June 17, 2016, 12:00 pm
Last offseason many pundits predicted that the Knicks would take a step forward in 2015-16 simply by surrounding Carmelo Anthony with NBA level talent. While the team finished just 32-50, the development of Kristaps Porzingis marked real progress for the organization, even if it didn’t translate into a playoff bid the way Knicks fans may have hoped. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in New York.
It’s been a lean three seasons since the Knicks last made the playoffs, including a franchise worst 17-65 finish in 2014-15. Carmelo Anthony was shut down for a large portion of the season’s second half, and the Knicks lacked consistent talent around him.
Las offseason, team president Phil Jackson set out to bolster the roster with NBA veterans. Instead of making splashy signings, which had become the norm under owner James Dolan, Jackson inked Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez to reasonable deals in an effort to fill out the Knicks’ starting lineup. While Afflalo was inconsistent throughout the season, simply building a prudent foundation helped to stabilize the franchise.
In the 2015 draft the Knicks took Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick, launching the Latvian big man into the spotlight. Porzingis did not disappoint, as he proved more polished than many expected and finished second in the NBA’s Rookie of the year voting. In fact, if he hadn’t been overshadowed by Karl-Anthony Towns’ historic brilliance Porzingis might have been even more celebrated as a rookie.
Not everything was rosy for the Knicks, however, as the Porzingis hype train didn’t directly translate into wins for the franchise. The Knicks finished 26th in offensive efficiency and 18th on the defensive end of the floor. As a result, head coach Derek Fisher was relieved of his coaching duties in early February and Kurt Rambis was named the team’s interim coach.
Not much improved under Rambis, however, and the team opted to hire Jeff Hornacek as their new coach on June 2, 2016.
The last two seasons have become a referendum on the triangle. Some of the criticism may be overblown, but in many ways the system seems like a relic in the pace-and-space era. Having big men who can operate from the elbows is still a relevant skill, and isolation plays are still called during critical possessions across the league, but the offense the Knicks ran under Fisher and Rambis looked unplayable in today’s NBA.
New coach Hornacek will apparently have some degree of freedom to install his own offense rather than run Jackson’s preferred system next season, a notable development after Jackson reportedly ousted Fisher in part for deviating from the triangle.
We won’t know the specifics of Hornacek’s offense until we see it in October, but this change could signal a philosophical shift for the organization. Hornacek was the primary target of Jackson’s coaching search, marking the first time in his tenure as team president that Jackson has reached outside his own coaching tree. It’s hard to believe Phil would want to hire a coach with no experience in a given system (triangle or otherwise) and then expect him to run said system.
In Phoenix, Hornacek’s teams were towards the top of the league in pace and attempted a high number of threes despite their lack of skilled shooters.
ADP: 16/12 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 31/39 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 29/36 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
After being shut down for nearly the entire second half of the 2014-15 season, Carmelo returned to anchor the Knicks for 72 games this year. Despite the Knicks’ disappointing finish Anthony found himself surrounded by actual NBA level players, unlike in 2014-15, and seemed to embrace their presence by accepting a more team-centric focus.
This new outlook showed up in the stat sheet as well, as Anthony attempted fewer shots and averaged his lowest points per game (21.8) since joining the Knicks in 2011. That said, Melo’s game showed a new level of versatility this season. He averaged 7.7 rebounds (the second highest mark of his career), and posted a career high 4.2 assists per game. His defensive stats, while far from elite, held steady at 0.9 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. As a result, his impact in both fantasy and reality was well rounded.
Despite these positive developments, however, it might be time to retire the notion that Carmelo is still an elite fantasy option. He has now finished as a late third round value in back to back seasons on a per game basis. The primary culprit is his scoring, but it goes deeper than his steadily declining points per game as Anthony has averaged 0.7 fewer threes per game since the Knicks parted ways with coach Mike Woodson.
Moreover, while he’s never been an efficient scorer Anthony has seen his field goal percentage dip from 45.2% in his last top-10 season to 43.4% in 2015-16. That might not seem like a massive difference, but when you take 18-22 shots per game such a dip has serious fantasy implications. Melo will absolutely still warrant an early round selection next fall, but let someone else in your league reach for him inside the top-30.
ADP: 116/137 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 51/45 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 55/48 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
Patience and potential were the two words most commonly associated with Porzingis when he first declared for the 2015 draft. In fact, ESPN’s Chad Ford summed up the conventional wisdom on Porzingis by writing, “Porzingis has the most star potential of anyone in the draft. But I don’t think the Knicks have patience.” Perhaps the Knicks knew something the rest of us didn’t, maybe they just got lucky, but Porzingis flashed his immense upside immediately upon entering the league. The need for patience was almost immediately invalidated by his shooting, rim protection and ball handling.
As mentioned earlier, only Karl-Anthony Towns’ unprecedented rookie season kept Porzingis from being the fantasy breakout of the season. Over the course of his rookie campaign he averaged 28.4 minutes, 14.3 points, 7.3 boards, 1.3 assists, 1.1 threes, 0.7 steals and 1.9 blocks. Porzingis was as good a shooter as advertised, but showed maturity as a rebounder and defender that many thought would take him years to master. That type of versatility placed Porzingis squarely inside the top-50 in nine category leagues despite shooting an underwhelming 42.1% from the floor.
Looking ahead, Porzingis seems like a lock to average minutes in the mid-30s next season, as he did during the final three months of this year. Over that time period he was even more impressive, averaging 19.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 threes per contest while still maintaining excellent defensive stats. All told, Porzingis was a top-30 player over the season’s second half, and seems like a lock to go that high in drafts this October.
ADP: 87/97 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 57/53 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 90/83 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
Lopez was a model of consistency in 2015-16. Health played a large role in his fantasy worth, as the splits between his total and per-game values indicate. Lopez might not have been spectacular, but it’s hard to argue that staying healthy for 82 games is a bad thing in fantasy or reality.
Lopez’s conventional counting stats might not jump out at you, as 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game is hardly remarkable. Digging a little deeper, however, reveals an efficient rim protector. Finding a big man who can both hit his free throws and block shots is a rarity in fantasy, and Lopez checked both boxes by shooting 79.5% from the stripe and averaging 1.6 blocks per game. He only took two foul shots each night, but by simply not hurting you in that category he offered more than many shot blockers.
Lopez is already being undervalued in preliminary 2016-17 rankings, as most have him well outside the top-100 players. He’s the type of unsexy pick that can dramatically improve a fantasy squad in the later rounds, giving savvy owners a boost in the rarest category without taking anything off the table.
ADP: 140/139 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 134/124 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 141/135 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
Calderon was helped by the Knicks’ influx of talent as much as anyone, jumping nearly 40 spots on the player rater from 2014-15. Despite scoring 1.5 fewer points per game, he made meaningful improvements in both his field goal percentage and assist rate. With Porzingis and Arron Afflalo spacing the floor, Calderon improved his shooting from 41.5% from the floor last year to a respectable 45.9% this season.
All told, Calderon averaged 7.6 points, 4.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 treys and 0.9 steals per game. Those numbers are never going to blow owners away, but they allowed Calderon to hold onto 11th round value in 12-team leagues. The Knicks are already sniffing around Mike Conley – among other big name point guards – this offseason so it seems unlikely that Calderon will be able to replicate this year’s success in 2016-17.
ADP: 140/147 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 149/134 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 200/175 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
The Knicks took an extended look at Galloway in 2015-16, and he showed marked improvement in his second season, providing enough versatility to remain on the standard league radar. Averaging 7.6 points, 3.5 boards, 2.5 assists, 0.9 treys, 0.9 steals and 0.3 blocks per game, he showed his ability to impact the box score in a variety of ways. His value next season will be heavily influenced by how the Knicks approach free agency, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he sees a reduction in minutes if the team signs a high profile guard.
ADP: 93/139 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 167/165 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 179/173 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 71
Afflalo provided enough for his fantasy owners to remain on the fringes of standard league consideration. Despite not doing anything particularly well he chipped in across the board, averaging 12.8 points, 3.7 boards, two assists, 1.3 threes and 0.4 steals. Afflalo still doesn’t offer much in the money fantasy categories (treys, steals, blocks), though, so owners will want to target higher upside players at the end of their drafts next season.
ADP: 140/133 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 218/213 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 280/277 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
Williams got some good opportunities and he took yet another step forward this season, but he still couldn’t make his way on to the standard league radar. Averaging 18 minutes, 9.3 points, 3.7 boards, 0.6 treys and 0.4 steals per game, he showed some good versatility but he’ll need to take another step forward in order to be relevant in most fantasy leagues.
ADP: 140/141 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 218/213 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 246/279 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 65
O’Quinn offered little to fantasy owners in his 65 games this season. Averaging just 11.8 minutes, 4.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks he failed to make an impact in standard leagues. If you find yourself absolutely desperate for blocks next season he might be worth considering, but outside of that he can safely be left alone.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 271/269 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 289/290 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 59
Thomas played a key role off the bench for this Knicks in 2015-16, despite being useful in only the deepest fantasy leagues. In 22.4 minutes per game he averaged just 8.2 points, 0.7 threes, 2.2 boards and 0.4 assists on 44.2% shooting. At 28-years-old it’s hard to imagine Thomas offering any real upside to owners next year.
ADP: 113/141 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 259/279 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 323/344 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 76
Grant was a major fantasy disappointment in his first season, averaging just 16.7 minutes per game after being drafted in almost every league. When he was actually on the court Grant struggled with efficiency, shooting just 39.4% from the floor. All told, he finished the season with averages of 5.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.3 threes and 0.7 steals and will need to show a lot more before he warrants a spot on fantasy rosters.
After failing to muster a winning record for three consecutive seasons the Knicks find themselves at a crossroads. If they decide to keep their current core together the combination of Anthony, Porzingis and a free agent to be named later could contend for a playoff spot in the East. On the other hand, if Carmelo decides to waive his no-trade clause the team could decide to fully rebuild around their Latvian phenom. Either way, things are always exciting in the city that never sleeps.