The New York Knicks are off to a surprising 10-10 start to their season, and all eyes are on third year Latvian sensation center and forward Kristaps Porzingis.
Prior to the Nov. 8 game against the Orlando Magic, which Porzingis sat out due to lingering elbow soreness, the power player averaged 30 points, 2.3 blocks and 7.5 rebounds on 51 percent shooting.
The Knicks were 6-4 heading into the Magic game and have been 4-5 since, including a loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks that saw New York blow a 39-24 first quarter lead. Porzingis has shot 40 percent from the field since his elbow problems became prominent, averaging 23.4 points and 6.7 rebounds.
While Porzingis’ problems may be hurting the team, three of the five losses in the last nine games came against contending teams—the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets.
In a season once predicted to be another tanking year for New York, several players are stepping up, proving that this team could sneak into a playoff spot this spring.
Center Enes Kanter and three-point specialist Doug McDermott were acquired in the summer in return for perennial all-star Carmelo Anthony, and the team seems to have been sparked by his departure.
The team’s slump has only been magnified by the absence of Kanter, who is averaging 13.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. The Turkish player has sat the past two games due to back spasms, leaving backup veteran center and forward Kyle O’Quinn and reserve center Willy Hernangómez to fill the void. O’Quinn has been struggling to produce for the team lately, and Hernangómez’s role has been reduced to poor time minutes.
Two bright stars during the up-and-down young season are swingmen Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. Many fans questioned if Hardaway was worth the four year, $71 million deal he was given by the team this past summer, but so far, the fifth year scorer from Michigan State University has averaged 18.1 points and 3.4 assists.
Lee seems to be reborn with this young squad. Averaging 12.4 points, Lee is shooting 47 percent from the field, a mark he has not met since 2014.
Rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina has also been a promising prospect. Using his 7-foot wingspan to his advantage, the French 19-year-old is averaging 1.4 steals in only 19.0 minutes per game. Ntilikina has been making a name for himself in this rookie class, hitting a pair of clutch jumpers in crunch time against the Indiana Pacers earlier this month.
Hardaway, Lee and Kanter have been the key supporting figures this season, exemplified perfectly by the franchise-record 28-0 run the Knicks went on in the third quarter of their win against Toronto. During that run, Hardaway scored 12 on his way to a career-high 38.
Porzingis returned for the game against the Portland Trail Blazers, but Kanter remains injured on the bench. Former all-star and defensive player of the year center Joakim Noah will be cleared to play for the first time since February, giving him a chance to earn minutes after a disastrous 2016-17 campaign.
With this lineup of strong rookie players, the Knicks look to advance in the eastern conference as they have a chance to demonstrate their skill.u