The New York Knicks are arguably the least predictable team in the NBA heading into the 2016-17 season.
If their key contributors stay healthy – and granted, that’s a big ‘if’ – New York has a chance to flirt with 50 wins and possibly secure home-court advantage in first round of the playoffs. However, there is also a possibility that injuries will cripple the Knicks and they’ll fail to even approach a .500 record. There are very few teams in the league that have such a high ceiling and such a low floor. The only thing we know for certain regarding the 2016-17 Knicks: It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 New York Knicks.
FIVE GUYS THINK
The Knicks took an aggressive approach this offseason, bringing in big names like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee to supplement Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. While Rose, Noah and Jennings have proven themselves as quality players, each has struggled with significant injuries over the last few seasons and it’s fair to say each has lost some of the explosiveness that made them so effective in the past.
Despite the obvious health concerns, Rose expressed supreme confidence in the Knicks and their ability to compete at a high level this season.
“They’re high,” Rose said when asked what the expectations are for this team. “I mean, with these teams right now, they’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams, and they’re trying not to build that many super teams, and Adam Silver came out with the statement and this and that.”
Rose’s comment drew predictable backlash among those in and around the NBA. The Warriors have put together historic seasons and nearly won a second consecutive NBA title last season, while the Knicks are restocking with players that, while talented, are past their primes or dealing with injuries.
I won’t be stunned if the Knicks are more competitive than they have been in past seasons or if they win a playoff series or two, but I also think this team has a clear ceiling despite bringing in some notable talent this offseason.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Jesse Blancarte
Good for Derrick Rose, believing with all his heart that the Knicks are a “super team” on par with the Golden State Warriors, but that’s not the way the rest of the world sees it – not even with the additions of Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee. However, it is more than fair to expect a drastically improved Knicks team, even if some of these new players can only give the team 60 healthy games a year. Noah looked like an also-ran a season ago, but that was more a result of the fire in his belly snuffing out than anything else. If he’s even remotely healthy, his chest-thumping, antagonistic style of play will help rejuvenate this squad (and the Madison Square Garden faithful) more than anything else. Rose should be super motivated to explode in a contract year, the undefendable Kristaps Porzingis will be another year along in his development and there’s little reason to believe Carmelo Anthony can’t still pour in 20+ points per game. They’re better than they were, but they’re still not a serious title contender.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Joel Brigham
If you are depending on Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to stay healthy for the balance of an 82-game season, you’re asking for a lot. For the Knicks, their thriving depends on exactly that. Sure, Phil Jackson made the offseason splash that many, including me, were looking for… The only thing is, at this point, we don’t know if it’s a belly flop or not. On paper, the Knicks look like an Eastern Conference contender, and if things break right, 50 wins and a division crown are within the realm of possibility. Still, relying on Rose and Noah to be the players they were three or four years ago doesn’t seem wise and without them each playing at a high level, the Knicks may be battling for one of the conference’s final playoff seeds once again. Of all players on the roster, Kristaps Porzingis is the one who is most capable of exceeding expectations. I’ll be interested in seeing whether he gets lost in the shuffle and stunted, or if playing with a few higher-caliber players will actually make the game easier for him. I’m willing to bet on the latter.
In the end, the smart money says that we have already seen the best of Rose and that something will go wrong in New York. I’d put the over/under on their win total at 44.5 and would expect both the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics to end up ahead by April.
3rd Place — Atlantic Division
– Moke Hamilton
There are three sides to every story; their side, your side and the truth. But what is the truth about the 2016-17 Knicks? Is this team a true playoff contender or has their best offseason in recent memory been overhyped by a fan base starving for success? On paper, the Knicks are undoubtedly better than last year’s unit that missed the playoffs, but members of the current roster are talking boldly about a return to title contention. It all comes down to how quickly the team buys into new head coach Jeff Hornacek’s system and how much usage the team can realistically count on from veteran free agent additions Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. The Knicks will punch a ticket to the playoffs, but there’s still work to be done here.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Lang Greene
I agree with my four colleagues: I see the Knicks improving after their busy offseason, but it’s hard to imagine New York seriously contending in the Eastern Conference or even contending for the Atlantic Division crown. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors seem like sure things, in my opinion, whereas this Knicks team has a ton of question marks surrounding them. Still, New York should make some significant progress this year and return to the postseason. They may even make some noise in the first round. That’s certainly a step in the right direction for this squad, who shouldn’t let unrealistic title expectations stop them from celebrating that fact.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Alex Kennedy
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Carmelo Anthony
After a significant knee injury cost Anthony most of the 2014-15 campaign, there were legitimate concerns about whether he would be able to bounce back and return to form. Anthony quickly put those doubts to rest, re-establishing himself as not only the Knicks’ best offensive option but as one of the league’s most dangerous players with the ball in his hands. In fact, last season Anthony was one of just four players in the NBA to average at least 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game, alongside LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Top Defensive Player: Joakim Noah
The Knicks have been either a “below average” or “terrible” defensive team for the better part of this millennium. Phil Jackson is hoping that Noah is a key piece in turning that reputation around. Noah has been severely limited by injuries the past two seasons, but prior to this recent slippage, he was an elite defender. In fact, Noah won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013-14. He’s been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team on three occasions (2011, 2013 and 2014). He also finished in the top 10 in blocks twice. With few defensive-minded players on the roster, the Knicks are hoping Noah can prove he is still one of the league’s most feared defensive players.
Top Playmaker: Derrick Rose
The lack of a productive point guard has been a major issue in New York the last two seasons. The sad reality is that if Rose plays at even an average level next season, he would be a huge upgrade for the Knicks. Jose Calderon was arguably the NBA’s worst starting point last year. In order to be competitive in today’s NBA, it is imperative that you have a point guard who can break down his defender and penetrate into the heart of the defense to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. Calderon scored a total of 46 points in the paint over the 2,024 total minutes he played last season. Rose scored 453 points in the paint (10th-most in the league) over the 2,097 minutes he played. For his career, Rose averages 6.2 assists per game. Other than Brandon Jennings, no other player on the Knicks’ roster averages over three assists per game over their career.
Top Clutch Player: Carmelo Anthony
There are many new faces and big names on the this overhauled Knicks squad, but it is very safe to assume that when the game is on the line, the ball will end up in Anthony’s hands. Since the moment he arrived in NYC after being traded from Denver, Anthony has taken the vast majority of important attempts late in games. Unfortunately, despite establishing a reputation as a superior clutch player earlier in his career, Anthony has been remarkably inefficient in such situations over his last few seasons in New York. It was commonly believed that Anthony was worn down by the heavy burden he’s had to shoulder offensively and the massive minutes he’s been forced to play, leaving him with little left in his legs in fourth quarters. The Knicks hope that fewer minutes, more creative offensive sets and a vastly improved supporting cast will allow ‘Melo to regain his reputation as one of the NBA’s best closers.
The Unheralded Player: Courtney Lee
The traditional “counting” stats on the back of Lee’s basketball card won’t knock your socks off, but if you dig a little deeper, the value Lee provides is nearly impossible to miss. For instance, Lee is one of only two qualifying players to shoot above 37 percent from three-point territory each and every season this decade (Kyle Korver is the other). In addition, as Basketball Insiders’ own Alex Kennedy pointed out back in July, “Last season in Charlotte, Courtney Lee ranked first among qualified players on the Hornets in offensive rating (111.4), net rating (+6), true shooting percentage (57.6 percent) and assist ratio (18.9 percent). In the playoffs, Lee contested 12.1 shots per game, which not only ranked first among all Hornets but ninth among all postseason players. Charlotte’s top three lineups in terms of plus/minus in the playoffs all had one thing in common: Lee playing on the perimeter, either at shooting guard or small forward (when they went small). In fact, Charlotte had two of the top five lineups of the 2016 postseason and both featured Lee.”
Top New Addition: Joakim Noah
Considering how much the Knicks have invested in Noah ($72 million over four years), they are certainly counting on him to be their best new addition. As noted above, Noah is a wonderful defender, but that’s certainly not the only skill he brings to the table. Even when nursing injuries, Noah is still an elite rebounder and passer. Last season, Noah led all centers in assist rate (24.2 percent). Marc Gasol was second at 18.9 percent. No Knicks point guard has averaged more than five assists per game since Raymond Felton in 2013-14; Noah averaged 5.4 assists per game that same season. The last time Noah was completely healthy back in 2013-14, he was the best center in the NBA. It’s worth noting that he is actually the last Eastern Conference player not named LeBron James to finish in the top five in MVP voting.
– Tommy Beer
WHO WE LIKE
- Kristaps Porzingis
Ask nearly any New Yorker and they’ll likely tell you it’s almost impossible not to like Mr. Porzingis. His rookie season was nothing short of a revelation. His inspiring play and put-back dunks electrified Madison Square Garden and revitalized an upset fan base. Despite last year being his first exposure to NBA-level competition, the skinny 20-year-old more than held his own. In fact, Porzingis became the first rookie in NBA history to tally at least 100 blocks, 75 made three-pointers and 50 steals in his first pro season. Still, Knicks fans are so excited because it is clear that KP has yet to even scratch the surface of his ultimate upside.
- Brandon Jennings
The fact that Jennings is working his way back to 100 percent from such a significant injury (Achilles tear) is obviously concerning, but that was also the reason the Knicks were able to secure his services at a discount ($5 million over one year). Encouragingly, Jennings is only 27 years old and avoided a major setback last season. The Knicks have very little depth at point guard, and thus would have to lean heavily on Jennings if Rose were to miss any time with an injury. His career averages are impressive (15.5 points and 5.9 assists). Can he approach those numbers again?
- Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez
The Knicks traded for Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez on draft day last summer, after the Philadelphia 76ers nabbed him with the 35th overall pick in the 2015 draft. He had one year left on his contract in Spain and played well during his final season for Real Madrid. The Knicks signed him to a very affordable contract ($5.8 million over four years) this summer. Willy is not overly athletic, which may make it difficult for him to defend quicker big men and finish at the rim in the NBA, but he is a grinder who plays hard and is willing to doing the dirty work. He’s also shown impressive improvement during the early stages of his career. If Hernangomez can develop into even a spot rotation player, he’ll provide significant value for the Knicks, as he will account for less than two percent of the Knicks’ salary cap each season through 2020.
- Lance Thomas
Thomas is one of those often underappreciated “glue guys” who end up playing significant minutes on competitive teams. Thomas was enjoying the best season of his career in 2015-16 before a concussion and other nagging injuries cost him most of the second half of the year. Still, he showed enough to persuade the Knicks that he was worth the lucrative four-year, $27 million contract they handed him. Thomas’ values lies in his defensive versatility and newfound three-point stroke. Thomas made over 40 percent of his three-pointer attempts last season, and knocked down a total of 44 three-balls in 2015-16. This is particularly remarkable because Thomas had attempted only one three-pointer over the first three seasons of his NBA career and his four years at Duke combined.
– Tommy Beer
SALARY CAP 101
The Knicks went below the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap this summer, using their spending power on players like Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Brandon Jennings and Marshall Plumlee. They also landed Derrick Rose in trade and re-signed Lance Thomas. Now fully spent, the Knicks have 14 guaranteed players with one open spot – potentially for Ron Baker, J.P. Tokoto or Chasson Randle.
Looking ahead, the Knicks project to have roughly $22.2 million in spending power next summer, with a projected salary cap of $102 million. Rose, who will be a free agent next July, will take up New York’s space if they retain his rights. Carmelo Anthony is one of the few players in the league with a true no-trade clause. New York will take their rookie-scale option on Kristaps Porzingis before November.
– Eric Pincus
The Knicks ranked near the bottom of the league (25th overall) in offensive efficiency last season, scoring just 104.6 points per 100 possessions. With the addition of Rose, Lee and Jennings – in addition to bench contributors such as Maurice Ndour and Mindaugas Kuzminskas – New York should be vastly improved on the offensive end in 2016-17. And although the downside to bringing in veterans is the potential health concerns, the upside is the experience and savvy they bring to the table. Carmelo Anthony has experienced his greatest success in NBA when surrounded by veterans who took control of the team. The Knicks have won over 50 games only once this millennium, and that was back in 2012-13 when they fielded the “oldest team in NBA history” featuring Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Jason Kidd among others. Joakim Noah establishing himself as a leader in the locker room and holding teammates accountable could pay major dividends on and off the floor.
– Tommy Beer
Two of the biggest issues in New York in years past have been inadequate point guard play and lackluster defensive effort. Phil Jackson hopes he addressed these two major flaws with his acquisition of Derrick Rose and signing of Joakim Noah. If the Knicks ever want to be considered serious contenders, they need to improve defensively. New York has allowed fewer than 108 points per 100 possessions just three times over the last 12 seasons. Noah brings defense, aggressiveness and intensity – three qualities that have been sorely lacking in New York for some time.
– Tommy Beer
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Knicks stay healthy?
Based on talent alone, the Knicks have the potential to be a special team. Consider this: Only five Eastern Conference players have finished in the top five in NBA MVP voting this entire decade, and three of those players are currently Knicks (Rose, Anthony and Noah). Last season, ‘Melo proved he is still an elite scorer and played arguably the best all-around ball of his career. Rose was frustratingly inconsistent and oftentimes inefficient, but showed flashes of his old, explosive self. Porzingis is already further along than anyone could have hoped and his upside is obvious. The issue is whether the team’s core pieces can stay healthy. If the injury bug begins to bite, the season may quickly be derailed. Here’s a discouraging fact: Rose has actually played in more games over the last two seasons (117) than Anthony (112), Noah (96) and Jennings (89). If the Knicks can beat the odds avoiding injuries, they have a legit chance to defy expectations and make some noise in 2016-17.
– Tommy Beer
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