Welcome to the first installment of Hoop Dreams, a season preview unlike any other. The premise is simple: We’ll be providing 30 of these fictional forays because it simply stinks that only one team can win the title each year. The list of contending teams seems to shrink with each succeeding campaign, and we wanted to provide something to those fans who only get to dream of Larry O’Brien during the offseason. Before October, every team can win the NBA title. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading. – Ed
The Knicks will struggle in the opening month of the 2016-17 season. The specter of Derrick Rose’s civil rape trial will hover over the team for the first few weeks as they lose five of their first seven games — including key games against the Bulls (D-Wade goes off for 43 against them), Cavs and inter-city rival, Brooklyn. Then there’s the late-game argument between Carmelo Anthony and Jeff Hornacek during a particularly brutal Friday night loss late in November to the Hornets and ensuing Frank Isola column for the Daily News claiming that Phil Jackson is inquiring about which teams Melo might concede to be traded to.
But a week later, after a perfect 4-0 stretch, their confidence catapults into the stratosphere. Rose has stopped taking outside shots entirely, and is vivisecting defenses like it’s 2011 again. He’s shooting over 70 percent inside the restricted area and blistering teams with impromptu run-outs that lead to a ton of wide-open layups. Joakim Noah, after looking his age as he hobbled along the first two weeks of the season, is rounding into the form that had him finish No. 4 in MVP voting just three years prior.
Teams looking to score at the rim against New York are met by a stronger and smarter Kristaps Porzingis and a rejuvenated, sprightly Noah. The Knicks lead the NBA in defensive rating for the months of December and January. There’s a slight drop-off in February as both Melo, Rose and and KP are in New Orleans for the All-Star Game, but aside from a silly misdemeanor charge because Porzingis got too loud dancing to Lil’ Wayne in his hotel room overlooking Bourbon Street, the Knicks are right on track to go as far as they ever have in the Carmelo Anthony era.