With a 107-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, the New York Knicks are back at .500 and are beginning to find themselves, in large part to the team's second unit.
Heac coach Jeff Hornacek seems to have his finger on the pulse of this team and understands what works, what doesn't and which players complement each other nicely. That's more than the Knicks can say about the previous two head coaches.
Hornacek has given more playing time to a lineup featuring starter Kristaps Porzingis alongside reserves Brandon Jennings, Justin Holiday, Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas, a group that fits well together. While Porzingis may benefit from playing alongside a bonafide star in Carmelo Anthony, he is able to take advantage of the matchups on the court and stand out further playing with the Knicks' role players.
Jennings knows where to find him on the court, which allows the 21-year-old Porzingis, who scored a game-high 31 points, to become the Knicks' clear go-to guy. Holiday and Kuzminskas are strong threats from beyond the arc that an opposing defense must account for. They put the pressure on, which spreads the floor and gives Porzingis room to do his thing. Hernangomez's physical nature and tenacity on the boards allows Porzingis to free himself up around the perimeter, instead of having to man the middle down low. They all complement Porzingis so well, but are certainly confident in their own offensive strengths once their numbers are called instead.
Needing a boost against Portland, Jennings put forth a really strong effort, dishing out 11 assists and playing with a pesky and animated demeanor that seemed to frustrate the Blazers to no end. He can certainly get in the head of his opponents. Holiday, Kuzminskas, and Hernangomez collectively shot 11-of-15 from the field.
Porzingis was the only starter with a positive plus/minus, and playing with these fine complements was a big reason why. Kuzminskas boasted a game high plus-12, and Jennings, Hernangomez and Holiday were all right there closely behind him. The effort New York put forth in the second quarter, outscoring Portland 32-25, was the key to their eventual victory.
Seeing this group thrive together is so refreshing, especially considering the bench was set to be one of the Knicks' biggest challenges in terms of production. Jennings' unselfishness, paired with some strong shooting prowess from all different directions, keeps opposing defenses on its toes. New York is looking to find its identity, but it's clear it has discovered part of who it can be with this hungry group providing the energy boost. Seeing them work together so well may give Hornacek the clarity to fill out the rest of his rotation around their success.