Culture of Hoops

The Knicks Have Reached Tanking Nirvana

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

It was a normal Knicks night. After playing three strong quarters against the Toronto Raptors the sky began to collapse. The cohesiveness went out the window. The ball started sticking and the turnovers started to multiply. The game ended with Derrick Rose watching DeMar DeRozan raise up for the game-winner. The Knicks had a foul to give, but Rose felt standing there was a better option.

Typically such losses send me and any fan of the Knicks into a rage. How can one be so stupid? Is this team just designed to test our patience? Surprisingly I did not feel rage. I did not want to superkick Rose off the George Washington Bridge, but instead give him a dap for being so clutch. This must be what peak tanking feels like.

Knicks fans are used to tanking without a pick or tanking when the team is utterly embarrassing to watch. This season’s inadvertent tank is a little different. The games have become like scripted WWE finishes. For the first three quarters the Knicks either have the lead or keep it close. When the fourth rolls around it seems like every player knows what time it is.

The Raptors game was one example, but the greatest example came last Sunday against the Golden State Warriors. The Knicks actually led the game at the half, remained close after three and lost in the last five minutes. The game prior against the Philadelphia 76ers followed a similar script. Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell helped down the Knicks and catapulted them to the sixth-worst record in the league.

Losing at this stage of the game is good, but winning ain’t too bad either. On Monday the Knicks visited fellow tankers, the Orlando Magic. The Magic jumped out to an early lead. Evan Fournier knocked down threes like his was at All-Star Saturday Night and Aaron Gordon was soaring through the paint. Carmelo Anthony was not dressed for the game and Rose continued his phenomenal tank season (finished minus-23 for the game).

Then Jeff Hornacek inserted his young guys. Willy Hernangomez went to work down low. Kristaps Porzingis struggled at center, but was able to do drop our jaws.

But the greatest contributions in Orlando came from the other guys. Kyle O’Quinn didn’t miss a shot all night, Lance Thomas continued to do Lance Thomas hustle plays and most importantly of all, Chasson Randle got some burn. The rookie who replaced Brandon Jennings on the roster had complete control of the offense. He finished the game plus-27 and guided the Knicks to a comeback victory.

Now that would piss fans off right? Losses are wins for the Knicks now so a win against fellow tankers should be unforgivable. Again, surprisingly not. It was good to see the right guys play down the stretch–Rose was benched the whole fourth–and good to see the young guys get much needed reps.

This is the most watchable the Knicks have been since 2013. No matter what the result is fans still win. It’s like doing whatever you want at a job you already plan on quitting. Watching the Knicks for a full season can begin to feel like Groundhog Day only now you don’t mind the once mind-numbing losses.

Carmelo wants to take contested jumpers? Go for it! Rose doesn’t feel like playing defense ever? Who cares. All that matters is the future. Now is the time for Porzingis to get as many reps at center as possible. Hernangomez should continue his ascent as Baby Gasol. Randle and Ron Baker should be finding out where their ceiling is. The veterans here for the long haul (Thomas, O’Quinn, Courtney Lee, and hopefully Justin Holiday).

A week ago Stefan Bondy of the Daily News tweeted that management will use the remainder of the regular season to see which guys fit the triangle and which don’t. They should definitely be using these last few weeks for internal scouting, but not for the triangle.

If the Knicks strike gold in the lottery like they did with Porzingis in 2015 there is no reason they cannot be a playoff team next season. The glaring hole remains at point guard–The Ringer’s Jason Concepcion bravely navigated the tortured terrain of the point guards to play for the team the last ten years–and this draft class has six possible answers.

The pong balls have shown they can bounce in weird directions. The chief focus should be acquiring as large a percentage of those pong balls and pray luck tilts their way. In the meantime sit back and enjoy the most watchable Knicks basketball of the past three years.

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