The New York Knicks have reached the quarter-mark of the 2016-17 NBA regular season. Who are the Knicks’ team-specific award-winners?
Nov 16, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas (91) and forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) react after scoring a basket against the Detroit Pistons during first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks have reached the first quarter-mark of the 2016-17 NBA regular season. After 20 games, first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek has the Knicks off to an 11-9 start, including records of 9-3 at home and 2-6 on the road.
Evaluating Hornacek is a process that will be conducted, but the first order of business is honoring the players who have made the Knicks’ success possible.
New York has been far from flawless in 2016-17, but it’s put itself in a position to appear in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. Being 11-9 through 20 games means the Knicks can enter the next stage of the season with a clear mind and a more defined vision for the immediate future.
That’s a quality place to be and an almost direct result of the Knicks being able to rely upon their go-to players in key situations.
Though there are plenty of games to played, the first fourth of the season has been completed and there’s plenty to review. The best way to honor those contributions is to answer the questions that will be presented at season’s end.
With the first quarter of the regular season completed, which players are the Knicks’ 2016-17 MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Most Improved Player?
Nov 9, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek coaches against the Brooklyn Nets as New York Knicks power forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) waits to check into the game during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Most Improved Player: Kristaps Porzingis
It’d be silly to pretend this award should go to any player other than power forward Kristaps Porzingis. He’s evolved from a phenom into a deserving All-Star whose vast array of skills and moves is coagulating before our very eyes.
The statistics support Porzingis’ improvement, but his development ranges beyond statistics and into the fundamental progression he’s made.
Porzingis is far more confident with the ball in his hands in 2016-17 than he was during his rookie season. He’s driving and shooting with a purpose, which is a result of both his increased comfort with the NBA pace and his significantly more polished handles.
Perhaps the most significant development in Porzingis’ game is the patience with which he’s shooting—a product of him realizing just how big he is.
Porzingis has scored at least 20 points in 11 of his 20 appearances in 2016-17 after doing so in 14 of his 72 appearances in 2015-16. He’s eclipsed 30 points twice in 2016-17 after failing to do so a single time in 2015-16.
Most importantly, Porzingis is averaging 3.5 more points per 36 minutes and has improved his efficiency by 4.9 percent from the field, 6.1 percent on 2-point field goals, and 5.8 percent on 3-point field goals.
Porzingis needs to rebound better and help the Knicks improve as a team on defense, but his progression as a scorer is vital to his career trajectory.
Nov 28, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks center Willy Hernangomez (14) during warm ups prior to a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Rookie of the Quarter-Year: Willy Hernangomez
This was the most difficult award to hand out. Former Liga ACB standouts turned New York Knicks rookies Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas both deserve the honor of being the Knicks’ Rookie of the Year at the quarter-mark.
Though Kuzminskas has been coming on strong over the past few games, Hernangomez gets the early edge due to his superior consistency.
Hernangomez is averaging 5.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 offensive rebounds, and 0.9 assists on a slash line of .609/.000/.688 in 13.5 minutes per game. That translates to marks of 14.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.4 offensive rebounds, and 2.3 assists per 36 minutes.
Bigger than the season averages is the fact that Hernangomez has been a consistent contributor who routinely steps up with clutch plays in the fourth quarter.
Kuzminskas could’ve easily won here, especially after he scored a career-high 14 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Hernangomez has simply been too valuable to ignore with Joakim Noah missing time due to illness and injury.
This could’ve gone either way, but Hernangomez gets the very minor edge in the battle between two of the most promising players on the Knicks’ roster.
Nov 30, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) dribbles against Minnesota Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich (45) during the second quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Sixth Man of the Quarter-Year: Brandon Jennings
Justin Holiday has made quite the compelling case for being the most valuable reserve on the New York Knicks. His defensive tenacity, relentlessness on the boards, and craftiness as a playmaker have been invaluable to the Knicks’ success.
True and fair as that may be, the Sixth Man of the Quarter-Year award can only go to one man: galvanizing playmaker Brandon Jennings.
If you haven’t watched the games, then you’re likely discouraged by Jennings’ production. Thus far, he’s putting up 7.1 points, 5.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.0 3-point field goals made in 21.7 minutes per game on a slash line of .386/.313/.774.
If you’ve watched the games, however, you know that Jennings has been the proverbial spark plug for a Knicks team that’s been far too inconsistent with its effort.
When Jennings takes the floor, the ball moves, the pace quickens, and the Knicks find a second wind. Jennings still needs to shoot with more confidence, but those who have watched him play have seen his positive impact.
The Knicks will need Jennings to be more consistent the rest of the way, but his mere presence on the court has revitalized the Knicks during a number of poor stretches.
Nov 30, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns (32) passes around New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) during the second quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive Player of the Quarter-Year: Kristaps Porzingis
It was difficult to name a Defensive Player of the Quarter-Year for the New York Knicks considering how bad the defense has been. Nevertheless, awards are meant to be won, and there had to be someone chosen for this distinction.
Though there weren’t many candidates, Kristaps Porzingis earned the honor based on the strength of his individual defensive play.
The team has been surprisingly poor on defense with Porzingis on the floor, but his effort has been one of the few positives on that end.
Porzingis has NBA Defensive Player of the Year potential at 7’3″ with a 7’4″ wingspan and unprecedented coordination and athleticism for a player his size. His play has been instrumental in the Knicks’ recent improvements and his mere presence on the court is a deterrent.
As the Knicks improve as a team on defense, Porzingis’ individual efforts should be better appreciated and put into perspective.
Nov 20, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) gestures after a three point basket during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 104-94. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
MVP: Carmelo Anthony
If not for the past few games, the quarter-mark MVP of the New York Knicks would’ve been Kristaps Porzingis. That’s not to say that Porzingis has hit a decline, as he’s actually maintained a star-caliber level of play throughout the 2016-17 NBA regular season.
Carmelo Anthony has simply proven to be the Most Valuable Player on the Knicks in the best way possible: by stepping up in the clutch.
Anthony has already made two game-winning shots, with one preceding a game-saving defensive play. That’s three clutch game-deciding plays in a sample size of just 20 appearances—an impossible truth to overlook when considering Anthony is playing at a star-caliber level in other ways.
Porzingis may be close to becoming the best player on the Knicks—and some feel he already is—but the Knicks are living and dying by what Anthony does.
New York is currently 9-4 when Anthony scores at least 20 points and 2-5 when he fails to. For vital perspective, one of the two wins that the Knicks secured when Anthony scored less than 20 points was achieved because Melo hit the game-winning shot.
It’s also worth noting that the Knicks’ worst net rating is when Anthony comes off the court (-9.5) and its best (minimum: 200 minutes) is with him on the court (0.0).