Benoît Lelièvre provides insight on how Allonzo Trier is starting to evolve into an exciting young prospect.
The New York Knicks had another miserable, seemingly directionless season in 2017-18. Kristaps Porzingis went down with a torn ACL, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kyle O’Quinn were caught berating head coach Jeff Hornacek by television cameras, rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina looked unassertive, at best, and outright intimidated, at worst. It was bad.
But the season eventually ended and a strange, inexplicable wind of positivity started sweeping the streets surrounding Madison Square Garden. General manager Scott Perry fired Hornacek and replaced him with David Fizdale, a coach with championship pedigree and a track record for developing young talent who I thought would never accept this job in a million years. Then, the Knicks drafted Kentucky forward Kevin Knox and Western Kentucky’s ineligible center Mitchell Robinson in June, who have given Knicks fans a reason to smile during Summer League.
Both kids had their moments in the off-season. Knox, despite shooting woes, impressed me with his versatility and his aptitude to make winning plays even if he couldn’t buy a basket to save his life. Robinson only played two games, but showed already more than enough grit and athleticism to make it in the NBA.
But the prospect who impressed me (and everybody else) the most was undrafted guard from Arizona Allonzo Trier, who the Knicks have currently signed to a two-way contract, which allows him to play only 45 days in the NBA and the rest of the season in the G League.
Trier finished his preseason averaging 14.7 points on 47,8% shooting in only 22 minutes per game, strong off an electric 25 points performance against Brooklyn early on. In other words, he looked like a young Lou Williams. I mean, look for yourselves:
Following a somewhat satisfying preseason, should we forego Allonzo Trier’s two-way contract and free up a roster spot for him? Is he that good? And if he is, how come every GM wiffed on him, except Scott Perry? It seems suspicious, I know. But it’s complicated.
He was not supposed to be good
The Allonzo Trier we’ve seen this preseason is not the player he was in college. To be quite frank, few people in the scouting community believed Iso Zo was a budding NBA player, last season. There were many, many issues with his game. Starting with his infuriating habit of rushing plays, early in the shot clock:
His poor discipline on defense:
And his sometimes alarming basketball IQ:
Sometime he looked the part :
But Trier’s poor court vision, wavering effort and doubts over his physique (he’s thin for his size) scared scouts away. I didn’t have him on my top 60 last year and I know few scouts who had. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony had him going undrafted. So did Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman and The Stepien’s Jackson Hoy, who had him #85 on his Big Board.
Don’t get me wrong, he was always athletic and explosive. He shot for percentages which were more than respectable (50% from the floor, 38% from 3 in 2017/2018. The issue was that no one ever thought the good in his game would translate to the NBA and his incapacity/unwillingness to play a role in Sean Miller’s offense raised some serious doubt about Trier’s capacity to adapt.
His game wasn’t the only problem, though. Trier was suspended by the NCAA not once, but twice in consecutive years for PED usage over consecutive seasons. He was tested positive for Ostarine, a banned substance which he apparently ingested in a beverage his stepfather made for him. He missed a total of 21 games in three college basketball season. It’s a lot, considered he only played 78 game in all.
This is what you call in scouting lingo a major freakin’ red flag.
So, Allonzo Trier’s NBA outlook was grim before his career even started. This type of profile, while not uncommon, usually ends up playing in Beirut or Gazientep in three years or less. He was deemed a scorer and a strong shot creator, but an inefficient, possession-gobbling player, which NBA teams try to steer clear of. Especially on their second units, which are often comprised of players who excel at only one thing and who can co-exist together.
What the hell happened exactly?
Life hit Allonzo Trier in the face, that’s what.
He did not hear his name called by Adam Silver or Mark Tatum in June. He didn’t get to step on the podium and shake their hands. He was denied the ultimate dream of every young basketball player in the world. But the Knicks took a chance on him and offered Trier a two-way contract right after the draft.
It was not evident right away why:
But the Allonzo Trier that came into the preseason was a changed young man. He came in all guns blazing against Washington in the opener, showed improved handled and an odd herky jerky rhythm that put defenders on their heels. Look at him cook Devin Robinson, a towering forward with solid defensive skills, on this sequence:
He exploded for 25 points against the Nets in the following game and in the second Washington game. While he was running the show and single-handedly trimming the lead, he showed an increased willingness to pass and keep his teammates involved. He called plays, curled off screens and showed a modicum of leadership out there:
And last, but not least : a willingness (and a knack) to defend:
What can explain such a turnaround? Has Allonzo Trier transformed or has he just gotten hot at at a fortunate time? It’s too early to say, but we can already determine four things:
1) He worked his butt off since draft night. He developed a Tony Parker-like craftiness that he didn’t have (or at least didn’t show) in college that allow him to efficiently finish over NBA defenders. He’s still very much an isolation player at heart, like his nickname hints to. But he’s not inefficient. He’s almost converting at 50% and showed an increased capacity to find teammates who can. That alludes to work ethic.
2) Obviously, we’ve all underestimated Trier’s athleticism. It happened with James Harden back in the days too. Both are not overly explosive, but they’re quicker and more agile than their counterparts. I’m not saying Trier is the next James Harden here, but you get the gist.
3) Such a drastic change in on-court mentality and style of play also alludes to character and resilience. The kid is pissed off and he wants to prove people wrong. However it came out at first, David Fizdale found a way to channel it into something that works. College kids are not used to adversity, because they’ve dominated on every level. But Trier passed a tough test of character with flying colors, this summer.
4) Trier has a clear role in Fizdale’s offense. He’s the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford second unit microwave scorer. He understands what he needs to do and often plays within himself. In Arizona, he was part of Sean Miller’s messy, FBI-investigated program and… well, it could’ve played with his head. He was one of the spearheads of that program. A lot was asked of him and most of the time, he didn’t seem to know what to do.
The Knicks will use Allonzo Trier’s 45 days of NBA eligibility before deciding whether or not they want to offer him an NBA contract. It’s fair. Trier could cool down and expose flaws that would require time in the G League. But I believe, unlike other players currently on the roster, that he has the right tools to develop and thrive into a valuable NBA player under David Fizdale. I wouldn’t be surprised if we waive a player to make space for him in December and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns to to be the right call.