Knicks

Rose Running Circles Around Competition

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Many New York Knicks fans look over their shoulder anytime the front office does anything.

Now that Knicks President Leon Rose performed his duties in the early offseason, however, one can look at New York’s moves and confidently say they may have had a top-five offseason in the Association. Adding promising youth, flexible contracts, and a duo of energetic, bucket-getting point guards, the Knicks filled holes from a playoff season.

Draft Night

Start at draft night. Initially, the Knicks had picks 19, 21, 32 and 58. New York’s strategy seemed straightforward: accumulate more picks and trade back for players they felt would be available. Since NY had late first-round picks, however, they thought it wasn’t necessary to reach for the stars with those picks. Instead, management thought of drafting players they could implement in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system.

The Knicks traded with the Hornets, Clippers and Thunder to move back and accumulate future draft picks. They walked away with picks 25, 34, 36 and retained selection 58. With the 25th pick, they netted Houston’s flame-throwing defensive wing, Quentin Grimes, a reliable shooter with a knack for edgy defense.

At 34, New York chose the euro gem Rokas Jokubaitis. With the 36th selection, they grabbed West Virginia’s Deuce McBride, a gritty guard who can get a bucket any time someone calls his number.

Last but not least, the Knicks selected a human trampoline in Jericho Sims with the 58th slot. Sims wowed social media with his hops on a crazy alley-oop poster jam in his summer league debut. Some may say that he has been the early contender for the steal of the draft.

Free Agency

As the free agency clocks rang, the Knicks didn’t make any headliner moves. This absence made fans extremely worried. After striking out in prior free agencies, it seemed like the Knicks set themselves up for failure again, missing out on great point guards like Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, who Miami and Chicago signed minutes into free agency.

The Knicks spent the first chunk of their cap room on former Magic and Celtics shooting guard Evan Fournier for $72 million over four years, with a team option last year. Since Fournier seemed like an upgrade over former Knicks shooting guard Reggie Bullock, it looks to be a solid signing. Still, the Knicks’ lack of point guard depth showed in the 2021 playoffs, so missing out on big-name point guards seemed to leave fans a bitter impression of starting free agency.

Next, the Knicks re-signed Derrick Rose (3yr/$43M), Nerlens Noel (3yr/$32M), and Alec Burks (3yr/$30M). All three were vital to the success NY found in the season’s second half. The big three accepted the culture Coach Thibs built and helped lay the Knicks’ future foundation.

Flexibility

It is important to note that these contracts contain a team option in the last year, leaving the Knicks with more flexibility. As opposed to pushing all their chips in the pot like Chicago, New York has tradable, team-friendly deals if a player’s talent regresses. Instead of committing massive money to one player, the Knicks decided to stay competitive while improving their roster from now on. This flexible strategy the front office laid down is extraordinary, and “experts” seem to overlook it.

Homecoming

There was still one major problem with the Knicks roster: point-guard depth. After players like Lowry, Lonzo, Chris Paul and Mike Conley fell off the free-agency board, the point guards left weren’t great. Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, Spencer Dinwiddie and Devonte’ Graham are all solid players.

Contending starting point guards? Not so much. Committing a ton of salary cap over one of these players could be regrettable. At one point, it looked like New York would have to give one of these players their asking price.

Then, out of nowhere, Leon Rose happened. After all of the top-tier point guards were off the market, Oklahoma City bought out Kemba Walker. Walker decided to come home to the Garden and play for his home team with a two-year deal worth $8-9 million annually. This signing is a steal for a point guard of his caliber. It is a low-risk, high-reward move that leaves the Knicks with a starting lineup and bench unit of:

Starters:

Bench:

Opposed to last year’s opening lineup in a playoff season:

Starters:

Bench:

The new lineup is a serious upgrade to a team that strived last season with a relatively weak rotation. Playmaking, shooting and depth suddenly improved, making the Knicks a tough matchup any night.

NY’s PG History

With Walker rocking orange and blue, it is sensible to call him probably one of the Knicks’ best point guards of the last 40 years. In a point-guard-driven league, all top teams have a go-to lead guard they can trust.

In the last 50 years, New York’s all-star point guards entail Walt Frazier (6x), Michael Ray Richardson (3x), Mark Jackson (1x), and John Starks (1x).

The last 20 years? New York has had zero all-star point guard selections.

Since the 2010 season, these have been New York’s starting point guards on opening night (* = missed playoffs).

Last season, Kemba Walker averaged 19 PPG. The list of New York point guards in the previous 40 years to average at least 19 PPG in a single season include:

A Threat, Not A Circus

That’s it. That’s the list— 40 seasons, two players, on three separate occasions. A lack of well-scoring point guards is a substantial reason for their lack of success over the last decade. Now that New York has two hot-shooting point guards, it’s time to start looking at the Knicks as a threat and not a circus.

Although the Knicks made the playoffs, Payton had a +/- of -97 for the 20-21 season. While on the floor, many players struggled from a lack of spacing Payton caused with his lack of shooting efficiency. On the other hand, Walker had a +/- of +93 on a struggling 7th-seed Boston Celtics squad. It is also important to note that when Walker shared the floor with former Boston teammate Evan Fournier, he displayed a +/- of +47.

Contract Theft

The Knicks may not have made the playoffs without Julius Randle’s all-star season in the 20-21 campaign. Wishing to continue their momentum, New York paid Randle sooner rather than later. He signed an extension worth $117 million over the next four years, including a player option in the last year. At first, it seemed Randle undersold himself by not waiting for the end of the season, where he could have signed an extension worth closer to $200 million.

Scribes later reported that Julius signed this extension for several reasons: his love for playing for the Knicks, his commitment to the city, and leaving money on the table so that New York can have the flexibility for upcoming moves.

Also, note that Julius’ extension costs way less than many other key players that got four- or five-year continuations. At his caliber, this contract is a steal.

An Offseason With Broad Consequences

The biggest takeaway from this offseason is that Leon Rose and the Knicks are several laps ahead of their competitors. They signed team-friendly deals, accumulated assets and draft capital and had our star buy into the new culture. New York improved where needed and got an all-star-caliber point guard at a fraction of his value.

These are God-tier front-office moves. Although teams like the Bulls, Wizards and Lakers improved their rosters, it’s time to recognize the Knicks as one of the better-ran front offices in the league.

In Leon Rose, we trust.

Follow us on Twitter @KnicksLead for the latest Knicks news and insight. 

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About Matt DeCeglie

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