When last we saw the New York Knicks play NBA basketball, they fielded a lineup of guys who, try as they might, weren't very good. The franchise needed to find a player or two who could not only match up with his opponent, but might actually surpass him. They needed dudes who are better than some other dudes.
With that in mind, it feels surprisingly good to see one of their new acquisitions -- center Robin Lopez -- make Sports Illustrated's Top 100 NBA Players list. The Big Sideshow clocks in at No. 84:
For a guy with elementary-school hobbies, Robin Lopez has an impressively "adult" basketball game. The 7-footer possesses old-school craft, setting quality screens, boxing out with extreme diligence, and extending possessions with his offensive rebounding. Although no one would suggest Lopez is quick or smooth, he's a very effective interior defender who contests shots and uses his fouls to discourage drivers. Prior to Lopez's 2013 arrival in Portland, the Blazers ranked No. 26 in defensive efficiency. That mark jumped to No. 16 in 2013-14 and No. 10 in 2014-15, as Lopez paired with LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum to form a long, cohesive frontline.
Let's ignore the other positions right now (LOLZ, Deron Williams) and strictly focus on centers. They have Lopez residing in the same relative neighborhood as Jonas Valanciunas and Andrew Bogut, which seems about right.
They do make a good point about much of Lopez's perceived value being tied up in the massive improvement in Portland's defense after he arrived in 2013. We saw first-hand in 2011-12 how much impact an upgrade at the center position can have on a defense. The Knicks will almost certainly improve on D next season -- swapping out the likes of Jason Smith, Quincy Acy and Andrea Bargnani for Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Seraphin and Kyle O'Quinn will help -- but if they manage even to approach league average next season, I wouldn't be shocked to see Lopez get a few votes for Defensive Player of the Year.
SI will crank out their list of the top 50 players on Tuesday. Barring some unexpected love of Arron Afflalo, the Knicks will probably have one name on that list.