In the 1981-82 season, the Knicks were not good. By today’s standards, that 33-49 team should have a banner raised in its honor. But these were the black-and-white olden days of yore, when tanking was not really a thing. That season, Knick guard Micheal Ray Richardson uttered one of the great tabloid quotes of all-time: “The ship be sinking.”
When ships sink, we rubberneck. If you remember the 2015 tank, undoubtedly this takes you back.
We’re all in this lost season together. We’re not watching for wins, and given the Knicks utter absence of lottery luck, we ain’t watching with optimism for ping pong odds, either. But we keep coming back, night after night, for reasons. What are those reasons? Let’s discuss! I’ll start with mine. Here are my power rankings for what makes the 2018-19 Knicks least- to most-watchable.
Bear in mind: this is not a ranking of who is the best Knick, today, in the past or in the future. This is not who I think or hope is most likely to be back next year, nor who I think or hope will be gone. This has nothing to do with how likable or unlikable I find anyone, personally. This is all about what keeps my eyes glued to the screen and what makes me wonder why I’m spending the precious gift of life with this crap. So here we go: from the bottom to the top.
20) Wally Szczerbiak
The Knicks have a long and storied history of elite broadcasters. Marty Glickman. Marv Albert. John Andariese. Walt Clyde Frazier. Mike Breen. It’s truly remarkable how blessed fans have been to enjoy such stability and excellence behind the mics. Today, intriguing new voices have shown they have the goods to keep the line moving, namely Brendan Brown and Swin Cash.
Wally Szczerbiak looks the part: tall, athletic, handsome in the way Earl Gray is some people’s favorite tea. But his analysis is about as flavorful as a cup of warm water. He plays cheerleader at times, and if there’s one thing Knick fans don’t respect it’s a homer. He often tells us what we just saw with our own eyes. As a former 10-year pro, you figure he’s got enough stories and insights into the game to entertain and enlighten. To this point...no.
19) That “Panic At The Disco! w/special Guest Two Feet” commercial
If you watch the Knicks on the MSG network, you see this spot like 30 times a game. That sounds like a lot, and it is. But what’s truly insidious is that the ad is shown just enough to feel relentless, but not enough to absorb it as background. From the no-country-on-this-planet accent in the opening (“Give us your poor...your tired...your huddled masses”) to the rape-van-sounding voice right afterward (“Panic At The Disco...”), the whole thing is one slickly packaged ice pick to the brain. Pray For The Wicked Tour my ass. Pray for us at home enduring this shard of Hell.
18) Lance Thomas
Tank seasons prism everything in different lights. When I remember the 2015 Knicks I first think of Lou Amundson. He seemed like a real sweet, thoughtful dude. If the Knicks had been any good that year, or even just conventionally bad, I might not remember him at all. But because what was happening on the floor was besides the point, other facets of that team and its players stick in my mind.
Lance Thomas is pretty much shooting career-lows from the field and from three. His jumper looks like the jumper of a guy shooting career lows. But he seems like a sweet, thoughtful dude. And when he’s in street clothes on the bench he is fine as hell. That’s what I’ll remember when I remember 2019 Lance. Busted jumper. Fine as hell.
17) Courtney Lee
Courtney Lee is a world with no tectonics. He does not move the needle, one way or the other, ever. Some fans are infuriated by him taking fewer threes and more long twos. I’m not. I figure that’s a product of a legit vet playing sporadically alongside frazzled and frenzied greenhorns on a team that’s mostly a thought exercise at this point. Lee is a reminder of a time when I watched NBA players with NBA games. A dollar bill on a roster of lotto scratch-offs. Nothing exciting. But a thing, to be sure.
16) Rebecca Haarlow
Her interview questions always feel so cursory to me. Maybe she’s a superhero. Maybe she spends most of the game flying off to battle evil and save kittens from trees and mice from kittens and the Earth from intergalactic scavengers. And she flies back to the arena just in time to change back into her civvies and ask Jud Buechler a dead-end leading question re: the most obvious storyline from the first half.
To be fair to Haarlow, I think we project complexities onto sports that don’t exist. When timeouts first started being mic’d I was so excited to gain access to the inner-workings of what I assumed sounded like quantum physics. Instead the greatest coaches of our lifetimes are always saying stuff like “Rebound! We gotta rebound!” and “Get some stops. Then go score.” Maybe Haarlow’s stuck playing a rigged game. Or maybe insightful questions are her kryptonite.
15) Allonzo Trier
Trier would have been higher earlier in the season. But to sum up his dwindling play in a single over-general statistic: Monday in Portland Trier took two shots and made one. That was the first time he’d hit 50% or better from the field since late November when he scored 24 on 7-of-11 in Detroit.
Undrafted rookies pushing themselves into guaranteed money are a crowd-pleaser. When he was shaking and baking earlier this season, Trier would have ranked much higher on this list. But while his confidence remains un-shaken his game looks painstaking, and when your team is spiraling the drain and you’re putting a whole lot of dribbling into a whole lot of nothing, Iso Zo is more “Iso? No!” Come back to us, kid. Please.
14) Damyean Dotson
If Trier’s flight has taken a nosedive, Dotson’s is afloat but experiencing heavy turbulence. 10 of his first 11 games this year he scored in double figures. Then there were four games in a row failing to hit that mark, followed by three DNPs. He bounced back to net 12+ points in seven of nine games, and since returning from injury has failed to reach double digits in seven of nine. Some of the inconsistency is to be expected from a second-year player whose role is never clear with this franchise. Undoubtedly the player can do more. Undoubtedly the coach can, too. When Dotson is on, he looks like a part of the future. When he’s not, he’s less fun to watch than Mario Hezonja.
13) Mario Hezonja
Here is a perfect example of how tanking can color a player in entirely different spectrums of light. Hezonja is not a good defender, to put it kindly. He’s shooting 40% from the field, below 30% from three and below 70% from the line. Despite this, the only Knick with a worse true shooting percentage taking more shots per 36 than Blooper Mario is Kevin Knox, a teenage rookie on the upswing who figures to be a big part of the Knicks’ future.
But Hezonja is a Mount Rushmore of Garbage Time player. And when you’re a young team that’s more devoted to interning than competing, there’s a whole lotta Garbage Time to be had. Plus while Hezonja the actuality is what the French call not good, Hezonja the concept can be strikingly beautiful to watch play. His cutting. His dribbling. His vision. Someday in the future, when the auteurs rule a drowning world and humanity seizes whatever joy it can find in its final days, basketball will be celebrated for process rather than production. When that day arrives, Hezonja will be Pete Maravich. Sounds crazy? No more crazy than a species knowing it’s killing itself and continuing to operate like that’s no big deal.
12) Knick opponents
I love basketball. I root for the Knicks, but I’m here namely for the game. So when my team is built to fail, I focus on what the rest of the league is doing. And watching the Knicks this year means watching their opponents provide content that is narratively disappointing, but aesthetically pleasing. Translation: I don’t like seeing the Knicks lose, but I enjoy seeing somebody playing pretty basketball.
Imagine a Knick team that was top-three in field goal percentage, top-three in assists, second in blocked shots, that scored 116 a game and won 60+ games. Hell, imagine any team putting up numbers like that. Golden State is celebrated for that sort of performance. Reader, Knick opponents are essentially 82 games of Golden State!
Tanking makes strange bedfellows. For this campaign of failings to be a success, let there be losses. And let them be luscious.
11) Trey Burke
When Kawhi Leonard holds a basketball, it looks like a Raisinet. When Trey Burke holds a basketball, it looks like a dwarf planet. This year, with Ws and Ls off the table, I quite enjoy the snifters of Burke we’re allotted. When I take the long view and just watch the games for the visual experience, seeing Burke play is like watching a small child (by NBA standards) with improbably good handles and implausibly ballsy confidence getting his shot off time and time again against bigger, stronger kids. Burke leads the Knicks in shots per 36. That is unholy! But if that sentence read “The young child leads the Knicks in shots per 36,” we’re into a weird and wondrous world. And when that child does hit their looks?
What’s the worst part of watching the Knicks this year for you? Stay tuned for part two.