In back-to-back victories against Atlanta and Portland, the Knicks' center-by-committee worked out quite well.
Kristaps Porzingis asserted himself more confidently with extra minutes at the five, Kyle O'Quinn filled in nicely with a steady rebounding presence, and Willy Hernangomez flashed plenty of potential as he held his ground against veteran big men Dwight Howard and Mason Plumlee.
Following this very short string of success, there's already concern regarding how Joakim Noah will fit in moving forward. Such questions are premature.
There's a lot of pressure on Noah to live up to the steep expectations a four year contract worth $72 million tends to demand. If he fails to live up to them, however, he should not be blamed for the contract he ended up signing.
Phil Jackson obviously saw value in what Noah can bring to the table. He stabilizes the defense, provides a necessary leadership presence, and is a very skilled passer for a big man. Of course, he has to be on the court in order to contribute. This fall, he has dealt with ankle and hamstring issues, missed time to celebrate the birth of his child, and has most recently battled the flu. Still, it's too early to deem him a poor fit for this roster.
Despite his ability to thrive with the Knicks' reserves, Porzingis is aided by Noah's physical presence down low. It makes things easier for him on the offensive end. O'Quinn is a serviceable role player, but nothing more. He's been known to be inconsistent defensively and make questionable decisions on offense.
As far as Hernangomez is concerned, he's clearly still learning. His basketball IQ isn't at a high enough level where he can lead, command, and set the tone as a defensive anchor like Noah can.
Noah has had obstacles thrown his way already this season, and he's also coming off a 29-game campaign last season. Getting him to 100 percent and seeing how he performs will take some time. Phil Jackson may have signed him to that contract, but it's now head coach Jeff Hornacek's challenge to get the most out of him. It's refreshing to see the Knicks have enough depth to raise questions about Noah's impact. They aren't dependent on him right now, but that also affords them flexibility.
Noah's impact on this roster should be judged on a game by game basis and not be tied to his contract much. If he plays well, his value will go up. New York needs to give him the chance to prove that he can play at a high enough level. Even if Hernangomez progresses rather quickly, Noah's contract will be less daunting to move following a season or two.
But that's neither here nor there. There's plenty of time for Noah to find his way again. In the meantime, though, there are things the Knicks can encourage him to do.
Noah's rebounding has been strong, especially on the offensive end. As a way of looking for his own offense, Noah needs to to follow through and dunk the ball back in. There's a time and place to be selfish, and capitalizing on high percentage looks underneath the basket would appear to be it.
On the flip side, New York can utilize Noah's vision in many ways. When he grabs defensive boards, his teammates need to know that if they start sprinting down the court, he will find them on the other end for easy buckets. The Knicks can also develop more of an inside/outside game with him. Noah has quick enough hands and instincts to take the pass inside and dish it back out across the perimeter. Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings have been somewhat inconsistent in their efforts running the floor, so Noah's added foresight would certainly be an asset.
Defensively, Noah has done well enough. Those are the keys to finding success on the offensive end. He needs to put it all together, but there's time for him to do so. In the meantime, the Knicks can be patient and those observing shouldn't deem Noah incapable of living up to his contract just yet.