Remember being younger and forming superteams on NBA 2K, or if you’re old like me, NBA Live, by forcing the computer to accept your one sided deals? I remember in NBA Live 2005, my Raptors were starting Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Jermaine O’Neal. It was fun to see if you could build a team that could go 82-0 because video games aren’t reality.
The 2016-17 New York Knicks are the real life version of that kid playing video games, except the team was put together by someone whose last game was NBA 2K11. Everyone on this roster could have constructed a super team then. Looking on paper, a casual fan might see the names on the roster and imagine that the Knicks are back to being elite – but looking even slightly bit deeper, we can see that they are not. If Dolan and Co.’s plan is to sell tickets on the basis of their roster then it might just succeed. However, if they are aiming for a championship, then keep dreaming.
This doesn’t mean that I am completely out on these Knicks. I don’t think it’s a secret that they are better than last year. Replacing Jose Calderon, who moves about as well as my living room couch, with Derrick Rose is a huge upgrade. Everyone knows it’s not the MVP Rose version, but this K-Mart brand of Rose can still be effective at times. He still can’t really shoot but after the All-Star break last year, Rose was getting to the rim relatively fine. Getting away from his hometown will only help him. It would have been better for him somewhere the media wouldn’t be just as demanding like Utah or Indiana, but New York is still better than Chicago for Rose’s current morale. He’s finally done his civil court case and while that was a mess I am not going to elaborate on, the entire thing being off his and the team’s mind has to be a huge relief.
Joining his former Bulls teammate in the Big Apple, Joakim Noah looks to shake off injury woes of his own on his new team. It was only a few seasons ago that Noah was voted the defensive player of the year and considered a legitimate MVP candidate. Since then, he has struggled to stay healthy and when on the court, has looked like a shell of his former self. At his peak, Noah is an elite passing big man. He once averaged 5 assists per game for the Bulls and the offense mostly ran through him to allow Rose to play off the ball and get to the rim. His defense is stellar and Noah picks up a decent amount of both block and steals. For a big guy, he is very limber and agile which allows him to switch on screens and guard essentially any player for a short period of time. In short, in his prime Noah was a monster of a basketball player. As S.E Hinton might say, “That was then, this is now.” Noah has played in only 96 games over the last two seasons and most of his movement has vanished. If he comes back even close to his peak, it would be an absolute steal of a signing but as it looks now, he might be on the bench more than the court. A short deal with a low figure would have been ok but the Knicks went out and gave Noah 72 million over four years. That’s $18 million per year for a guy who played in 29 games last year and averaged 4.3 points!
While the Noah signing may have been a big risk, I can’t hate on everything New York did this summer. They lost Arron Afflalo who took a deal with the devil for a lot of money to play in the basketball hell that is Sacramento. Without their primary perimeter defender, New York went into action. Getting Courtney Lee for twice as long as Affalo’s deal at the same price was great. Lee does pretty much everything Afflalo does while needing the ball a little bit less. Considering some of the players on this team, that is probably a good thing. Knowing that Rose doesn’t go a full season without missing a handful of games at a minimum, the Knicks also signed Brandon Jennings to a one year contract. He could have signed for more elsewhere but for Jennings, this is a “prove it” year. He said so himself. After having some success in Detroit, injuries took him down and he lost his starting spot to Reggie Jackson. Jennings is at this point, as good as if not better than Rose and might fit better with the rest of the team. He’s a better passer and shooter which is something that might be important considering so many Knicks’ players are going to need the ball in their hands to be effective.
Losing Robin Lopez in the Rose trade might have been a bit of a blow, but it also frees up minutes for Kristaps Porzingis. Above anything else, PorzinGOD should be the reason New Yorkers tune in this year. His rookie season was already far above expectations. Booed by Knicks fans when the team drafted him, he had all those haters wearing his jersey two weeks into the season. Porzingis has three-point range, is a seven-footer, and has some of the most exciting putback dunks in the NBA. He’s a ball of energy willing to put in the work to get even better and that is something more players could learn from. After the all-star break last season, Porzingis appeared to hit a bit of a wall due to the sheer number of games played. Over the summer, he also revealed that he is battling anemia which can be extremely hard to deal with for anybody, let alone professional athletes. Despite all that, Porzingis is taking steps to make sure he’s doesn’t tire out before the season ends and has an even better sophomore year than his freshman season.
Returning alongside Porzingis is the star of New York basketball, the one this whole thing revolves around: Lou Amundson. Just kidding. Of course I am referring to Carmelo Anthony, the most disrespected superstar of his generation. Despite being the most decorated Team USA player of all-time, acting as his team’s best scorer since his rookie year and being willing to make room for his emerging teammates, all we ever hear about Melo is the negative stuff. He’s a ball-hog, he doesn’t defend, all he cares about is money. Let’s cut the shit. Anthony wants to be on a winning team as much as anyone else. Shouldn’t we applaud him for refusing to form a big three and trying to win on his own terms? Last season, Anthony deferred more to his teammates than ever before by averaging a career high 4.2 assists per game while his scoring average dipped to 21.8. He accepted his role as a rebounder on both offense and defense and played harder D than he ever had in his career. At 32 he isn’t getting any younger, but Melo’s game is one that will age gracefully. His shooting stroke is as smooth as butter and his arsenal of pull-ups, fakes and post moves won’t fade with his athleticism. As long as Anthony plays for the Knicks, he is the team’s highest billed player and it should remain that way.
Of course along with the big names is a slew of role players hoping to have a playoff season in New York. Lance Thomas and Kyle O’Quinn both come back after a successful season adding depth to the frontcourt. Both have range that extends out to the three-point line (Thomas more so than O’Quinn) and are big bodies that can protect the rim and give hard fouls when needed. Both became hometown favorites for their willingness to do the dirty work. Who ever said New York was all about the pretty boys? Ron Baker and Mindaugas Kuzminskas figure to be the role players at the wing. Baker may have the slight edge from day one because he is a proven college player but don’t be surprised if the Lithuanian takes over the role as the season goes on. Let’s not forget that the handsome machine known as Sasha Vujacic will once again be gracing New York’s bench which regardless of the season’s outcome, already makes them winners.
Tasked with taking care of this team is Jeff Hornacek. After making miracles in Phoenix a few seasons ago, his luck ran dry and he got handed the pink slip. Now he’s got this weird roster to deal with and on top of that, is expected to run Phil Jackson’s (but really Tex Winter) triangle offense. You know, the one that worked with Jordan, Kobe and Shaq but has otherwise failed? Yeah that offense. Hornacek has to find a way to teach Derrick Rose, possibly the dumbest athlete in all of pro sports, all the possible configurations of a triangle offense. Good luck with that Jeff, you’ll probably be calling for Melo isos by the end of November.
How will this product eventually blend together on the court? Who knows honestly. Rose, Anthony and Jennings all would like to touch the ball every possession. Ideally, Porzingis should be getting as many looks as Melo but he’s not yet assertive enough to ask for them. Noah would be the ideal center to generate the offense but he’s about as solid as Humpty Dumpty sitting on his wall. Courtney Lee may wonder by the end of the season why he ever agreed to come to New York. On the flipside, maybe Rose accepts that he needs to facilitate more now, Jennings plays within his role as a backup and Anthony chooses to continue deferring to Porzingis. Maybe New York’s physicians watched just enough of the “6 Million Dollar Man” and are able to put Noah back together again.
After Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, Atlanta and Indiana, the East seems pretty wide open. Detroit is a good team and well-coached but is having injury issues already. Charlotte should be in the playoffs but what if they experience a setback like they had two years ago? Do Orlando, Milwaukee, and Miami have the pieces needed to make a playoff run? It’s still very feasible that this Knicks team could make the postseason. Honestly, the Knicks fans deserve it too. Outside of their miracle run under Mike Woodson, New York basketball has been pretty grim lately, and the Nets aren’t about to remedy the situation. Why not let the New York “2k11 All-Stars” have a shot at it?