The New Look Knicks are Taking a Step in the Right Direction
With the NBA Draft in the rearview and the free agency just underway, Knick fans finally have cause for excitement. The orange and blue were noticeably absent from the NBA's bubble in Orlando, but much has changed since early May. The team now finds themselves rebuilding once again, this time under the guidance of the new Team President Leon Rose and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. The team has two scheduled first-round picks in 2021 to go along with sizable cap space and an array of cap-friendly contracts. For the first time in a very long time, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Knicks faithful. Let's examine how the team fared in the draft and explore how this free agency period may lay the groundwork for a basketball renaissance in the Big Apple.
The draft has come and gone, and while Santa didn't bring the big names Knick fans clamored for, there were some surprises underneath the Christmas tree. The Knicks selected Dayton's Obi Toppin and Kentucky's Immanuel Quickley with the 8th and 25th picks of the first round.
The 6'9" Toppin emerged as one of the nation's top players building on his steady success at Dayton, where he averaged 20.0 PPG 7.5 RPG while shooting .633 % from the field. The Brooklyn-born consensus National Player of the Year has some deficits in his game, particularly on the defensive side of things, but that should improve under the direction of Thibodeau. Toppin's effectiveness as a rim runner and perimeter shooter should add a nice wrinkle to the Knicks' otherwise stagnant perimeter offense.
Quickley's selection seemed like a head-scratcher to some, but the reigning SEC Player of the Year could prove to be a valuable addition to a team devoid of perimeter shooters. Quickley averaged 16.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.9 APG last season, but he isn't the super athletic, quick-twitch type of guard you are used to seeing come out of Kentucky.
Standing at 6'3" with a 6'8" wingspan and phenomenal straight-line speed, Quickley should prove to be a formidable on-ball defender and an immediate contributor from the perimeter, where he shot .428 from three last season. Quickley is reuniting with former Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne which should bode well for his development on and off the court in this new setting. Fan expectations aren't high for this pick, but after hearing John Calipari wax on his ball skills and ability to maneuver in space, Quickley's selection becomes easier to digest.
The Knicks have re-signed Elfrid Payton and added veterans Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and Austin Rivers to the fray this offseason while standing pat on splash free agents, namely Gordon Hayward and Fred Van Fleet. Fan speculation has seemed to cool down on a Russell Westbrook deal, and the team passed on Chris Paul, which may be disappointing for some but ultimately beneficial in the long run.
This season the Knicks will finally figure out what they have in Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr, and Frank Ntilikina. Knox and Ntilikina have been perplexing players to evaluate because of their young ages and physical development in respect to their positions; both have the length and athletic ability to be real disruptors under coach Thibodeau. Knox and Ntilikina will get every opportunity to prove they can be quality starters or rotational players in the new system.
As a whole, the organization seems intent on maintaining cap flexibility heading into free agency in 2021 and are scheduled to have two 1st and 2nd round draft picks in the 2021 NBA Draft. Reasonable fans shouldn't be expecting Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett to lead them in the playoffs, but NBA's perpetual losers finally seem to be headed in the right direction.