Tanking? Never heard of it. Elite? At the risk of speaking too soon … never been more sure of anything in my life. MVP Kristaps Porzingis? That just sounds right.
This is how I imagine Knicks fans feel after three straight wins, including a 19-point tour de force victory over the Cavaliers at home. Their prized unicorn is scoring the third-most points in the entire league (29.3 per game), New York tops all teams in offensive rebounding percentage (two Knicks rank in the top five), and Tim Hardaway Jr. is doing just fine.
How exactly do Knicks fans feel? At the risk of my own employment, I interrogated The Ringer’s Knickerbocker faithful. (Quickly, I might add, at the risk of publishing this after New York’s inevitable collapse).
After 62 minutes played, what are your impressions of Frank Ntilikina? Also, how does his defense make you feel on a spiritual level?
Nicole Bae: [Takes a drag of a French cigarette with a name I can’t pronounce] I’m all in on Frank.
Matt James: It looks like the Knicks have a talented and coachable young point guard with a good amount of upside. The only logical conclusion to draw from this impossibility is that something recently caused reality’s timeline to fracture and we are all living in an alternate timeline splintered off from true reality. Frank’s defense has me in a bit of an existential crisis. His wingspan for his position … when am I and how?
Sean Fennessey: Approximately half of the time on the court he looks like a kid who's lost his parents in an amusement park; the other half he looks like that same hyperactive kid running to his favorite ride.
Daniel Chin: He hasn’t been great so far, but the French Prince just turned 19! He has a 7-foot wingspan. Yeah, I might die a little bit inside every time I see a Dennis Smith Jr. highlight dunk every couple of days, but Frank is going to be an All-Star in a few years right alongside Porzingis.
Ryan O’Hanlon: For the past 15 years, the one on-court constant amid the poisonous and pointless internecine front-office chaos of the James Dolan reign has been this: The Knicks can turn any opposing point guard, no matter how washed or uncoordinated, into Oscar Robertson. Watching Frank Ntilikina play has been like washing my face with the Shroud of Turin.
Katie Baker: Frankie Smokes! There’s no better feeling than watching a promising rookie in that span of time when you can overlook his faults and focus on only his glorious potential. On a spiritual level, I have converted from Klaytheism to become a Fransmokescan Monk. That’s how moved I am by the loving way this young European has been tending to the leper colony that is MSG.
Seriously, he’s averaging 4.8 points and 2.5 assists in 15.5 minutes per game. What is his ceiling?
James: Frank is on the Knicks, so his ceiling is fairly low. Once he inexplicably gets traded to another team I believe that he’s got the defensive intelligence and court vision to eventually become a perennial All-Star.
O’Hanlon: Have you seen the Sistine Chapel?
Fennessey: This season? Probably not significantly more production than that, but his purpose is not counting numbers, it's to lift the spirit of a misanthropic fanbase rooting for a team that has not selected a point guard in the first round since Charlie Ward in 1994. By merely being alert, he's likely to inspire 500,000 cranks.
Baker: Would you ask a mother about her child’s ceiling? Just like this young one’s wingspan, it is nominally 7 feet but effectively unlimited. In my daily browsing of internet forums, I saw someone refer to a 2009 John Hollinger column in which he asserted that a young Russell Westbrook, with his high turnover ratio, would wind up more effective than fellow rookies Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo because “a higher turnover ratio … in a paradoxical twist of logic, is actually a good thing for a rookie. … Historically, those with high turnover rates have had much higher rates of improvement in subsequent seasons.” By this logic, each of Frankie Ripdart’s mistakes are blessings; every ball bounced off a foot is a leg up. The better question is to ask what the rest of the league’s ceiling is, and the answer is: whatever Francis Butts decides it will be.
Is this already your favorite Knicks team? (If not, finish this phrase: This is my favorite Knicks team since … )
James: This is my favorite Knicks team since Linsanity. All Knicks fans ever want is homegrown stars.
Fennessey: Certainly not. The 60-win 1992–93 team that featured Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, Rolando Blackman, Greg Anthony, and John Starks in his first season as a starter is burnished in my mind as the platonic ideal of a sport that is not quite basketball. Kristaps has a chance to be the best Knicks player ever though.
Chin: This is my favorite Knicks team since the Linsanity team in 2011–12. I don’t think anything will ever surpass that team for me, but I’m very hopeful for the young talent on this team. And it also has Michael “GOAT in New York” Beasley (who is known to wear three watches at a time, by the way).
O’Hanlon: No. It's my favorite team since the 2012–13 Knicks, who would've won the title if Mike "The East Is Big, Man" Woodson didn't get so shook by Roy Hibbert and the concept of verticality that he abandoned the two-point-guard lineup that won the team 54 games. Go back and read that sentence again. 2013 was weird as hell.
Bae: This is my favorite Knicks team since ...
Jason Concepcion: Ever? No. But Kristaps is potentially the best Knicks player of my lifetime. He’s already impossible to guard; at 7-foot-3 he can shoot over defenses with ease and has the mobility and skill to take most bigs off the dribble anyway. He hit a shot from the logo Monday night, blocked three shots, and scored a career-high 38 points. He has the potential to be a top-five player in the league.
Baker: …The <extremely Italian Chef Kiss public-address voice>DANILO GALLLLLLLINARI</extremely Italian Chef Kiss public-address voice> era, circa December 2010. #missumozgov
What (who?) is the Linsanity of this team?
James: The empty seat where Phil Jackson used to sit.
Fennessey: Not a replicable phenomenon, but for the purposes of this question: Ron Baker. Close second: Vanderbilt's own Luke Kornet, the 7-foot-1 forward signed to a two-way contract who also has a passion for linear optimization.
Chin: Linsanity will never be repeated. NEVER.
O’Hanlon: The next time someone tells me that “there are no bad questions,” I’m gonna show them this. There will never be another Linsanity. Stop trying to make it happen.
Concepcion: Kristaps. He has a legit chance to challenge for the scoring title, which is a thing that seemed ridiculous two weeks ago.
Baker: During the third quarter of the Knicks-Nuggets game Monday night, when New York was in danger of permanently squandering a 23-point lead, Porzingis converted an alley-oop, made a block on the other end, and then pulled up for a 3. He missed, but I’m fully convinced that if the shot had gone in the Garden would have been just as loud as it was for anything Lin ever did.
Are you part of the Hornacek Hive?
Fennessey: In the absence of other hives, sure.
James: Yes. This season all I’m looking for out of a Knicks coach is a willingness to properly develop the young players, and that seems to be happening. The ball movement and the defensive intensity during this “winning streak” (lol) have been extremely encouraging. Kristaps is getting the minutes and touches he deserves, Frank isn’t being rushed along, and Coach Jeff is even finding a few minutes for rookie Damyean Dotson. I’d like to see a lot more Willy Hernangomez, but with Kyle O’Quinn tied for the team lead in plus/minus, I can’t fault Hornacek for keeping Willy on the bench for now.
Chin: I would’ve definitely said no a year ago, but after seeing this new offense—free from Phil’s beloved triangle—I’m starting to have more faith in Hornacek. Though, I have not forgotten that he called my guy KP soft.
O’Hanlon: Hard pass. I've been out on the entire Hornacek family ever since I found out one of them owns a golf store with a pro-Trump Twitter account.
Concepcion: TBD. The sample size is too small. Still, the recent signs are heartening. The Knicks are hovering around league average in offense and defense. The latter is especially impressive considering the team was a bottom five on defense in 2016–17 and is rolling out Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr., two noted non-defenders, for big minutes. He’s getting solid minutes out of Jarrett Jack.
Baker: As a coach, he’s in that weird tank-or-try situation, but he seems to be managing well over the past couple of games (sorry, Ramon Sessions). So I’m not necessarily buzzing just yet, but I firmly believe he needs to be allowed at least half a season, if not a full one, to rid himself of the stink of Phil Jackson’s hippie-ass triangular tootsies.
Enes “Can’t Play” Kanter says Kristaps should be in the MVP conversation. Can you make the argument for him after six games?
James: You definitely can make the KPMVP argument if you’re fine with being a ridiculous person. Six games is just over 7 percent of the entire season. I appreciate the Zing love from Kanter but every MVP chant in the garden taunts the basketball gods and raises the chances of a devastating KP injury.
Fennessey: No. Teams that win 39 games should not. But “Most Improved” feels inevitable.
Concepcion: No. It’s a nice thought, and I love my Large Latvian Son. But KP isn’t playing better than Giannis.
O’Hanlon: The advanced-stats revolution was a lie. Buckets are all that matter. He's scoring 29 points a game, and his best point guard is ... either a French teenager with 10 career assists or a 34-year-old who I'm shocked to find out hasn't spent any time playing in China. Get him a decent creator, and he’d be putting up 40 a night.
Baker: Simple: The New York Knickerbockers are a .500 team.
Have you dug up your Larry Johnson jersey?
Fennessey: I never owned one, though I will happily resurface a Sprewell size XXL.
How long will this last before the Knicks become the Knicks again?
Fennessey: The publication of this survey assures a seven-game losing streak.
James: It would not surprise me if the Knicks have already become the Knicks again by the time you’re reading this. A Porzingis trade? A Ntilikina knee injury? Feisty Ron Baker knocking out Michael Beasley in practice? Every worst-case scenario is always on the table for the Knicks.
Baker: The nihilist (which, in the case of the Knicks, is the same as the realist) in me knows that I’ll be bumming bleak smokes off the Marlboro Man by the weekend. Luckily, there’s always the Gia—oh, wait. There’s always the Rang—well, shit.
Bae: Uh, I thought the Knicks were back to being the Knicks at like, 9:15 p.m. ET Monday (until they eventually got the win.) But actually, I don’t know. I WISH I KNEW. Having hope is good, but it is also nerve-racking to not know if your team is going to be decent. Halfway through the game Monday, several questions swam through my mind while I watched KP sink 3s. Am I supposed to want the Knicks to go back to being the Knicks and #TANK4DONCIC? Or am supposed to [knocks on wood] live in the moment and enjoy good basketball RIGHT NOW because who knows where this nation will be at in a few years?
It’s great being a New York sports fan in 2017. (Hi, Jets fans.)
Chin: I mean, they pretty much already became the Knicks again in the third quarter of last game. They committed 10 turnovers during a six-minute stretch to allow the Nuggets to go on a 27-2 run, nearly blowing the game. Sounds like the Knicks I know and love, if you ask me.
O’Hanlon: By the time this gets published, Frank Ntilikina will be playing for the Phoenix Suns.
Concepcion: Why are you doing this to me? CAN’T I JUST ENJOY THIS? CAN’T I? LEAVE ME ALONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNE.
Phil Jackson wanted to trade Kristaps. This isn’t a question; I just want you to think about that.
James: If Porzingis ever leads the Knicks to a title, Phil Jackson’s dismissal will be considered the biggest Knicks win between KP’s chip and 1973.
Fennessey: Indict him.
Chin: Phil lost his mind during his extremely lucrative tenure with the Knicks. The only thing that could’ve upset me more than this statement would’ve been if you had mentioned anything regarding James Dolan.
11 champ;ipnsikp[ ringhs— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) March 27, 2013
Bae: I feel sick. Who wrote this? Turn your location on. I just wanna talk.
Concepcion: GO AWAY.
O’Hanlon: Go to hell.