Knicks Season About To Reach A Tipping Point

In 2015, the New York Knicks started the season 20-20.

They finished that season on a 12-30 run, finishing at 32-50.

In 2016, the Knicks started 16-13.

They then went 15-38 and finished at 31-51.

Now, the Knickerbockers have jumped out to a 17-14 start to the new season, leaving many with one question: Is this real?

It’s become tradition for the Knicks to fall apart after the New Year. This year’s team is already on a 1-6 slide since their surprising start and beginning to look a lot more like the Knicks we’ve grown accustomed to watching over the past latter-half of the past few seasons.

Remember when Kristaps Porzingis was being hailed as a potential MVP candidate? When Tim Hardaway Jr. looked like he actually was worth his ridiculous $71 million deal?

Much like the team’s hot starts in 2015 and 2016, those October and November nights feel like decades ago.

Kristaps has come plummeting back to earth after his white-hot start, which is both to be expected and soul-crushingly disappointing. It probably wasn’t fair to assume Porzingis, only 22-years-old and in his third year in the league would maintain his 30.4 PPG, 7.3 RBD and .513/.411/.841 shooting splits from the season’s first 11 games over the course of an entire season. After all, Porzingis has shown in each of his first two seasons that a major obstacle for him moving forward will be displaying consistant energy throughout the season, both due to his slim frame and limited playing schedule while in Europe.

Without Carmelo Anthony as a centerpiece, Kristaps Porzingis is beginning to struggle under the pressure of being “THE guy” in New York

In 2015, his rookie season, he went into the All-Star break averaging 13.9 PPG and 7.7 RBD on .426/.349/.848 splits (plus an array of spectacular putback dunks). He played in 54 of the Knicks’ 55 games during that period. After the All-Star break, he went for 15.3 PPG and 6.2 RBD on .408/.294/.816, playing in only 18-of-26 games over the stretch.

“I’m tired. I’m tired. I’m so tired right now”

The next year, Porzingis got off to a similarly exciting start, entering the All Star break with averages of 18.3 PPG and 7.1 RBD on .448/.384/.784 splits. Once again, he faded during the second half of the season, averaging 17.5 PPG and 7.5 RBD on .455/.264/.790 while playing in just 17 of the Knicks’ 24 games during the stretch.

Now, with Carmelo Anthony in Oklahoma City, Porzingis is fading even earlier under the added stress of being “THE guy” in New York. Over his last 13 games he’s averaging only 21 PPG and 6.6 RBD on a brutal .399/.310/.815, playing with only a fraction of the athleticism that launched him into the New York spotlight. Porzingis himself has admitted to physically feeling the added weight of being the focal point of an NBA franchise.

“I’m tired. I’m tired. I’m so tired right now. I have one day now to rest my legs and then get back and play better and have more energy and also try and bring the team’s energy up. Also we’re in a tough stretch. The mental part doesn’t help at all. When it’s mentally tough you just don’t have it in you. It’s normal. It’s normal. It’s up and down. Get some rest, enjoy nice Miami weather and go try and win the Miami game (on Friday),” said Porzingis to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

It hasn’t helped that Porzingis and the Knicks have been without their second leading scorer, Tim Hardaway Jr, since November 29.

Hardaway, whose been nursing a mysterious lower-left-leg injury that can only be described as a “stress injury”, was in the midst of perhaps his best season to date. The former Knicks first round draft pick returned to New York this offseason as the recipient of a much discussed – and criticized – 4 year, $71 million deal to lure him away from the Atlanta Hawks. Ideally, he’d serve as a pure scoring option off the wing capable of both shooting and running the floor, two key aspects of Jeff Hornacek’s offense, not to mention taking some of the scoring load off of Porzingis.

After an initial slow start, that’s essentially exactly what he was doing.

In his 17 games before leaving, Hardaway averaged 19.7 PPG, 4.8 RBD and 3.8 AST on .448/.336/.815 splits. He initiated a surprisingly fun transition offense for the Knicks, provided them with an outlet option for when Porzingis attracts double teams in the post and became a focal point of the offense in addition to a fan favorite.

Porzingis and Hardaway are, undoubtedly, the Knicks two bestt offensive pieces and with one of them going through arguably the worst stretch of his career and the other out for over a month, New York’s offense has been forced to lean on… Courtney Lee? Michael Beasley? Enes Kanter?

Those are some truly dreadful potential first options, and it’s an extreme remainder of how far the Knicks have to go before they’re a genuine playoff team again. It’s still too early to wave a white flag on New York’s season – they’re currently tenth in the Eastern Conference, only one game out of the last playoff spot and still have over half the season ahead of them – but the Knicks biggest challenge has actually yet to come.

With Porzingis still reeling and THJ’s timetable for a return still somewhat in the air (generally, it’s believed he’ll be back at some point this month), the Knicks are about to begin their toughest stretch of the season – a brutal 15 game stretch that sees them play 12 games on the road, including a seven game West Coast swing.

Beyond all else – the KP struggles, the Hardaway injury, the fact that Jarret Jack is the starting point guard – the Knicks’ biggest achilles heel this year has been when they get dragged away from Madison Square Garden, making this stretch a potential nightmare for New York.

At the Garden, the Knicks are 15-7 and boast an Offensive Rating of 108.3 and Defensive Rating of 103.4, marks that would be good for 8th and 7th league-wide, respectively. Nice!

Away from The Mecca, they’ve gone just 3-13, with an Offensive Rating of just 98.5 (*audible gasps, a woman faints*) and a Defensive Rating of 108.6, which would be ranked at…drumroll please…30th and 28th, respectively. Not nice!

In other words, the Knicks season is about to hit a wall, and they’re going to have to find a way to go through it, go over it, get around it or just slam right into it.

The playoffs are still the goal for this team, but if they go (and this is a kind assumption given how this team looks right now) 5-10 over this upcoming stretch, they’ll be sitting at 23-30 and likely barely grasping onto any hopes of reaching the postseason. If that’s the case, how quickly will Steve Mills and Scott Perry smash that Tank button? With a loaded draft class many see being 10-deep, plus a couple fairly tradable assets in Lee and Kyle O’Quinn, the temptation will be there for the Knicks to refocus on the future throughout the second half..

That second half, and the moves the Knicks make during it, will more than likely begin with this stretch.

 

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