The Porzingis era in New York has officially started with Carmelo Anthony being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. We look at their potential starting five, and their key contributor coming off the bench.
Point Guard: Ron Baker
Ron Baker the shot maker. The former Wichita State star turned Knicks journeyman point guard received one of the most bizarre contracts of the 2017 offseason. Baker will be competing for the top job with veteran Ramon Sessions and rookie Frank Ntilikina. Baker has the edge here as indicated by the aforementioned contract, which demonstrates that Bakers ability to play a caretaker role on offense and give a dogged effort on defense is highly valued by the team. Ron Bakers contribution shouldn’t be inflated, as he shot a ghastly 37.8% from the field (including a robust 26.7% from deep) and barely got the ball to his more efficient teammates posting a miserable 17.3 AST% while on the floor(Derrick Rose posted 21.6 AST%).
Despite the departure of former starter Derrick Rose, Baker does not have this spot locked down. If Frank appears ready for a starting role out of training camp there is absolutely no reason that he shouldn’t start. Mind, that shouldn’t be seen as too big an accomplishment as the Knicks are likely beginning the 2017-18 season with the worst point guard rotation in the entire league.
Shooting Guard: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Tim Hardaway Jr. will be asked to take an active role in the offense as one of the more athletic and diverse scorers on the roster. He came on strong for the Hawks in the second half of last year and the Knicks will be hoping that he can continue to build upon his offensive accomplishments. In March and April Hardaway shot 48.9% from the field and 38.8% from downtown. For Hardaway to truly prove his value to the Knicks though, he will need to redouble his efforts on the defensive end and add something to his one-dimensional game.
Following the departure of Carmelo Anthony, Tim will be expected to take on a large share of the scoring burden alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Hardaway scored very effectively off cuts (1.462 PPP) and spot ups (1.151 PPP). Unfortunately, the key to maximizing Hardaway’s potential this season is to pair him with a dynamic playmaker that the Knicks sorely lack, so expectations for his return to New York should be tempered.
Small Forward: Courtney Lee
Courtney Lee seems the most likely Carmelo replacement at the starting 3, even though it will mean he is playing out of position. He is also another possible trade candidate as one of the more accomplished veterans remaining with the team. He led the NBA in 3 point percentage for much of the previous season, closing the season at a very respectable 40.1%. He’ll never be the volume scorer that some want him to be, but Lee has a place in almost any offense.
Once vaunted for his perimeter defense, he has taken fairly substantial steps back in that area. Still, for now, is the team’s best shooter and best wing defender. It’s possible that, even with his contract being signed in 2016 cap dollars, he has value to other teams. Expect the Knicks to explore trade destinations for Lee come December 15th, though it is unclear if other teams will view Lee as an asset on his contract.
Power Forward: Kristaps Porzingis
Kristaps Porzingis might take the jump ball at center court but make no mistake, he will not be the Knicks full-time starting center this year. After enduring a summer of trade talks under Phil Jackson and engaging in a virtual cold war with the Knicks front office, KP looks set to the be the last one standing after the recent round of purges at MSG. This is a good thing. KP was ranked 33rd on Sports Illustrated top 100 for this year and signs are positive that he might outperform that lofty ranking. Porzingis averaged 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and two blocks during year 2, all while increasing his accuracy overall and from deep. Now the product isn’t as finished as some might have you believe, as he finished up with an eFG of just 50.7% in 2017. So while he has demonstrated a great shooting stroke his shot selection has made him a much less efficient player than he might otherwise be. He has also struggled with injuries in both of his first 2 seasons, playing in only 66 games last year. His worst habits, including his penchant for silly fouls and his weak screen setting, didn’t seem to improve over the summer and he’s never going to rebound at the level you want him to.
These are real concerns, but it’s important not to lose perspective.
Porzingis is going to be an All-Star this year and there’s a realistic path for him to become an All-NBA caliber player in the near future. He demonstrated increased efficiency and versatility for Latvia over the summer that had Knicks fans salivating. He shot 53.4% from the field on route to scoring 23.6 points per game. For all his remaining flaws, he is still the true Swiss Army Knife of the NBA, a legit stopper at the rim with Dirk level potential on the offensive end. He has allowed only 44.2% of field goals within 5 feet of the rim, averaged almost 2 bpg, and has improved his body and game dramatically over the course of his short career.
The ceiling for this era of the New York Knicks all comes down to Kristaps.
And with KP, the ceiling is the roof.
Center: Willy Hernangomez
Willy Hernangomez put together an impressive rookie campaign while coming off the bench most of the year behind Joakim Noah. He was rewarded as Rookie of the Month for the Eastern Conference for April and showed enough to end up on the All-Rookie 1st team despite being an unheralded 2nd round pick. He demonstrated footwork beyond his years and a solid feel for the game. Willy can rebound and post up with the best of them already, but his real challenge for year 2 will all be about his defense. Willy struggled mightily when he moved into the starting lineup and looked lost defending the pick and roll. If Willy has hopes to remain the Knicks starting center when the team eventually claws its way back to relevancy, he will have to do better than allowing 1.175 PPP when isolated by an opponent.
The Key off the Bench
Frank Ntilikina is included here less for his immediate impact, which is difficult to quantify, and more for the signs he shows going forward. French Frank has the size and desire to devour opposing guards on the defensive end and unlike many of his fellow 1st round picks, he has proven his willingness and effectiveness as a role player. This is good because the Knicks may need to bring Frank along slowly as he fills out and adjusts to the speed of the NBA.
The key thing that Knicks fans should keep an eye on early with Frank is his shooting. Franks effectiveness has steadily increased from the outside over the past few seasons but the sample sizes remain so small as to inspire little confidence in the trend. If Frank can step into a supporting role on defense and shoot somewhere around 35% from deep, the Knicks will be in great shape.
If the Knicks put the ball in his hands and he can make some things happen? Gravy.