Our own Jonathan Macri presents an honorific award ceremony celebrating the 2017–18 team—some good, some bad, and everything in between.
To say the Knicks have played some abhorrent basketball this millennium is probably an understatement. I know because I have eyes and an as yet undiagnosed condition that prohibits me from quitting this team. As far as dysfunctional crushes go, Jack Twist ain’t got nothin’ on me.
It’s easy to get lost in the bad stuff, but if we all did that…
Well, we’d be Knicks Twitter.
Let’s try a different approach. Let’s try our best to celebrate the good, while also not keeping our heads completely in the sand. We’re going to highlight some of the bright spots (and not so bright spots) in a season that has had its fair share of ups and downs.
At no point were those highs higher than when the recipient of our first award was giving something to fans that they haven’t experienced in a long time: pure, unadulterated hope…
The Patrick Ewing “Bad Motherf&%ker” Award…
…goes to a guy who we’ve nearly forgotten made us all proud to be Knicks fans earlier this season, Kristaps Porzingis.
New York has had a few Bad MoFo’s since Pat. Latrell Sprewell was the basketball version of Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction, and Carmelo Anthony could turn into “Bully ‘Melo” on occasion. But KP is gets this award because he’s the first Knick in 30 years to be a) under 25, b) flash an All-NBA First Team ceiling and c) put the team on his back for stretches of games and say “get out of my way, I got this.”
Sure his efficiency suffered as the season wore on, but that’s what happens when you give a 22-year-old his own team and say “go figure it out.” What should have been reinforced over the last two months of miserable basketball but instead has somehow gotten lost was just how good Porzingis was for this team. The morning he went down, the Knicks were 16th in defensive efficiency. Since then, they’ve been dead last. He was a damn miracle worker out there.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 20, 2018
On offense, his drop off from “otherworldly” to just “really good” belittles how rare an accomplishment it was for him to put up the numbers he did. This season, Porzingis became only the 13th 22-or-under player ever to average 20 points with at least a 53 true shooting percentage and a usage rate over 30, per Basketball-Reference. The other 12: Jordan, Shaq, Kobe, T-Mac, LeBron, ‘Melo, KD, Russ, Rose, Kyrie, Embiid, and Devin Booker this year. Not a terrible NBA roster.
He is also quite literally changing the game, as he nearly became the first guy in NBA history to average two blocks and two threes a night (he wound up finishing at 2.4 and 1.9, and was indeed the first to put up that combo).
It’s all a reminder that with everything Scott Perry has on his plate moving forward, there is one thing that must remain at the top of his list: making sure the unicorn spends his prime (at least) in a Knicks uniform. Whether KP is in New York, Latvia, or the moon when the clock strikes midnight on July 1, the Knicks brass best be there with a max extension and two pens, just in case one runs out of ink. After all, writing “Kristaps Porzingis, the Baddest Motherf&%ker on this or any other planet” on several legal documents takes up a lot of ink.
The Andrea Bargnani “Wait, was this guy ever good?” Award…
…goes to Emmanuel Mudiay, a.k.a., the Mop—since he covers more ground on ill-fated drives to the basket than anyone in the NBA.
To answer the question…no, Emmanuel Mudiay was never very good. His rookie year saw him finish 391st in ESPN’s Real Plus Minus rankings (an imperfect stat, to be sure, but not completely useless). Mudiay followed that up with a 435th place finish. Coming into this season, you’d have thought he had nowhere to go but up.
You’d have thought wrong.
On the bright side, he isn’t dead last this season (that honor goes to Malik Monk, whose performance should make every Knicks fan count their lucky croissants for The French Prince). No, Mudiay finished third to last. Out of 514 qualified players. Let that sink in.
Emmanuel Mudiay might lead the league in falls to the floor. Learn more about that and other areas where he can (is working to) improve his game in my latest for @TheKnicksWall #Knicks pic.twitter.com/oIxPXvedUb
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) February 9, 2018
There is, of course, one huge difference between Mudiay and the namesake for this award. The Knicks gave up a future first-round pick (along with two seconds) for the right to watch Bargs stink up the joint. The move was derided the moment it happened. Mudiay came at the far lesser cost of Doug McDermott—a player not in New York’s long-term plans—and a middling second-rounder.
It’s why, even in light of how bad Mudiay has been (opponents’ abuse of the Knicks with Mudiay on the court makes Ramsey Bolton’s treatment of Theon Greyjoy look downright hospitable), you make that low-risk trade with no regrets. One never knows what a change of scenery will do for a player, especially a former mid-lottery pick. Sometimes (although not, apparently, in this case) the light bulb just goes on.
Need proof? Guess who was sixth from the bottom in RPM last year? None other than our next award recipient…
The Jeremy Lin-(insert last name of surprising player here)-sanity Award…
…goes to Trey Burke, for going from a punch line to the Knicks’ best player (in March/April) in a matter of months.
When the Knicks signed Burke to a G League deal, the logical part of your brain said “smart, low-risk move on a high pedigree player.” The part of your brain with a metal plate over it due to repeated blunt-force trauma incurred after years of rooting for this team said otherwise. It was classic Knicks—go for the flashy name when some hard-working nobody from a school you never heard of would have been a better served getting the roster spot.
Much like Lin, Burke’s emergence has raised a whole host of questions about his future fit with the team. The temptation is to say that his shooting efficiency can’t possibly keep up, and that long term, his defense will become an issue against the league’s most efficient offenses. Luckily, unlike Lin, the Knicks get another year to figure out how big a diamond in the rough they found in Burke.
In the meantime, let’s all be thankful that Young Iverson made the Knicks roughly 27 percent more watchable over the last month.
The John Starks nonononononoYES! Award…
…goes to the man who dons Starks’ famed No. 3, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Not since everyone’s favorite CBA walk-on has a Knick been quite as maddening as Timmy. Like Starks, Hardaway Jr. thinks he’s something between 10 and 50 percent better than he actually is. Starks was able to harness that mentality, and eventually used it to make an All-Star team when no one thought he had a place in the league coming out of Oklahoma State. The problem was that he didn’t know how to shut it off.
Did you know that in the 1993–94 season—the one featuring Starks’ lone All-Star appearance—he shot under 40 percent in nearly half of the games he played in, including the playoffs? We tend to romanticize him because he was part of a Knicks team that, you know…wasn’t terrible, but in reality, Starks was an incredibly frustrating player to watch on a nightly basis.
From the first half: A big time BANG call from Mike Breen for Tim Hardaway Jr. pic.twitter.com/pJy9b2gEmO
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 15, 2018
Timmy, in some ways, is even more exasperating. He has more natural talent than Starks ever dreamed of, along with three extra inches and 25 pounds. If he gave the consistent effort on defense that Starks did and drove the lane as much as his size and athleticism would indicate he could, he’d seemingly be an All-Star.
On some nights this year, he’s certainly looked like one. On others, he looks like a senior who was forced to play with the JV squad because he showed up late to practice. Still, every good team needs an irrational confidence guy. Ultimately though, like Starks, THJ’s ideal role is probably supporting bench units and utilizing that alpha dog mentality for good instead of evil.
The Carmelo Anthony Fanbase Divisiveness Award…
…goes to the man he was traded for, Enes Kanter.
No, Kanter isn’t getting the Charles Oakley Toughness Award, which I’m not about to give to someone who widens the eyes of opposing offenses more than a college freshman at his first keg party.
I’m also not giving him the David Lee “Good Stats/Bad Team” award because, for all of his faults, Kanter has meant more to this particular Knicks team than Lee ever did. In a lost year, he at least gave them some semblance of an edge, even if the whole “I love my team, I love this city” act should be taken with several grains of salt.
No, Kanter gets this award because he’s divided the fan base almost as much as ‘Melo, which is really saying something. By the end of Anthony’s tenure, even though everyone agreed it as time for him to go, half the fans swore he was the cause of the team’s issues while the other half was convinced he was held back by them. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between.
As for Kanter, I’ve been as big a critic of his as anyone, but also recognize how rare a presence he is, albeit in a game that has seemingly passed him by. On one hand, he’s the only player in the league this year with 63 true shooting percentage and both usage and rebound rates over 20. The numbers—plus playing through all manner of injuries—have some fans hoping he opts out of his contract so the team can hand him a long-term deal nearing nine figures (I am not making this up; I’ve interacted with these people on Twitter).
On the other hand, according to Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks are essentially the same team on offense whether Kanter plays or sits. On defense, they improve by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s off the court, which doesn’t sound like a lot but is bigger than the difference between the 13th- and 26th-ranked defenses in the league. Teams’ effective field-goal percentages increase by three points with Kanter on the court, which is in the 11th percentile league-wide. Add it all up, and these stats say that the Knicks would improve by seven wins over a full season if Kanter was nowhere to be found.
Ironically enough, which of these two sides the Turkish big man believes could play a huge role in how the Knicks attack this summer, what with Kanter’s player option the difference between them having virtually no cap space and the team having over $20 million to play with.
Whatever side of the Kanter debate you fall on, one thing is for sure: this season would have been a lot more boring without him.
The J.R. Smith “If that guy ever figures it all out…” Award…
…goes to your favorite player’s favorite player who probably can’t get a two-year guaranteed deal because he’s lives on a planet that hasn’t been discovered yet, Michael Beasley.
The Beas has been one hell of an experience this year. There are stretches of games where you shake your head watching him going to work on offense, not because of all the different ways he can score, but because it happens so damn effortlessly. It’s really not work for him at all. There’s a reason why he’s one of three players in the league this season to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from deep and average at least 21 points per 36 minutes. The other two? Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Durant.
And then there’s the other times—the times where you look at the guy and wonder if he had a few hits of that good stuff right before tip-off. He throws passes that Larry Bird wouldn’t attempt, commits inexplicable turnovers and defends like someone is paying him under the table. The fact that we know he can defend and at times finds open men like a 6’8″ point guard makes it all the more frustrating.
Just like J.R., even though the good moments are really good, they’re generally outweighed by the bad. I’d bet still that just like Smith, there will be a moment in his career when Beasley swings a playoff series in favor of his team. It’s going to be a situation where he’s not overextended and where a coach can finally limit the mind-boggling moments that hold him back.
It’s probably not going to be in New York, where playoff bouts are still a few years away. If this is the only season we get out of the Walking Bucket, like most fans, I’ll remember it fondly. Some Knicks just leave a lasting impression. Beasley definitely qualifies.
The Charlie Ward/Rodney Dangerfield Award…
…goes to Jarrett Jack, a guy who was about as popular here as the journeyman QB blocking a first-rounder’s route to the starting job.
I get it. I do. There’s no NBA skill that Jack is particularly good at at this point in his career. His shooting was that of a pro on his last legs and his defense, well…his defense made his offense look Westbrookian by comparison. There aren’t any stats to back this up, but I’d bet a cold one that the Knicks would have just been better off committing an intentional foul every time Jack and Kanter attempted to defend a high pick-and-roll. That they shared the court for 1094 minutes, the fourth most of any pair on the team (thanks again, Jeff!) certainly didn’t help fans’ perception of either dude.
Jarrett Jack coaching up Frank after this drive pic.twitter.com/X1FNdmcU9y
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) April 4, 2018
But here’s the thing: for all of his issues, Jack was somehow, some way, a positive force for this team. From the moment he got the starting job to the day KP went down, the Knicks were 23–28 with Jack at the helm. Over that time, New York was a better team when he was on the court than when he was off. According to Cleaning the Glass’s efficiency differential statistic (the same one that says Kanter was worth -7 wins), the Knicks were a 39-win team with Jack on the court and a 25-win team without him. Make of that what you will.
Like Ward 25 years ago, Jack’s first day on the job was also the first day fans couldn’t wait to get rid of him. Frank Ntilikina is the future of this team, and every minute Jack was on the court was a minute Frank wasn’t. It wasn’t his fault. He just came to work every day and did his job. For that, he gets my respect.
The Anthony Bonner “I just like the guy” Award…
…goes to Lance Thomas, the Knick everyone loves to hate on, but who for reasons I can’t quite explain, has always had a special place in my heart.
The guy the award is named after was a bit player on the ’94 Finals team. He was like a homeless man’s Charles Oakley, and as an 11-year-old kid watching that team, I told myself that if I was ever a pro athlete, Bonner was the type of guy I’d play like (spoiler alert: I was never very good at sports).
Lance Thomas isn’t much better at basketball than Bonner. In fact, he might be worse. I honestly have no idea, and shockingly, there isn’t a ton of Anthony Bonner footage floating around on the internet. But for an organization that has been a clown show for most of the last 20 years, Thomas being a consummate professional has value.
As this team hopefully transitions into an era where we can all stop wearing bags over our heads, I’m happy they had Thomas around this season—maybe not to, you know, play, but just to be there. That he also knows how to and actually cares about playing defense doesn’t hurt either.
Thomas will be paid $7 million next season unless the Knicks opt to rid themselves of Lance via trade or buyout or by any menas necessary. In the meantime, can everyone just give a little appreciation to the longest tenured New York Knick?
(Yes, you’re still allowed to wince every time he takes a jump shot.)
The Nate Robinson “I LOVE being a Knick” Award…
…goes to Queens product Kyle O’Quinn.
This might seem like an odd match, but over my lifetime watching this team, no one seemed to enjoy playing under the bright lights of MSG quite like Robinson, and you could feel that happiness seeping out of his pores every minute he was on the court. There was also this sense that he was never quite able to fully unlock his potential. He had many moments that made you think twice about his ceiling.
O’Quinn has never reached those heights, but as a big man, he plays the game with about as much flare as you can without having supreme athleticism, which he most certainly does not. He might be the best passer on the team, and his elbow jumper is weirdly silky. Some advanced stats say that he has been among the Knicks best players for a few years now, which is one of the reasons he may have played his last game in orange and blue.
Kyle O’Quinn: Fan Favorite pic.twitter.com/rlHbitr9R7
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) April 4, 2018
If he does leave, I can guarantee you that despite all the losing, he will look back on these three years as his favorite in an NBA uniform. Not many guys have been happy to be a Knick over the last two decades, but like Nate the Great, O’Quinn revels in it. His sideline histrionics are and will remain legendary, and he is absolutely your favorite player’s favorite teammate. I love me some Kyle O’Quinn.
But not as much as I love the recipient of our final award…
The Danilo Gallinari Untapped Potential Award…
…goes to Frank Ntilikina, a player who, in five or ten years, hopefully reminds absolutely nobody of the Knicks Italian import from a decade ago.
I’m Italian in descent, so it wasn’t a real shocker to my friends that when Gallinari entered the league, I was more than a bit bullish on him. I remember during his second season in New York, I was having a conversation with a buddy of mine and said with a straight face that there was only one player in the entire league I would trade Gallo straight up for (I believe it was Derrick Rose, ironically enough).
To me, his combination of height, shooting, fearlessness, shot creation, and ability to defend just enough had me convinced he would be a multiple time All-Star. More importantly, I thought he had the swagger to be THE guy in a city where few willingly took that mantle.
We all know what happened next. He was dealt away in the ‘Melo trade, and while he’s had a perfectly fine albeit injury-plagued post-Knicks career (15 points per game with a 58 true shooting), it’s safe to say he fell a bit short of my expectations.
Other than Kristaps Porzingis, who a blind rat could have identified as an all world talent from the get go, the only player in three decades who’s matched my Gallo-levels of excitement is another foreign import, 19-year-old Frank Ntilikina.
Is it odd to say this about a guy who just finished a rookie year in which he averaged under six points a game on 36.4 percent shooting? Of course. Was it probably insane for me to tell someone last week on Twitter that I wouldn’t do a straight up Frank for Kawhi deal if it was on the table? Absolutely. Have my confidence levels in a scrawny kid who hasn’t once score 20 points in a game reached absurd levels? You betcha.
I don’t care. I’m all in on Frankie Smokes. What this franchise has needed more than anything—even a superstar—since the days of Patrick and Riles and Mase and Oak is an unselfish floor general who leads by example on both ends of the floor and only cares about one thing: beating his opponent by any means necessary. Frank’s quiet demeanor might have thrown some off his scent, but read between the lines and you’ll see the type of player that every winning team in the league has at least one of.
There’s still a lot of work to do, starting with eight hour days in the gym and weight room this summer. The organization also needs to send out a clear reminder to everyone—including Ntilikina himself—that they have his back 100 percent, and are going to invest every resource imaginable into making him the player he’s meant to be.
The future is bright, Knicks fans. We know one guy who’s already prepared for the light.