All my life, one message keeps piping up: “Don’t look.”
My formative NBA years? Very much the same theme.
The 21st century Knicks have often taken “don’t look” to new lows. They have been mostly, at times ideally, forgettable. It’s easy to fall into that trap now, heading into slog end of another losing season. But hark! Eff that noize. For what is fandom, if not the infinite irrationality of hope? What is life, if not the same? In other words, here are five reasons to stay engaged and watch the 2018 Knicks’ final 23 games.
1 - A model of intelligent management
Millions, maybe billions of humans believe life on Earth is a cosmic quirk, a lucky break (or unlucky, if you’re pretty much any other life on Earth). “No intelligent design here!” they cry. A debatable position, with respect to humanity. An undeniable claim when levied at the New York Knicks since 2000. But remember: in 2012, this was the bottom of the NBA barrel:
Six years ago, the Warriors and Cavaliers had one championship between them. Now they have four. Just goes to show: life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
The Knicks face a number of questions moving forward, chief among them how does Kristaps Porzingis look when he returns from his ACL tear. But — deep breath; knocks on wood; lights a candle; crosses himself despite not being Catholic; mutters prayers and incantations to any and all divinities, deities, false gods, false prophets, the Fates themselves — for one of the rare instances in memory, the franchise appears to be run by intelligent management. Since Scott Perry was hired as general manager, here are the Knicks who’ve been added and jettisoned:
IN: Ron Baker (24); Michael Beasley (29); Jarrett Jack (34); Trey Burke (25); Enes Kanter (25); Isaiah Hicks (23); Emmanuel Mudiay (21).
OUT: Carmelo Anthony (OKC’s candle in the wind); Chasson Randle (plays for Real Madrid); Mindaugas Kuzminskas (plays for Olimipia Milano); Willy Hernangomez (plays as many minutes for Charlotte as you do).
IN, THEN OUT: Ramon Sessions (31); Doug McDermott (26).
They’re getting younger. Beasley and Jack are reasonable exceptions: knowing a Melo split was a matter of when and not if, knowing the team would be getting younger, a professional bucket-getter was needed. You’ve seen the value of this all season. Imagine what this team looks like without Beasley’s scoring. Looks like a war crime.
Jack, despite the recent pitchforks-and-torches aimed his way, has been an unmitigated success story individually in New York, and without him the season may have gone off the rails right off the bat, which may have caused Porzingis’ alienation from last year to fester, which could lead to a future where the most talented Knick is someone like Al Harrington (trust me, it happens).
Also, there’s this:
The Knicks got first round picks for daaaays! They’ve even started stockpiling 2nd-round picks! Troy Williams may never pan out, but an athletic wing is one of the things the team needs. The Knicksiest thing ever used to be adding pieces they totally, specifically didn’t need. Following this team today isn’t the same as following the aimless dreck foisted upon us lo these many years. You can actually sit back and soak in the Ls all the while knowing there seems to be a plan in place. Say it loud. Say it proud.
THERE SEEMS TO BE A PLAN IN PLACE!
2 - Ntilikina And Chill
Given the Games of Thrones-level carnage surrounding every opinion everyone has about Frank Ntilikina, I’m just gonna drop a couple visuals and be on my way. First, here’s how Frank’s minutes distribution this season.
I’ve been intrigued all year by Ntilikina’s free-throw attempts versus three-point attempts. I feel like his shooting from deep will improve in time, but I wanted to try and measure his aggressiveness over time. Tricky to do, given the inconsistent playing time. He’s playing 33% fewer minutes this month than two months ago, fer chrissakes.
So your humble narrator dove into the box scores, took Frank’s total number of threes vs. free throws each month, adjusted the numbers as if Frank played 36 minutes every night, and compared the results. February is the most recent data but also an incomplete month, given the All-Star break, so I projected his numbers this month over 16 games, the average monthly workload.
The blue lines indicate Frank’s three-point attempts. The red lines are free throw attempts.
Those are my visuals. Gonna be on my way now. Be kind to each other in the comments.
Here are the per-36 numbers over the first three seasons of a former NBA Finals MVP and possible 2018 Hall-of-Fame inductee.
Here are Emmanuel Mudiay’s per-36 numbers over his first three years, including this one.
Pretty similar, yes? The biggest difference is the field goal attempts, probably attributable to the different eras in question. Chauncey Billups broke into the league in 1997, when pace and space was just a fever dream that had brought night sweats for years to Paul Westhead, Don Nelson, Doug Moe, etc. So yeah, Mudiay shoots more than Billups did, but that has less to do with either player’s ethos than it does today’s NBA ethos of “You there! Shoot!”
None of this is not suggest Mudiay is on his way to reaching Billups’ heights. But again, intelligent front offices buy low on 21-year-old discarded lottery picks. Billups was 24 and on his fourth team before contributing to a winner. Mudiay is three years younger than that and yet to play for even a mediocre team. He went from playing against high school teams to Chinese League teams to being a 19-year-old playing 30 minutes a night at point guard in the Western Conference.
By the way, that fourth team Billups joined, his first winning team? That wasn’t the Pistons. It was the Timberwolves, who after two years let him leave for Detroit as a free agent. Here’s hoping the Knicks are beginning to find treasures that other teams weren’t wise enough or patient enough to properly value. At least here’s hoping New York doesn’t pick up Mudiay’s option, then amnesty him five minutes later to sign Tyson Chandler, kill years’ worth of financial flexibility, and ensure Roy Hibbert’s great-great-great grandchildren’s great-great-great granchildren are set for life.
3 - The Perks of the Lurking’s Turk Work
Enes Kanter, per 36 minutes:
If we round up ‘cuz whole numbers are fun, that’s 20 points, 15 rebounds, 60% from the field and 87% from the line. You know how many Knicks have ever put up those numbers? None! Willis Reed never shot that well, though the Captain played in an era where defenders were literally allowed to wear brass knuckles. Patrick Ewing didn’t shoot that efficiently or rebound that prolifically, though he was pretty busy carrying a piano-sized goat on his back all those years. Charles Oakley didn’t score that much. David Lee is is enjoying retirement too much to care that he’s not on this list.
We’re literally seeing a combination of productivity and efficiency we’ve never seen from a Knick! If Kanter opts-out this summer, we may never see it again. Some comets only appear in the sky once in your lifetime. Don’t miss out.
4 - The Allen Iverson Spirit Animal Award Co-Winners
Trey Burke will already go down as an unforgettable Knick. Not for being an evidently talented player inexplicably deprived of playing time (bro, do you even Knicks?). He just physically reminds me of Allen Iverson. Sometimes it’s the hair. Sometimes it’s his shortness coupled with his quick-ish-ness.
Mostly, it’s something I’d uniquely associated with Iverson but now see with Burke: when he pulls up to shoot, especially if he’s on the bottom of your TV screen, with his back is to you, the ball looks enormous coming out of his hands. I guess a basketball is bigger than most people’s heads; can’t say for sure, as I rock a Hideki Matsui-gargantuan melon (7 ¾). But when Iverson took a jumper, when Burke does, it looks so different from everybody else. It’s like a small child launching bombs. I love it. It’s like Like Mike come to life.
Michael Beasley is a gunslinger. He travels from city to city, year after year, facing fools up, looking them in the eye, and shooting, and connecting, over and over. In a big-picture sense, his is a Pyrrhic talent: his defender can’t stop him, ever, but Beasley’s outbursts don’t impact the world outside himself. His scoring prowess doesn’t lead to openings for others. He’s the classic case of “doesn’t make his teammates better.” That’s besides the point. You don’t watch Michael Beasley for his teammates.
You didn’t watch Iverson to soak in Eric Snow, George Lynch and Aaron McKie. When the gunslinger comes to town and wins the showdown, he doesn’t settle down and start a family. He moves on to the next town. You only ever see the gunslinger maybe once in your life. He’s going to leave, and when he does you can be sure of three things: he’s gonna keep moving. He’s gonna keep shooting. And he’s gonna hit his target.
5 - Terminal velocity ===> May 15
Top 11 lottery teams by hardest (good for tanking) remaining schedule:— Tankathon.com (@tankathon) February 21, 2018
1 - ATL
2 - PHX
3 - NY
4 - SAC
5 - LAL
6 - BKN
7 - ORL
8 - MEM
9 - DAL
10 - CHI
11 - CHAhttps://t.co/PtdshpaLFl