The early returns on the four-year, $72-million free-agent contract Joakim Noah signed with the Knicks are, in a word, bad.
Despite starting at center, Noah has been a vanishing presence in the lineup. He played only 11:26 on Saturday night in the Knicks’ 127-114 loss to Denver in the disappointing finale of a 2-3 western road trip.
Noah finished with two points and four rebounds. Coach Jeff Hornacek played Willy Hernangomez for 28:13 and got a career-high 17 points and 10 rebounds from the rookie.
Kyle O’Quinn, who was scoreless in 6:37, also had been playing well, giving Hornacek another option when he wants to sit Noah.
But Hornacek said he is not ready to make changes in the starting lineup. The Knicks’ next game is tomorrow night at the Garden against the Pacers.
“We’re not getting off to great starts,” Hornacek said. “That’s not all on Jo. Just trying to find a combination that will get us going. We like his energy, what he can do that way. [His] time will come. But there are times we think, ‘You know what?’ Billy had energy tonight. He didn’t look like he was tired at all.”
Hernangomez may have been the only Knick who had fun on Saturday. He was playing in front of his brother Juancho, who is a Nuggets forward. The Hernangomez family was watching in Madrid, Spain.
But Hornacek wasn’t too interested in the feel-good story. He noted that the Knicks have been without injured point guard Derrick Rose, who missed the last two games with lower-back tightness, and for that reason, he may be reluctant to shake up the starting lineup.
“I think it’s hard to tell because Derrick hasn’t been in there,” Hornacek said. “There is some concern with the starts we’re getting off to even when Derrick is there. We’re giving up a lot of points in the first quarters. So I don’t think we’re at that point, panic time there, but it’s something we’ll keep an eye on.”
Noah, 31, is averaging 4.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. It’s not shocking that he has started off slowly, given that he missed time in the preseason because of injuries and illness.
Noah knows he is not playing well. He did not gripe about his playing time on Saturday or the 15 minutes he logged in Thursday’s loss at Golden State. Against the Warriors, Noah took 10 shots (making three) and grabbed 10 rebounds in his limited time on the floor. So he’s trying, but he admits he’s having trouble on both ends of the floor.
“I just have to play better,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault. It is on me and I’ve got to play better and that’s it . . . Willy played great, so Jeff went with Willy.”
Noah said he is not having any physical issues, nor is he using the adjustment to a new team as a crutch.
“No excuses,” he said. “I feel great. I’ve just got to keep working and it’s going to work out.”
That’s exactly what Noah did after Saturday’s game — he hit the workout room before the Knicks headed home. Why did he do that?
“Because I want to be better,” Noah said. “You have to work out to get better.”