The New York Knicks were at one point both surprising and promising during the 2017-18 NBA regular season. Sadly, now they’re neither.
New York has slid since a hot start, as injuries have taken their toll and knocked a would-be playoff contender out of the top 8 spots in the Eastern Conference.
Few can be too upset with the Knickerbockers, of course, as this team couldn’t have been expected to be much better than they were a year ago.
Gone are veteran scorers like Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, while the team hasn’t had a healthy starting five for the majority of the season.
Still, Kristaps Porzingis got the year started off with a bang, at one point putting up over 30 points per game on a nightly basis. New York looked like one of the better teams in a mildly improved Eastern Conference and with The Unicorn leading the charge, there was hope this roster knew no bounds.
Injuries struck, however, with Tim Hardaway Jr. going from reliable scorer to a ghost on the bench. From there, the pressure slowly got to Zinger, while an aging Jarrett Jack and a band of misfits featuring the likes of Enes Kanter and Michael Beasley saw competitive games get away from the Knicks.
At this point, the once promising Knicks don’t look like the greatest bet to crack the NBA playoffs. It’s not difficult to find a trusted US gambling site if you did want to bet on them making it, but right now most bettors would say that might be a waste of time.
After all, at the time of this writing, the Knicks have dropped 7 of their last 10 games and rest in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons and 76ers are ahead of them in 8th and 9th place, respectively, and are poor bets to slide below New York.
Even worse, the Charlotte Hornets remain pesky and the young Chicago Bulls are rapidly maturing before our very eyes. As hard as this pill is to swallow, the Knicks as we know them don’t appear to be a viable playoff threat.
Perhaps not, but they absolutely could be.
For a variety of reasons, New York seems to be holding itself back. Jeff Hornacek hasn’t always made the best adjustments during games and he certainly raises question marks with his starting lineup and overall rotations.
There is an argument to be made that if the right moves were made, the Knicks could go from fringe playoff threat to a dangerous team few would want to see during postseason play.
If you’re looking for that type of optimism, consider these 5 changes New York shouldn’t brush aside so quickly:
Take Some Pressure Off of Zinger
The chief concern with the Knicks is the fact that they’ve had little problem running their best player into the ground. Porzingis can be a monster at both ends of the court, but he routinely logs heavy minutes and is often asked to carry the offensive load a bit too much.
That was evident during a recent stretch, as Zinger had publicly admitted he was fatigued and also voiced concern over not having a healthy Tim Hardaway Jr. in the lineup.
THJ is back, but his presence alone isn’t going to rescue the Knicks. New York needs to find ways to maximize Porzingis on offense, but without draining his life force.
Porzingis is one of the best young stars in the NBA, but the Knicks aren’t winning a title this year and probably not next year, either. They can’t exhaust their most precious weapon just for the mere hope of cracking the playoffs.
Ascending the ranks is the goal this year (and the point of this article), but at what cost? It can’t be with Zinger limping to the finish line, both for this year and for the future.
How do the Knicks do this? It’s pretty simple, actually. Shed some of his minutes, use him as a decoy more frequently and run plays for other options to ease some of the pressure on him.
Shift Enes Kanter to the Bench Permanently
The Knicks do a few things well. One of them is rebounding (9th in the NBA) and a big reason for that is star center, Enes Kanter.
Kanter has been a mild revelation since being acquired in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s given the Knicks a reliable glass cleaner and he’s a fantastic isolation scorer.
Unfortunately, for anything good Kanter provides as a scorer and rebounder, he tends to give right back on the defensive end of the court. Kanter briefly looked competent defensively in OKC, but has since regressed in that facet of his game.
New York has done a pretty good job masking him for the most part, but it’s impossible not to wonder how much better they’d be on that end of the court with him playing a smaller role. Kanter thrived as a bench spark with the Thunder and it’d make sense to shift him back to something similar.
This shift could also spread the Knicks out offensively amongst the starting five. As things stand, there are arguably too many mouths to feed in the first unit and not enough explosiveness off the bench.
Moving Kanter to the bench strengthens New York’s depth and overall bench scoring, while their collection of bigs should be able to give them one guy who can be counted on as a nightly two-way starter.
Does that mean Zinger tries the full-time slide over to the five? Could it mean a promotion for Willy Hernangomez, Joakim Noah or Kyle O’Quinn?
One of those things could happen and while it wouldn’t guarantee anything, it’d have the potential to improve the Knicks in two areas with just one move.
Get Rid of One of Those Bigs
As interesting as New York’s logjam of big men could be for the moment, it’s also a problem. Deep rotations are useful, but New York truly has too many centers – so many, that they don’t even use them all.
The bigger problem might be the cash tied up at the position. Joakim Noah is one horrendous contract, while all of these guys outside of Willy are owed a ton of cash. Nobody is swinging a favorable deal to take Noah off New York’s hands, either, so the Knicks have to make a tough decision.
Perhaps that’s unloading Kanter for whatever they can get of value, maybe they’ll part with Hernangomez or perhaps KOQ brings something nice back.
Freeing up some space is key here, however, as it not only cements the rotation inside the paint, but hypothetically could also bring back a necessary bench shooter.
If I were making the call, Noah is the first out the door if I can find a palatable deal. I doubt that exists, so KOQ would be the next to go. Kanter is still an asset in at least two ways and Willy is too intriguing to rid of so quickly.
Regardless, someone from this group needs to go and if the Knicks make the right move, it could bring back some help that gives the team’s bench scoring a boost.
Keep Michael Beasley as Key Part of Rotation
The resurgence of Michael Beasley both complicates things and also offers an alternative solution.
Beasley has erupted again as a scorer, which could give the Knicks a tantalizing option to be added permanently to the starting five, or he could carve out a niche off the bench.
I’m fine either way, so long as Beasley doesn’t waste away on New York’s sideline. Beasley has proven he’s an elite spark at the very worst and a more than capable starter at best.
He leaves a lot to be desired defensively and he can be a bit of a black hole, but it’s not easy to find shooters and sound overall scorers like this.
Head coach Jeff Hornacek recently suggested that with the Knicks getting healthier, Beasley could run into games where he’s playing very little or not at all. That shouldn’t be happening.
New York, in their current state, can’t be scoffing at an elite scorer, regardless of his limitations. The idea of using this collection of lead-footed big men over Beasley is a joke and it’s a notion the Knicks need to dismiss.
If New York sticks with this plan, then moving on from Beasley via trade is worth considering.
Beasley has proven he can help a team on offense and if the Knicks aren’t going to capitalize on the gem they’ve uncovered, they should at least explore bringing in new assets for him.
Start Frank Ntilikina Over Jarrett Jack
Lastly, whether you’re talking about the Knicks finding success this year or beyond, I think the end of Jarrett Jack’s reign has to come in the near future.
Jack has certainly been better than expected, but he is not a reliable scorer, is generally inconsistent and normally isn’t an efficient shooter. He’s also not the greatest point guard in general and is far from New York’s best defender up front.
Even in his prime, Jack often lacked the consistency or awareness to deliver elite results. Now at 34 and slowed down by injuries, Jack isn’t the long-term answer at the point and he probably shouldn’t be the short-term one for much longer, either.
That might be the case even if the Knicks didn’t have a budding star behind him in Frank Ntilikina. But they do, and they also have competent bench fodder in Ron Baker and the newly signed Trey Burke.
There is a valid argument to be made that any (or all) of those options would be just as good – if not far better – than what Jack has provided to this point. That isn’t to say Jack has been useless or even awful, but the Knicks aren’t trying their hardest if they remain stuck on Jack for the remainder of the regular season.
Ntilikina is the answer here.
This year’s lottery pick is a high energy guy, a stat-stuffer and a potential star in the making. He’s young and he has learning to do, but if the Knicks are already a sinking ship, why not turn to the guy they think will ultimately help right them?
The franchise doesn’t have to believe Frank the Tank pays off in year one, but he certainly could. The way things are going, Jack is expendable and the team could opt to unload him.
Overall, there are a lot of things for the Knicks to consider. The aforementioned moves could help maximize their starting five, improve their bench scoring and also potentially give their defense (currently 15th in efficiency) a much-needed lift.
As they stand, the Knicks are fine. They’re better than most thought they’d be and they have a surprising amount of solid talent. But they could be better than they are – maybe by a wide margin – if they maximize their roster to its fullest potential.
Right now that’s not happening and if it doesn’t happen soon, perhaps you could add a 6th option here. Something tells me Jeff Hornacek wouldn’t like it, however.