Every season, every SB Nation team blog fills out the same season preview. This is that!
Team Name: New York Knicks
Last Year's Record: 4thpick-65
Key Losses: Tim Hardaway Jr., Shane Larkin, Jason Smith, Cole Aldrich, Andrea Bargn-- wait, define "key"
Key Additions: Kristaps Porzingis, Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez, Kyle O'Quinn, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The biggest offseason move from the New York Knicks was the decision to draft Kristaps Porzingis with the 4th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. The choice left some critics snickering at the temerity of the front office to select a European forward after the disappointment of Andrea Bargnani, but Porzingis is imbued with potential to alter the future of the franchise. On paper, a 7'3" athletic shooter who can space the floor on offense and protect the rim on defense should be a valuable asset. Porzingis needs to capitalize on that value if New York means to leverage his talent to win games.
The Knicks also managed to make a draft day swap of slow-to-develop guard Tim Hardaway Jr for the rights to Jerian Grant from the Atlanta Hawks. Grant has a bloodline that ties him to Horace Grant and Phil Jackson's Chicago Bulls; hopefully that leads to more buy-in to the Triangle offense.
Despite their relatively pleasing draft decisions, the Knicks' free agency choices left a little to be desired. They acquired Robin Lopez for a price very reasonable for a starting center (four years, $54 million). RoLo, a fan-favorite with an eclectic personality, will provide the locker room with some needed stability. It's more difficult to see the logic in offering a two-year contract with a player option to Derrick Williams. If he hasn't improved as a scorer or defender going into this season, Williams does little more than lower the current roster's ceiling and limit the front office's ability to acquire free agents next offseason. The Knicks did take smart fliers on frontcourt talent, but added no reliable, quality production outside of Lopez's. That's a problem.
- Christian Baber
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Let's not beat around the bush here. The Knicks were dogshit last season, and there were absolutely no strengths to speak of. That's not so much the case this year. After an objectively good offseason -- though your mileage may vary, so maybe "subjectively" fits better; on the other hand, if you expected New York to enter November as a contender, I have a bridge to sell you -- there's no reason to say the team won't be kinda good in the 2015-16 season. Not "oh wow there are so many strengths I don't even know how to pick one" good, but, you know, definitely "oh wow at least if I think about it for a few minutes and squint really hard I can pick out a strength" good. And that's what we call progress, people!
The strength I'm referring to is frontcourt depth. In the octumvirate (not technically a word, but certainly cooler-sounding than octet) of Carmelo Anthony, Robin Lopez, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle O'Quinn, Lou Amundson, Derrick Williams, Kevin Seraphin, and Lance Thomas, the Knicks have what should be a group of serviceable players at the 4 and the 5, if not spectacular ones. Melo and Lopez will, of course, be better than serviceable, and Porzingis is quite obviously a top 5 all-time player already. But if New York's frontcourt ends up performing well, it'll be thanks to the contributions of those other 5 guys. Let's hope they step up.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Last year's Knicks' weaknesses were only eclipsed by their blatant worthlessnesses. As a team, they were near the bottom in pretty much every statistical category known to man. Not only did they struggle to get shots up (25th in total field goals attempted), they were 28th in percentage at .428%. Rather unsurprisingly, they were at the bottom with a 28th ranked defensive rating and pace of play (91.2 possessions per game). Do you love this pain? They ranked 29th in offensive rating, total free throws attempted and total rebounds. They were 30th in points per game and margin of victory (-9.32). They were near or well below league average in literally, actually, factually everything else. The numbers are cruel.
This year, should the Knicks functionally correct anything at all, it will automatically be a stunning improvement. Unfortunately, it won't be as easy as plugging a healthy Carmelo back in. It's simply not clear whether they've brought in capable ball players yet. If Fisher intends to pick up the pace, do they have enough guys that can push the tempo? Carmelo at the four is everyone's favorite saying, and he is a killer above the break, but who can force the issue enough to generate that type of shot? Forget forging your way to the hoop. Can they even get enough stops to create easy looks in transition? Their perimeter defense is shaping up to be atrocious, and that's inescapable.
They have a small stable of guards who are questionable defenders and streaky shooters but will all be pressed into action. In the front court, the Knicks have depth insofar as numbers, but it's unclear how many of them are legitimate candidates to start. Part of that is positional overlap. Lopez, Porzingis, Seraphin and O'Quinn all seem like centers. So then, how do any of these guys even fit together? All of this will rest squarely on Derek Fisher's shoulders. While coaches don't win games for their teams very often, they can certainly lose them for you with poor clock and player management. In his first year out of the frying pan, the only thing he really pulled off was remaining calm. The Triangle offense gets a butt-ton of criticism, but the real problem was that the team lacked identity. I don't expect them to be gangbusters suddenly, but if Fisher can't rectify that crisis of leadership, we may know exactly what the biggest weakness is.
- Jonathan Schulman
4. What are the goals for this team?
"If you have built castles in the air...that is where they should be," Thoreau wrote. "Now put the foundations under them." Six months after Thoreau died, James Naismith, basketball's inventor, was born. Irony? No. Just coincidence. Irony would be the Knicks repeating last year's tanktastophe. This year's goal is simple mediocrity. You won't see that mantra on any training camp t-shirts, but it's a long road from foundations to sky.
Last year, Carmelo Anthony played just 141 more minutes than Quincy Acy. Goal #1: getting Carmelo back to the top of the list. Other individual goals: health and a return to form for Jose Calderon; competent consistency from Cleanthony Early; for one of the Wesley Saunders/DaJuan Summers/Thanasis Antetokounmpo trio to mirror the recent good WTF!-ness of Chris Copeland/Jeremy Lin/Langston Galloway; for Jerian Grant to be closer to "precocious" than "prospect"; for Kristaps Porzingis to be closer to god than man.
Last but waaay not least -- it was impossible to pass fair judgment on Derek Fisher last year. This year, his judgment cometh and that right soon. Both the coach and his team need to establish an identity. His persona is strikingly quiet compared to those of his star player, his bright and shiny stud rookie, his larger-than-life president/GM and his messier-than-life owner. On the eve of 2015-16, I still don't know what to make of Derek Fisher. For the Knicks, mediocre is good enough this year. For Fisher? Gonna need something more.
- Matthew Miranda
5. Can the Knicks rank in the top 5 in anything?
No. But there is a strange outside chance they can get near the top of the league in blocked shots. Last season the 'bockers were just barely below league average and that was with Cole Aldrich leading the charge. This year they added some legitimate, if unspectacular, rim protection. Porzingis is the great unknown, but Lopez and Seraphin rate very favorably in Nylon Calculus' Rim Protection chart. Meanwhile Kyle O'Quinn has been rejecting 2.1 shots per 36 during the course of his career. Carmelo Anthony has his patented fast break sweeper. And the long-limbed likes of Langston and Grant might be able to push them toward relevance in that area. Doesn't hurt your block numbers to have Jose Calderon et al funneling smaller players to the front of the tin with the matador D either. I can think of stranger things is all I'm sayin'.
- Jonathan Schulman
6. When will Kristaps Porzingis and Taylor Swift finally get together?
As soon as the Knicks selected Latvian meta-human Kristaps Porzingis in the NBA draft, the entire world knew what needed to happen. The newest King of New York needed his queen, and who better than pop sensation Taylor Swift?
These two kids are just destined to end up together. Both are rail-thin, statuesque blonds; both were exposed to the spotlight at a young age, thanks to their precocious talents and a shared, single-minded ambition to rise to the top. She loves the players; he loves the game.
Can you even imagine the babies these two would make? They'd be 10-foot-tall Nordic super-beings, possessed of the ability to drain a jumper from 40 feet out while dreaming up a pop anthem about ex-lovers and heartache that will bring you to tears...why did you ever leave me, Karen???
Our girl Taylor attended a few games at MSG last season -- God only knows why. Here's hoping she sits courtside again this season. Here's hoping that butt-nasty 2014-15 squad didn't scare her off forever. All we need is one magical night at the Garden. Taystaps forever!
- Joe Flynn
7. Is the Knicks' backcourt really so bad?
The Knicks added enough depth up front to play a variety of styles and withstand multiple injuries. They didn't have much money remaining for the backcourt, and are left with only Jose Calderon and Langston Galloway from last year, plus maybe-more-of-a-forward Arron Afflalo, rookie Jerian Grant and Sasha Vujacic, who vacated the NBA for 4 years. Give or take a training camp guy, that's the backcourt.
Is that a problem? Well, it's certainly gonna suck if someone gets hurt, which someones are wont to do. New York's a couple sore throats away from Sasha Vujacic: Starter, and that's probably not ideal. And even at full health, Langston Galloway is the only member of that group we can expect to make the Knicks better on defense (and we're going off a small, if solid, sample of Lang's play to assume that.) Calderon usually won't embarrass himself on that end, but he's definitely not a "plus defender," anyone who tells you Afflalo is a good defender probably drinks expired milk, and Vujacic/Grant are defensive wild cards for opposite reasons.
Listen, I can get myself over-optimistic about anything but: I believe Calderon to be a fine, starting-caliber player whose shitty reputation among Knicks fans is mostly recency bias (and from a year he hit 41 percent of his threes!). Give him two healthy legs and an environment that isn't the most miserable in basketball and I think he'll be fine. He already seems happier.
Langston Galloway might be legitimately Good. Last year he proved he's an NBA player. This year he might cement his value on defense and even hit some shots when he's not a lineup's first option.
We'll see who Jerian Grant is, and who Sasha Vujacic is at this point in his career (Sasha got rave reviews from camp!!!), but they're both big and smart and at least capable of avoiding detriment to their team.
And yeah, there's always Afflalo. He's fine! Can't really know what to expect from him, either, but he'll get his buckets sometimes.
All of this is to say: I get why people are down on the Knicks backcourt. They're certainly not deep. I happen to believe the incumbent players are fine and, well, the new guys might be fine too. Just don't hurt yourselves.
8. Do the Knicks really run the Triangle Offense?
We'll see. Derek Fisher seemed to foist it upon his charges more as a teaching/tanking tool than as an instrument of basket-scoring last season, and he had them stray far away from it for whole portions of his games, especially later in the year. Based on that and what we saw in the Summer League (and Fish constantly having to remind reporters that *he* is the coach) I suspect the Triangle elements will be more of a crutch or default setting than a regular look. I bet the elements will be there, but I also bet (or hope?) we won't see the methodical churn we did last season.