Less has been more for the Knicks this season.
There is less big-name talent than there was a year ago. In its place are a bigger emphasis on teamwork, young players striving to become better and a much brighter mood.
So while the exits of Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose from the roster might have made some expect a poor season, the Knicks have won more than they’ve lost and have had a much better time doing it.
“Everybody likes the ball movement, the way guys are playing defense, the way they are hustling and trying hard and playing together,” coach Jeff Hornacek said after the Knicks moved to 7-5 with a 118-91 victory over the Kings on Saturday night. “We know we are not the most talented group. We had some talent last year with Carmelo and Derrick, but these guys know they have to band together to try to win games.
“So what they’ve been able to accomplish this year is exciting for them. They see what playing together can do for a team that’s not as talented as the team we had last year . . . They’re enjoying it.”
The Knicks did some winning early last season, too, with a 14-10 start before things came unraveled. Kristaps Porzingis, who has been a breakout star in this new-look team, said most of the 2016-17 season was not enjoyable.
“It was a tough year,” he said on WFAN in a Friday appearance with Mike Francesa. “We won a lot of games in the beginning because of our talent. I could tell right away it wasn’t going to keep that up for the whole season. It started to go downhill. It wasn’t fun anymore. It wasn’t an enjoyable season.”
Porzingis certainly has been enjoying this season. He scored 34 points Saturday night and is averaging 30.4 points per game.
Without declaring a direct cause-and-effect relationship between Anthony’s departure and Porzingis’ rise, Hornacek did seem to suggest it.
“Our team last year had a lot of great offensive weapons. They didn’t need all the running-around plays to score. You could just give them the ball,” he said. “At times, other guys felt they weren’t involved. This [new] way kind of gives an opportunity to everybody.
“It may be certain guys one night and maybe another guy gives you a lift the next night. It’s more open, and that’s what they’re grasping at.”
As for the improved mood in the locker room, Hornacek said Anthony and Rose are not to blame for how players felt last season. But the new dependence on each other on this edition of the team — to set each other up to score or to play team defense to get a stop — comes with enhanced camaraderie.
“We were winning last year with those guys for a while — we kind of fell out of it. So we like what the guys are doing for us this year, the way they are playing hard and playing together,” Hornacek said. “Practices are great. They really get after it and pay attention. They are trying to learn. It’s more of a growing process this year with the younger players. We feel we can continue to build and maybe get better.”