New York Knicks must rebuild identity in absence of Kristaps Porzingis

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 8: Frank Ntilikina
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 8: Frank Ntilikina /

The New York Knicks find themselves without any clear direction or sign of positive forward momentum in the near future. Losing Kristaps Porzingis for the remainder of the season and likely beyond due to injury, the team is left without an identity.

The New York Knicks yet again find themselves unable to catch a break, this season and for well over the past two decades. In this instance, it is just another case of pure bad luck mixed with some questionable decision-making in the process.

Just as Kristaps Porzingis was headed to a well-earned All-Star bid, the supposed “Team LeBron Curse” hit the Knicks where it hurt most. Porzingis is likely to miss at least 10 months of action due to an ACL tear in his left knee. At least the Knicks did not make any “terrible” moves before the trade deadline, right?

Well, they parted ways with what seemed like a sure bet as a part of the future core last season, sending Willy Hernangomez packing. Through a three-team deal, the Knicks also exchanged Doug McDermott for Emmanuel Mudiay.

It’s been a strange road the Knicks are taking just to repair the point guard position. First it was the signing of Ramon Sessions during the offseason, as well as respected veteran Jarrett Jack. There was also the drafting of Frank Ntiliklina, who has shown less than hoped for, and recently the grooming of Trey Burke.

Now with the addition of Mudiay, the waters of the future can not seem any more murkier. The Knicks had even considered acquiring Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic, per Marc Berman of the New York Post, but hadn’t pulled the trigger as they were unwilling to ship off Ntilikina. It is hard to believe with so many adjustments and short-term attempts at filling the position that this team was nearly poised to make a playoff run prior to Porzingis blowing out his knee.

Falling deeper into the rabbit hole

The general feeling from the front office seemingly is the unwillingness to assess “wait and see” results for a team that is building for a future. The Knicks still appear to be the real winners of the Carmelo Anthony trade package this offseason. Enes Kanter is the only remaining high point of the 2017-18 season for the Knicks. The only big signing they made during the offseason was that of Tim Hardaway Jr., who was the low point up until Porzingis went down.

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In the frontcourt, all that remains are Kyle O’ Quinn ,who has produced solid numbers — 6.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game — as a backup center to Kanter. Joakim Noah has barely seen the court and it seems he makes no plans on returning to the team anytime soon.

At both small and power forward, the Knicks are absolutely depleted and powerless offensively. Doug McDermott was emerging as one of the better sharpshooters on the team as well as becoming a well-rounded player with a slashline of .460/.387/.755 before his departure.

The Knicks also were sure to let go of the one-year experiment of Mindaugas Kuzminskas early on this season, despite his potential of developing into a 3-point specialist and solid defender. What they are now left with? Lance Thomas (who still can not contribute offensively and whose defense no longer should justify playing time) and Michael Beasley (who is hot or cold on any given night). With that being said, Courtney Lee is the saving grace of this team on the wing.

He has made himself flexible and available to play anywhere needed, but also has picked up the slack of THJ. Lee is having one of his best and complete seasons of his career at the age of 32, and doing so gracefully on a team that struggles to significantly improve its roster.

Whose team is this anyway?

On paper, this team was far from a easy playoff contender, but in reality they played quite a few games close to the chest. There was even unexpected excitement early on in the season with lights out performances by Kristaps Porzingis and a pair of overtime wins. But even with KP being healthy for most of the season, the team still struggled to find a true identity without the beloved Unicorn on the court.

Enes Kanter has certainly made an impression on just about anybody who has been paying attention this season. He is effective grabbing boards as well as asserting himself in the paint on both offense and defense. However, the Knicks are surely not about to build a team identity on a seemingly overrated and overlooked center who is simply playing his role.

The New York Knicks put too high of a price tag on THJ and seem to be paying the price with his awful performances as of late accompanied by missing 24 of 56 games this season. All the young, returning talent that was exciting last season is either now absent or injured, including Ron Baker, who is out due to a shoulder injury.

This has left the Knicks exploring as many options as they can to give their backcourt a shooting chance on competing with teams night in and night out. The Knicks are currently ranked 30th in the league in 3-point buckets made, and they’re also one of the worst teams defending the 3-point shot, being ranked 29th.

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No matter how bad the New York Knicks may finish out the 2017-18 season, they must keep a steady eye on upcoming prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft. Without a clear leader on the court that can play to the Knicks’ now uncertain identity, the pressure is on the younger players now. For an identity to be found and a foundation in place for Porzingis to return to in 2018-19, at least one young stud on this young roster has to escalate his game to the next level.