A Knick Fan’s Spiritual Guide to the Offseason

These are tense times for supporters of the Knicks. With arguably the most pivotal offseason in franchise history now three weeks away from getting underway, fans may be tempted to turn to a higher power to help guide them through the difficult months ahead. Our own Jonathan Macri offers some spiritual guidance in an easy to use Q&A format…

I’m not a very religious person. Can I still use this guide?

Yes, although you are probably going to hell.

What if I don’t believe in hell?

You’re a Knicks fan. Hell exists whether you believe in it or not.

It seems like God hates us. How else can you explain what we’ve had to deal with for the last two decades?

Contrary to popular belief, God is actually a Knicks fan, He’s just been taking some time off for load management.

Is there a benefit to watching any more games this year?

Many religions believe that acts of sacrifice are necessary for a positive experience in the afterlife. Some of these sacrifices, like Muslims fasting during Ramadan or alter boys assisting a priest in the rectory, can often be quite painful. Certain sects of Buddhism have practiced self-immolation – arguably the ultimate in painful sacrifice – for centuries. So yes, watching games may indeed have some benefit.

Is repeatedly watching Emmanuel Mudiay dribble into traffic and put up contested 15-foot fall-away jumpers more or less painful than lighting oneself on fire?

What a horrible thing to say. Did you see the Laker game? Mud has been a revelation this year.

Wait…Fiz, is that you?

Sorry, new phone…who dis?

Is a future with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson the closest I will get to heaven?

Almost certainly.

Which possibility is more likely to exist?

Let’s start with the 14% chance that the Knicks get the first pick. From there, we can add in a few percentage points to account for the possibility that a team in some undesirable destination wins the lottery, the Knicks get the 2nd spot, and Zion’s people strong-arm him to New York1. So let’s up it to 18%. If we put KD’s odds of coming at 50/50 – more than fair – that takes us down to 9%. Then it’s on Kyrie, who is a literal crazy person. I’ll give it a one in three chance he wants in at that point. That leaves us at 3%. Getting back to the original question, I guess we’ll call it even.

What if I can’t endure any more Knicks games in their totality…does watching highlights of the games count as “church,” and might this have some benefit?

It depends on the highlights. Simply watching Mitchell Robinson highlights is akin to walking into church during the Eucharist, chugging the wine, grabbing the contents of the collection basket and then leaving. God would frown upon this. Highlights must include at least four Noah Vonleh post-ups, three Allonzo Trier isolations, two Hail Mary’s and one Our Father to receive credit.

If I show up to Madison Square Garden or a JD & the Straight Shots concert and start chanting “Sell the team,” is this heresy, and will I be smote for my evildoing?

Possibly. Turning your back on Dolan might very well be akin to turning your back on Jesus Christ himself.

The parallels are there. Most obviously, they each got to where they are in life by pure genealogical chance. Jesus didn’t “earn” the right to be anyone’s Lord & Savior any more than Dolan “earned” the Knicks. There’s a reason that, in Psalms 2:13, Jesus states “No, no, no, no…the guy with the hammer is my stepdad. Get it right.”

Second, like Jesus is one person but actually three people (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), Dolan is the owner of the Knicks, Rangers and MSG all at the same time. As Sister Thomasine and her wooden ruler made quite clear to me in 3rd grade, no, you cannot cut up Jesus into three pieces, like a Jesus pie. Similarly, you cannot differentiate Dolan into three different owners. He is all of them, all at once, all the time.

Finally, JD is only one letter off from JC. This can’t be a coincidence

Wow, you’ve really lost your mind this season.

That wasn’t a question.

I’m starting to get concerned for the draft lottery. On the 86% chance all of this losing is for not, I don’t think I’ll be able to get through the evening without drinking to excess, and gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. I feel like my lack of self-control might be frowned upon by the man upstairs when free agency rolls around. Will I be punished in July for the sins of May?

No. Aside from the fact that Jesus turned water into wine, there are nearly 250 references to wine or “strong drink” in the Bible. Of these, alcohol is seen as an accepted part of normal culture 58 times, 27 times it is called it a blessing from God, and the loss of wine is referred to a curse from God 19 times. Conversely, there are only 13 warnings of the abuse of alcohol and 16 instances of actual abuse. This is Word of the Lord. Bottoms up.

I’m Jewish, and have been kvetching about Zion all year. Am I a schmuck for thinking that we have a chance at getting him, especially since I’ve been not-so-subtly taught since birth to always expect the worst?

Mishagas. You have every right to believe Zion is coming to the Knicks. In fact, it might as well be written in scripture. As I’m sure you remember from Temple, Zion is synonymous with the Jewish homeland, which is New York. He is destined to be a Knick.

It’s a little late in the game, but I want to give up something for lent that will help our chances of winning the lottery. Do you have any suggestions?

Pride. You can give up pride in any number of ways that tie in directly with your Knicks fandom. Simply being a Knicks fan is a good first step. Some additional suggestions include2:

  • Wearing an Andrea Bargnani jersey outside of the home
  • Defending Lance Thomas on Twitter.
  • Purchasing this, pop it in your ride, put the top down and blast the smooth sounds of a classic blues band steeped in the quiet fire of Americana3.
  • Letting Tim Thomas call you fugazi
  • Getting the pipe.
  • Continuing your workout even after you know Phil has fallen asleep.
  • Reading everything Frank Isola writes.
  • Siding with an Enes Kanter burner account in an argument.
  • Growing a Lou Amundson man bun
  • Becoming a Nets season ticket holder.

That last one seems harsh; the Nets are actually good.

You should get season tickets then. There are plenty available.

I understand the concept of having “faith,” but trading away the best young player the team has had in over three decades for the mere chance at a successful July seems like equal parts greed, lust, pride and sloth all wrapped into one. Is this a bad sign?

You’re getting really close to having your head end up in a box in the middle of nowhere.

July 1 is a Monday. I’m a Catholic, but not normally a church-going person. On one hand, I feel like if I don’t go to mass on the day before free agency officially begins, I’m basically sealing the deal on four years of Boogie Cousins and Jimmy Butler. On the other hand, this would be pretty blatant and shameless pandering. What should I do?

When’s the last time you’ve been to church?

My daughter’s baptism. She’s now a sophomore in college.

Yeah, don’t go to church. Instead, you should go to confession, but in addition to confessing your own sins, you should confess all of the Knicks’ sins as well, starting with the trade of Patrick Ewing, continuing through the Isiah Thomas and Phil Jackson eras, and concluding with the Tim Hardaway Jr. contract.

I don’t want Kevin Durant that badly. Can I just convert to Latvian Orthodox and call it a day?




Celebrating Swin Cash

This article is written by Tiffany Salmon.

I often think about women in sports and what it takes to excel in their field while also being a friend, a supporter, a patron, a sister, and of course, in many cases, a mother.

No matter the profession or class, playing all of those roles offers both fulfillment and stress. It’s not easy being something for everyone. And in 2019, with 24/7 news coverage of our favorite celebrities, balancing responsibilities as a female athlete seems more challenging than ever before.

Growing up, all we knew about basketball players, men or women, was how many points they scored, or if their team could count on them for a defensive stop at the end of a tight game. Now, we have seemingly unlimited access, learning about who our favorite players are as people off the court.

When I think of someone who sets an amazing example as both a female athlete and role model, I think of Swin Cash. Swin has ingrained herself in the New York basketball scene over the last five years, which has helped me become not only a fan of her game, but also a fan of her as a person.

Tuning into MSG Networks on Knicks game nights, I always look forward to watching the pre and post game shows. Beginning during the Melo era, I’ve enjoyed  the on-air team which has comprised of Alan Hahn, Wally Szczerbiak, Al Trautwig and Bill Pidto.

Around 2015, with the exit of Tina Cervasio, I was worried we had lost a strong female presence on the telecast. Soon that would change when the brilliant Rebecca Haarlow was bought on board to replace Tina as the live in-game reporter, and later when Swin Cash was hired to bring her basketball expertise to the pre, post, and halftime telecast.

Knicks fans who are meeting Swin for the first time through her presence on MSG have quickly learned that she has a keen eye for breaking down Knicks games on a highly basis, but might not know how much of a beast she was on the court, herself. For all the NBA players she reports on for MSG, Cash’s basketball resume most likely trumps theirs ten times over, and that isn’t an exaggeration.

Being a life long fan of the Lady Vols, I always looked up to Queens product Shemequa Holdsclaw, fell in love with soon-to-be Vol Candace Parker in high school, and, of course, Tennessee had the greatest college basketball coach ever (in my humble opinion), Pat Summit. So to put it lightly, growing up, Swin was a foe to my favorite college basketball team.

Anybody who knows women’s NCAA basketball, knows Tennessee vs. UConn was the ultimate rivalry during the 2000s. Because of this, I’ve always known Swin Cash because she always helped lead to heartbreak in me and many lady Vols fans hearts, alike.

After graduating from McKeesport Area High School in Pittsburgh, Cash was a WBCA All-American and netted a spot on the UConn Husckies 1998 team. During her UConn career, Swin continued to rack up the accolades: in 2000, she won the National Woman’s Division I Basketball Championship, needing to beat my Lady Vols on the way; she also led the 2002 Lady Huskies to an undefeated 39-0 season and another championship with the help pf Queens stand-out Sue Bird, and Diana Taurasi. Cash won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player that year.

In the WNBA Draft, in 2002, Swin was chosen 2nd overall by the Detroit Shock. Known for her rebounding and defense, her impact was almost immediately felt on the franchise. It took only one year for Cash to help the Shock win their first WNBA title in 2003. If you know about how competitive the early 2000s WNBA was, you know Swin and the Shock had to defeat some of the most prominent teams of those early 2000s. Becky Hammond and The New York Liberty and Tamika Catchings and Indiana Fever just to name a couple.

Under Bill Laimbeer, a coach whom she would play for again in the future, the Shock would go on to win three titles in six years. During that time she even helped stop a 3-peat attempt by the dominant Los Angeles Sparks in going against one of the most notable players in the sport and future basketball Hall of Famer, Lisa Leslie.

Beyond the WNBA, Swin also played in Russia during the off season for a year. After finding success with the Shock, she would move West to Seattle to play with the Storm where she joined forces with NYC basketball legend and former UConn teammate Sue Bird, along with Sheryl Swoopes and Lauren Jackson in 2008. That year, the Storm finished with their best record in franchise history at 22-12, but eventually lost to the Sparks in the Western Conference Semis.

Cash earned four WNBA All-Star appearances and also won All-Star MVP in 2009 and 2011 while playing for the Storm.

Along with her many accomplishments in the WNBA, Swin is a 2-time Olympic gold medalist, winning gold in 2004 and 2012 with the US Women’s basketball team.

After her run with the Storm, Swin played with the Chicago Sky and Atlanta Dream from 2012-2014. In her final stint in the WNBA, Swin signed with my beloved New York Liberty in 2014. As a fan of the team, I knew having her would make a great impact, and it did.

Being a fan of the Liberty in the summers of 2016 and 20017 reminded me of the old days, but this time I was able to attend some of the games. In those two seasons, the Liberty finished 1st in the East and earned playoff appearances in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2011-2012. In 2016, under the leadership of Swin’s former Detroit Shock coach, Bill Lambeer, the Liberty made it within one game of making the WNBA finals. I was there for that game, Tamika Catchings, a Lady Vols rival, and the Fever killed the Liberty down the stretch and New York lost a tough one. I will always give thanks to that series because as fan of the Knicks and Liberty I was able to experience playoff basketball in the Garden again for Games 1 + 3 during those Eastern Conference finals.

On June 7, 2016, Swin cash announced she was retiring at the end of the season. One year later, the New York Liberty named her Director of Franchise Development.

For all of her professional success and accolades, Swin is also a generous philanthropist for people in need. In May 2011, she was awarded with an honorary degree of Doctorate of Public Service from Washington and Jefferson College in honor of her charity work. She is also an activist against police brutality and gun violence. Swin, along with other WNBA players in 2016, wore #BlackLivesMatter warm-ups following the continued police brutality of young African American men and women across the United States.

Swin is the founder of Cash for Kids charity and holds basketball camps and clinics throughout the year. In the summer of 2017, Swin gave birth to her first child, a son, Saint, with husband Stave Canal.

Between Swin’s on-air appearances for MSG Networks, she also does analyst spots for Yahoo, ESPN, and CBS, as well as her own podcast, She’s Got Time.  While the sports profession, whether on-air or on the court, can be a tough job to juggle, Swin makes it look easy. She’s just another example of woman doing the work on the field, behind the screen and at home, too.

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 4 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.


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?


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.

What to watch for from the young Knicks down the stretch

The games stopped having meaning a long time ago, but what happens on the court still has some importance to a select group of players. Jonathan Macri takes a closer look.

After the Knicks play their Tuesday night game against the Pacers in Indianapolis, they’ll have completed over 80 percent of their schedule. This long, arduous, soul-crushing siege of a death march will almost be over, possibly with fewer wins than the franchise has ever accumulated in a single season.

We’re in the endgame now.

Thankfully, even though the basketball is often unwatchable for quarters, halves and occasionally games at a time, this season is a bit different than many of the losing campaigns that came before it. As has been pointed out by every pollyannish Knicks fan this year5, there is a vague outline of a young core here that could make for an interesting future regardless of what transpires this July.

Would that core look a lot better surrounding a 7’3” Latvian? You betcha. Are we positive that the development of these kids has been executed to perfection across the board? Not in the slightest. Is it possible that they, along with the incoming draft pick, will all be sent packing for Anthony Davis quicker than you can say “We’re going to build things the right way?” Don’t count it out.

But I’ve written about all those possibilities already this year and my brain might slowly start to seep out through my ears if I try to do so again. Instead, let’s go on the assumption that these young’ns will be here and this staff does know what it’s doing – which, in fairness, we have seen ample evidence of despite what could be argued are some glaring miscues.

As such, if you’re one of the 18 people who plan to take in this last fifth of vodka season in all its glory, here’s something to look for from each of the guys that figure to stick around for a bit.

Allonzo Trier

Problem: He’s not shooting enough threes

Solution: Shoot more threes

Save for the ugly nine-game stretch after his December injury, during which his effective field goal percentage dropped all the way down to 33 percent, Trier has been the model of efficiency this year. He is one of only four rookies averaging 20 minutes a game with a usage rate over 20 that has an effective field goal percentage above 50. The other four are the first four picks in the draft.

The problem is that he should be even better. On the season, Trier is putting up two 3-point attempts per game despite hitting over 41 percent from deep. If that number doubled? We might see…well, we might see the guy we’ve seen over the Knicks last eight games.

Over that stretch, Trier is averaging 3.8 long range shots per contest, and it’s resulted in a scoring average over 16. The best part? His deep ball percentage has actually improved to a certainly-unsustainable-but-still-nice-to-see 46.7 percent. If he can simply take around four threes a game for the rest of the year and hit somewhere around his yearlong average, the narrative surrounding his perceived ceiling might really begin to change.

Oh, and his passing? Obviously that’s Trier’s main issue, but getting him to be more of a playmaker is too hefty a task for right now, and figures to be offseason homework. For now, just let the bombs fly.

Frank Ntilikina

Problem: He’s not on the damn court

Solution: Get on the damn court

Can you blame a guy for getting injured?

I mean…no. No, you can’t…


For a lot of fans, not having to look at Ntilikina put up brick after brick is probably a relief. For those of us who had staked our claims on Frank Island and are now feeling the water between our toes, having him miss what will wind up being over a quarter of the season is like a final punch to the gut in what has been a brutal year.

On one hand, there was a sense before the injury that maybe he could finish strong. If you take away the month of November – when he looked like someone playing basketball for the first time – Ntilikina was a 36.6 percent 3-point shooter on the year. Putting all of his other issues aside, anyone with his defensive profile that hits outside shots at an above-average rate is a useful player.

On the other hand, save for the three-game stretch that followed his three-game benching, there was never a sense that Frank was on the verge of really putting it all together.

There are a lot of complicating factors at play here, not the least of which is that the Knicks may need to choose between Ntilikina and the combination of Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier for salary cap purposes, assuming they’re able to ink two max players this July. If that’s the choice, it’s easy to see which way they’ll go.

That said, if the Knicks sign Kyrie Irving and they can get something for Dennis Smith Jr, maybe he’s the one to depart, especially considering the fact that Ntilikina might not even be worth a late first-round pick based on his play thus far.

Of course if he does come back and play well, that might only hasten his exit out of town. Might that be for the best, as it’s now quite clear David Fizdale favors a particular type of guard to run his offense? Wouldn’t Frank’s skill set would be far better suited running more complex offensive sets in a Warriors or Spurs style system? Does it even matter if his offensive struggles continue? Which team might take the risk of finding out?

These are all questions that will likely remain unanswered unless Frank can get back on the court. And he better hurry…we don’t have enough life-jackets in the boathouse for everyone.

Damyean Dotson

Problem: Getting lost off-ball

Solution: Purchase a map

This one’s simple.

Dotson has arguably been the Knicks best perimeter player since Tim Hardaway Jr. got traded away. So he’s been their best perimeter player all year.

Over his last 11 games, Dotson is averaging 15 points while shooting 38.4 percent from downtown on over six attempts per game. Those sure seem like the numbers of a starting shooting guard. His on-ball defense, though…that’s where it’s at.

His activity level makes you feel annoyed on behalf of the guy he’s guarding. He gets around picks better than anyone on the team, and his defensive rebounding – he’s over three a game – is more than solid.

That said, his off-ball defense needs a lot of work. We’ve routinely seen Dotson lose track of his man and get caught ball-watching this year, often resulting in cuts to the basket or wide-open threes. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be an offseason thing; he should be able to up his engagement and attention levels as the year finishes up. It just hasn’t really happened yet.

If that changes, it’s not hard to see him slotting in as the starting two-guard on this team next season, regardless of who New York signs in July.

Mitchell Robinson & Dennis Smith Jr.

Problem: Lack of playing time together

Solution: Paging David Fizdale…

In the 15 games they’ve been teammates2, Mitchell Robinson and Dennis Smith Jr. have played a total of 145 minutes together, or just under 10 minutes a game. For a pick and roll combo that could be devastating and needs as much time as possible to develop, that’s…not ok.

Obviously, it’s tough to play a pairing much more than that if one guy is starting and the other is coming off then bench, as Robinson still is. Here were David Fizdale’s most recent words on the topic from about a week ago, courtesy of NorthJersey.com’s Chris Iseman:

“I just like his rhythm right now. Why mess with it? If you do throw him in there I’d be pretty [mad] off at myself the first game I throw him in there, he gets two and I’ve got to sit him for a bunch of minutes…I want to keep the kid feeling good and in a good rhythm. It allows me to do some different stuff with him in the second half. When he’s playing well I can play him more minutes. I can even start him in the second half like I did one game at home.”

I get all of that. Robinson himself has even spoken of feeling less pressure and more comfortable with coming off the bench.

At some point though, maybe just throw caution to the wind and say “fuck it.” I’m sure DeAndre Jordan wouldn’t mind getting an early start on his planning for Cancun, perhaps over the season’s last ten games. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Kevin Knox

Problem: He hit the rookie wall

Solution: Break on through to the other side

There are some out there who look at how the last two months have gone for Kevin Knox and are ready to proclaim him a bust.

In fairness, he has looked bad. Like, “Emmanuel Mudiay is my spirit animal” bad. This clip from Sunday night’s Wolves game pretty much encapsulates how the last several weeks has gone for him:

Here’s the thing though: Kevin Knox can make a layup at this level. We know this because we’ve already seen him do it many times, along with a lot of the things he’s seemingly been incapable of doing for a while now, when the Monstars stole his powers he hit the rookie wall.

Is that just a convenient excuse? Maybe…but there are some numbers to back it up.

I noted on the podcast recently that if you stopped Knox’s rookie season after his 44th game – the exact point where he exceeded his minute total from last year at Kentucky – he’d have finished with a .422 eFG%, including 34 percent from deep, and a 9.3 TOV% on a 22.3 usage rate. Over the next 15 games – the ones that have everybody jumping out of open windows – those numbers dipped to .366/.299/12.2 on the exact same usage.

Keep in mind that this is the same dude who was voted rookie of the month in December and was the coaches’ injury replacement for the Rising Stars Game on February 63. For a guy to go from “top ten rookie” to “bust” in the span of a month feels like more than a bit of recency bias.

All this being said, it would still be nice to signs of life. We kind of did on Sunday, in a game where Knox finished 5-of-11 for 13 points and four (four!) assists. It was the first time this year Knox has had that many dimes in a game where he scored more points than shots he took. His best stretch came late in the first half when he had a drive with a nice finish, a triple, a cross-court assist to an open Damyean Dotson for three, and a dish to DeAndre Jordan for what should have been an easy two.

If he just had a few minutes like this during every game from here on in, everyone would feel a lot less anxiety heading into the summer. The Knicks needed to get this pick right. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, maybe they actually did.

Ranking the Top 10 Potential Knicks Lottery Representatives

It’s March. In New York, that means three things:

  • We start to lie to ourselves that it is almost warm
  • We all pretend we know something about college basketball
  • We’re officially two months away from the seventh most important draft lottery in the 35 years we’ve been doing this.

Why seventh?

Right now, the top six are pretty unassailable. They are, in receding date order, the Davis lottery, the LeBron lottery, the Duncan lottery, the Shaq lottery, the Admiral lottery, and of course, the Ewing lottery.

All were sure things, all are Hall of Famers4, and all became part of the fabric of the league to some extent.

Zion, for all of his shoe-shattering glory, is not the fait accompli any of them were, but you could argue that there’s been no greater drop-off between the first and second pick than Williamson’s perceived value and the value of the next best guy.

That’s why this one slots in ahead of the Yao lottery (Jay Williams went second), the Wall lottery (Evan Turner) and the Towns lottery (Okafor/Russell). In most people’s minds before each draft, the downgrade in talent for those years wasn’t as severe even though the eventual results said otherwise. You could convince me that the Webber and Blake lotteries should be in the conversation with Zion, but as of now, I’m giving the edge to the dude who did this.

Regardless, May 14 is still a really, really, really freaking important night. It’s why a site like Tankathon.com, with its daily Single Sims, has become the guiltiest of pleasures. I have to admit, I took a bite of the forbidden fruit myself earlier this week:

The farcical nature of my question didn’t stop a flood of responses. Nor should it have. It’s been 35 years since the Knicks got one of these right, and the Knicks will have no shortage of options to send to Chicago for the unveiling.

So let’s lend a hand. Below are several candidates suggested by you, my Twitter followers, that we’ll assess from 1 to 5 on four criteria: karma, absurdity/comedy, fan endorsement/approval, and how realistic the choice is of happening. Note: if multiple people suggested it, dibs to who did first.

To begin, our honorable mentions:

Desus and Mero (Suggested by @NYSportsGuys5)

From what I hear, Desus and Mero are awesome and I would probably love them.

Sadly, I have a small child, and before her, I was still practicing law, so my television consumption has been pretty pathetic for several years. I’ve only seen these guys in spurts. They seem cool. If anyone wants to buy my broke ass a subscription to Showtime, PayPal me $11 a month at paypal.me/jcmacrinba and I promise I’ll order it and make it a priority to watch.

Until then, I got nothin’.

Karma: 2     Absurdity: 3     Fan endorsement: 4     Realistic: 1     Total: 10

Phil Jackson (Suggested by @Markbristow22)

Following the KP trade, there was a burbling undercurrent on Knicks Twitter of “see, Phil wasn’t that crazy after all!”

It was a little too sliding doors-y for me to buy. Still, no one person has been linked with as many great Knicks througout history: he played with Willis and Walt, he’s a big part of why Patrick doesn’t have a ring, and he was indirectly responsible for KP’s entrance into and exit from the franchise.

There’s also the fact that we haven’t seen or heard from him in years, and based on the totality of his Knicks tenure, he might be senile. His last tweet in June was about the science of meditation. Seeing him amble around the stage, maybe mistakenly sit down at the Bulls’ or Lakers’ table, and generally not be connected with reality would be humorous enough to lessen the blow of not getting Zion.

Karma: 3     Absurdity: 5     Fan endorsement: 2    Realistic: 1     Total: 11

David Stern (Suggested by @TheRealFern_FR3)

Maybe it’s just me, but I think having Stern in that seat would be positively brilliant theater, and it has nothing to do with the frozen envelope.

Would Stern openly loath having to be the one to gift the number one overall pick to an owner he probably would have liked to see gone years ago? Or would he be thrilled to be the man who finally delivers the prize, as he recently seemed to include himself as a member of the starved fan base?

I have no idea, but just seeing Stern in all his rumpled glory would make this fun.

Karma: 4     Absurdity: 4     Fan endorsement: 2    Realistic: 1     Total: 11

Dolan J. Trump (Suggested by @KevKnoxBurner)

For the ill-informed, this is a former Nets fan who runs a parody account of a guy who won an election he had no business winning in large part because he talked about how much winning he would do if he won. Sounds like an appropriate choice!

The way the Knicks have been run this century, they probably deserve Zion about as much as the real Trump deserves to run the country, so there’s some definite karmic potential here.

Karma: 3     Absurdity: 4     Fan endorsement: 3    Realistic: 1     Total: 11

Frank Isola

Just checking to make sure you’re still paying attention.

Kevin Durant (Suggested by @jesuisad)

Given that the Warriors would likely still be playing basketball on May 14, logistically, this one might be tough. Even if they get bounced early, I could see the league office frowning upon this.

I also think there’d be a subset of fans that would want someone with existing connections to the franchise, as opposed to an outsider taking his place atop the throne before fighting a single battle.

Still, can’t hurt to ask.

Karma: 2     Absurdity: 5     Fan endorsement: 4    Realistic: 1     Total: 12

Mitchell Robinson (Suggested by @NYGKnicks)

It’s safe to say that Mitchell Robinson will end the season as the current Knicks who has engendered the most positive feelings among the fan base, which makes him an obvious choice for that reason alone.

Robinson also brings with him the possibility that, should the Knicks’ envelope appear before the top pick, he walks up to NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum and swats the card from his hand, forcing him to take another envelope in it’s place.

Sadly, choosing Robinson is ridden with karmic pitfalls. For one, he was drafted 36th overall. The lottery gods could easily view the Knicks as unworthy of the top pick when they’ve already done so well with a second-rounder.

Second, pound for pound, Mitch might be the most freakish athlete in the league…until Zion plays his first game. Would said gods giggle in delight at the thought of these two sharing a court together, or would they deem it a flight too close to the sun with freakishly long wings? I wouldn’t be shocked if Mitch was the pick, so we may get to find out.

Karma: 3     Absurdity: 1     Fan endorsement: 4    Realistic: 4     Total: 12

Pablo Prigioni (Suggested by @Brenhart31)

As Zach Lowe recently noted on his podcast, Pablo Prigioni might be the most favoritest of all the Knicks fan favorites over the last two decades.

That’s not why he should get the nod. If ever the numerical symmetry of the former 35-year-old rookie who averaged 3.5 points while appearing in 53 of the team’s wins should be put to good use, it’s during the summer when a player who wears number 35 is deciding whether to come to New York.

Also, how fitting would it be if a guy who always seemed to get just a bit too much credit from fans became the savior of the franchise for merely sitting and watching a small cardboard placard get pulled out of a novelty envelope?

Sadly, he works for the Nets, so I don’t know that this one is happening.

Karma: 4     Absurdity: 3     Fan endorsement: 4    Realistic: 1     Total: 12

Kristaps Porzingis


Andrea Bargnani

Ok, ok….I’ll stop. Also, sorry for listing the same person twice in a row.

Let’s get to the top four.

Patrick Ewing (Suggested by @Atlasjsh)

Almost too obvious of a choice, and probably the one the most fans would support.

Would Patrick do it? Doubtful. Not only does he have no affiliation with the organization, but they’ve never so much as granted him an interview during the many times their head coaching position became available.

Maybe the better question is whether such a shameless attempt to use the positive karma from the last time the Knicks won the lottery would backfire.

Also, umm…I hate to say it, but, ah, uhh…it’s not like Patrick ever won the big one while he was here, ya know?

(ducks, runs for cover)

Karma: 4     Absurdity: 2     Fan endorsement: 5    Realistic: 2     Total: 13

Spike [with his Oscar] (Suggested by @2ForgetUs)

Spike has been making movies since before the Knicks won the lottery in 1985, and he just now won his first Oscar. It might be a sign.

There are, however, three significant issues:

  1. Spike has become a bit of a fair-weather fan this season. I don’t know exactly how many games he’s been to, but it’s far less than in years past.
  2. His Oscar win came for a movie that maybe sneaks into the bottom of his personal top five. Do the Right Thing, Malcolm XHe Got Game and 25th Hour2 are unassailable. That leaves BlacKkKlansman competing with Jungle Fever, Crooklyn, She’s Gotta Have It and arguably Clockers and School Daze for the last spot. This has “With the fifth pick, the New York Knicks select…” written all over it.
  3. Most significantly, the first rule of tanking is that you do not talk about tanking.

Karma: 3     Absurdity: 4     Fan endorsement: 4    Realistic: 2     Total: 13

Natasha Sen-Fizdale (Suggested by @BlessNYC)

The recent history (and, as far as I can tell, the only history) of women at the NBA Draft Lottery is a solid if unspectacular one.

In 2014, Mallory Edens, a high school senior and the daughter of Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens, represented Milwaukee and they came away with the number two pick despite having the worst record in the league. Still, given the odds at the time, this was technically a win.

Then last year, Hawks co-owner and actress Jami Gertz 3 was the Hawks rep that nabbed the third pick after her team finished tied for the third worst record. Again, they didn’t win, but they still came out better than the math suggested they should.

That brings us to Natasha Sen-Fizdale, and perhaps more importantly, her husband David.

Opinions on the head coach are mixed as he nears the end of his first season, but there’s one thing that is not in dispute: in Natasha, he absolutely, 100% out-kicked his coverage. Forget the fact that she’s beautiful; she’s the owner of a marketing agency and is by all accounts an awesome person, having become involved in the community at every stop along her husband’s journey. I don’t care if he has the most engaging personality in the world and carries around a 12-inch…clipboard, landing Natasha was…well, it was like winning the lottery.

It’s those type of odds the Knicks will need to overcome in a little more than two months. It almost makes her the perfect choice.


Karma: 4     Absurdity: 3     Fan endorsement: 5     Realistic: 3     Total: 15

Charles Oakley (Suggested by @YanksFamBam)

(clears throat)

Being a Knicks fan is so frustrating, not because we usually suck (although this doesn’t help) and not because our leadership is often inept (ditto), but because we have an owner who by all accounts can speak and act in ways that are not so much…what’s the word…pleasant? Sure, let’s go with pleasant.

Sometimes it’s easy and convenient to stick our head in the sand, a thing which we all have to do as human beings from time to time unless you’re a monk. Not with the Oakley incident.

I’ve heard from people in private who were there that night, and am convinced there is legitimacy to the Garden’s side of the story. It doesn’t matter. The way it was handled in the moment and afterwards was petty, ugly, and honestly pretty disgraceful. More importantly, the relationship should have never soured to the point where such a situation could have transpired in the first place. Oakley embodied being a Knick, and his becoming estranged should have been avoided by any means necessary.

Asking Oakley to sit on the lottery dais would, in effect, mean that things had been patched up between he and the organization. This would almost surely require an apology from the owner who so often leaves us feeling conflicted over our fandom. That would represent more progress for this team than anything they can do this July or the next ten seasons combined. It would be exactly the type of karma that the Knicks need heading into May 14. It’s reason enough for him to be the guy.

But there’s more. Follow me down memory lane for a moment…

Charles Oakley was traded for Marcus Camby, who was included in the deal for Antonio McDyess, who was later part of the trade for Penny Hardaway, who was dealt to Orlando for Steve Francis, who was traded to Portland for Zach Randolph, who was shipped to LA for Tim Thomas, who was sent to the Bulls for Eddy Curry, who was a part of the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster. Melo was later sent to Oklahoma City for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and the rights to Chicago’s second round pick the following year, which the Knicks would use on a gangly mystery man who skipped his freshman year of college and fell all the way down to the 36th pick in the draft as a result.

So yes, Charles Oakley is indirectly responsible for Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks latest, best hope for their first homegrown star since Patrick Ewing, the man who was once Oakley’s running mate in New York.

It’s only fitting that he be sent to Chicago – the place the Knicks got him from to begin with – to try to deliver the Knicks’ new center a partner of his own, and New York the star is has so desperately been craving.

Bring it home, Oak. Let’s do this.

Karma: 5     Absurdity: 4     Fan endorsement: 5     Realism: 2     Total: 16

Future Focus, Part III: Dennis Smith, Jr.

It’s been a long season. Over these last 18 games, let’s just try to enjoy ourselves by focusing on what was supposed to be our top priority all year anyway: YOUTH.

The two months 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 two guys left over the age of 25, 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 focuses on the centerpiece of our Kristaps Porzingis haul, DENNIS SMITH JR.

In case you haven’t heard, the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis last month.

You know, the guy that those who dubbed him “PorzinGod” thought would save the franchise. In return for their oft-broken unicorn, Steve Mills and Scott Perry received two main assets:

  1. Cap relief that allows them to pursue two max-salaried free agents this summer, and
  2. Dennis Smith, Jr.

The cap space is what fans rallied around after the initial shock wore off. Pundits mused publicly that, If the Knicks made a deal like this, they MUST know who’s taking that money come July.

The rumors – nothing tangible or real, just speculation – focus primarily on two guys, one a recent Finals MVP and the other a cantankerous point guard currently donning green.

Meanwhile, the tangible centerpiece of that Knicks’ haul also plays point guard, and has played it pretty well since coming over from Dallas. Through 13 games, Smith Jr. is averaging 15.1 points, 6.5 assists, and 1.7 steals on 42.4% shooting (up from 39.5% as a rookie). His athleticism is as reputed, his ability to attack the paint and finish at the rim is something we haven’t seen since Marbury, and his willingness to pass has been a pleasant surprise.

Despite the flaws – and there are many – when I watch him play and think about how young he is, how cheap he is, how the offense has looked with him on the floor, and how strong the Knicks’ player development seems to be, I can’t help but wonder:

With DSJ in the fold, are the Knicks set at PG?  

Should the $30+ million (allegedly) earmarked for that guy in New England be used elsewhere?

Some of you just cringed, scoffed, quickly pulled up Twitter with plans to passionately roast me…believe me, I get it. But if you’re still there, humor me for a second. 

Here are the per-36 stats for various All-Star point guards during their first two seasons:

Dennis Smith Jr.’s career per-36 averages are:

17.9 points, 6.3 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 40.8% FG, 31.8% 3PT, 67.2% FT

The numbers are comparable. He’s better in one or two key categories than everyone above – scoring more than all but Irving and Rose, assists better than half of the group, and he’s rebounding his position and creating turnovers with steals. If I added his numbers to the chart and made everything anonymous, you’d have no idea who went on to become the youngest MVP in NBA history, who won four rings, and who was the current 2nd-year pro looking for a fresh start.  

The glaring weakness pertains to efficiency – Smith Jr. is worse from the field than everyone listed and MUCH worse from the free throw line. The latter is particularly bothersome, since those points are supposed to be, you know, free. He can succeed if he never becomes a knockdown three-point shooter (see Rose and Westbrook), but with all due respect to Rajon Rondo’s career, nobody wants a point guard who shoots under 70% from the line.  DSJ is at 56% in a Knicks’ uniform. 

(Writing that last sentence made me physically ill.)

His issues are mechanical. That weird hitch / twist he does just prior to release needs to be fixed. His form needs to be stripped down and rebuilt over the summer, but if he puts in the work, I see no reason why he can’t improve from both lines. And while improvement is not a given, it is a likelihood. Guys improve. This is their job.

Look at some of these leaps from Year 2 to Year 3:  

Player PPG FG% 3PT% FT%
D. Rose + 4.2 + 6.5% + 9.2%
R. Westbrook + 5.8 + 2.4% + 10.9% + 6.2%
C. Paul + 5.2 + 5.1% + 1.9% + 3.3%
J. Wall + 2.2 + 1.8% + 19.6% + 1.5%
Jeff Teague + 7.4 + 3.8%
Eric Bledsoe + 5.2 + 5.6% + 19.7% + 15.5%

Now let’s revisit the initial cringe-worthy question: is Dennis Smith Jr. good enough that the Knicks should target other positions in free agency?

Understand that I’m not saying he’s as good, or will ever be as good, as the former Cav in Boston (who oddly enough regressed in Year 3 and didn’t really take any major leap until Year 6). I’m just saying that DSJ’s current talent and future promise might be enough to get Mills and Perry to reconsider how they want to spend their money.

If I told you DSJ would sustain averages of 15 & 6 for the remainder of his rookie deal, is that enough from your starting point guard (considering who he may be playing with)?

What if he makes a leap like any of the ones above?  Say 18+ PPG, 45% from the field, 73% from the line? Is that enough?

Yes, those numbers still pale in comparison to LeBron’s former sidekick, but that guy will command 30+ MILLION DOLLARS per year. Is it in the best interests of the organization to pay that much money for a guy who criticizes teammates in the media, adds drama to the locker room when things aren’t going well, and has played 60 or fewer games in 4 out of his 7 seasons?

When we already have a promising young player at the same position who’s under team control for two more years at $4.46M and 5.69M respectively?

This is the lense through which I’m watching DSJ over this final stretch. I want to know if he’s good enough to cross the most important position in basketball off our to-do list. I want to see evidence that he’s a consistently willing facilitator and that he’s going to improve defensively (because right now he’s a sieve, despite the steals). I want to see how he and Ntilikina complement each other, and I want to try to project whether that platoon will be enough to get this team back to the playoffs and beyond.   

Part of what allowed the Warriors to become great is that young guys on manageable contracts overproduced. Steph, Klay, Dray were all making less than their market values, which allowed them to add Kevin Durant and become the unstoppable force they’ve become. This is what Knicks’ fans should be hoping for – youth showing enough to attract big FAs, then blowing up and becoming severely underpaid alongside those max teammates. Mitch is on his way, and DSJ – if he can follow in those footsteps above – could be right behind him.  

Sure, this could all be a waste of words. The two guys in the rumors could be a package deal, in which case DSJ is already gone and doesn’t know it. If that’s the case, then the optimistic outlook I’ve been trying to sell you is exactly what Steve Mills and Scott Perry must sell to an opposing GM. Remind him that great attacking point guards began their careers with similar issues. Remind him that those same point guards all improved as early as Year 3 and became All-Stars, All-NBA selections, MVPs, leaders of playoff teams. Remind him that the kid is still only 21.  

And if that’s somehow not enough, just send him this:

The Emmanuel Mudiay Conundrum

David Fizdale has a soft spot for Emmanuel Mudiay. This much is obvious. Jonathan Macri decided to take a look at just how warranted, or unwarranted, that is, and just how worrisome his affection should be to fans moving forward.

You can’t drink out of it like the Stanley Cup.

You can’t wear it like the Heavyweight Championship Belt.

But make no mistake: the title of Knicks Punching Bag is as esteemed an honor as exists in the world of professional sports. John Starks is the first Knick I can remember holding the title, and he held it with the utmost dignity. He was followed by such luminaries as Chris Childs, Othella Harrington, Tim Thomas, Steve Francis, Jarred Jeffries, Iman Shumpert, Andrea Bargnani, JR Smith, Derrick Rose, and of course most recently by Enes Kanter.

How does one attain this most prestigious of honors?

For one, you can’t hold the title if you outright stink. There has to be at least a segment of the fan base that thinks you’re good, or at least that you hold the faintest potential to be good. Kicking a man when he’s down is only fun if there’s someone there making an effort to drag him out of the mud. Or so I’ve heard.

Second, and most importantly, you can only have one title-holder at a time…but there’s almost always someone wearing the crown. I wasn’t alive in the late 60’s, but I can imagine a young version of my dad watching number one overall pick Bill Bradley as a rookie and shouting obscenities at the television…

Rhodes Scholar my ass! Don’t they teach rebounding at Princeton? Holzman hates Cazzie Russell otherwise he’d be starting. They’re definitely tanking.

I’m not ashamed. We’re New Yorkers. If we’re not complaining about something, we’re either sleeping or dead.

As such, there’s been a bit of a void ever since Kanter moved on. With six weeks remaining in another losing season, it wasn’t going to be long before someone took the baton and ran with it. Following some early jostling for the gig, we have a winner:

Almost from the day he was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay has made his fair share of enemies. Now, with Kanter gone, he’s ascended to his rightful place on the throne.

On one hand, the hate seems a little unfair. Playing on an already terrible team, Emmanuel Mudiay has made the Knicks no more or less  terrible than they otherwise would be.

According to ESPN’s RPM calculation, Mudiay currently sits 59th out of 97 qualified point guards – a stark improvement after finishing dead last and fifth from the bottom the last two years. If we go by the Expected Wins formula on Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks would have two more wins over an 82-game season given Mudiay’s efficiency differential. NBA.com has his individual net rating at -7.9, which is almost identical to the team’s -7.8 overall number.

To Booty-ay Backers (they’re out there!), this is all evidence of a talented point guard trending in the right direction. They see a shooter who has finally crept above league average, a point guard who takes pretty good care of the ball4, and a unique athlete who can get into the paint using his size against smaller players or his speed against larger ones2. Still days away from his 23rd birthday, supporters see no reason to give up on him yet.

His detractors, well…his detractors see everything else. They see a player who has performed far better against backups than starters3. They see a reversion back to form around the rim 4. They see 3-point accuracy that is only a hair above his dreary career mark5. They see a playmaker who doesn’t make plays for others6. They see someone who gives back as much on one end as he might add on the other7.

In short, they see a player who, even if he continued to make incremental improvements at both ends of the court, probably tops out as a high end backup. Best case, he’s a spot starter who might win you a game every now and then, as he has a few times this year (see: home wins vs Milwaukee and New Orleans and road victories in Memphis and Charlotte stand out).

As a player who the organization has now invested over a year’s worth of development time in, there would seem to be some logic to continuing to play him, if not as a starter, then as a backup to the higher ceiling, cost-controlled Dennis Smith Jr. For others, every minute of court time given to Mudiay amounts to a minute not devoted to a worthier cause. Why is that the case?

The easy answer: “It’s the contract, stupid.”

Yes, as we all know, Emmanuel Mudiay is on an expiring pact – one that carries with it a cap hold that comically outsizes his real life value. What we don’t know is what is going to happen this summer. Once the Knicks renounce Mudiay’s hold (a certainty) and then attempt to sign two max players (less so), they will still have a roster to fill out. In the Knicks’ perfect world, those spots will be commanded by minimum salaried players hoping to go ring-chasing.

Are we positive Mudiay has played himself out of such a menial contract? Don’t be so sure. Last offseason, former sixth overall pick Nerlens Noel signed a minimum salary deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, while former 10th overall pick Elfrid Payton signed for just $3 million in New Orleans. Derrick “Once a Knick, Please God, Make it Stop” Rose had to settle for the minimum in Minnesota. Hell, Noah Vonleh – the ninth selection just four years ago – didn’t even get a fully guaranteed deal.

Of course, if the Knicks strike out, bringing some of the band back on one-year contracts for continuity’s sake wouldn’t be the worst idea either.

So yes, while the contract is one factor, by itself, it’s not the reason Mudiay’s continued playing time has everyone so up in arms. If that were the case, Kadeem Allen – who is four years older than Mudiay and also not signed past this year – would have caused the pitchforks to come out when he was averaging 22 minutes a night before being sent back to Westchester.

No, the fury goes much, much deeper than money. Over the course of this season, Mudiay and his playing time have become nothing short of a referendum on David Fizdale. That conversation inevitably turns into a discussion about what is and isn’t the purpose of this season. It’s all interconnected.

I’ve sung Fizdale’s praises more than is probably deserved and won’t add to them here. It is interesting to note, though, that while opinions on Mudiay really aren’t that divergent – he’s some shade of “meh” any way you cut it – opinions on Fizdale shone through the prism of Mudiay run all the colors of the rainbow.

When looking for reasons why the former Nugget is still playing, the common refrain skews towards the negative: David Fizdale plays Mudiay because he doesn’t care about defense…or analytics…or development. That he cut his teeth in an organization that has been at or near the forefront of all three is conveniently placed aside.

Sometimes, the accusations can get a little uglier than that. Some feel Emmanuel Mudiay has been Fizdale’s personal pet project ever since “we gonna get you right” and that it’s the coach’s ego driving his decision to stick with Mud. Others feel he’s Fiz’s personal tank commander and his PT is simply an easy way to rack up L after L. Some just think he hates Frank Ntilikina…or foreign players in general…or has been given a directive not to prioritize holdovers from the Phil Jackson regime. It’s all been floated.

There are other theories…less devious ones that coincide with Fizdale’s reputation as a coach who gets buy-in from players like no other. Could it be that he feels obliged to support Mudiay, someone who’s diligently if not aptly taken to coaching since the summer? Does he feel that casting off a 22-year old just because he doesn’t neatly fit into the organization’s future plans is not only inherently wrong, but a bad look for a team trying to rebrand itself as someplace players want to come? Does he want to maintain DSJ’s drive and kick style when he goes to his second unit? Might he simply want to stay with the hot hand when it’s warranted, as he did to positive results Tuesday night vs Orlando?

All of these glass-half-full options require looking at a basketball team as a living, breathing organism rather than a balance sheet or a collection of statistics. Is that wise? Or an inherently flawed approach?

As you ponder that, consider the coach’s words after New York’s recent home loss to the Timberwolves – the one that had many fans flummoxed over Emmanuel Mudiay playing the final 17 minutes of the game. Fizdale was asked about divvying up playing time between the kids and the vets. His response8 was instructive:

It depends on how the young guys are messing up. If their mistakes are mistakes that I have to show more discipline about, then the vets are going to play more in that situation.

The question came on the heels of a night where DeAndre Jordan saw 33 minutes to Mitchell Robinson’s 13 – something the coach attributed to Robinson’s lack of focus and inability to stay “locked in.” Did this tough love approach have anything to do with Robinson responding by playing perhaps his best game of the season vs the Spurs? Or was it merely a matter of opportunity thanks to Jordan being out with an injury?

Just like the Mudiay questions, we simply don’t know. In fact, none of the theories about Fizdale’s approach can be confirmed or denied, but their mere existence drives home a salient point: unlike a smoking gun, decision making in a tanking season isn’t definitive evidence of anything. This is “eye of the beholder” at it’s finest. Playing Emmanuel Mudiay proves David Fizdale is an idiot. Or that he’s a genius. Or somewhere in between. It’s up to you to pick which one is true.

In reality, on such a shitty team, there are arguments for and against playing any player, just as there are arguments for playing them four, 14 or 40 minutes a game. Just like the Mudiay discussion, opinions on those arguments are colored by one’s own personal views on development, culture, accountability, tanking, analytics, and a whole host of other team-building tenets that have yet to be settled one way or another.

The best part is that all of this talk is likely meaningless. Golden State is a dynasty neither because nor despite the fact that Dorell Wright averaged more minutes per game than Steph Curry during the future MVP’s sophomore season; they’re a dynasty because Steph Curry became Steph Curry. Nothing in anyone’s control was ever going to change that.

If this summer goes according to plan, the fretting about Emmanuel Mudiay will seem comical in retrospect. There will be no guesswork involved as to whether David Fizdale is doing a good job. The record will speak for itself.

In a season like this one, however, there are no answers, only questions…questions that aren’t likely to be answered until the dust settles in July and the season begin anew in October.

Until then, we’ll have Emmanuel Mudiay to argue about, because we’re New Yorkers, dammit. It’s what we do.

Future Focus, Part II: Mitchell Robinson

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Knicks were MAJOR players. Now that the dust has settled – vets gone, cap space created, draft picks added – we can spend these last few months focused on what was supposed to be our top priority in the first place: YOUTH.

The three months 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 two guys left over the age of 25, 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 focuses on the most hyped, most improved player on the roster – Mitchell Robinson.  

Patience should work both ways, right?

We shouldn’t get too down on Frank when he struggles, so we also shouldn’t get too worked up over Mitch when he thrives. I know you don’t want me raining on your parade, but it’s only logical to stay even-keeled with raw talent.  We at Knicks Film School live by this code: never get too excited, one way or another…

You know what? F*** it. It’s been a horrific season, 90% of the press has been negative, the weather’s been sh***y like every other winter, so I’m hopping aboard the Mitch Hype Train, transferring to a ferry bound for Mitch Island, and hitting the beach with my rose-colored glasses to drink my Mitch Kool-Aid.   

[Takes sip]

[Takes another]

If you’ve watched him at all, you can’t deny he passes the eye test with flying colors. His gifts literally jump off the screen – the athleticism, the rim-running, the lob-catching, the shot-blocking, the uncanny ability to cover so much ground and close out effectively on jump shooters. It’s all obviously impressive, so you don’t need numbers to know that star potential is there. But just in case…

That’s right – Mitch compares favorably across the board with some of the best defensive-minded, rim-running bigs of recent years, a group that sports both All-NBA and All-Defensive selections, 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards, 3 Rebounding titles, 6 FG% titles, 2 Block titles, and 23 playoff appearances.

View from Mitch Island: Future DPOY and All-Star Mitchell Robinson will anchor a playoff-bound defense as soon as next year.

Oh, I’m getting ahead of myself? [Takes sip] FOH.

Seriously, how am I supposed to temper expectations? He’s suddenly staying out of foul trouble, has risen to 3rd in Blocks per Game despite playing only 18 MPG, is averaging 10.2 points (on 71.4 TS%) and 8.3 rebounds in February, and then his trainer goes and says he can be an “Anthony Davis-type player”?  

Now that’s unreasonable. Even drunk off this Mitch Juice, I’m not crazy enough to make that comp…


He’s a little bit behind AD in scoring, but it’s close enough – 9 Points Per 100 Possessions is the same gap between James Harden and Steph Curry this year.  

[Takes sip]

View from Mitch Island: If AD is to Harden as Mitch is to Steph, then that means…Mitch is a future unanimous MVP who’ll lead us to multiple titles!  

And look at the rest of these numbers: defensive impact is comparable, FG% gap is embarrassing for a certain disgruntled Pelican, and those O and D Ratings! Mitch must have gotten some really good coaching last year in college to be…wait, what? He didn’t play in college?

So you’re telling me that while Anthony Davis was molded at an NBA factory under Coach Cal prior to his rookie year, Mitch was just at home training by himself? And the numbers are this close?

View from Mitch Island: That wing at Springfield that @JCMacriNBA suggested? Won’t be enough. He’s gonna need his own free-standing, three-level museum.  

You doubters thought the All-Star break – and the fact that he was NOT selected to the Rising Stars game – might get us happy citizens of Rob City to calm down a little bit. Well, you were wrong:

We saw him trying to perfect the J pre-draft.  We see the mechanics – not great, but good enough.  We’ve seen the stark rise in FT% to over 69% this month. And now we’ve been blessed with a clip of an effortless three?  

[Refills cup and chugs it]

[Refills again]

I’m trying to wrap my head around this: these former All-Star bigs came into the league with no semblance of a 3-point jump shot and over time developed range? You mean it’s possible for NBA players to add skills they don’t currently have through dedication and hard work? 

Mitch clearly works hard. His sudden significant improvement is evidence enough. If he gets anywhere close to league average…

[Pours Kool-Aid over self, bathing in it]  

View from Mitch Island: With the 36th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks selected Rudy Gobert meets Anthony Davis meets Steph Curry.  

He’s the pegasus…or was it unicorn?  He’s the unicorn everyone’s been talking about, right?

Jokes and hyperbole aside, he’s still super raw. Just like Frank, his future is impossible to project. But think about what your eyes tell you. Think about the improvement you’ve seen on both screen and paper. Think about the developmental paths all bigs mentioned above have taken.

It is entirely reasonable to think that Mitchell Robinson is the steal of the 2018 NBA Draft. It is entirely reasonable to think that surrounded by better players next year, he (and his numbers) will improve significantly. And it is entirely reasonable to think that Steve Mills and Scott Perry may have found a franchise cornerstone with that 36th pick.

View from Mitch Island: Forget reasonable. I’ll be reasonable in July. For now, someone just get me a refill.     

How Dennis Smith Jr. fits with Frank Ntilikina

Coming off the Knicks’ 2016-17 season, one thing was abundantly clear: the team needed a point guard.

The Derrick Rose experiment had profoundly failed, finding new ways to disappoint a fanbase that thought it had seen it all. Brandon Jennings had been waived in February and was slowly making his way to China. Significant back-up minutes were going to rookie Ron Baker. Again, the team needed a point guard.

With their pick in the 2017 draft, the Knicks weren’t just selecting a player; they were seemingly choosing a philosophical direction for the franchise.

By the time they were on the clock, the Knicks essentially had two options – Dennis Smith Jr. or Frank Ntilikina.

The two players didn’t just possess contrasting styles, they were diametrically opposed in every way. They weren’t two sides of the same coin. They were altogether separate currencies.

Ntilikina was steady, deliberate, defensive-minded, team-oriented. His impact was going to be mostly hidden from the box score – lost in translation between your eyes which struggled to see his value and your gut which told you good things happened when he was on the court. His playing style was like coastal erosion, slowly and silently shaping each game’s landscape through persistent energy and effort.

Smith was more like a tidal wave. He was dynamic, aggressive, explosive, prickly and  headstrong. His on-court impact would be more transparent – both his strengths and weaknesses on display for everyone to see. Each gravity-taunting dunk and misguided turnover apt for House of Highlights. When Smith was on the court, there would be no subtlety. You would notice him, for better or worse.

When the team chose Ntilikina over Smith, it signaled to fans that they were now a Serious Franchise. One that ostensibly valued fundamentals and defense over viral highlights and empty-calorie box score stats. It was a serious gamble. Both players had significant upside, but their peaks were on different sides of the world.

The pick was met with polarizing responses from fans and analysts alike. Some were optimistic. Jordan Schultz of Yahoo! Sports gave the pick an A+. Adi Joseph of USA Today Sports gave it an A. The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks graded Frank’s value at a B and his fit in New York an A.

Other journalists felt the Knicks made the wrong choice. Sam Vecenie of the Sporting News wrote, “If the Knicks were set on point guard, I would have gone with Dennis Smith.”

Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp said that it was “inexplicable” for the Knicks to pass on Smith, giving their draft a D+ grade. Wrote Sharp:

“Ntilikina is an interesting prospect but he’s probably a few years away from contributing in a meaningful way. In any case, he’s not Dennis Smith. Knicks fans are understandably bummed and wondering what might have been with one of the most explosive guards in the draft.”

Over the ensuing season and a half, Frank has been one of the most divisive players among Knicks fans in recent memory. His supporters will point to his strong perimeter defense, unselfish playmaking and high motor. His critics will direct you to his historically bad shooting numbers and diffident offensive style.

Meanwhile, Smith didn’t exactly set the world on fire in Dallas, either. His box score stats were more impressive, as expected. But, questions about his attitude, decision-making and defense still lingered. Regardless, there was always going to be a prevailing pang of wistfulness every time Smith did something spectacular. A collective “What if?” feeling among Knicks fans.

Then, something crazy happened.

The Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis for a package that would pair 20-year-old Frank Ntilikina with the 21-year-old Dennis Smith Jr. The trade was so earth-shattering for Knicks fans that it may as well have caused time to loop back and fold over itself, allowing the fanbase to live both realities simultaneously. It’s like if Robert Frost’s traveler went back to that divergence in the woods and was able to walk both roads at the same time. No more What Ifs.

Now, the question is whether either guard will be a part of the Knicks’ core moving forward. Obviously, so much hinges on how free agency shakes out. But, it’s worth examining Smith’s strengths and weaknesses to see how he may fit with Frank if both lottery-pick point guards end up on the roster next season.


Attacking the Rim

The most obvious and tantalizing part of Smith’s game is one that Ntilikina mostly lacks, and that’s his ability to get to the rim. Smith relentlessly puts pressure on the defense, attacking the basket at will. Since becoming a Knick, he has averaged 15.4 drives per game, per NBA.com, the 10th-most in the league during that eight-game span. In those games he’s taken 46% of his shots at the rim, a number that would rank in the 97th percentile for the season among his position per Cleaning The Glass.

The most impressive aspect of Smith’s forays into the paint is how consistently he beats his man off the dribble, particularly in half-court situations. Watch him create an advantage out of thin air against Bruce Brown, one of the Pistons’ better perimeter defenders:

That first step! He turns the corner so fast, often times the big (Andre Drummond in this case) never has a chance to help. However, if Smith does encounter a body in the restricted area, he has been able to finish through contact:

Per The BBall Index’s proprietary talent grading system, DSJ ranks in the 74th percentile in their Finishing category when compared to the 73 guards with at least 800 minutes. Frank, when compared to that same group, ranks in just the 5th percentile. Ntilikina will certainly improve finishing at the rim as his career progresses, but as it stands today, Smith puts a whole different level of pressure on the rim (and therefore the defense). The attention he draws will help Smith’s teammates get more open looks as well.

Playmaking Vision

It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking DSJ is a shoot-first gunner who doesn’t make his teammates better. Smith is not the archetype of a “pure” point guard, but it would be a mistake to underestimate his passing vision and playmaking ability. The guy is far from a black hole when he takes it to the rim. Per NBA.com, Smith passes the ball on 47.2% of his drives. That’s the 9th-highest percentage among the 64 players to record at least 400 drives this season. Even more impressive, The BBall Index ranks DSJ in the 97th percentile league-wide in their Playmaking category. Check out this montage of five skip/ cross-court passes:

The thing you’ll notice is how he probes the defense and attracts so much attention with the ball in his hands. He forces opponents to commit and understands how the defense will bend accordingly. Several of those plays were out of the pick-and-roll where he’s been ahead of the learning curve. Before the trade to New York, Smith was posting a league average efficiency on pick-and-rolls including passes, per Synergy. Considering Smith’s age and high-volume usage on pick-and-rolls, the fact that he is already average is extremely promising. In addition to kick-outs, Smith also keeps the bigs fed on lobs and dump-offs. DSJ has recorded 49 assists for the Knicks so far; 10 of those have been on alley-oop dunks (8 to DeAndre and 2 to Mitchell Robinson). But, instead of those highlight-worthy passes, I want to show this pass:

Even though it seems unexceptional, that’s one of my favorite passes Smith has made since the trade because he exploits the space he gets from the defender sagging so far off him. Collin Sexton goes way under the screen then camps in the paint, daring Smith to shoot. Instead, Smith uses that space to probe a little more. He’s patient as he lets Deandre Jordan establish a strong position. Sexton is unable to contest the entry pass because he’s sagging too far off. This is what Smith needs to do more often – make the simple play. Many opponents will not treat him as a threat to shoot, particularly off the dribble. They’ll sag off and try to gum up the spacing. He needs to use that space to his advantage — to see more passing lanes, or to gain steam on drives.

Smith’s playmaking ability is one reason I’m confident that he can play alongside Ntilikina in the backcourt. The last thing we’d want is for Frank’s development to stagnate due to a high-usage, ball-dominant point guard. But, I’m confident that Frank will improve as an off-ball guy, in terms of both his cutting and his catch-and-shoot numbers. Smith has the instincts and ability to find and reward him.

Off-ball Ability

That said, there’s no question that Frank’s peak value would come from playing at least some of his minutes at the point guard position. Having your point guard be able to defend positions 1-3 opens up more opportunities for your team’s defense. Also, to reach his potential at any position, Frank would need to learn to penetrate off the dribble, draw help, and make plays for his teammates. Running the offense would likely force him to develop those skills. So, does pairing Smith with Frank mean that the Knicks’ decision-makers have given up on Frank as a point guard? Not necessarily. Even though Smith hasn’t proven he can stretch defenses with his jump shot, he has shown he can be a legitimate off-ball threat. He’s done so by (what else?) attacking scrambled defenses off the dribble. Here, Kadeem Allen initiates the offense, leading to a Mitchell Robinson dribble hand-off and DSJ runway:

DSJ’s instant chemistry with Kadeem Allen bodes well for his on-court relationship with Ntilikina. In the 41 minutes Allen and Smith have logged together so far, they are a robust +12. This pairing works because Allen takes some of the defensive burden off Smith, while performing some of the perfunctory duties of an offense initiator…two things Frank will be able to handle when he returns from his injury.


Shot Selection/ Decision-making

The numbers will tell you that Smith takes too many long twos, and that’s true. But, even worse has been the timing of those long twos. He’ll take some utter head-scratchers – shots he can get at any time – right at the beginning of the shot clock. I audibly gasped at this one:

There must be an emotional toll those types of shots take on your teammates. I’d imagine they linger in your teammates’ heads and lead them to believe that you take more selfish shots than you actually do.

This next shot isn’t quite gasp-worthy, but it’s another early-clock 20-footer that Smith needs to excise from his game:

Another major area for improvement for Smith is turnovers. In his eight games for New York, statistically he’s been OK in that department, but he really struggled as a rookie (as most rookie point guards do). And, in his first 32 games in Dallas this season, he turned the ball over on 18.7% of his used possessions, worse than 98% of other point guards, per Cleaning The Glass. Knicks fans started to see that side of him when he coughed up the ball five times in 22 minutes against the Timberwolves.

But, if DSJ and Frank take turns running the point, these are areas where the French guard can help Smith improve (or at least save him from himself). If Ntilikina is initiating the offense, Smith won’t be able to forfeit possessions with 20 seconds left on the shot clock or throw the ball away with such reckless abandon. Frank projects to be a more dependable, less turnover-prone lead guard. When he takes the reigns you can expect DSJ to play more of a Monta Ellis or Donovan Mitchell type of role.

Off-ball Defense

On defense is where Frank and DSJ can exist in harmony most clearly. Frank has as much defensive upside as any young guard in the league. He has the perfect combination of instincts, mentality and physical tools. Smith, on the other hand, has frequent lapses of judgement and effort on that end of the floor. Too often he’ll torpedo good defensive possessions just by spacing out and losing track of his man. Watch him for all 16 seconds of this clip and please tweet me if you can figure out what he’s doing:

Who is he guarding? Does he think they’re in a zone? Did it turn into an impromptu zone? I need answers as badly as DSJ needs a backcourt partner who can help cover up his mistakes. He routinely gets caught ball-watching:

He doesn’t just lose sight of his man. He seems to lose consciousness of their very existence. Check out this defensive blunder during a crucial possession in crunch time versus the Toronto Raptors:

Here’s the Knicks’ new reality: they have both Ntilikina and Smith. All the hand-ringing and second-guessing over that 2017 draft pick is moot.

Now, it will be David Fizdale’s responsibility to deploy both players in ways that give them opportunities to be successful. That should not be difficult. In today’s league where playmaking at all five positions is so highly coveted, having two point guards who can also play off the ball should be a boon, not a burden.

Mitchell Robinson is just getting started

Remember Little Shop of Horrors?

The horror/sci-fi/rom-com/musical period piece from 1986? The description says all you need to know. It should have been too audacious to work, except for the fact that it was so audacious, it worked perfectly. I mean, Rick F’ing Moranis plays the lead, opposite a giant, man-eating plant voiced by the lead singer from the Four Tops. That about says it all.

I thought of the movie recently when I was trying to find a parallel to the season Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson is having. During New York’s just-ended 18-game losing streak, I found myself thinking of Robinson a lot. As other young players on the roster had positive moments here and there, it seemed like every minute Mitch was in the game, he was doing something good. He was routinely – and quite loudly – announcing his presence on the court in a way that made his emergence as a two-way force seem almost obvious.

Less obvious is why LSOH is the perfect avatar for this precocious wunderkind. Like Robinson, LSOH was and is something we’ve never seen before…a movie that throws a bunch of shit against the wall and yet somehow creates a masterpiece.

Mitch, meanwhile, already has a special place among the NBA lexicon because he still hasn’t met a block he doesn’t like. At the rim, midrange, behind the arc, centers, wings, ball handlers, late clock, early clock, stars, nobodies…it’s all the same to him. Jumping at such a variety of attempts should result in disaster, but just like the movie, it hasn’t.

The nature of the rejections or the rate at which they are coming – he’s leading the league in blocks per 36 minutes among guys who’ve played at least 500 minutes – are not the reasons why I thought of the movie though.

No, the reason why LSOH is being remade as the 2018-19 Knicks season9 is because like the true star of the movie, Mitchell Robinson’s game keeps growing…and growing…and growing some more, with no end in sight. Even better, it’s getting nastier by the day. He is becoming a monster before our very eyes…one that deems your shit to be unworthy, and he will vanquish it accordingly.

On the surface, he might look like the same player as he was in October. In fact, when I sent out a recent tweet suggesting he had grown by leaps and bounds since Vegas Summer League, a few people responded that, no, this was essentially the same guy.

Let’s quickly dispel with that notion. If your memory of last summer’s fake games is fuzzy, refresh it with Zach Diluzio’s phenomenal piece on the subject. He details how, despite the obvious talent, Mitch struggled in several aspects of the game, including but not limited to screen-setting, footwork on closeouts, positioning, and general fundamentals. It’s why, like Zach, I though he was destined to spend a good portion of the season in the G-League.

Hey, guess what has two thumbs and shouldn’t make predictions!

When the real games started in October, not only was Mitch getting playing time with the big club, but he looked downright competent in the process. That was impressive in and of itself. What he’s done in the four short months since then is downright astounding.

Let’s start with the foul issues, Robinson’s most glaring bugaboo. Following an initial feeling-out process in October, in 15 November games, Robinson averaged 7.6 fouls per 36 minutes. Among 280 players to see the court for at least 250 minutes that month, that figure was dead last2.

It wasn’t hard to see why either. Mitch left his feet when the shooter so much as thought about pump-faking. The results spoke for themselves.

Since November, Robinson has steadily decreased his hackin’n whackin, dropping to 6.7 fouls per 36 minutes in December, 5.8 in November and just 4.3 so far this month. That it hasn’t hurt his ability to be a human Magic Eraser3 one bit makes it all the more impressive. On the year, opponents are converting 4.9 percent fewer shots when guarded by Robinson. That’s among the league leaders for high volume defenders and is just ahead of his more ballyhooed classmate, Jaren Jackson Jr.

Overall, the effect that Big Meech4 has had on the team’s defense has improved as well. For the months of November, December and January, the Knicks gave up between 109.7 and 110.9 points per 100 possessions when Mitch manned the middle. So far this month though, that number is an even 100.0. For the season, New York has a 107.8 defensive rating when Robinson plays, which would rank ninth in the league and is nearly five points better than their actual number.

Aside from his penchant for fouling, the other major knock on Mitch’s game early on was that he didn’t rebound the ball like a seven-footer with his leaping ability had any right to. Prior to the ankle injury that kept him sidelined for a month between December and January, Robinson’s total rebound percentage was a paltry 10.7 percent, which ranked 78th out of 91 centers through the end of 2018. Since the new year started, that’s bumped up all the way up to 15.3 percent. At 37th out of 86 centers during that time, it’s far from elite but is more than respectable. His 14.1 rebounds per 36 minutes since the calendar flipped to February – higher than Joel Embiid during that short span – means the best may be yet to come.

There are other small signs around the periphery as well. While all of the attention has been on how much less he’s fouling, Robinson is also drawing fouls at a greater rate. Pre-December injury, he was getting to the line just over once per game. Since coming back, that number has more than doubled. His shooting from the field has also reached astronomical levels. Since January 1, of the 309 players averaging at least 15 minutes per game, his 76.4 effective field goal percentage is second in the league.

Again: dude didn’t play basketball for a year.

Are there still things to work on? Of course. For starters, he’s still averaging a hair under 18 minutes per game. The reason he’s not on the court more despite the gaudy numbers is because it would disrupt the tank his conditioning is still a work in progress (although six of his top 11 minutes totals have come since January 27). He also hasn’t shown the propensity to shoot, like, at all. For the season, he’s taken exactly three shots outside of five feet from the basket. His trainer Marcell Scott has already spoken about upping that number.

So yeah…New York has itself a legit, honest to goodness prodigy on their hands. That news is both good and potentially incredibly complicating.

Whether or not Knicks fans want to hear this, the team is absolutely going to put itself in the running for Mitch’s summer workout buddy, Anthony Davis. The Pelicans, justifiably, are going to ask for the moon. I’m not going to get into whether it’s the right move to clear out the cupboard for a 26-year-old generational talent entering his walk year, because considering the ramifications that it could have on free agency this summer, that’s an article unto itself. What’s notable here, though, is that there’s one very important thing that could wind up keeping Mitchell Robinson in orange and blue even if the Knicks go out and get themselves a Brow: money.

If the Knicks want to retain enough cap space to add two maximum salary players5

Here’s where things gets tricky: Anthony Davis makes $27,093,019 next season. Due to the NBA’s salary matching rules, the Knicks would need to send out at least $21,674,415 in any trade. The numbers get tight here, and where New York ends up selecting in the draft could play a large role as the 5th pick makes almost $3 million less than the first pick.

Regardless, this much is clear: the Knicks will need to send out their own 2019 draftee and Kevin Knox, along with Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina in order to have any chance of the money working out for Davis[footnote]again, assuming they’ve spent all their cap space on two max players. Mitchell Robinson makes so much less than those players ($1.5 million next season) that his salary won’t tip the scales one way or another.

So what does that mean for Robinson? Maybe nothing. For as amazing as he is, is Mitch really going to be the deal breaker in getting AD, especially when acquiring Davis in principle before free agency begins could seal the deal for KD and a super friend? Probably not, but the point should still be made: should the Knicks brass take a hard line stance that New Orleans has to leave them with one of their kiddos, because of how little he makes, the default kiddo in that scenario almost has to be Mitchell Robinson.

This, of course, is getting wildly ahead of ourselves. If the Knicks find themselves in a place where they even need to have these conversations means a) the summer has gone exactly as planned and b) Robinson continues to progress at a rapid rate. For as crazy as the first part seems, the latter now appears more likely than not.

In a horror movie of a season for fans everywhere, that alone is something to be excited about.

Focusing on the Youth, Part 1: Frank Ntilikina

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Knicks were MAJOR players. Now that the dust has settled – vets gone, cap space created, draft picks added – we can spend these last few months focused on what was supposed to be our top priority in the first place:  YOUTH.

The three months 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 two guys left over the age of 25, this stretch is about seeing what we have and projecting what may be. 

Part I of this series focuses on who else but FRANK NTILIKINA.

If you favor ball-dominant scoring point guards – like the NBA in 2019 seems to do – no amount of patience will bring you around to Frank’s side. But you know what
is on his side? Time. The kid is 20 years old.  

I’ve never spoken to Scott Perry or Steve Mills, but I imagine the main reason they’ve rebuffed interest in Ntilikina during each of the past two deadlines is because he possesses things you simply can’t teach: elite size / length for his position; an IQ beyond his years; deceptively effective quickness and athleticism (just ask Rudy Gobert); and 1st Team All-Defense potential.  

Yet despite all that, he’s one of the most polarizing young players in the league, mainly because of who the Knicks passed over to take him and how those peers have performed in comparison. He simply hasn’t figured it out yet. 

And honestly, I don’t care. The kid is 20 years old. He can still fulfill any destiny. He can become the All-Star that many projected before the draft (highest All-Star odds of any player in his class according to ESPN Draft experts); he can be a solid starter for 12-15 years; he can become an important rotational piece off the bench. But I don’t see any possibility for “bust,” because even if he never lives up to his draft position, whatever he becomes is something the Knicks need.

No way he’ll ever be an All-Star. Look at those numbers. We’d have seen signs by now.

Yeah, you’re probably right. No one ever performs this poorly, especially shooting the ball, and then develops into an All-Star caliber player…

Ideally, this chart would show what each future All-Star was doing at 20. Problem is, most of them weren’t in the league yet. Kyle Lowry is the only 20-year-old on the list. Everyone else is at least 21.

Now this group was not compiled based on similar physical profiles or styles of play; it’s merely to show that for some guys, it takes time. Rondo shot 21% from three as a rookie and somehow figured out a way to survive and thrive throughout his career as a non-shooter. Kemba shot worse as a 21-year-old than Frank at 19, and yet he’s become one of the most lethal scorers in the League, dropping 60 point earlier this season. Even guys reputed as shooters – Billups, Mo Williams – struggled to do what would eventually become their bread-and-butter. Billups was jettisoned 50 games into his rookie year (again, as a 21-year-old) because the results weren’t immediate.    

In fact, four of the six players above went on to become All-Stars after being discarded by their original teams.  What’d I say the key word was?

You’re out of your mind.  The guy will be back in France in three years.

I’ll concede that I don’t expect him to ever represent the Knicks or any other team in February’s scoring bonanza, but you’re missing the point if you think you can declare any definitive outcome for Ntilikina.


And frankly, he doesn’t need to be an All-Star. The Knicks don’t need that either. All they (and we as fans) really need is for him to grow into himself, do what he does best, and fill a role on what will soon be a totally revamped roster. Maybe in a year or two, we’re talking about him as one of the NBA’s bright up-and-comers at the position:

Is it crazy to think he could one day produce like Spencer Dinwiddie has this year?  Or like Terry Rozier does whenever Kyrie is out? The Utah Jazz refused to include Dante Exum in trade offers for MIKE CONLEY…is it crazy to think that Frank could one day have that value for us?  

(By the way, those numbers above – that’s through Dinwiddie and Rozier’s Age-22 seasons.  Exum, 21. Have I mentioned Frank is still 20?)

I don’t know what his destiny is. I don’t know if he has multiple 6th Man of the Year awards in his future, or if he’ll set the single-game assists record, or back up an MVP so well that the team barely misses a beat when he’s in. I don’t know if he’ll ever be the heart-and-soul of a contender like Smart, or a steadying offensive maestro like Rubio. I don’t know if he’ll ever be prime Derek Harper (17+ PPG in six consecutive seasons) or the Derek Harper whose 9 points and 4 assists per game helped us reach Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

And you don’t either. That’s the point. Frank Ntilikina is currently the 19th-youngest in a league that has about 450 players. He plays on the youngest team in the league for a head coach that, as of February 12th, still hasn’t coached the equivalent of two full seasons. The circumstances are not ideal and the numbers are cringe-worthy, but stop worrying about that stuff. Especially the percentages. Sometimes when you play the hardest position in basketball and you’re trying to learn to read the game and adjust to the speed and physicality of NBA competition, you miss some shots. He, like most of these guys, will figure it out one way or another. As a fan in a lost season, instead of checking box scores or living and dying with every make and miss, focus instead on the following post-All Star break:

  • Is he attacking the basket like he’d been before his injury?  
  • Is he taking open jumpers, or is he hesitating?
  • Is he creating shots for himself?
  • Is the quality of his defense back to last year’s elite level?  

Kyle Lowry didn’t hit 30 minutes or double-digit points per game until his Age-24 season. Dragic didn’t crack 20 MPG until Age 25. Kemba didn’t become a plus three-point shooter until the same age. Frank Ntilikina is not a lost cause. The potential is undeniable, and the precedent – overcoming young struggles to lead successful careers – is firmly established.

How successful will he be? Only time will tell. But whether his destiny is well-rounded DPOY like Alvin Robertson or underappreciated-in-the-shadow-of-stars a la Ron Harper or Derek Fisher (or more recently, Shaun Livingston), we should value what he brings. So over these final 26, let’s ignore the numbers. Let’s pay more attention to his mindset, to the way he plays and the intangibles he possesses. And instead of stressing about what he isn’t, let’s focus instead on the possibilities.  

After all, he’s only 20.  

Grading each aspect of Kevin Knox’ game at the All-Star Break

This is a season of development for the Knicks. We always knew it would be.

Things have gone as planned (well, sort of). The Knicks are in control of the top slot in the lottery, and the young guns have almost completely overtaken the rotation. Potential pieces for the future are getting plenty of burn in featured roles, shaking off the rookie rust early in their careers to hopefully set the tone for second and third year leaps going forward.

At the forefront of this movement has been the man selected with the ninth pick in the 2018 Draft, Kentucky product Kevin Knox.

Knox was always going to be a bit of a project. He brought tantalizing physical tools and flashes of greatness to the table, but it was expected that Knox would most likely not be an instant-impact rookie. His ceiling is among the best of his class, but it always seemed that some very rocky bumps were going to be there on the way to reaching that peak.

Fortunately for the Knicks, this season was perfectly constructed to accommodate players of that ilk.

After all, according to my research, Knox is still only the ripe age of 19. The man (is he actually a “man” yet?) has plenty of time.

With that said, as the team prepares for the (much-needed) All-Star break, I thought now would be a good time to evaluate the youngling’s progress. Forty-nine games into his professional career, let’s take a look at Kevin Knox’s performance in each area of the game, and grade each accordingly.


Knox’s shooting has not been atrocious by any means, but he definitely has a ways to go. On the plus side, Knox has been decent enough to where you can reasonably expect a future jump. Paul George shot at a 30% clip from three as a rookie. LeBron James connected on 29%. Since then, they’ve shot 39% and 35%, respectively, over the rest of their careers.

Post-rookie year leaps happen all of the time. It’s normal for a rookie to struggle with his shot. Knox has hit 33.6% of his threes so far, a below-average, but respectable enough number.

Since 2009-10, 61 rookies have attempted at least 3.0 three point attempts per game (minimum 40 games played). Knox checks in at 41st in 3P% among those names. Here is a look at the region around him:

There are some names in this bottom half that give you some confidence, such as Kemba Walker, Jamal Murray, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, and Knick villain Kristaps Porzingis. However, there is a far greater number of busts in this group. Knox could stand to raise his clip just a few points by the end of the season to inch closer to the top of this list, where a high frequency of future stars reside.

Knox has also hit 72.4% of his free throws. Again, it’s not terrible, but it is below league average. That number would place Knox at 49th out of the 61 player group referenced above. There isn’t a single player with an All-Star appearance below Knox (though Luka Doncic is at 72.2%).

Knox has a very pretty shot. He gets good lift and has a nice stroke. With better shot selection and more mental reps, he could definitely become a very good shooter. So far, the results have not been very good, but they have not been catastrophic. Hope is without a doubt alive and well. I think he can certainly get there in time.

Some strides over the final few months would be wonderful to see. Knox was catching fire in December, but has clearly been looking more and more fatigued since the calendar flipped. The All-Star Break should work wonders for him.


Knox is averaging 12.6 points per game and 15.9 points per 36 minutes.

He’s improved from the early portions of the season, where he was posting consistent numbers in the single digits.

While the efficiency hasn’t yet been there (.434 eFG%, .469 TS%), Knox has been aggressive looking for his shot. I think that’s great for him. Mental reps are huge in the NBA for a young player getting accustomed to completely new circumstances and competition. Knox will enter his second season with a lion’s share of tape to look back at and learn from.

Among the 189 rookies to play at least 1000 minutes since 2009-10, Knox currently sits at a healthy 49th in points per 36 minutes.

There are some very impressive names in Knox’s region. As mentioned, Knox currently owns an average of 15.9 points per 36 minutes. Jayson Tatum is at 38th (16.4), Bradley Beal is at 41st (16.1), Kemba Walker is at 44th (16.1), Victor Oladipo is at 46th (15.9), and John Wall is at 54th (15.6).

Knox ranks even more highly when it comes to aggressiveness. He sits at 22nd in field goal attempts per 36, with 15.4. He sits directly behind Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma and ahead of Lauri Markkanen and Kemba Walker.

Among the top 40 names in FGA/36, only five have shot below 40% from the field: Knox, Walker, Dennis Smith, Trey Burke, and Emmanuel Mudiay.

As discussed earlier, a surge in efficiency over the final stretch would go a long way for improving the outlook of Knox’s future odds of success based on past results. With that said, it’s great he has alleviated any concerns regarding complacency as a scorer. He’s going to look for his buckets. That much we know.


Knox is averaging 4.2 rebounds per game and 5.3 rebounds per 36 minutes.

How does that stack up among rookies at his size? Let’s compare the 6’9, 215-pound Knox to fellow rookies in the height range of 6’8 to 6’10.

Since 2009-10, of the 99 rookies in that height range to play at least 500 minutes, Knox ranks 78th in rebounds per 36 minutes.

Among 19-year old rookies, only Brandon Ingram and Andrew Wiggins trail Knox.

Certainly, rebounding was not expected to be a major part of Knox’s game. He currently carries a slender 215-pound frame, and of course, is over a year away from legal drinking age.

Knox could certainly improve his rebounding from where it is. However, rebounding doesn’t seem to be a skill that improves with age. Most players remain steady in that category throughout their careers.

I don’t think Knox’s rebounding number is terrible. If he can carry it with him throughout his career, it should plenty acceptable alongside improved scoring. Still, he could stand to make improving his play on the glass a point of emphasis in the offseason.


Nobody really expects Knox to be a passer, but he has still left a lot to be desired in this area.

Knox is averaging 1.0 assist per game and 1.2 assists per 36 minutes.

Among the 180 players to play at least 1000 minutes this season, Knox is 176th in AST/36, ahead of only JaVale McGee, Hassan Whiteside, Jerami Grant, and Gerald Green.

Touching the ball as frequently as he does (Knox’s 22.2% USG% is 6th among the 24 rookies with at least 500 minutes played), it’s fair to expect a little more playmaking propensity from Knox. He can tend to be far too aggressive looking for his shot, leading to wild basketball. Over-aggressiveness will lead to too many contested looks, missed open teammates, and late passes resulting in a turnover among other catastrophes.

Knox has averaged 24.8 passes per game in 28.5 minutes. Among the 13 Knicks to appear in at least 25 games this season, only Mitchell Robinson has made fewer passes per minute.

His few passes haven’t been very productive, either. Only 3.9% of Knox’s passes have resulted in an assist, 14th-lowest rate in the league.

Specifically, Knox has been too shot-happy when driving to the hoop. Among the 127 players to drive at least 200 times so far this season, Knox has passed on the lowest percentage of his drives, at only 10.8% (24 out of 223). The average number in that group is about 40%, while the league leader, Ryan Arcidiacono, has passed out of 64.0% of his drives.

In turn, Knox’s drives have not been very productive. On those plays, he has shot only 39.7% (13th worst), turned the ball over 8.5% of the time (26th worst), and committed an offensive foul 13.0% of the time (4th worst).

Like the rebounding category, passing is not necessarily a core skill Knox was drafted to bring to the table, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an area he should try to improve in.

Anthony Davis also averaged only 1.2 assists per 36 as a rookie. This season, he is averaging 4.3. Kawhi Leonard averaged only 1.6, but has been above 3.5 in each of the last three seasons. Paul George averaged 1.8 and now has a career 3.5 average.

Hopefully, Knox’s distributing ability will improve as the game slows down for him.

You can liken it to a running quarterback in the NFL who always looks for his first. It may be sexy for a QB to post 50 rushing yards per game, but what if for every 50 yards he gains on the ground, he is passing up on 100 potential yards through the air?

For every contested shot an aggressive scorer like Knox takes, there is most likely a higher efficiency opportunity available for someone else on the court.

An elite quarterback doesn’t look to run first, but he also doesn’t ignore the option completely. He knows when the run is the highest upside play and takes it then and only then.

Basketball follows the same concept. Great players know how to balance scoring and distributing to maximize every possession.

The more refined Knox becomes as he matures, the more often we should see him make the smartest play, be it a smarter shot or the smart pass.


Via NBA.com, Knox’s 114.2 defensive rating is 20th out of the 21 players to take the court for the team, better than only Tim Hardaway Jr. The Knicks have been 6.3 points better defensively per 100 possessions with Knox off the court versus when he has been on.

I remember reading and watching scouting reports on Knox extensively after the Knicks drafted him. The common consensus seemed to be in line with just about every other aspect of Knox’s game. While his physical profile gave him a tantalizing ceiling as a defender, he had a lot to work on fundamentally.

On the ball, Knox’s defense hasn’t been too shabby. Via NBA.com, Knox has allowed a FG% to his matchups 0.1% lower than expectation, sixth-best among regular Knicks.

On three-point attempts, Knox has dipped opponent shooting by a very strong 3.8%, allowing only 32.5% shooting.

From watching Knox, his problems have mostly been off the ball and down low. Of course, he has struggled with guarding bigger 3s and 4s early in his career with his lack of size.

Away from the play, Knox tends to get lost and lose his man, a common issue for young players and one that was present for him at Kentucky.

Knox’s defensive upside was probably the number two trait behind his scoring upside that made him a top-ten pick. He has the tools to be a very useful multi-position defender.

But we’ll ask the same question regarding his defense that we’ve been asking regarding every other aspect of his game – can he make the necessary strides to fulfill his sky-high potential?

A calm Knicks trade deadline before the impending storm

After a slow trade deadline, the real fun for the Knicks begins in earnest. A look at where things stand now and in the immediate future.

Aside from paying two men roughly the GDP of a small island nation to not play basketball for them over the next two months, the Knicks had a quiet deadline day. We probably shouldn’t be surprised.

After making a trade that sent shock waves throughout the league, the smart money said the Knicks were going to sit tight. Why? There’s different reasons for different players that fans may have expected to be involved in a deal:

  • Wes Matthews: it wasn’t the player, but the salary. It’s not easy to move $18.6 million and only get back expiring money, which was an obvious caveat in any trade. Once Philly and Sacramento made their respective moves, no suitors with the wherewithal to make a deal were left on the market.
  • Enes Kanter: it was the player and the salary. As I wrote about here and here, there was never going to be a trade market for Kanter. Sorry.
  • Frank Ntilikina: even the most ardent Ntilikina supporters6 would have advocated seeing what was available. That said, it’s tough to imagine anything but low-ball offers for the worst shooter in the league. Orlando made an offer, but was rebuffed. It made more sense to keep him, see if he can figure it out, and get his value up above the basement level.
  • Emmanuel Mudiay: he hasn’t been good enough for a playoff contender to look at and say “he can help us.” Orlando got their reclamation project point guard in Markelle Fultz. Even if anyone has been impressed by his play, his cap hold is so large ($12 million) that it’s hard to see anyone thinking they needed to get him on the books now so they could have an advantage in re-signing him. He will be eminently gettable this offseason.
  • DeAndre Jordan: Every little bit helps.

That leaves Noah Vonleh, the one guy who fans reasonably could have expected to be on the move, especially with his name in trade rumors.

What could the Knicks have gotten for someone who would have been a fourth big on most of the better playoff squads? It’ tough to say. The team acquiring him would have been doing so purely as a rental, which is why, as JB detailed last month, the Knicks should have been looking to move him in the first place.

A look at some other deadline deals may help explain why he’s still a Knick:

  • Nikola Mirotic – a player who could potentially swing a playoff series this spring and who came equipped with full Bird rights – netted the Pelicans four second round picks, two of which are likely to end up in the last 50’s.
  • The Lakers got Mike Muscala – a better shooting, worse defending version of Vonleh – in exchange for an interesting young player in Ivaca Zubac2, who is a restricted free agent to be.
  • The Lakers also acquired 3&D maestro Reggie Bullock for a 2021 second rounder3.

Could the Knicks have gotten a second for Vonleh? Almost certainly. Would it have been a difference-making pick? That’s less likely. Was it worth keeping him around, regardless of the return? It’s a fair question to ask.

On one hand, if the Knicks want to show some semblance of cohesion over the last 29 games – and they should – Vonleh should help them do that despite his less-than-desirable advanced stats of late.

More importantly, though, we just saw the team ship out the one-time franchise cornerstone ostensibly because he didn’t want to be here. By all accounts, Noah Vonleh is a player who has not only bought in to what the Knicks are trying to build, but can attest to the effectiveness of their program as well. Scott Perry would seem to want guys like that in the building for as long as possible. When you throw in the possibility that this summer may not go according to plan, it’ll probably be easier to negotiate a short-term extension for Vonleh operating in house than from the outside.

So Vonleh remains, along with a core group of young Knicks that, as Zach Lowe astutely pointed out yesterday, may be auditioning for jobs in New Orleans as much as they are for playing time in New York next season. Fans should expect to see a healthy dose of Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina together in the backcourt, along with Damyean Dotson, Allonzo Trier, Mitchell Robinson and of course, Kevin Knox.

On Knox, something that hasn’t been said explicitly but seems to be an obvious reality: if Kevin Durant is here next year, Kevin Knox almost certainly won’t be. If Knox is a serviceable NBA player by next season4, it’ll be at the three, which is where Kevin Durant calls home during the regular season. Of course the two could play together, but if Durant comes, he won’t be doing so to watch Knox continue to have his growing pains. Add in the fact that, aside from their draft pick, Knox is New York’s best trade asset, and it’s tough to see a scenario where Knox isn’t the centerpiece of a trade for a veteran following Durant’s (hopeful) arrival.

There are, of course, many bridges to cross before we get to that point though.

Looking ahead…

On one hand, Kevin Durant seems to be in his own universe, and will decide his fate irrespective of anything or anyone else. He is an enigma. While the KD-to-NY whisper campaign has been in full force for months, I maintain that no one has any earthly clue what he will do, including the Knicks.

As for things outside of Durant, the domino effect will be fascinating to watch, and it all starts on May 14.

That, of course, is the night of the draft lottery, and it effects everything that happens from that moment forward. If the Knicks don’t win – and there is at least an 86% chance they won’t – then they will effectively be taken out of the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, as no package New York can offer would beat a Boston one that includes Jayson Tatum.

Losing the lottery sets up a doomsday chain of events for New York: the Celtics trade for AD at the first possible moment they can after July 1, Kyrie knows he can play the next several years of his career with a generational talent in Davis, and then decides to re-sign in Boston. At that point, does Durant even look at New York, or does he wonder if there’s anyone worth coming here to play with? It’s a very real question.

It’s also fair to ask another question – one that will be dominating NBA war rooms over the next four months: would the Celtics even include Tatum in a deal for Davis without the assurance the Brow re-signs?

If the Knicks win the lottery, that conversation is moot, as they would move to the front of the line for Davis, whether Boston is willing to include Tatum or not in their own package. At that point, they’ll be able to gather enough intel to know what a move for AD would mean in terms of who would then come in free agency. Effectively, they may not just be trading for Davis, but for Davis, Kyrie and Kevin Durant as well. Zion Williamson could pee champagne and shit excellence, but if it’s him or those three, I’m taking the latter, and so will the Knicks.

The lottery isn’t the only thing that will have a say in all this. Of the Bucks, Sixers, Celtics and Raptors, two will be going home before the conference finals. With the Bucks currently the one seed and employer of the best player in the East, it’s a very real possibility that two of Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard will be going fishing earlier than expected.

Does that change how likely it is for any of those players to re-up with their current organizations? It very well may. On the flip side, if Boston were to make it to, say, Game 6 of the NBA Finals, would that alter Kyrie’s thinking in a different way? Would it change Boston’s approach if Tatum lit it up in June? Every outcome is on the table.

The ironic part is that the team that easily has the most to lose and the most to gain from all of this will have less of a say in the ultimate outcome than any other party involved. All the Knicks can do is the one thing they’ve been pretty good at doing in a season where not much has gone right: incrementally upping the stock of the young players on the roster.

If nothing else, should May 14 and July 1 not go as New York hopes, continued improvement from the young guys will give fans something they can rest their hopes on moving forward. In that scenario, God willing, the team would continue to emphasize youth, take on some bad money for picks and/or young players, maybe invest in another distressed asset or to, and bide their time until the next big fish became available.

Who knows…maybe Boston getting AD could be the best thing in the long run, making it more likely he hits free agency in 2020, right around when the Giannis talk will start heating up.

It bears repeating: everything is on the table. This is the NBA, remember? Chaos has become the only constant there is.

The Porzingis trade didn’t alter the plan, it amplified it

Are the Knicks deviating from their plan or following it?

Sit here, children…plenty of room down in front. Take a pillow if you like. There’s juice boxes in the bin.

It’s story time.

Once upon a time there was an NBA team in a bit of a pickle. For starters, they weren’t very good. Over a 5-year stretch, they averaged 25 wins per season and didn’t sniff the playoffs. They’d gone through three coaches over that span of time, and even fired their president in the midst of all the losing. They also engaged in some of the most egregious spending of any team in the league, paying middling players far more than they were worth.

That this NBA team just so happens to be located in one of the league’s two major markets made all this spending that much worse.

Things got so bad; in fact, in order to gear up for a summer in which some of the league’s best players were going on the market, including arguably the very best player, they had to attach an asset to dump one of those horrendous contracts. Not just any asset either; an All-Star in his early 20’s was sent packing.

Maybe all of this shouldn’t have come as a surprise given the fact that the owner of the team was only running things because the owner’s father had built an empire that the owner stood to benefit from through nothing more than sheer genealogical luck.

Thankfully though, all was not lost. This team had a well-respected coach, one seemingly destined for success as a head man ever since he was an assistant for one of the most respected coaches in the league. They also had a bevy of young assets that by themselves weren’t much, but could easily grow into a positive supporting pieces or potential trade chips down the line.

Low and behold, come the summer that they’d been gearing up for – the one that the new front office had planned for, a plan they never once deviated from – they struck gold. No, they didn’t get the second piece they were hoping for, but it was only a matter of time until that came to fruition.

They got the guy that mattered.

Yeah, I know…there’s a lot of differences between the Knicks and the Lakers.

For one, Los Angeles is the most storied franchise in the NBA with an owner that has the namesake of a man who did it better than anyone. The Knicks, much to the chagrin of our collective superiority complex as New Yorkers, have won two championships in 73 years5 and have, if not the most derided owner in professional sports, one of the prime contenders.

The Knicks also just traded away someone who’s already been an All-Star, as opposed to D’Angelo Russell who only found himself once he got to Brooklyn. The ceiling on each player is not comparable, although neither is the risk. New York has also done a healthy amount of losing this year, unlike Los Angeles in 2017-18 season, but they also own their own draft pick, which LA did not.

Perhaps most notably, unlike the Lakers, New York still employs one of the men who has been here for almost all of this losing. For many fans, the mere presence of Steve Mills is enough to cast doubt on every action the Knicks take, simply because he has been involved in so many poor decisions in the past.

Yet it was Mills, along with general manager Scott Perry, who has stood before us so many times over the last 18 months and said, in different iterations, that for the first time maybe in their history as a franchise, the Knicks were going to build things “the right way” and “not skip any steps.”

Following the team trading away its best young player since Patrick Ewing, it would be easy to use these words as a “gotcha” moment. One could argue that this trade amounted to a dissolution of the right way and instead was a reversion back to the same way.

Same Old Knicks, that is.

Before we get to the logic of this assertion, let’s get two things out of the way:

  • The notion of using a young, All-Star level player – injury or no injury – as a mechanism to salary dump anyone, let alone one signed so recently by someone still running things, on its face, is abhorrent.
  • Whether it is 10%, 50% or 90%, the New York Knicks under this regime bear some responsibility for not being able to foster a stronger relationship with Kristaps Porzingis and2his people.

These two clouds hovering above all of this cannot be ignored, and the parties involved need to be held accountable. They certainly have been.

So yeah…what’s done is done, and it should be criticized appropriately. The question in front of us now is whether this trade somehow represents a deviation from the process this front office staked out from the onset, or does it simply put themselves in better position to follow it?

For many, the idea of opening up an ungodly amount of cap space in a summer that just so happens to represent a potential seismic shift in league power is the equivalent of putting all the chips into the middle of the table. I myself used this exact analogy when I first reacted to the trade last week. This, it would seem, is the opposite of “the right way” and instead amounts to betting little Suzy’s college fund on black.

Is it really, though?

Let’s start with an important distinction: for many organizations, building “the right way” means building slow and steady, and doing so through the draft. This is somewhat by default. Of the three methods for acquiring star players, 1.5 of them are closed off to many NBA teams.

The reality is that the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings of the world are never going to get a meeting with a top-ten player. Moreover, trading for one is now also fraught with peril. Sure, you can get one for a period of time, and you might even get a Paul George to re-up unexpectedly. But this is the exception, not the rule, and with players exerting their power like never before, small market teams aren’t often going to trade a known asset for the mere chance at something greater.

Somewhere between 20 and 25 NBA teams operate in this reality. The rest – the Miami’s and LA’s of the world – get a buffet of all three options. The Knicks should be in this latter group, but are usually in the bathroom dry heaving when the food gets served. As a result, only once in their history have they been in position to get a plate and stand on line.

2010, of course, didn’t work out so well. Whether it was slumping James Dolan in his black turtleneck, Donnie Walsh in his neck brace, or the immortal Tony Soprano donning a beard, things didn’t go according to plan with LeBron.

Some people also mention 2016, when the team couldn’t get a meeting with Kevin Durant, but remember they a) had no cap space with which to make a signing because Phil Jackson had spent it on Joakim Noah3 and Courtney Lee and b) still employed Carmelo Anthony, who just so happened to play Durant’s position. They never had a chance at KD back then.

They do now.

There’s only about six or seven players who truly matter in the league at any given time, and KD damn near tops the list. Perhaps improving your odds to land such player seems like a prudent gamble to take.

Yeah but it’s the Knicks…who’s going to play for this joke of a franchise?

Look…we have no idea what motivates players. What we do know is the evidence that is reported. When Kyrie demanded a trade, New York was on his list. When Kawhi Leonard started making waves, New York was rumored to be a spot his people favored as well. When the Jimmy Butler saga started going down, he had the Knicks on his list, although later backtracked when it was clear they weren’t interested. And then just this week, Anthony Davis had New York right next to LA as a preferred landing spot.

For all of James Dolan faults and for all of the “dysfunction” surrounding the team, the Knicks keep landing on trade lists (and from recent reports, they do for more than just leverage). It’s why, from day one, opening up cap space was always part of the plan. It’s what you do when you have the luxury of playing in one of the NBA’s major markets and have all three player acquisition options open to you.

It’s why, even if there weren’t copious amounts of smoke billowing around New York and Durant’s free agency (something that never existed in 2010 with LeBron), if the Knicks failed to position themselves to make a run at him this summer because of what happened in 2010, it would be akin to taking a vow of celibacy after one date that ended in a spilled cocktail, the words “I don’t like you, in that way…like, at all,” and a hearty handshake4. It would, in short, be organizational negligence.

But isn’t trading away a potential franchise player just as bad?

In an ideal world, of course; but the Knicks aren’t operating in an ideal world. They’re operating in one where said potential franchise guy wanted to be here less than LeBron did in 2010.

Really, the trade comes down to this: as Zach Lowe noted on his recent podcast with Kevin Arnovitz, the Knicks are essentially wagering that a second max slot and a bevy of young players and draft assets, all of which can be used to acquire a third star, is more appealing to Kevin Durant than an unhappy Kristaps Porzingis and much less in the way of future picks to be used for deal-making5. I know which one I’m placing my bet on.

If Durant didn’t come, you’d still be stuck with an unhappy Unicorn, with the only way to possibly placate him being to start winning by any means necessary, even it meant signing a lesser player with all that cap space.

That’s skipping steps, and the opposite of building things the right way. It’s the opposite of sustainable. It’s the opposite of putting yourself in a position to compete for a championship. Most of all, it’s the opposite of patience.

Theoretically, if the Knicks whiff on KD and company this summer, they could simply sit free agency out, stocked with draft picks (perhaps Zion?!?!) and young players. AKA they could continue to rebuild in a slow and steady manner.

That it has since come out, courtesy of Marc Stein of the New York Times, that the Porzingis brothers requested a meeting with New York’s brass and threatened to leave the team and continue his rehab in Spain if he wasn’t traded to one of four teams by the deadline is almost besides the point, just like it’s besides the point that Porzingis could have effectively held the organization hostage – not the other way around – if he refused to sign a long-term deal come July.

No, the Knicks didn’t go all in; they merely diversified their risk portfolio. Keeping Porzingis, on the other hand…that would have been pushing all the chips into the middle of the table, and would have been doing so with a pair of sevens, a hope and a prayer.

Did they wish KP had bought in? Of course. Did they wish this trade was a move they never had to make? Almost certainly. But is it one they had to make if they indeed wanted to continue on the plan Scott Perry set out when he was hired? You betcha.

Again, there are three ways to build in the NBA: free agency, the draft and trades. Following the Porzingis deal, the Knicks have more cap space than any team in league history, seven first rounders over the next five years – including a likely top-five pick this season – and a bevy of young trade chips to rival any team outside of Boston or LA.

All of this, in a market that keeps coming up again…and again…and again, every time one of these big-name guys becomes available.

Does this mean things will work out as planned? Of course not. Hell, things didn’t even work out perfectly for the Lakers, who didn’t wind up needing the Mozgov money they unloaded with D’Angelo Russell to sign LeBron after all. But they played the odds. It’s what you do when you have an NBA team in one of these rare markets. New York keeping it’s doors open right now isn’t a deviation from the plan; it’s finally employing a plan they should have been using all along but never got out of their own way long enough to employ it.

Now they sit and wait.

Of course, if all the chatter surrounding KD and Kyrie turns out to be white noise, the Knicks brass will truly be put to the test. If they respond by inking non-stars to max deals instead of holding steady and waiting for the next moment to use their assets wisely, they would be publicly shamed, and rightly so. In that case, it would indeed be the Same Old Knicks to the nth degree, and yes, very much the wrong way to build a team.

If they do swing and miss though, and use all their cap space to take in some bad, one-year money to acquire more assets, then for the first time in maybe forever, we will know this talk of patience and sustainability is legit.

Time will tell which road we end up traveling. Most are expecting failure, and maybe it happens that way after all.

Or maybe, finally, a new story will get written this time around.

Did the Knicks do their due diligence on the KP trade?

It’s been a few days. That the Unicorn will now be hobbling flying over rainbows in the land of meat and cheese has officially sunk in. We will still be in our feelings for a while, but we’re Knicks fans, so we’re used to it.

There’s been a lot of he said/she said talk in the aftermath about who was actually more sick of who, but there are a couple of things we’ve become certain of over the last few days:

  1. Kristaps Porzingis didn’t really want to be a Knick (context on this in a bit);
  2. The Knicks have been desperately trying to clear cap space for a majority of this season, and not only was the asking price astronomical now, but according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, would only have gone up this summer;
  3. KP was apparently not ready to play with the Knicks holding him out against his will, or if he is ready to play, the Mavericks are taking the same approach; and
  4. There’s a chimney-full worth of smoke surrounding some combination of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis joining forces in Manhattan within the next six months

How at fault the Knicks were in letting Porzingis get so disenfranchised with the organization can and will be debated for some time, but it isn’t really pertinent to this particular conversation. The same goes for whether the Knicks would have been better served swallowing hard, keeping KP past the deadline, and calling his bluff by offering him a massive sum of money in July and daring him not to take it.

What can’t be debated is this: the upcoming summer and the names that will define it have combined to form a dome under which all of the NBA currently operates. It must, at the very least, frame our conversation about the trade New York just pulled off – arguably the most significant one in the team’s history – in this sense: can we really fault them for prioritizing cap space as the most significant asset they wanted back in the Porzingis trade?

Let’s put aside, for a moment, that one of the contracts they needed to move was one that Steve Mills himself inked just a year and a half ago. For as bad as the optics on this are, it would have been even worse if he had bitten his nose to spite his face and held onto Timmy in an effort to prove the contract was a wise expenditure of money. At least he recognized it for what it was: a bit of a disaster.

Now, Hardaway Jr. is gone, along with Courtney Lee, Trey Burke and KP’s relatively large cap hold. All told, the Knicks cap space for the upcoming summer more than doubled. Add on top of that the fact that they acquired two future first round picks which allow them to potentially acquire a star via trade, and the Knicks are well-positioned to go big game hunting.

If they hit, it’s a massive, massive win. If they don’t, the first question that should be asked is whether, instead of cap space and picks, they could have garnered a stronger return in the form of players and/or more picks in trading their own star player.

It’s not a discussion we need to have yet…not until the July feeding frenzy is over. Whether this was this even the best cap-clearing deal they could have gotten, however, is more than valid. According to SI’s Chris Mannix, there’s reason to wonder:

Before we answer the question of whether they got the best deal, we have to look at what they dealt away.

Strictly speaking, Kristaps Porzingis was a distressed asset. He was an asset with massive, massive upside, but was distressed nonetheless due to several factors. For one, he had a checkered injury history, including the most recent one which now seems like it will keep him out for the better part of 18 months. On top of that, there is a looming contract deadline that could get messy – more on that in a second.

There are other minor concerns about his game and feasibility in a league where defensive versatility becomes more valuable by the hour6, but even putting those aside, there was reason to be skeptical that some treasure chest of picks and players awaited the Knicks in return for the grumpy gimpy gifted Latvian, at least not if the Knicks wanted to clear their books in the process.

What else was out there?

With all this as the backdrop, there were some other potential trade partners, ones able to take on all the salary New York wanted to dump and send back unwanted expiring money in return2.

Just not as many as you might think: Atlanta, both Los Angeles teams, Denver, Brooklyn, Chicago, Indiana and Sacramento is the entire list.

Now let’s add another layer: any acquiring team had to worry about doing the qualifying offer dance with Porzingis if he didn’t care to stick around. According to ESPN’s report, that’s one factor that scared off the Pelicans.

While there’s no way to know for sure, but given KP’s apparent distaste for organizational strife and/or losing, it would seem logical to believe he wouldn’t want to sign long-term with Sacramento, Atlanta or Chicago for one or both of those reasons. What would have made a deal with any of these three even less likely is that they all probably would have balked at sending over the young player the Knicks would have requested back – Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr. from the Bulls, Marvin Bagley from the Kings and John Collins from the Hawks.

Even with the KP flight risk, Atlanta probably would have been cool with giving up Taurean Prince, but New York would have then asked for either the Dallas 2019 top-five protected pick or Atlanta’s own 2020 pick with very light protections. You could have argued a trade package like this would have been on par with what the Knicks got if Prince had taken a step forward this season, but that hasn’t been the case. Not only has he regressed a bit, but he’s a year closer to restricted free agency than DSJ. Unless the Hawks were willing to give up the ’20 pick without protections – hard to see given the fact that Atlanta is sure to be terrible next year as well – it’s tough to see this trade beating what the Knicks got.

We can also cross the Lakers off the list, as such a transaction would have taken them out of the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, which would equate to Magic Johnson and LeBron James each conceding defeat. Ha.

That leaves Indiana, the Clippers, Denver and Brooklyn.

I doubt the Clippers would have given up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander straight up for KP given what he’s shown so far in his rookie year, but they definitely weren’t giving him up and taking back all of New York’s contracts, thus putting a crimp in their own notable summer plans, so cross them off too.

Denver has won five in a row and is back atop the Western Conference with Paul Millsap back playing a big role. He theoretically could have been the centerpiece of a trade with other young players coming back to make the money work, but those pieces – Trey Lyles, Juan Hernangomez and Michael Porter Jr. to name three – are players Denver likes, as opposed to Dennis Smith Jr., who the Mavs were clearly out on. This makes it less likely the Nuggets would have thrown in picks as well.

The real reason that this deal wasn’t going to happen is that, as we now know, Porzingis is unlikely to see the court this year. A Conference Finals appearance would mean everything to the Nuggets, and without Millsap, they’d have no chance.

Brooklyn is fascinating, just from this simple perspective: would James Dolan ever sign off on a move that sent his young star to the crosstown not-quite-rivals? It would have been a long shot, as the Nets would have needed to include newly-minted All-Star D’Angelo Russell to make the money work. Lose your best player in the middle of a playoff run, clog your own cap, and help out the Knicks in the process?

It’s a stretch. As Stefan Bondy reported earlier this season, the Nets were enamored with Porzingis. They’re also smart enough to know that Russel’s value will likely never be higher than it is right now. Perhaps most importantly, even with Lee and Timmy, they still could have had a boatload of money and maneuver towards max space in July.

The question – assuming Dolan would have stomached such a trade – then becomes whether it would have been a better deal for the Knicks than what they got.

For starters, there’s zero chance the Nets are ever sending out another unprotected pick as long as we all shall live. And who can blame them.

Even putting that aside, it would have been tough to see the acquisition of Russell working out well for New York. If they landed the max guys they seek, Russell’s cap hold gets vanquished and the Knicks have no player or pick to show for themselves in the deal. If New York struck out, they’d be left having to sign Russell to a hefty extension just to save face. They could then continue the slow and steady rebuild with an objectively worse “best” player – albeit one without any qualms with the organization – and far less cap space moving forward. It’s close, but it’s safe to say the deal they got trumps either scenario.

Last but not least is Indiana, which is maybe the most interesting of all.

Indianapolis doesn’t seem like KP’s kind of town, but they’re among the most well-run franchise in the NBA, which we know he craves. They’re also always in the playoffs, so there’s at least a chance KP would have given them a real shot at retaining his services.

The biggest issue here is that the Pacers are not an organization that tanks, so despite Oladipo going down for the year, it’s doubtful they would have included several expiring salaries as if they had no on-court value. The most likely combination would have been Thad Young, Tyreke Evans, Cory Joseph and Kyle O’Quinn, with the Knicks putting Noah Vonleh in the deal instead of Trey Burke as a Young replacement for Indy.

That just leaves the small matter of the young player the Knicks would get back in return. Aaron Holiday hasn’t played much in his young career – he’s averaging just 11 minutes a game – but he’s been good when he’s seen the court. You could argue that he’s the better prospect than Smith Jr., although the latter seems to have more of the skill set David Fizdale desires.

Then there’s the matter of draft compensation. Indiana has had some bad luck dealing away picks in the past – Kawhi Leonard and Caris LeVert were both taken with their selections – so it’s unclear just how willing they would have been to include any in the deal, let alone two.

Would the Pacers have entertained putting Domas Sabonis on the table? It doesn’t seem like something Indiana would do, but if they were, they certainly weren’t including picks as well.

So there you have it. If the Knicks swing and miss in July, we’ll have to come back and revisit whether there were any possible straight-up deals for someone else’s young stud or studs without any salary going out. Until then though, in these uncertain times, Knicks fans should rest assured that in this one, in this narrow framing of the entire Porzingis fiasco, they probably did as well as they were going to do.

The Kristaps Porzingis Trade Postmortem

Almost one year ago to the day (and two blogs ago for me personally) I wrote a story the day after Kristaps Porzingis went down with a torn ACL.

My message was clear. Although there was no silver lining to the injury, the Knicks should use their misfortune as an opportunity to do something they otherwise would have been unable to: repair the relationship with their fallen star, one that the previous regime had sullied. I proposed that when July 1, 2018 came around, New York’s brass should have approached Porzingis at midnight – torn ACL and all – with a max contract extension that would have kept the Unicorn in blue and orange well into the prime of his career.

Continue reading →

KFS Teacher’s Lounge: What to do about Anthony Davis

The basketball world experienced an 8.2 on the Richter scale on Monday after Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Anthony Davis had informed the New Orleans Pelicans he would not be re-signing there and was requesting a trade. Word then got out, courtesy of ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, that the Knicks were indeed a team of interest to Davis. Since then, there seems to be some posturing from the Davis camp that it’s LA or bust. Still, the Knicks are apparently preparing a significant offer according to the New York Times’ Marc Stein.

One thing is for certain: there’s enough smoke for the KFS staff to chime in on the rumors and reveal what they would do if they had to make a decision on pursuing the Brow:

Michael DeStefano – Hold Steady

When the AD news broke and we decided to discuss it in the Lounge, I wrote that you had to go after him. Transcendent talent, only 25 – I was ready to say that you include both KP AND the ’19 pick in your offer.

I’ve changed my mind. The collusion involving the agency that LeBron owns runs works with is part of it, but it’s not the biggest part.

Bigs just don’t impact winning in this league like they used to.  You need an elite guard/wing, and then you need more depth on the perimeter. New Orleans won’t give AD for just KP and filler; Perry will have to fork over the ’19 first and at least one of the Knicks’ young core most fans are so excited about. The Pels’ willingness to take on Hardaway’s contract might tempt me, but I’d rather enter July with:

  • A healthy KP
  • All five of Frank / Knox / Mitch / Trier / Dotson
  • My ’19 stud, and
  • A max salary slot

This is opposed to the AD version, which would cost at least two of the five young’uns and the ’19 lotto pick. Decimating the depth, particularly on the perimeter, is not the way to win in this league. Even though KD might find Davis an appealing sidekick, how appealing is it if the rest of the team sucks?

Wait it out.  Let the draft come and go.  See what the team looks like.

And if you get back-channeled word that KD wants another star, that’s when you use your assets to go get someone like Dame.

David Early – Don’t blow your chance

The first thing you do is offer Kevin Knox and the pick, protected for first overall. Then when they chuckle, you swap in Kristaps Porzingis for Knox. Then at the last minutes you offer KP, Frank Ntilikina, and the pick protected for 1st overall.

As a bottom line, you suck it up and you offer KP and the unprotected pick for AD, plus the requisite salary filler. It’s horrifying, but it’s also an easy decision.

The truth is, the pick has an 86-91% chance of being Cam Reddish or someone not named Zion. Combining the very likely scenario you won’t win the Zion sweepstakes with the risks associated with KP’s rehab (remember his doctor said that if he doesn’t change his whole body’s mechanics he’d be at risk for tearing the other ACL makes this a prudent “hedge.”

It will become almost impossible to outbid other suitors this summer when Boston or a team who wins Zion (like Chicago) enters the fray. This is the best chance right now. It’s not for the faint of heart. But if you can obtain the player who we’d all bet will be the best player in the league over the next four years, this isn’t really a hedge at all. It’s simply bundling a few juicy assets with uncertain outcomes for quite possibly the best player in the sport who is only now entering his prime.

He’s already been rumored to be open to staying. He’ll exponentially increase your chances of luring Durant. Durant could win another 3 rings in Golden State. None of it will alter his legacy like winning one in the Big Apple. He knows it. And the Brow makes that a very real possibility.

Our lottery ticket and injured Unicorn for your healthy Unicorn King. I’ll fax the paper work.

Suada Demirovic – Why now?!?

Just as I was about to justify our losses as the Knicks finally figured out how to tank correctly without taking shortcuts, the basketball gods dangle 6-time All-Star Anthony Davis in front of us!

At first I didn’t even want to entertain the idea. Good things never come to the Knicks via trade. Take a look at the last few trades we’ve made, even the “blockbuster” trade that never panned out the way it should have. Yeah, let’s not go there. The Knicks have never really won a big trade.

That said, for the 1st time in a while, New York will have a few pieces to engage in trade talks. We have the best double-double machine in the league and he’s only 26! (laughter dies down) Clearly I’m kidding but I couldn’t help myself. “We want Kanter”? New Orleans, you can have him!

After seeing all the Twitter GM’s working their trade machines, I’m convinced that maybe this is exactly what the Knicks need. But at what cost?

The only pieces that I would not give up are ou . r 3 rookies. They really show they can be complimentary pieces that can turn into All-Stars in the future. So what are we going to give for AD? I’m willing to throw this year’s lottery pick and just about anyone else they ask for. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but yes, even KP. I’ve gone mad! Here I go looking for a short cut, but not really because this short cut has the potential to bring us more, as Anthony Davis will definitely be able to draw in a good free agent this summer.

But then I think about Zion…(sigh)…

It really sucks that the odds for the top pick are tied between the 3 worst teams. Of course this happens the year the Knicks tank correctly. So we might need to face the reality that we may not win the ultimate prize and instead end up with a consolation. The problem is that everyone else is just “meh.” But a high 1st round pick is still very valuable, especially to a franchise that needs to blow up their whole roster.

The writing is on the wall for NOLA. Let us help you light the dynamite. If anything, we would gladly trade what we have for Jrue Holiday at the very least. We would NOT be giving up KP for him, but there are other possibilities.

Here’s where I come down: Would I trade this year’s draft pick for Anthony Davis? Yes! Would I trade KP? I would, only because Davis is liked in the league and who knows who would want to join him as they write a new legacy in New York with a young core?

Here I go looking for a quick fix! But this is 20 years of us not getting it together, and New York is definitely not going to get it together with one draft pick. I’m for the front office exploring the possibilities without giving up our rookies or impacting our cap space. The Knicks should avoid giving up KP unless we have no choice and the deal is too hot to pass up! Here’s the first real test for Perry and Mills. I’m going to sit back and wait. Will they stick to what they said? You can’t get us to buy in if they themselves can’t.  #TrustTheProcess

Vivek Dadhania – It’s a no from me, dog…

It’s tempting, but there are a lot of variables in play that make me wary of pursuing a deal. First and foremost, the trade only makes sense if you know if you’re getting KD.  If you don’t get Durant, then what happens?  We’re basically a worse version of the Pelicans that still has to navigate against a behemoth of teams in the East.  It won’t be any easier to navigate to the playoffs with Anthony Davis.  If he found it bad in New Orleans, imagine what it’ll be like in New York.

Let’s also not forget that while Anthony Davis has been relatively durable the last few seasons, he’s suffered many nagging injuries this year and has had those injury concerns in years’ past.  There’s no safe bet – especially as a big man – that he’ll be a reliably healthy option, especially entering his 2nd extension period.

If I’m New York, I’d understand (if they haven’t already) that they are merely being fiddled around with to get the Lakers to hurry up and acquire their man.  Don’t cave in.

Stephanie Enriquez – The kids are alright!

Call me crazy, but I don’t want to give up KP or the kids.

I know Davis is a great talent, but I want us to continue the process and not deal our picks yet. Kevin is a stud in the making, Mitch is learning more and more everyday, Zo is great, Frank’s defense is much needed and he will continue to grow as well. As for everyone else on the team, trade them all.

Sadly, I don’t think it’ll be enough for AD. Nonetheless, if KD comes this summer, KP recovers, and our kids continue to grow I think we’ll be ok.

Topher DemitrisStick to the Plan

Let’s get a few objective things out of the way.

Yes, I too love Anthony Davis. He’s a phenom and tremendous player who has the potential to drop 30 with 15 on any given night. In a perfect world, the Knicks would be able to entertain a mutually beneficial trade with the Pelicans that could set the stage for (at least) a return to the playoffs. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that reality. The Pelicans would be wise to start a bidding war between the Lakers, Celtics and New York. We aren’t in a position of leverage in this scenario.

The asking price for Davis – a potential one year rental – would likely require the team to completely burn all the groundwork they’ve put into the rebuild. The Lakers starting price, for comparison, is four talented young players and future draft considerations. So pretty much their entire roster. That might work for LeBron (the guy could take a YMCA team to the first round of the playoffs), but it’s not an ideal situation for the New York Knicks.

It’s not that Anthony’s talent isn’t incredible. My objection to betting the farm comes down to three things. First, there is zero actual guarantee3 that if traded, he would stay in NY. His agent is LeBron’s agent. Davis teamed up with Rich Paul because his true destination is Los Angeles.

Secondly, acquiring him would likely mean our roster gets completely gutted. Goodbye Knox, Trier, Mitch, Ntilikina and the draft pick(s) we’ve all been suffering to acquire. It’s too early to know how good some of these young guys are and they are worth investing at least another year in. I won’t even get into the idea of trading KP (unless management knows something about his injury that we don’t). The best case scenario would be to pair AD with KP anyway. Given that New Orleans can ask for a King’s Ransom, the price is already too steep and bound to increase.

Third, and no shade, but Anthony Davis has a long injury history despite his young age. On top of that, the Pelicans have arguably had much better rosters than anything we’ve seen in NY for years and were still unable to make any real headway in the playoffs. If we gut our team to acquire him, it would be a similar asset exchange as the one that brought Carmelo here. We’d have a Superstar but no real way to build out a contending team. LeBron knows better than anyone: a well put together team is more powerful than any one player (see: the Mavs, Spurs & now Warriors).

After the trade there would be immense pressure on both the front office & Davis to deliver and we all know how brutal/impatient the media is. There is no guarantee Durant leaves Golden State and no guarantee Davis stays beyond a single year. The risk outweighs the reward for me. Abandoning years of scouting, development and team building for the 1-year rental of a superstar is so old school Knicks that my eye is twitching over my coffee.

Assuming the price remains sky high, a trade now looks to be another recipe for vaulted expectations & disappointment. Why hamstring the healthy rebuild track we’re currently on? This is literally the first time in decades the Knicks have opted to build correctly and I’ve got no interest in repeating the mistakes of past regimes. Stay the course, build slowly and winning will attract all the great players we need.

Jonathan Macri – “I’m all in” … “Waitress, can I get some water?”

The question is simple for the Knicks: do you want to put KP on the table or not?

It’s a more interesting discussion than people are making it out to be, simply because KP’s ceiling might be what AD is right now, and the odds the Unicorn ever gets there are only further complicated by the torn ACL. It’s why there’s a significant chance that if the Knicks did offer KP and the unprotected pick, the Pelicans still might prefer to wait till the summer so they can get the Celtics involved.

That’s where things get dicey for New York. Right now, they can sell New Orleans on the possibility of Zion Williamson. By mid-May, that possibility may have vanished. If it does, there’s a significant chance that nothing New York could put on the table – KP, the pick, Knox, Mitch…the whole boat – would beat the best offer Boston can make, assuming they’re willing to make Tatum available2.

So from that perspective, there is a sense that acting now is the wisest move. The reason it isn’t is simple: if you give up KP, the pick and Kevin Knox3 before February 7 and neither Kevin Durant nor Kyrie Irving comes this summer, you’re going to watch AD walk out the door in 2020. Can the organization take that risk? If they did, and the worst of fates transpired, then all the losing – well, the most recent losing at least – will have been for not.

But is it really a risk? Sure, it’s tempting to say that the only way it makes sense to put such a serious offer on the table now is if you know from back channels that AD will be bringing a Super Friend with him. That’s not happening. KD and Kyrie might be two of the more perplexing personalities in the entire league, and no one knows what the hell either will do.

But do you really see a scenario where both guys eschew the opportunity to play along the man poised to dominate the game4 for the next decade in a city where they’ll build monuments to whoever finally delivers a ring? You have to figure that if one guy says yes, that alone is worth whatever you had to give up for Davis, Porzingis included.

When you throw in the uncertainty over KP’s injury, his feelings about the organization (or lack thereof), and the possibility that he himself could maneuver out of here before long, it becomes a mighty sweaty conversation to have with your front office mates as the deadline approaches. Of course, the ultimate doomsday scenario features KP catching wind of your intent to trade him, a deal not happening, and Perry & Mills being left to clean up the pieces.

Assuming the front office doesn’t have the stomach for such a high stakes game of poker, they should at the very least make a token offer (this year’s unprotected first, a 2021 pick, Mitch, Frank and Tim Hardaway Jr., or Enes Kanter if the Pels prefer to clear the books) and see where it gets you.

The answer is almost certainly “not very far.” And maybe that’s not the worst thing. If the Knicks do land the first pick, then all of the sudden they hold all the cards. Zion plus non-KP-stuff arguably beats any other offer, including one with Tatum. At that point, they may not need to work very hard to strike KD’s fancy. He may instead beat them to the punch.

So ultimately, it comes down to this: Do they feel lucky?

Well, do ya, punk?

A midseason review of Allonzo Trier

Allonzo Trier is doing his thing.

The undrafted rookie, who had been struggling since returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for seven games, has found his scoring form again, breaking out in the Knicks loss to Houston. He became the first Knick rookie to post 31 points and 10 rebounds since Patrick Ewing in 1985.

It seems like a good time to do a midseason review of his game.

The Knicks roster is a bit fluid right now, as they balance player development, reclamation projects, and potentially creating cap space via trade to chase superstars in the summer. However, unlike a handful of his teammates, Trier can breathe easy that his roster spot is secure, at least until late June. Because of the contract he signed in December, the Knicks can’t trade him before the February 7th trade deadline. And the way he has played, they wouldn’t have wanted to trade him, anyway.

Let’s take a deeper look at how Trier has performed so far and try to identify a player of similar style and fast-rising story.

Some Stats

Let’s start with the former Arizona Wildcat’s shot chart to date, per Austin Clemens:

He’s averaging 10.5 points per game, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks over 39 games.

Per 36 minutes, that translates into 16.9 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists.

He is fourth on the team with a 3-point percentage of 36.9 percent. Because of his big game against Houston, he passed Dallas Mavericks’ phenom Luka Doncic in true shooting percentage (TS%).5 Trier’s teammate Mitchell Robinson leads all rookies with a .672 percentage among players who have logged at least 15 minutes per game. (If Robinson is not swatting the ball, he’s probably dunking it).

Using advanced stats, Trier lives up to his nickname “Iso Zo.”

He is excellent in isolations (86th percentile, per Synergy Sports). He possesses a full arsenal of weapons to pick from in these situations, showing-off a variety of moves on drives in both directions, pull-ups, and jumpers without taking a dribble.

Per Synergy, he ranks in the 75th percentile in “spot up” plays. And he’s elite (87th percentile) with less than 4 seconds on the shot clock and is forced to create under duress.

These are often of the highlight variety:

Having so many offensive skills makes him very unpredictable; something that bodes well for a 23-year old. Try to guess what he’ll do the next time he has the rock in an iso-situation; it’s tricky, I’ve tried. Steer him left and he may start that way, then hop back, shot fake, and go right:

There’s room for him to grow as a Pick-n-Roll ball handler; he ranks in just the 44th percentile. Some argue this area will define whether or not he’s a long term solution for New York as a starting point guard in the modern NBA. If he wants to continue to prove his doubters wrong, this is the area he’d spend his upcoming summer on.

Something that surprises: his numbers suggest he’s better in catch-and-shoot situations (71st percentile) than he is off the bounce (46th percentile). But Knicks fans know well his fondness for putting the ball on the floor before pulling up. And while that appears to be his first instinct, it’s not necessarily more efficient. In the future, head coach David Fizdale might encourage him to shoot more off the catch.

He’s shooting 42.3% from beyond the arc on catch-and-shoot jump shots.


The eye test would tell us that Trier isn’t the worst defender, but he isn’t the best at stopping people either. Per Synergy, the undrafted guard ranks a bit below average in overall defense. For a rookie, that’s not the end of the world. He’s made some really exciting plays on that end:

Funny enough, the area he’s been the best at defending is against isolations, where he receives a Synergy grade of “excellent” (for a limited 20 possessions).

Maybe he knows a thing or two after becoming a one-on-one wizard of his own? If this continues, the Knicks will really have something. I have an idea! We can call him “Iso Zo” when he scores in iso and “Iso Zone” whenever he gets a stop while being targeted.

He’s very good at the point-of-attack if he doesn’t have to figure out how to navigate screens and switches.

New York Jets legendary cornerback Darrelle Revis would be proud. Notice the fluid hips and quick feet here against John Wall:

He can use the most improvement in defending high screen-n-rolls. He’s a little better in side pick-n-rolls where the defense generally has less options, and he’s about average when chasing his man around screens.

Of course, struggling against a high pick-n-roll isn’t uncommon for rookies. Right Collin Sexton? 

Being able to catch and shoot, score in isolation, defend the pick and roll and defend in isolation are four skills Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey undoubtedly keeps an eye on when scouting. Zo is already quite good at three of those four.

Who does he remind me of?

When I study Trier’s game, I see a confident, aggressive, talented, but streaky player. I think his limitations are mostly in screen-n-roll situations, which he will improve upon as he gains more experience and understanding of NBA details. Certainly, he didn’t see these situations as much at Arizona. To reach his ceiling, he’ll need to improve significantly in this area.

I’m a biased Knicks fan who lived through Linsanity, but I often think of former Knicks’ guard Jeremy Lin when I watch Trier play. Lin made a name for himself in the NBA as a hyper-aggressive slasher who’d put relentless pressure on an opposing defense by getting into the paint and wreaking havoc.

During Linsanity, Lin was actually in the 95th percentile in the NBA in isolations. He was truly unstoppable for a stretch of time playing in former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. It would have been fun to see the coach/point guard duo get to work together more while surrounding Lin with shooters.

Knicks fans know he wasn’t afraid of the big moment:

We saw this same confidence when Trier delivered in crunch time against Houston.

Lin has had a tough road in the NBA. Almost like a child actor, Lin experienced the pinnacle of his career right at the very beginning. He openly struggled with having to start fresh and fight and claw just to maintain the role he has held in the league since.

But Lin is a fighter and capable of handling that pressure and has responded by learning the intricacies of the game that didn’t come naturally to him early on. He morphed into a pitbull on defense, before having to start from scratch again following the patellar tendon tear that cost him his age-29 season. Lin is roughly average from long range but offers more in the relentlessness of his game on both ends.

Lin is a great model for an undrafted and overlooked, but talented player with a chip on his shoulder. Trier isn’t shy. He once started a clothing line branded with his personal motto at the time: “When the lights come on, it’s time to perform.” He was in 6th grade at the time. Precocious, but that might be some of what’s needed to keep your head level when playing at The Mecca becomes your full-time job.

I’ve heard the Jamal Crawford comparisons as well. They’re both from Seattle, as is Nate Robinson. I think Trier has less offensive gifts than Crawford, but looks like he’ll be a better defender and rebounder.

Constant attack mode. That’s what I see in Trier so far. Unlike a few of our other favorite players, we can count on seeing more of him in the uniform the rest of this season and perhaps more.

And if there are any opposing team scouts reading, don’t bother testing “Iso Zone” if he’s alone on an island. He’ll be ready when the lights come on.

What to make of the Knicks reportedly shopping Tim Hardaway Jr and Courtney Lee

So news came out yesterday confirming what we learned last week from Mike Vorkunov that the Knicks are officially in the selling business with the trade deadline approaching.

Well, I use the term “news” loosely. That the Knicks would be thrilled to unload Courtney Lee has been an open secret since the summertime. Ditto for Enes Kanter, or at least it has been since he had his first hissy fit playing time reduced starting last month.

The minor revelation is that New York would also be happy to unload their $71 million man, Tim Hardaway Jr.

There’s been speculation that despite his subpar play of late and the overall holes in his game (see: his 115.2 defensive rating, second worst on the team, and a .475 eFG%), because Steve Mills is still in charge, he’d be hesitant to get rid of the man he signed just 18 months ago.

So much for sentimentality. The only question now is how desperate they are to move him. If noted Knicks critic and KFS Podcast alum Howard Beck is to be believed, perhaps very much so:

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to guess that New York has at least had conversations with opposing front offices about some young players on their team.

This is neither a bad thing nor a surprise. Everyone in the league is gauging interest on their own roster right around now; to not do so would be malpractice, because you never know what someone will be eager to overpay for.

That said, the news is both encouraging and concerning.

On the bright side, the idea that the organization isn’t married to an undoubtedly flawed player just because he was signed by the guy running the show is a promising sign. It shows that they’re able to fairly, and I would argue, accurately, assess their own players. That’s good.

On the downside, the fact that they’re potentially namedropping a guy like Frank Ntilikina is a trigger for any Knicks fan who’s been around for a while. Regardless of your personal opinions on Ntilikina, attaching him to dump Hardaway would be terrible optics. A reminder:

To then include the player they drafted to ostensibly replace Rose as the tax of unloading Timmy could potentially cause the universe to implode, or at least what’s left of my soul. It would be a trade package sealed with “LOL Knicks” packing tape if there ever was one.

Does it mean it would be the wrong move? Of course not…if the Knicks co-opt the deal by offloading Courtney Lee in a separate transaction and then sign Kevin Durant and Superstar Sidekick X this summer, there will be a parade thrown for Perry & Mills, and justifiably so.

That, of course, is a long way off, and unless the Knicks know something about the thinking of Mr. Durant that we don’t (something that can’t be ruled out, but by all indications seems incredibly unlikely), attaching either Frank, Mitchell Robinson or a future first round pick to dump Hardaway Jr. would represent terrible process. That’s because, worst case scenario, such a deal would be available in the summer, at which point they’d know who wants to take their money and who doesn’t.

To those who say “the price will only go up if they wait,” that’s not really how it works. If Kevin Durant decides that he’s coming to New York, Kevin Durant is coming to New York. If the Knicks needed to waive and stretch Courtney Lee as a last resort to open up the space to make that happen, they’d do it in a heartbeat. That this option exists would be a signal to other teams that, hey, if we can get Lee’s expiring (or Timmy, if that’s their pleasure) and pick up a future second round pick in the process – or at worst, a protected 2020 first rounder – we might as well do it.

The only potentially rational thinking behind attaching a legitimate asset or assets to move Tim or Lee now would be if you could unload both before the deadline.

This would be a giant red flare into the sky above the NBA that two SuperFriends could come to the Garden at once, or at least one Superstar and a very nice sidekick (see the tweet below on why it would be difficult to add a max player next to Durant). This type of maneuvering might not be as easy to pull off in one fell swoop2 once July is already underway.

Oh, wait a minute…we saw that story before, in 2010, when Donny Walsh attached Jordan Hill and a future first to unload Jarred Jeffries at the deadline so the Knicks could make a play for two max guys that summer.

We know what happened next: one (semi) big guy took New York’s money, and the rest was spent on Raymond Felton and various roster flotsam that made New York just “meh” enough for Carmelo Anthony to demand a trade here.

The lesson learned is this: once you make an all-in move to attach a first or a promising  young player (or in that case, both), you’ve set your course. There is no pivoting. You are officially in “win now” mode, and it has the domino effect of, well…mortgaging the farm to bring in a guy like Carmelo Anthony.

That type of thinking might not bite you in the ass right away – neither Hill nor Royce White2 ever amounted to much – but it will eventually. Chandler was a fine player. Gallo was more than fine. And Dario Saric and Jamal Murray – a 21-year-old borderline All-Star – are much, much more than fine.

Sure, you can point to the overpay for Melo as the point where that whole process went to shit and say “we’ll be smarter this time,” but the time to start being smarter is now. With a high pick coming in the draft and an All-Star on the mend, the Knicks don’t need to go “all in.” They have options, including rolling over the cap space to 2020 or simply waiting for the next star who demands a trade.

There’s only one, last, tiny little caveat: we have no idea what has been said between the organization and Kristaps Porzingis…what promises were made, what allusions he’s under…nothing. There’s a very real possibility that he’s not putting his name on a five-year max until he sees a roster that’s ready to kick the rebuild into high gear, and will instead opt to sign a 3+1 offer sheet elsewhere if the Knicks don’t land a major player (read: Durant, Kawhi or Kyrie) this summer. Of course, the Knicks could match such an offer, and there are financial reasons why KP might want to sign a bridge deal until he is a 7-9 year free agent, anyway, but something to consider.

Either way, should KP’s contract situation change the team’s approach at the deadline? You could argue yes, but then again, should the organization lay beholden to a player that isn’t bought into a potential long-term vision? Would they, in such a scenario, be better off kicking the rebuild in reverse, signing and trading KP for more young players and/or draft assets, and further decelerating the timeline?

I’m all for good process, but I’m also a realist, and I don’t think anyone inside MSG has the stomach for that.

So where does that leave us? My gut feeling: the front office is fully aware that they’d get killed for a straight salary dump in which they attach either Frank or a future protected first to get out from under the remaining years and dollars owed to Hardaway Jr. This is also something the Knicks have stated on the record that they are not looking to do, as was confirmed in reporting as recently as yesterday.

My prediction: they will scour the landscape for trades involving their unwanted players and one of their young and/or draft assets, but will only accept a deal that will net them a “face-saving” player or pick in return.

For example (and I am not pitching this trade, or even suggesting it should be considered): Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina and one of the Hornets’ second rounders for Jabari Parker and Kris Dunn. The Bulls get an upgrade in their perpetual revolving door of young point guards and get to take a flier on Tim, which shouldn’t matter as much because they don’t figure to be a free agent buyer any time soon.

The Knicks, meanwhile, would get to sell the deal as them getting to take a free look at a talented, high pedigree player in need of reclamation (sound familiar?) in Parker, who they would then likely drop like a hat to free up cap space in the summer. BUT, they also get to wave a “see, we got a young asset back in the deal!” token piece in Dunn.

Should they do this? No. Would they? I hope not. But that’s the type of deal you’d be looking at.

Unless…they can finagle something that would require a bit of wizardry but for which the payoff could be huge. Such a deal would be a 3-teamer involving one of the few teams who are:

  • desperate to make the playoffs this year
  • not free-agent destinations, and
  • have no cap space for the foreseeable future

All of these factors combined equates to someone who would be willing to take the risk on the incredibly high-variance player that is Tim Hardaway Jr., and treat him as a minor asset, not an albatross.

The reason that it would need to be 3-team deal is because the only organizations that fit this mold – New Orleans, Detroit and Charlotte – don’t have the requisite expiring salary to send back in a trade.

In the Knicks perfect world, here’s how this goes: one of these teams would actually give up a nominal asset (say, Malik Monk, Stanley Johnson or Frank Jackson) to combine with smaller assets from the Knicks (say, Damyean Dotson and one of the Charlotte second-rounders), all of which would go to a team willing to take on some not-great money (say, Solomon Hill, the Langston Galloway/Jon Leuer pu pu platter, or3 Bismack Biyombo) that would then send back an expiring contract to the Knicks (some potential suitors: Jabari in Chicago, Wes Matthews in Dallas, or one of several expiring contracts in Sacramento).

Will that happen? Your guess is as good as mine. One of the aforementioned teams would not only need to think highly of Hardaway but also lack better options. That’s not a given.

I’m sure Scott is working the phones to find out if this is the case. In two weeks, we’ll know for sure. Knicks fans will be waiting to see whether they can pull a rabbit out of the hat, or if this will, indeed, be #SameOldKnicks.

Is Frank Ntilikina the answer to all of David Fizdale’s lineup shuffling?

Let’s do a thought experiment for a moment.

Let’s say you’re David Fizdale, head coach of the New York Knicks (10-35), and you want to figure out a way to get your team to play better moving forward and you also want to get more out of struggling former lottery pick Frank Ntilikina.4

Maybe you pop in a simple 5-player lineup search on NBA.com and you see that for any Knicks lineup that has played together for at least 36 minutes this season, this has been your best one per net rating:

Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway, Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson, and Noah Vonleh.

You might try it again at some point right?

That 5-man lineup was used for 94 minutes in the team’s first 15 games of the year. Leaned on, they won 3 of 7 and recorded one of the NBA’s best net ratings (+8.1) at the time.

But David Fizdale didn’t think they got off to a good enough start in the first quarter of games so he broke up the band. Here is what he said at the time per Newsday’s Steve Popper:

Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic wrote about the curious decision back in mid-November too.

Per The Athletic: 

“When Fizdale changed the starting lineup Wednesday, he went away from one of the few things that was objectively working for the Knicks.”

It was a head-scratcher then, but it’s really weird now. The quintet has not logged a single minute together since November 11th. It’s one thing to shake up the starting unit for better starts. But to literally not give a group that had one of the best net ratings in the entire NBA another minute as the team free-falls?

Talk about a baby-bath-water-tank situation.

Well OK Ok. Mitchell Robinson has been hurt, Frank was recently injured, and they needed to get Kevin Knox and others some run.

But much of all that has come at Ntilikina’s and the team’s expense and it feels at least a little unnecessary.

Have the changes helped?

Frank averaged 27.7 minutes per game over the team’s first 13 games. He has averaged 16 minutes since (counting his healthy yet inactive games, but not counting the games he missed with injury). Coach Fizdale lopped off more than about 10 minutes per game from Frank’s playing time following a stretch where Ntilikina was among almost all of the team’s best lineups. He played 30 minutes or more seven out of the team’s first nine games. He’s only played 30 minutes once ever since. Emmanuel Mudiay is the biggest beneficiary. But has that been good for New York?

The team to date now has a -3.5 net rating with Ntilikina as the primary ball handler (that means none of Trey Burke, Allonzo Trier or Mudiay for a total of 289 minutes per Fantasylabs.com).

When Emmanuel Mudiay is the primary ball handler (no Burke, no Frank, no Trier) the team’s net rating is -12.0. per FantasyLabs.com. But those Mudiay lineups have now been used for over 700 minutes. So the Mudiay-led lineup has received about 2.5 times more minutes as the Frank-led lineup while performing almost 3.5 times worse per net rating.2

And while Mudiay has certainly reached a bit of a turning point in his career, it has not necessarily made the Knicks better:

Since the change, Ntilikina has not only received fewer minutes overall but he has had limited opportunity to play with lineup combinations that were once effective.

For example:

  • A trio of Ntilikina, Vonleh, and Robinson logged 113 minutes with a net rating of +3.0 over the team’s first 15 games. But they only logged 17 minutes together total over the team’s next 30 games.
  • A four-player combo of Ntilikina, Dotson, Hardaway, and Vonleh logged 131 minutes with a net rating of -0.3 in the first 15 games, but they’ve only played 8 total minutes over the subsequent 30 games.
  • A four-player combo of Ntilikina, Dotson, Vonleh, and Robinson played 105 minutes (net rating +4.1) over the first 15 games, and didn’t log a single minute together over the next 30 games.

Fizdale was absolutely right that he didn’t have a winning unit. But he did have a much better unit than most of the seemingly infinite permutations he’s experimented with ever since.

New York is now tied for the third worst net rating per game of -9.2 per NBA.com. They have absolutely plummeted since trying other lineup combos. Since Fizdale abandoned his better lineup in early November, the team has won less (their winning percentage fell from 28.6% down to 19%).

The team previously held their own in first quarters (net rating -0.3 with the aforementioned 5-man unit, but now they just get smoked after jump balls with a net rating -10.8 ever since)3; and the team’s overall net rating went from bad to pathetic (from -5.1 down to -9.2).

Man did that backfire. Unless of course…

But even if the Knicks are tanking did Ntilikina really deserve less than 17 minutes per game over a two-month period? Ten minutes less than Mudiay?

In the team’s first 13 games of the year, Frank was not only starting and taking on the likes of Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving but the team had a respectable net rating of -3.6. The kid was showing the defensive brilliance Knicks fans learned to expect during his rookie season:

Ntilikina was in 8 out of 10 of the team’s best three and four-player lineup combinations. You can go back and swap Vonleh in for Dotson, or Hardaway in for Robinson. But that French kid was a constant.

Yet Frank was the one who was essentially demoted when a shakeup came. Did Fizdale sub out the right guy though?

How has the second-year guard from Ixelles, Belgium responded?

Frank took a backseat. He said the right things. And he has quietly rebuilt his resume back up from scratch with some new partners in crime. Per Synergy Sports, he’s a very good defender: elite when guarding isolations or handoffs, and good against pick-and-roll ball handlers. Offensively he’s been below average but performs his best out of isolations.

He’s had plenty of tests. Because coach Fizdale has essentially refused to allow any lineups the time to gel, Ntilikina has been forced to mesh with new faces on a near nightly basis.4

But Frank has made due. For any 3-player combination on the season, given at least 50 minutes, the third best net rating belongs to Ntilikina, Dotson, and newcomer to the rotation Luke Kornet.

Ntilikina paired with Dotson and Knox has a +5.9 net rating. Swap in Kornett for Dotson and that healthy rating doesn’t change.

Using net rating, for a minimum of 50 minutes played together, Ntilikina is in four of the team’s six best performing four-player lineups for the entire year. He’s adaptive and selfless.

Vonleh, Ntilikina, Dotson and Knox have only played 25 minutes together so far this year. Their net rating is +47.4. That number will regress but it’s a signal: there are plenty of combinations that will likely lead to improved play by incorporating more Frank. It’s really remarkable how many lineups he is in that have a slightly positive net rating given how poorly the team has played on the whole.

Somehow, someway, this kid who everyone is certain is underperforming, and whose confidence is shot, has consistently helped a 10-win team play some of its best basketball past the midway point of the season.

It could be because Frank makes plenty of plays that help the game score but not the boxscore: 

Ntilikina is in two of the team’s top three 5-player combinations for the entire season, for those that have logged 50 minutes. I’ve probably bored you with all of these combos but read this last one again. It was a surprise to me.

Even when Frank is not passing all of our fallible eye-tests or statistical measures of success, he plays a role within many of the team’s best lineups. We’re not seeing the type of offensive production we usually associate with NBA success. But whether he was playing with and against starters, or on bench units, (for any reasonably robust sum of minutes ) Frank’s name filters to the top.

He should challenge the way we evaluate NBA players the way Shane Battier once did; a player Fizdale knows quite well from their Miami Heat days.

Frank’s contributions are not lost on the Hall-of-Famer who once ran point for one of the most mesmerizing dynasties the sport has ever seen:

Is it fair to put this on the coach?

What’s perhaps most head-scratching about all of this is how putrid the team has been since Ntilikina’s role was reduced. It would make sense if the team was competing and the coach felt he wasn’t able to keep it up. But he IS contributing and they’re NOT competing.

What if Frank and some of the combos that have worked were allowed to log the type of 700-minute chunks we’ve seen Mudiay receive? Could they have been any worse?

Now I’ve picked on coach Fizdale here, but the team’s front office may have much more to do with everything we’ve seen. It’s entirely possible Fizdale is simply carrying out orders. And tons of losing is not on Mudiay, who has played some good ball in a tough situation.

If Ntilikina is traded, we will know he wasn’t in the front office’s long term plans. In that case, reducing his minutes to avoid injury is prudent.

If Mudiay is traded, we may learn the team was just showcasing him for an asset before turning the ship over to Ntilikina.

And of course, if the team plays so badly they wind up drafting Zion Williamson every single measure taken to make that happen will be seen as a stroke of brilliance in hindsight.

But, hypothetically, if the team wanted to win more games or wanted to develop Frank, they’d give him some more burn. The kid has been slowed down and the team has missed his presence, but he hasn’t been stopped. The advanced team stats prove the name Ntilikina just keeps filtering to the top.

Why Frank Ntilikina’s greatest weakness should keep him in a Knicks uniform

Full disclosure before we start: I’ve gone back and forth in my own head about whether writing this column would even be possible for me.

As many of you know, I take a great deal of pride in my fake position emeritus here at KFS. If I’m putting forth something that purports to be quasi-analytical, I try to take all sentiment out of it. When I came up with this idea, I wasn’t sure I could be unsentimental about a subject as near and dear to my heart as Frank Ntilikina’s possible future (or lack thereof) with the New York Knicks. I waffled.

It wasn’t because I didn’t think I could be objective about the benefits and drawbacks of trading away my favorite player the team has had since they were a perennial playoff contender (look it up, kids). Three years of law school taught me how to take emotion out of any scenario and to hone my focus on the facts5.

No, the issue here went much, much deeper. That I adore Ntilikina so much wasn’t the problem; it’s why I adore him that was giving me pause.

A quick aside: throughout my lifetime, I’ve been privy to very little successful basketball from my hometown team. During those rare periods, the point guards have been Derek Harper and Charlie Ward, and then later, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. Those four had very little in common…with one notable exception: they couldn’t care less about whether they filled up the stat sheet on any given night (with the possible exception of Felton, who enjoyed putting on a good stink face every now and again).

The rest of my time as a Knicks fan has been filled with either ball handlers who put up nice numbers but didn’t contribute much in the way of winning basketball (Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and the like) or point guards who flat out stunk (but you’re a damn good assistant coach, Howard Eisley!)

When I watch Frank Ntilikina play, I know full well that he’s not in Group B (Marbury/Francis). In my mind, therefore, because he’s a high draft pick, a hard worker, and by all accounts a good kid, he must be in Group A – a player who someday will help the team win games. What I haven’t given nearly enough consideration to, and what many intelligent fans genuinely believe, is that it’s just as likely he ends up in Group C: Dumpsterville.

With trade chatter on the horizon and enough evidence to wonder whether the organization is sold on the young Frenchman, I was forced to look long and hard about whether my reasons for elevating Frank to the higher of the two categories was valid, or simply wishful thinking.

Before I even got there though, I had to acknowledge the mountain of evidence on the other side…and oh boy, does this thing give Everest a run for its money. For starters, there are currently 173 players in the league averaging over 20 minutes a game that have a usage rate over 16. Of those, Frank Ntilikina’s true shooting percentage ranks dead last. That seems bad.

It gets worse. For the second year in a row, Frank has attempted fewer free throws than games he’s appeared in, so it’s not like he’s getting easy points in the wake of his shooting struggles. It’s also not like his lower percentages have come as the result of an uptick in volume, as he’s taking roughly the same number of field goals per 36 minutes (11.3, compared to 10.6 last season). While his turnovers have dropped, so have his assists. Statistically speaking, he is essentially the same player as last year.

The advanced stats don’t make the glasses any rosier. Entering play on Thursday, Ntilikina was tied with Kevin Knox for the worst on court net rating on the team2. Perhaps most troubling, defensively, the Knicks are not much better when he’s on the floor than when he’s off.

Ah yes…the defense. Last season, it was the saving grace in every argument for Frank Stans like myself, but that’s simply not the case anymore. Just going by the eye test, while there have been several moments this year when his disruptive potential has been on full display, there have also been more than a few blow-byes and instances where Ntilikina gets hung up on a well-set screen. The roster around him doesn’t do his metrics any favors, but still, there’s no getting around the fact that he hasn’t taken a leap, and may have even regressed.

So with all that acknowledged, what in the hell is left for me to even argue? If I say “keep him” now, isn’t that an admittance that I’m incapable of objectivity where this sweet-faced baby boy is concerned? Maybe…but let’s give it a shot for the hell of it.

For one, I’m not maintaining my position primarily due to excuses. Are there reasonable explanations for most of the above? Yeah, and that’s part of it. In a half-season of acknowledged experimentation by Dr. Fizenstein, no one has been taken apart and put back together more than Frank. For a kid with confidence issues, it definitely messed with his head a bit. Since his three consecutive DNP-CD’s, however, he’s shooting 38% from deep with usage and assist rates that more closely resemble other point guards around the league. He’s also had arguably four of the best six or seven games of his career over this stretch.

This isn’t the crux of my argument though.

Can I also trot out some lineup data that shows Frank can be the hub of an elite defensive unit? Of course. When Ntilikina is paired with Damyean Dotson, a backcourt partner who doesn’t turn into Peter Parker at the end of Infinity War every time he encounters a pick, the Knicks have given up just 104.2 points per 100 possessions. That number would rank fourth in the league3, and is the best figure among Knicks pairings that have played at least 400 minutes.

That’s also not the reason I’m taking this position.

No, the reason I’m still #TeamFrank goes back to the point I started with: he is an anomaly in the modern basketball landscape.

Once upon a time, the idea of the unselfish point guard was the norm. Of course there are exceptions throughout NBA history, but by and large, point guards looked to pass first and score second. Allen Iverson changed all that, and now we live in an era where roughly half of the top 40 scorers in the NBA spend a majority of their time running their team’s offense.

I know, I know…because the rules have changed to give such a massive advantage to perimeter players – and specifically to ball handlers – if you don’t have a lead guard who can score, you’re fucked. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t paying attention. It’s the reason why David Fizdale has made it his personal holy war to get Frank going downhill, spending less time thinking and more time acting. If you’re a guard in today’s game who has the ball and isn’t either penetrating a defense or pulling up from deep, you’re doing your team a disservice.

It’s taken a while, and the results have been inconsistent, but we are seeing results.

That, coupled with a shooting stroke everyone seems to think will eventually yield results4, should equate to a player who can handle the ball and give you just enough on offense to keep defenses honest.

This is the point when critics ask the obvious question: why the Knicks should settle for a player who gives you just enough?

The counter: having a ball handler content with doing just enough is not only a rarity in today’s game; it is a gift.

In case you haven’t noticed, stars like having the ball in their hands. Is it a coincidence that Kristaps Porzingis has angled behind the scenes for Frank? Maybe, maybe not. Does Frank’s continued presence on the team mean that Kevin Durant is a fait accompli? In your dreams…but on a team that already has one ball dominant fixture and another likely to come in the draft or free agency, either this year or next, would it be the worst thing to have an unselfish pass-first guy on the roster?

Not if he was always going to be the hapless offensive player we now see before us, but that’s where it bears repeating: Frank Ntilikina is still 20 years old. There are very few Luka Doncic’s or even De’Aaron Fox’s in the world – guys who “get it” within their first year or two. Several seasons of struggle is far more common. Even Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum, each of whom lit the world on fire as rookies, have had their issues this year.

Those struggles have paled in comparison to the ones Ntilikina has faced, but that was always the expectation going in. This was never supposed to happen fast. If anything, you could argue that his exploits early last season gave us all unrealistic expectations for how this would go. The roller coaster ride we’ve seen since then is more par for the course, at least as far as pre-draft expectations go.

And despite all that logic, can I sit here and tell you that if Ntilikina was the 22nd or 18th or even the 16th pick in the 2017 Draft, and not the 8th pick, I’d still be a devout believer? Of course not. But his pedigree has to factor into the equation just the same.

So yeah…that’s where we are. If you asked me right now to bet on whether or not Frank will still be on this team in three weeks, even odds, I’m probably saying yes…but not with much conviction. My gut tells me the organization might be siding with the skeptics, and that they’re trying to use whatever mystery is left surrounding the kid as one last chance to sell high. Maybe they’re right to do so. What they see behind the scenes trumps anything me or any other observer can posit.

I still wouldn’t. Being the cement to hold together any foundation is a thankless job, but every great team has a guy willing to do it. Maybe we found ours, maybe we didn’t. Here’s hoping that three weeks from right now, it’ll still be our question to answer.

A Small Favor at the Knicks Halfway Mark

A little over four years ago, the fine folks at Paramount were hurting for cash, so they decided to reboot the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. Ostensibly, the target audience fell into three groups:

  • small children who find amusement in talking animals,
  • people who wanted to see Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was sold out, and
  • wistful adults in their early to mid-30’s who grew up watching the TMNT cartoons on Saturday morning and subsequently dragged their parents to the local Toys “R” Us on the regular to spend $4.99 on action figures, and when the one we wanted wasn’t on display – “Scumbug,” perhaps – our mom would slip the store clerk a few bucks to bring out a box from the stock room and see if it was in there instead. Hypothetically.

My wife and I fit neatly into category three. Regardless of how bad the reviews were, we were going to see this monstrosity in the theater. The hope was that nostalgia would take hold to the point that even Megan Fox’s acting couldn’t ruin the movie.

We were wrong5. After it was over, my wife was not only bummed we’d wasted two hours of our lives, but that a small part of her childhood had died over that span of time. This was a movie that felt like it deserved to be seen as a bootleg. It was that bad.

A year later, I dragged my wife to see a nod to my own childhood, Terminator Genisys. Like Turtles, I knew it was going to be bad, but again, I didn’t care. They could have had Arnold in an afro painting happy little trees for two hours, and if he was playing the T-1000, I would have been there with him.

Spoiler alert: it also sucked.

That said, when I walked out of the theater, I had a distinctly different feeling than the one I did after leaving TMNT. It’s not that Genisys was a much better film2. It was, however, vastly more satisfying. At the end of the day, I got to see Arnold be Arnold, Emilia Clarke be hot3, lots of robots and explosions, and of course, that theme music. There were layers of comfort in the awfulness. The Turtles, on the other hand, were awful in a way that removed any comfort that once existed.

As we reach the midway point of a Knicks season we knew full well was going to be dreadful before it ever started, we’re at something of a crossroads. We know there will be no playoffs at the end of the road. The only question now is whether this season will leave us feeling like we just walked out of Turtles or Terminator on April 10.

Midway through the season, at least according to a totally, 100% reliable Twitter poll I posted earlier this week, it’s far closer to Ah-nold’s biceps than Raph’s tired shtick4.

With over 2000 responses logged, most people seem pretty pleased5.

Still, if there aren’t some leaps and bounds made between now and their last game, those numbers are bound to go down a bit. There are several nitpicks Knicks fans are well within their right to have, but there’s one big issue that takes precedent over all:

We need to see more meaningful passing

This is one that everyone, including the head coach himself, can agree with:

This quote comes on the heels of David Fizdale’s statement earlier this season that being last in the league in assists “makes him want to yack.” Heading into the season’s second half, the Knicks still rank at the bottom of the league in both assists and assist percentage. It’s a problem.

The issue isn’t that the team doesn’t move the ball – they’re currently 18th in the league in passes per game. It’s also not that they aren’t getting any good shots – the Knicks have a greater frequency of open looks than all but six teams in the league 6and are fifth in open threes per game. They’re also 14th in the league in frequency of both shots at the rim and non-corner threes7.

These numbers are a bit deceiving though. As you probably guessed, part of the problem is that the Knicks are a little light on quality shooters. Currently, New York has only three players shooting above the league average of 35.3% from long range8. They do, however, have five more players within a percentage point of that number, including their three most high volume shooters9. The shooting is part of the reason for the low assist numbers, but far from the only cause.

The bigger issue is that they aren’t getting nearly enough of the best shots and are taking way too many bad ones to boot.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks are dead last in frequency of corner threes. They’re also bottom of the barrel in field goal percentage at the rim, and while it’s possible that they’re just full of terrible finishers, this is more likely an implication that they aren’t getting nearly enough easy looks at the basket.

Unsurprisingly, the Knicks lead the league in frequency of shots taken after making between three and six dribbles and are second in frequency of shots taken after two dribbles. On the flip side, they’re second to last in shots taken after no dribbles. Looking at the teams that take the most shots after zero dribbles – the Sixers, Warriors and Jazz – and the others in the bottom three – the Cavs and Bulls – it’s easy to see that more sophisticated teams find a way to get shooters in spots where they can simply fire away, as opposed to doing heavy lifting before their attempt.

Add it all up, and it’s clear that the Knicks’ offense leaves a lot to be desired. The more complicated question is whether there’s anything they can do about it.

Entering the season with the youngest team in the league, David Fizdale clearly wasn’t at liberty to install anything terribly complicated – not when there’s an organizational mandate to work five first or second year players into the regular rotation, including three who aren’t yet old enough to drink.

He also doesn’t have anyone on the roster single-handedly capable of breaking down a defense and opening up the offense by themselves. The four players who most closely fit that bill – Emmanuel Mudiay, Tim Hardaway Jr., Allonzo Trier and Trey Burke – have all gotten plenty of burn, but with the exception of Mudiay, their dribbling exploits have more often led to iso possessions than open looks for others.

So what’s the answer? There may not be a great one, at least not one that makes the team better in the short run. We also can’t continue with the status quo. Sure, this year is about improving the culture by getting this team used to being in competitive games, and it’s worked for the most part10. But they also shouldn’t go into 2019 training camp without any experience running an actual NBA offense as a cohesive unit.

Two modest proposals:

  • start instituting more sophisticated offensive sets, and if the kids mess up, they mess up. It won’t be pretty, but for a team that has lost 15 of its last 17 games, how detrimental could a little more experimentation really be?
  • Stop playing iso-heavy players together, or bench some entirely.

On the latter suggestion, Shwinny Pooh at Posting & Toasting just dropped a piece similar to this one in which he goes into some lineup suggestions in some more detail, and I second his thoughts wholeheartedly.

Other than more movement and easier looks on offense, there’s a couple other areas that need addressing:

Pick a defensive identity

…and “shitty” doesn’t count.

Fiz employed a healthy dose of switching early on before experimenting with a zone defense for a hot minute, and now recently he’s been employing more of a trapping scheme. We saw this style have some success, but we also saw the Warriors carve it up.

It’s obviously unfair to judge anything based off a game against the greatest offensive juggernaut in league history, but if that game – and this season – has made anything clear, it’s that New York doesn’t have the defensive personnel to employ any scheme with much effectiveness.

Many fans have clamored for a return to a defense-first starting lineup that includes Frank, Dot & Mitch along with Noah Vonleh, but any way you cut it, bad defenders are going to get time for this team, at least this season. So if you can’t play actual good defenders for most of the game, at least pick a scheme and roll with it so the guys who will be here long term can get used to it.

Figure out Frank

I’ve written far too many words about Ntilikina for two lifetimes, so I won’t belabor this point, but in short, if we’re going into next season with the same questions about Frank that we had going into this one, it’s a problem. He probably needs one more semi-extended stint as the starting point guard to give us real answers, but that’s what March and April for a bottom-five team are for. Even some run with Emmanuel Mudiay (as Shwinny proposed) is a worthy experiment.

That’s all I got. We harp on the bad a lot, because we’re New Yorkers and that’s what we do. It’s fine. Recognizing things that need improving is an important part of growth, and we do need to see some of that growth over the next 41 games.

Let’s just keep our expectations in check during that time. The real prize is still a ways away. We’ve been patient this long…what’s another three months?

KFS Teacher’s Lounge: What Should the Knicks do with Enes Kanter?

A deal is not close, but the Knicks and Kings are discussing a trade that would send Enes Kanter out west in exchange for Zach Randolph’s expiring contract, with perhaps a third team getting involved, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski.

Some of our Knicks Film School professors (writers) give their thoughts on what the Knicks should do with Enes Kanter:


For the non-Seinfeld fans: in the episode where Kramer sues a national coffee chain for making his coffee too hot, he has a meeting with his lawyer and the coffee company to negotiate a potential settlement. The coffee company – Java World – begins the negotiation by saying “We’re prepared to offer you free coffee from any of our stores and-” but before the lawyer can finish what he’s saying, Kramer jumps up, shakes his hand, and elatedly says “I’ll take it!”

This scene is a microcosm of essentially every Knicks trade negotiation in the history of the franchise. You can picture Phil Jackson on the phone with David Griffin and yelling “SOLD!” the moment Griffin agreed to take on JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. We haven’t exactly had a history of holding out for the best offer.

Perhaps the only team in recent NBA history to have a worse transaction record is the Kings. Why they’re interested in Enes Kanter is beyond me, but regardless, the Knicks have to avoid the temptation to jump at the first offer. Play this one out and try to milk negotiations with a potentially irrational actor as much as possible.

Does this run counter to a column I wrote just a few weeks ago, calling for the Knicks to waive Kanter, like, yesterday? You’re damn right it does! But I never accounted for the fact that the Kings would be so stupid value offensive rebounding so much. Let’s play this hand till the river. You got nothing to lose.

VIVEK (@vdadhania) – The Knicks should FIND A SMART REPLACEMENT FOR Enes Kanter.

While Kanter has been generally lambasted for his poor defensive effort, he provides three key traits that are mostly missing on the roster:

  1. Consistent Tank Commander
  2. High FG%
  3. Rebounding

Development is a tricky process. Simply playing young players doesn’t always work, especially if it leads to bad habits on the floor or stunts the development in other areas.  The Knicks are a putrid rebounding team without Kanter. Removing him from the lineup, teams will feast on the boards which will lead to fewer opportunities for the young players to shine with efficiency, whether in transition or with extra opportunities on offense.

Perry & Mills should look to garner a pick and an expiring contract for Kanter. If he’s bought out, the front office needs to find someone who can grab some rebounds and/or be a useful source of veteran leadership for Mitchell Robinson.

SU YORK (@SuYork_1023) – The Knicks should TRADE Enes Kanter (ONLY IF THE RETURN IS GREAT).

Let’s face it, we all knew this was coming and many of us hoped for this. Kanter went from a good vet presence this season to a team nuisance as quickly as the Knicks give up a lead in the third quarter.

Hearing rumors that multiple teams want him, it’s very important the Knicks make a wise decision. I do not like the recent proposal from the Sacramento Kings looking for a straight-up swap sending Zach Randolph to the Knicks (yes, Z-Bo is still in the league).

What I want to happen:

I want the Knicks to find the best possible trade for Kanter. He still has value on a winning team. He is a walking Double-Double. He still contributes, and despite being a bit disgruntled with his current role, overall, he is a good teammate. I know this is reaching, but if we can at least get a second round pick with an expiring contract that would be ideal. (I’m a dreamer) 🤷🏼‍♀️

If we do not get anything worthwhile for Kanter, I want him to face reality and accept his role on the bench. This season is not about winning. Is Kanter more delusional than your typical fan? I want him to stay quiet and keep producing with the minutes he’s given. We recently saw him more accepting of his bench role and playing well in the Lakers game. Although it was a loss for team tank, the Knicks got their 1st win of 2019. Kanter may be a beneficial influence to the rookies, especially Mitchell Robinson. If Kanter can only hold on a few more months, then walk away this summer, that would be great. That will be the end of the Enes Kanter era in NY!

ALEX (@MrAlexCollins) – The Knicks Should AMICABLY SEPARATE FROM Enes Kanter.

Enes is in his eighth year in the NBA and he is understandably unhappy with his bench role on a team that has only 10 wins at the halfway point of the season and still has the highest strength of schedule remaining in the Eastern Conference, per ESPN.

There is no valid argument for the Knicks keeping Kanter around for the rest of the season. Whether you think he is a net positive player or not, his inclusion on the team is not resulting in the Knicks being anywhere near a playoff contender.

The Knicks should be focused on getting the highest possible pick in the draft and developing their young players. This is best served by giving minutes to Mitchell Robinson, Luke Kornet, and bringing in a veteran big who is happier to sit and mentor the young guys than Kanter has proven to be. Even picking up young big men from free agency or the G-league on 10-day contracts would better benefit the team moving forward.

There have been enough positive instances that we can remember Enes with some fondness, and his last 3 games have been a nice run for him to bow out on. Why not do right by him and move him to a situation where he has a defined role on a team in playoff contention?

Whether the Knicks outright waive Enes, thus giving him the freedom to choose where he wants to play next without restriction, or saving him the embarrassment of being cut from one of the worst teams in the NBA and simply moving him to a contender for an expiring contract, it’s best for all parties to respectfully go their separate ways.

MIKE D (@debatebball) – The Knicks Should START Enes Kanter.

They should keep him.  And if they keep him, they have to play him.  And if they’re playing him, why not start him?

Reasons they should keep him:

  1. His $18M expiring is difficult to match. We do NOT want to take any non-expiring money back.

  2. Practicing against him will help both Mitch and Kornet. Post play, while less important these days, is not extinct. Kanter’s strength and skill down low can help our young centers learn how to hold their own against stronger bigs who still bang on the block and attack the glass.

  3. He’s playing well. He’s been arguably their best player over the last few games. If Fiz is going to preach, “Keep what you kill,” then Kanter deserves to play.

I’d only trade him if we’re getting something more than swapping expiring money, and I’d only buy him out if he asks for that.

DAVE (@DavidEarly) – The Knicks Should FRANTICALLY SHOP Enes Kanter.

The Knicks should FRANTICALLY shop Enes. If they were really smart they’d do all they can to get a couple of second round picks for him without taking back any long-term salary. Otherwise, I’d try to buy him out.

With the right coach, Enes is absolutely good enough to win you a few games down the stretch. You CANNOT risk the top (14%) pick odds with a player of Zion Williamson’s caliber on the board. Moving on from Enes helps you A) avoid PR headaches when you sit him to tank or B) avoid the devastating “spirited win” down the stretch that costs you 35% of your ping pong balls.

The sneaky benefit of sending him to the Kings is that if he actually helps them win, it hurts the Atlantic Division rival Celtics’ pick.

That could be key. If the Knicks wind up with KD and Zion and KP, they just might visit Boston in the conference finals next year. So we can root for Enes to ball out in Sacramento.

Navigating the Kristaps Porzingis news cycle

When the Ian O’Connor piece on James Dolan came out last month, it didn’t tell Knicks fans anything they didn’t already know.

At least not the ones that have been paying attention.

Dolan is, by all accounts, a flawed man. He’s clearly stubborn about a lot of things, including the righteousness of his own decision-making, which is perhaps the worst thing of all that a person can be stubborn about. His, shall we say, “unique” persona, has resulted in a working environment that has been painted as anywhere from uncomfortable to unbearable.

In the O’Connor piece, the term “culture of fear” was used. Later in the article, there was mention of a program designed to enhance the workplace experience for Garden employees – an implicit acknowledgement that said environment needed some TLC. Howard Beck used the word “tense” to describe the atmosphere around the franchise during our conversation earlier this season, and I got the sense he was being kind.

Again, none of this is news.

What is impossible to know, and what has tortured Knicks fans more than any single trade, signing, or game that has occurred during Dolan’s tenure, is just how much any of this matters.

The issue is that we’re not dealing with Amazon or Apple here. As long as we get our Christmas orders on time and our iPhones last their requisite two years before turning into fancy paperweights, we don’t care whether Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook is an unconscionable douche.

Sports are different. The output isn’t a product; it is a group of humans working together to achieve a discernible task. If the well is poisoned, that task becomes more difficult. This much is clear. What isn’t clear is the butterfly effect that poor ownership creates. If James Dolan yells at a subordinate on a Monday morning, the Knicks don’t necessarily get blown out at home on Tuesday night11.

The answer was a lot easier when Dolan was stepping into the basketball ops side of things and sticking his nose where it didn’t belong. Since he’s allegedly stopped doing that (and by all accounts, he has), we’re left to guess what effect, if any, the “maybe terrible, maybe just-not-great” working environment at the Garden has had on the team itself.

On one hand, we have some evidence that the answer is “none.” Putting a certain former power forward aside, seemingly every former Knick, including those who have played while Dolan has owned the team, has nice things to say upon their return. Many even work for the club. The organization has been undone by various bouts of incompetence over the years far more than any internal, organizational strife.

Regarding the current group, Rebecca Haarlow – someone who has covered team sports for over a decade – told me last week that the positivity around the team was “special” and that she’s never seen an energy like the one surrounding this group of players. Haarlow is an MSG employee, so take her words with a grain of salt if you must, but they seem to be fairly bold to not have at least a few layers of truth.

The group of players currently on the court isn’t the issue though; it’s the 7’3” elephant in the room that’s still working his way back – the one for whom there is more at stake in terms of the historical significance of his career than the rest of the roster combined2. Kristaps Porzingis is (justifiably) weighing where he is going to spend the prime of his career, and whether this organization can give him the opportunity to make good on his otherworldly talents.

His leanings in this regard should be the franchise’s top concern. Say what you want about his durability, but teams draft for decades without landing a generational talent the likes of Porzingis. Some teams in the NBA have never gotten so lucky.

Now, with July 1 a mere six months away, every Knicks fan is trying their best to read the tea leaves on where KP’s thinking is at. Specifically, we’re left wondering how much the aforementioned Garden culture affects him, if at all. The problem is that the primary conveyers of this information also happen to be the group that has been disenfranchised by James Dolan more than any other: the local media.

Two weeks ago, Steve Mills held a press conference for reporters, and the Daily News’ Stefan Bondy’s invitation got lost in the mail. Coincidentally, this happened immediately following the News splashing a drawing of Dolan on the back page under the headline “DO IT!” (as in, sell the team) in response to O’Connor’s article. Just as coincidentally, last week, Bondy caused minor waves when he wrote a piece about KP’s free agency that included the following line:

At this point, the question isn’t just whether the Knicks should offer Porzingis a max contract but also whether he should sign one. Because the word on Porzingis is that he loves New York but is skeptical about the Knicks. And who wouldn’t be?

“The word on Porzingis…”

What is a fan supposed to do with that? Is this reporting? Theorizing? Somewhere in between? Say what you will about Bondy, but he wouldn’t write it if there wasn’t some truth to it, somewhere, from someone. But how much is of his “report” is influenced by the events of the previous few weeks, not to mention the antagonistic relationship that has existed between the Garden and the press corps going back well over a decade?

It’s not just the Daily News either. Ian Begley, who I think most Knicks fans would consider a credible source on the Knicks’ beat, also alluded to the fact that re-signing KP isn’t a guaranteed fact when he wrote, “The smart money says the Knicks and Porzingis will reach an agreement this summer, but it’s foolish to see that transaction as a sure thing.

Bleacher Report’s Yaron Weitzman – who hasn’t been barred from any press conferences that we know of – followed up Bondy’s article with this nugget:

Even if this is reliable reporting (and there’s no reason to believe it isn’t), it brings us back to the original question: should we care? Maybe, maybe not.

We’ve all had bosses we think are dicks, but that doesn’t always equate to a poor experience as an employee. To this day, my favorite job is the one I had during high school where I was a car runner for Bay Ridge Lexus3.

My boss – who also happened to be my dad – was an unconscionable ball-buster, especially with me. But he was only in the service shop for an hour or so a day and he never really bothered me. His employees feared him, but they worked on commission, and nothing he did effected their bread, which was all that really mattered.

How different is an NBA team? Maybe it’s not that different at all. Porzingis could think the treatment of reporters is completely unfair and feel bad for fearful Garden employees but still embrace being the face of the franchise because he knows if he ever won a ring here, he’d be draped in sports immortality for the rest of his life.

It’s also entirely possible he looks around every day and questions whether such an operation could ever put it all together to the point of reaching the ultimate goal. He could view the presser incident as the equivalent of a grown man pulling a “you can’t come to my birthday party because you laughed when I tripped and fell in gym class”-level move and exponentially increase the pace at which he plots his exit strategy.

Or he might not care in the slightest. We just don’t know.

What we do know is that the organization, for all its faults, has seemingly done everything humanly possible to make sure Porzingis feels like he is at the center of all of their plans, from talking him up every chance they get, to sending the head coach to spend a week in his home country, to something as silly as putting him at the head of the table in this ridiculous cartoon:

We haven’t heard any reporting – or even guessing – about whether any of these efforts have made a difference to the man and his camp. Is that because the people who would normally be giving us this information are less than inclined to seek positive angles on this particular subject? Or is it simply due to the fact that the Knicks themselves haven’t made KP available for interviews since camp opened?

Around and around we go. At the end of the day, parsing through what is and isn’t real is a fool’s errand. What KP feels about the Knicks – both on and off the court – is anyone’s guess, but to think he’s sold to the point of simply acquiescing to the organization’s desires is silly. It’s why the idea that he would sign a five-year max extension with injury protections is more than a little wishful thinking.

Do you lay out the red carpet and forgo any semblance of negotiation? No…you still make your pitch. But it should be far closer to a Home Run Derby soft toss than one made in October with a man on third. At the end of the day, Bondy is right4. There’s nothing stopping KP from holding fast at a three-year deal with a player option for the fourth season. The Knicks should want to guarantee him for every minute of five full years.

Which one ends up happening may finally give us the answer as to just how much the players do or don’t mind whatever is or isn’t happening on the inside of the Garden’s walls.

Until then, we sit, and we wait, combing for scraps of information and then deciding whether they mean a damn thing.

Such is life as a Knicks fan.

Happy Thoughts for a Happy New Year

First, watch the beginning of the play above.

Then, imagine, instead of of a dinosaur, that’s a 7’3 Unicorn catching at the top of the key. Imagine him stepping into a 30-foot bomb and scoffing at his defender for giving him so much room. Imagine him pump-faking when his defender remembers, “Oh sh**, that’s not Kanter! This guy can shoot,” and closes out too hard. Imagine one dribble to the basket. Imagine a long, lean arm rising toward the clouds before hammering the ball through the rim.


Imagine this Unicorn does nothing extraordinary. Instead, simply imagine the impact of his presence. Imagine his defender, the opponent’s rim protector, fearing his range. Imagine the defense extending well beyond the arc rather than sitting in the circle. Imagine the extra space for cutters and drivers.

Imagine the Unicorn in the near corner. Imagine him moving to the mid-post, catching the entry, and turning to shoot an effortless fadeaway, uncontested despite his defender’s best contest. Imagine it off one foot like Dirk. Imagine it kissing the glass before falling through.


Imagine he doesn’t shoot from the post. Imagine he engages Timmy in the dribble-handoff. Imagine the confusion when the defense can’t just sit on the roll. Imagine, instead, a fade to the three-point line for a quick flick of the wrist. Then imagine a few possessions later, the Knicks run the same action. Imagine the defense, fearing the three, anticipates the pop. Now imagine the roll. Imagine his long strides toward the rim. Imagine him leaping to catch the lob, handling it with such ease and grace that even road fans must applaud.    

Imagine the opportunities in transition. Imagine him setting the screen for Mudiay, drifting to the top of the key, catching and shooting. Or imagine he doesn’t get it. Is Thaddeus Young anywhere near Mudiay’s release? No. He’s blanketing the Unicorn, giving Emmanuel any number of easier options. Just imagine the impact of his gravitational pull, what it could do for everyone else on the floor.

Imagine him catching the inbound. Imagine him taking his man off the dribble – one bounce, maybe two – and drawing the foul. Or imagine he executes the handoff to Lee, and…they switch? Maybe this worked in the past, but not anymore. Not with this better, stronger Unicorn. Imagine a patient Lee pulling it out to exploit the mismatch. Imagine the mouse being walked into the post and dominated. Or imagine Lee inexplicably shooting it anyway. Missing. Yet you don’t scream at the television, because there it is – a vintage Unicorn tip-slam. Imagine his glare. I’m back, it says.  

Imagine the two-man game with Frank. Imagine the collective length of this duo, neither of whom can legally rent a car. Allow your mind to drift to the other end of the floor, even as the offensive possession continues, and imagine the devastating defensive impact they could have together.  

Not now. We’re still trying to score. Imagine the Unicorn fading, catching, and…well, you know the result. Or imagine, again, his gravity. Imagine his defender can’t thwart Frank’s baseline drive. Imagine his man must sprint toward the hash mark, full speed, everything he has. Imagine how different Frank’s life would be. Imagine how much easier it’d be to play with controlled aggression, to find room, to create off the dribble. Imagine Frank getting all the way to the rim. Imagine him flushing it with two hands.

Imagine the help coming from the baseline, with the Unicorn being blanketed out by Fizdale. Imagine Frank taking an extra dribble before throwing a dart to Knox in the corner. Imagine Knox rising up and releasing. Imagine the ball doing what it’s been doing for Knox lately.  

Imagine, now, the wing helping down to the corner. Imagine the extra pass to Lee.

Imagine a top-ranked defense playing helter-skelter, desperate to recover, but always one pass, one move, one step behind. Imagine the open jumpers. Imagine clogged lanes parting like some sort of biblical event. Imagine a frustrated timeout. Imagine a baffled opposing huddle. Imagine futile adjustments. Imagine increased continuity, percentages rising, teammates filling more suitable roles and young talent inching closer to potential fulfillment, all made possible by the return of a truly unique talent…

Sometime soon, you won’t have to imagine anymore. Sometime soon, this will be your reality.

Just imagine how you’ll feel then.