By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks open on Thursday night in Oklahoma City against the Thunder in what could be a rough start to a difficult season filled with a lot of losing.
That doesn’t mean that the season isn’t important. There can be some individual success even while the team struggles to win games. Here are some predictions for the Knicks in 2017-18:
1. Kristaps Porzingis will average 20 points and two blocks per game on his way to his first All-Star game appearance. He will disappoint by failing to grab more than eight rebounds per game. Perhaps most importantly, he will play at least 70 games and avoid any serious injuries for a third consecutive year. He will sign a max extension next summer.
2. Courtney Lee and/or Lance Thomas will be traded by the deadline. These are the two veterans on this roster with the most value to other teams since they can both play defense and shoot. Lee, and to a lesser extent Thomas, are also blocking second-round pick Damyean Dotson, who two-way potential. The goal would be to get an expiring contract and a late first rounder (Nos. 25-30), but that may be wishful thinking.
3. Frank Ntilikina will be the starting at point guard by the time the Knicks play the Rockets on Nov. 1. Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack are not starting-caliber players and Ntilikina’s smarts and defensive intensity will earn him starters minutes. Bonus: Ntilikina will average more than 10 points, five assists, and four rebounds. He will also be the team’s best perimeter defender.
4. Enes Kanter will set career highs in points and rebounds. He will surpass 17 points and eight rebounds per game, but will continue to really struggle on defense. Despite those excellent numbers, he will not opt out of his contract at the end of the season because so few teams will have cap space. His salary and defensive liabilities will also make it impossible for the Knicks to trade him before the deadline.
5. The Knicks will rank as a bottom-three defensive team (points allowed per possession) in the NBA. The philosophy will be more consistent, but the team doesn’t have enough good defenders to make significant improvement on that end. Offensively, the Knicks will figure out a way to be ranked somewhere between 15-20 in points per possession.
6. Jeff Hornacek will make it through the year as head coach. The front office understands this is a slow process and will accept failures this season. Whether Hornacek is coaching the team in 2018-19 is more difficult to see. Perhaps the boldest prediction of all: The Knicks’ season will be bereft of any serious off-the-court drama.
7. Joakim Noah will play fewer than 40 games. He means well and by all accounts has worked very hard to be ready this season, but history suggests his body can no longer survive the pounding of an NBA season.
8. Tim Hardaway, Jr. will average more than 18 points per game. He will prove to be a capable scorer and finisher, but will really struggle as a playmaker and defender. The Knicks will determine he is best suited to be the third scoring option or a spark off the bench.
9. The Knicks will finish with 26 wins. They will have the fourth-worst record in the league. They will catch some luck in the lottery for the first time since Patrick Ewing was drafted, and select in the top three. It will be the basketball gods way of repaying them for finally running the franchise the right way. Who they select is difficult to see, but Luka Doncic would be my first choice. Bonus: The Nets will have more wins than the Knicks.
10. Bonus NBA predictions: The Warriors will not win the championship because of an injury suffered at some point late in the season that disrupts their chemistry. The Rockets and Thunder will play the most entertaining series of the postseason in the second round. The trade deadline will be boring and uneventful. The Timberwolves and Sixers will be the league’s most improved teams. The Celtics will make it to the NBA Finals.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk