Last year’s Knicks were definitely blowing this game. Or rather, last year’s Knicks were getting so completely dejected by that nightmarish 12-turnover third quarter, that they would have completely rolled over to let Denver go on and win by 15. Instead, this team has some fight in them, Porzingis is the GOAT, and that’s 3 in a row baby!
It’s really hard to overstate how different this team has looked with Jack in the starting lineup. While they may have gone up similarly big on the Pistons in their home opener, the level of futility and embarrassment on display in the losses against Boston and Oklahoma City spoke to a New York team that was very clearly among the worst 5 groups in the league and would be a tough watch all season long. Instead, my favorite NBA journeyman finishes the game with double digit assists against just two turnovers, Hardaway and Lee double down on their strong play Sunday night against the Cavaliers, and Hornacek (somehow) manages to execute his big man rotation almost perfectly, getting monster nights out of Kyle O’Quinn and Enes Kanter despite everyone trying their absolute best to foul out of the game.
It’s true that neither Cleveland or Denver are playing to the heights that many people predicted for them before the season began. Lebron’s Cavaliers are, if anything, worse on defense than last year’s 22nd rated group, while before Sunday night’s tilt with the Nets, Denver hadn’t been able to get a single one their complementary pieces to shoot well off of Nikola Jokic. The Knicks may have been lucky that no one outside of Kevin Love scored more than twenty on Sunday or that Paul Millsap was largely invisible next to the brilliance of Jokic on Monday (although Jamal Murray did start spitting fire in the 2nd half, inciting a fun back-and-forth with Hardaway, Jr.).
But, let’s get excited for a second! Kristaps Porzingis has played like an All-NBA talent to start the season, finishing the night with a career high 38 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. It’s going to be nearly a lock for him to make his first All-Star team this year if he continues this level of play, although the sights may be set higher for the third-year forward who came into this game 3rd in the league in scoring and ended it as the first player in Knicks history (!!!) to finish with over 30 points in 5 of the first 6 games to start the season. It’s been fun.
Pair that with Hardaway finally starting to approach the level of his outsized contract (not really) after a slow start to the year and Courtney Lee looking like someone lit a fire under his ass after comments about players not paying attention in practice, and the Knicks have some genuine scoring punch in their starting lineup. They’ve been a pretty bad 3 point shooting team to start the year, but it’s been encouraging how many attempts they get up and how many of their players will fire off the dribble or in transition with no hesitation (even Doug McDermott getting in on the action tonight!). If they can continue to modernize this offense, while bringing Frank Ntilikina along slowly, there’s reason to believe they can continue to improve as the season goes along.
Of course, these are the Knicks so it’s more likely that the end of nice things is just around the corner. Their turnover numbers have been downright concerning and they can really struggle when Porzingis sits, although Kyle O’Quinn is one of the more frantic, high-energy reserves in the league. Hornacek looked completely lost as New York went on a crap-run getting outscored 13-0 and seems perennially one locker-room blow up away from second head coach on the street. This is New York, so there’s never really a bottom, but after an 0-3 start to the season, it’s okay to leave Monday night feeling a little excited for the first time in a while.