2018-19 Preview: New York Knicks

What may look like a mess strewn out in a heap across the floor is actually the foundation of what could be something special. The Knicks are doing things the right way it seems. The product this season might once again be inferior, but at least there’s an end game this go around.

The major disappointment is the lack of star Kristaps Porzingis and the medical cloud that shades his promising future. Over the summer it was reported that new head coach David Fizdale hoped Porzingis would be back soon and that he was going to challenge the unicorn to win MVP. It was also reported that Porzingis wouldn’t be back until Christmas and then it was reported that there was no timetable at all. Based on conflicting reports and uncertainty all around, it might be best for Knicks fans to manage their expectations on Porzingis’ return this season.

The remainder of the roster is a puzzle and how Coach Fizdale sorts the pieces is the most intriguing follow of the season. A former standout at the University of Michigan, Trey Burke has rebuilt his image as a New York Knick. Former lottery pick, Emmanuel Mudiay, is battling for not just a role but his career. Finally, Frank Ntilikina, the last pick of the Phil Jackson era is trying to live up to his high draft selection. Picked just ahead of NCAA stars in Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk, Ntilikina was a bold pick and the Knicks have big hopes. One of those three will be the starting point guard, and at any point during this season, all three will likely get a turn.

The roster is equally fluid position to position. Fizdale recently stated the starting positions were all up for grabs and that regardless, it was unlikely anyone would exceed 28 MPG. Citing the pace he wanted to play at, Fizdale wants guys to work pushing themselves, each other and the competition. Sounds like 2018-19 will an audition year.

 2018-19  Guards  Wings  Bigs
 Returners Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker Tim Hardaway Jr., Lance Thomas, Courtney Lee, Damyean Dotson Joakim Noah, Enes Kanter, Isaiah Hicks, Kristaps Porzingis, Luke Kornet
 Newcomers Kadeem Allen Mario Hezonja, Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier Mitchell Robinson, Noah Vonleh
 Gone Jarrett Jack, Ramon Sessions Michael Beasley, Troy Williams Kyle O’Quinn
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Offense: The 20th ranked offense is, well, nothing to cheer about and this year might not be any better. Enes Kanter, long regarded as best suited in the first big off the bench role may actually lead the team in scoring. Likely to be the starting center, Kanter is a rebounding machine, a putback savant and the Knicks will need the consistency in what he brings as their younger players fumble around with what they are capable of.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is on his second tour as a Knick, only, this time he’s being paid a whole lot more his services. Bidding against themselves, the Knicks inked Hardaway Jr. to a four-year $74 million dollar deal last offseason and underwhelming results aside, he’s probably the most polished perimeter scorer on the roster. Averaging 17.5 PPG last season, Hardaway will be leaned on to create offense when things get dire, which might be often.

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Newly acquired Mario Hezonja and rookies Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier and Mitchell Robinson are all going to have to earn their minutes but, on a team, currently sparse with talent, the opportunities will be there. Hezonja, like Mudiay, failed to thrive with his first franchise but did show some real talent, especially while playing the power forward slot in smaller lineups. He’s a skilled offensive player with solid athleticism to boot and is one of the year’s most interesting reclamation projects. All three rookies impressed at various times over Summer League, but the regular-season reality will set in and all three will see ups and downs as most first-year players experience.

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Defense: The 22nd ranked defense is almost certainly going to be worse this year. Lee, Lance Thomas and Ntilikina are all plus-defenders but how many minutes they get together and how many they get on a whole this season could fluctuate greatly.

Rookies are rarely difference makers and often turnstiles defensively. Kanter, Burke, and Hezonja have all had noted struggles on defense. With the failed Joakim Noah experiment and Kyle O’Quinn gone, the Knicks are a collective negative in the rim protection department. The Knicks best hope to be decent defensively might be if, ‘Skinny Shaq’ aka Robinson defies the norm and warrants major minutes early and often bringing energy defensively to the paint.

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Upside: It’s unlikely upside saves the Knicks from themselves this season. But the possibility is present and that in and of itself is an accomplishment for a team that has made the playoffs only 4 times in the last 17 years.

The Knicks youth isn’t going to rescue them from another lottery trip, but it might carry them down the road. Diesel jokes aside, Robinson looks like he could be special, perhaps a steal as the 36th pick in the draft. Knox was excellent in Summer League and could be a physically dominant scoring forward. Hezonja, Mudiay, and Burke are all 25 or younger with major incentive to find a home in New York. Finally, Ntilikina’s measurables inspire confidence. The frame of a 3-and-D stalwart who played point guard overseas has nowhere to go but up, hopefully a combo guard in the making that can defend multiple positions, making him an extremely valuable sidekick for a healthy Porzingis in years to come.

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Durability: When your best player might be on pace to play less games sequentially in each of his first four years in the Association, it’s inarguably a red flag. Porzingis might miss all season, he played 48 last year, 66 the year previous, and 72 during his rookie campaign. He’s approaching the Joel Embiid realm where health will always be a concern. Hopefully, for both him and the franchise, he takes his time, the whole year if needed and he gets back to the trajectory that had him as a future MVP candidate.

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Synergy: With this many new pieces and truly undefined roles, it’s tough to predict what the chemistry will look like. Similar to the rival Brooklyn Nets, guys are going to push each other with various levels of career risk should they falter to secure a major rotation role and there’s definite risk there. That said, expectations are low. No one thinks the Knicks are going to the playoffs and there’s some leniency and stress relief that comes with that widespread reality. That lack of pressure means Fizdale gets the rare respite from what NY coaches are used to and focus on building the roster for the future.

Experience: The vocal Kanter along with veterans Lee and Thomas should have the locker room in good stead. Kanter’s lighthearted approach appears to be a great fit for a young team more focused on growth than immediate gratification.

Win Frame: 23-28 wins