Recently, the sports world has been lit up by the New York Knicks’ failure to secure the first overall pick in the draft and then failing to secure major free agents, most notably Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Because of these failures, sports media outlets and fans alike have deemed the Knicks to have completely failed this offseason and are doomed to wait another season before this historic franchise (although that point can be debated) can present its disheartened fans with signs of life. As you can probably tell (based on the title), I believe that a lot of these voices amongst fans and sports media outlets are spreading a lot of mistruths and hyperbole about the Knicks’ situation. I believe that Knicks fans need not to wallow in their despair any longer, because their future is much brighter than you’d think. Here is why:
Wing players win championships
Even if you’ve casually followed the NBA, you’d notice a trend happening amongst the championship-winning teams of the last 15 years. All of them have had great wing players. If you dug a bit deeper, you’d also notice that every single NBA Finals MVP award, since Dirk Nowitzki in 2011, has gone to a wing. On top of this, there have been 24 times since its inception in 1969 that this award has gone to a wing player. That is 48% of all available awards.
“But I thought that the game was dominated by bigs, then shifted to guards in the 2000s.” That is true, but only partially. The league WAS initially dominated by bigs, then a focus towards guards WAS emphasized in the 2000s; but, one thing has remained consistent: the role of the wing player in the game of basketball.
Wings operate in a very unique sphere in the game. They can be tall and skilled enough to guard and attack bigs, but they can also be quick and long enough to bully and disrupt guards. Due to this versatility, wing players have been dominant no matter what era they play in.
So how does this relate back to the Knicks? Well, the Knicks currently have a young core that consists of two wings drafted in the last two years: RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox. Although both have struggled (Kevin Knox only knocking down 37% from the field last year, and RJ Barrett currently struggling in summer league), they are both currently 19 years old. They still have a lot of time to improve. This also brings me to my next point.
Despite his summer league performance so far causing many in the media to back off their claims of RJ’s stardom, I will not back down from it. To make sure nobody misconstrues my words, I am not saying that RJ has done well in his first 2 appearances during the summer league. Unlike some sports fans, I still have some grasp in objective reality. RJ has not shot the ball well. He has been very reckless with the ball. He has struggled to not play hero-ball when on the court. But, all the problems he has shown thus far shouldn’t cause you to ignore all the things he does right. For example, he gets to the rim and is able to use his athleticism, length, and strength to put up a shot through heavy contact.
When he drives, he has also shown signs of identifying double teams and making the right passes to the right cutters. He doesn’t always do this, hence the multiple turnovers and bad shots taken, but he has shown us more than a few times during his limited professional playing career that he is capable of doing it.
Finally, RJ has shown off his ability to create space through a step back, identifying openings caused by the pick and roll, and using off-ball screens. Much like D’Angelo Russell early in his career, the ability to create space is there, it’s only a matter of time for when his skills catch up to the ability.
The Knicks core is on the same timeline moving forward
Sometimes not committing large contracts to aging stars is a good thing for a team. The Knicks are currently not in a position to utilize the benefits of a major free agent signing this year. Both Kevin Knox and RJ Barrett are 19, Frank Ntilikina is 20, Dennis Smith Jr and Mitchell Robinson are 21, and Alonzo Trier is 23 years old. A big-name FA in his prime would have no business signing with this young core, nor would the Knicks have any reason to sign a star in the middle of their prime. If this were to happen, the player in question would have wasted the remainder of his prime with a team that isn’t ready to compete. It would be a complete waste of time and money for both parties involved.
The move that makes more sense for the Knicks was to go for a player, who is, at the oldest, just entering their prime. With that in mind, there is only one player who changed teams this offseason that fit this description. All things considered, the Knicks were probably not going to be able to acquire said player without giving up some assets, thus making the move ill-advised. It just makes more sense seeing what this young core can do before giving up on them so early in their careers.
Considering all the factors surrounding the franchise, the Knicks are in a surprisingly good spot. It;s safe to say that they have started their rebuild and have a star prospect that actually wants to play for the organization. That is already an improvement upon years previous. It’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria of free agency, but sometimes you have to take a step back and realize that the team isn’t that bad off after all. At least your team isn’t aging and has four years left in a max contract for a player clearly on the way out of his prime.