Small Ball 2016-17 Season Previews: New York Knicks

New York Knicks

Additions: Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings, Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, Guillermo Hernangomez, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Maurice Ndour, Ron Baker, Marshall Plumlee
Departures: Aaron Afflalo, Langston Galloway, Derrick Williams, Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, Tony Wroten

Phil Jackson just might be one of the best coaches of all time. He sees things in players and recruits players like no other. He has won 11 NBA Titles as a coach and holds the record for most combined championships (13) as a player/coach. The Zen Master must have been struggling with the last few losing teams the Knicks have had since he joined as President in 2014.
This offseason, Phil wasn’t messing around. He displayed a win-now mentality by trading for Derrick Rose and signing both Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah. The Knicks had the most fireworks this offseason so far, and their team will look totally different this year.
New York has a whole new backcourt in Lee and Rose, so it will be interesting to see how those two mesh. They also will have a new look at the Center position with the departure of Robin Lopez and addition of Joakim Noah. The starting five with Rose, Lee, Melo, Porzingis and Noah should be one of the better starting lineups in the NBA this year–though I’m not quite sure how they will play together. Derrick Rose called this newly assembled squad a “Super Team,” but I don’t know if I would go that far.

Returning Players: Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle O’Quinn, Cleanthony Early, Lou Amundson, Kevin Seraphin, Lance Thomas, Sasha Vujacic

The Knicks signed several other players besides Noah and Lee including Guillermo Hernangomez, Brandon Jennings, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, and Maurice Ndour. I threw Ron Baker and Marshall Plumlee in there as additions because they signed them to undrafted rookie contracts, but we don’t know if they–or any of these guys–will make the team or not. Both players were great in college so it’s just a matter if they are good enough to make the Knicks squad this year.

This year will answer whether or not this starting five can compete with the top teams in the Atlantic division like the Celtics or Raptors; and the rest of the East like the Cavs, Hawks or Pacers. They could be a sneaky good team depending on how the chemistry is, but this can be complicated when Melo is on the team taking all the shots.

One of the main questions will be what kind of Derrick Rose will the Knicks get. Will it be vintage, explosive Rose that only needs about five or six steps up the floor to get to the basket? Or will it be the more cautious, injury-prone, slower-moving Rose that the Bulls were getting so used to. Obviously he won’t be nearly as good or explosive as he used to be before he got hurt; but if he can play at almost a near-elite level again in front of Melo and Porzingis, with Lee shooting the ball and Noah rebounding, then the Knicks could make a real push at getting a shot at LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals.

G- Obviously acquiring Rose and Lee upgrades their backcourt tremendously. Courtney Lee (4 years, $50 million) averaged 9.6 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists last year between Memphis and Charlotte, but shot just under 40% from three; so he will add some range at the 2-guard behind Melo and Rose. In Charlotte’s playoff series against the Heat, Lee shot almost 45% from three, so if they do make a playoff run he’s not afraid to shoot the rock.

Then we get to Derrick Rose. Ahh, one of the great wonders of the NBA every year. What is he going to give you? Last year with the Bulls he averaged 16.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game for a non-playoff, underachieving Chicago squad. There were some glimpses of the old DRose last year, but he played only about 31 minutes per game. If the Knicks want to compete with the big guns in the East, Rose has to play at his former elite guard level. He needs to be one of the Big 3 instead of just a big name (and contract).

Another key guy acquired by the Knicks is Brandon Jennings (1 year, $5 million). Jennings should be the first guy off the bench with Justin Holiday and Sasha Vujacic. Jennings averaged 6.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists last year with the Detroit Pistons. He only played in 48 games, but he will give solid minutes on the floor and give Rose the rest he will inevitably need.

F– Carmelo Anthony will need to learn to pass the ball with this new team. If Rose can take over and be the elite guard that he needs to be, it would reduce the workload and scoring burden from Melo. He’s used to being the only true scorer on the team, so he will need to adjust to not taking all the shots.

Last year he averaged 21.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. He shot over 43% from the field, but shot just under 34% from three-point land. This will also have to change if they want to make a run at the Cavs this year. The Cavs are too good at stifling second-chance opportunities for the Knicks to be missing that many shots. The good thing for the Knicks is that the Zen Master went out and signed Rose’s big man, Joakim Noah (4 years, $72 million), to grab some boards and compete with the Cavs Tristian Thompson.

Aside from Melo, they resigned Lance Thomas (4 years, $27.3 million), and they still have Porzingis and have a bunch of depth guys in O’Quinn, Ndour, Amundson, Early, Seraphin and  Kuzminskas (depending on who makes the squad). Whether Melo and Porzingis can also play up to the potential of the “Super Team” will be determined early in the season.

C– The Center position could get a little tricky now between Noah and Porzingis. Joakim Noah is a true center; he isn’t used to playing at the four, but he is used to having this issue. He had Pau Gasol in Chicago and now has Kristaps Porzingis in New York–both are versatile big men that can play either position. Joakim Noah is listed at 6’11 and Porzingis is listed at 7’3, and Gasol was listed at 7’0.

It’s always a strange situation when your 4 is bigger than your 5. However, in this case, Porzingis is taller than nearly everyone in the NBA, and it works out way better for Noah to play the 5 from a defensive perspective. Noah is a top-5 defender in the league, and Porzingis isn’t as physicial as Noah on the offensive boards. Porzingis will be leaned on to be more of an offensive threat along with Melo and Rose, so Noah will most likely be utilized to fight down low most of the time.

O’Quinn and Seraphin can play the 5 too, but that will primarily be to give Noah or Porzingis some rest (especially if Hernangomez doesn’t make the team). Between the big man-duo of Porzingis and Noah, the Knicks will have to establish that they are a front court to be reckoned with, and that they can play down low against guys like Lopez or Valanciunas in the division.


The Knicks have a real chance at making a solid playoff run this year. Trading for Derrick Rose and Justin Holliday while also signing Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Bandon Jennings tremendously boosted New York’s roster. There is a new Big 3 in town, and they go by the names of Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.

Every Big 3 has its surrounding cast, and this surrounding cast includes Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah. As much as they added this offseason, and despite the hype this Big 3/Starting 5, they are still projected to come in 3rd in the Division. However, even if they do come in 3rd in the Divison, that doesn’t mean they won’t make the playoffs. The Atlantic Division may have more than one 55+ win teams in it this year. Can DRose, Courtney Lee, Melo, Porzingis and Joakim Noah play up to the “Super Team” potential that Derrick Rose talked about?

Prediction: 49-33


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