Facing the former face of the franchise in his new home is tough enough. Dealing with Russell Westbrook and Paul George too? That’s quite a test to start the season.
The boys are back. It may have only been five months since real Knicks basketball, but it felt like forever. That’s probably because so much has changed in such a shorter amount of time.
Tonight is both the closing of a chapter in the franchise’s history, as well ushering the next. The Knicks travel to Oklahoma City to face the revamped Thunder. Russell Westbrook is back, but is now flanked by two notable co-stars in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Thunder GM Sam Presti won the summer and now he gets to see his hard work in action.
Chemistry will be the theme on both sides. Just like the Thunder, the Knicks have a bunch of new pieces to integrate. Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. will have to become leaders this season and they will be thrown right into the fire.
The big three of Russ, PG-13, and ‘Melo could be the most lethal scoring trio outside of the Bay Area. Let’s see what the Baby ‘Bockers are made of.
Looking for Revenge
I wonder if Summer 16 is on Carmelo’s pregame playlist tonight. I’m operating under the assumption that it’s on loop. I mean he has to feel just a little bitter on how his Knicks career ended. Now that he is gone fans will realize he was one of the best Knicks we will see and I think ‘Melo understands that. But that doesn’t negate all the bullshit shenanigans he put up with in his final two seasons.
The Carmelo-Phil Jackson beef has been covered ad nauseam. It’s always been assumed ‘Melo was fed up but he finally gave his two cents to Marc Stein of The New York Times (good to have Stein back).
“Then last year it went to: I was being pushed out. There were things being said about me that I didn’t know where they were coming from. And I still had to go in that gym and play and practice and deal with the media, answer all those questions every day.”
Jackson is gone but he couldn’t be the only one who wanted Melo out. Tonight he gets his revenge. As a Knick he had trouble beating his former team, the Nuggets (3–9 record), and has yet to win a game in Denver as a visitor. The good news is the Knicks are coming to him and his teammates know he wants this.
Oh, and then there’s this.
‘Melo is out for blood.
Okay enough with ‘Melo and the Thunder, let’s talk some Knicks. This is the start of what could be a long miserable journey. But don’t forget this–this is the best time to be a Knicks fan. To quote the czar Aristotle, it is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.
This is a young team. This might be a bad team, if the 0–5 preseason record is any indicator. And that’s perfectly fine. I’m sure you’re familiar with Marvin Bagley, Michael Porter Jr., and Luka Doncic by now. If you don’t, fear not we’ll get you caught up shortly. Just know that losing right now isn’t the worst thing to happen. The Knicks own all their future first round picks.
As for the guys that are actually on the roster, there’s reason for hope there too. Porzingis makes his debut as the guy. Hardaway Jr. begins his new chapter as a Knick and of course we cannot forget Frank Ntilikina. If the losses pile up, cool, give me those pong balls. If the young guys surprise the hell out of us and make a playoff run, we get playoff basketball at The Garden. I see a win-win here folks.
Let’s Be Frank
According to ESPN’s Ian Begley rookie Frank Ntilikina is fully healthy and ready to play tonight. Frankie Ntillmatic appeared in only one preseason game due to a sore knee. In that sole performance, he scored five points (1-for-7 shooting), notched three assists and added a steal in 18 minutes of action.
Before you freak out, remember Frank was playing in the French finals in late June. There was no reason to risk a major injury in the preseason but now it’s money time. Now it’s time to get Frank in there and see what he’s got.
Jeff Hornacek will ease Frank in, instead starting veteran Ramon Sessions. I think this is a bad move. For one, if there is one thing Frank is ready to do is defend. There is no greater test than Russell Westbrook. He also needs to get as many minutes with Hardaway Jr., and Porzingis as possible.
This is the new core; they can’t mesh if they’re not on the floor together. While Sessions will start this game hopefully Hornacek let’s his young buck get a ton of minutes.
Willy Hernangómez will not start tonight. This is not a surprise after Hornacek called on Hernangómez seldomly this preseason. Despite an impressive rookie season, Hornacek has only played him around 15 minutes in three of the four games he appeared in. The game he started, against the Nets, he put up 17 points and 12 rebounds and still only played 22 minutes. Kanter, on the other hand, did not pull down double-digit rebounds in the four games he played in.
Last season we saw Willy play good alongside Porzingis. Yes, Kanter has a similar playing style, but you can’t predict chemistry. Kanter has yet to start alongside Porzingis so we don’t really know what we have there. Both Willy and Kanter also share the trait of matador defense.
If they are even in virtually every category wouldn’t you ride with the younger guy? Not to mention he’s on the lengthier (and uber-efficient) contract. Hopefully, Hornacek realizes this soon or gets reminded from someone higher up.
Matchup of the Night: Kristaps Porzingis vs. Carmelo Anthony
The master versus the apprentice, a matchup old as time itself. It is no secret Porzingis looked up to ‘Melo. It is also no secret ‘Melo was a great mentor not only to KP but to the Knicks team period. Facing your mentor could be tough but Porzingis will have to face him. ‘Melo is back at the four which means these two will go heads up right from the jump.
We know ‘Melo has the heart of a killer so he will go at the young king and Porzingis knows it. When asked about guarding Melo KP acknowledged it will be a challenge.
“It’s going to be interesting. He’s been in the league for 13, 14 years. I think everybody knows what he’s doing, but nobody can stop him. It’s going to be a challenge for me. I’m going to do my best.’’
Porzingis will have the physical advantage and will have to exercise every inch of that 7’3” frame. ‘Melo is a bull down low with the agility of a golden glove boxer. He may be 33 years old but he still manages to get his shots off in tight quarters and send opponents flying into the air with a pump fake. Porzingis’ patience will be put to the ultimate test as will his ability to protect the paint.
On offense is where Porzingis can return the favor. Defense is neither player’s strong suit so scoring should be plenty. Porzingis is free of the Triangle and Derrick Rose. He will have the ball a lot, free to use his full repertoire. Will he use his length down low or drag Melo out to the perimeter and shoot over him?
He should find success in either scenario but the key should be to vary how he gets his buckets. From here on out he is the sole focus of the other team. His attack has to have variety. Tonight we get a peek in KP’s full bag of tricks.
Tip-off is set for 8pm EST on TNT. Here’s to a new season and a new chapter!