Last season was a tough one for the New York Knicks. It was arguably the hardest to watch in the Phil Jackson era. The team came into the season with high hopes for making the playoffs. Its roster could’ve been considered top four in the Eastern Conference, at least on paper. The Knicks got off to a good start and were three games over .500 on Christmas Day. However, things did not gel for the team. It started off strong, but when Jackson intervened and wanted the team to run the triangle offense, things fell apart. With Jackson now gone, New York will hope to bounce back this season. Here’s the 2017-18 New York Knicks season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: New York Knicks Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
The development and the play of Willy Hernangómez after the All-Star break was very encouraging. He backed up Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn for the first half of the season. But once the veterans got hurt and the Knicks fell out of the playoff race, coach Jeff Hornacek started to give Hernangómez more minutes. Hernangómez made the most of his opportunity.
After the All-Star break, Hernangómez showed hustle, versatile moves down low, and a knack for rebounding with the best of them. One of the brightest spots was the chemistry between him and Kristaps Porzingis, who is undoubtedly the future of the franchise. Another young player in Hernangómez building good chemistry with Porzingis was a positive sign. It showed potential for a youth movement in New York.
What Needs Improvement
Year in and year out, there is one thing that this team always needs to improve on regardless of who is on the roster: commitment to defense. Once again, the Knicks’ defense let them down more often than not. Getting key stops was always a difficult task. The communication on defense was lacking. Additionally, there was only a handful of players who are considered to be good defenders. Most of New York’s players were below average defensively. Without a solid defense, the Knicks will continue to struggle.
Along with defense, the Knicks need to improve their ball movement. Far too often, the ball tends to stop. Carmelo Anthony is labeled as the main culprit of stopping ball movement, but it can be attributed to a team-wide problem.
The Knicks’ point guard, Derrick Rose, also deserves some blame for the ball-stopping issue. During fourth quarters of games, Rose would often drive to the basket with the intention of scoring, even if the defense collapsed on him. As the floor general, he had a shoot-first mindset, which set the tone for the whole team to pass poorly.
The Knicks are headed into the 2017-18 season with one thought in mind: rebuild. It feels like the same story every year. However, the moves that they have made this off-season seem to have been made for a purpose. New York wanted to get younger and focus on acquiring talent with upside around which to build a foundation.
Phil Jackson and the Knicks agreed to part ways on June 28. In his tenure, the Knicks never came close to being winners. As a matter of fact, they finished below .500 every year, including a 17-win season in his first year. The move had to be made, but the timing of it was puzzling.
Jackson left about a week after the NBA draft and a few days before free agency started. He made the draft pick, but then left the organization. There were rumors that people within the organization were split between Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. Jackson ultimately decided to select Ntilikina with the ninth pick.
According to reports, Steve Mills, who took over for Jackson in the interim, would’ve preferred Smith. The disconnect is very typical for this franchise. The Knicks make the right move in cutting ties with Jackson, but even the right move was done at a terrible time.
The biggest free agency splash by the Knicks was signing Tim Hardaway Jr., a former member of the team. Jackson traded Hardaway just over two years ago, during the 2015 NBA Draft. Now he makes his return to New York, coming off his best season as a pro. Hardaway is still young and is athletic; he fits right into the Knicks’ rebuilding plan.
However, everyone is talking about the price the Knicks paid to bring him back: A four-year, $71 million deal. That is a lot of money to give to a player coming off a career-year offensively, as his 2016-17 numbers could turn out to be an anomaly. Hardaway also plays below average defense, which is more cause for concern. His contract will eat up a lot of New York’s cap space, which could prevent the Knicks from signing an impactful player in the future.
The Knicks also made Scott Perry their general manager this summer. By all accounts, Perry should bring instant credibility to this front office. He did great work for the Sacramento Kings in just a few months with them. Everyone in the league loved the moves and picks he made in the draft. It seems like the Knicks may have found a good front office person, but the same was said about Jackson. Fans will have to take a wait-and-see approach with Perry.
The elephant in the room is Anthony. He still hasn’t been traded, and it seems that he will begin the year with the Knicks. There is good chance he gets dealt during the season, but things will be awkward with Anthony still around. He’ll be playing for a franchise that wants him out because he is not part of the future. Giving Anthony minutes will only take away from the team’s younger players, but Anthony is still talented, which complicates the situation.
The Knicks seem like they finally have a plan. They want to get younger and build a solid foundation. However, this season will be another painful one. The team will lose a lot of games. New York will only win 25-27 games. However, the broader focus should be on developing Hernangómez and ensuring that Porzingis and Hardaway take their play to the next level. If they do that, the Knicks will have a successful season.