As the New York Knicks search for answer, the solution may be to start Kristaps Porzingis at center. Let’s take a look at what could result from the change.
The New York Knicks were destroyed by the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 15 after scoring just eight points in the third quarter. The loss even forced Carmelo Anthony to question whether his time in New York was coming to an abrupt end.
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Carmelo: "If they feel like my time in New York is over I guess that’s a conversation we should have."
Anthony and the Knicks tried to shut out the noise when they hosted the Hawks on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Madison Square Garden. Kristaps Porzingis was forced to miss his third straight game and Lance Thomas is out indefinitely after suffering a left orbital fracture against the Raptors.
For the Hawks, Dwight Howard missed the game due to rest. Apparently, opposing teams are viewing the Knicks and their nonexistent defense as a game where you can rest your starters.
With Porzingis and Thomas out for the Knicks, head coach Jeff Hornacek tweaked the starting lineup and gave Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Ron Baker their first career starts.
The lineup change sparked the Knicks. Kuzminskas had 14 points, five rebounds, and two assists in 38 minutes of play. Baker finished with 12 points, three rebounds, one assist, and solid defensive intensity in his 22 minutes of play.
Unfortunately, the Knicks managed to blow yet another fourth quarter lead.
The Knicks were up 107-105 with about 38 seconds to play. In this situation, the one thing you cannot do is allow a 3-point shot.
So, what did the Knicks do? Give up a 3-point field goal to Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder.
Down 108-107 with 22 seconds left, Derrick Rose drove the lane and got blocked by Paul Millsap on a play where Millsap or Thabo Sefolosha should have been called for a foul.
Just to recap, Rose disappeared exactly a week ago against the New Orleans Pelicans. When he returned to the facility on Tuesday, he was fined but was not suspended. The following day, the Knicks blew a 10-point lead in Philadelphia, and lost on a buzzer beater to the Sixers.
Following the game, Anthony blasted the team for their effort and execution down the stretch. On Friday, they managed to pull out a victory against the Jimmy Butler-less Bulls.
On Saturday, Rose openly criticized Hornacek for not pushing the team harder on defense, to which Hornacek somehow shrugged off as constructive criticism. The Knicks responded by bringing their talents to Toronto and getting absolutely pummeled.
That loss led to Anthony questioning his tenure in New York, with reports circulating about Phil Jackson’s supposed displeasure with Anthony’s tendency for isolation basketball.
Carmelo seemed to suggest that what Phil Jackson's friend, Charley Rosen, wrote about him may be Phil's thoughts as well.
On Friday, I urged Hornacek to make these lineup changes, beginning with Anthony’s move to the power forward position. Today’s performance offered more proof that Anthony is most effective when playing at the 4.
Anthony finished with 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting, as well as seven rebounds, two assists, and 2-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc in 35 minutes of play.
It seems like Hornacek has realized the increase in efficiency with the adjusted lineup.
Knicks starters (Rose, Lee, Melo, KP & Noah) are -13.6 per/100 possessions over the Knicks last 12 games.
Originally, I advocated for bringing Porzingis off the bench until his minute restriction was lifted and he was fully recovered from his achilles injury. At that point, Hornacek could make the decision whether to play Porzingis off the bench or bring him back to the starting lineup.
It’s now 42 games into the NBA season, and the Knicks still haven’t managed to get any better defensively. When Porzingis returns, Hornacek should start him at center, and put offense at the forefront.
It’s time Hornacek does what he does best, and that’s focus on the offensive side of the ball. With a starting lineup of Rose, Lee, Kuzminskas, Anthony, and Porzingis, there aren’t many units that can matchup with that kind of talent.
Jeff Hornacek said the coaches are looking at all options when asked about the possibility of starting Porzingis at center when he returns.
There isn’t a center in this league who can guard Porzingis on the perimeter, leading to open jump shots and 3-point attempts. If the center comes out on Porzingis, this opens up the paint for Rose and Anthony to attack the basket.
Off the bench, the Knicks can play Brandon Jennings, Baker, Justin Holiday, Kyle O’Quinn, and Joakim Noah. This lineup can clog up the paint and defend with more consistency, especially when Thomas returns from injury.
At this point, it’s hard to believe that the Knicks will make any improvements on defense. Hornacek must focus on the team’s strength—offense—and start Porzingis at the 5.
As long as the Knicks are mathematically in the playoff hunt, it’s not time to hit the panic button. However, the Knicks are in desperate need of change, and Hornacek has already begun that process. Move Anthony to the 4, Porzingis to the 5, and live with the results.
Sitting at 18-24, this is the only move the Knicks have left.
The Knicks will travel to Boston to face the third place Celtics on Wednesday, and host the surging fifth place Washington Wizards on Thursday.