It's Officially Time For the Knicks To Overhaul Their Rotation
Tonight was a sad night for the Knicks. On the six-year anniversary of Jeremy Lin's first start with the team the Knicks were dealt a crushing blow: Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL and is likely out for the next 12 months. The only possible silver lining is that the Knicks can now fully embrace the tank, however with a bottom eight that is this bad, the team's chances of a top-five pick are slim. Where this injury really hurts is next season, as KP probably won't be back until early 2019 and may not be fully healthy until the 2019-20 season. That likely means another season after this one of awfulness, which would make five straight years of it. Perhaps Adam Silver can freeze a couple of envelopes and a legitimate young core will come out of all this losing, but for now, shit looks bleak.
For the rest of this season, it's imperative that Hornacek accepts the team's fate and adjusts his rotation as such. In tonight's loss to the Bucks, Frank Ntilikina played just ten minutes and Willy Hernangomez played only two. Going forward, that type of minutes distribution should be unacceptable. The last 27 games of the season should feature the likes of Frank, Trey Burke, Damyean Dotson, and Hernangomez.
Hornacek has distributed minutes this season based on the premise of players "earning" their spots. It's why Kyle O'Quinn is the backup center and how Jarrett Jack is *still* the starting point guard. At a surface level, this seems like a cool plan: players know that they'll have to bring maximum effort to every game and practice, and ideally it will make everyone on the roster better. In reality, that's not how it works — especially for young players. In the case of Hernangomez, sparse playing time has made him look like a shell of his former self, and with Frank now getting the Willy treatment, he seems to be following suit. It seems simple, but it's proven true more often than not: young players need minutes.
A player that is in a similar situation to Frank is second-year guard Dejounte Murray. Murray started the first seven games of the season for the Spurs and had his ups and downs, but after that he started in just 7 of the next 40 games that he played and mostly faded from relevance. Recently however, Gregg Popovich announced that Murray would replace Tony Parker and be the team's starting point guard for the foreseeable future.
“[Murray] has an infinite amount of responsibilities. Most of it is situational. They have to be out there in all sorts of situations and learn how to react and what to do," Popovich said.
Wow, imagine if Hornacek believed in this concept for Frank. Every young player needs minutes, but point guards need them especially, as they're the ones tasked with leading the team. There's a whole set of skills that they'll need to develop on top of the basic ones required from an NBA player. Yanking a young point guard for the rest of a game after he makes one mistake doesn't make him better, it makes him lose his rhythm and become hesitant when he does play because he's afraid of messing up. If Hornacek doesn't believe Frank is ready to start yet, that's fine, he's only 19-years old. But he needs to be getting a consistent dose of minutes, ideally around 25 a night, to improve and grow comfortable with his game.
The other point guard on the bench, Trey Burke, also deserves more run. While questions about Burke's defense still exist, he's certainly no worse than a 34-year-old with bad knees, and his quickness is a welcome sight for a Knicks team that plays at a snail's pace. Burke's played in just 10 games and has averaged 13 minutes a game, however he's already second in the team in drives per game at 5.4, per NBA.com. Imagine that number extrapolated over a regular workload and Burke gives the Knicks a dimension that they sorely need. The main argument for Jack as a starter is that he's a more willing passer than Burke, and that Burke has a reputation of being a gunner — the Allen Iverson costume probably doesn't help his case. However, Burke has been arguably the most willing passer on the team: he's second on the Knicks in passes per game and his pass percentage is tops by almost 10 points. At this point, there's no longer a reason for Jack to start and it would behoove the Knicks to see what they have in Burke and if he can be an actual piece for them moving forward.
The final youngster who deserves a shot is Dotson, who looked like an actual NBA player tonight. At 6'7", Dotson makes for an interesting prospect that seems poised to take advantage of a larger role —just look at how much Tyrone Wallace has taken advantage of his opportunity for the Clippers. A Burke-Ntilikina-Dotson lineup would be very intriguing, but there's no way Hornacek would give us something that nice.
The next two months are going to be dark and test the will of the fanbase, but it's certainly been worse before, and there's nothing wrong with a little bit of tanking. Hornacek hasn't shown an affinity for a Process-based style of coaching, but hopefully tonight's disaster will be enough to make him reconsider that.