The first week of the 2016-17 season is in the books for the New York Knicks. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah made their Garden debuts Saturday night. Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis are showing signs of serious growth as a duo. Jeff Hornacek’s first two games showed signs of promise, but also showed some of the same leaks that have plagued this team the last ten years. Before we move on to this week let’s review the first week of the new look Knicks.
Tale of Two Games
Let’s be honest the Knicks had no chance of beating the Cleveland Cavaliers on opening night. The Cavs were getting their rings and the Indians were playing Game 1 of the World Series. LeBron James was not letting the Knicks spoil the greatest sports night in his city’s history. Still, the Knicks did little to nothing to challenge LeBron and company as they got blown out by 29 points. The offense was similar to a pick up game with little to no passing and the defense looked reminiscent of the Mike D’Antoni era.
The home opener was much more encouraging. Playing a team more on their level, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Knicks jumped out early and never looked back. The offense was fluid with a bunch of passing leading to open shots. Noah immediately made himself a fan favorite, getting the crowd hype with every rebound. Courtney Lee made up for his opening night dud (0 points in 20 minutes) with 16 points. The greatest sign of all was Derrick Rose showing flashes of the old D. Rose and not trying to force his game. He let the game come to him and by the fourth quarter he got loose on Mike Conley for crucial buckets late.
The changing of the guard in Madison Square Garden is officially underway. Carmelo is still the leader of the team, but its clear that Kristaps Porzingis is becoming the top option. Porzingis’ game has taken major strides. He’s more patient on defense although he has his lapses of foolish fouls. On offense he has surrounded that silky jumper with a step-back, stronger post game, and better drives to the rim. Against the Grizzlies he got whatever shot he wanted down low or outside. Hornacek and Carmelo know they have a special player in Porzingis and giving him that chance to shine right away might be the greatest sign of all that the Knicks are changing for the better.
Swiss Cheese Defense
Not everything has changed in MSG. The Knicks still can’t defend the three and still have serious defensive lapses. They didn’t defend at all in the preseason nor did they in the first two games of the regular season. The Cavs torched them on opening night for 117 points on 48-percent shooting. LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love got whatever they wanted with the Knicks standing idly by. The defensive showing was much stronger on Saturday night, but that might have had more to do with the Grizzlies sleepwalking through the first quarter and a half. They cut an eighteen-point Knicks lead all the way down to two before Porzingis, Rose, and Carmelo iced the game with a 10-0 run. To make the playoffs the Knicks are going have to defend better than they have in the early parts of the season and defensive anchors Joakim Noah and Lee will be relied on to lead the charge.
The triangle offense has gone from a proud mantra to taboo. Knicks fans and players want no mention of the archaic offense that clearly hasn’t panned out. The biggest fear for anyone that cares for the Knicks was Kurt Rambis remaining head coach. It’s not just because Rambis is the worst head coach in league history and shouldn’t be anywhere near a NBA bench, but because the triangle would have definitely stayed.
Instead Jeff Hornacek was brought in and the team looks like it will play faster. We saw flashes of that uptempo play against the Grizzlies. Instead of slowing up on turnovers we saw Porzingis, Melo, and Lee sprint up the floor and get easy buckets. This style of play will be crucial for the bench with Brandon Jennings leading the way. The Knicks were ranked in the bottom half of the league last season in fast break points, but Hornacek seems intent on changing that.
Side note: How about adding free agent guard Archie Goodwin? He played under Hornacek in Phoenix and is an athletic specimen that could be a nice slashing complement to Jennings who tends to get his points beyond the arc.
Foes Turned Friends
The Bulls and Knicks rivalry is storied and has featured countless big names. Two of Chicago’s bigger names jumped sides to the Knicks this offseason. Rose was traded on the eve of the draft and Noah was signed in the offseason to a $72 million deal. Both missed considerable time in the preseason for different reasons, but were able to play the first two games. The rust of Rose missing the whole preseason showed in the Cavs game and early against the Grizzlies, but towards the end of Saturday night’s Garden debut you could see flashes of promise. His patented floater was falling and he was even able to put Mike Conley on skates one play.
Perhaps the greatest sign was Rose not forcing it like he did too often in Chicago. His shot was off early so he focused on other areas allowing Courtney Lee, Porzingis, and Carmelo to get their shots in the meantime. As for Noah, he’ll have no trouble fitting in. His numbers may not show it, but he was the catalyst of the Knicks getting their first home win. He cleaned the glass and brings a point-center dynamic on offense that will be key as the season goes on. His intensity is the shot of adrenaline this team and arena needs as MSG is one of the greatest home court advantages when revved up. There has been little for the fans to get fired up about the past couple of years, but that looks to be in the past. Noah knows how to rev them up and with hostile environment opposing teams might find it a little less fun to play in The Garden.