Knicks’ rebuild in holding pattern for 2018-19 as Kristaps Porzingis recovers

Due to his large 7-foot-3 frame, Kristaps Porzingis does not have a timetable for his return to the court this season.
Due to his large 7-foot-3 frame, Kristaps Porzingis does not have a timetable for his return to the court this season. Photo Credit: Street Photography / Gina & Paul Brake

The New York Knicks are a sure thing for the 2018-19 season. They definitely open the season Wednesday at Madison Square Garden against the Atlanta Hawks. Just as certain: They will not play a minute past the April 10 regular-season finale at home against the Detroit Pistons.

In other words: The Knicks will not make the playoffs this season. With that notion put to bed, understand that the franchise is heading in the right direction. No, really, they are.

So what will professional basketball at the Garden look like this season? Read on and find out.

‘Taps out

The Knicks’ future is Kristaps Porzingis. He may have nothing to do with their present, though.

The 7-3 big man, who was named an All-Star for the first time last season, enters this campaign still recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in February. As recently as the start of training camp last month, the 23-year-old from Latvia was without a timetable for his return to the court.

Conservative estimates had him returning around December, but that appears unlikely. Team owner James Dolan suggested in April that his star could miss the entire 2018-19 season. Given the low expectations for this season, it wouldn’t be so bad to let Porzingis recover slowly with an eye on next fall.

All about the kids

As for those healthy enough to play right now, the focus remains on developing the Knicks’ young players. It’s one of the top reasons David Fizdale was brought in to replace Jeff Hornacek as head coach over the offseason.

In addition to Porzingis, a sizable chunk of the Knicks’ roster is 23 or younger. Rookies Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier join Frank Ntilikina and castoffs Mario Hezonja, Emmanuel Mudiay and Noah Vonleh. All but Robinson and Trier were first-round picks over the last five years.

Knox, selected ninth overall this past June, possesses the most upside of this group. Ideally, both he and at least one of his fellow prospects must show progress this season.

Part of the program

Several veterans will enter the season with key roles, but not all of them are bound to stick around long-term.

Enes Kanter looks likely to lead the team in scoring — at least while Porzingis is sidelined — in the final year of his contract. He wants to be here, but its unclear if his expected price will make him a long-term fit.

Tim Hardaway Jr. isn’t going anywhere. Lance Thomas, Courtney Lee and Trey Burke, however, will be battling with the young ‘uns for minutes as the season goes on.

Forward Kevin Knox was the No. 9 overall pick in June's NBA draft.
Forward Kevin Knox was the No. 9 overall pick in June’s NBA draft. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

Player to watch: Kevin Knox

While he has yet to play a game that counts, Kevin Knox has given Knicks fans a broad spectrum of what he can be as the franchise rebuilds.

The No. 9 overall pick in June out of Kentucky, Knox immediately piqued interest with a strong Summer League performance. He earned first-team honors in Las Vegas, ahead of vaunted top picks DeAndre Ayton (No. 1), Jaren Jackson Jr. (No. 4) and Trae Young (No. 5), all of whom were voted to the second team. 

Knox’s recent preseason work, however, left much to be desired. He shot 32.7 percent from the field and a dismal 15.8 from 3-point range, all in a team-leading 25 minutes per game. Three turnovers per game, for someone who isn’t the primary ball handler, is ugly.

Be mindful that the 6-9 forward just turned 19 in August and is one of the league’s youngest players. He’s going to make mistakes and suffer growing pains, as all but the most otherworldly prospects endure in Year 1 of the NBA.

Despite sliding to ninth in the draft, Knox possesses high upside as a prospect. It’s bound to be a dark season for the Knicks, but Knox’s growth will be one of the primary reasons to follow this team.