The 2015 Knicks were the worst team in the history of a franchise that goes back to when some noob named Truman was in the White House. This year's team was so awful they were, at times, offensive to watch. That's what happens when your minutes leaders are Shane Larkin and Jason Smith. When you're 17-65, there's nothing to celebrate beyond lottery hopes. No point in traditional year-end awards, like team MVP or rookie of the year.
You know what else was offensive? Nintendo's Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! ICYMI, the 1987 game starred Little Mac, a pint-sized pugilist who fights boxers from all over the globe to earn a shot in the ring with Mike Tyson, who in 1987 was pretty much Lebron James and Michael Jordan combined. The game remains one of the great accomplishments of post-Truman America, along with the space program, hip-hop, and bluecheese999. While MTPO!! was a work of art as far as its gameplay and difficulty, the characters were all embarrassing stereotypes, each caricature more one-dimensional than Steve Novak. So in the spirit of progressivism, we're reclaiming the offensiveness, redefining character legacies, and launching the first annual New York Knick Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! awards. That's right! It's the Punchies!
The Glass Joe Award = Seasonal slow starts
Glass Joe wanted nothing to do with fighting. He stood there, took hits, almost never threw a punch, and went down hard and fast. A punching bag personified.
This has been an unwelcome trend in recent Knick seasons. Remember 2013? That glorious, freaky year, the Knicks opened 18-5. In 2014, they started 5-15. Last year, they were 5-36. The 2016 Knicks are unlikely to start 18-5. But not being behind the eight-ball right from the start would be the first sign of a turnaround.
The Von Kaiser Award = Thanasis Antetokounmpo
Von Kaiser kind of looks like like Mr. Pringles - not Mr. Pringles as in Mike D'Antoni; like, the actual face from the Pringles cylinders. Pringles stand out from other chips because of the cylinder they come in. Nothing else looks like Pringles. Same with Thanasis: bet on this guy being a rotation piece by the middle of next year. He's chock full of athleticism and defensive playmaking. That's not the description you'd use for anyone else on the roster. No one's game on the Knicks looks anything like Thanasis Antetekounmpo's game.
The Piston Honda Award = Knicks fans
Piston Honda isn't great, but he's certainly a degree of difficulty above Glass Joe and Von Kaiser. Last year's team wasn't great. They were difficult to follow, difficult in a manner unlike any prior Knick teams. Traditionally in the post-Dolan era, the Knicks either sorta stink, only not badly enough to get an impact lottery pick (Michael Sweetney in 2003), or they stink to high heaven but don't have their own pick (Joakim Noah/Lamarcus Aldridge/Skal Labissiere?).
Last year tested the very foundation of Knick fandom. Houses turned against themselves. Some embraced the team losing as much as possible, their eyes fixed solely on the future. Some did not go gently into the long night of the tank, instead clawing and raving at every defeat, satisfied as ever only by the simplest, fundamental joy - winning.
Either way, y'all endured an unprecedented drain of a year, Knick fans. Much love.
The 1st Don Flamenco Award = Allan Houston
The first time you fight Don Flamenco, he's the easiest fighter in the whole game. You knock him out in 40 seconds. He's overmatched, like a man standing on a beach while a tsunami nears. Never is your cosmic insignificance clearer than when nature sends a giant wave hurtling toward you, and you see it and realize you've accepted it's inevitability because it leaves you no time to do anything more than accept.
Allan Houston had often been mentioned as a possible Knick general manager in the near future. But that was B.Z. - Before Zen. As long as Phil Jackson's running the show, Phil's the GM. Odds are before his last day on the job, Phil'll already have chosen his successor. Odds are it won't be Allan Houston. You're still a special snowflake, Allan. But 13 rings is an avalanche of special snowflakes.
The King Hippo Award = The frontcourt
The only way to beat King Hippo is to wait till his mouth opens, throw a punch at his face that he blocks, then wail away at his figurative soft underbelly, which in his case is his literal soft underbelly. 17-65 teams don't just have one soft underbelly; they're more like entire bodies grafted together from underbellies and Achilles' heels. But as of today, the Knicks have no frontcourt. The biggest player under contract next year is Carmelo Anthony. Wherever the Knicks draft, they'll need the best player available, so if they fall out of the top two they may end up with D'Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay. But adding a stud big man in the draft and a couple professional bigs via free agency would go a long way toward solidifying some kind of foundation for the future.
The Great Tiger Award = Carmelo Anthony
Great Tiger's big trick was teleporting around the ring.
Carmelo Anthony wins this award because all year people were fixated on where he was or where he wasn't. First it was whether Carmelo was healthy or not. Once it was clear he was injured, the question became whether or not he was a selfish stat-hog staying on the floor because his ego demanded he play (terribly) in the only All-Star game in NY he'll ever play in, or whether he should already be having/recovering from surgery. Then there were hot takes questioning why Carmelo wasn't sitting on the bench after his surgery, and just where was he, anyway? Then this summer, Carmelo's not only posting about what's happening in Baltimore, he's down there marching. If only he got around this much on defense.
The Bald Bull Award = Lou Amundson
Gave serious consideration to awarding this to Melo, for all those times he's in the post and decides to take a basket and just bully-balls his way to the hoop, reminiscent of Bald Bull's famous bull charge. But the winner here is Lou Amundson. Despite being 11th on the team in minutes, Lou led the Knicks in charges drawn.
The Soda Popinski Award = Alexey Shved
The laymen in the audience will suspect Shved won because he's Russian, as is Popinski. But this award actually goes to the most southpaw-ish Knick. You don't have to be a lefty to be southpaw-ish; Shved's not. You have to have something herky-jerky in your game, something off-balance, something elusive and wily, something that feels tricksy...alien. Shved is a righty who plays like a lefty. He does things that make you laugh at him and with him. Every team should have one of those.
The 2nd Don Flamenco Award = The 2015 offseason
Whereas the 1st Don Flamenco is the easiest opponent to defeat, the 2nd is surprisingly demanding. He's more arduous than challenging, but the contrast is so great it gets into your head. You don't come to accept how much things have changed until you're halfway through the second round and you've been knocked down a couple times.
This Knicks' offseason promises to be sooo exciting, especially compared to last year. Then, the Knicks were this year's Nets, only even more depressing: they'd missed the playoffs by one game, had no cap room and no draft picks. Now, as we've covered before, Phil Jackson finally evolves from an abstract projection of a decision-maker who can merely tinker with roster marginalia to a concrete reality who'll make their highest draft pick in 30 years and have lots of money to spend this summer and next. This should be a very different offseason for Knick fans, maybe unlike any we've seen.
The Mr. Sandman Award = Tim Hardaway Jr.
Mr. Sandman's big move is a series of "flash punches," three giant uppercuts all in quick succession. He always just slightly changes the rhythm of their delivery. Avoiding them's like hitting a 100MPH fastball: easier said than done.
Also easier said than done: not writing off Tim Hardaway Jr. as a flash in the pan after two seasons. Last year Hardaway played on the worst team of his life, with point guards he mostly had no prior experience with, in a system he'd never played in before. Bearing those factors in mind, three facts to consider when considering Tim's future (all numbers from basketball-reference.com):
- 2014 Tim had three times as many dunk attempts as 2015 Tim. Figure Hardaway's growing familiarity with the Triangle offense coupled with a better roster whose minutes leaders aren't Larkin and Smith results in getting closer to his 2014 dunk numbers. That'd mean better shooting numbers, which would likely mean more confidence, which is what he needs now as much as anything.
- In 2014, nearly one-third of his three-pointers were from the corner, the shortest three-point spot. Last year, that figure dropped to 19%. The number of threes he's taken each season are almost identical (358 to 354), as are his three-point percentages (36% in '14, 34% in '15). Better teammates should mean more corner threes, which could push Tim closer to 38%-40% from downtown.
- Last year Hardaway's assist % more than doubled and his defensive rebounding % grew by over 50%.
Hardaway is one of the more intriguing Knicks to watch next year.
The Super Macho Man Award = James Dolan
Super Macho Man's big move is a series of roundhouse punches. He spins around and around while throwing them. If any hit, you're knocked out; if you dodge them all, all the spinning twists him up in a knot, and you can pummel him.
James Dolan's approach to fixing the Knicks is very Super Macho Man. I come not to bury Dolan, but to wish him well. Phil Jackson's only the latest (and reputationally greatest) savior Dolan's pitched as the Messiah of MSG. Larry Brown was fresh off a title and back-to-back trips to the Finals, celebrated as much for his New York roots as his resume. Donnie Walsh following Isiah Thomas was like Michael Corleone following Fredo; Walsh's NY roots were also praised. D'Antoni was a wildly successful and aesthetically pleasing coach promoted as a guy people (named Lebron) would want to come play for. Now Phil's pitched as the guy people will want to come play for (and don't forget his Knick roots!). Fourth time's the charm?
The Mike Tyson Award = Reality
Maybe my two favorite Iron Mike quotes are, "You can't stop reality from being real," and "Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth."
The reality of the 2015 Knicks feels like a longer-running reality than other years. The team hasn't played in weeks, we're just a few weeks from the lottery and a few months, give or take, from the draft and free agency...and yet there's still really nothing but uncertainty, still no way to guess where the Knicks are headed. The universe will unfold as it must. In all likelihood, next year will be a year of progress. Of course, if on May 19th the Knicks find out they're picking fifth in the draft...that'd be reality landing one square in our collective puss. If the Knicks win the lottery?