Knicks Developing New Identity in Tanking Season


New York has played 22 different players this season. 18 different players have started, 13 of those starting in ten or more games. Three different guys have started over 45 games, and one of them (Tim Hardaway Jr.) is now in Dallas. No player has appeared in every game. The fact that this team currently only has 15 wins should surprise no one. Just ask the Knicks most famous fan, Spike Lee: They’re trying to tank!

The New York Knicks haven’t been in a good place in what feels like forever. It’s been six years now since Melo, Amare, & Co. won 54 games and a playoff series. Six seasons and five head coaches (Woodson, Fisher, Rambis, Hornacek, Fizdale) since then and the Knicks find themselves in the lottery for the fourth straight year.

The last time their draft odds were this good was 2015, when they fell outside of the top 3 but lucked into Kristaps Porzingis. The former face of the franchise was famously traded for the guy they could have taken in 2017, when they chose Frank Ntilikina #8 overall instead. Ntilikina has played sparingly this season, but has been inactive since Dennis Smith Jr. arrived, and his future with the organization is very much in doubt.

Dumpster Fire

The term “dumpster fire” gets thrown around a lot these days. But when you factor in the very volatile ownership of James Dolan, that’s exactly what the Knicks have been. Much like the Los Angeles Lakers, it feels like New York just isn’t the destination franchise people seem to think it is. At least, it hasn’t been recently. From recklessly throwing money at the aging Joakim Noah to dubiously overpaying Tim Hardaway Jr., after previously trading him away for next to nothing, the Knicks have been a walking blunder in free agency.

There is rumor that may change this summer.

But … Kawhi heading West makes more sense. And Kyrie is staying in Boston.

Kevin Durant may truly be leaving the Warriors, but that’s just impossible to buy into until it happens. He’s in such a ridiculously great spot to keep winning titles. It’d be tough to leave that. When LeBron left Miami, the consensus was that the Heat’s window was closing soon anyway. Nobody believes Golden State is almost finished, as long as they stay together.

Still, Knicks fans are optimistic that they can land somebody in free agency.

Seasoned Development

The Knicks do have some nice pieces already. David Fizdale is a seasoned NBA coach, and has done some things well in his first season in New York. He drew criticism for bringing rookie Kevin Knox along slowly, but when you’re not worried about winning – that’s what you’re supposed to do.

And it paid off. Knox has impressed when healthy. As comical as it may seem to draft Ntilikina over Smith, only to later trade for Smith and start him over Ntilikina; again, it appears the Knicks may have made a solid move.

Losing Porzingis has got to sting Knicks’ fans, but it appeared he was set on leaving eventually, regardless. At least, in the process of trading him, they were able to shed Hardaway’s contract. In the long run, freeing up the space to be aggressive in free agency could very well be the right move, this time around.

But before looking too far ahead, let’s analyze who the Knicks have right now.

Dennis Smith Jr.

NBAE/Getty Images

Dennis Smith Jr. has looked every bit like a starting-caliber NBA point guard since he’s entered the league. Since coming from the Mavs, Smith Jr. is averaging 14.6 points and 6.0 assists per game. There is no doubt he can produce, even on the biggest stage at Madison Square Garden. The bigger question with Smith Jr. has always been can he do it efficiently. In his second season, his shooting splits of 43% from the field, 32% from 3pt, and 63% from the free throw line leave much to be desired. DSJ’s development as a player with the Knicks will ultimately determine the value of that trade.

With the rotating door at point guard seemingly closed for now, the rest of the roster puzzle pieces can begin to fall into place. New York has multiple young pieces that they could either build around or attempt to package in a blockbuster trade.

Kevin Knox

Getty Images

Kevin Knox, like many NBA rookies this season, has flown mostly under the radar. With fairly modest season averages, 12.6 points and 4.2 rebounds, you have to look a little deeper to see his growth. For example, in the month of March Knox is shooting 43% from three on over four attempts per game. He’s battled injuries and dealt with familial rookie inconsistencies, but Knox appears poised to take the next leap.

Since the All-Star break, he’s posted two of his best games against two of the league’s better defenses, 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Spurs and 27 points and 8 rebounds against the Jazz. Back in December he had a scoring streak that included three straight games over 20 points, and a dozen straight in double figures.

Allonzo Trier

Charles Wenzelberg

Allonzo Trier stormed onto the scene immediately to start the season. The undrafted rookie scored 15 points off the bench in the Knicks season opener. Then he scored 15 more a few nights later against the Celtics. Trier’s ability to create offense has allowed him to shine on this Knicks team. He’s scored 20 or more points eight times on the season, and dropped a career best 31 points and 10 rebounds against the Rockets in January.

Mitchell Robinson

Anthony J. Causi

Mitchell Robinson has been one of the biggest surprises, and offers the most intriguing upside, of any of the Knicks young players. On the season, he is averaging 7.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks in just 19.5 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, Robinson is averaging an absurd 12 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks (as well as 6.0 fouls!). He obviously has room to grow, and considering he sat out an entire year after never playing a game of college basketball, his deficiencies make sense.

Robinson has shown growth throughout the season. If this kid really figures things out on the floor, he could be an absolute problem for the entire league. At 7’1” in shoes with a 7’4” wingspan and some bounce to go with it, Mitchell Robinson has potential as an elite rim protector. And he’s got a motor, too. Of his 375 total rebounds this season, nearly half of them (163) have been offensive.

Unlike past Knicks regimes, there is hope that Fizdale and his staff can continue to develop their young talent. Smith Jr, Trier, Knox, and Robinson give them a legitimately promising young core for the first time in what feels like a long time. And that’s not even mentioning the pair of 23 year olds who have blossomed in New York after struggling in their first stops. Noah Vonleh and Mario Hezonja have both salvaged their NBA careers under Fizdale.

Emmanuel Mudiay

Ron Hoskins / Getty Images

Prime example of the player development the Knicks coaching staff has accomplished this season is the above pictured Emmanuel Mudiay. In his fourth season, Mudiay is having his best season as a pro. Averaging a career-high points per game (14.8) and field-goal percentage (.450), he has been a pleasant surprise for Knicks fans this season. The only players still on the roster to start in more games than Mudiay are Knox and Vonleh. Mudiay is due to become a free agent but early word is the Knicks will try to retain the 22-year-old combo guard.

If New York is able to take this group of young players and add a max-level free agent and a lottery pick, they could be on the verge of reemerging amongst the NBA’s elite. Or maybe GM Steve Mills will be able to package this young talent to acquire Anthony Davis.

One thing is certain, the Knicks have an opportunity to be relevant again.. Let’s see what they do.

About Preston Dubey

Lifelong basketball fanatic and Bucks' supporter I coach basketball; but I eat, sleep, and breathe the game.

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