"I Know the Game Like I'm Reffing It"

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Look at the Knicks' Summer - Progress Made

It’s been a busy summer for Phil Jackson. A lost summer, if you are even half listening to the chatter.

Phil’s name, of course, triggers serious sports emotions in New York. So, when attempting to assess the job he’s done so far, New Yorkers must sift through that emotion.

With only two low salary spots available, we can now start to get a feel for how the team will look when the season starts in the fall.

Guess what? 

It ain’t as bad as you’ve heard.

The Knicks’ starting lineup will likely look like this: Jose Calderon (PG), Aaron Afflalo (SG), Carmelo Anthony (SF), Kyle O’Quinn (PF), Robin Lopez (C). However, Jerian Grant (G), Kristaps Porzingis (F/C), Derrick Williams (F), and Langston Galloway (PG) should all be in the rotation.

It is clear that Jackson’s plan was to create a roster that was more versatile, selfless and possessed a higher basketball IQ than the one he was saddled with last season.

I have heard arguments from Phil detractors – of which there are many – that the roster he inherited (J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tyson Chandler, etc.) was more talented than the group he assembled this summer.

That may be true if you define basketball talent strictly as jumping ability, one-on-one prowess, name recognition, and swagger. But, Phil seems to have successfully put talented role players around the one true star on the squad.

Carmelo Anthony should enjoy playing with this season’s Knicks a lot more than he has in the past. He will be surrounded by guys who will be eager and capable of getting him the ball in the correct spots. Moreover, this team now has multiple players who enjoy doing the dirty work (see defense), which should also be appealing to Melo.

At the same time, this particular roster puts much pressure on Carmelo. Not only must he carry the team offensively, but the pressure is also on him to get this team into the playoffs, which a player of his talent and stature should be able to do, though it won’t be easy.

Now, are you ready for a shocking statement?

Wait for it…

Phil Jackson’s best work this summer was done in the draft.

I know, I know, what about that poor little Knicks fan whose hopes and dreams were shattered on draft night? No, not the actual draft pick, but the kid who was caught bawling on camera. Well, sources tell me he was actually planted in the crowd by ESPN (just joking).

In all seriousness, despite the crying and ridicule from fans and media after the selection of Kristaps Porzingis - including from yours truly, after two weeks of summer league play it is clear that Porzingis has as much potential as anyone in the 2015 draft.

The 7’3 Porzingis is fluid, athletic, has seemingly unlimited range on his jumper, and has a high basketball IQ. He is also tough and media savvy, which might be his most valuable traits while playing in New York City.

While my originally preferred target with the 4th overall pick, Emmanuel Mudiay, has looked like a keeper for Denver as well, it was relayed to me that the Knicks’ brass felt Mudiay was too “ball dominant” for their liking.

Porzingis’s biggest question mark was basically just that. He was an unknown from Latvia whom fans and most media had never seen. But after seeing him play for all of ten minutes, you get a glimpse of the talent that reportedly prompted Knicks Head Scout Clarence Gaines to say he would’ve taken the 7’3 Latvian #1 overall.

With all this talk about Porzingis, it’s easy to forget that Jackson also pulled another first round pick out of thin air. He acquired the rights to the #19 pick, Jerian Grant, for Tim Hardaway Jr.

Grant, a 5-year Notre Dame combo guard who led the Irish to their best season since Digger Phelps roamed the sidelines, is kind of like a Mudiay-lite. He’s light on the Mudiay potential and athleticism, but also light on the ball domination and inexperience.

Grant is a very talented two-way guard that can score and pass and has a great chance to play major minutes in his rookie year.

So, despite all the Knicks/Phil Jackson jokes – and they will continue with force, New York has added some good pieces.

Yes, the Knicks struck out on all of this year’s “big” free agents. And yes, a couple of them refused to even meet with the Zen Master.

However, if there was a year to strike out, it was this year.

LaMarcus Aldridge is a high-end complementary player, but he is not winning you any championships.

By subtracting Chandler, Smith, Shumpert, and Hardaway Jr. and replacing them with Afflalo, Lopez, Porzingis, Grant and others, the Knicks have become more well-rounded and more importantly, more stable.

How many wins that translates into will depend largely on the type of bounce-back season Carmelo has, along with the type of coach Derek Fisher matures into.

But, the Zen Master has started the rebuilding process in an intelligent, responsible fashion that hints that he is in this for the long haul (his five-year contract), not the quick fix that New Yorkers irrationally long for.

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