By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder 105-84 in Thursday night’s season opener, a start to what will be a season full of losing. Here’s a look at the good, bad and ugly from the first game:
Kristaps Porzingis: This part of the list begins and ends with Porzingis. He finished with 31 points on 11-of-25 shooting (2-of-6 from 3-point range) with 11 rebounds, a block and an assist. It wasn’t perfect, but Porzingis showed off the full arsenal. He hit jumpers, drives, pull-ups, post-ups and got to the free-throw line nine times. He could have been more efficient instead of forcing some shots, but for someone learning to be the primary option for the first time, he was excellent. His blocked shot on Carmelo Anthony and beautiful backdoor bounce pass to Doug McDermott for a layup also flashed some of his other skills. The double-digit rebounding might have been the best sign, especially given his struggles on the glass in his first two seasons. It was a very good start to KP’s season.
Point guard play: Starter Ramon Sessions scored three points and had three turnovers to just one assist in 20 minutes. Ron Baker had six points with four turnovers to go with his four assists. Rookie Frank Ntilikina in limited minutes (more on that later) had one turnover and one assist and threw up a couple or airballs. That’s a combined nine points, six assists and eight turnovers from Knicks point guards. They were a big part of the team’s 25 turnovers. If Ntilikina stays healthy, the Knicks won’t be able to keep him off the floor for major minutes for long.
The new additions: Guard Tim Hardaway Jr. was pretty brutal. He gets a pass on his bad shooting (3-of-10 on field goals, 2-of-7 on 3-pointers), especially given the defenders he had on him, but he had only one assist, no rebounds and two turnovers. Hardaway has to do more aside from shooting to be a complete player. His passing so far (including the preseason) has been a train wreck. Center Enes Kanter struggled, too. He shot 5-of-10 and scored 10 points, but he turned it over four times, as he was called for a number of traveling violations.
Jeff Hornacek’s rotations: The Knicks are a rebuilding team, yet Ntilikina played only 7½ minutes, while center Willy Hernangomez played just under four minutes in garbage time at the end of the game. Ntilikina got his longest run in the second quarter when he played just under five minutes.
You can give Hornacek a short-term pass on Ntilikina since he has been hurt and has barely even played in a scrimmage, let alone a game the last couple of weeks. Sessions is a career backup and Baker isn’t even a pure point guard. This will be Ntilikina’s job before long as long as he stays healthy. If he doesn’t play 15 to 20 minutes in the next games, something is seriously wrong.
There is no justification for benching Hernangomez for Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn is a better defender than Hernangomez, but he is far from a force on that end. O’Quinn has never produced better than the 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes that Hernangomez averaged last year as a rookie. The edge on offense goes to Hernangomez, and it isn’t close.
Far more important is that the Knicks are a developing team. Hernangomez needs to play and get better. He is young and a potential part of the future. Playing O’Quinn extensive minutes reaps little or no reward. He can opt out of his contract after the season, and even if he’s featured, he would not net anything better than a late second-round or conditional pick. There were indications after the game that Hernangomez sat because of defensive issues, yet he is no worse on that end that Kanter, who still started and played 22 minutes.
It makes sense for Hornacek to play veterans such as Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas early in the season because they are two of the best perimeter defenders on the team. They earned those minutes. Hornacek said O’Quinn did as well, but there is nothing in his history as a player that indicates he would be a better option than Hernangomez. Even TNT’s Reggie Miller was flabbergasted at the end of the game that Hernangomez didn’t play earlier. Perhaps this is a motivational tactic by Hornacek to get him to try harder on defense? If not, the move is mind-boggling and is a troubling early sign.
• Forward Michael Beasley rolled his ankle, and it sounds like he’ll miss at least a few games. There’s no telling how much Hornacek was going to play Beasley, another defensive liability, if he hadn’t gotten hurt. He’s another guy (along with McDermott) who will take minutes away from second-round pick Damyean Dotson.
• The Knicks signed Isaiah Hicks to a two-way contract on Friday. He joins Luke Kornet as the two players who can shuttle freely between the Knicks and the G-League Knicks in Westchester. Hicks is a 6-foot-9 power forward, while Kornet is a 7-foot sharpshooter. Why the Knicks decided they wanted to use their two-way contracts on big men when they already have five vets on the roster who play power forward or center is odd.
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