New York Knicks Midseason Awards

Sara Peters@3FromThe7Featured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2018

New York Knicks Midseason Awards

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Maybe the 20-25 New York Knicks don't deserve midseason awards. They blew a 19-point lead Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans, and they lost by just six Wednesday but only after letting a depleted Memphis Grizzlies roster open an 18-point lead.

    Perhaps participation certificates, scrawled on the backs of crumpled receipts are more appropriate.   

    In the spirit of hope, let's grant some awards anyway, and imagine the winners will have fully earned the honor by the season's end.

    After all, although New York’s win percentage has slid well below .500, there are players who continue to sprinkle the misery with pleasant surprises and highlight-worthy plays. The 2017-18 roster might even include some new fan favorites who will remain in New Yorkers' hearts for a generation or two.

    At the halfway mark of the season, here are the Knicks taking home most valuable player, most improved player, rookie of the year, defensive player of the year and sixth man of the year.

Rookie of the Year

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Like so many races for sophomore-class treasurer, Frank Ntilikina wins the Knicks Rookie of the Year award by virtue of a lack of competition. Fellow rookie Damyean Dotson has not been able to put up much of a fight, only playing 20 games thus far.   

    Ntilikina has made a good case for himself, regardless of whoever he was up against. Before he smacked full force into the rookie wall, the 19-year-old had largely taken Jarrett Jack's place as the go-to point guard during clutch-time fourth-quarter minutes. 

    Ntilikina's defense is, as advertised, far more sophisticated than NBA coaches expect from rookies (sliding around the tower of DeMarcus Cousins expertly to hang tight to Jrue Holiday, for example.) His offense? The next game he isn't putting up a single shot. One day he's slinging perfect pocket passes, the next he's telegraphing cross-court passes and turning the ball over.

    However, he did accomplish one important thing: He helped hold perhaps his closest rival, No. 9 draft pick Dennis Smith Jr, to a modest 11 points on 35.7 percent shooting when the Knicks defeated the Dallas Mavericks Jan. 7.

    He even earned accolades from Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post: "I like him a lot ... I understand why New York drafted him eighth."

6th Man of the Year

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Forget who's the best sixth man. Who is the sixth man at all?

    The exciting, enigmatic, ambidextrous scoring machine Michael Beasley? The affable spark-off-the-bench big man Kyle O'Quinn? The reliable utility man that is team captain Lance Thomas?

    O'Quinn has played the most games, Thomas started the most games, and Beasley has averaged the most minutes. There are arguments to be made for all.

    After anguished deliberation, my vote for best sixth man ultimately goes to Beasley. It isn't just because he can rack up a point a minute, or because his swirls to the bucket that come from the right but finish with the left leave a girl dizzy. 

    The 29-year-old gets the nudge because he's added more to his repertoire than just scoring.

    We've seen him snatch the rock out of Taj Gibson's hands, fly in to block David Nwaba from behind, fight for rebounds, make smart outlet passes for fast-break buckets and scramble for loose balls.

    Off the bench, Beasley now averages 0.6 blocks, 5.1 boards and 1.3 assists per game to go alongside his 12.5 points on 52.4 percent shooting.

    And he's the only Knick besides Kristaps Porzingis who gets "MVP" chants from fans that are sincere.

Most Improved Player

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    For Most Improved Player, we must look beyond those who wore a Knicks jersey last season.

    The mind first turns to Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott, those lovable hustle players who gave the Knicks far more value in the Carmelo Anthony trade than most New York fans hoped to receive.

    However, McDermott and Kanter did not make huge leaps in skill as much as they vastly surpassed the expectations of a fanbase that didn't know them.

    And that brings us back to Beasley. He's already logged five double-doubles, which is as many as he had in the past five seasons combined. His rebounds per game have jumped from 3.4 to 5.1 and his points, blocks and assists per game have all increased as well. 

    Beasley has contended with on- and off-court issues throughout his NBA career—and inescapable labels such as "draft bust" and "attitude problem" have stalked him, making it hard to find a home. In New York, though, his performance, expanding repertoire and attitude all seem to be fitting in.

    After he first heard "MVP" chants at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21, he had a splash of his Beasley swagger but was overall humble.

    Although he told reporters he first felt he had the hot hand on January 9, 1989 (his date of birth), he went on to say: "I'm here for the team. Whatever they need, whenever they need. Scoring, rebounding, defense. I'm trying my best. ... Coming off the bench, starting, whatever the team needs, I'm gonna do. Sitting on the edge of the bench being a cheerleader [with] my pom poms." 

Defensive Player of the Year

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Once I saw Karl-Anthony Towns gracefully slip out of a Knicks triple-team baseline trap in seconds, I was tempted to take the Defensive Player of the Year Award and toss it in the East River.

    Overall, though, New York's defense has kept it in games this season. While rookie Ntilikina earns some accolades, the main contenders are NBA block leader Porzingis, hard fouler O’Quinn and help defense master Thomas.

    The big prize goes to Porzingis, and not only because he leads the team in defensive win shares (1.8).

    The league-best 2.4 blocks per game—including a couple monstrous swats on the Chicago Bulls' Finnish rookie Lauri Markannen and seven in Wednesday's loss to the Grizzles—reflects just a piece of Porzingis' value to the team's strong interior defense.

    The Knicks are second in the league at defending the paint, due in no small part to their starting power forward. 

    The Latvian smothers opponents without hacking them, which is a major improvement over last season when he was often forced to the bench because of early foul trouble.

Most Valuable Player

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Porzingis' start to the season left fans gobsmacked, slack-jawed and clicking "add to cart" on anything with a No. 6 on it. Although his otherworldly performances have eased back down to Earth, he is still the Knicks' most valuable player.

    Stepping into the role of lead scorer this season was enough of a challenge without his No. 2, Tim Hardaway Jr., going down before December.

    While contending with even more double-teams, congestion in the paint, and a head coach who failed to make adequate adjustments, KP still managed to produce 23.6 points, 2.4 blocks and 6.9 rebounds per game.

    He still sinks smooth twisting fadeaway bank shots, drills three balls from Staten Island and occasionally slides right through both Cousins and Anthony Davis to throw down a nasty slam.     

    More importantly, he's growing wiser. After the team's obscenity-inspiring loss to the Pelicans on Sunday, Porzingis expressed the realization he didn't need to do it all himself and that wins were more important than 30-point performances.

    Per NorthJersey.com's Steve Popper, he said: "I'm not thinking I need to score as much, I just want to be involved. When the shots come, I'm going to take them and they're going to be higher-percentage shots, not as many contested shots and not as much me fighting to get the bucket."

    He espoused that sentiment in the next game, leading the team to a stirring 119-104 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in which he scored an efficient 26 points on 57.1 percent shooting and logged nine rebounds. 

    Although it must be said that the Knicks' next outing, in Memphis, was mostly hideous, and Porzingis was as complicit as the rest.

    So, when April comes, will the silver trophies be placed in the hands of these gentlemen, into the hands of some other Knicks players, or left rolling around in the sludge at the bottom of the East River waiting for some fancy downtown mollusks to move in?

    Let's discuss that after the record inches back above the .500 mark.

                     

    Stats from NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com. Disagree with Sara Peters on Twitter @3FromThe7.