Kristaps Porzingis and the New York Knicks continue to catch people off-guard. Most expected them to be worse than this—much worse. Even though they’re in lockstep with their expected record roughly 15 games into the season, the notion of them hovering about .500 for this long is still disarming.
To everyone outside the locker room, that is.
The general consensus emanating from the Knicks themselves has been “We’re aiming for the playoffs” since the start of the season. And Porzingis reiterated those sentiments during a recent appearance on ESPN 98.7 FM’s The Michael Kay Show (via ClutchPoints’ Maximo Gonzales):
“I believe that we are a playoff team.”
Right here, right now, Porzingis is correct in the most literal terms. If the playoffs started today, the Knicks would hold the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed.
But early-season samples, even ones spanning more than 10 games, can be misleading. Case in point: The Knicks would have a higher postseason spot than the Cleveland Cavaliers. That ain’t lasting. New York has played one of the seven easiest schedules in the league to date, according to Basketball-Reference, and it has three players—Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Frank Ntilikina—who rank inside the top seven of crunch-tome plus-minus, per NBA.com. That ain’t lasting either.
Upcoming stretches in December will determine who the Knicks really are. If they’re still sitting at or near .500, with an offense that verges on elite and a less-than-terrible defense, as we get closer to January, then we can start talking about their playoff chances. For now, they’re little more than a beginner’s success story. And while this opening-weeks performance might allow them to keep pace with the rest of the East’s playoff peripherals, the Knicks remain far from a postseason formality. They’re still toting the burden of proof, and it’s not getting any lighter.