1. How has the Knicks play through 41 games met, or not met, your expectations?
Fisher-Cohen: They’re a little ahead of my expectations. Good health and surprising performances from some role players along with Porzingis have lifted the Knicks from less crappy to mediocre (and fun to watch!). Players like Lance Thomas and Derrick Williams, given their age and longer resumés, are probably risks to regress though.
Cronin: Overall, roughly where I expected them, but that’s taking the season as a whole. If you believe that their recent play is more indicative of what to expect from them the rest of the way, then they are noticeably ahead of my expectations, as they’ve been playing like a #3-4 seed recently.
Lanza: I expected the Knicks to be a .500-ish team in the 7 to 10 range in the East, with a roughly average offense and defense … they’re 20-21 and 10th in the East, ranking 11th in the NBA in ORtg and 19th in DRtg. They’ve had some high highs and low lows, but that’s to be expected of a team that is still finding its identity.
Kurylo: Given how pessimistic I was on the team, they are ahead of what I expected. But I started this blog the year Isiah was hired, so I have a low bar to pass.
Plugh: I came into the season expecting a 35 win team, which is a significant one year leap from the dumpster fire of 2014-15. As they’ve played well, particularly in recent weeks, I’ve tried to use the low expectations as a shield against let downs. They could still end up at 35 wins, despite the beautiful basketball we’ve been seeing, but the Knicks have responded faster than I think anyone could have hoped. Credit to Fisher for maturing as a coach.
2. What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened so far with the Knicks?
Fisher-Cohen: This question is too easy. Porzingis is the Master Blaster and also the Alpha and Omega and the winning Powerball numbers and the best thing to happen to the Knicks since probably Ewing. As a longtime Knick fan, I’ve learned to protect myself with skepticism, but I’m all in on Porzingis. If anything, his unique combination of skills and size and mobility give him significantly more room to grow than a similarly productive 20 year old.
The Knicks should be treating Porzingis like the pregnant woman in Children of Men. He is the only thing that matters for the future of orange and blue, and any move that the team makes should be to make sure that in his prime, he has the quality of teammates that Ewing never had.
Cronin: Porzingis is the greatest thing that has happened to the Knicks so far (and like Max notes, he is the greatest thing that has happened to the Knicks since Patrick Ewing), but I think the most surprising has to be Lance Thomas’ .577 TS%. Of course, when I went to get his current TS%, I thought it was going to be higher (it was over 60% at one point somewhat recently), so maybe it’s coming back down to Earth? But still, a .577 TS% from Lance Thomas? How awesomely surprising is that?
Lanza: The Latviathan is a bit of a cop-out. I’m not sure if I’m more surprised by his high level of play or his borderline hilarious swagger, but it’s been a great ride thus far. He’s the best thing to happen to the Knicks in quite some time.
Outside of Porzingis, I’m happy to see that unsung players have been stepping up consistently. It was Langston Galloway to start the season, then it was Jose Calderon finding his stroke, and now it’s Lance Thomas. Having a knock-down shooter on the floor at all times has helped Melo and Porzingis out quite a bit.
Kurylo: That Cole Aldrich hasn’t blown up yet for the Clippers. Just kidding it’s Porzingis, although it’s hard to pick between his offensive potential, his defense today, his rebounding, his growth since game 1, etc.
Plugh: A lot has been said by the time I’m typing up this answer, but Porzingis’ is probably the easy one. Specifically, the way he’s rebounded has been an enormous surprise. Even when he was showing flashes of his readiness for the league in the summer and the preseason, I don’t think there was any sense he’d be throwing up 20 and 10 on a somewhat regular basis. My second surprise is the disappearing act that Kyle O’Quinn has played so far. He’s looked alternatively excellent and awful in his limited run. He looks like a genius point-power-forward-enforcer-beast on his best nights and a Shaqtin’-a-Fool regular on his worst. Hope he gets back into the rotation effectively at some point.
3. What would you like to see most going forward on the court?
Fisher-Cohen: I want to see bigger, slower lineups like earlier in the season and also lots of Vujacic. His hair, his grit, his daily free throw line dunks… those are all big time, and Fisher needs to also respect how much of a veteran he is. And Fisher should also take note of how much chemistry Vujacic has with Seraphin and keep in mind that there’s some major catharsis in terms of how Frederic Weis, a Frenchman, embarrassed the franchise. Watching our new Frenchy, Seraphin, single-handedly win games is healing the communal psyche of the Knicks and their fans. That’s more important to the big picture than winning games.
Really? I like what they’re doing now.
Cronin: Just more of the same, really, with “the same” being their play since 2016 began (not counting January 1st).
Lanza: The team seems to play better with two legitimate big men on the floor, and O’Quinn deserves more minutes. Put those two together, and I can see the team flourishing as it has over the last ten days. Fisher should keep watching Porzingis’ minutes, as well. The team is obviously much better with him on the floor, but making the playoffs this season isn’t worth as much as protecting his legs.
Plugh: I’d like to see the guards defend better. HA!!!! Fat chance. But, seriously, the inability of our guards to stay in front of their men has been tough to watch. We’re giving up a TON of shots at the rim compared to the rest of the league, but at the same time we’re one of the better teams in limiting the opponent’s shooting percentage that close. That’s a tip of the hat to the Porzingis/Lopez tandem who are making life very tough on opposing players’ drives.
4. What would you like to see most going forward in terms of personnel?
Fisher-Cohen: I love that Grant seems to have found a niche in the rotation, but I hope that the next cold streak doesn’t get him yanked. I generally worry about the compatibility of developing players while trying to take advantage of what’s left of Melo’s prime, but I’m not sure if trading him immediately is the right solution. Given the abundance of cap room teams have next summer, there should be a real buyer’s market for under-contract players once the big guns are inked. Would you rather give Chandler Parsons $26m a year or give up a few assets and slide Melo into that cap space? This path has the added advantage of allowing the Knicks to see who’s interested in coming here in free agency. If Durant wants to come over, then the Knicks are better off holding onto Melo.
Cronin: I like the burn that Grant has been getting recently, so I look forward to seeing him developed more. He is a very important part of not only their current roster, but their future roster, as well (with the amount of money players are getting paid these days, it is difficult to be a “great” team if you don’t have strong production from cheap, young talent at key positions). And I also look forward to seeing more DNP-CDs for Kevin Seraphim (Sasha Vujacic, as well, but I am actually okay with Vujacic getting a few meaningless minutes a game).
Lanza: The Knicks need to see what they have in Grant, Galloway, and, to a lesser extent, O’Quinn. Those guys should be getting minutes over Calderon, Vujacic, and Seraphim, even if it costs the team a few games. And if they can cash-in on Calderon shooting nearly 43% from deep by getting a lottery ticket or two, they absolutely have to go for it.
Kurylo: Make Sasha Vujacic disappear. Seriously this team needs to give him a tour of downtown Manhattan. I’m thinking cement shoes from Mott Street and a one way ticket on the Circle Line. Jimmer Fredette is tearing up the D-League (22.9 pts/g with a 62.5% ts%) and certain deserves a shot.
Plugh: The rumor is that the Knicks are interested in point guards. I would be very interested in not trading any of our current players, unless you can unload Kevin Seraphin for something useful. If you’re going to give up any of the bench bros in a trade, it should be something of a cornerstone trade, but that ain’t happening. Jimmer isn’t the answer, since the team wants a defensive type, but he deserves a shot at some point. Gotta show that you mean it when you have guys pay dues in Westchester. I don’t much want to revisit Toure Murry. No Tony Wroten. He’s rotten. See what I did there?
5. What are your expectations for the second half of the season, in terms of individual and team developments?
Fisher-Cohen: When you rely on players who are playing above themselves, you usually get let down. We saw that in 10/11 and 12/13 although in 12/13 it didn’t happen until the following season. The question is whether Thomas, Williams and Porzingis are able to keep up their surprising play through the season. If so, I could see the Knicks sneaking in as a low seed, but at this point, the streak of good play is too short to trust, so I’d say the odds are against it.
Cronin: At this point, with the way they’ve been playing, how can I not expect them to make the playoffs? ESPN still only gives them roughly an 11% chance of making it, but I think too many playoff predictions are based on prior play and not current play, so the Knicks are held down by how mediocre they’ve been for most of the season. If you gave greater weight to their recent play (and I do) then you would have to like their odds a lot more than 11%. In fact, I’m personally shooting for them to not just make the playoffs, but to go past the #8 seed (as who wants to play Cleveland in the first round?).
As for individuals, just seeing Porzingis and Grant develop their games more and more.
Lanza: I think they’ll make the playoffs as the 7th or 8th seed. There’s a good bit of talent on both sides of the ball, and Porzingis and Melo are finding their rhythm. That being said, I’d settle for Porzingis, Galloway, and Grant playing at a strong level and finishing the year healthy.
Kurylo: Individually? I hope to exercise a bit more and spend more time with the kids.
Plugh: I expect Professor Melo to stay out of the turtleneck and blazer and on the court. I expect Porzingis to keep doing the same, and hopefully find some consistency with his shot. He said the game is slowing down a bit, but that has to show in his shooting form, which is all too often “drifty” and rushed. I expect the team to keep moving the ball and switching appropriately to prevent easy drives to the basket. I expect a late season chance at the 8th seed, whatever happens, and I expect a mild winter.
BONUS: How many more times will Porzingis score 20 points in a game? 30?
Fisher-Cohen: 30, sure, but that’s not counting the playoffs when he’ll average 72 a game. Two of those points will occur when Porzingis steals the ball from Lebron and then dunks it with his feet.
Cronin: In the first 41 games, he did it 8 times. So in the last 41, I figure 40 would be about right. Like Kevin Garnett said, “Anything is possible!”
Lanza: Any guess that I make will look a bit less insane thanks to Fisher-Cohen, so I’ll go with 20. I think he’s going to average 18-plus PPG going forward.
Kurylo: Well the question is worded as exactly 20 or 30 points in a game. I’ll say 2. (I was always very good at trick questions.)
Plugh: I’m going to say that he’ll score 20 points ten times, 30 points once, and 40 points once. I also think he’s going to put up the fifth 6 three pointer/6 block game in NBA history. Raef LaFrentz did it twice in 2002, Robert Horry did it in 1996, and Donte Greene did it for Sacramento in 2009…..against the Knicks. He’s going to average that next year, so best to get a move on it now.