his success spoke volumes about how the Knicks lack of perimeter defense, specifically, a defensive-minded point guard, is a curse that will haunt them game-in and game-out.
The inability to even slow him down is a festering wound that the Knicks hope rookie Frank Ntilikina can cover because Ramon Sessions, a chronic underachiever, and Jarrett Jack, who I’m sure will be nicknamed some incarnation of “Old Man Jack” by the end of the season, sure as hell aren’t getting the job done. Unless Ron Baker lives up to the hype as the scrappy, “good motor” defender he is, they’ll have trouble guarding him most of the game.
Getty Images
Surprisingly, the Nets have taken an interest in running a dual point guard lineup with Russell and former Knick Jeremy Lin at the backcourt this preseason. While Lin has mostly deferred to the new arrival, one can’t be too uncertain that leaving Lin open is wise. This throwback to Hornacek’s gimmick could be negated if either of the wings that may start for the Knicks, Tim Hardaway Jr. or Courtney Lee, applies just enough pressure on young Russell in carefully chosen moments for him to make mistakes. However, this sagging off of Lin could lead to disastrous results if he is left wide open, as the Knicks are prone to do. It can be inferred that Lee, a seasoned defender, wouldn’t have much trouble grasping the subtleties of help defense. But Hardaway Jr.? Not so much.
Which would lead to his primary defensive assignment and defender being Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a third-year pro, who is slowly but surely improving along with Caris LeVert in a similar position at the small forward spot. Neither are immediate threats on offense, but with the current defensive scheme the Knicks have in place and the individual defense capabilities of the players, one can only hope that Hardaway’s scoring lessens the blows to his defensive shortcomings. In short, Hollis-Jefferson’s defense and Timmy’s offense may offset each other, leaving the rebound in the hands of the bigs.

Frontcourt matchups
During both of the preseason games, the Nets undoubtedly outplayed the Knicks. One of the most obvious was the brutal physicality from the Nets frontcourt. Timofey Mozgov might hold a starting spot but DeMarre Carroll will obviously be looked to as the hulking enforcers on the team in this new NBA era. Carroll, the projected starting power forward, coupled with backups Trevor Booker and Quincy Acy could give Kristaps Porzingis a rough time physically, leading to mental frustrations. The physicality of the trio could affect Porzingis shooting ability while they lack on the offense end.
However, Willy Hernangómez and Enes Kanter could make up for this lack in productivity by outplaying the lackluster centers the Nets employ. Mozgov, with all his championship pedigree of one ring, should be no match for either of the big fellas. Mozgov appears to be a liability on both ends of the court with his best years behind him. Kyle O’Quinn and Joakim Noah may have some trouble, but they’re expected to see limited minutes.

Progress among the team’s young cores is what fans and staff have to look forward to the most this season. Potential is hardly ever fun and interesting in these early stages, but it’s the best both teams have to be honest. The Nets might have pounded the Knicks into oblivion twice already, but that really only shows how dedicated they are to the tank.

— Ty Jordan, staff writer


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What the Old Vets Can Teach the Young Knicks About Rebuilding

On a Team Going Young, the Knicks’ Vets Have Some Wisdom Left to Pass to Porzingis, Ntilikina & More
Lance Thomas is now the Knicks’longest-tenuredd player. The 29-year-old swingman found success as a Knick after being a throw-in from the 2015 deadline trade which moved J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland. Prior to that, Thomas was the recipient of several 10-day contracts before ultimately signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Suffice to say, Thomas was nothing particularly special until he found a place where he could make good use of his talents.

A Brooklyn native, Thomas was a NCAA champion during his time at Duke University. The Knicks’ MSG Network broadcast never let us forget that. The championship pedigree gave him a slight bump in appeal. He started off his career on the New Orleans Pelicans/Hornets as an efficient scorer (47 percent and almost nine points per game in three seasons) The Hornets/Pelicans were awful though! Led by former Knicks’ draft pick-turned coach Monty Williams during Thomas’s stint, the Pelicans/Hornets did their own share of tanking in the post Chris Paul era. Playing in the stacked Western Conference, the losing was palpable, however, the result of tanking was Anthony Davis.
Having played on a lowly team in the midst of finding its identity, Thomas is a perfect fit for this imperfect, transitional period the Knicks are approaching. What do the older, veteran players on New York have to provide a young, developing team?

Photo: via

 Lance Thomas is the longest tenured ‘Bocker, let’s see him grow into a vocal leader for younger players
Thomas missed games last year with injuries to his foot and then a fracture to his face. When he did play, getting into a groove as a perimeter shooter was rough. Thomas ’health this season is key, considering leading a team of youngsters is first and foremost about actually playing with them.
Given the Knicks are going to be heavily dependent on Kristaps Porzingis, the veterans on this roster are going to have to be diligent in monitoring their wear and tear. KP is no stranger to missing time himself. Obviously, you can’t avoid or predict freak injuries like the elbow to the face Thomas took. What you can do, however, is be proactive about making the most of your minutes.
If he’s not fully healthy, I’d prefer Thomas rest and be in the ears of Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Doug McDermott, and even the eclectic Beasley, who’s a year younger. In the preseason, we saw Ramon Sessions beckon Frank Ntilikina to sit next to him. That instruction from a veteran is a big deal when you’re getting beat up night after night.
We don’t know how much interaction players have with each other outside of Instagram posts and Snapchat stories. Although from here onward, Thomas’ voice lends itself to being pragmatic in conveying patience to young guys who are here to win games.

Courtney Lee: a mentor to young wings, or perhaps a viable trade asset
The one thing I struggle with when it comes to Courtney Lee is how much more valuable he is as an asset. When he’s on fire, he’s a bright spot on the floor. With the Knicks’ current situation, the fact of the matter is Lee is the type of veteran asset a fringe contender would love to have.
Lee recently turned 32. Having already played with contenders, this is a point where many players are on the deal where it’s the last major money to be made in the league. It’s also the age where a lot of them have a “fork in the road” moment — either take less money to get a ring or squeeze money out of a franchise seeking a consummate professional.
The Knicks offer Lee intriguing upside: playing with KP and Frankie Smokes for the rest of his career. Damyean Dotson is the other young Knick who showed promise in the preseason. Tim Hardaway Jr. referred to the rook as a “sponge”; after his 17 point performance, Dotson made mention of his locked-in behavior from watching Lee. Sporting a six-foot-nine wingspan, Dotson has the length to mature into a good-borderline-great defender. Lee taking Dotson under his wing and teaching the details of defensive schemes can cement that Knicks’ goal of shifting to a more defensive-minded franchise. Even Hardaway Jr. can learn a thing or two from Lee. The problem is Lee’s due nearly $25 million over the next two seasons. Once the Knicks have a plan in place, the combined salary in Lee and Joakim Noah’s contracts don’t give New York many options in free agency for a competitive small forward.
Assuming Lee can string together games where he’s proficient as a shooter, he becomes an attractive player for teams making a second half push for the playoffs. In receiving late firsts or stocking up on second round picks, Lee’s most important role as a Knick could be facilitating a trade that sets the future up for spry players to run with KP and Frank. (Preseason darling Kyle Kuzma, for example, was a late first round pick yielded by Brooklyn in the infamous Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade with Boston before that pick headed to L.A. in the D’Angelo/Brook Lopez deal.)


Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP

Noah’s motivation can influence the bigs
I’ve previously discussed how integral Noah is to KP’s growth exclusively and to the team as it pertains to the media. Every team has that old head that’s there to keep his foot on the other guys’ necks. It’s easy to poke fun at Noah’s clapping. But every New Yorker knows when you want to get your point across, you clap with authority.
On the court, Noah demonstrates hustle and grit. If he can play effective minutes like David West and Vince Carter, Noah can certainly help the big men weather the storm.

Willy Hernangómez has a great career ahead of him, but right now, all he and KP know is losing. That’s not a mentality you want a young player to get used to. You don’t want him to become a cynic or jaded by it either. Both Noah and Thomas can show the bigs how to manage the space between optimism and sacrifice. This emotional maturity will be critical when it comes to both of them hitting free agency without the shackles.

Ramon Sessions is guiding the future point guard
Sessions has averaged almost 11 points per game in the span of his decade-long career. At his best as a player, he held a 46 percent field-goal percentage, per Basketball-Reference. He’s not going to “wow” you, but it’s hard to say if Frank will be the type of guard that wows people, too. For now, Sessions is here to help the Knicks’ future guard adjust to NBA offenses and learn to read defenses. With the speed and athletic ability of guards today, you have to be able to see a move from Irving, Lillard, Curry, or Westbrook before they even commit to it. That type of foresight comes from being under the tutelage of someone who’s done it.

The Knicks are a good case study in showing how you can’t rely solely on trades to get through a rebuild. The league’s unpredictability doesn’t exist without veterans who understand the necessary evil of tanking. The Spurs don’t have Tim Duncan without a lot of losing (Ed. note: Dominque Wilkins’ singular season in San Antonio!). The Wizards don’t get John Wall and then Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. without being bottom-dwellers. We joke about #TrustTheProcess, but let’s be clear: it hasn’t panned out because nobody can stay healthy. If those three lottery picks play even 40 games together this year, then those dreadful seasons were worth it to Philly fans.
That type of success is what the Knicks have been chasing for over a decade. With a new regime and willing veterans, this team can position these contracts into prosperity. Lance Thomas has an opportunity to be more than a player who’s “just there,” while Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, and Ramon Sessions can impart wisdom on the rooks that’ll carry them through what is sure to be a rough two to three years.

— James Woodruff, staff writer

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Young 76ers Set to Pose Possible Challenge to Knicks in Atlantic Division

Is this the year where we can officially trust the process?
Coming into this season, I think it’s fair to say expectations are low for the New York Knicks, with a lottery pick being the key motive come June. One of the interesting storylines, though, in the NBA is how the Philadelphia 76ers will fare with their rebuild now seemingly at high tide. Boasting a potential superstar in Joel Embiid, a young point guard and first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft in Markelle Fultz, a healthy Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and complimentary pieces such as J.J. Redick, their big free agent signing, and Robert Covington.
If all goes to plan, in my eyes, the 76ers could be a low-seeded playoff team in the Eastern Conference considering the relative mediocrity that currently exists amongst teams. That should make life a tad difficult for the Knicks in the Atlantic Division.
Outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards, it’s fair to say the remaining three playoff spots in the conference are relatively open, with the Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, and the 76ers likely competing for them.
Last season, the Knicks and 76ers managed to split the season series 2–2, with the Knicks winning both games at home. Though you might want the Knicks to lose, or you possibly can’t even see them winning these games, the 76ers represent somewhat of a variable in the conference. Being a young team, with two key starters who are yet to experience a regular season game, this 76ers team is a hypothetical threat right now — in other words, they are extremely unproven.
Yes, the potential exists for them to be successful:

If Joel Embiid can remain healthy, he can become a superstar.
If Ben Simmons is as dynamic as he looked during his college days, then he can be a standout player in the league.
If Markelle Fultz can settle into this team from the get-go and be the floor general Philadelphia has oh-so-desperately needed, then they can be be a playoff team.
If Dario Saric can take the next step and become a consistent shooter, this team can have four legitimate scoring options on the court at once.

I’m probably forgetting some, but these teams is riddled with “if’s” and hey, maybe they’ll erase those doubts straight away, but for the time being, what we know is that Fultz and Simmons are yet to play an NBA minute, Embiid has been injury riddled since he stepped foot on the court (31 games played since he was drafted in 2014) and Dario Saric is a streaky shooter (41 percent shooter from the field).

Photo: Winslow Townson/AP

For the Knicks to have success against the 76ers, it’s going to come down to fundamental basketball. Seeing as it’s a young team, if the Knicks can stick to a game plan and look to strike when a team made up of first and second year players eventually makes mistakes, then they have a reasonable shot.
The one major positive the Knicks have is that, until proven otherwise, the best player on the court when these two match up is Kristaps Porzingis. A star in the league, now solely in control of the offense, Porzingis is primed for a breakout year, set to build on the 18.1 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game the Latvian big man averaged last season — a rare silver lining in a torrid season.
Pushing the offense to run around Porzingis, meaning Ntilikina would facilitate the ball to him, attempt to find Hardaway Jr. open on the wing or push the ball inside to Hernangómez is the only way this team will be capable of producing the results necessary to, at the very least, contest teams.
The Knicks have their own if’s, probably more than the 76ers do, but both teams, for the time being, are unproven until the season tips off on October 17.
The Knicks and 76ers will face-off four times this season, the first being a Christmas Day lunch time tipoff at Madison Square Garden, before they play in Philadelphia on February 12 and then twice in two weeks on March 15 at Madison Square Garden and then March 28 at the Wells Fargo Center. Will The Unicorn meet the challenge of The Process?

— Ankit Mehra, staff writer

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With Kyrie Irving, the Celtics Appear Even More Challenging to Overcome for Atlantic Rival Knicks

The Knicks were 1–3 against the Celtics before Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward came to town. How can they contain this revamped Celtics squad?
For the first time in recent memory, the Eastern Conference isn’t clearly LeBron James’ to lose — for now.
The Boston Celtics, last year’s first seed in the East, have elevated from solid team to bona fide title contender. The reclamation project in Beantown is almost complete, and the fruits of Celtics GM Danny Ainge’s labor are quite impressive.
We’ll get to the big prize, Kyrie Irving, in a second, but let’s recap Ainge’s offseason. He shipped out Avery Bradley (possible mistake) but brought in Gordon Hayward. He flipped the number one pick for the third pick, which turned into pro-ready Jayson Tatum plus a future draft pick. Also added on draft night was Semi Ojeleye, who figures to be a decent wing off the bench. European big Guerschon Yabusele joined the fray and replaced Amir Johnson.

That’s the small change. Put the Hayward–Stevens reunion to the side, and this was the move of the summer: Kyrie Irving jumping from the Celtics’ biggest obstacle, Cleveland, to the Celtics is a massive win. To find the last time two alpha teams swapped major pieces you’d have to go back to the 1980s when the Sonics traded Dennis Johnson to the Suns for Paul Westphal.
In other words, we haven’t ever really seen a trade of this magnitude.
In exchange for Kyrie, Ainge sent cult hero Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and that Nets pick to Cleveland. A fair price for a player who can single-handedly win you games. Kyrie’s scoring repertoire is world class. You can talk me into Kyrie having the best handles and finish in the league. There are times it looks like the ball is bouncing off a pillow before falling through the basket.

Photo: Chuck Burton/AP

Boston might overwhelm the ‘Bockers, but there are some ways to exploit the new-look C’s
The Knicks already had enough trouble containing a spread out Celtics attack last season. For the second straight season, the Celtics took three of four from the Knicks, and this season could be more of the same. The good news is the Knicks have little to no interest in winning this season, so every beatdown should be viewed as a scouting opportunity. The Celtics are not just good this season but will be the class of the conference for the foreseeable future. Learn their weaknesses now so they can be exploited when it’s time to contend.
Brad Stevens will likely run a wide array of lineups, Warriors-lite in that respect. For now, the starting lineup will be Kyrie and Jaylen Brown in the backcourt with Hayward, Morris, and Al Horford rounding out the frontcourt. Off the bench: Marcus Smart, Tatum, and the living legend Terry Rozier provide another wave of talent to deal with. (For what it’s worth,’s Jay King reports that Boston could start Tatum at the 4.)
Kyrie should put our young son Frank Ntilikina in the spin cycle early and often. I’m not sure there is a word in the English language to describe what will happen to Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack. More likely than not, Kyrie, the New Jersey native, will have his way against his hometown squad.
Tim Hardaway Jr. will have his hands full with Brown, who has flashed serious potential as a lockdown wing. Hardaway Jr. was paid big bucks to score, and Brown will try his best to make that look like a bad investment. This will be a nice litmus test to see just how versatile THJ can be on offense. The best outcome from these match ups would be for Frank and Hardaway Jr. to learn how to beat their guy, an invaluable lesson for future, more balanced competitions.
Up front is where the Knicks will find a chink in the Celtics’ armor. Horford may stretch the floor but has the presence of a substitute teacher in the paint. Willy Hernangómez, Enes Kanter, and the other bigs should have no trouble cleaning the glass. Boston proved to be one of the worst rebounding teams in 2016–17, actually the 4th worst rebounding team statistically. When Stevens plays Horford with Marcus Morris it would be an embarrassment to not win the battle of the boards.
How well Kristaps Porzingis does against the Celtics will be crucial. Porzingis should flambé Morris, Yabusele, or whomever Stevens attempts to throw his way. Last season KP lost the three games he appeared in against Boston, but he did have his moments.

via FreeDawkins/Youtube, GIF by @reidgoldsmith

His best game came on Christmas when he poured in 22 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks, and two steals in the close loss. That performance was utopian if you’re the Knicks. The stats are impressive alone, but the variety in which he scored was what fans should be hyped about.

via FreeDawkins/Youtube, GIF by @reidgoldsmith

Porzingis tantalized any man Stevens threw at him. He was aggressive on offense and a hound on defense. If he wanted to drive, he drove. If he wanted to pull up, defenders were resigned to helplessly extending their arm. Porzingis has to replicate that style not just versus the Celtics, but against every single team. When he lines up against the Celtics this season he should expect to see a smorgasbord of defenders ranging from Horford to Brown and perhaps even Marcus Smart.

The overarching message here is the Celtics and Knicks are two ships passing in the night. One will go on to challenge the Cavaliers for the throne while the other will look to acquire as many lottery balls as possible.
For four games this season the Knicks will likely take a pounding. The Celtics are better from top to bottom as an organization — but that doesn’t mean these games won’t be entertaining.

— Mike Cortez, staff writer

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