How might COVID-19 affect the Knicks?

I had the opportunity to speak with longtime NBA trainer and former professional basketball player, Shawn Farmer. Shawn weighed in on how the NBA’s indefinite suspension from COVID-19 could affect player development, what it means for the 2020 Draft, and how the Knicks’ young players might be impacted.

How would you say the current stoppage of play compares to the lockouts in the 1998-99 and 2011-12 seasons?

I would say it is very, very similar but the only difference is that there are guys who think that this is a much needed rest. They’re looking forward to the season resuming but are eager to rest up. Whereas with the lockout years, there was so much uncertainty [that the season would even start].

As ESPN reported, players are unable to use team facilities or work out at any non-team practice or training facilities. Teams are allowed to provide workout materials for players to use at home if they would like. For the young players who choose to work on their game while in social isolation, how could this hiatus help them?

When you run up and down the court like that for a long period of time, rest helps. Resting your body, resting your mind – it will serve as a much needed break. Who wouldn’t want to get a break at this time of the year, after you’ve played around 67 games? Mentally for the most part but definitely physically, [rest] helps in a lot of ways. And then you have to add the piece of being with your family. There are just so many ways that it helps, just in my experience from talking with players.

Development is obviously a loaded word. How much does this stoppage impact players in terms of the long run? Or do you believe it doesn’t affect them at all?

I want to use the word “tremendously” but it’s cliché-ish. It helps immensely, to the 10th degree. You talk about skill development – it’s not hurting them because guys are finding ways to do things differently. I was just talking with a guy who plays with the Miami Heat the other day and he was like “Man, I didn’t know I could come up with so many different ways to stay in shape!” It helps you become innovative, for sure. But I have heard of at least one guy who’s allegedly playing pickup.

What would you say is a more important factor for players – this “off-season” where they get rest, or playing in games and gaining experience?

That’s a really good question. I would say, because I’m a trainer, that you can always be improving when you’re not playing. I don’t believe in a lot of playing. I believe in a lot of skill work and really coming back better than you were the year before. I’m a Kobe Bryant fan, I’m a Michael Jordan fan – I live and I train like that. I don’t believe in a lot of pickup games, I believe in you prepping for the upcoming season. So I would lean heavily towards development [outside of games].

The NCAA is reportedly mulling an additional year of eligibility for winter/spring athletes. We’ve seen players get drafted because of March tournaments. How do you think COVID-19 could affect the draft? Do you see players being more or less likely to return to school?

I think players are less likely to return to school. I still think kids are gonna [declare]. I [train] a kid at Louisville and he’s a rising sophomore, and they had the number one junior college player in the country, Jay Scrubb. [Scrubb] is declaring for the draft and he’s not on any draft boards! So is this a thing now? Irregardless of what happens, these guys are going to continue to feel that they can compete and get drafted even though there’s only 60 spots. They still think somehow, “I can make it.”

Everybody’s in limbo right now though. Kids don’t know what to do. “Should I start my workout?” “Should I sign with an agent?” I think the NBA should come out and make a statement in reference to the draft so kids and parents won’t be in limbo.

We began seeing some strides from RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, and Kevin Knox at times over the last few games of the season. How can they pick up where they left off after this interruption and further elevate their games?

Right now, I think having this break, I would assume that they’re watching film of themselves. I think they can come back and really, individually, do some things or try to implement some things they didn’t do over the first 66 games going into the off-season. From an individual basis, they can come back and implement some things that they could have done but didn’t see themselves doing. They can come back and do it with the remaining games left.

One issue is them simply not being strong enough because they’re all 21 or younger. This feels like a great time, not just to rest their bodies as you’re saying, but to build more muscle and get big.

I’m on the same sheet of music with you with that. I do believe that Mitch can bulk up. This is his second year. My question to Mitch, as opposed to RJ because he’s coming out of college and he hasn’t really had an off-season yet, is “What are you doing in the off-season?” Mitch has to get stronger. Even though he’s freakish athletically, it’s a grown man’s game. So Mitch, for sure.

RJ, yes, that has to be a focal point. He can stand to get a little bit bigger. I think RJ has skinny legs. I don’t like his quads and his glutes. I think that’s where a lot of players neglect. They build their upper body up – triceps, biceps – but to be able to really guard and to guard in the post in the NBA, you’ve really gotta have that lower body really, really strong. And I’m not talking about sumo wrestling type legs. Overall, he can stand to put on about 10 pounds of muscle. Anywhere between 10 to 15 pounds would not hurt RJ because of his height. It’s got to be a focal point.

I work with Dennis Smith Jr. and that’s one thing I love about Dennis. He didn’t mind lifting on his legs – squats, dead lifts, low weights but high reps. People talk about how gifted he is as a jumper but Junior works on that stuff. He can guard people in the post. You don’t see Junior getting bullied in the post.

I’m glad you brought Dennis up. I know you two are close, and I wanted to ask you about how he’s doing after his concussion?

He’s home. I haven’t talked to him since he’s been home but his dad and I have talked. He’s doing great. I’m gonna actually go down there today and I’ll see him for the first time. Junior’s really focused on getting back, getting healthy, and seeing how he can contribute and be a focal point going forward.

Hopefully with the new regime with Leon Rose, things improve. He being who he was in the sports agent business, he’s a highly competitive guy. He’s low key. I think he has a vision. I don’t know if Junior’s part of that plan but I know this will be a huge off-season for him and I know he’s not going to sit around and allow himself to sink back down to that level. That’s the type of kid he is.

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