Knicks Fans Shouldn’t Shed Tears Over The Departure Of Porzingis

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Updated: February 4, 2019
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The New York Knicks made a surprising trade when they moved versatile big man Kristaps Porzingis off of their roster once and for all. It wasn’t necessarily the trading of Porzingis that came as a surprise, but what the Knicks got in return. Instead of making a move for Anthony Davis or another star player, the Knicks dumped Porzingis in the lap of the Dallas Mavericks for some spare parts, leading to a meltdown from Knicks fans. But should Knicks fans be that upset over the move?

On the surface, the outrage is understandable. The Knicks traded their best player, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Courtney Lee for a player that they could have drafted last season in Dennis Smith, Wes Matthews and a shell of the old DeAndre Jordan. That doesn’t sound like a great deal for the Knicks when you say it that way, but when you take a real look at the trade, Knicks fans should realize that this isn’t the worst trade for the future of the team.

Statistically, Porzingis just isn’t good enough to be considered an untouchable player in the trade market for the Knicks. In his three full seasons with the team, he never shot above 45% from the field, despite being one of the biggest players on the floor at all times. That, of course, is a product of Porzingis often playing on the perimeter instead of playing the role of a more traditional offensive big. From three-point range, Porzingis improved with each season he played, peaking at 39.5% last year. But that only averaged out to two made threes per game.

Porzingis was a good rebounder considering that he’s more of a finesse type of player, putting up about seven boards per game for his career. And his two blocked shots per game were also a positive for the Knicks, who have lacked legitimate rim protection since Patrick Ewing left about two decades ago. But the problem with the positives from Porzingis was simple: they just didn’t produce enough wins for any of it to matter for the team.

In three seasons with Porzingis on the team, the Knicks failed to make the playoffs in every single one of those years. They put up 32 wins in 2015-2016, 31 wins in 2016-2017, and 29 wins in the 2017-2018 season. Those aren’t disastrous seasons by any means, but if a team’s goal is to win the NBA Finals, those win totals aren’t anywhere near enough to get into the playoffs, let alone to be a serious contender to advance through the rest of the league to claim a title.

And yes, Porzingis may have been the only thing to keep the Knicks from worse performances in those seasons. The fact that the team is 10-40 through its first 50 games of the 2018-2019 season is proof that Porzingis definitely had some value. But some value doesn’t make you untouchable, even if just having some value is enough to make you one of the best players in recent Knicks history. A look at advanced stats makes it clear that Porzingis wasn’t the type of elite player who greatly contributes to high-level winning, that the success-hungry Knicks fans wanted him to be.

Just looking at win shares, Porzingis maxed out at 4.5 win shares, which he amassed during the 2016-2017 season. That total put him five full win shares behind Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat, who finished 20th in the league in win shares that season. It put him over 11 win shares behind James Harden, who topped the league in that category that season. But who led the league in win shares for a season isn’t important. What does matter is the fact that, in his most valuable season as a pro, Kristaps Porzingis wasn’t worth even half of the contributions to winning advanced metrics of the 20th best player in the league in terms of win shares.

Sure, it’s possible that Porzingis would increase his win shares as his career went on. But with his rookie contract winding down, having to resign him by matching an offer sheet or by resigning him outright would have been a gamble given what it would have cost to bring him back. Instead, the Knicks can look to use the cap space at their disposal to sign a player who may be more worth that money according to advanced metrics.

And the Knicks will have plenty of money to spend after making this trade, which is why it may just be a good move for the team after all is said and done. By bringing in Jordan and Matthews, the Knicks should have the cap space to bring in two max salary players in the 2019-2020 season. That free agent season just happens to be one where players like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant could be available for the Knicks to snatch up. Needless to say, that would be a better route than keeping Porzingis around.

And with the Knicks set to pick at or near the top of the 2019 NBA Draft, two max players would be joined by a rookie that could make an instant impact. With the worst record in the league through 50 games, the team would be locked into a top-three pick if they continued to play so poorly. And a top-three pick this season would be more valuable than in most years given how good the talent at the top of this year’s draft is.

Zion Williamson, Bol Bol, and RJ Barrett lead the pack of talent for the Knicks to potentially add to their roster. That would mean that the Knicks could add an elite athlete in Williamson, a highly skilled big man in Bol Bol,  or a talented shooting guard prospect in RJ Barrett who all have the potential to develop into all-star caliber players. And then we can’t forget that the Knicks added the talented and super athletic Dennis Smith Jr. to this season’s roster to make up for the recent selection of Frank Ntilikina at the same position.

With the potential to add two max players and get a top-three player in the draft, the trade for Kristaps Porzingis is much better than Knicks fans initially thought. Whether or not the Knicks can capitalize on it is another story.

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