If you know a Knicks’ fan claiming they are happy we didn’t get Kevin Durant, it is your duty as a friend to get them help. Things did not go the way we wanted yesterday. It’s okay to be upset, to be frustrated, but let’s accelerate the mourning the way we hoped to accelerate the rebuild. Let’s stop lamenting what was or could have been and begin looking at what is and what’s on the horizon. Let’s start with a roster breakdown (with ’18-19 stats) as it stands right now.
- Dennis Smith, Jr. – 13.6 pts, 4.8 asts, 2.9 rebs, 42.8% / 32.2% / 63.5%
A polarizing player, the negativity thrown his way seems a bit premature. Pushing star point guards aside, a Year 3 leap similar to those of Jeff Teague or Eric Bledsoe could see DSJ averaging close to 20 PPG on much improved efficiency. Can he pull off this sort of improvement? Can he make strides on defense?
- Frank Ntilikina – 5.7 pts, 2.8 asts, 2 rebs, 33.7% / 28.7% / 76.7%
Speaking of make-or-break third years, it’s now or never for Frank in NY. Coach Fizdale seems to have a type, and Frank just hasn’t been it. We’ve seen all the videos of Ntilikina working on his jumpshot, and rightfully so – that’s the biggest thing right now. IF he can stick jumpers, his elite defense and willingness to pass will earn him an important role on this team. It’s a big IF, though.
- Elfrid Payton – 10.6 pts, 7.6 asts, 5.2 Rebs, 43.4% / 31.4% / 74.3%
A Scott Perry favorite, Payton will join his teammate from last season, Julius Randle, in New York. Obviously, with the signing of Payton it raises a lot of questions about the fit of Frank Ntilikina (or Dennis Smith Jr.) on the roster with the possible emergence of Kadeem Allen as another ball-handler in the rotation.
- Kadeem Allen (2-way) – 9.9 pts, 4 asts, 2.7 Rebs, 46.1% / 47.2% / 77.8%
He showed Pat Beverly-esque promise in limited time last year, and I think most fans are happy to see him back. His play was strong enough to earn him more playing time this year – and Fiz might slot him above Frank on his depth chart – but is it logical to commit minutes to a journeyman over a former Top-10 pick? Do we care about what’s logical?
- RJ Barrett – N/A
The hopes of the franchise, at least in the short-term, rest here. He’s shown star potential, has a great support system, works hard, and embraces the challenge of the New York spotlight. Only four days until the debut.
- Kevin Knox – 12.8 pts, 4.5 rebs, 1.1 asts, 37% / 34.3% / 71.7%
An inconsistent, mostly-rough rookie season for Knox, though the organization really did him no favors. Improved talent and depth around him should lead to an uptick in efficiency. MUST show improvements as a passer and defender.
- Damyean Dotson – 10.7 pts, 3.6 rebs, 1.8 asts, 41.5% / 36.8% / 74.5%
Maybe the best two-way Knick from start to finish last year. An absolute fan favorite, he will likely lose his starting job but should shore up a much-improved bench. I wrote in February that the Knicks should’ve considered trading him; keep an eye on that in 2020.
- Reggie Bullock – 11.3 pts, 2.7 rebs, 2 asts, 41.2% / 37.7% / 85.9%
Had a really nice year for DET last year in a 3-and-D role. The trade to LA didn’t work out, but the 28-year-old, 7-year vet fits the sort of culture the Knicks are trying to establish. Reasonable deal also makes for future trade potential when playoff-bound teams come calling.
- Allonzo Trier – 10.9 pts, 3.1 rebs, 1.9 asts, 44.8% / 39.4% / 80.3%
May see time at the point, too, but it’ll be interesting to see where Trier, a revelation after going undrafted last year, fits into this current roster. He clearly plays the brand of basketball Fiz loves, but will it be enough to leap any of the above in the rotation? Like Knox, defense and passing needs to improve.
- Wayne Ellington – 10.3 pts, 2 rebs, 1.4 asts, 40.3% / 37.1% / 79.6%
Brought in for shooting and leadership, Ellington played an important role on the 2017-18 Miami Heat playoff team. Last year, he split time between Miami and Detroit. 31 isn’t old, but in his eleventh year, how much playing time is he expecting?
- Ignas Brazdeikis – N/A
Big Ten Freshman of the Year, he’s another aggressive scorer who needs to improve other facets of his game. Things that will make him a fan favorite include his work ethic and willingness to move without the ball. Anticipate him brought along slowly, like Mitch last year: limited PT early, increases later on.
- Julius Randle – 21.4 pts, 8.7 rebs, 3.1 asts, 52.4% / 34.4% / 73.1%
Coming off a monster year last year, it’ll be interesting to see how he complements Mitch. On the plus side, he’s a good ball-handler and passer, which should create some interesting offensive opportunities. His 34.4% from three is better than seven NBA teams, including the Knicks, shot from deep last year. Needs to improve defensively.
- Mitchell Robinson – 7.3 pts, 6.4 rebs, 2.4 blks, 69.4% / 60%
A breakout star and future monster. The full-season numbers above don’t do him justice. AND he’s been working on his J this offseason.
- Bobby Portis – 14.2 pts, 8.1 rebs, 1.4 asts, 44.4% / 39.3% / 79.4%
Not getting nearly enough credit for his ability to stretch the floor. A fraction of a point worse than Kyle Korver last year. A young player with nice potential coming off a career year, he completes a nice three-headed monster up front. As with Randle, though, defense is lacking.
- Taj Gibson – 10.8 pts, 6.5 rebs, 1.2 asts, 56.6% / 32.4% / 75.7%
A native New Yorker, Gibson had a really productive season despite getting up there in age. Signed primarily to help mentor young bigs, but can still play when needed. Does he require minutes, or is he content to wait for his number to be called?
ANALYSIS AFTER A WHIRLWIND FIRST DAY OF FREE AGENCY
On the positive side, we should be much improved. Not playoffs-improved, but more watchable and more competitive. They are more athletic, have added much-needed shooting, and have a front court that consists of four players that were really productive last year. Furthermore, not a single player on this team, whether they’ve been here or were just acquired, has an immovable contract. Come February, Mills and Perry could be very active in helping contenders in exchange for future assets, and even if they’re not, they’ve maintained cap flexibility for the next big free agent class of 2021.
- How will this rotation break down, especially with seven wings that all seemingly need to play? This was an issue last year that led to the frequent shuffling of lineups, seemingly-random DNPs, guys confused about their roles – how will this be avoided with the added depth?
- Will the Knicks look to add a veteran point guard to mentor DSJ and Frank? Is there even room for one, based on the question above.
- If the Knicks were going to focus on versatile PFs in free agency, why not Noah Vonleh?
- Is this the end of the line for Luke Kornet?
- Will this sort of improvement, both in philosophy and on the court, be enough to attract stars two years from now?
Despite missing out on the big fish, I can get on board with what’s happening here. I’m not going to nitpick, either, no “I would’ve signed this role player instead,” or “I wouldn’t have offered that number.” Reasonable contracts for productive young vets, with a couple of older mentos mixed in, is the right move after Plan A went out the window. And shockingly, mainstream media seems to agree.
All this in less than 24 hours. Let’s see where we go from here.