In Rebuilding Season, Knicks Need Sources of Success

New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has been a bright spot for the team, averaging 23 points per game while dishing on average 2.9 assists. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The NBA season is well underway, and the New York Knicks already find themselves among the bottom of the standings. In a year centered around rebuilding, there sure has been a lot of losing, as the Knicks stand at 7-16 closing out November.

Before losing Tuesday in Detroit, New York was building a strong three-game winning streak, beating well-rounded opponents in the Boston Celtics, the New Orleans Pelicans and a red-hot Memphis Grizzlies team. The wins fortunately broke up a six-game losing skid, and helped the Knicks avoid the likes of the last place Cleveland Cavaliers at 4-15.

This season may be filled with small triumphs like beating division rival Boston and other high quality teams around the league, but these achievements will be surrounded by failure throughout the course of the season. New York needs to figure out how to brand itself as the place to be this coming free agency with a packed class becoming available at the end of the year. Showcasing the young talent they have while winning a few more ball games is the right way to do it.

Bottom line is, the Knicks need to find a way to be competitive this year. What big star would really want to come to a team that sits at the bottom of the standings? Yes, money is a huge factor, but being a team in the hunt certainly is as well. New York hasn’t  had fun to watch, out-of-your-seat professional basketball in years. It’s time for coach David Fizdale to take control of this team and steer them on the right path going into the off-season.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest factors that can allow the Knicks to be successful this season.

Coach Fizdale

After being fired 19 games into this past season by the Memphis Grizzlies, Fizdale took the New York Knicks head coaching job this past off-season. He has no shortage of NBA coaching experience. He had a 43-39 record in a tough Western Conference in his first year at the helm and was on a Miami Heat staff that won two championships in the last decade. There’s no questioning that Fizdale is a coach that has been around a lot of winning and has proven he can win on his own as well.

With the reason Fizdale was fired in Memphis being that he had a bad relationship with star center Marc Gasol, you would think he would be a coach that players find tough to work with. The opposite has been the case, however, as Fizdale’s relationships with Knicks players has been one of their strong suits throughout the first quarter of the season.

Fizdale’s personality connects with the New York media and his players and he knows exactly how to handle young talent by keeping them engaged and pushing them to believe in the process. Unfortunately, this hasn’t really shown on the court, as the Knicks have struggled on both sides of the floor with little scoring assets.

After Fizdale talked all summer about how the Knicks would play a new-wave brand of fast-paced, unselfish basketball, New York’s offense has looked anything but that. Fizdale is to blame, and the Knicks need to figure out who they are on the offensive side of the court soon if they want to stand a chance in the Eastern Conference.

Tim Hardaway Jr.

The sure bright spot of the Knicks so far this season, Hardaway Jr. leads the team in points per game with 23, while also ranking third in 3-point field goal percentage at 36.8. Hardaway Jr. has also led the Knicks in scoring in 13 of their first 22 games, proving to be a true offensive leader with the ball in his hands.

The problem is that his points per game only ranks 15th on the leaderboards in the NBA. To be a winning ball-club with few players that have the ability to score relentlessly, you need your star player to fall at least within the top-ten for scoring.

As a guard, Hardaway Jr. is only passing for a team second-best 2.9 assists per game. It makes sense, as the Knicks are ranked 30th in the NBA in assists per game. That doesn’t seem like unselfish and fast-paced basketball to me, and as a true leader on the court, Hardaway Jr. is accountable for this as well.

Hardaway Jr. fits great as a secondary scoring option, he’s someone you can give the ball to if your star is struggling offensively. Hopefully the Knicks will open up their pockets this off-season, and Hardaway Jr. will have someone like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard or even Klay Thompson to pass the ball to.

Enes Kanter and Kristaps Porzingis

Both free agents at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see how the Knicks handle their two star big men. While Kanter is second on the team in points per game with 15.2, and leads the team in rebounds with 12 per game, Porzingis has yet to step on the court in the 2018-19 season, coming off of an ACL tear.

With Kanter being unfairly demoted from his starting role earlier this season, it will be interesting to see if New York is even a place he’d like to stay for the coming years. A ferocious rebounder, he will be entering the off-season at 27-years-old, and will certainly be a viable option for any team looking for help on the boards. The Knicks may not want to pay a higher price when they know other talent is available.

Kanter has the ability to take over games, coming off a double-double performance in Memphis with 21 points and 26 rebounds, becoming the first Knick since Patrick Ewing to put up numbers that high. Hopefully he can have a few more of those performances and steer the Knicks in a winning direction.

On the other hand, time will tell when or if Porzingis will step on the court this year, and if he does, how effective he’ll be. Coming off a career year with 22.7 points per game and 2.4 blocks per game, Porzingis is arguably the Knicks’ number one key to success. Hopefully Knicks fans will see him soon again.

As for next year, the ball is in the Knicks’ court for Porzingis’ contract and it will be interesting to see the move they make. Will they indulge and sign the 23-year-old to a large contract, or will they let him go because of his injury-ridden history? We’ll have to wait and see.

Check in the coming weeks for our next New York Knicks update!