Knickstape Vol. 18: Looking Ahead for the New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are coming off a 31-51 season, leaving them with a 12th place finish in a weak Eastern conference. Another failed season of the Phil Jackson era. An era that continues to draw more attention for its off-court circus than its on-court production.
Gone now is Phil Jackson. His replacement Scott Perry is left with the tall task of rebuilding the Knickerbockers franchise and their New York brand. Perry needs to revitalize Madison Square Garden as an attractive free agent destination once again; a place NBA stars might consider when looking for a new locale.
Phil Jackson’s three years were not a complete failure, despite the rumblings of basketball fans and media. Jackson may have signed Joakim Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract last offseason. Arguably the worst contract in the NBA, although Memphis’s Chandler Parsons deal may be more damning for their franchise. Jackson then traded for Derrick Rose who lasted only one season in New York with injuries prohibiting a return to his former self. Rose was not a willing enough passer to fit with the ball-dominant Carmelo Anthony and emerging star Kristaps Porzingis. His style of play essentially interfered with the best Knicks instead of enabling them. The Knicks decided to let Rose walk into a one year veteran minimum deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. However horrible these moves for ex-Bulls players may have been, the Knicks are still not faced with a complete disaster.
The Knicks have always been a franchise decimated by a lack of draft picks since early management moved their picks in awful deals. Jackson emphasized the draft and was able to pick up a Bulls 2017 2nd rounder in the Rose trade. That pick turned into 23-year-old shooting guard Damyean Dotson from the University of Houston; a 3-and-D wing who, at 6’7” with a 44% clip from long-range last season, has the size and shooting ability to develop into a significant NBA role.
This offseason saw the Knicks lose five players to free agency: Derrick Rose (Cavaliers), Justin Holiday (Bulls), Marshall Plumlee (Clippers), Sasha Vujačić (Italy), and Maurice N’Dour (free agency). New York replaced those five with Frank Ntilikina (8th overall pick), Tim Hardaway Jr., Michael Beasley, Ramon Sessions, and Damyean Dotson (44th overall pick). When you compare the incoming players to the departing, it is clear that the Knicks are a better team heading into the 2017-2018 season. Here’s what each player can bring heading into next season:
Frank Ntilikina: The 8th overall pick will likely start the season as the backup point guard. A 19-year-old at 6’5” with a 7’0” wingspan, Ntilikina has tremendous length and size for his position. He is also further along in his development than his age would suggest. People forget, Ntilikina was the youngest player in the draft. He has a solid shooting range and is used to playing in a free-flowing offensive set. His defense will be his biggest asset in year one.
Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway Jr. was brought back from the Atlanta Hawks on a four-year, $70 million deal. For everyone saying this is another Joakim Noah contract, that is simply illogical. THJ is 25-years-old, just entering his prime and coming off of a career year where he scored 14.5 points per game on 35.7% shooting from three in 27.3 minutes of action. Having Hardaway and Courtney Lee both at the two spot ensures the Knicks will be strong at the shooting guard position for 48 minutes every night .
Michael Beasley: Beasley can still score the basketball and will be the Knicks go-to offensive option off the bench if Hardaway moves to the starting lineup. Beasley will move right in as the backup four as an immediate offensive threat. Beasley will allow the Knicks to go small and play Porzingis at the five more often. He is coming off of a season in which he averaged 9.4 points per game on 53.3% shooting from the field and 41.9% from three. That type of production will go a long way for the Knicks bench.
Ramon Sessions: Sessions is a veteran point who will be tasked with mentoring Ntlikina and Ron Baker. Sessions will not see many minutes, but will likely open the season as the starter. Sessions knows his role and will be able to get the ball to Anthony and Porzingis.
Damyean Dotson: As aforementioned, Damyean is a project with the size and shooting touch to carve himself a strong role as a wing in today’s NBA.
These five players will be more valuable to the current Knicks roster than the five they lost. The addition of these five guys should improve upon last season’s 31 wins. Add the continued development of Porzingis (all-star potential this season?), Willy Henrangomez (starting center.. double-double guy in year two?), Ron Baker (shooting percentages need to improve, but was the best defending guard last year), and the Knicks already have a solid young core in place.
Carmelo Anthony has still yet to be moved and it’s looking like he’ll be a Knick next season. Courtney Lee should be a lot better in a sixth-man role. He’ll be able to provide solid floor spacing and defense to the second unit. Kyle O’Quinn showed growth last year and is a solid option as the first big off the bench.
This all leads to the Knicks current depth chart being:
PG: Ramon Sessions
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr.
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Kristaps Porzingis
C: Willy Hernangomez
PG: Frank Ntlikina
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Lance Thomas
PF: Michael Beasley
C: Kyle O’Quinn
PG: Ron Baker
SG: Damyean Dotson
SF: Mindaguas Kuzminskas
PF: Nigel Hayes (two-way contract)
C: Joakim Noah
Looking at the roster, is it really that far-fetched to believe the Knicks may become a sleeper playoff team? It’s certainly not a bad roster and is much improved from a year ago, especially considering that the Eastern conference became significantly weaker this off-season.
The Cavs, Celtics, Wizards, Raptors, and Bucks seem to be locks for the playoffs. The Heat are on the way as well. The Pacers, Hawks, Bulls, and Nets are virtually eliminated prior to the season starting. That leaves the Knicks, 76ers, Pistons, Magic, and Hornets battling it for the final two spots. It’s not hard to imagine the Knicks being in the playoffs if everything goes correctly this season.
Jeff Hornacek has a lot on the line in year two as head coach, but the Knicks are in a better position for success this season. It’s a fair expectation to believe the team may battle for playoff position. Time will tell, but count me among those who believe the Knicks had a good offseason.