Andres Kudacki/Associated Press
Hey! The Knicks are hovering above .500! Kristaps Porzingis looks like a shoo-in for an All-Star nod, even after accounting for his recent downtick! Tim Hardaway Jr. found his shot for a minute! And he's averaging a career-high in assists per 36 minutes!
Enes Kanter is shooting 58.7 percent on post-ups—tops among players to burn through 25 or more back-to-the-basket possessions! The offense is 11th in efficiency! Four Knicks rank in the top 10 of crunch-time plus-minus! New York plays like a 50-something-win team when Porzingis is on the court, according to NBA Math's FATS calculator! Frank Ntilikina won't willingly submit to being part of Dennis Smith Jr.'s legacy!
And now, with all that out of the way, let's slow our roll, shall we?
The Knicks haven't schlepped through an especially difficult schedule. They're treading water above .500, but they only don't have a bottom-10 net rating thanks to their drubbing of the imploding Clippers. Although they've held their ground at home, they're a train wreck on the road. They're 1-4 away from Madison Square Garden while getting blasted by 12.4 points per 100 possessions—third-worst hostile-territory differential in the NBA, beating out only the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings.
And yes, on top of all this, Porzingis is slumping amid elbow issues, shooting a mere 39.2 percent over his past four games. (He's knocking down 50 percent of his threebies during this time, because, sure.)
"I got to fix all the little details," he said, per Newsday's Al Iannazzone. "Look at the film, look at my shots and not overthink about it. Sometimes there are good shots, but it's just in and out. The elbow is not bothering me at all. I don't want to blame it on the elbow."
Right. Sure. Everything's fine. Whatever. What are the Knicks doing here? Honestly, what are they doing? Their competitive efforts against good and great teams have been fun. Their fourth-quarter magic is at times mesmerizing. But are they about to have Porzingis, a top-10 star in waiting, play with a bocce ball-sized elbow so they can maybe, possibly, if they're lucky, earn a first-round playoff exit?
Finishing in the middle of the Eastern Conference registers as the Knicks' worst-case scenario. They don't have any forthcoming cap flexibility. They'll have more than $90 million committed to next year's ledger after Kanter and Ron Baker opt into their deals. Their obligations will blow past $100 million if Kyle O'Quinn does the same and they carry Doug McDermott's restricted free-agent hold. And that doesn't even include their first-round pick.
Ah, yes. Their first-round pick. They have it. And they could sure use another top-seven prospect before the lottery format changes in 2019 and they (presumably) ink Porzingis to a max extension. The draft is all they have right now.
They cannot even count on extra flexibility in 2019, when Kanter comes off the books, because Porzingis' new salary should be kicking in. They're looking toward 2020 at the earliest...by which time Frankie Smokes could have earned himself a lucrative extension.
Stretching Joakim Noah at some point or using a future first to grease the wheels of a salary dump can dredge up breathing room before then, but the Knicks have no business leashing themselves to dead money or auctioning off picks. They should instead be looking to hit the seller's button ahead of this year's trade deadline.
Shutting down Porzingis after the All-Star break to fix his elbow shouldn't be out of the question, either. Something, anything, to ensure the Knicks don't play themselves out of a premier lottery choice must be done. Because right now, playoff berth or not, they've charted course for No Man's Land.
Source : http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2745246-pouring-cold-water-on-nbas-early-season-feel-good-stories