The Knicks' 2015-16 season came to a close Tuesday evening with a loss to the Indiana Pacers. We shall bring you loads of in-depth analysizing and thinkerage in the days, weeks and months to come, but for now the staff would just like to sit around the campfire and rap with you about their immediate reflections on this most recent campaign.
1. Do you feel more or less optimistic about the Knicks' future than at the end of last season?
I suppose it depends when you consider last season to have ended. This time last year, I was hoping the Knicks would be able to secure the top pick in the draft based on their terrible record, which would have meant Karl-Anthony Towns. So, by the virtue of not having Towns right now, I feel less optimistic (he's really good). However, I'm also excited for the Knicks to have selected probably the second-surest prospect in the draft in Porzingis, whose potential seems staggering. Plus, as a fan of the esoteric cultural garbage that surrounds each NBA player, team, and fanbase, Kristaps is right up my alley.
Having said all that, Phil Jackson has done little to nothing to inspire confidence in Knicks fans outside of the 2015 NBA Draft, and he seems poised to make one or more huge mistakes this summer regarding the franchise's longterm future. He might even choose Kurt Rambis as a long-term replacement!
Ask me again in August and I might have a different answer, but I would say I'm less optimistic.
More optimistic. Because Kristaps. Also, there's hope going forward after many of last summer's moves panned out: Robin Lopez exceeded expectations, as did Derrick Williams. Jerian Grant showed flashes and shows two-way potential going forward. Hell, Sasha Vujacic was more impactful than anyone would dare to have dreamed. The cap is in good shape and could grow bigger if Williams and Arron Afflalo opt-out, as is expected. A year ago the Knicks had one viable NBA starter. Now they have three. Spend money wisely this offseason (my kingdom for a 3-and-D guard) and the playoffs are no joke.
Draw, I guess. Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez have been excellent as additions -- as productive and promising as anyone could have expected, if not more so. And Melo seems like he's in a decent place in spite of all the losing and drama. So the frontcourt is in great shape and all they need is something resembling an NBA backcourt -- especially on defense. This is basically what I expected roster-wise, but better.
The thing that cuts my optimism, or at least worries me until it's solved, is the coach situation. Despite his pretty solid track record of being practical, I can't help but fear that Phil Jackson's gonna make someone objectively wack the Knicks' next full-time coach. Either way, another training camp with a new coach (it feels like every other year) is going to hamper the team's immediate progress somewhat. But yeah, if they pick a good coach I'll be very very optimistic.
I feel largely the same. I thought they would be about mediocre-plus and they were a step shy. I just don't see what they can do to get legitimately better right away. The right coach could help. Continuity, health and the natural growth of everyone's games will help too. Where's the exceptional two way talent, though? Who is coming to NY that can galvanize this ensemble?
I'll go with positive. At this time last year we were praying for Karl-Anthony Towns, and I'd say Kristaps Porzingis we got was just about as good as the version of Towns we all imagined. (Somehow Towns himself ended up way better than anyone could have possibly imagined, but that is neither here nor there). We also worried about Tim Hardaway Jr., who was very conveniently swapped for Jerian Grant. Some worried about blowing a max contract on Greg Monroe; I'd say that worked out pretty well.
Phil Jackson has less work to do this summer than most people think ... as long as he can get this team a real coach.
2. What was your favorite moment of the season?
My favorite moment of the season was probably during late November to early December during Kristaps Porzingis's breakout. He had several games with 13-15 rebounds and had finally found his three point stroke. My favorite Porzingis games this year mostly came against the Southwest Division (Spurs, Mavericks, Rockets), but if I had to pick one I would probably go with the game at Houston on November 21st. Porzingis put up 24 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocks, shooting 2-3 from three point range and 8-12 overall.
The fact that Porzingis only needed 12 shots to get his 24 points was impressive enough, and his play on the boards was excellent as well. But prior to that game he had never registered greater than two blocks in a game. Watching him get to seven was like watching the future unfold. Prior to that performance, discerning Knicks fans could tell Porzingis's defensive awareness was far ahead of its time. After that game, it became a foregone conclusion that he could one day anchor a defense.
My favorite moment didn't really happen.
The Kristaps game in the win against the Rockets. I was practically shaking I was so excited. At that point it seemed like the team might actually be good RIGHT NOW, which in retrospect was the worst thing that happened this season. If New York was on pace for 32 wins all along, this would have been a pretty painless building year.
Robin Lopez dominating Andre Drummond when they tangled in the Garden.
Call me sappy and dumb, but I'll go with Thanasis Antetokounmpo's first NBA dunk. That kid worked his ass off to get to the NBA, and we followed him for two years. He might never make it there again, but at least he got to live the dream for a few days.
3. What was the biggest non-Kristaps surprise of the season?
When the season began and Lance Thomas played as well or better than anybody else for about two weeks, some columnists and bloggers rightfully took the opportunity to point out his surprising stretch of competence, noting that his typically excellent defense now played in concert with a hyper efficient offensive approach featuring wing threes and and-1s. But the surprise quickly turned into awe, as layers were peeled away to reveal that Thomas hadn't just "gained 15 pounds this offseason," but that he'd actually gained 15 pounds this offseason.
His offseason conditioning and offensive work paid off then and it will pay off again this summer, as Lance is due a brand new contract. With his ability to capably guard all types of wing players, larger point guards, and occasionally even the less-gangly big men of the Eastern Conference, combined with his ability to hit the three with reliability, suddenly Lance Thomas is looking like a legitimate weapon in this, the three-point-happy, positionless NBA of the future. Hell, he might even be a legitimate NBA starter, which is certainly more than you could say a year ago.
So, I suppose the biggest non-Kristaps surprise this season is that I spent part of the time rooting for someone who went to Duke.
The biggest surprise has been the coaching situation. I fully supported Phil Jackson jettisoning Mike Woodson. And if Derek Fisher was canned for not listening to his boss, or not communicating with him, or whatever the hell rumors were floating around, then that's unfortunate, but okay. But someday soon, Jackson's going to appoint his fourth coach in just over two years. Whether or not the next guy or girl works out, the continuing drama re: the end of the bench proves, surprisingly to me, that you can take Phil outta the Knicks for decades, but you can't take the Knickness outta Phil.
Derek Fisher getting canned mid-year was pretty surprising. I thought he'd get a longer rope since he'd been hand-picked by Phil Jackson, but I guess some combination of Fish's crumbling relationship with Phil, his players' general malaise, and his .... behavior made things come to a head.
Positive surprise? I guess it's that Robin Lopez wasn't just a garbage man on offense, but a genuinely effective two-way player. Smarter people than me probably saw that coming, but I am not smarter than me.
Carmelo's generosity really sticks out to me. He has always been a good passer (when he has faith in the receiver) but this season brought a new hunger to his dishes. Often eschewing the laborious shot for the dastardly cross court rope, Melo made sure the kids were fed this season. A delicacy that will only get better with age.
The opt-out twins, Arron Afflalo and Derrick Williams. Afflalo was by far my favorite value signing of the offseason -- Lopez would be better, but surely AA would do some quality work as a secondary scorer for one season before opting out. D-Will was by far my least favorite signing -- why the hell did Phil give this guy a player option?
Boy am I dumb. Afflalo ended the season disgruntled and useless, while Williams continued to improve his scoring efficiency. His numbers since the All-Star break are absurd (per NBA Stats):
No matter what happens this offseason, Williams shut up a lot of skeptics, including this one.