By general consensus, this year’s edition of the Knicks will be less a basketball squad than a placeholder for whatever team president Donnie Walsh can haul in over next year’s free-agent-rich (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade) off-season. But there are still a few reasons not to give up all hope.
1. Danilo Gallinari
When the Knicks’ oft-injured top 2008 draft pick did play last year, he asserted himself as a deadly shooter—44 percent on threes—and according to 82games.com, the woeful Knicks actually outscored their opponents when Gallinari was on the floor. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, who uses historical comparisons to project a player’s performance, pegs Gallinari as a league-average player this year. Since he’s just 21, that means eventual star potential: a J.R. Smith with fewer tattoos, a Dirk Nowitzki with more tattoos.… He’s a good player with one tattoo, is what we’re saying.
2. The Trade Chips
Team president Donnie Walsh has assembled a roster including seven players whose contracts expire this year. Such contracts are a valuable commodity in the bizarro realm of NBA economics, which will give him movable players to trade for potentially LeBron-complementing pieces mid-season.
3. Mike D’Antoni
D’Antoni is the rare coach who has demonstrated an actual ability to improve teams. In 2003, he inherited Phoenix’s collection of castoffs, underachievers, and dudes named Zarko, suffered through a 29-53 season, then put up a 62-20 record the next year. This had a lot to do with personnel—particularly the arrival of Steve Nash—but D’Antoni has a particular skill for freeing up personnel to do what they do best. His exuberant brand of basketball is a Jeffersonian wonderland where the system is merely a framework in which players improvise. He follows the dictum set down by James Naismith himself: Basketball cannot be coached; it can only be played.
4. The Arizona Thing
The Knicks’ first-round pick was Jordan Hill, an unpolished six-foot-ten power forward. No one, not even the Knicks, seemed thrilled. But as 82games.com proprietor Roland Beech points out, Arizona players often outplay their projections; Wildcats Gilbert Arenas (a second-round pick), Damon Stoudamire (one of the lowest picks to ever win Rookie of the Year honors), Richard Jefferson, Andre Iguodala, and Jason Terry all slid in the draft and then became stars. They all played under longtime Arizona coach Lute Olson, who was known for underachieving with great talent—and who brought Jordan Hill to the desert.