Achtung Panzer! #4: The Tanking New York Knicks

The New York Knicks, owners of the worst record in the NBA through games of December 6 (and as this goes to press currently trailing the Pacers) at 4-18, just took that “things have officially gone too far” step and fired coach David Fizdale.

Which means a team on pace to win just 15 games has franchise upheaval just as they’re starting to try to bring along promising rookie RJ Barrett, and if that isn’t the most Knicks thing you can imagine, just wait until interim coach Mike Miller slowly loses his mind having to salvage something from this dumpster fire of a franchise.

It’s hard to say the Knicks are tanking. Tanking implies a certain intentionality and long-term plan that is served in the short term by losing a bunch of games.

The Knicks are just a joke of a franchise.

In fact, I didn’t plan to include them in this series at all for precisely that reason. The teams I’ve spotlighted so far—Golden State, Portland, and Atlanta—are all franchises with interesting stories behind their awful starts.

I was going to do Detroit this week, but the Pistons walloped the Spurs and Cavs and beat the Pacers Friday night; they’ve got a positive point differential and have a plausible road to the playoffs if their record regresses to the mean and the Magic continue to struggle.

The Knicks, meanwhile…

They Can’t Score.

Take the worst Offensive Rating in the league (102.7) and factor in the league’s third-slowest pace (97.9) and what you’re left with is a team that is just half a point better than 100 points scored per game.

Which would be great in 2004, when nobody in the league scored 100 on a regular basis.

But it’s 2019, and 100.5 points scored per game, unadjusted for pace, is 2.5 points lower than the 29th-ranked Magic (and the Magic, while scoring 103.0 a game, are only allowing 102.6) and over 20 a game less than the top-ranked Bucks (121.0) and 2nd-ranked Rockets (120.8.)

Not since Jeff Van Gundy was coaching this team could they be so consistently relied upon to keep the score down.

They’re dead last in eFG% at an utterly putrescent .484. They’ve only got three double-digit scorers per game, and seven of their top nine minute-getters are shooting under 40 percent from the field. Their raw .422 FG% is dead last, and they are just 23rd in 3PAR.

Dear gods, what a complete disaster. (so of course as I write this, they’re giving the Pacers all they want. Maybe Miller actually knows how to coach and Fizdale’s stock is going to drop like a dot-com in 2001.)

They Can’t Defend.

Thanks to that slow pace, their 111.3 points per game allowed is 17th in the league.

Too bad they’re fifth-worst in Defensive Rating once you plug pace back into it.

In point of fact, this is a squad that only compounds its own problems when they fail to score and the other team gets the ball.

Which, when you consider that a defensive rebound after a missed shot is the second-best way to start an offensive possession in terms of expected value behind only a live-ball turnover, no wonder they can’t stop anyone.

And Their Owner is a Joke.

James Dolan is synonymous with atrocious ownership of a sports franchise the way Dan Snyder is in the NFL and Bob Nutting is in MLB.

Ask any group of NBA fans which team has the worst owner. As soon as someone says “the Knicks”, the discussion is over because everyone, even fans of badly-run franchises like the Pelicans and Bulls, just wants to give any Knicks fans in the room a hug.

This is where the problem of “they’re not tanking, they just suck” comes in.

Trust That There Ain’t a Process.

That’s the worst part of all this for Knicks fans. Every other team that has run and will run in this space until I run out of teams and move on to something else (probably by the end of December, truth be told) has been a team with a clear road map forward.

The Warriors have to take their medicine for the competitive balance kick in the head that accompanies any long title run when the salary cap and injuries do their thing.

The Blazers have to get Jusuf Nurkic back and use their lost season to get a 3-and-D frontcourt wing to play alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

And the Hawks have to get John Collins back and draft at a position of need to make a Big 3 out of Collins, Trae Young, and whoever that draft pick ends up being.

Even when the Sixers were garbage for years, no matter what else you could say about Sam Hinkie, he did get the team Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They got good eventually…even though any idiot (like Hinkie) could’ve figured out how to Process.

The Knicks aren’t even that smart. You can’t trust the process. There is no process. Just an idiot owner who creates a culture of futility that erases the talent of promising young players (if we learned anything from the Basketball World Cup, it’s that Frank Ntilikina might’ve been a star if the Knicks hadn’t drafted him.)

I wish I could say the Knicks have a promising road forward…but Barrett is shooting like a young Lonzo Ball but with none of Ball’s nose for the defensive side of the game. He’ll be just another bust ruined by the culture in New York (notice how Kristaps Porzingis is starting to grow into his potential with Luka Doncic in a way he never did with the Knicks.)

Sorry guys. As tanks on the battlefield go, the Knicks are a Great War RT-17 trying to take on a modern American M1A1 Abrams.

NEXT WEEK: New Orleans Pelicans.

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