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The new year, for many, means a new lease on life.
Around the world, many people celebrate the new year in a family setting or bask in their drunken glory at a bar or a nightclub, and usually, once the celebrations begin to wear down, many people take this time to think about resolutions or what changes need to be made to improve their life. This concept of a “new year resolution” can easily be translated into the sports world as well.
Last year, the New York Knicks had a lot to be thankful for.
Firstly, James Dolan finally gave Phil Jackson his marching orders, and since then, the atmosphere around the Knicks has changed dramatically for the better. Secondly, New President of Basketball Operations, Scott Perry, traded disgruntled superstar Carmelo Anthony for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott — two players that have made a significant impact on the court this season. Lastly, the Knicks are actually entertaining to watch. Led by the man intimately known as “The Unicorn” by the Garden faithful, Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks are 18-18 going into 2018. The Knicks are only 13 wins away from matching last season’s total.
Despite the surprising start to the season, the Knicks still have a lot of room for improvement like many of us do in our everyday lives. If the organization were to sit back and create a list of “new year resolutions” for the Knicks, these are the top three resolutions that would probably stand out the most:
Improve the performances on the road
This is easier said than done, but if the Knicks are to make a push for the playoffs, the players and the coaching staff have to find a way to improve their road form. So far, the good news is the Knicks finished 2017 with a bang by winning their last road game of the year against the inconsistent New Orleans Pelicans, but the bad news is, despite that win, the Knicks are a dismal 3-12 on the road.
To add more insult to injury, in mid-January, the Knicks will be going on a 6-game West road trip, and 14 of their next 20 games are on the road. The months of January and February can easily break the Knicks if they continue to blow games away from home.
Hopefully, the road win against the Pelicans can be used as a springboard for the Knicks to improve their performances on the road for the new year. If not, the Knicks may be singing the blues before the trade deadline, and a few veterans may be shipped out of town to accumulate youth and draft picks to continue the rebuilding process.
Start Frank Ntilikina at point guard
There are several reasons why the Knicks drafted Ntilikina at eight — none of those reasons include Ntilikina coming off of the bench.
At the start, it was very understandable as to why Ntilikina was playing a backup point guard role. Coming into the first game of the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ntilikina’s breath was still smelling like Similac. He missed Summer League play due to injury, and he only played one game in preseason also due to injury. In addition to his lack of playing time, he was still adjusting to life in a new country, and the coaching staff probably wanted to make his transition to a new country and league as smooth as possible.
Ntilikina showed rookie jitters during his first two months in the NBA. He was very shaky on offense, and he showed little to no aggressiveness when he had the ball in his possession. When he crossed half-court, he would give up the ball immediately, and because he didn’t pose a threat going to the hole or hitting jumpers on a consistent basis, opposing defenders often sagged off of him to help on other teammates. The only positive he had to his offensive game is his ability to set up his teammates for easy baskets.
Frankly, what earned Ntilikina his playing time, despite his offensive struggles, was his ability to put the clamps on opposing point guards on defense.
In December, Ntilikina finally showed some signs of improvement on offense. He began to put more pressure on the defense by driving to the basket more, and he began to gain more confidence in his jump-shot. His newfound aggressiveness on offense caused defenses to be a bit more wary of the threat he possesses and adding that aggressiveness to his game helped open passing lanes, which made it easier for him to drop dimes to his teammates.
Ntilikina had three double-digit scoring games — he only had one double-digit scoring game in his career before December — and he had his first double-digit assist game against the San Antonio Spurs on the 28th.
Now is his time to shine.
Get bench help
Readers, if you hear a voice in the background crying “help me,” like Kevin Hart, rest assured it’s Scott Perry and Steve Mills calling out to someone to help with the Knicks bench scoring struggles.
Many of the Knicks losses, especially on the road, can be attributed to their weak bench production. For example, during the four-game losing streak to the Pistons, Sixers, Bulls, and Spurs in mid-late December, the bench scored 27, 23, 29, and 51 points respectively. If it wasn’t for Beasley’s 23-point performance against the Spurs, the Knicks bench scoring probably wouldn’t have eclipsed 30 points like in the other games.
Here lies the problem with the Knicks. If Beasley doesn’t produce, the offensive production from the bench is non-existent, and besides the odd 20+ point explosion here and there, Beasley is wildly inconsistent. If the Knicks could find a player that could consistently provide 10+ points off the bench, it would greatly help the Knicks pursuit of a playoff berth.
There are a few options that may be available at the trade deadline if the Knicks do decide to make a move.
Probably the best option would be Tyreke Evans.
He’s on a cheap one-year contract, and he’s averaging nearly 20 points per game (ppg) on 47.5% shooting from the field and 42.6% shooting from three. With the Grizzlies struggles this season, there may be a chance Evans could be traded if the price is right. Due to injuries, Evans is currently starting for the injured Mike Conley, and on the Knicks, he could start on the wing or point guard as well, but with Tim Hardaway Jr.’s return on the horizon, Evans can be used as a weapon to provide scoring when Hardaway Jr. exits the game.
Another reasonable and cheap option would be Trey Burke.
Burke has been tearing up the G-League for the Westchester Knicks. He’s currently averaging 27.2 ppg, and he’s shooting nearly 50% from the field and 43% from three. Coming out of Michigan, Burke has always been an explosive offensive talent, but he has yet to find his footing in the NBA. His blatant disregard for life in the G-League, destroying every opposing point guard in sight, should be enough proof that he has the talent to be on an NBA roster. It wouldn’t hurt the Knicks to take a chance on him and see if he can help their poor bench scoring.
These are just two examples of players the Knicks can go after to bolster their bench scoring. Both players won’t tie the Knicks to another long-term contract, and they can provide the scoring pop, off the bench, needed for the Knicks to make a serious playoff push.
If the Knicks can follow through on these “new year resolutions,” there is no reason to believe that playoff basketball won’t be returning to the Garden this season.