What Giannis Antetokounmpo did to the Knicks was cool as hell and involved leaping over an entire man. What Giannis’s torso did to the Knicks, due to purely incidental contact, was as ghastly as that was cool: Kristaps Porzingis landed awkwardly after dunking over him and tore his left ACL.
This is wretched, for New York, for anyone who wanted to watch the development of a star with a historically unique skillset, for anyone who likes to see blocks magically transmuted into dunks, for anyone with a pulse. It’s too early to fully process the fact that you may not see one of the league’s most interesting young players suit up until a few months into 2019. If you feel ill, you’re not alone. Mourning is the mood.
But there are some silver linings, for him as an individual basketball player and as someone who might one day want to play on a good basketball team.
Porzingis may well return a different athlete. Big men and ACL tears are not a happy combination. But the best aspects of Porzingis—his shot-blocking and shooting range—don’t hinge on explosive athleticism as much as other basketball skills do. While he may be robbed of some quickness for face-up, off-the dribble moves—the stuff that makes everyone ooh and ahh and gawk at a dude that large making moves that smooth—losing that element of his game wouldn’t be all that devastating to his effectiveness as a player.
Porzingis also wanted to make the playoffs, as any ambitious, newly minted All-Star should. This accomplishment could have been a good thing for Porzingis personally but plainly not a good thing for the New York Knicks generally. With him down, the team is now free to abandon this pretense and pursue what makes the most sense for them in the future.
That future should still include Porzingis, and perhaps even at a cheaper rate: It’s a bit icky to say at this point, but this injury might mean the Knicks save money here, as he may no longer want to gamble on his value on the open market.
The future also means playing their young players, please, God. At times it feels as if Jeff Hornacek is scrambling for someone, anyone, to play over his rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina, a spry young octopus who has seen his minutes per game tumble from 24 per game in December, to 19 in January, to 11 in February. Now we can take solace in the fact that management is now ... possibly ... considering ... coming around to ... playing Frank more. Though it’s unclear.
Looking at the future also means offloading everyone on the roster not named Frank or Tim. Realistically it involves shipping Kyle O’Quinn, the team’s lively rim-protecting and flashy-passing backup center, and Courtney Lee, an excellent 3-and-D player in a league hungry for them. This process has already started, somewhat confusingly, with Willy Hernangomez, best friend of Porzingis, getting shipped to Charlotte for some guy and second-round picks. (It’s been a rough 12 hours for Kristaps.) Hernangomez is on a cheap contract, easily the best value on the roster. But with his low-post scoring and rebounding savvy and defensive naïveté, he fits the archetype of a player more suited to the last two decades of the NBA than the ones ahead. That he didn’t earn minutes over Enes Kanter and O’Quinn is not terribly encouraging either. The Knicks, perhaps feeling that his value was only going to depreciate with further exposure, gave up on him on order to clear a small amount of cap space and take two fliers on other second-round possibilities.
Any new trades should help their tanking ambitions. This is a Knicks team sapped of its top scorer, with its recently injured second-best scorer hobbling off the court last night, and its third-best scorer bleeding profusely and openly weeping under a towel at the end of last night’s game. It is a very bad team. The team will lose a lot of games. It will, however, be a clogged up race to the bottom this year. The 23-32 Knicks currently stand 10th in hypothetical draft order. Ranked in terms strength of schedule thus far, the team sits just 26th in the league, meaning the rest of their season should soundly kick its ass, as desired. But fellow bottom-feeders Atlanta sit two slots below with an even weaker schedule, and the Suns sit only two spots above. Those teams are bound to lose a whole lot, as will the Mavs, Bulls, and Kings. The Hornets, just above the Knicks in draft order, may offload Kemba Walker and get in the mix. Ideally Porzingis would return, healthy, to a roster stocked with a debugged Frank and some fresh lottery talent from a rich draft class, but a lot of things need to shake out right for that to happen. In the meantime, drown out the present miseries with some good memories.