The final grade in evaluating the Knicks rebuild so far

Mike DeStefano wraps up his four-part series on the main components that can help us evaluate how the Knicks are progressing in a season that won’t be evaluated in wins and losses. Read Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here. Read Part IV here. And now the final grades.

FINAL GRADES

Establishing Identity & Changing the CultureA-

Leadership in UniformC

Leadership in Suits (F.O and Staff)B+

Development of Individual TalentB

OVERALLB

You may disagree. You may see one component as more/less important than the others, but for an A, you have to do everything right. And we can all at least agree on this – there have been some growing pains, and there are going to be a lot more. Not every rebuild can be of the Stevens/Ainge miraculous variety, unless someone out there wants to be our Billy King. No takers? Okay, then let’s look at some of the obstacles the Knicks have faced, and let’s compare where the organization is with the NBA’s current gold standard for dominance (shout to @DaveEarly for the inspiration):

  1. This is the first year together for the Mills / Perry / Fizdale triumvirate. Bob Myers and Mark Jackson came in together in 2011 and endured a 23-43 season.  
      
  2. The Knicks are without their centerpiece. He hasn’t played since last February. The Warriors’ centerpiece, Steph Curry, only played in 26 of 66 games during that rebuild year.  

  3. In the Knicks’ current 10-man rotation (11 if you include when Burke returns; Lee / Lance not included), only 4 were on the team at the start of last season. They’re all learning a new system, and they’re all trying to develop a basic chemistry with new teammates. Much like those 2011-12 Warriors, who only had 6 holdovers from the ever-so-brief Keith Smart era.    

I don’t remember what the outlook was for theWarriors by June 2012. Klay Thompson was a bright spot as a rookie, but Curry was banged up and regressing, and the roster was a mess. Impatient fans saw new leadership and the same old results. 

Then they drafted Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Festus Ezeli, and they remained patient with their point guard of the future (who many at the time were unsure of), and the following season they won 47 games. Then 51. Then 67 and a title, and the rest is history.  Their build that started off with issues – like ours – ended with an A+++++++.

Knicks’ fans just want the A.  We can add pluses later. How can we just get to an A?  

Scott and Steve, keep working those phones.

Guys won’t be back, so get something for them while you can. In March 2012 (lockout season), the Warriors shipped Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame Brown to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson; Jax was then sent to the Spurs for TJ Ford (waived), Richard Jefferson, and the first-round pick that became Ezeli.  The Bogut/Ezeli tandem averaged 32 MPG at center during the 2015 playoffs en route to a title.

THJ, flaws and all, has value. Courtney Lee, when 100%, has 3-and-D value. For backup PG help, depending on your needs (scoring vs. well-rounded), look no further than Emmanuel Mudiay or Trey Burke. Plenty of teams could use a guy like Dotson (strong on both ends, affordable, under contract next year), and they should consider it if the price is right.

Making a deal or two is important to bring back assets, yes, but also to solve the problem below.

FIGURE OUT A ROTATION!

The loss to Cleveland was interesting as far as the rotation is concerned. On the plus, 33 minutes for Knox and 24 for Frank; the minus: 43 (!) for Tim, and 33 for Kanter. Here’s what I’d love to see the rest of the way.   

Player MPG Player MPG
Hardaway Jr. 30 Mudiay 24
Ntilikina 26 Robinson 20
Knox 24 Trier 20
Vonleh 24 Hezonja 12
Dotson 24 Lee 12
Kanter 24 Burke* 0

The thought process here is:

Bring Tim’s minutes down. He should be capped at 34 – never 43! – and some games should be more like 26-28.  

Give Lee a quarter’s worth of run until he’s traded. Run him with the young guys – Ntilikina, Knox, Robinson -to provide leadership and defensive communication.  

Commit to the future – Ntilikina, Knox, Dotson – for at least half the game EVERY game. No exceptions. Ideally, Robinson would be up there, too, butI’m assuming his foul trouble will keep that average down.  

Bring Trier’s minutes down a touch. He’s got his new contract; now they have to figure out his role. Which shouldn’t take much figuring out, since it’s obvious he isNOT a point guard. Use him a little bit less while trying to develop that part of his game, and when he’s on the court (since we want him to be who he is), turn him loose. Twenty minutes of full-speed aggression. Play him next to Mudiay and THJ, and when shots aren’t falling, give him the ball and get out of the way.  

In a perfect world, Hezonja would be closer to 0 (or California), but if you’re going to play him, give him two six-minute spurts and play him everywhere from SG to PF.    

Keep the Summer Magic Alive.

Counting Mills’ time as Jackson’s right-hand man, this front office has done a nice job acquiring talent through (and then after) the draft. There are five nice home-grown pieces on the roster, all of whom could be part of the solution. Continue to add to that stable.

Contrary to popular belief, YOU DON’T NEED #1 TO DO THIS. Would I be happy if we won the lottery come May? Duh. But I won’t cry myself to sleep if the young guys play well enough to subtract some ping-pong balls. I’ll just settle for being the Warriors East.


2009 – Stephen Curry (#7)
2010 – Ekpe Udoh (#6 – eventually traded for Bogut / Jax)

2011 – Klay Thompson (#11)

2012 – Barnes (#7), Ezeli (#30), Green (#35)

NO FIRST-ROUNDER FOR THREE YEARS

2015 – Kevon Looney (#30)


You don’t need to root for the Knicks to suck. Root for them to play well, for the young guys to show signs, for them to even win some games, and then root for them to keep doing what they’re doing: hit in the mid-to-late lottery, the 2nd round, and the undrafted pool. Keep taking chances on young, unique talents in the top 10 (KP, Frank, Knox); keep hitting on 2nd-rounders (Dot, Robinson, even Willy who fetched two future 2nds); keep the same vigilance after Pick 60 (Trier); and keep utilizing Westchester to find guys (Burke, Kornet).

It’s only been 28 games. The turnaround is in its infancy. Moves will be made, guys will get better, KP will come back, and then who knows? But everything outlined above is doable. An “A” grade is doable. And in a few years, it’ll be someone else tacking on the pluses when they write about how their team should rebuild like the Knicks.  

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