The New York Knicks are rolling.
After starting the season with a rocky 0-3 record, the Knicks have won six of their last seven games to give their fan base an adrenaline shot of victory they haven’t tasted in years.
It was only a few seasons ago New York posted a 17-65 record, its worst in franchise history. It was only a few seasons ago New York underperformed expectations, then added to its roster only to underperform expectations yet again.
And the Knicks even had modest expectations entering this season. But somehow, they’ve crushed it early on, and if their hot start is an indication of how the rest of the year will go, New York could be competing for a playoff spot.
Here’s exactly why the Knicks had early success so far:
1. Kristaps Porzingis is a beast
Most knew Porzingis would be good. Some knew he would be great. But it was almost impossible to predict the 7’3 Latvian would outscore Bernard King, Patrick Ewing and Carmelo Anthony in the first 10 games of any Knicks season ever.
Porzingis is averaging 30 points per game on near 50-40-90 club numbers: 51.2 percent from the field, 38 percent from three, and 84 percent from the foul line. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo’s obscene 31.9 points per game eclipses KP. And if Porzingis somehow maintains this level of production for an entire season, he’ll join Stephen Curry as the only player in NBA history to average 30-plus points on 50-40-90 club numbers.
That’s the NBA’s only unanimous MVP ever, guys.
What’s best is that Porzingis is putting up ridiculous numbers in the flow of the offense. That’s what happens when you’re not a guard: You have to rely on others to get you the ball. And with New York’s revamped backcourt, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Porzingis has been a beast on defense, too. His 2.3 blocks per game are third in the NBA behind only Rudy Gobert (2.5) and Kevin Durant (2.5). In fact, only Porzingis, Gobert, Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins have recorded six or more blocks in a game this season, and of those four, only one of them scored 40 points while doing it.
2. Jarrett Jack’s leadership of this young team
Knicks are a top-nine team in most passing statistics on NBA.com, including passes made and received, assists, secondary assists, and potential assists per game. They actually have been for a few seasons.
But without a headliner at the point guard position like Derrick Rose last year, New York has had to play its floor general by committee, splitting its duties between veterans Jarrett Jack and the impressive rookie Frank Ntilikina.
While Rose averaged a modest 18 points and 4.4 assists with the Knicks last season, a knock on his game was not getting the ball to Porzingis on time — in some cases at all. He had tunnel vision: For better or worse, he was going to attack the rim.
Derrick Rose was terrible for Porzingis development last season. Look at this nonsense. pic.twitter.com/H7gcotg2UR— . (@FiendCris) November 8, 2017
This time around, New York’s guards are actively looking to get their unicorn the ball, and most of the time, it comes within the flow of Jeff Hornacek’s offense. And if Porzingis isn’t on the floor, the guard on the floor activates the offense and moves the ball for the best shot instead of searching for his own.
Jack has been quarterbacking New York’s defense, too, pointing his teammates to spots they should be in when he sees a play developing.
He’s also mentoring Ntilikina, which has to be music to Knicks’ fans ears after watching Jack’s leadership this season:
3. The subtraction of Carmelo Anthony
Melo is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, a former scoring champion, and arguably a future basketball Hall of Famer. His accolades speak for themselves, ranking him among some of the most dominant scorers to ever pick up a basketball.
But if there’s any knock against Anthony’s game — and you’ve heard them both before — it’s been his lack of effort on defense and ball-stopping tendencies on offense. In previous years, the Knicks would try to run some action on offense but once the ball got to Melo, it would stick.
That would normally end with a jab-step, pull-up midrange jump shot around the high block.
The Knicks eventually dealt Anthony to the Thunder for Enes Kanter and the difference is night and day. New York is moving the ball, looking for the best possible shot, only to pass that up for an even better one.
You see knicks fans the room @kporzee has to operate in the pinch post triangle set this year. This is why @PhilJackson11 wanted Melo out. Basketball is a wonderful thing with ball movement. Not just iso basketball. Stop listening to screaming a smith pic.twitter.com/9wmSyiQEpW— Martin Brian Ansah (@DaAnsahonSports) November 8, 2017
Many times that shot comes from Porzingis, who is becoming more adept at maneuvering around off-ball screens to get to his spots. When all else fails, he’s 7’3 and can shoot over most defenders.
The Knicks start Kanter, but his offensive talent allows them to stagger his minutes against Porzingis’. Lineups with Kanter on the floor and not Porzingis have borne mixed results but have generally broken even in a small sample size.
4. Oh yeah and Kristaps Clutchzingis
Let’s just go ahead and add this one to the heaping pile of trash nicknames social media has tried to give Porzingis. Only this one rings true.
Porzingis averages 8.8 points in the fourth quarter. Only LeBron James — another multiple-time league MVP — has more points than the Knicks’ star.
With 11 seconds remaining against the Hornets on Tuesday, Porzingis completed a Patrick Ewing-esque driving layup from the top of the key, only this time, the Knicks’ star got it to drop.
Wow the Porziņgis layup was pretty similar to Ewing in '95 pic.twitter.com/jdhhgL9Emx— Jasmine (@JasmineLWatkins) November 8, 2017
Jeff Hornacek told reporters his poise in crunch time was a sign of things to come:
"That shot there was just, gosh, another sign of the greatness that's becoming,” he said. “He didn't get panicked. He knew exactly what was on the shot clock (about four seconds). He knew that he could get there and still get the layup off....That was a super smart play rather than just try to shoot a fadeaway jump shot."
Yes, it’s still early. We’ve seen the Knicks get off to hot starts before, only to collapse midseason. Just ask Derek Fisher.
But something’s different about this New York team: its face, its vibe, and its aura. And it’s tangible when you watch them play.
Finally, Knicks fans have something to cheer for.