By: Mike Robinson
The Knicks came into this season with expectations as high as they’ve been this decade. Phil Jackson’s reputation as a basketball genius had come into question, but with offseason acquisitions Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah joining Carmelo Anthony, as well as the ascent last season of big man Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks fans had reasons to be excited. Considering the state of the Eastern Conference, where it’s Cleveland on one tier, and everyone else below them, the Knicks had as much reason as anyone to believe they could be that #2 team. Instead they find themselves 2-4 and out of the playoffs if they started today.
Glass-half-full Knicks fans will point to the schedule in defending their team’s outlook. It’s reasonable to predict that at least five (and possibly all six) of their opponents will be playoff teams at season’s end. There are easier stretches on the horizon, but when they arrive, will the Knicks be playing well enough to take advantage?
Struggling defense has been the consistent theme in the team’s postgame comments. Following a loss to the Pistons, coach Jeff Hornacek hinted at it, questioning the team’s conditioning, saying they weren’t ready to play offense and defense for 48 minutes. Derrick Rose said after a loss to Houston that if the team’s defense doesn’t get better, they’re “going to keep getting smacked like this.” Then, in the team’s most recent game, a loss Sunday to Utah, they allowed 36 points in the 4th quarter and led a lead slip away late, leading to more press clippings and postgame comments about defensive struggles. With so many new players, and a starting five that has never played together (outside of combinations like Rose/Noah and Anthony/Porzingis), practice and repetition is going to be even more important than for other veteran teams.
Despite the defensive struggles, there are already bright spots. First, Rose has played all 6 games, averaging 33 minutes per game. Considering his injury history, that’s already a victory. His all-around performance in his return to Chicago, with 15 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds, also featured a few glimpses of the former MVP those Bulls fans who were watching remember so well. Second, any question about a sophomore slump for Kristaps Porzingis after his stellar rookie year is quickly being put to rest, as he’s gone for 28 and 27 points in the last 2 games, and his minutes, FG percentage, and points per game are all up from last season. The question is, can these offensive performances accompany better team defense, and can the team put it together in time to make a serious playoff run?