Future Focus, Part IV: Optimism for Everyone Else

With only 14 games left, we can enjoy (or tolerate) this final stretch focused on what was supposed to be our top priority all year long: YOUTH.

The 61 days between now and May 14th will feel like years. Losses will be ugly and abundant. Guys we’re counting on to be cornerstones for the future will look horrible at times. But that’s to be expected.  With only three guys 25 or older, this stretch is about seeing what we have and projecting what they may become.

Part I of this series focused on Frank Ntilikina.
Part II focused on Mitchell Robinson.
Part III focused on Dennis Smith, Jr.
Part IV touches upon EVERYONE ELSE – Knox, Dotson, Trier, and more…


KEVIN KNOX: 12.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1 assist, 36.2% FG, 33.8% 3

What should we make of him?  Will he ever be more than a role player?

If you asked me in November, I would’ve cried.  If you asked me in December, I would’ve offered a resounding YES. But you’re asking me now, so my answer is I have no idea.  

A good stat: Knox is one of only 143 rookies since 1979 (out of well over 2,000 draftees) to average at least 12 points and 4 rebounds per game.

Out of those 143, only 12 were teenagers. The rest of that 12 1 features guys like LeBron, KD, AD, ‘Melo, and some of the best young players in today’s game (Tatum, Doncic, etc.).

A not-so-good stat: Of those 143 rookies, Knox is far and away the least efficient. He’s 33 percentage points worse than the 142nd-ranked player (Donyell Marshall).

The numbers I understand – basic stats – have fallen off a cliff, and the numbers I don’t understand rate him among the worst players in the League. Needless to say, it’s been a rough year for the #9 overall pick.

Yet when trying to project his and his teammates’ futures, context matters. For example: the Knicks don’t care about wins and have maybe three adequate-or-better defenders on the entire roster, so of course Knox’s defensive stats are going to be atrocious. Hell, Lance Thomas gets run solely because of defense, and his Defensive Rating is only a point better.

The other thing is that Kevin Knox, in case you haven’t heard, is 19. Kevin Knox is the 3rd-youngest player in the NBA. Kevin Knox is going to get better at everything.

So…prediction?

I have no idea. The whole point of this series is, we don’t know what anyone WILL be.

But he CAN be much, much better. With smooth form on his jumper, an underrated ability to get by his man, and an already lethal signature shot (floater), why can’t he become the sort of offensive weapon that contributes to real winning? Why not a 3rd or 4th scorer on a contender?

He has A LOT of work ahead of him, on his body first and foremost. Added strength will lead to greater efficiency as well as improved defense. He also needs to spend time in the film room to develop his court awareness, particularly in regards to recognizing open teammates. He should average 2-3 assists per game by accident.

And when he gets better – when he gets stronger and the game slows down and the situation around him becomes more competent – he will look like a different player, one that can become an All-Star. You roll your eyes, but Giannis struggled as a rookie, too. Jimmy Butler averaged 2.6 PPG on 18% from 3…and he was 23 years old.

If you’re already certain Knox is a disappointment, and you’re basing that conclusion off of a rookie year in which he was thrown into the fire as a top scoring option for the youngest and worst team in the NBA, then you’re missing the point and I can’t help you. 

When the Knicks return to glory and are sending three guys to the All-Star Game, Knox can absolutely be one of those three…2

…if he’s still on the team, that is. Rumor has it we give up on young guys who don’t thrive right away.  

ALLONZO TRIER: 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 45% FG, 40.5% 3

He’s been great…shouldn’t he be starting?

From Day 1, he fit the mold of instant offense off the bench, that conscience-less attacking mentality that you want in the ideal sixth man. In fact, in the 36-year history of the 6MOY Award, only four were NOT “score-first” players3.”  

Trier looks like the other 32. He’s proven himself to be capable at all three levels, and when featured in a second unit, at times he seems unstoppable.

So despite improvements as a passer – the rapport he’s developed with Mitch has been beautiful – and as a defender, I’d like to see him perfect the 6th man role. Could he start? Certainly. But Fiz has said from the jump that he wants Zo to be himself; the best place for that is as the man off the bench. Besides: as the Knicks overhaul this roster, our studs – whoever they may be – will be best complemented by players who can score but dont need to.

Then when they rest, throw Iso Zo out there and turn him loose.

DAMYEAN DOTSON:  10.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 42% FG, 38.3% 3

What happens when his contract is up next summer?

Prior to the trade deadline, I wrote a piece suggesting the Knicks should move him. Nothing against Dot; I simply viewed him as the asset other teams would value most – a big 3-and-D wing with the physical gifts to switch and hold his own. I thought they could get at least a solid 2nd rounder and with only one year left, I figured why not.

Well, he survived the deadline, and unless a big deal goes down over the summer, he’ll be back for that final year. And then it’s time to make a decision. If Summer 2019 goes well, the Knicks will have spent A LOT of money, and if Dotson continues to build on his improved play, he will command A LOT more than his $1.6M salary.

Most good teams have a guy like this (or are looking for one to complete them…hence my trade proposal). The compliment I hear most often is that he could be our Danny Green. The numbers suggest it’s possible. Maybe even likely. Only time will tell if Dot can become that efficient, but Green also had the benefit of playing with the Spurs. Plug Dot in next to talent, and let’s see what happens.

If we hit the motherload in free agency, I’d take advantage of his Bird Rights and pay him. Every good team needs a guy like this.

(Or he could just become Jimmy Butler without the drama and we could play Knicks Vs. Everyone during All-Star Weekend)

I know, I know – they can’t ALL become stars. Frank can’t become a taller, leaner Kyle Lowry while Mitch becomes a better DJ while Knox becomes Tobias Harris 2.0 while Trier becomes a bigger Lou Williams while Dot becomes Jimmy Butler…listen, I get it. But I resolved to be more positive in 2019, so back the f*** off.

Now, where was I?

THE REST

Are they really going to consider bringing Mudiay back?

Yes, and it’s worth the consideration. Depending on what happens with other free agents. Depending how much other backup PGs will cost vs. how much Mudiay will cost. Depending how he performs these final 14 games.

Here’s the entire list of players in the modern era who have averaged at least 12.5 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds per game as rookies:

Mark Jackson, Tim Hardaway, Damon Stoudamire, Allen Iverson, Jason Williams, Steve Francis, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Michael Carter-Williams, Dennis Smith Jr., Trae Young…and Emmanuel Mudiay.

He’s had an up-and-down year. He’s been horrible since returning from injury. He’s on pace to post the worst Assists per 36 of his career. But he’s made strides as a shooter – his TS% is .532, up from a previous best of .483 – and Fiz seems to love him. Having a coach that loves and believes in you gives you the best chance to reach your full potential. If Fiz is committed to developing him and sees potential to be significantly better than…this, then it’s at least worth the discussion as a Plan B or C.

Any chance Vonleh is back?

Doubtful. Unless we offer our exception (which I’d bet we have earmarked for a vet), we won’t be able to afford him. Which is why we should’ve moved him at the deadline.

Others worth keeping?

John Jenkins and Henry Ellenson both signed non-guaranteed deals that take them into next year. Jenkins has underwhelmed me, but Ellenson is intriguing. He’s listed at 6-11, 245, and in the 9 games he’s played this year, he’s averaged 13.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per 36 on 43.5% shooting from three. Tiny sample size, yes, but when you watch him play you can see the gifts.

These non-guaranteed contracts may be intended for use in summertime trades, but if Ellenson makes it to camp, I’d like to see him back as our 2020 Vonleh.  

I’d also like to see Kadeem Allen back and on the main roster full-time.  

Who wouldn’t want a Patrick Beverley-type coming off the bench? Kadeem really impressed in his time with the big squad, and his toughness and maturity would be a welcome addition to the roster.

Finally, you have to bring back Kornet. He lacks footspeed and struggles on D sometimes because of it, but overall he’s had a good year. Any inconsistencies in play can be traced directly to inconsistent playing time. In 13 games playing 20+ minutes, he’s averaged 12.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks on 42% from 3. That’s enough to warrant at least one more season. Brook Lopez, anyone?4


I, like you, am desperately looking forward to May and June. I’m tired of watching brick after brick, turnover after turnover, loss after gut-wrenching loss. But we’re almost there. Try to turn off that competitive part of your fandom, turn up your patience and understanding, and focus solely on what the future may hold and how these guys might fit into it. It’ll make these last 14 a lot more interesting and a lot less painful.

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