The number one draft pick combined with Lonzo Ball for massive half-court alley-oop against San Antonio, as New Orleans remain unbeaten in the pre-season.
The Knicks weren’t just supposed to be bad – they were supposed to be hopeless, with one shining respite. The defence had no avenue to competence, and the offence had no chance of being special.
Wisdom defeated. The offence is flowing and the defence is grinding. The Knicks know who they are on both ends – a team reliant on one transcendent talent, one ascending one, and then a bunch of scrappers who were written off elsewhere. It is a team not defined by its superstar, but rather by its Courtney Lee.
Kristaps Porzingis, of course, makes it all possible. All this competence emanates from his magnificently quick release, a trigger that can be pulled from anywhere past half-court. A player like DeMar DeRozan is useful because he can generate a serviceable shot whenever he wants. Porzingis, on the other hand, can get a great one whenever he pleases.
His motion is simple and effortless, smooth and destructive. The range is made even more powerful by the knowledge that he is not just a shooter – he is an athletic force too, someone who can Mozgov or Perkins you in an instant. That force shows up more frequently on defence, though, with those thunderous weak-side blocks becoming every bit as iconic as the 30-foot threes and dunks in transition.
Porzingis is the main reason the Knicks are relevant, but not the only one. When he had one of ‘those’ games against the Celtics earlier in the week – where it just all goes wrong, to the level of farce – and failed to make a shot, the Knicks still found a way to prevail.
Michael Beasley was the hero – a sentence that feels remarkable to write. Beasley’s pathway to being a useful NBA player has always been well lit, it just hasn’t been walked down. The past week has provided some belated evidence as to why he went second in the draft back in 2008. He’s looked like a nimbler, less imposing, less meaningful Zach Randolph, with the same lefty grace, and a bit more elevation and glide than Randolph.
Scoring has always been so easy for him, blessed with speed, strength, a leap and a soft touch. He fits the mould of this Knicks team perfectly – someone like Porzingis and Enes Kanter who excels at simply getting the ball and going to work. It never lasts for Beasley, although we once said the same thing about Randolph.
Players like Courtney Lee and Kyle O’Quinn are the antithesis of Beasley, and that’s why they work so well alongside him. Kanter has been a monster on offence, giving the Knicks their identity as a team that dominates the glass and second chance points.
Doug McDermott’s stroke will always have a place in the NBA, and Jarrett Jack is playing with realised delusions of 2013, hitting late-clock mid-rangers and bulleting full-court outlet passes like he’s playing next to Stephen Curry again.
Frank Ntilikina is the most tantalising piece on the team, a wealth of length and possibility. He will be one of the best guard defenders in the league, with his arms and instincts too fantastic for him to fail on that end.
His ceiling will be determined by his offence, which while unrefined is plenty promising. His jumper looks smoother and more varied than anticipated – he looks comfortable taking and making pull-up threes off pick and rolls, and stopping a drive on a dime to sink a mid-range J. He is already making advanced passes, and his feel for the game is self-evident.
His handle is a little loose and he turns the ball over for fun. But there is plenty of time for Ntilikina. There is plenty of time for the Knicks too, and already it is passing much more enjoyably than ever could have been thought.