This should be obvious but wins like last night’s against the Pistons remind me how starved this fanbase is of good basketball. I’m talking about a now 20-win team beating another 20-win team, on a Sunday night, thanks to growth by the team’s young players. The level of engagement is palpable, and even if it’s fleeting, we take what we can get.
If you’re only following games like last night thanks to the box scores, you’re missing the full story. Seven points and a couple blocks isn’t much for Kevin Knox but how about that sequence to end the first quarter, with Knox hitting a three and then recording a block as the buzzer sounds? And 3-of-10 is just another pedestrian shooting night for Frank Ntilikina, except for the fact that he charged the rim like a bull on several occasions. That one assist was thanks to pushing the pace, finding an open Wayne Ellington in the corner, and boom. These are the games in a season the casual fan will have written off where the young players find their footing.
What happens if each young player takes another step, if the Knicks were to add a player like (emphasis on “like”) Chris Paul, and if the team starts gelling faster than we anticipated? The entire narrative changes. Those perceived as floundering are still on track.
It’s unlikely for a team to go from the bottom-five to the playoffs organically, or in other words, without adding a bonafide, established star. This year’s Memphis Grizzlies stand out as the only one in recent memory (should they hang on) thanks to rookie Ja Morant, as even the 2018-19 Dallas Mavericks needed a year to go 33-49 with Luka Doncic after finishing 24-58. The 2017-18 Philadelphia 76ers did it by holding out Ben Simmons for the season and by playing Joel Embiid for 31 games after missing two seasons. It can happen but it probably won’t for the Knicks next year.
Now what does that mean for the Knicks? Jon outlined where he believes the Knicks are in terms of ranking the best young duos in the NBA, and middle of the pack is probably a fair assessment. The Knicks need star power, and barring a trade for a major young star or snagging someone like Brandon Ingram in free agency, the draft is the team’s best option.
And that’s why living and dying by the young players is so crucial. If it leads to wins, that’s fantastic. The truth is that playing them more likely won’t lead to win, at least not the majority of the time. And that raises your floor in terms of draft aspirations. I don’t enjoy seeing a lineup of Payton-Ellington-Bullock-Randle-Gibson with five minutes left and you probably don’t either.
To tie it all together, last night had fun elements without a doubt. I look forward to the days where a win over a team with a less talented roster is celebrated quite as much, simply because of New York’s ability to beat good teams consistently too.
Anyways, let’s recap this past weekend:
Hawks won ❌
Bulls won ❌
Timberwolves won ❌
Hornets won ✅
Pistons won ❌
Cavs won ✅
Hawks won ❌
Warriors won ✅
Bulls won ❌
Timberwolves won ❌
Lakers won ✅
Clippers lost ❌
Cavaliers won ✅
Pistons won ❌
Knicks lost ❌
Okay, so going 5-10 isn’t great for the Knicks, and the win definitely doesn’t help things from a tanking perspective. The good news here is the Cavs won twice, the Hornets are keeping their distance, and the Warriors are making things at least a little interesting 1.
The Knicks gained a full game on the Cavs but lost a game to the Pistons, Wolves, and Bulls. How stressful are things for Team Tank? The Knicks are 1.5 games away from being tied for second but also 1.5 games away from being in seventh.
Well let’s run the simulation…
Sim of the Day
Average pick: 3.8
Average jump/fall: 0.8
The Knicks have been flying up far more than I would have expected: they’ve moved up four of the six days, and by at least two spots each time. I’ll never not be concerned about dropping as far as possible, and history will back me up on this because the Knicks haven’t risen a single time in draft lottery history.
Hornets vs. Hawks
Two division rivals in the top 10 of the tank season, facing off against one another? Oh my!
Who we want to win: Hawks
Despite their win against the Pistons, the Knicks are only 1.5 games out of being tied for the second-worst record in the NBA. And sure, a Hornets loss would mean they’re only two games back of the Knicks, but a Hawks win would mean the Knicks are only a game back of Atlanta.
The Hawks have been absolutely walloped the last two games, they play the Knicks on Wednesday and the Cavs on Friday. They also have the 29th-easiest remaining strength of schedule, and while that may serve as a silver lining if they lose, getting them “behind” the Knicks in the tank standings is imperative.
Bucks vs. Nuggets
The Bucks will be without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic just had a miserable game for Denver.
Who we want to win: Nuggets
Thanks to the Lakers’ victory against the Clippers, Denver is a mere game away from being tied for the second seed. And with the Utah Jazz on a five-game winning streak and a game back of the Nuggets, a Denver win adds more competition as the season comes to a close.
Raptors vs. Jazz
The Jazz made a coaching change and have since gone 5-1, including having won five in a row. The Raptors are on a three-game winning streak of their own. Whose winning streak will remain intact by the end of the night?!
Who we want to win: Jazz
As mentioned previously, the Jazz are getting really close to catching the Clippers. Both Utah and Toronto have tough schedules to finish the season but the Raptors have more easy games than you’d think: Pistons (H), Warriors (H), Knicks (A), Wizards (A), Hornets (A), Hawks (H), and Knicks (H). Now compare that to the Jazz: Timberwolves (H), Hawks (H), Bulls (H), Cavs (H), and Suns (A).