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ESPN projects the 2018-19 Knicks to be (slightly) better than last season

Less Kristaps...but more wins?

NBA: New York Knicks at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing makes basketball fans stand up and reached for their hot take pajamas faster than a good old fashioned “next season team projection” piece. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton brought out his vaunted projection model this week for all 30 NBA teams (Insider only), and pegged the Knicks for 30.8 wins, good enough for 13th in the Eastern Conference. The ‘Bockers would finish with the fifth-worst record in the league, which would make the lotto watchers very happy.

One thing that fascinates me, however, is that the computer model projection is actually 1.8 wins better than the 29-win season the Knicks put together in 201718.

Pelton’s reasoning:

I pegged Kristaps Porzingis for 41 games, which would put his return in late December under the assumption he’ll miss a few more afterward for precautionary reasons. Without their All-Star, the Knicks will likely struggle despite putting together some promising young talent.

Hmm. Pelton doesn’t have any insider info on when Kristaps will come back from his ACL tear — not even the Knicks’ front office knows exactly when that blessed date will come. Personally, I feel like 41 games is a wildly optimistic projection for our Unicorn. But Kristaps played 48 games last season, and the Knicks put together a fairly competent record in those games before falling off a cliff after his injury. Could New York actually win more games with even less contribution from Porzingis?

It’s certainly possible. The 2017-18 club was pretty damn poorly coached. If David Fizdale can put some fire and discipline into a ragtag group of untapped young talent, the Knicks might just be able to put together a better season. Meanwhile, the overall improvement of the bottom half of the league (think of teams like Dallas and Memphis) could mean New York ends up with a higher draft pick despite that better record.

I could certainly live with that.