The 2010’s are almost at a close, and it was a decade mostly encapsulated by Carmelo Anthony and the team’s failure to build around the star.
This week at The Knicks Wall, we’re celebrating Decades Week. Using our latest app, the All-Time Team Creator, plus our own knowledge of the past, we’re creating the best, brashest, and most celebrated lineups with players of bygone eras. Play along and read what made the last 50 years of the Knicks tick.
After suffering through a full decade of losing Stephon Marbury and David Lee teams, the Knicks entered the 2010’s with the first semblance of hope for a better future.
It was that inaugural 2010–11 team that broke the spell of nine consecutive losing seasons after trading for potential superstar-in-his-prime Carmelo Anthony. Though the haul the Knicks traded was sizable for a forthcoming free agent and smelt of classic New York short-term move, teaming a soon-to-be scoring champ with a twighlighting six-time All-Star and a decent supporting cast sure was intriguing. For a fleeting moment, it felt like all might become right with the world.
The glimmer of hope those early Obama years and the Anthony trade brought us would soon fade into a smashed fire extinguisher and Amar’e hand lacerations, an abundance of drone strikes, the concept of verticality, and a large Latvian telling us to stay woke on Instagram. The Knicks only made the playoffs those first three years of the decade, unable to fully capitalize on the team’s prime.
Despite the abject failure that would follow, those first three seasons and playoff runs were an awful lot of fun. Those teams had the whack-a-doo cast of lovable role players like Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith, with his shoelace untying and twitter dm antics, Pudgy Ray Felton throwing lobs to a screaming, bearded Tyson Chandler, Old man Sheed, a 6’10″ mailman-looking Steve Novak raining threes, Pablo Prigioni swiping weird steals, Jeremy Lin out-dueling Kobe Bryant, and Shump pump-faking us all with his playoff dunk and hot three-point shooting.
When Roy Hibbert blocked our 28 points per game scoring champ to end the Knicks’ deepest playoff run since 2000, it confirmed that nothing good truly lasts. From that 2012–13 season on, it was back to the dark ages.
By 2015 the Carmelo years were dragging out. Phil Jackson continued trying to implement the triangle, which literally nobody liked. A rotating cast of coaches were criticized until, finally, the ‘Melo years that defined the decade ended with a trade to Oklahoma City for an annoying stopgap center in Enes Kanter, Dougie McBuckets (whose chemistry with Kyle O’Quinn will be legend to my grandchildren), and the second-round pick that would become…Mitchell Robinson.
The promise and heartbreak of the Kristaps Porzingis story has the feel of a Shakespearian tragedy. There’s something special about a homegrown superstar, and KP definitely had the look of one early on. We’ll never actually know what went down between KP and the Knicks’ regime, but the situation seemed wildly mishandled by Phil Jackson. Jackson already ruined the end of Anthony’s prime by forcing him into his outdated schemes and then sullied his good name by publicly criticizing his work ethic, but watching Phil push away Kristaps was somehow more painful.
Kristaps went from a symbol of hope for a post-Melo future to a signifier of the Knicks’ incompetence and an avatar of despair. But the Knicks had to take one parting shot at the fanbase, and they saved it for the final summer. Not only do we have the ghost of Carmelo’s career from the 2010’s, but now the spirits of the KD-Kyrie and Luka-Kristaps pairings will haunt us for another decade to come.
That being said, the Knicks Wall’s Ryan Gray made a really cool build-your-own-team app and the Knicks best of the 2010’s is a sad bunch. They’re all fun players, but my soul is a black hole and none of this matters and Ryan’s app ranked them a 5.9/10. Probably fair. I would be very upset with a 59 on a test. Most are from that 2012–13 team, as it was the most dynamic squad of the decade. We have a two point-guard lineup because that’s what that team mostly ran. Here we go:
2011–12 Jeremy Lin
To have lived in New York during Linsanity is indescribable. The biggest basketball fandom in the smallest geographic area of the states all rooting on a scrawny D-Leaguer to turn around a team that had just lost 11 of 13 games and appeared out of the playoff race. A 15th man off the bench, sleeping on his brother’s couch in Stuy Town, electrified the city for a two-week period that felt like an eternity.
Despite all the glam and glitz of the city, like 80% of the city’s residents are working class, and live with an underdog mentality everyday. Jeremy Lin gave us someone to believe in. We weren’t just believing in him, though—his grit rubbed off, and it felt like everyone believed in themselves that little bit more during Linsanity. You could feel the energy pulsing through the boroughs, every step being taken with a little more bounce.
I remember how excited my two Chinese-American friends in high school were when Jeremy Lin signed a 10-day contract with the Knicks. They’d post his every D-League highlight and talk about every minute he played off the bench, before he even landed in New York. Neither of them expected Lin to be great, but a Chinese-American man representing them on the biggest stage in basketball felt monumental. Yao Ming was an immigrant himself, but for most Asian Americans, he wasn’t as easy to relate to as Lin, who grew up in America first-generation, and wasn’t groomed for or even expected to make the league.
Racism against Asian Americans isn’t always as cut and dry as it is against black Americans or other subgroups. It’s usually disguised among the model minority myth, fetishization, and charges of soft-spokenness. So for Lin to loudly force himself into the spotlight and national conversation with his play wasn’t to be taken lightly. And it wasn’t just basketball either: his celebrity exploded as well (Kim K. supposedly asked for an intro), turning him into a cultural icon of a moment and a symbol of beating down stereotypes.
Ursula Liang, a former reporter for ESPN The Magazine, said this about what it meant to live through Linsanity as an Asian-American:
“Until Linsanity, I’d never thought critically about my identity as an Asian-American in this country. It was through all of the madness that surrounded Lin that I finally understood what being Asian-American meant, what having pride for my heritage and my family’s traditions truly meant. I comprehended that Asian-Americans face an uphill battle to escape the periphery in cultural discussions in this country. Linsanity, at this point, isn’t even about Lin.”
I could recap all the actual games that forced him into this mythical position, but no amount of stat lines or narrative could do those games justice. They were magical. Lin sliced to the rim fearlessly throughout, nailed his off-the-dribble threes before that was en-vogue, found his teammates and generally ripped unsuspecting teams to shreds. He got MVP chants in his first career start. He dropped 38 points to out-duel Kobe Bryant. He hit a wild game-winning triple in Toronto, and proved again and again that this wasn’t a fluky game or two.
His face was on every TV station, every hour of the day. Please take some time this weekend to relive these moments. The highlights are nice, but this video of Asian-Americans explaining what Linsanity meant to them highlights how important this moment was a lot better than any amount of buckets could.
2012–13 Jason Kidd
Though he was 39 at the start of the 2012–13 season, Jason Kidd was as important as anyone to that 2012–13 roster. His foot speed had left him, but his sleight of hand as a defender and his basketball acumen shone through as he masterminded the Knicks’ scheme from the court. Though he only averaged six points, four rebounds, and three assists with his 27 minutes a game, his fingerprints were all over the team. Even ‘Melo wanted to run the offense through Kidd, per The New York Times.
“He told me, ‘Let’s play through you,'” Kidd said. “Coach wanted to play through Carmelo, but Carmelo was like, ‘No, I want to play through Jason.’ I think that’s the greatest compliment a teammate can get.”
The 2012–13 squad broke the then all-time record for most threes made in a single season. Jason Kidd’s ball swings rubbed off, and he got the whole team to play a more trusting brand of basketball. The Knicks had a lot of dynamic players and Kidd was the perfect complementary one. He played 68% of his minutes at shooting guard this season and hit a solid 35% of his deep balls. He’s gelling much better than THJ or Shumpert as part of the All-Decade squad.
2012–13 J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith is not only the best Knick of the decade, but probably the best to ever don the orange and blue. I swear to god, he shot 10 percentage points higher on step backs than open jumpers in his Knicks career. He got his brother a real-life NBA contract with the Knicks despite, per Woj, “Within the Knicks coaching staff, they believe Chris Smith doesn’t even have the talent to be an NBA Development League player – never mind worthy of a roster spot. One opposing GM called him ‘maybe the worst player in the history of the [NBA] summer league.’”
He untied another player’s shoes while boxing out on a free throw. Multiple times. He was downing brown liquid by the bottle before a playoff game, and Rihanna called him out on Instagram for clubbing before EVERY playoff game. He posted pictures of actual piping on Twitter after the infamous DM to try to cover his tracks. He went to China during the 2011 lockout season and was dropping 60-point games while skipping every practice (resulting in over a million dollars of fines). And Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals wasn’t the only time J.R. forgot the score in a critical moment of a game. If the Knicks don’t erect a statue of J.R. outside of the Garden by the time his career ends, I’ll personally crowdfund one.
— Robert Littal (@BSO) June 1, 2018
2012–13 Carmelo Anthony
What more is there to say about our beloved cherubic scoring champ? The man with the most heartwarming smile in the NBA gave the under-25 Knicks fan crowd their first real taste of the playoffs. The 2010’s are the decade of ‘Melo. There’s no way around it. The Knicks should top the decade off by signing hoodie/Lifetime Fitness Melo to a 12th man role. He deserves to go out with some grace.
2012–13 Tyson Chandler
Chandler’s best defensive years were behind him when the 2012–13 season rolled around, but his residual bounce mixed with his seasoned timing meant his defense was still strong enough to intimidate. He was more of that intimidator than full blown rim protector at this stage, but his aggression and ferocity gave the team an identity. His white hot energy was the yin to Kidd’s cool, patient yang.
2017–18 Kristaps Porzingis
I can’t wait until R.J. dunks on Kristaps. He’s not an iconic Knick and doesn’t need a sappy missive. But I’d be remiss to leave him off the decade squad, solely from a talent perspective. He would have made the decade starting lineup it if he wasn’t so reluctant to play the 5. Carmelo is our 4 and nothing will move him.
2011–12 Steve Novak
Steve Novak was an assassin. He shot 47.2% from deep on over five attempts per in 2011–12 season. He had one of the coldest strokes in the game and could get it off with the tiniest sliver of daylight given his 6’10″ height. The threat of his shot opened up a lot for his Knicks squads. Those discount double-check celebrations will never be forgotten.
2010–11 Raymond Felton
Raymond Felton is somehow one of the most memorable players for the Knicks this decade. It’s not his statistical play as much as the improbability of his motions that amazed me over the years watching him run the show. You just never expected a stocky dude like him, who sort of waddled as he brought the ball up, to have this quick burst. He always seemed to surprise defenders with his speed, and his pick-and-roll chemistry with Chandler was crafted by the gods. Watching him scamper around the Chandler-Anthony double screens and as one rolled and the other popped was a thing of beauty. I’m awarding this spot to the 2010–11 version of Felton who was traded for ‘Melo, before he signed with the Knicks two summers later. He played 54 games for the Knicks that 2010–11 season and averaged 17 and nine as the lead guard.
The 2010’s were another shit decade for the Knicks. Zach Lowe was right to give up hope as a fan. The organization has failed us over and over again, yet we keep coming back, like a toxic ex. But there’s something comforting about the pain an ex keeps making you go through. It’s sadistic, but I’m ready to endure another decade of it.