It’s All About Progress For Knicks

Knicks 116, Nuggets 110

1. There is nothing better than hearing The Garden roar like it did. These people are starving for something to believe in. It’s hard to explain to anyone outside of this city why there is so much passion for the Knicks. In most cities, an 0-3 start would mean a half-empty building and no buzz with a team like the Denver Nuggets coming in on a Monday night.

So, yeah, I’ll say it. The 76ers had “Trust the Process.” For the Knicks, it should be “Trust the Progress.”

That was the word team president Steve Mills used on Sunday as his measurement of success for this season. Of course, fans want wins, but the presence of tangible progress is enough of a pacifier in a rebuilding season. Show development, improvement and, most of all, effort.

They say New York fans are too demanding. Too intense. Too impatient. Well, when you have to knife through the overgrowth of taxis and ubers (seriously, does EVERY car on the road now have a T&LC tag?) or elbow your way into a subway just to get to the game, you’re already on edge and you’re in no mood for incompetence. You can hear the conversations on the concourse: I sprinted down two flights of stairs and got crushed by those closing doors to get here and I gotta watch these guys not box out???

So understand, what most of the 19,812 who live and die with every possession, despite the fact it’s only October — *glares at LeBron* — are looking for is satisfaction.

This game against the Nuggets was an enjoyable cocktail of euphoria and excitement mixed with a hint of anxiety. And it was chased down with a shot of satisfaction.

“We’re not there,” Jeff Hornacek warned after the game. “We still have to get better at a lot of things.”

Yes, that’s abundantly true. But what’s important is there is room to grow and evidence of potential.

Trust the Progress.

2. With three straight wins, the Knicks (3-3) are back to .500 and it’s quite a contrast of the first week of the season compared to the second.

The numbers don’t lie:

First three games

Regular Season Table
Team Opponent
1 1 2017-10-19 @ OKC L 84 105 32 79 .405 7 24 .292 13 20 .650 11 41 19 8 4 25 23 39 90 .433 11 38 .289 16 22 .727 13 41 26 14 7 18 22
2 2 2017-10-21 DET L 107 111 37 81 .457 8 30 .267 25 31 .806 12 39 20 6 2 12 21 44 91 .484 9 30 .300 14 15 .933 15 43 21 5 2 12 25
3 3 2017-10-24 @ BOS L 89 110 36 85 .424 1 12 .083 16 25 .640 11 43 20 8 2 14 17 37 75 .493 14 29 .483 22 27 .815 5 41 26 11 7 12 24

Last three games

Regular Season Table
Team Opponent
4 4 2017-10-27 BRK W 107 86 44 98 .449 9 27 .333 10 17 .588 19 55 19 7 6 11 19 30 74 .405 11 29 .379 15 21 .714 4 34 18 5 1 16 20
5 5 2017-10-29 @ CLE W 114 95 42 89 .472 13 28 .464 17 21 .810 11 51 27 9 6 14 26 31 81 .383 10 33 .303 23 27 .852 7 41 20 5 5 15 23
6 6 2017-10-30 DEN W 116 110 41 82 .500 13 32 .406 21 23 .913 11 49 27 8 10 22 27 35 85 .412 18 41 .439 22 31 .710 13 36 20 13 5 13 22

Most notable to me? The rebounding and three-point shooting.

The Knicks were -0.7 on the boards in the first three games, but over the last three, they’ve dominated the boards on an average of +14 per game. From downtown, the Knicks were shooting 24% in the first three games and since then they’ve been en fuego, at 40%.

And since taking just 12 threes in the loss at Boston, the Knicks are utilizing the three-ball at 29 attempts per game, which is above the league average.

3. Kristaps Porzingis doesn’t do anything in real-time, does he? As a rookie, he was expected to be a bit of a project who needed time and patience to develop. Then he earned a starting spot on opening night, broke franchise records that date back to the Patrick Ewing era and became an All-Rookie sensation that had the NBA talking and Kevin Durant dubbing him a “unicorn.”

This season was, again, supposed to be a transition for him into the lead role vacated by Carmelo Anthony. But there was to be a learning curve. Six games into his first season as The Man, Porzingis is doing things never done before in franchise history.

He had a career-high 38 points against Denver to give him five 30-point performances in his first six games this season. He’s averaging 29.3 points per game, which is the third-highest in the NBA.

KP also set a tone early in this game, as if he wanted to send a message to Nikola Jokic, who put 40 points on him last season at The Garden. As he drained three-after-three to put up 13 points in the first quarter, KP let everyone know this season things will be different.

And things ARE different this season. Porzingis is proving to be an unstoppable force in the mid-post. Most of his work is coming in the mid-range area — coincidentally, where Melo used to work. He’s like a combination of Melo and Dirk Nowitzki, yet way more active on defense than both.

I also took note of Hornacek sending a message to officials after the game by pointing out how defenders are getting into KP’s legs when he rises up for a shot. That’s technically illegal now in the NBA — the Bruce Bowen Rule — and it’s called more often on the perimeter than on the post. I wonder if the NBA will make this a point of emphasis when officiating KP.

4. If Porzingis has been the Knicks’ best player this season, I think you can make a serious case that Kyle O’Quinn has been their second-best player. While some were irate about O’Quinn getting minutes in the rotation ahead of Willy Hernangomez, O’Quinn just went about making it impossible to sit him.

In past seasons, O’Quinn has been inconsistent with his effort level and that has led to unpredictability in his role and minutes. But this season so far his effort has been outstanding and deserving of attention.

As usual, the numbers don’t lie. The most impressive is a Defensive Rebounding Percentage (percentage of rebounds he gets when on the floor) of 32.4%, which is tied with Joel Embiid and DeAndre Jordan for fourth-best in the NBA (and those guys are starters).

O’Quinn is also 7th in the NBA in Overall Rebounding Percentage at 23.3%. The player one spot ahead of him? Enes Kanter (23.8%).

The Knicks bigs collectively have been terrific on the boards. While O’Quinn has been a beast on the defensive boards, Kanter is among the best in the NBA in offensive rebounding. He is posting a 20.9% Offensive Rebounding Percentage, which is second-best in the league behind Portland’s Ed Davis (23.5%).

5. I’m old enough to remember the “Bomb Squad” Knicks, who averaged 14 three-point attempts per game in 1988-89. Back then that was considered a ridiculous rate. Today there are players who take 14 in a game. The Nuggets used the three-point shot to keep from getting blown out in the first half and then used it in the third quarter — along with active defense — to turn a 23-point deficit into a short-lived two-point lead.

The Nuggets were 18 for 41 in the game (44%). It’s no longer a novelty that some teams use, the three-point shot is as common of a shot in the NBA as the layup. And what we’ve seen over the last few seasons is everyone from 1-through-5 can, and will, shoot it.

So as I watched Jokic & Co. draining rainbow threes to hold off what would have otherwise been a blowout win for the Knicks, I thought about what we’re seeing in Major League Baseball this season with the home run renaissance. It’s not the players who are juiced this time, but, reportedly, the ball.

Reports say the ball is wound tighter and the seams are not as raised, so the ball cuts through the air easier and travels farther. In the World Series, there’s talk that the ball is also slicker than usual and pitchers who have dominated with the slider can’t get the movement they usually get from that pitch. As a result, we’re seeing a fireworks display of home runs and riveting games that are getting great ratings.

So here’s my question: As an NBA fan, with the three-point shot so much part of the game and a quick way to erase a big deficit — and keep eyeballs on the game rather than tuning out — would you be OK if you found out the NBA secretly “softened” the rims in arenas to allow for better bounces and more shots going in? Ask anyone who has played the game and was a mediocre shooter (or just ask me, because, well, that’s what I was), soft rims make a huge difference.

Do you really want to see bricks and put-backs or is it more fun to watch three-pointers rain from all angles of the court? The commercial from the 1990s said, “Chicks dig the longball.”

Can the same be said for the NBA?