Before the season began, many expected the Knicks to struggle in the wake of their eventful offseason. However, Kristaps Porzingis has blossomed into a superstar as he has earned his way into the early conversations for MVP candidates.
The Knicks are 5-4 going into their game with the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night and have beaten the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers. Their only defeats have come to playoff locks the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and a Detroit Pistons team that sits second in the Eastern Conference.
At the beginning of the season, many would have placed the Knicks with the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls at the bottom of the East, but they have proved they could be better than all three. With the Miami Heat struggling, the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons expected to slow down after enjoying unsustainable success, and the fragility of Philadelphia’s key players, Porzingis could lead the Knicks into the postseason.
The recent Pacers game was a good test for the Knicks to see what their realistic expectations are this season. The Pacers were also expected to struggle, but have been buoyed by Victor Oladipo and could represent a rival for the final playoff spot in the East. If the Knicks beat the Charlotte Hornets, another rival for the eighth seed, in their next outing they may convince many to believe in their chances.
Big men, small minutes
However, Joakim Noah has been suspended to start the season and is due to return on November 13. Reports were that Noah had looked impressive in the offseason and the experienced playmaking defender would be a welcome addition to any team. His return may pose a few problems in the Knicks loaded front court, however.
Porzingis is without doubt the main man and will continue to rack up minutes at his preferred power forward position with Noah on the floor, but this could lead to chemistry issues as other big men such as Enes Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn and Willy Hernangomez see their minutes reduced. Kanter has been a revelation in New York, averaging a double-double in points and rebounds, whereas O’Quinn is quietly posting career highs in rebounds and assists off of the bench. Their stellar play has meant young stud Hernangomez is struggling to get game time, even after his rookie season where he averaged a double-double per 36 minutes.
Additionally, with the NBA’s current emphasis on the small ball, the Knicks also have Michael Beasley, Doug McDermott and Mindaugas Kuzminskas (who excelled in the European Championships), both of whom can provide minutes in the front court.
Time for a trade gamble?
The Knicks have multiple pieces and if managed correctly, they may sneak into a playoff place in the weakened Eastern Conference. O’Quinn, Hernangomez and Kuzminskas will fetch a decent return on the trade table if the Knicks decide to push for the playoffs and show Porzingis that they’re trying to give him a shot at winning games. If the Knicks push to get a deal done before Noah returns they will be able to clear a roster spot.
With Eric Bledsoe’s value low in Phoenix a third team could be enticed into a deal which would most likely involve Courtney Lee, Hernangomez and Frank Ntilikina leaving New York. It may be a pipe dream, but if a deal could be worked out with Phoenix, then the Knicks could become relevant in the East as Bledsoe, who averaged a career-high 21 points last season, would help to take the huge scoring burden off Porzingis’s shoulders.
A line-up of Bledsoe, Tim Hardaway Jr, McDermott, Porzingis and Kanter would be a good starting point for the Knicks to build on, with Porzingis the go-to scorer and ample floor spacing to allow Bledsoe and Kanter to be effective inside. Noah, O’Quinn and Jarrett Jack could provide experience and defense off of the bench, plus Michael Beasley could become a reliable scorer in the second unit.
Redefining season goals
The New York Knicks may have exceeded expectations, but they are still torn. Some pieces on their roster are there for a rebuild whereas others are ready to contend. The organization needs direction and their surprising success early this season could lead the management to gamble and push for a return to the postseason. Porzingis has proved that he is ready now and he may not have the patience to hang around for a full rebuild.
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