The first full month of the 2016-17 NBA regular season has concluded. How are Phil Jackson’s offseason acquisitions helping the New York Knicks?
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Mar 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks new president of basketball of operations Phil Jackson is introduced at a press conference at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
It’s exactly 18 games into the 2016 NBA regular season and the New York Knicks are 9-9. Considering the teams they’ve assembled in recent memory, 9-9 is a record fans can deal with.
Considering the players they’ve acquired in the offseason, the record becomes a lot harder to swallow.
Throughout these 17 games, I’ve seen flashes of high quality basketball, along with an uncomfortable amount of standing around on offense, and a lack of quality rotations on defense.
Now that almost 25 percent of the season is complete, it’s time to evaluate The Zen Master’s offseason acquisitions.
When I first caught wind of the Jennings pick up, I liked it. For as long as I can remember, the Knicks’ biggest flaw was the inability to get a guard who could create plays for others and slash to the basket.
The Knicks’ best season in recent memory (54 wins in 2012-13) involved Raymond Felton as the starting point guard, and the average NBA fan doesn’t even know who that is. The backup point guards? A 40-year-old Jason Kidd and a 35-year-old Pablo Prigioni.
Fast forward to 2016 and Phil Jackson acquired Brandon Jennings to be the Knicks’ backup point guard.
I’ve been really impressed with Jennings and how he’s running the second unit. He’s playing fast, getting others involved, and playing defense with tenacity. Despite the fact that Jennings is shooting 31.0 percent from 3-point range, he’s played very well. Sprinkle in the fact that Jackson signed the 26-year-old guard to a one-year, $5 million contract, and the Knicks got a steal.
The optimist in me says Jennings wins Sixth Man of the Year, but the realist in me says relax.
Nov 28, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks guard Courtney Lee (5) looks to drive to the basket past Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Since the Charlotte Hornets decided to pay Nicolas Batum a whopping five-year, $120 million contract this offseason, the New York Knicks were able to lure away shooting guard Courtney Lee. At first glance, adding a wing defender who can spread the floor and make shots was an excellent move.
Today, I still believe it is.
Unfortunately, Lee hasn’t lived up to the hype—yet. He, like the Knicks as a whole, has shown flashes of greatness, but not on a consistent basis. Overall, he’s been an inconsistent shooter and a capable defender who always seems to foul in the worst of moments.
The optimist in me says he improves, and the realist in me agrees.
This one is a doozy. Bringing the native New Yorker back home to be the anchor of the Knicks’ defense sounded great on paper, but boy has it been a disaster. To be fair, everyone knew that his ability on offense was limited, at best, but that’s not what he came here for.
However, the Knicks did bring him in to lock up the opposition’s big men, pound the glass, and be the voice on defense that’s been so desperately missed since New York traded 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler. On Monday, the Knicks were abused on the glass by Adams, Kanter, and Westbrook, and lost the game as a result.
So far, the four-year, $72 million contract hasn’t exactly panned out.
The optimist in me says Noah improves, but the realist in me disagrees.
Nov 22, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (25) drives to the basket past Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless (4) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Shoutout to Derrick Rose, man that dude is nice! Everyone and their mother predicted that Rose to New York would be a disaster based on his inability to stay healthy. Rose is in his final year of his contract, so this season is basically a trial period.
So far, SO good.
Rose has shown flashes of his old self, still proving to be one of the best guards in the NBA when slashing to the basket. Mind you, he’s doing all of this without a 3-point shot, and his mid range jumper has been unreliable.
As he gains more confidence throughout the season and begins to forget about his past injuries (easier said than done), Rose can be the guard the Knicks have needed.
When he runs the pick and roll with Kristaps Porzingis, or anyone else for that matter, the Knicks usually end up with a good shot. I’m not too sure who to pray to, but I do pray that Rose stays healthy, because without him at the helm, the Knicks are toast.
The optimist in me says the sky is the limit, but the realist in me has to stay cool.
Nov 6, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas (91) dribbles the ball against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Phil Jackson loves him some European players. I didn’t know much about these guys prior to them coming to New York, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with their play.
Willy Hernangomez is a seven-footer with nice moves around the basket, and outside of Kristaps Porzingis, is the Knicks best scoring big man.
Obviously, he still has room for improvement. Playing in Spain, there is no such thing as offensive interference, so he has to be more aware of that going forward.
Mindaugas Kuzminskas, the 27-year-old rookie from Lithuania, has proven to be a solid wing player coming off the bench. If given the open shot, he can knock it down. With the nagging injuries to Lance Thomas, Kuz has filled in well.
In time, I believe Hernangomez will become our starting center.
The optimist in me hopes this, and the realist in me does too.
You know, that other guy involved in the Derrick Rose trade? 17 games into the season and Justin Holiday has earned himself the backup shooting guard position. Given that Sasha Vujacic and Ron Baker are the only other shooting guards on the team, it probably isn’t saying much.
Given his size, he can play shooting guard and small, giving Hornacek some options coming off the bench. He’s a capable scorer when playing alongside Jennings, and is one of the best defenders on the team. Keep it up, J. Holiday.
The optimist in me doesn’t know what to say here, and the realist in me doesn’t care. Holiday has been good.
Maybe the most important piece of all is new head coach Jeff Hornacek. For me, anyone not named Kurt Rambis was an immediate upgrade in coaching. The Knicks haven’t had a problem scoring this season, and the ball movement has been good, although inconsistent.
In Phoenix, Hornacek had Goran Dragic, Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, so it was clear he could utilize our dynamic guards correctly. I love what he’s done with the rotations, including taking Kristaps Porzingis out early in the first quarter so he can play with the second unit.
With three high-quality scorers in Carmelo Anthony, Porzingis, and Derrick Rose, one of them should always be out there.
The defense, on the other hand, has been so incredibly mediocre, it hurts. Noah hasn’t lived up to the hype, Hernangomez isn’t rotating fast enough, and Kyle O’Quinn isn’t big enough down low.
Porzingod, who manages to get his rebounds and blocks, is outmuscled by somequality big men.
I’m not sure how Hornacek will tackle the situation, but the success of the team as a whole depends on it. Offense wins the regular season, but defense wins championships.