New York Knicks Who Must Step Up Immediately
When Enes Kanter goes down with back spasms, Kristaps Porzingis hits the floor with an ankle sprain and Tim Hardaway Jr.'s foot is covered in a boot cloaking mysterious stress injuries, other New York Knicks must step up.
The unlikely starter hesitant to shoot? Time to fire away. The young gun failing to meet expectations? A step in the right direction is now a must.
The shooter who has a quiver of skills he only bothers to pack half the time? He too must find some consistency.
All of these players will be needed if the Knickerbockers hope to survive a long season. And while their playoff hopes are debatable 24 games into the year, their current ninth-place standing out East should be enough motivation to raise the bar immediately.
If Michael Beasley performed his best seven out of 10 games, he might be "your favorite player's favorite player." Unfortunately, inconsistency is a problem for Beasley, and it's a problem for the Knicks if they hope to lean on him when Kristaps Porzingis fends off injuries.
When he's on, he can find the bottom of the net with powerful, graceful ease—a spin right and a swoop left to the hoop for a layup against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday being one of the more recent sparkles. When he started for Porzingis versus the Houston Rockets on Nov. 25, he scored 30 points in 36 minutes, with 18 in the first quarter alone...
...And he committed six turnovers. He coughs it up 2.0 times per game on average, mostly because of lazy, telegraphed passes that are easily picked off. This is particularly infuriating considering he threaded the needle to a cutting Doug McDermott for a perfect reverse lay-in against the Toronto Raptors and can keep ball movement zipping along to find wide-open three-point shooters.
The same can be said of his defense. He takes far too many plays off and makes errors that inspire Courtney Lee to read him the riot act. Then, just as quickly, he will force a turnover, squash an open three-point shot, help a double-team or spot Kelly Olynyk coming from a mile away and block him at the rim.
Beasley's offensive and defensive ratings are improved so far in December, and, consequently, his net rating is up for the month, although it is still slightly in the red (-1.5). He's on the right trajectory, but now he needs to provide defense every time down the court and look both ways before sending the ball into the passing lanes.
If Michael Beasley is the one stopping to offer notes on your defense, there's obviously a problem. And that's exactly what happened after Willy Hernangomez made a particularly foolish foul on James Harden on Nov. 25 in the 117-102 defeat to the Rockets.
Hernangomez's lack of development on defense is disappointing, and until very recently, his offensive production was not inspiring either.
On Dec. 4, in the loss against the Indiana Pacers, he put forth his most sparkling show yet: 14 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes.
While he was doing that, he watched Lance Stephenson breeze to the hoop for a layup and was late with the help. He watched Victor Oladipo do the same, and he never even made a move to help. He let Domantas Sabonis and Thaddeus Young post him up and slip right around him like he was slathered in Crisco.
He eked out a plus-minus of plus-2 that night, but it was just the latest example of how Hernangomez cannot keep anyone out of the paint. He doesn't know how, doesn't know when to try, hasn't the faintest notion of when to provide help and is often caught looking around like a lost tourist in Manhattan who doesn't have the courage to ask for directions.
He has the worst net rating on the team. And although Joakim Noah has been waiting in the wings for an opportunity, Noah does not have the Spaniard's capacity to score. With Enes Kanter's occasional and nagging back spasms threatening to return, the Knicks need Hernangomez to find a way to avoid being a defensive liability.
Damyean Dotson has already delivered more than what's generally expected of a second-round rookie guard, but with Tim Hardaway Jr. down for the count during a stretch of winnable games, New York needs Dotson to give them even more than what's expected.
Against the Pacers, with Porzingis and Hardaway out, and Courtney Lee playing sick, Dotson started at shooting guard. Overall, it was a stronger showing than most of his teammates': seven rebounds, two steals, one block and zero turnovers.
However, the Knicks needed points. While Dotson is better known for his defense, he can also knock down the long ball when he looks for it. When the team needed him to find it most, though, Dotson went 3-of-8 (not bad, but not enough), and the previous game, his first NBA start, he only managed 1-of-3.
A rookie cannot be Courtney Lee overnight. Nevertheless, Hardaway's injury means Dotson needs to dig deeper.
If Dotson and Hernangomez are not up to task yet, there are two other Knickerbockers eager to give it a go: Ron Baker and Joakim Noah, who have each spent most of their time in street clothes.
Neither, however, will be able to show they can get the job done if head coach Jeff Hornacek doesn't give them the chance.
Granted: New York is off to an encouraging start, and Hornacek's decision to use a shorter lineup is an intelligent one. Yet, there are occasions where he commits to that lineup no matter how pitiful the performance and waits to make a change until it is too late.
The most recent example: Hornacek didn't give Ramon Sessions and Baker a crack at beating the Indiana Pacers until 2:28 into the third quarter when the Knicks had already fallen behind by 33 points. Noah didn't enter until the fourth quarter.
New York outscored Indiana by 12 in the fourth (with most of the Pacers' starters remaining in the game), but by that point it was too late.