Last night, the Knicks lost. No, I’m not talking about the 32nd defeat of the season that had dropped them to .418 for the season. Those have been building for some time. The Knicks gambled on Kristaps Porzingis twice and the Unicorn beat the odds and made them look good. Under the Phil Jackson’s regime, they gambled on the lanky sweet-shooting big man on the draft day. He delivered.
Then, they made a second gamble this offseason, turning to the 22-year old to replace Carmelo Anthony as the new face of the franchise, and Porzingis quickly blossomed from a prospect to a star. However, the last gamble, having Porzingis as the sole magnet for the future agency, having Porzingis the foundation of the new team that would bring them to the playoffs and relevancy, those hopes crashed down to the Earth together with their prized Latvian center when he stepped on fellow phenom Antetokounmpo’s foot.
It didn’t look right away, and it got worse. The Knicks quickly announced that Porzingis tore ACL in his left knee, ending his season and kicking off a tough recovery path that will last for 9-12 months. It’s absolutely the most brutal way to put an end to the struggle the Knicks have been living the past month or so, in a futile fight to somehow make a run and reach the final playoff spot.
For what it’s worth, Vegas was never too high on the Knicks success this season. They were projected to miss the playoffs with just about 20 percent of chance of making it in October, and they were right on cue to match the 32-34 win total that was expected most of the year. While they’ll probably fail to reach there now, for this to be really a devastating news, they’d had to be somewhat good. So how much does this blow really impact the Knicks and the betting market?
Even with the January decline, Kristaps Porzingis was undoubtedly the Knicks best player on the court. He is the Knicks’ leading scorer with 22.7 points per night and he adds 6.6 rebounds and the league-leading 2.4 blocks per game. His impact goes beyond these averages. The Knicks offense has gone away from the strict scheme mostly thanks to his ability move like a guard. Despite all the attention his early season dominance created with the opposing defenses, Porzingis still takes by far the most Knicks shots. Only a part of it is by a design, but there’s a significant number of late clock situations where he’d bail the offense simply by taking shots over the defense. At 7’2’’ he’s taking 4.8 three-point attempts and knocking them down at 39.3 percent rate, much better than their nominal three-point threat Hardaway. He’s the most fouled Knick. On defense, Porzingis eases having Hardaway, Kanter, Beasley or Ntilikina on the court with his mobility and length. In another underwhelming season, the Knicks are actually pretty decent defensively. They allow 105.5 points per game, good for 12th best in the NBA, and are 15th when adjusted to pace. Porzingis is not a small part of this.
As the number one option on the offense and the media darling, the public and the market will probably overreact to his absence by punching the under on Knicks games. Porzingis missed games sporadically on minor issues and rest this season, giving us a small but significant sample to take a look at his impact. In the six games he missed, the Knicks allowed 110.0 points per contest, almost full five points more than with him on the court – and all four overtime games happened with him available. The Knicks lost all but one (sorry Oklahoma City), covering in one more. Total points outcomes were split.
A part of the bigger impact on the spread than on the totals is the replacement the Knicks have for Porzingis. Michael Beasley and Enes Kanter will get significantly more touches and minutes, and Kyle O’Quinn and Hernangomez are underrated offensively in minor roles.
My estimations have Porzingis worth a 2.5 spread points and only 1 points on the totals. The Knicks are on a four-game losing streak and have beaten only Brooklyn and Phoenix since January 21st. They’ve been losing by an average of 1.6 points, so without Porzingis, they’ll drop near the very bottom of the league. To make things worse, only three of their next 11 games are played in NYC, and even those are no gimmies. The Knicks will host Washington, Boston, and Golden State before the month ends, splitting two shorter road trips, one on each coast. This probably means that the bookies will be fading the Knicks big time. They are not going to be giving much chance of overcoming Porzingis injury, so it’s unlikely that punters will have much room going against them. Betting on the Knicks isn’t recommended either, and it won’t increase over time. Instead, look for overs when possible.
If you aren’t a die-hard Knicks fan, you were probably already aware that the Knicks won’t be featured in the postseason. Even with the Unicorn playing, they would project to have only 2 percent of making it this season. Without him, this percentage probably isn’t too far off the next year’s estimation. Judging by the recovery road of the same injury suffered by NBA players, Porzingis will probably next dress up and play in 2019. By that time, the Knicks will probably be in the full tanking mode given their roster and cap situation.
By declining to go into full tanking this season, the Knicks intended to show that they can be competitive with Porzingis leading the way, which would, at least theoretically, played a big part in luring star (or good) players to the Big Apple. A better roster would make Porzingis happy in return, and the fairy tale would have a happy ending.
This changes everything.
The Knicks have burdened themselves with few heavy and bad contracts, and the prospect of wasted, not one, but two seasons changes (or should change) their perspective on how they see them. Noah’s contract is simply immovable, otherwise, they would dump him already, and Hardaway’s stock is nowhere near as high as the last summer when the Knicks outbid themselves. So, the Knicks will have to get creative to create changes. They’ll probably let go off some of their veterans, no matter how impactful they were. Lee and Thomas are the prime candidates to be shipped. Beasley’s and Jack’s contracts are expiring after the season and O’Quinn is playing for peanuts, so there isn’t much the Knicks can do. Hornacek wasn’t going to survive the cut after the season anyway, but the Knicks will have trouble finding a respectable coaching name to take on his job with such a weak roster and bleak future.
As for the Porzingis, the Knicks will use their team option to extend his rookie contract, but having him sit on relatively low figures don’t do much for them. There’s a big concern that such a major injury would diminish his athleticism, but I personally believe he’ll be just fine and have a long and successful career if not struck with more blows. He’ll probably sign for the right amount of money, given the risk and I give the Knicks great chances of re-signing him. However, don’t be surprised if he agrees on a shorter deal next summer. His patience, same the Knicks fans’, is not limitless. And the Knicks will lose a lot of games in 2018.
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