August 1st 2016: The New York Knicks sign Ron Baker
The New York Knicks officially inked Ron “Ron Burgundy” Baker to a contract. Without a draft pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Phil Jackson immediately invited Burgundy to the Summer League squad. The Knicks subsequently signed Baker to a non-guaranteed contract.
The Wichita State alum, and former teammate of Cleanthony Early, came into the league with a reputation as a tough defensive guard who could also hit the open 3. Burgundy was a combo guard who had PG skills. Despite being only 6’3, his 6’8 wingspan allowed him to defend taller guards and small forwards.
Baker made the Knicks opening night roster. He split his time between the Knicks roster and the G-League team. He played 52 NBA games in his rookie campaign and started 13 of those games after the Knicks waived Brandon Jennings & Derrick Rose suffered a season ending knee injury.
His rookie season led Steve Mills to give Baker a 2 year contract worth $8.9 million. Due to Mills’ other more infamous move that offseason1he who shall not be named Timmy, this contract went under the rug. This was one of the more questionable signings, but somewhat justifiable due to his defensive efforts.
Unfortunately, Baker’s 2017-18 was marred by multiple injuries. An ankle sprain kept him out of the beginning of the season. Additionally, Baker suffered a shoulder injury rehabilitating from his ankle sprain that would foreshadow his downfall later in the year. To add insult to injury, Burgundy was the victim of a nasty Anthony Davis poster that resulted in a fractured orbital bone. The final nail to the season was when he tore his right labrum diving for a loose ball against the Nets in January 2018. He missed the remainder of the season.
Due to the plethora of Knick guards on the roster, Baker received minimal playing time to start the 2018-19 season. The Knicks later waived him to create room to sign Allonzo Trier to an NBA contract. Baker later signed with the Wizards, but eventually underwent surgery again on his torn right labrum.
Burgundy recently signed with CSKA Moscow to regain footing in his young basketball career.
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.
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%).2Doncic boasts a TS% of .553. 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.
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.
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:
(2012) Six years ago today, @JLin7 dropped 38 points against the Lakers. The night before, Kobe Bryant was asked about Linsanity and said he had no idea what what was going on. "Who is this kid? I've heard about him, but what's he been doing?" pic.twitter.com/ifwFR6GnT1
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.
Let’s pretend the Knicks most recent loss to Milwaukee didn’t happen for a second.2not a hard ask for Knicks fans
Instead, I want to take a step back and look at what happened in the previous 14 games, which wraps around an important point in time for when Kevin Knox started scoring the basketball in bunches.
The ninth overall pick, who was notoriously booed by a select group of fans who wanted the team to select Michael Porter Jr. on draft night, is looking much more like he did in Summer League, except, this time, the competition is real.
The Kentucky product averaged 20.3 points and 6.6 rebounds on 43.3 percent shooting over the 7 games leading up to Christmas. Pretty impressive stuff.
However, there is another way to look at Knox’s recent stretch beyond counting back the number of games on the calendar. You can cite the same statistics and replace “last 7 games” with “since Mario Hezonja has seen his minutes reduced and Allonzo Trier has been out of the lineup.”
Kevin Knox is scoring more than 20 points per game since Fizdale drastically reduced Hezonja’s minutes and when Allonzo Trier was absent from the Knicks lineup with a sore hamstring. On the night Trier first sat and Hezonja found himself riding the bench, Knox poured in 26 points on December 9 vs Charlotte.
In the 7 games proceeding Knox’s breakout night, Hezonja was averaging 20 minutes per game. This is only two minutes less than what Knox was averaging at the time. Since Knox replaced Hezonja in the starting lineup, he is averaging 36.8 minutes, while Hezonja is down to 11.5 minutes, most recently receiving DNPs vs Atlanta and Milwaukee.
And this is where Allonzo Trier’s absence comes into play. Leading up to the injury, Kevin Knox played alongside Allonzo Trier more than any other teammate.
So while Knox’s minutes have ticked up at the expense of Mario Hezonja, his added offensive production is the product of receiving touches and shot attempts that were previously reserved for Iso Zo.
Knox’s touches each game have jumped from 37.6 in the seven games leading up to Trier’s injury to 55.1 over the seven games Trier was out of the lineup. Knox also increased his shot frequency by eight more shot attempts per game, which is interestingly around the same number of shot attempts Trier was averaging in the seven games before he got hurt.
But it’s not just volume that is helping Knox’s numbers. He is also much more efficient, of late. His 43.3 percent shooting accuracy in the games Trier sat out is a drastic increase over the 33.8 percentage he shot in the seven games prior to Trier’s injury.
And where does that increased efficiency come from?
Driving to the hoop… the same thing that “anonymous scouts” criticized Knox for not doing enough; the same thing Knox, himself, knows he needs to do more of to get his offense going.
In the seven games Trier was out with an injury, Knox averaged 5.4 drives per game, which is nearly double the 2.8 drives per game he averaged before that point in time. He is also finishing 46.2% of his shots resulting from drives during this current scoring stretch, versus only 27.0% prior to that, according to NBA.com.
Drives are supposed to exclude fast break opportunities, but it’s hard to know, for sure, if NBA.com is accurate in stripping out the semi-transition plays that result in “drives” for Knox. This could partially explain why his numbers have increased during Trier’s injury. The Knicks are more likely to run with Mudiay at point guard and Knox playing alongside him.
That said, it’s the halfcourt game where the added touches Knox receives when Trier is not playing are helping him the most. Without Trier as the lead ball-handler, the 2018 lottery pick finds himself in more situations, particularly at the top of the key, that allow him to drive to the rim, either to pull up short for his patented little floater, or finish the play with a lay-up or dunk.
This is not to say Allonzo Trier is a bad offensive player, but to suggest that Trier’s dominance of the ball can turn Knox into a spectator when he should be taking more command of the basketball.
If we now look at the Knicks loss to Milwaukee on Christmas, we can see how Knox played with Trier back in the lineup. And guess what? Knox still took plenty of shots, 20 to be exact, but 19 of those came when Trier was off the floor.
If David Fizdale wants Kevin Knox to continue to develop as a lead option in the offense, it might make sense for him to stagger Knox and Trier’s minutes as much as possible. This comes from playing Knox less minutes at the four, often resulting in a lineup that finds room for Trier alongside two other guards, and more minutes at the three, with a player like Noah Vonleh, who helps create plays for Knox with his screening ability rather than taking away opportunities by demanding more touches, like Trier.
Kevin Knox doesn’t want to see anyone go hungry…
That’s $12 already raised to feed New Yorkers based on my $1 for every point commitment.
Knox might eventually become a great modern day four, but the composition of the current roster is pleading for Fizdale to play him with players who help him drive to the hoop and become a lead scorer instead of playing him with ball-dominant players who take away valuable touches for his development.
Adam Zagoria is reporting that the Knicks are expected to convert Allonzo Trier from a two-way to a standard NBA contract this week. Trier’s 45 day NBA service limit was set to expire on December 15, but a hamstring injury will keep him out of basketball activities for at least the rest of this week, and thus, delaying his service time deadline until he recovers.
Zagoria has covered Trier closely since high school. He followed him all the way through college. Beyond writing for his own ZagsBlog, Zagoria contributes to the Arizona Daily Star. If there is a local reporter to trust with Trier news, it is Zags.
Trier sat out of Sunday night’s game due to a hamstring injury. After an incredible start to the season as an undrafted rookie, he has cooled of late, shooting only 35.7% in December, down from 48.9% the previous month. He is averaging 11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on the season.
Of course, for the Knicks to sign Trier to an NBA contract, they will need to create a roster spot. There has been no leaked reports of who the team might waive to make space for the Arizona rookie.
Once they create a roster spot, the easiest path to sign Trier is to convert his two-way contract into a standard NBA contract at the league minimum rate for the rest of the season, which coincides with the remaining length of his two-way contract. It is unclear if this is the path that Zagoria is reporting the Knicks will take.
If the Knicks want to sign Trier for more than the league minimum or for longer than the rest of this season, they have limited options since they are operating over the salary cap.
Their only option is to trade players to create cap space (unlikely) or use a salary cap exception to sign him. The salary cap exceptions available to them are as follows:
Minimum Salary Exception, pro-rated down from $838K for Trier this season, for up to two seasons.
Bi-Annual Exception, starting up to $3.4M, for up to two seasons
Mid-Level Exception, starting up to $655K this season, but for up to four seasons.
Since Trier has less than 3 years of service in the league, he would become a restricted free agent if signed for the rest of this season (or even if signed through next season).
Allonzo Trier has taken the NBA by storm as an undrafted rookie out of Arizona.
While his name and skillset might be new to Knicks fans, those who followed him closely in college had an idea of the type of player he could become. Zach Milner shows us that what Trier is doing well in the pros is not very different from what he did well in college. In other words, he is playing his game.
Zach was able to scout Trier for three years at the University of Arizona, and one thing was clear to him – he should have been drafted.
If you read Zach’s scouting report from the summer, you will find familiar themes to what you are seeing in Trier’s game with the Knicks. Players don’t change much between the time that they graduate to when they are playing a few months later with Jerry West’s icon on their jersey. The question mark is whether their skills will translate. In Trier’s case, they have.
This is a fascinating report by Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic about how the Knicks targeted both Mitchel Robinson and Allonzo Trier, two players that seemingly were undervalued by the rest of the league, and how they were somehow able to draft and sign both of them on draft night.
Trier says he was told by the Knicks that if he was still on the board [when they picked in the second round], they would take him. The Knicks didn’t make a promise to Trier, according to league sources, but did have him in strong consideration for the pick.
“I didn’t think I would get past there, honestly,” he said.
Instead, the Knicks chose Mitchell Robinson, who they had tried trading up into the first round for. A call from a member of the organization soon followed, with an explanation. The Knicks had a need to go big, Trier says he was told, and Robinson had dropped to them, though they still evaluated him highly and hoped to get him.
The rest is history, as Trier fell out of the second round and back into the Knicks laps as an undrafted free agent.
Why this matters: I think this is important because it shows that the Knicks are scouting the right players. Of course, it is way too early to say that both Robinson and Trier will be long-term successes in this league, just as it’s too early to give up on Ntilikina or to criticize Knox’s slow start. However, from a value perspective in the draft, the criteria is a little different for Robinson and Trier. Finding a second round pick and undrafted rookie, who both display any kind of high ceiling promise is a win that any organization would take.
Allonzo Trier went undrafted in the 2018 draft. Whether scouts missed on him or were concerned with his PED suspensions, it doesn’t matter now. He went undrafted, which limited his ability to hold much bargaining power as a rookie free agent.
Hence, the Knicks were able to sign him to a two-way contract.
While everyone expects the Knicks to clear a roster spot and sign Trier to an NBA contract in December, an interesting caveat in the way NBA service time is calculated for two-way players has him playing several days for free.
Allonzo Trier had another amazing performance last night, becoming the first Knicks rookie to record at least 25 points + 10 rebounds + 7 assists since Mark Jackson.
There are three NBA service rules for two-way players that impact Trier’s service time this season:
NBA service does not start accruing until G-League training camp begins.
The days that Trier doesn’t participate in a basketball activity with the team are excluded.
A new rule excludes travel days.
To the first rule, Trier was able to stay with the Knicks for about one month of time before any of his 45-day service limit started to depreciate. This provided the Knicks with a longer look at the iso-heavy guard, ultimately leading to rotation minutes, which in the end, could lead to an NBA contract.
All is good, right?
Mostly. But where this rule hurts two-way players is in their paychecks.
Two-way salary is calculated by multiplying the league minimum salary for a player with 0 years of service by the number of NBA service days they accrue.
This means that the entire time Trier spent with the Knicks in training camp, playing in preseason games, and balling out for the first three games of the regular season, are excluded from his NBA pay.
Combining the second and third NBA service time rules mentioned above into one thought, any day the Knicks travel, or Trier doesn’t participate in a basketball activity, are also excluded from his NBA service day count.
The recently changed rule for excluding travel days from their NBA service calculation is designed to help two-way players find more meaningful time with their NBA club instead of wasting away service time on buses or planes.
This all sounds favorable to the player since a two-way player is usually trying to prove something in the league and the more actual game days they get to do that, the better.
But all of these days that don’t “count” as service time also don’t count in calculating the amount of NBA salary two-way players receive for days they worked with the NBA club.
What does this all mean?
In the grand scheme of things, not a lot. I expect Trier to be rewarded handsomely in the near future, so he will do just fine for himself. All of this service day math makes it difficult to calculate exactly when Trier’s two-way NBA service time expires. However, Marc Berman of the New York Post reported that Trier’s date is around December 15, depending on if a practice, or two, is cancelled along the way. So expect Trier to sign an NBA deal close to that date.
This is really a labor discussion.
From an opportunity perspective, extending the number of days a G-League player can remain in the NBA, whether paid or not, helps, and perhaps a player earns an NBA contract as a direct result of that added service time.
From a labor perspective, it doesn’t seem fair that two-way players should be forced to work on days they are technically not paid.
Of course, even though two-way players are compensated on a daily basis, you could also look at it from an aggregate standpoint.
While Trier will get paid for less days than he serves with the Knicks, his real “paid” amount is the total value of 45 days worth of NBA salary at the rookie minimum rate (approximately $213,169), which is a lot better than the fraction he would have earned each day had he spent those days down in Westchester making G-League pay.