The Runner Sports

Where Do The Knicks Stand In The Eastern Conference?

New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. recently said he expects the team to make the playoffs this season. While one can probably chalk that up to a necessity of confidence, it’s an expectation that doesn’t seem very realistic. The Knicks will likely be bad this season, but that’s just fine. This team is rebuilding in the wake of Carmelo Anthony’s departure, and stockpiling another lofty draft pick certainly won’t be a terrible thing for an organization that is simply not ready to compete at this juncture. But where do the Knicks actually stand in the ranks of the Eastern Conference heading into the 2017-18 campaign?

The Brooklyn Nets were the worst team in the East last season, winning a mere 20 games with a roster that didn’t have much talent to speak of. New York finished with the fourth-worst record in the conference, notching a 31-51 mark that saw the team play better-than-expected at Madison Square Garden (19-22). Brooklyn looked like the better team in the Knicks’ preseason opener, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Knicks are primed to be the worst squad in the East in 2017-18.

The Nets got better, finally landing an attractive building block in guard D’Angelo Russell via trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. Veterans like DeMarre Carroll and Timofey Mozgov could help the Nets leapfrog New York in the standings this season, but it’s not a certainty by any means.

The Chicago Bulls appear to have the worst roster in the East right now. The departures of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo have left the Bulls with a collection of interesting young talent, but nobody anticipates this team being any good this season. Expect Chicago to finish with the worst record in the NBA, landing them the best odds in the NBA Draft Lottery before reform kicks in the following season.

The Atlanta Hawks also hit the reset button this offseason, moving on from big men Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard. Intriguing youngsters like Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, John Collins and DeAndre Bembry form a promising foundation for Atlanta, but not one of those players has anywhere near the potential that New York’s Kristaps Porzingis does. Atlanta should finish with a worse record than New York.

Unfortunately for Knicks fans, Chicago and Atlanta form the short list of teams that are near-locks to finish lower than New York in the conference ranks this season. Brooklyn, Orlando and Philadelphia represent foes that the Knicks could potentially finish ahead of in the standings if things click under Jeff Hornacek now that the head coach is free of Phil Jackson and his meddling.

The Knicks have their crowned jewel in Porzingis, and many experts expect him to take a massive leap in his development now that he’s been officially anointed the team’s franchise player. However, Porzingis alone won’t make the team competitive enough to finish in the Top 10 in the conference, not yet anyway. Unlike Chicago and Atlanta, though, New York does have a multitude of solid veterans that could prove to be a reliable supporting cast for KP.

Hornacek recently expressed his amazement with how good the oft-injured Joakim Noah has looked in practice, and if the NYC-born big man can channel some of the play of his Chicago days it would be a significant boon to the Knicks on defense and from a ball movement perspective. Other vets like Kyle O’Quinn, Courtney Lee and Ramon Sessions will likely play meaningful roles as well this season, though Hornacek will certainly have his hands full in narrowing down the rotation to eight or nine players.

Hardaway Jr. is the x-factor for the Knicks this season. His much-ridiculed contract notwithstanding, Hardaway will be given a lot of offensive responsibility, and the team will need him to continue making strides on the defensive end. His efficiency and effort will loom large in how this season plays out for New York.

If Porzingis has his major breakout year, Hardaway Jr. plays efficiently, the Knicks commit to team defense and the offense sees a lot of ball movement and open shots, only then will New York have a real shot at sniffing the final spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. However, it’s more likely that the team finishes with a win total somewhere in the low-30s and settles for a conference rank similar to the one they managed in 2016-17.