Over the past several years, I (like any self-respecting NBA fan) have watched as little Orlando basketball as possible. If the Magic were on my television it was because either a) they were playing the Knicks, or b) something in my life did not go as planned. So, when the Knicks used much of their Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to sign Mario Hezonja to a one-year, $6.5 million contract, I didn't really have an opinion.
Of course, I remembered the pre-draft parallels to J.R. Smith because that's not the sort of comparison you forget. The basis for it was Hezonja's combination of athleticism, shooting promise, and a swagger bordering on cockiness that can serve a player well in New York if harnessed properly. Hezonja's 6'8 frame coupled with his purported skillset seem ideal for a modern NBA offense. But, I also knew there had to be a reason that the Magic, bereft of talent and upside for roughly a decade now, declined his fourth-year option after using the fifth overall pick on him in 2015.
So, I set out to understand: What is Hezonja's game like and how will he fit in New York, particularly on offense? The table below shows how Hezonja used the majority of his offensive possessions last season and their corresponding efficiency, per NBA.com:
"First annual." What a cocky thing to say. How many "first annual" events turn out to be one-time only occasions? And, yes, I know it should be “inaugural” if we’re being grammatically correct, but why would I start now? Plus, I’m feeling cocky. So, what gives me the audacity to welcome you to my first annual New York Knicks Midseason Manifesto? Partly to blame is a 6’11” Turkish man who keeps me up at night. No, this isn’t some smut book your mother reads on the beach. I lose sleep because I have no idea how he could be affecting the future career of a 7’3” Latvian man; nevermind the 7’ tall Spanish man who has become something of an afterthought.
Now this really is beginning to sound like your mother’s smut book. After reading all that, you should understand why I am so skeptical of ‘the second annual’ .
First, an exercise: write down who you think is the Knicks' best five-man lineup. Now, using NBA.com's lineup data, you can see how that group has performed so far this season. Granted, there's a lot to consider when trying to determine a team's best overall lineup. Sometimes, a unit's success is based on match-ups. For instance, take this lineup:
In a game the Knicks badly needed the Knicks coughed up a 14 point lead but escaped with a victory. Strong play from Kyle O'Quinn and Kristaps Porzingis helped the Knicks overcome another poor 4th quarter and questionable crunch time reffing.
If you've been watching the Knicks' crunch-time offense lately, it may surprise you that they currently rank 10th in the league in clutch net rating, outscoring opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possessions in their 70 minutes of play (note: NBA.com defines "clutch" as the score being within five points with five minutes or fewer left to play). On average, they've been outscoring opponents in clutch situations, but their record in close games is just 8-9, a slightly below league-average mark.
It was a familiar story Wednesday night for the Knickerbockers as they were unable to become the deficit created by a poor 3rd quarter. The Knicks game out strong on the 2nd night of a back to back but faded in the 2nd half and fell to 18-20 against the Wizards.
For the second time in as many games against the Spurs, a poor 4th quarter undid the New York Knicks. The loss dropped the Knicks back below .500 to start the New Year.
After a close game through the first 3 quarters the Spurs took control in the 4th quarter and the Knicks fell to 2-12 on the road.
The Knicks lost another heart-breaker on the road in a game that they lead by 15. After struggling to score in the 4th quarter and failures on the defensive end the Knicks gave up the lead late in the 4th quarter and were unable to recover.
In the return of Kristaps Porzingis, bench scorer Michael Beasley stole the show against the east leading Celtics. Beasley helped the Knicks erase a second half deficit and walk away with an impressive victory.