Willy Hernangomez. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Knicks have been the butt of many jokes in recent years, and for good reasons. But perhaps now is the time to rethink the guffaws, because it appears they’re back to being relevant again – at least in the eyes of their franchise player, Carmelo Anthony.

The turnaround may have been the night of the 2015 NBA Draft, when the Knicks supposedly reached on a young Latvian who nobody heard of with the No. 4 pick – the same selection that brought down a cascade of boos and actual tears of pain from young fans. Since then, Kristaps Porzingis has made the faithful eat their words and his stellar performances have dried up many eyes. But that wasn’t the only move that night. Team president Phil Jackson also traded for the rights of Jerian Grant and Willy Hernangomez. The former was then parlayed into Derrick Rose, this past June in a trade, while the latter has caught the eye of even the most jaded Knicks’ fans – and one particular franchise player.

“I like the Big Baby,” Anthony said of Hernangomez, eliciting high praise for the rookie. “He’s a guy who can score, he can pass, he can play D. He can do it all. I try to not make comparisons, but I see a lot of Marc Gasol in him.”

Perhaps those are lofty, if not unreasonable, praise for a guy who is still very raw and learning the ropes. But the point is that hopes are finally high again in the Garden – and Jackson, at least for now, can take a bow.


Hernangomez could quite well be the eventual steal, as his recent performances in the preseason have given glimmers of hope that Jackson has begun to build an actual Eastern Conference contender, should everything fall the Knicks’ way. The 22-year old neophyte has been playing with men for years in the one of the best non-NBA leagues, Spain’s Liga ACB – the same league that berthed Porzingis. And during Olympic international play, this summer, Anthony would sometimes heap unsolicited praise upon the 6-foot-11 Spaniard.

Hernangomez’s most recent testament was his Oct. 15 performance at the Garden against the Boston Celtics when he tallied 12 points and 12 rebounds (including five on the offensive end) in just 24 minutes. His energy and ability to score may have thrust him into the rotation as a backup center/power forward, along with guys like Kyle O’Quinn and Marshall Plumlee. Neither are too formidable to make new head coach Jeff Hornacek to not consider the Spaniard as a viable option.

And in fact, it’s Hornacek who has joined Anthony in noting that the future is so bright that he may have to find ways to get Hernangomez on the floor in actual regular season action.

“We’ve got to find him some minutes. He deserves it,” Hornacek said, adding he’s impressed with the rookie’s mettle and toughness. “He’s not fearful. He jumps right in there. He’s not in awe of playing with Joakim [Noah], Derrick Rose, [and] Carmelo Anthony. He just plays.”

Hernangomez isn’t the only young player that Jackson has snatched up who’s having a good preseason. Backup forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas has performed well in both practices and preseason games. His most recent tally was an 18-point, 10 rebound effort in just 19 minutes in the same game that Hernangomez shined.

The immediate future could actually be bright for the Knicks, and it won’t just be contingent on stars like Anthony, Porzingis, Rose, and Noah. They just may even be able to count on guys like the aforementioned rookies – the same players who many fans asked “who?” upon their arrivals. And should those youngsters continue to ascend – and guys stay healthy – the Knicks may actually get the last laugh on those who scoffed at and chided Jackson for his unconventional ways.

Knicks notes:

-Chasson Randle (left orbital fracture) does not need surgery, according to the team. He’ll likely be able to resume activities in about a month.

-Hornacek also noted that the point guard’s injury won’t be a factor in whether he makes the team or not, adding his play is speaking for himself.

-Should the Knicks waive Randle, the team would still have to pay his partially-guaranteed contract until he’s cleared to play.

-Porzingis (groin) was limited in Monday’s practice.

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