As Carmelo heads West, what is the state of the Knicks for the 2017-18 season?
As the post-Carmelo Anthony era begins in earnest, the New York Knicks face the grim prospect of a painful rebuilding process. Although their rebuild is a long time coming, 2017-18 is expected to be a rough season for the Knicks, and they will most likely be in competition for a lottery pick, not a playoff spot. With Kristaps Porzingis taking the reins as the number-one option on offense and a collection of veterans seeking second chances, chemistry will be New York’s primary problem early in the year.
Porzingis seems ready to finally be “the man” for the Knicks, as he was destined to become when he was drafted fourth overall in 2015. He led his native Latvia to the quarterfinals in the recently concluded Eurobasket tournament, posting gaudy averages of 23.6 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. Eurobasket was KP’s first taste of truly acting as a focal point, and he acquitted himself quite well. But as many know, being a leader in New York is as much a test of mental toughness as it is of skill.
Surprising big man Willy Hernangomez is another Knicks’ Euro who has tantalized New York fans with an impressive Eurobasket run. Though he played fewer minutes than Porzingis, Hernangomez added 7.6 points per game to go along with 5.9 rebounds as a bench piece. He wowed New York with an unexpected spot on the All-Rookie First Team, and Knicks’ management hopes that he can continue to improve in his sophomore campaign. He will need to in order to distinguish himself amongst the dearth of big men currently on the New York roster.
One of the first tasks Jeff Hornacek has to complete is to determine the pecking order amongst Hernangomez, Joakim Noah, Kyle O’Quinn, and Enes Kanter. Porzingis will command most of the minutes at the 4/5, but the Knicks’ preseason will be used to establish the depth chart for New York. O’Quinn was perhaps the team’s most consistent big man last season; he led the team in VORP (1.7), win shares per 48 minutes (.151), and PER (20.5). Kyle will most likely lose minutes to the developing youngster Hernangomez and the newly-acquired Enes Kanter, or he might even be dangled as a trade chip as the season wears on.
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Beyond Porzingis’ offensive contributions, a group of players will look to replace the scoring output of Carmelo Anthony. Best guess is that the onus will fall on Tim Hardaway Jr., Michael Beasley, and Enes Kanter to get buckets. Hardaway Jr., the Knicks’ $71 million man, has improved greatly since his first stint in New York, but many question if he has the ability to play KP’s sidekick. He averaged 14.5 points per on 45.5% shooting and chipped in 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the Atlanta Hawks last season. THJ will be asked to ease Porzingis’ scoring burden as well as one of the key players to space the floor this season. The Knicks ranked 21st in the league in three-point percentage last season (34.8%) and 20th in attempts (24.6), both stats that Hardaway will look to change.
Speaking of spreading the floor, OKC import Doug McDermott who will bring his sharpshooting skillset to Madison Square Garden. Although McDermott has not lived up to expectations thus far, he can still be a valuable piece for a New York team desperate for three-point shooting. While Doug might have regressed a bit last year with his role in flux between Chicago and OKC, he still ended the season shooting 37% from deep, above the league average of 35.8%. With an expanded bench or possible starting role, McDermott might revive his career in New York.
With Porzingis’ scoring looks coming from the elbow and behind the arc, Enes Kanter will be tasked with scoring in the paint and cleaning up offensive rebounds. As KP continues to play the power forward position, it is quite possible that Kanter will start at center. Like O’Quinn, he should see steady playing time early in the season and could possibly establish himself as an attractive trade target. For OKC, Kanter was a more polished version of Willy Hernangomez; he averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Thunder, while trailing only Russell Westbrook in PER (23.7).
Perhaps the most interesting position for the Knicks in the 2017-18 season is point guard. On the roster, New York is carrying lottery pick Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, and veterans Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack. The starting role will be determined during preseason, although the front office hopes that Ntilikina will start eventually. The position is split between young and developing players (Ntilikina and Baker) and veterans hoping to show they have enough in the tank to play well while mentoring the youngsters (Jack and Sessions). It is quite possible that Sessions or Jack could be cut by the end of preseason, if one substantially outperforms the other.
New York will look to improve on the defensive end this season, as they begin their rebuilding process. When GM Scott Perry was hired, President of Basketball Operations Steve Mills said that the Knicks would “emphasize youth, athleticism, teamwork and defense.” For context, the Knicks were 25th in defensive rating last season and 23rd in opponents points allowed. Jeff Hornacek has announced that assistant coach Kurt Rambis will not be in charge of the Knicks’ defense, which is a step in the right direction.
The 2017-18 season will be a difficult one for the Knicks, but perhaps they are, at last, heading in the right direction. Porzingis will get his chance as the face of the franchise, and the youth movement will begin to establish the post-Carmelo culture. There will be a lot of losing, but it could be fun. The Knicks might be destined for the draft lottery again, but it will be different from past years in this way: it won’t be more of the same.
Edited by Jazmyn Brown.
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