We’re already past the All-Star Weekend and the break that comes with it. Games around the NBA are about to resume as soon as today, and the Knicks decided this (and not the prior four months) was the proper time to shake the roster and the rotation a bit, just in case. Because reasons.
With no match scheduled to take place at MSG until tomorrow when the Knicks will be hosting Eastern Conference’s no. 1 seed the Miami Heat, we’re still in time to take a look at the full road the Knicks will have to walk before landing a coveted 2022 draft lottery pick. Spoiler: if you are one of those still rooting for Thibs and the team to make the play-in and hope they’ll get there, maybe you want to stop reading.
Anyway, this is how the Knicks post-ASW schedule looks, with 23 games yet to be played starting Friday, Feb. 25.
I have included the record of all opponents next to their name shadowing it with a background ranging from bright red (worst) to white (.500) to bright green (best). In other words, things don’t look too good for the Knickerbockers when it comes to the remainder of the season. Scheduled games against losing teams are also shadowed in light red.
On a pure black-or-white basis, 13 of the 23 games will take place against teams with a .500+ record, compared to 10 against subpar opponents. That said, we live in a world full of shades of gray, which means that just by lowering the average bar to a record floating around .475 instead of .500... the Knicks will be facing a much worse split of 17/6 winner/loser teams through the home stretch. Ugh.
The five teams on the wrong side of the split shouldn’t pose that much of a threat to snatch Ws from the hands of New York: Washington (Bradley Beal shut down for the year, recently acquired Tank Commander Kristaps Porzingis), Portland (Dame virtually shut down for the year, C.J. McCollum traded away, Nurkic missing next month injured), Sacramento (now led by Domantas Sabonis), Detroit (they of reclamation-project Marvin Bagley III, clearly aiming at another top-3 draft pick), and Orlando (shout out Cole Anthony!).
Or will they cause more trouble than expected, definitely burying the Knicks for good?
During the first “half” of the season, New York faced those five teams eight times combined for a balanced 4-4 record against them. The Knicks blasted Orlando early by 25 points, got a 20-point victory over Sacto to close January, and defeated Detroit by 14 on Christmas Week. On a positive note, New York didn’t lose any of those games by double-digit points, which is... alright?
Of course, only Orlando and Detroit—full-time tankers from the get-go—stayed put when it came to roster moves and shuffling before the deadline for the most part. They have the same number of victories (13 each) as I’m writing this, with the Pistons having dropped 45 to Orlando’s 47 defeats coming off the ASW.
Washington and Portland are expected to—and realistically should—mail the season in after the Beal/Dame news hit the streets a few weeks ago, so they can turn into beatable opponents. I wouldn’t say the same about Sacramento, though. The Kings are definitely nothing special, but adding and playing Sabonis instead of Haliburton is supposed to make them better this season—definitely not going forward—than they were with the sophomore guard in the rotation.
If you want to be super positive and count the Los Angeles Clippers, the Charlotte Hornets, and the Atlanta Hawks (the other sub-.500 teams in New York’s schedule) as bona fide beatable scrubs, I can’t blame you. At the end of the day, New York is 4-2 against those three clubs this season with only one of the two losses happening recently (Jan. 17 vs CHA). Other than that, though, a climb toward a play-in spot, let alone a playoff berth, seems ridiculously steep and out of reach at this point.
Barring the 5-1 start to the season, New York has yet to have another winning month with just March and April left in the schedule to accomplish that. The Knicks have gone 6-9, 6-9, and 7-8 in the past three completed months, and they are now doubling down on their inadvertent tanking efforts of late by posting an astonishingly horrid 1-7 record in February with a couple of games to go.
It is not that I personally or we as a fan collective have lost all hopes over the results of this season. Yes, it’s upsetting considering last year’s postseason run. Yes, it’s headed toward another below-.500 finish, the eighth in the past nine years. But the franchise can still try and salvage something, if only on the margins.
The front office reached an agreement with Kemba Walker to finish his days as a Knick by shutting him down until the summer when they’ll seemingly try to find a trade partner to relocate the NY native. By the looks of it, Thibs would need to change his stubborn ways flipping them for something closer to a developmental approach if he wants to remain on the bench next season—or so we think given the clues offered by the front office. And even though the 2022 draft class isn’t projected to be a generational one, the Knicks will still have a good pick that can be better if they don’t go for a postseason appearance that would end in a first-round sweep at best and another not-so-great visit to NBA’s own purgatory.
I’m not asking for a full blown-out tank job here, far from it. But if New York is going to keep losing games in bunches anyway, the Knicks would be much better off testing the waters of youth rather than relying on veterans that, as Kemba’s ultimate shutdown proves, have their days in NYC numbered.
Screw Burks, Taj, Evan, and Derrick. Give them their minutes, sure, and tell them to nurture and care about those coming up, of course, but hold them down a bit when it comes to their roles and prominence in favor of Grimes, McBride, Reddish, Quickley, Sims, Toppin, and Barrett taking on heavier workloads. Throw stuff to the wall. See what sticks and what does not. Build from the ground. Develop and improve. Be realistic, because that’s where this team is at right now.
As much as Thibs might want to win with his beloved vets—and hey, not blaming him as he was most probably brought to New York to do that!—it’s time to flip the switch and turn into dark-times-now, bright-times-later mode. If the Knicks are going to stink and lose a third of their remaining games, at least give us the joy of watching some kids play and go through the growing pains.