The New York Knicks seemed lottery bound from the beginning of the 2017-18 season, even before star big man Kristaps Porzingis tore his left ACL in February. The team will likely find themselves in a similar position – outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture – in 2018-19.
Last year’s Knicks peaked in mid-December with a 16-13 record, pushing for playoff contention by opting to play the team’s veteran players – such as Jarrett Jack and Courtney Lee – for an extended period of time. This was in lieu of giving young players such as Frank Ntlikina and Willy Hernangomez a chance to gain experience.
Once Porzingis was lost for the season, Ntlikina and other youngsters Emmanuel Mudiay, Dameyan Dotson, and Luke Kornet were given more opportunities to prove themselves during the end of an already lost campaign. By season’s end, the New York Knicks had trudged their way to a 29-53 record, good enough for 11th in the Eastern Conference. After finishing among the league’s most mediocre teams despite preseason playoff hopes, the team decided to fire head coach Jeff Hornacek after just his second season with the franchise. Outside of the savvy signing of new head coach David Fizdale, the cap space-starved Knicks were without suitable assets to make a big signing in this summer’s free agency, and will now send out a very similar team to last year’s 29-win squad – sans Michael Beasley and Kyle O’Quinn.
However, the new regime that includes president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry has made a number of positive moves since former president Phil Jackson was ousted last summer. In one of the more under-the-radar moves of last season, the team brought in point guard Trey Burke, who played arguably his best stretch of basketball in the NBA since being drafted in 2013. Burke will be competing with the aforementioned defensive specialist Ntlikina – who was selected by Perry in the 2017 NBA Draft – for the starting point guard gig this season.
In a similar revelation to his former Michigan teammate, Tim Hardaway Jr. also experienced success with the Knicks last season and should look to make an even bigger jump in the second year of his four-year, $71 million deal. Especially with Porzingis sidelined for at least a sizable portion of the season, Hardaway has the potential to elevate his game to new heights as the likely focal point of the Knicks offense to start the season.
Opposite Hardaway on the wings will likely be athletic forward Mario Hezonja, whom the Knicks took a flier on after an unsuccessful stint with the Orlando Magic. After signing a one-year deal, Hezonja will have a great opportunity with the Knicks to cement his place in the league after struggling for consistent playing time in Orlando.
Enes Kanter will control the paint once again, as he has been the epitome of consistency since joining the New York Knicks last summer. However, with free agency approaching and potential draft steal Mitchell Robinson behind him, the Turkish big will likely find himself in another uniform sooner rather than later.
The most significant addition to the New York Knicks’ lineup is rookie Kevin Knox, who looks like he could be the steal of the draft despite being selected over both national champion Mikal Bridges and Michael Porter Jr. In a season that will likely only mean another young talent being added in the offseason, the development of Knox should be the New York Knicks’ priority this season.
For a team that is likely destined for mediocrity again in 2018-19, the Knicks boast a solid starting lineup in the East, despite not having their star player on the court. Not to mention, a bench unit that includes Burke, Lee, Dotson, and Robinson is very intriguing as well. Dotson and Robinson, in particular, could be key rotation pieces for years to come with the Knicks. Their potential is worth monitoring all season long.
Don’t be surprised if a Ntlikina-Hardaway-Dotson-Knox-Robinson lineup becomes one of the team’s most lethal unicorn-less rotations down the road, especially with a player’s coach like Fizdale overseeing the team. Fizdale’s ability to work with talent, which he has already proven to be superior at than Hornacek while coaching the Memphis Grizzlies, will be the x-factor for the success of the Knicks now, and especially in upcoming seasons.
In the end, while the New York Knicks will boast a number of exciting talents that could turn into valuable difference makers down the road, it’s going to be a rough season on the record books. However, the difference with this year’s team is that there will be reasoning and a direction paired alongside another average campaign. While a torn ACL to your franchise player can never truly be better for the team, Porzingis’ absence for at least the first half of the season will force other players – such as Knox and Ntlikina – to garner extra responsibility, thus accelerating them closer to their potential earlier than otherwise anticipated. It may take a magnifying glass to see that silver lining, but even a healthy Porzingis wouldn’t be enough to make the Knicks contenders – the Latvian All-Star can’t do it all himself, even if sometimes it seems like he can.
Luckily for New York, they are located in one of the largest markets in sports and play their home games in the most storied arena in the association, Madison Square Garden. As a result, New York will always be an attractive destination for free agents every offseason; and with a pair of stars in Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler reportedly looking at the possibility of donning the iconic orange and blue, this could be the last season of underachieving in the Mecca. The last era of successful basketball in New York has been over for a number of years now, but with an exciting young core, the real possibility of stars joining the team and a unicorn leading the way, fun times could be on the horizon in the Big Apple.