Most preseason evaluations of the Knicks reference the absence of Kristaps Porzingis as he works his way back from major knee surgery. But ESPN analyst and former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy cautions against making too much of that asterisk.
“When you look on the floor right now, even if they had Porzingis — [rookie Kevin] Knox has got a chance [to be good] — but you look at their team, they’re just not a talented team,” Van Gundy said Monday on a conference call to promote ESPN’s 2018-19 season.
Van Gundy also warned against looking at Porzingis as a given even when he does return.
“It’s not just his health,” Van Gundy said. “He’s got to get better to be a best player on a really good team, and then they have to supplement their talent.”
The question is whether the Knicks now have the decision-makers in place to see the process through, including team president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and coach David Fizdale.
“I’ve always thought the coaches have been good,” Van Gundy said. “So much of the coaches, how well you do is based strictly on the roster. So I think David Fizdale is very good and if he has a good roster they’ll have a good team. If he has a mediocre roster, they’ll have a mediocre team.
“So I don’t look at it as changing coaches is the most important part of improvement. I think who picks the players is absolutely critical to your success or lack of success and they’ve had some spotty things the last three or four years, whatever it is, as far as picking players, both in the draft and free agents.
“Right now I don’t think you can expect them to have a quick fix . . . I like [Enes] Kanter. I think he was a tremendous trade. I’m interested to see if they can sign him, or will sign him. But I think he’s a very good player. But their backcourt needs some shoring up.”
Van Gundy’s partner on ESPN’s lead NBA announcing team, Mark Jackson, interviewed for the coaching job before it went to Fizdale. He believes the Knicks can work their way into playoff contention.
“I think in the Eastern Conference, after you look at the top teams that obviously will make the playoffs and have home court, I think it boils down — looking at the rest of the conference — to which teams are committed, which teams defend at a high level, which teams don’t take nights or possessions off,” he said.
“Those teams will have an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs. That’s been proven. There are clearly some teams that are better than the other ones in the East, but if you play hard, you compete, you defend and you buy in [you can contend]. The Knicks are one of those teams. They have an opportunity to show growth and be chasing a playoff spot.”