After striking out in their pursuits of superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this summer—a swing-and-a-miss that compounded the pain of trading Kristaps Porzingis, losing the chance to draft Zion Williamson, and watching Anthony Davis go to the NBA’s other biggest market—the New York Knicks maintained that all was well.
In a statement issued three and a half hours after the start of free agency—which set a new land-speed record for issuing a message intended to calm a frothing fan base—team president Steve Mills said that New York’s decision-makers understood “that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight’s news” of Durant and Irving electing to sign just a short train ride away in Brooklyn. And yet, quoth Mills: “We continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future, through both the draft and targeted free agents.”
Four months later, the Knicks own the NBA’s worst record at 1-7. Fresh off consecutive 20-point losses—one to a Kings team that’s been one of the NBA’s biggest disappointments through two weeks, the other to a Pistons side playing without Blake Griffin or any healthy point guards—the Knicks on Friday will play in Dallas, where they’ll be reintroduced to old pal Porzingis, who is now living his best life alongside the transcendent Luka Doncic on the 5-2 Mavericks. Given the Knicks’ inability to consistently stop anybody, let alone anybody as good as Doncic, and the reported acrimony surrounding Porzingis’s trade, things could get ugly.
Not that they haven’t been already. The Knicks rank 29th in the NBA in offensive efficiency and 25th in defensive efficiency, according to Cleaning the Glass; they’ve been outscored by 11.5 points per 100 possessions, a point differential that, through a full season, would be expected to produce a record of 15-67. That’s a far cry from even the modest 28.5-win over/under that Las Vegas gave the Knicks back in August, and it would be the worst record in Knicks franchise history, narrowly topping the 17-65 marks that New York managed in two of the past five seasons. It’s been hard to remain “upbeat and confident,” is the point.
I just want the Knicks to be good, man— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) November 7, 2019
And yet, in the spirit of solidarity and shared, unrestrained delusion, try we Knicks fans must. So, here’s how I’m trying. Feel free to share this list with the Knicks fan in your life, too. Lord knows we need whatever help—emotional, professional, spiritual—we can get.
Let your disappointment at not getting Zion become pleasant surprise at the RJ Barrett Experience
OK, so maybe he doesn’t look like the sort of generational mold breaker that Williamson seemed to be during his hosanna-inspiring preseason. But the Duke product and the 2019 draft’s third pick has acquitted himself admirably as a pro, averaging 17.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.5 steals in 36.8 minutes per game. The only other teen in Basketball-Reference.com’s database to average 17-6-3 for a full season? A certain Slovenian gent that Barrett will face on Friday.
Barrett has a quick second jump that makes him a problem for opponents on the offensive glass, the size and speed to get to his preferred spots off the dribble, and the strength to put a shoulder into a retreating defender, create space, and finish in traffic:
RJ Barrett = Very STRONG pic.twitter.com/nzrJNlBY85— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 7, 2019
And while he’s not nearly as explosive as Williamson, he’s still capable of beating a closeout or running the floor, getting up, and throwing down:
There are warts, to be sure: That unsightly 49.1 percent mark from the charity stripe is concerning, and a player with Barrett’s strength and touch should be shooting better than 55 percent at the rim. But he’s shown a sharper-than-anticipated sense of how to run the show as a point forward in the pick-and-roll, and he already looks more comfortable with the speed and physicality of the pro game than most 19-year-olds. There’s a lot to like here, and watching Barrett get every chance to show more promises to be the main thing worth liking about this Knicks season.
Look at Mitchell Robinson’s per-36 minutes stats instead of his per-game numbers
Holy cats: 19.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, and 1.5 steals! What a monster! Let’s focus on how good that all looks—to say nothing of the gaudy 31.1 player efficiency rating and .735 true shooting percentage!—and not on the fact he’s averaging even more fouls per minute this season than last, and that he’s already been yanked from the starting lineup in an attempt to find better ways to get Julius Randle’s game on track. Because, you see, focusing on those things would put us in a negative headspace, and we don’t want to be there. We want to find other ways to handle those feelings.
Hmm? What’s that? Robinson suffered a concussion in the loss to Detroit and won’t suit up against Dallas on Friday? Great. Perfect.
Other ways, other ways … OK, I got one.
Downvote the video for the “Friday Night Knicks” theme on YouTube
I’m sure you’re a good person, Robert Randolph. I’m sure you never intended to visit upon your fellow Knicks fans the torture that is the accursed “Friday Night Knicks” era. But I’m looking for safe outlets for my Knicks-related frustration, so you’re going to have to endure some abscess-draining spite clicking. I hope you understand, and hey, if things start to turn around for the boys in blue and orange, I promise to replace those downvotes with hearty, full-strength upvotes, and to consider buying one (1) copy of your latest LP, this summer’s Brighter Days—a title I have to imagine you settled on when you thought we were getting Zion.
Spend one minute meditating for every missed jumper by a stopgap free-agent signing
Add up every outside-the-paint miss by Randle, Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington, Taj Gibson, and Elfrid Payton, and that’s 146 minutes worth of time to center yourself. That’s enough to listen to Bethany Auriel-Hagan’s “Breathing Into Sleep”—one of my personal favorites—eight and a half times! The perfect thing for sloughing off the psychic trauma of another teeth-grind-inducing long 2 or no-chance floater, really.
Using household craft supplies, make a small banner to honor the Bobby Portis Game
Excuse me while I kiss the sky:
In lieu of figuring out how to hypnotize Portis into believing he’s always playing the Chicago Bulls—the team that drafted him in the first round, suspended him for the nettlesome matter of crushing his teammate’s face, and later traded him to the Wizards for Otto Porter Jr.—you can hypnotize yourself into never forgetting the brightest spot to date in this Knicks season. (Which is to say: the only real bright spot so far.) I suggest some nice blue and orange felt, a tasteful application of sequins (dealer’s choice on cup, flat, or star shape), and—just for fun—some googly eyes. Ultimately, though, it’s your memento. Have as much fun with it as Portis did dropping 28 and 11 on the Bulls.
Every time you find yourself getting mad at something David Fizdale did, do 10 push-ups
Not altogether thrilled about that “benching Robinson to get Randle going” move? Drop and give me 10, soldier. Starting to fume about Barrett playing 41 minutes in a blowout loss, then raging against the NBA’s move toward load management because something something Latrell Sprewell? Hit the deck, sport.
Smoke pouring out of your ears as you try to wrap your brain around the logic of not starting Frank Ntilikina, even with Payton and Dennis Smith Jr. unavailable, because he didn’t want to lose Young Mr. Smokes to foul trouble? Bang out a quick set, champ. Wondering why Barrett, Robinson, Ntilikina, and Kevin Knox—the closest thing to building-block players the Knicks need to play to figure out what they have together—have played a total of nine minutes together this season? Quit it, ya goof! Do push-ups instead. They will make you strong!
Will you be happier with the way things are going? Probably not! But when you’ve so summarily blasted your pecs and carved up your core that the NBA checks in to “randomly” test you in accordance with league policy, will you even really care?
Celebrate the small victories of Knox and Ntilikina
Knox was arguably the worst player in the league during his rookie season, ranking dead last in value over replacement player and ESPN’s real-plus minus. Ntilikina … well, the less said about the degree to which he was left for dead through his first two pro seasons, the better. Neither has broken out yet; this is to be expected, what with the whole team sharing many characteristics with garbage juice.
But despite his sometimes-awkward deployment as a jumbo shooting guard in super-sized lineups jam-packed with free-agent forwards—hold on a sec, lemme just get some push-ups in—Knox has been stroking the long ball and shooting 15-for-34 (44.1 percent) from deep through eight games:
And despite again having a frustratingly short leash, even when the Knicks are struggling to stop dribble penetration—just a minute, need to get some push-ups in—the French point guard continues to show defensive aptitude and burbling signs of growing confidence in his offensive game:
It was a tough night for nearly everybody on the Knicks except Frank Ntilikina.— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 7, 2019
Frankie had a wonderful, two-way game that made him look more like a complete player.https://t.co/nBSxFZ3DUo pic.twitter.com/5chcfb8DT1
Ntilikina just turned 21 in July; Knox won’t turn 21 until August. They’ve both got a way to go before they can establish themselves as legitimate cornerstones of the team, but they’ve also got a lot of runway, and they’re already showing more flashes this season than they did for the bulk of last season. Since we’re adopting a mind-set that prioritizes finding and sucking the marrow out of every scrap of joy you can, that’s not nothing.
Look at this picture of my dog, Lugar
What a looker, right? And I’ll let you in on a little secret: He’s a very good boy.
Get extremely into Draft Twitter
Our friends at The Knicks Wall started walking this path during Wednesday’s loss to the Pistons:
I really want to be good but for those of you who are convinced we can’t be, Cole Anthony went for 34 tonight— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 7, 2019
Sure, it’s enticing to consider the prospect of landing Cole Anthony—son of ’90s Knick Greg Anthony—to fill the yawning chasm that has been New York’s point guard spot for more than a decade. Maybe you prefer LaMelo Ball, or big man James Wiseman. Or maybe there’s another prospect—Anthony Edwards? Tyrese Maxey?—that might wind up making for a perfect fit next to Barrett. The only way to know for sure is to start grinding tape. It beats watching the present-day Knicks get blown out by the Pistons, right?
Completely disavow any association with Draft Twitter
On second thought, do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to fall in love with any prospective top picks. Have no expectations, and you can’t be disappointed. We just went through this with Zion; we won’t be fooled again, Stepped-On Lottery Odds!
Become unhealthily into the idea of Iggy Brazdeikis
You catch my man at summer league? Dude was balling. The jumper’s crazy, the swag is just off the charts, and the game is pro-ready. Like, I’m not saying “he’s our Manu, Draymond, or Jokic, the second-round stud that changes the fate of the franchise.” I’m just not not saying that, you know? All he needs is a look in the rotation—and I mean a real one, like 20 to 25 minutes a game for a month, to give him a chance to get a sweat and a rhythm—and I swear, man: Everything’s going to change.
Drink a cup of tea
“Chamomile would be a good one,” my wife says. “It’s soothing. Tell them that.”
Scratch that: Just drink
After a six-pack, even Fizdale’s rotations start to look pretty good. Oh, goddammit: OK, fine, 10 more push-ups, coming up.