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Knicks crashing back to reality thanks to injuries, road schedule

The Knicks had warned us they weren’t going to win very many games this season, using not-so-subtle code words for tanking and rebuilding like this personal favorite from president Steve Mills:

“We will take advantage of the fact we have our draft picks moving forward,” he said before training camp.

We all know what that means. Losing isn’t the worst thing in the world. Just ask the Sixers.

In that respect, the decent start was gravy on top of a long process. Jeff Hornacek, while not the hire of the new front office, earned himself some goodwill after being released from the shackles of the triangle. The Knicks won 10 of 14 at one point, and there was finally, amazingly, a semblance of a team identity beyond dysfunction.

Knicks stumble again without Porzingis, Hardaway in latest loss

But today — just about a 1/4 into the season— there’s also a growing sense that a grim reality is around the corner. Ned Stark might as well be reminding Knick fans, “Winter is Coming.”

Kristaps Porzingis has missed time due to injury, and the Knicks have struggled in his absence.

Kristaps Porzingis has missed time due to injury, and the Knicks have struggled in his absence.

(Julie Jacobson/AP)

The Knicks (11-12) are again under .500, losers of five of their last six with Tim Hardaway Jr. out at least two more weeks, maybe much more. To make matters more discouraging, the Knicks start a 25-game stretch after Christmas with 19 on the road.

The Knicks are 1-7 away from the Garden.

For a team built on a solid foundation, the loss of Hardaway and a tough road stretch are not insurmountable obstacles. For a team still laying the bricks, surviving a harsh winter is a long shot. The last two years showed us how quickly a season can go from a smooth ride to falling off the tracks, burning in dumpster flames.

Knicks need others to step up in Tim Hardaway Jr.’s absence

Beyond the injury to Hardaway, the most discouraging development is the drop-off of rookie Frank Ntilikina.

Tim Hardaway started strong after signing a big free-agent deal this summer, but injuries have kept him out as well.

Tim Hardaway started strong after signing a big free-agent deal this summer, but injuries have kept him out as well.

(Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

Not too long ago, the 19-year-old was shoving LeBron James and keying comeback victories in the fourth quarter. But his production in the last eight games can be best described as negative.

Starting with a loss in Toronto on Nov. 17, Ntilikina is averaging 5.3 points, 1.4 assists, 0.2 steals and 1.6 turnovers while shooting 32%. Defenders of Ntilikina will point to his nagging ankle issue, but questions about his durability should also be packaged with the criticisms.

Theoretically, Ntilikina is a nice complement to Porzingis because of his court vision and perimeter defense. There was evidence of a solid connection early in the season, as Porzingis was clearly benefiting from playing with a pass-first point guard (no offense Derrick Rose, it just didn’t work out).

Jeff Hornacek complains about free throw disparity in loss

But it’s also difficult to ignore the slide — and the emergence of the guards the Knicks passed on to draft Ntilikina, specifically Donovan Mitchell.

Frank Ntilikina's prodcution has fallen off.

Frank Ntilikina’s prodcution has fallen off.

(Thomas Shea/USA TODAY Sports)

Eventually drafted by the Jazz 13th overall — five spots after Ntilikina — Mitchell is exceeding all expectations while averaging 16.6 points. He even had a 40-point game last week.

Contrast that to Ntilikina, who is Jarrett Jack’s backup and has never scored more than 10 points in a game.

The Knicks were impressed after working out Mitchell, an Elmsford product, but Phil Jackson took Ntilikina in part because he fit in the triangle. The Knicks still feel good about their young prospect, and any real judgement is embarrassingly premature 20 games into a career.

Kristaps Porzingis-less Knicks fall to Magic, 105-100

But if the Knicks’ downward trend continues into the harshest section of the schedule, there will be few things to fall back on for encouragement. Ntilikina’s development should be one of them.

Both he and the Knicks need to buckle down because winter is coming.  

Tags:
nba
new york knicks
sports injuries

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