Spring has sprung, that magical time of year when teams who aren't the Knicks are preparing for the conference finals while other teams who aren't the Knicks are preparing for the NBA Draft. Meanwhile, the Knicks, coach-less and with no substantive gossip to chase after, feel like a boat adrift in the middle of a wind-less sea. But hark! MMiranda's Zodiac is a water sign, so when a void needs filling, thus I spake. Translation: it's time for the second annual Punchies, a.k.a. arbitrary awards based on characters and quirks from the classic 1987 NES game! Last year's honorees included Alexey Shved, Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Tim Hardaway Jr. Who will follow in the footsteps of such laudable luminaries, such prestigious predecessors?
The Glass Joe Award For Going Down Oh So Easy
WINNER: The Knick free throw shooters
Glass Joe was the first opponent in MTPO!! and existed solely to familiarize players with the sensation of beating an eight-bit Frenchmen senseless. Far and away the easiest foe to knock down and knock out, Glass Joe went down early and often.
watch.0.html You know what also went down often? The 2016 Knicks' free throws. The Knicks led the league by hitting 81% from the charity stripe, just ahead of San Antonio. Eight Knicks topped the 80% mark, a group led by Jose Calderon's 88% and floored by Robin Lopez - #8 hit 80%. This continued an upswing that started in 2012, a year after the Knicks were second in FT shooting to OKC. From 2012-2015, New York finished 22nd, then 13th, then 14th, and then 8th. There's that "8" again. Sign of infinity!
The Von Kaiser Pringles Mustache Chimera Award
WINNER: Kristaps Porzingis
I'm always struck by how Von Kaiser reminds me of Mike D'Antoni, and how Mike D'Antoni reminds me of the Pringles guy, and how Pringles containers don't look like any other chip domicile. Imitators may have come along since, but if you're old enough to remember the debut of Pringles, it really was a WTF moment. Here, unlike the Studio 54 orgy of broken chips and dust you find mangled together, shamelessly akimbo at the bottom of a typical chip bag, was a tall thin cylinder. Clean. Clear. Everything inside in its right place. The medium itself a vertical entity pointing upward, skyward, to God.
Kristaps Porzingis was the Knicks' tall, thin, clean, clear, everything-in-its-right-place heavens-oriented cylinder of hope. KP's likely to finish second in rookie of the year voting, likely to be the Knicks' pièce de résistance for the next decade or more, likely to redefine the NBA, likely to redefine what we imagine is possible for a 7'3" human being to do, likely to save humanity from destruction by swatting asteroid 2000 SG344 out of the sky in 2030. If the dinosaurs had had a Porzingis, they'd still be owning the Earth instead of relegated to occasional summer blockbusters and pencil erasers.
The PIston Honda Award For Unlikeliest Long-running Relevance
WINNER: The Knick head-coaching hunt
MTPO!! came out 30 years ago, yet it manages to stay in the cultural conversation by surprising people, as was the case a month ago with Easter Eggs showing how to knock out certain fighters with one punch were revealed. Piston Honda was one of these fighters.
Surprisingly, while the Knicks fired Derek Fisher over three months ago, and while numerous quality coaching candidates continue to exist ("Existence is big," Mike Woodson might say), there's still no new coach in place. Maybe that matters; maybe not. We're a week away from the one-year anniversary of the Knicks "losing" on draft lottery night and falling to fourth. We all know how that's turned out so far. Maybe Phil Jackson is in total IDGAF mode, and maybe that's a good thing; his moves have mostly been solid and reasonable since taking over, and the absence of evident action is not evidence of absent action. On the other hand, Phil's been surprisingly reactionary to the media since his very first press conference with the Knicks, and every day every part of him, including his Zen, gets older. If there's a press conference sometime in the next few weeks introducing Frank Vogel, all the anxiety will have been for naught. If there's a press conference sometime in the next few weeks introducing Kurt Rambis as your non-interim head coach? That would be a one-punch knockout for many Knick fans.
The Don Flamenco Rhythmic Symmetry Award
WINNER: Arron Afflalo
Don Flamenco is a terrible, terrible fighter. He's even quicker to knock out than Glass Joe. Yet he's sooo vain. Vanity + pushover = not a good look.
Even if you don't beat him with uppercuts, Flamenco can be defeated in less than a minute. You just dodge one punch and hit him with alternating rights and lefts, back and forth. There's an almost hypnotic effect from seeing his face go flying from punch after punch, to the left, to the right, etc.
Arron Afflalo was symmetrical last season, alternating between either "good shooting" or "God-awful shooting." Heading into the last month of the season, Afflalo had hit 51% of his shots in Knick wins but only 40% in losses, the third-highest disparity in the league, per Chris Herring. This didn't stop Afflalo from labeling himself an "elite two-guard" and likely opting out of the one year and $8 million left on his Knick contract. Afflalo's self-confidence probably played a role in him calling out Rambis for not speaking to him before yanking Mr. Elite from the starting line-up in favor of Sasha Vujacic. Confidence is a good thing. Calling out Kurt Rambis probably is, too. Delusional talk about your premiere status when your performance has been wildly up and down all year? Not a good look.
The King Hippo Halo of Stars Award
WINNER: Carmelo Anthony
Check out the 0:37 mark of the video below. When you knock King Hippo down, he's the only fighter in the game to have a blinking halo of stars above his head.
The king of the Knicks and wearer of their crown this year was undoubtedly Carmelo Anthony. Melo played the most balanced ball we've seen from him in his Knick career and possibly his entire NBA run, leading the team in minutes, two-pointers, three-pointers, free throws, defensive rebounds, assists, points, PER, usage rate, offensive win shares, and digital presence. He's been nominated for the NBA Community Cares Assist Award. He's been outspoken about Phil Jackson needing to have more criteria for the next coach than "someone I'd like to take a road trip with." He appears to really love and value being a Knick, even when they're not good. His game reminds old heads of ex-Knick Bernard King. His body reminds haters of King Hippo. Carmelo is the king and the star of stars in Knickville. No one deserves this award more than he.
The Great Tiger Chillllll Award
WINNER: Lou Amundson
As you can see, Great Tiger wears a tiger skin into the ring. But notice how chill the tiger looks. It doesn't look like a dead wardrobe piece; that tiger's mad chill. I admire that tiger. His chill is far more fearful than Great Tiger's fake-ass Chris Webber sneer.
Lou Amundson gets this award because Lou's chill too. He just rolls with it. In 2015 he started 35 games for the Knicks. Last year he didn't even appear in that many games and started zero. His hair was long. Then he cut it. You know what? It doesn't matter. Lou's just Lou. He's gonna be chill. He's gonna do his thing. I honestly don't think I'd mind Lou being named head coach. 'Cuz I know Lou'd just keep on Louing. In a sport where every moment is about someone - the media; the coaches; the players; the P.A. systems - screaming at someone to LOOK AT ME!/THEM!/US!, Lou is a welcome reprieve.
The Bald Bull Gut Punch Award
WINNER: January 12, 2016
Check out the 1:40 mark. The famous Bald Bull Charge, when the only way to beat him is to punch him in the gut.
You want the exact moment the 2016 Knicks took the gut punch they'd never bounce back from?
Looked like Carmelo Anthony slipped on either a wet spot or the ref or both. Left to locker room. pic.twitter.com/NuGExB9nZ7— KL Chouinard (@KLChouinard) January 13, 2016
The Knicks went on to win that game, improving to 20-20. Soon after the death knell began, Fisher was fired, Rambis took over, and the team ended the season going 12-30.
The Soda Popinski All Or Nothing Award
WINNER: Derrick Williams
Soda Popinski pretty much only throws two punches: haymakers and uppercuts. When he uppercuts he drops down to one knee on the mat and then pretty much jumps into the punch; it's so extreme it makes the haymakers look like jabs. Popinski is all one extreme or the other.
Only two Knicks attempted at least 150 three-pointers and at least 250 free throws. You already knew one was Melo, but would you have known the other was Derrick Williams? The fact that DWill took so many threes wasn't great news last year - the only Knick regular to shoot worse on threes than DWill's 29% was Jerian Grant's 22%. But this is award night. We come not to bury Williams, but to praise his unabashed pursuit of bucketry. So naturally, since we're talking about threes and ones, here's Williams getting two.
Mr. Sandman Pain in the Ass Award
WINNER: Sasha Vujacic
Mr. Sandman was always the hardest guy to fight on MTPO!! He's unpredictable; he throws all kinds of punches; he's good at dodging yours. He was this slouchy yet tall, powerful yet quick, lefty yet ambidextrous enigma.
I imagine Sasha Vujacic inspired similar feelings of frustration, both among Knick fans and opponents. Every time he checked in to a game - or, come March, started them - the indignation bubbled up in the comments sections. I myself wrote in to lament how the hell in 2016 any NBA team taking itself seriously could be playing a guy who looked washed up years ago ahead of any youngster with a pulse and/or a 10-day contract. And sometimes, Vujacic did not produce, which pretty much means he missed shots, and if he's not hitting shots, he really has little to no business out there.
But consider it from the other side. Vujacic actually did have a number of strong performances, including several stat-stuffers where he racked up the rebounds and assists, too. This culminated one magical late winter night in Phoenix, when he hit his first seven shots and first six from downtown to end up with 23 points in a Knick blowout win. Confusing, but dreamy.
The Super Macho Man Spin Move Award
WINNER: Langston Galloway
Super Macho Man's big move is a spin move, seen below at the 0:50 mark.
Langston Galloway sees you and raises you, SMM.
Honorable mention: KP.
The Mike Tyson Award for Reinvention
WINNER: Lance Thomas
Confession: in 2015, I considered Lance Thomas comedic relief, at most. His shot looked weird; his running style was mad ungainly; his brain frequently wrote athletic checks his body couldn't cash, as if LeBron James were trapped in the body of...well, of Lance Thomas. I figured he'd be back for a year, at most, then relegated to history alongside other brief but forgotten Knicks like Jeremy Tyler, Shawne Williams, Shelden Williams, William Carlos Williams, etc.
Instead, Lance made himself into an impact starter. His three-point shooting improved from 33% in 2015 to 40% last year (third on the team) on five times as many attempts. He nearly doubled his free-throw attempts and improved at the line from 74% to 86% (second on the team), His versatile defense alone made him an essential Knick; coupled with his improved play on offense, Thomas is a feather in the Knicks' player development cap and someone who seems like a keeper the next few years.
Despite the second-half stumble, the Knicks gave us a number of reasons to celebrate last year, and with Porzingis, a new
non-Rambis head coach, cap space and all their draft picks under their control going forward, there will be reasons for celebrating in the future, too. Legit reasons. After all, it wasn't too long ago this organization celebrated whatever petty thing it could. And I'm not even talking about confetti when you're down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series.