New York Knicks: 5 Bold Predictions for 2017-18 NBA Season
The good news: It's hard to imagine any of the potential roads moving forward being as turbulent as the one they just traversed.
The not-so-good news: It isn't any easier to get a clear picture of what awaits the 'Bockers. Not with the roster radically reshaped by newcomers of all sizes and incumbents returning to different roles.
But who needs accurate foresight when fire takes are raining down like they were launched from a T-shirt cannon? The best hoops predictions this time of year are the boldest, and we have identified our five favorites for the new-look Knicks.
They Will Have the NBA's Worst Defense
If absence really makes the heart grow fonder, the Knicks must love the idea of competent defense. The last time they were a top-half team on that end, Tyson Chandler and Landry Fields were among their minutes leaders (2011-12, fifth in defensive efficiency).
They hope to reverse that trend sooner rather than later, or that's their public stance at least.
"We want to try to establish an identity, and the identity has to become defense first," head coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters.
That must be a longterm ambition. While Kristaps Porzingis' paint protection and Frank Ntilikina's suffocating length seem like stone-wall building blocks, the Knicks don't have the materials to form anything around them yet.
New York finished 25th in defensive rating last season. It then added three free agents who didn't have a top-50 defensive real plus-minus at their position—Tim Hardaway Jr. (53rd), Michael Beasley (52nd) and Ramon Sessions (56th). The Knicks even found a way to downgrade defensively in the Anthony deal by swapping one sieve for two (Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott).
The Knicks seem ready to take their lumps as they affix both eyes on the future. That's a good thing, since they'll endure more of them on the defensive end than anyone.
Joakim Noah Will Average Single-Digit Minutes
Hollywood would have struggled to script a more disastrous debut than Year 1 of Joakim Noah's four-year, $72 million pact with New York.
He was ensnared in controversy before training camp was over, and he could never get his campaign on track. He had a nightmarish year inside the lines (second-worst player efficiency rating and turnover percentage of his career) and a harder time staying out there. His final three months included knee surgery in February, an anti-drug suspension in March (which he's still serving) and shoulder surgery in April.
"I'm in a position where I had a really rough year last year, I'm coming off injuries," Noah said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. "And I just want to redeem myself for myself more than anybody else."
The Knicks shouldn't give him a shot at redemption. The tens of millions still headed his way aren't nearly as important as the minutes they can give to other, younger, more productive centers.
Willy Hernangomez played like a long-term keeper last season, and New York should treat him as such until he proves otherwise. Kanter could be an intriguing frontcourt partner for Porzingis, with the former's shooting and the latter's shot-blocking proving mutually beneficial. The Knicks still need to find showcase minutes for Kyle O'Quinn (far more tradable than Noah), not to mention playing time at the 5 for Porzingis.
Noah has too many negatives to justify force-feeding him minutes. He's lost a few steps defensively to Father Time, and that makes his offensive shortcomings exponentially more glaring. He should be last in line when it comes to New York's crowded center spot.
They Will Finish with Bottom-Three Record
Some Knicks are carrying playoff plans into the regular season, and it's hard to blame them after the reshuffling of the Eastern Conference. Three 2017 postseason teams pulled themselves out of the race by letting go of win-now pieces. And none of the lottery participants made major moves to improve their odds.
Porzingis alone puts New York ahead of some of its fellow bottom-feeders, and a quick maturation by Ntilikina potentially gets the Knicks near the playoff picture. But that could be far more damaging than another down season.
"If the Knicks aren't contending, they might as well be tanking," Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated wrote. "Despite their avalanche of missteps, the Knicks' brass has drafted well since Porzingis' selection in 2015, and New York might as well hit rock bottom and attempt to strike gold again next June."
The Knicks might not be that far away. They have a young nucleus in place, so this isn't a throw-caution-to-the-wind radical rebuild. It would be a calculated move to the bottom during a season with a potentially stacked draft class and one year ahead of lottery changes designed to make tanking trickier.
As long as New York's prospects keep growing, nothing else matters. And a willingness to stomach a few losing streaks would open the possibility of moving veterans (O'Quinn, Courtney Lee etc.) for draft picks, further brightening the future.
Jeff Hornacek Will Avoid the Hot Seat
Between this franchise's perpetual turmoil and its string of three straight 50-loss seasons, there are myriad reasons for Hornacek to feel anything but comfortable about his future.
"The New York Knicks have employed five coaches in the last six seasons, and two key sources of that instability—team president Steve Mills and owner James Dolan—are still calling the shots," Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote. "Plus, new general manager Scott Perry didn't hire Jeff Hornacek, who has two seasons left on his deal. It's unclear how much influence Perry will have with Mills around, but incumbent coaches frequently find themselves in tough spots when new management comes to power."
Winning can put a holdover coach in favorable light, but that's not happening for Hornacek. So, why won't flames engulf his sideline seat this season?
For starters, he'll get to coach his preferred style. Jackson took the triangle offense with him, allowing Hornacek to adopt a more uptempo, free-flowing offense. And the ball should move much easier now Anthony and Derrick Rose are no longer around to pound it into the floor. If the Knicks don't make substantial improvement in pace (15th) and assist percentage (22nd), something will have gone horribly wrong.
The other reason for Hornacek to hope is the Knicks no longer seem like they're pointlessly pursuing instant gratification. They appear to recognize and appreciate the need for patience, with Mills admitting "we may not be there at first" on MSG.com. If New York approaches this season as one in which to lay the next foundation, Hornacek just needs to prove he can find ways to complement and challenge the youngsters.
Kristaps Earns All-NBA Honors
Only the Knicks would draft their most interesting prospect in decades and then attack his very growth. While Porzingis should have spent the last two seasons germinating in nutrient-rich soil, New York tossed him out on the sidewalk and told him to figure it out.
No one really thought the Knicks were going anywhere last season, right? Rose said they were, but even he didn't think that was true, did he? He couldn't have. Their defense was broken, and their offense was only marginally better.
So, why was the rising 7'3" unicorn losing touches to a pair of fading stars? Porzingis should have had complete control of the offense, but he trailed both Anthony and Rose in usage percentage instead. What's more incredible, though, is how Porzingis still managed to ascend like a rose sprouting from concrete, as Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver observed:
"The 22-year-old Porzingis allowed opponents to shoot just 50.7 percent from within six feet, comparable to the marks posted by All-Defensive team selections and elite rim-protectors like Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green. Offensively, he honed his overall scoring game and vastly improved as a finisher around the basket despite being stuck in an offense with ill-fitting parts. He also upped his three-point percentage close to league average while launching more threes than all but two 7-footers."
Now, just imagine how Porzingis will fare as the featured option in a faster offense better tailored to his skills. His stat sheet should skyrocket, and if he retains enough efficiency with all the extra volume, he could secure what might be the first of many All-NBA roster spots in his career.