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).
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