Final Grades for Every 2016-17 New York Knicks Player

Sara Peters@3FromThe7Featured ColumnistApril 10, 2017

Final Grades for Every 2016-17 New York Knicks Player

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    F-minus-minus-minus for the New York Knicks' toxic leadership. D-minus for the head coach. And despite stirring performances in some much-unneeded victories recently, F for the team.

    For the team, yet not necessarily for the individual players. How do I grade the players whose collective efforts were so disappointing, but whose personal performances were commendable? The Knicks lost 10 games by a mere three points or fewer this season and 17 games by five points or fewer. If not for some strong individual efforts, they'd never have gotten so close so often.

    Kristaps Porzingis confessed his thoughts on the team to the New York Post's Marc Berman last month:

    I think it was pretty easy to tell from the inside that we're not that good of a team. We can win games based on our talent, but it's not going to last long. [We needed] more work, attention to details, to keep growing as a team. A good team needs time to play together. It was our first year of most of the guys playing together.

    So, how did I grade these talented individuals whose collective efforts were so disappointing? 

    Here's how my grading system worked: It was split between usage (up to 40 points), expectations (up to 20), defense (up to 20) and offense (up to 20). 

    The system was built so that a rotation player who simply did his job would earn a C while a starter who did his job would get a B. Reserves who've played 400 or fewer minutes this season were only given pass/fail assessments.

    Starters got the extra points for usage but were graded harder on expectations—this time, every starter received a zero in that category.

    Defense and offense measured their contributions to the team, not what their contributions "should" be according to public opinion. No one lost points for missing games with injuries.

    These are the Knicks' final grades for the season. If I were them, I wouldn't expect any celebratory dinners or gifts from their folks.

Summer School Candidates

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    Chasson Randle

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    D-League: 21 G, 42.6 FG%, 42.0 3FG%, 20.5 PTS, 3.7 AST

    PHI: 8 G, 46.2 FG%, 40.0 3FG%, 5.3 PTS, 0.8 AST

    NYK: 17 G, 11.7 MIN, 35.9 FG%, 30.0 3FG%, 4.9 PTS, 1.6 AST

    Stanford University scoring record-holder Chasson Randle may be one of the most natural three-point shooters the team has had since JR Smith. Yet his shooting efficiency has dropped considerably since he rejoined the Knicks this spring (his quadruple-triple showing versus the Detroit Pistons on March 11 notwithstanding). Randle looked comfortable moving the ball and moving off the ball once Jeff Hornacek began to run more triangle. He also flashed some sweet dishes and wicked hops. 

    Best Plays: Buzzer-beating three from half-court off the dribble vs. Detroit Pistons on March 11; putback dunk of Porzingis' missed free throw vs. Brooklyn Nets on March 12.

    Final Grade: Pass

    Marshall Plumlee

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    D-League: 15 G, 30.6 MIN, 12.5 PTS, 9.1 REB, 1.3 BLK

    NYK: 20 G, 7.2 MIN, 1.3 PTS, 2.0 REB, 0.2 BLK

    Marshall Plumlee, the ruddy-cheeked enforcer with great fundamentals, would certainly have gotten more minutes if Willy Hernangomez and Kyle O'Quinn hadn't been so successful this season. Plumlee has yet to develop NBA-level defensive finesse or a relationship with referees, so while the big man certainly made some players think twice about driving to the hoop this season, he's been so foul-prone that he's quickly relegated himself to the bench. 

    Final Grade: Pass

    Maurice Ndour

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 

    D-League: 18 G, 28.1 MIN, 14.7 PTS, 6.8 REB, 1.1 STL, 1.4 BLK

    NYK: 31 G, 9.9 MIN, 3.0 PTS, 2.0 REB, 0.5 STL, 0.2 BLK

    This week, Maurice Ndour finally had time to shine at Madison Square Garden, where he got his first NBA start Tuesday against the Chicago Bulls. Ndour flashed his prowess on both ends of the court, racking up one block, two steals, 13 rebounds and 12 points, including a spin and bank shot that so impressed Knicks legend Walt "Clyde" Frazier he said it had "shades of Earl 'the Pearl' Monroe" during MSG Network's broadcast of the game (video above). Ndour followed that up with 15 points, seven boards and three blocks in Memphis. All season, Ndour was active, particularly on the boards, when given opportunities; he just wasn't given many.

    Best Play: Strip of Rondo followed by a bounce pass to Lee for a fast-break dunk vs. Chicago Bulls on April 4 (above).

    Final Grade: Pass

    Sasha Vujacic

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats

    41 G, 9.5 MIN, 31.5 FG%, 30.4 3FG%, 2.9 PTS, 1.1 AST

    New York's four-point play-making machine, Sasha Vujacic can't get any respect from fans, and for a long stretch this winter, he couldn't get any minutes either. Nevertheless, the veteran always came off the bench with a competitive fierceness that's hard to match. (By his red-faced battle cries following four-point plays Thursday night, one would never have known the Knicks had already been eliminated from the playoffs.) When Vujacic is off, he's way off, but when he's on, he's dead-on.

    Best Play: Multiple three-point and-1s vs. the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 1.

    Final Grade: Pass

    Lance Thomas

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 

    46 G, 21.0 MIN, 39.8 FG%, 6.0 PTS, 3.1 REB, -4.4 +/-

    Lance Thomas had an awful year. I contend, however, that Thomas did not forget how to play basketball, nor did he slack off to rest on his cozy contract. He was simply playing through pain. He began the season with plantar fasciitis issuing sharp pains every time his heel struck the floor. After he finally started to look more like himself in late December, he suffered an orbital fracture courtesy of Jonas Valanciunas' elbow.

    After the All-Star break, Thomas had returned, Joakim Noah was out, and the Knicks found one of their most effective starting lineups with Thomas at small forward. In his nine starts post-All-Star break, he averaged 11.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, shooting 45.3 from the field and 50.0 percent from behind the arc and putting forth a 21-point performance March 3 against the Philadelphia 76ers. But it all came crashing down again when Thomas injured his hip. 

    The reasons may be forgivable, but the fact remains that Thomas had the worst on-court plus/minus (-4.4) on the squad this year after having one of the best last season. Though there were signs he's still the same player, he was a liability most of the year when his body wasn't sound. 

    Best Play: Tip-in of Carmelo Anthony's miss in final seconds vs. Philadelphia 76ers on March 3.

    Final Grade: Incomplete

Underachievers

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    All season I've cut the starters a little slack, but now that the squad is officially one of the worst in the league, I feel justified robbing them of all their "expectation" points. Their grades dropped accordingly.

    Joakim Noah

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    46 G, 22.1 MIN, 5.0 PTS, 8.8 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.8 BLK

    Like Thomas, Joakim Noah was betrayed by his body this season. He began making an impact on offense by mid-December but had to back off by mid-January, when each slam looked like it might lead to a dislocated shoulder. Then it was a pulled hamstring. Then a "body" in his knee.

    He took more than his fair share of the blame for the Knicks' dismal defense, which has been as dreadful without him as it was with him. 

    We know the rest: Noah turned to an over-the-counter supplement to help his body heal, but it included a banned substanceselective androgen receptor modulator LGD-4033, and though the National Basketball Players Association said Noah did not "intentionally or knowingly" violate the NBA's anti-drug policy, he was nonetheless suspended 20 games—which will extend into next season.  

    Best Plays: Cross-up of Amir Johnson for and-1 vs. Boston Celtics on Dec. 25; baseline cut and reverse dunk vs. Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 11; rejection of Paul Millsap vs. Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 16.

    Final Grade: Incomplete

    Kristaps Porzingis 

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 

    66 G, 32.8 MIN, 18.1 PTS, 45.0 FG%, 35.7 3FG%, 7.2 REB, 2.0 BLK

    Porzingis got singed by the sophomore curse. Expectations were high, injuries and illness chipped away at his productivity, and the highlight reels were less exciting (no soul-shattering putbacks this year). Was it a disaster of a season for KP, though? Certainly not.

    Despite being on a terrible defensive squad, his rim protection progressed greatly. He's sixth in the league in blocked shots (2.0) and second in the league in contested shots. Then again, while he was working a bit harder on D, he wasn't necessarily working smarter, and he got sloppy: KP ranks second in personal fouls per game (3.7), behind only that shrinking violet DeMarcus Cousins.

    His worst slump came in January, when he had the worst plus-minus rating and field-goal percentage of the Knicks' starting five, more turnovers than assists and fouled out of four of the 10 games he played. His plus-minus rating for the season sank from plus-0.2 to minus-1.5. 

    He didn't make any notable improvements to the weakest spots of his game, either. In fact, his effective field goal percentage in the post dropped from 40.5 percent to 37.1, and his unassisted made field goals dipped from to 32.7 to 25.3 percent.

    He's not a rookie anymore. He's part of the main three of a NBA starting five, and he will be graded accordingly.   

    Best Plays: Fifteen-point first quarter vs. Detroit Pistons on March 27; and-1 slam on Dwight Howard vs. Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 29; double-denial of Kent Bazemore vs. Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 29.

    Final Grade: C-

    Courtney Lee

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 

    76 G, 32.1 MIN, 10.9 PTS, 45.6 FG%, 40.2 3FG%, 3.4 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.1 STL

    Courtney Lee chases down opponents like he'll never tire out, but at times he got burned by playing shooters too close on the perimeter, letting them blow past him into an open lane where no Knicks came to help.

    Other than one winter shooting slump, Lee was one of the Knicks' most efficient and versatile shooters, particularly stunning defenders with his quick mid-range catch-and-shoots off curls.

    But the Knicks didn't take advantage of his offensive skill, and he didn't look for his shot often enough. Generally, Lee provided structure and supported the D, but not enough to rack up Ws. 

    Best Plays: Steal of inbounds pass and layup vs. Orlando Magic on Dec. 22; three-pointer that pushed game to third overtime vs. Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 29; fast-break slam vs. Indiana Pacers on Jan. 7.

    Final Grade: C

    Derrick Rose

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    64 G, 32.5 MIN, 18.0 PTS, 47.1 FG%, 21.7 3FG%, 4.4 AST, 3.8 REB

    While many anticipated Derrick Rose would be hobbling along the sideline all season, instead the words "vintage Rose" were uttered by many commentators after his explosive, stop-and-start drives to the iron and acrobatic, swooping in-air adjustments for reverse layups.

    His scoring, efficiency and free-throw attempts all increased every month. If not for his season-ending meniscus tear, Rose surely would have boosted his free-agent value, because he appeared hale and hearty.

    He just didn't seem like a great fit in New York. His drives were cut off by all the big bodies Phil Jackson put in his way; his best games were when Melo played the 4 and KP the 5, giving him more space to operate.

    Also, Porzingis still relies mostly on others to create his shots for him, and Rose wasn't as effective at delivering KP his opportunities. His defense was spotty, especially in transition, though he held opponents 2.3 percentage points beneath their average field-goal percentages.

    Best Plays: Block to close out 113-111 win vs. Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 26; stop-and-start layup past Kawhi Leonard to end half vs. San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 12; rebound, coast-to-coast Eurostep and dunk vs. Spurs on March 25.

    Final Grade: C

    Carmelo Anthony

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    73 G, 34.5 MIN, 22.5 PTS, 43.3 FG%, 36.0 3FG%, 5.9 REB, 2.9 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK 

    Who could have blamed Carmelo Anthony if he'd set his no-trade cause on fire, melted down Jackson's rings in the flames and sped out of New York while waving obscene gestures? Not me.

    Yet he didn't do that. He publicly ignored the mistreatment and trade talks. He played 34 minutes per game, trying to win even this week when he left Nikola Mirotic in the dust on a crossover and stepback before draining a three against the Chicago Bulls. He's been one of the most consistent Knicks throughout the season.

    Then again, he was the core member of a losing team. Plus the persistent defense and assist numbers we saw from Melo last season weren't on display as often.

    Best Plays: Game-winning jumper vs. Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 25; driving layup to send game to overtime vs. Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 29; crossover on Nikola Mirotic vs. Chicago Bulls on Tuesday.

    Final Grade: C

Mindaugas Kuzminskas

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    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    67 G, 14.9 MIN, 6.2 PTS, 42.5 FG%, 31.9 3FG%, 1.8 REB

    At age 27 and having been decorated in Europe, Mindaugas Kuzminskas is an atypical rookie, and he's had an atypical rookie year. He went from untrusted unknown to fan favorite to furniture all in a few months.

    At one point, his three-ball was so heavenly it garnered chants of "Kuz" from the crowd (or it might have been the cooing of doves or the singing of angels). The cheers went silent, though, as Kuzminskas lost his golden touch midseason, and they're just beginning to come, shyly, back to life. 

    Kuzminskas is back to flashing not just jumpers but also Eurosteps, slams, hustle plays and a no-look pass. 

    He has certainly surpassed expectations. Yet, while he stepped up for a struggling, injured Thomas and delivered on offense, he hasn't been able to do what a healthy Thomas can do on the defensive end. Kuz's D is willing but not always able.

    His smile, of course, gets an A.

    Best Play: Pump-fake and drive for one-hand slam over several Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 2.

    Final Grade: C+

Justin Holiday

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    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    81 G, 20.0 MIN, 7.5 PTS, 43.0 FG%, 35.4 3FG%, 2.7 REB, 0.8 STL

    As the cacophony of complaints about "player rest" buzzes on, Justin Holiday has quietly played every single one of the Knicks' 81 games. Perfect Attendance Award and gold star.

    Hornacek has gone to Holiday for big minutes every night because he's been reliable on both ends of the court. One of the harshest notes to give him is one of a coach's favorites: "shoot more."

    The Knicks could take better of advantage of Holiday, feeding him while he's making one of his excellent cuts, but oftentimes it's Holiday himself who voluntarily passes up a clean look. He should get more aggressive.

    As Knicks defenders go, Holiday is one of the best (though that's not saying much). He sticks to opponents, fights over screens and sees the ball (though he certainly lost sight of it when he let Bradley Beal score on an inbounds pass Thursday night).

    Best Plays: Fast-break back-and-forth with Kuzminskas finished with one-hand slam vs. Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 2; alley-oop to Porzingis vs. Phoenix Suns on Dec. 14.

    Final Grade: B

Ron Baker

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    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    51 G, 16.2 MIN, 4.1 PTS, 37.4 FG%, 26.5 3FG%, 1.9 REB, 2.0 AST, 0.7 STL

    It's safe to say an undrafted rookie who not only secured a regular rotation role but also made 11 NBA starts, heard fans chant his name, got a brotherly hair tousle from Kevin Durant and an on-air shout-out from Jeff Van Gundy has exceeded expectations.

    Beyond that, Ron Baker made some real contributions to the Knicks this year. He's not a true point guard, but he moves the ball well, pushing the pace both in transition and in the half-court. His jumper wasn't stellar, but his driving layups were brave, fast and effective, and the long balls he did nail were timely.

    Baker's defense is exceedingly pesky and energetic. While there are occasions that it's overzealous—when he goes for a steal instead of just keeping the pressure on—his judgment is generally good, especially for a rookie.

    Nobody who witnessed it will forget Baker's fourth-quarter leadership during the Knicks' comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 6. (Nor will we forget the perfect nickname his teammates gave him.)

    Best Play: Full-speed reverse lay-in vs. Golden State Warriors on March 5.

    Final Grade: B

Kyle O'Quinn

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    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    78 G, 15.6 MIN, 6.3 PTS, 52.1 FG%, 5.6 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.3 BLK

    Kyle O'Quinn started this season like an entirely different version of himself. In excellent fitness, he was sharper and faster than ever, anticipating opponents' maneuvers, nabbing loose balls and nailing more jumpers.

    He backslid a bit over the season, perhaps discouraged as he had to fight for minutes with Hernangomez. He helped open the door for Hernangomez, though, by getting himself into habitual early foul trouble.

    There's no denying, however, that KO was responsible for some high-energy, momentum-shifting plays. He leads the league in blocks off the bench.

    He is a deft passer but has butterfingers when he's receiving passes. Sometimes that resulted in turnovers, and other times it simply prevented him from shooting in motion. He'll receive a bounce pass in the low post, but he still needs to stop, drop and gather before shooting. That gives defenders time to close in. Every now and then, O'Quinn could pump-fake and muscle into an and-1, but he'd also come up empty when he should have had an easy two.

    That is perhaps a nitpicky criticism in the context of an otherwise excellent season for O'Quinn that, if not for Hernangomez, might have ended in a "Most Improved" nod.

    Best Play: Big block on DeMarcus Cousins followed by coast-to-coast slam vs. Sacramento Kings on Dec. 4.

    Final Grade: B+

Willy Hernangomez

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    2016-17 Per-Game Stats:

    71 G, 18.4 MIN, 8.2 PTS, 52.9 FG%, 6.9 REB, 0.5 BLK

    I wasn't sure how Hernangomez's mostly below-the-rim, low-post finesse game would fare against the NBA's powerful big men. At season's end the answer is it works pretty well.

    Overall, his shimmies and bank shots fooled most defenders, and as he added strong drives and sky hooks to his repertoire later in the season, he confounded others. Hernangomez dunks sometimes, but he's proven he doesn't need to be a relentless rim-shaker to be a low-post NBA powerhouse.

    Where he'll have to improve most is on defense, but if his growth over the course of this season is any indication, he's a good learner. He began as a liability: He didn't see plays developing at all, left the baseline open for cutting guards and tried to defend big men with his hands instead of his body, making him prone to committing stupid fouls.

    While he's still not an elite defender, he has vastly improved and is certainly not a liability anymore. He's also inching his way off the referees' naughty list; he'd landed on it for all the moving screen violations he committed early in the season.

    Best Plays: Over-the-shoulder pass to a cutting Porzingis for a slam vs. Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 1; shake-and-bake post-up bucket over Omri Casspi vs. Sacramento Kings on Dec. 4; left-handed and-1 stuff on Al Horford vs. Boston Celtics on Jan. 18.

    Final Grade: B+

        

    All stats via NBA.com/stats and Stats.NBADLeague.com and accurate through April 8.

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