Offseason Outlook: New York Knicks
We’ve heard the rumors all season long. Pundits from across the league have essential said the deals are all but signed for KD and Kyrie to be heading to MSG come October 2019. After unloading KP, THJ, Lee, and Burke for picks, DSJ, and a seemingly infinite amount of cap space, the Knicks are primed to make one of the largest free agency splashes the league has ever seen. After Tuesday nights lottery, we now know that Zion will not be in the Knicks future(at least till his first free agency?), but they are still in prime position to acquire an extremely promising young talent slotted at number 3 in this year’s draft.
For all the losses that Knick fans endured this season, there were still some bright spots on this roster that give hope to a better tomorrow. For one, Mitchell Robinson played like a bonafide top 10 level player in a loaded 2018 class. Getting him in the second round was probably the biggest steal of this draft. Allonzo Trier didn’t play like an undrafted rookie at all, dazzling crowds with crafty moves and just getting buckets. Maybe he gets tunnel vision too often, but he showed a hell of a lot more than what an undrafted rookie usually does and he earned his guaranteed contract. Kevin Knox on the other hand was a bit of a disappointment. By some statistical measurements, he had the worst season of any player in the entire league. Still, he was one of the youngest players in the class and has plenty of skills that could end up translating into him turning into an extremely useful player. I could break the team down further but this isn’t really what this post is meant for so I will just list the players still under contract with the team.
PG: Dennis Smith Jr. / Frank Ntilikina
SG: Damyean Dotson(Non-Guaranteed) / Allonzo Trier(Team Option)
SF: Kevin Knox / Lance Thomas(Non-Guaranteed)
PF: Henry Ellenson(Non-Guaranteed)
C: Mitchell Robinson
NBA Draft 2019:
Barring something totally unexpected, dropping to 3 in the draft seems to have taken the Knicks out of the running for Anthony Davis. This somewhat simplifies what the Knicks do here. In my most recent mock, I have them selecting RJ Barrett in this spot and I will stick to that for this exercise.
RJ has almost become underrated at this point. With all of the Zion hype, people seem to have forgotten just how good this guy really is. RJ has highly productive, two-way potential as a 2 or 3 in today’s NBA. While displaying tunnel vision during the first half of Duke’s season, RJ displayed playmaking ability after an injury to Tre Jones where he went on a stretch of games where he was garnering 7-10 assists per night. Although he did not impress anyone with his shooting, RJ is already a professional bucket-getter and will have an opportunity to develop his shot to really take his game to the next level.
The Knicks also have the 55th selection of this draft courtesy of the Houston Rockets, but players rarely ever pan out this deep into a class. Just for fun, we’ll say this player ends up being Charles Bassey out of Mitchell Robinson’s alma mater(for about a week) Western Kentucky. Bassey is an athletic big who displays some upside as a shot blocker and rim runner, but did not impress many with his overall skill. Still he looks to have some upside as a rotational big at the next level. He most likely won’t end up being a life-changer for any franchise, but could still find himself carving out a role off the bench eventually.
Knick fans have been waiting all season for this day to finally come. Starting the year, they already knew this season was going to be brutal and it certainly lived up to all expectations and maybe even surpassed some. All the while, they held onto a glimmer of hope that KD or Kyrie may decide to leave their competitive teams to come to a franchise that has been an absolute trainwreck for the better part of 2 decades.
In February, we all found ourselves on Twitter as Woj tweeted that Kristaps Porzingis had met with the Knicks brass and the feeling in the room was that he wanted out. No less than 20 minutes later, we all got that dreaded alert that the Knicks had already shipped him out to Dallas. In the moment, most Knicks fans were furious. We traded away the best player we drafted since Patrick Ewing for a guy we passed on for Frank?!?!? Classic Knicks!! After coming to terms with the loss, recognizing that they had acquired fairly valuable assets, and most importantly, the projected 74 million in cap space that they would have in the upcoming summer, Knicks fans seemed to become more and more optimistic that this trade would help turn the franchise into a legit contender.
Now here we are in July, just 5 months after that fateful day. Just about every Knicks fan has been praying for it, the pundits tell us it’s a done deal, and Vegas believes in it so I’ll go for it: KD and Kyrie sign on to play for the New York Knicks!!!
Assuming Lance Thomas and Henry Ellenson are not retained(very likely) the Knicks still have some room to add a few interesting players to supplement Kyrie and KD’s talents. I’ll list a few at each position that I can see them going after.
PG: Rajon Rondo, Cory Joseph, Ish Smith, TJ McConnell Longshot: Ricky Rubio
SG: Rodney Hood, Justin Holliday, Terrence Ross Longshot: Tyreke Evans
SF: Jeff Green, Danuel House, Trevor Ariza Longshot: Harrison Barnes
PF: Ed Davis, Mike Scott, Noah Vonleh Longshot: Marcus Morris
C: Kyle O’Quinn, Thomas Bryant, Aron Baynes Longshot: DeAndre Jordan
The ideal scenario here would be for them to pick up one guy in the “longshot” category and pick up a few guys on the left side to fill in the rest of the roster. I’d say DJ or Morris are the most likely longshots with DJ having a previous relationship with KD and Morris having a previous relationship with Kyrie(not sure how good though considering the Celtics season).
What do we do with all of these young guys??
I’ll start this with a new roster breakdown with KD and Kyrie added.
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Damyean Dotson
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Mitchell Robinson
Bench: RJ Barrett, Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier, Kyle O’Quinn, Cory Joseph, Justin Holliday, Charles Bassey
I guess it’s sort of a hot take to have Dotson in the starting lineup over RJ, but I want to make it clear that it’s about fit rather than talent. Dotson adds a level of shooting that RJ completely lacks, and with KD and Kyrie on the court, the Knicks don’t need an inexperienced ball-dominant player who can’t spot up yet out there with them. I think RJ can also be very effective right out of the gate leading a second unit. With limited guard talent, RJ would get plenty of run as well in this role. Having two of KD, Kyrie, and RJ on the floor at any given time seems to be the most ideal way they can use this roster.
I decided that Morris would be the guy the Knicks end up nabbing with the rest of their cap space as he is the best fit of the bunch for this particular roster. The other guys(O’Quinn, Joseph, and Holliday) aren’t terrific players, but I think they all add something to this roster that would be lacking otherwise.
Now onto the young guys. It is becoming increasingly obvious that something needs to be done to this young bench group to make a real contender out of this. Packaging up one or multiple assets could be the key to reaching that next level. I can see the team pulling the trigger mid-summer on a deal if something really interesting comes along, but it seems more likely that it would be something during the course of the season so that the front office can get a look to see what the roster is lacking. Just on paper, it’s likely that problem is going to be spot up shooting as Dotson and possibly Knox (if he really improves) are going to be the only guys that bring that to the table. Ideally, they could package a few things together and go after a guy like TJ Warren, who is just 25 and under contract for a few years at a reasonable price. Warren is a long, versatile defender who can shoot the hell out of the ball. They will run into issues with bench depth in terms of big men as well with this construction(possibly my doing as it was a very rough guess of who they can sign). Sending off a 2nd rounder and a lower-level asset like Allonzo Trier could fix that up as well. Let’s take a look at what that roster could look like:
Knicks get: TJ Warren
Suns get: DSJ, Kevin Knox, 2023 Dallas first (top 10 protected)
Knicks get: Patrick Patterson, 2nd Round Pick
Thunder get: Allonzo Trier
PG: Kyrie Irving / Frank Ntilikina / Cory Joseph
SG: TJ Warren / RJ Barrett / Damyean Dotson
SF: Kevin Durant / Damyean Dotson / Justin Holliday
PF: Marcus Morris / Patrick Patterson
C: Mitchell Robinson / Kyle O’Quinn
Now this roster is much more well-rounded with shooting and defensive versatility at the forefront. This roster would have a balance of youth and veteran leadership to go along with two bonafide superstars. Still, it could use some more bench depth in terms of bigs as Mitch is still young and gets into foul trouble, and KOQ may not be viable in the playoffs. There might be too much youth in the backcourt off the bench as well, which will become an issue down the stretch of the season, but Frank and RJ could be a very solid pairing if Frank can improve his shooting percentages with RJ taking a lot of the defense’s attention.
I’m not sure if there has ever been a team that has rebuilt from the worst record in the league into a contender the way that the Knicks are hoping to this offseason. That being said, if they manage to pull off some of the moves I have laid out here, this could end up being one hell of a year at MSG.