The New York Knicks have played above expectations in the early weeks of the NBA season. At 7-6, the Knicks find themselves in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, losing their first three games but winning seven of 10 since. Unlike years past, this Knicks team seems like they will see some sustained success rather than the collapses plaguing the last two seasons.
New York hit a bit of a bump in the road last night, blowing a 23-point lead in a 104-101 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A 51-38 halftime lead had Madison Square Garden in a frenzy at times, with a ton of emotion from both players and fans after LeBron James‘ comments about the Knicks draft pick. Despite the loss, we did learn some important things about this team moving forward.
The Knicks teams of seasons past seemingly lacked any sort of identity or toughness. They looked like a team who knew they were not going to make any noise in the playoffs and as a result were just going through the motions game after game. This year, however, has a very different feel, and has been exemplified through some of the events surrounding last nights game.
After James commented on New York’s draft, saying that Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. should have been a Knick, the team took offense and was quick to defend their rookie Frank Ntilikina. It all came to a head when, during the game, James stood over Ntilikina as he tried to corral the ball during a stoppage in play. Ntilikina subsequently began pushing James out of the way, and Knicks center Enes Kanter was quick to come to the rookie’s aid, with he and James getting in each others face. Kanter again came to his team’s aid after James posted on Instagram calling himself the “King of New York.” Kanter told reporters on Tuesday, “We already have a king. It’s Kristaps Porzingis.”
The camaraderie on this team is quite impressive, especially from guys like Kanter and Ntilikina playing in their first season with the team. The players on this Knicks squad seem to take great pride in their organization and are not afraid to fight for one another. The Knicks have shown a ton of passion this year both on the court and off, and it is a very welcome sight for the fans.
The Unicorn is Human
Kristaps Porzingis has been without a doubt the biggest reason for the Knicks’ success this year. Through his first 12 games, he has averaged just under 30 points to go along with seven rebounds and two blocks per game. He has shot an outstanding 50 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the arc. His best game of the young season came against the Pacers, wherein he dropped 40 points with eight boards and six blocks.
However, as with any star player, the bad games will come, and last night was one of the first such games of the season for Porzingis. His shot was off the entire night, shooting just seven of 21 from the field while also missing three free throws. He sat out almost the entirety of the first quarter after getting into foul trouble, the Cavaliers playing him very aggressively. He would still finish the game with 20 points, but had he shot the ball even just slightly more efficiently the Knicks would have had a good chance of coming away with the win.
As the Knicks continue to play stiffer competition, Porzingis will have to adapt to being played more physically. He will see a ton of double teams thrown his way as he shreds opposing defenses. In just his third year in the NBA, Porzingis is continuing to improve and will be able to adapt to these situations in the future.
Different Game, Same Problems
For all that the Knicks have done well this season, they have had two glaring weaknesses: turnovers and defending the three-point line. The team is averaging 16.5 turnovers per game, the 8th most in the league. Opposing sharpshooters have knocked down an average of 12.6 three pointers per game, the second most allowed by any NBA team. Last night was no exception.
The Cavaliers hit 16 threes against the Knicks, including nine in the fourth quarter – five by Kyle Korver – that directly led to the team blowing their huge lead. Cleveland shot 45 threes in the game, more than half of their total shot attempts coming from behind the arc. In the first half, they were getting open looks but the shots were not falling. It was not until the fourth quarter where all those open looks began to take a toll on the Knicks, as the shots started falling and the lead continued to dwindle until it was gone entirely.
Turnovers and opponents getting wide open looks from three-point range have been a huge issue for the Knicks early on. With New York shooting such a high percentage to start the year, fixing these two problem areas can be the difference in winning and losing games against better competition.
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