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Knicks’ Cornerstones Shining At EuroBasket

Michael Reaves-Getty Images

After an odd offseason, the Knicks have found hope in their players’ success in the EuroBasket tournament

Two of the few highlights from president Phil Jackson’s tenure―Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez―have provided the New York front office a clear blueprint to build for the future. While New York has been low on hope for much of the Century, Porzingis and Hernangomez’s dominant performances in the EuroBasket tournament (going on now) should really encourage Knicks fans moving forward.


For those unfamiliar with the tournament, 2017 will be the 40th EuroBasket championship, and it consists of 24 national teams composed of NBA and non-NBA players alike. The Knicks have three hopefuls on their payroll who will be major players for their countries: Porzingis for Latvia, Hernangomez for Spain, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas for Lithuania. If these Knicks can bring this level of play back to New York, there might be some reason for optimism yet.  

Latvia, led by Kristaps Porzingis, has improved to 3-1 in the tournament following a victory over Russia, good for first place in their division. As Knicks fans might expect, KP is one of the primary reasons for Latvia’s excellent play thus far; he has averaged 22.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and he leads the tournament with an average of 2.5 blocks per contest.


Beyond putting up stellar individual numbers, Knicks fans should be particularly heartened in the role that Porzingis has filled for Latvia. Although limited in his last game against Russia due to foul trouble, KP has gained valuable experience as the focal point of a winning team. Averaging just 27.7 minutes, he has demonstrated an ability to shoulder the scoring load for a team, while also anchoring the defense. The latter of which will be an invaluable skill for New York in the post-Carmelo Anthony days, whenever they may be. 

  

While Porzingis has impressed, fellow big-man Willy Hernangomez has also been a key contributor for an undefeated Spain squad. In three games for Spain, Hernangomez has managed to distinguish himself on a roster of NBA talent, including the Gasol brothers. Willy has been a beast on the boards in EuroBasket, averaging 10.7 rebounds to go along with 12.0 points per contest. Although KP is the cornerstone for the Knicks’ future, fans often overlook just how good Hernangomez can be in his own right. In fact, he finished second in rookie PER (19.0) last season behind the 76ers’ Joel Embiid (24.1) while averaging fewer minutes per game. 


Just as this EuroBasket tournament can be a learning experience for Porzingis, it can also help Hernangomez jumpstart the next step in his development. Willy has shown flashes of brilliance for the Knicks―be it his polished footwork on the offensive end or his hard-nosed pursuit of rebounds―and playing with the Gasol brothers can help him further build on his skill set. He has already drawn some comparisons to Marc Gasol, and pairing Porzingis with an elite rebounder would prove to be an excellent foundation to build a roster upon.  

While he might not be as important to New York’s future as Porzingis or Hernangomez, the Knicks’ Mindaugas Kuzminskas has also been playing well for 4-1 Lithuania. Kuz has averaged 16.0 points while chipping in 4.3 rebounds and shooting 42.1% from 3-point range. He will try to emulate this success back in New York, as he will have to compete for playing time with Lance Thomas, newly signed Michael Beasley and Carmelo Anthony (barring a preseason trade). 

 

At the time of writing, all three Knicks players were leading their respective teams in their respective groupings, and have advanced to the knockout round. Due to their NBA-ready roster and track record of success, Hernangomez’s Spain is favored by many to win EuroBasket; although Latvia and Lithuania could prove to be interesting dark horses in the next round. Regardless of the finish, Knicks fans should be very eager to watch their future stars compete (and succeed) on the world stage.  

Yes, the Knicks will most likely not be a playoff-caliber team this season, with or without Carmelo Anthony on the squad. It will be another difficult year, but hopefully the offseason work that Porzingis and Hernangomez have put in at EuroBasket will pay dividends as GM Scott Perry looks to assemble a roster around them. With the addition of Tim Hardaway Jr. in free agency and Frank Ntilikina in the draft, the New York front office has made a commitment to youth and athleticism moving forward.   

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Photo: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports


Perhaps at long last, the days of chasing the big name at the cost of a consistent model for the future might be over. The Knicks avoided trading KP for Kyrie Irving, so hopefully the front office is rewarded for its patience with a dynamic KP-Hernangomez duo that can anchor the roster for years to come. After many directionless years, it is good to know that the head honchos at MSG look like they have a blueprint for the Knicks’ return to relevance through youth and roster consistency. 

Edited by Brian Kang.

SQuiz
Which team originally drafted Willy Hernangomez in 2015?
Created 9/6/17
  1. New York Knicks
  2. Philadelphia 76ers
  3. Denver Nuggets
  4. Milwaukee Bucks

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