While the front office searches for answers, the Knicks have the components necessary for a rebuild…if they can get out of their own way.
With a record of 31-51, the Knicks were one of the worst teams in basketball last season. They finished far out of playoff contention, and team president Phil Jackson is actively hurting the team, in his words and deeds. Where does New York go from here? The answer is unclear; they have so many problems that there are many angles from which to start. However, the draft seems as good a place as any.
Draft a Starting-Caliber Guard:
With the number eight pick in the draft, the Knicks will probably select one of three players: Kentucky’s Malik Monk, NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr. or Frank Ntilikina of France. The good news is that any of these players should develop into starting-caliber guards with plenty of upside.
Both Monk and Smith are known quantities: both are scorers (averaging over 18 points per game) with PERs over 20, while Smith is a better rebounder and playmaker. Ntilikina is a bit of an enigma, as it is unknown if his game against French pros will translate to the NBA. His stock has fallen (to 14th in the latest Draft Express mock), most likely due to his lack of gaudy numbers, just 5.3 PPG, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists for a PER of 11.7 in limited minutes.
Have heard the same thing: Knicks have scouted Ntilikina more extensively than Mavs, who would have to trade up to draft Frank ahead of NYK. https://t.co/zMxvaoEDWv— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) June 19, 2017
In terms of a recommendation, the Knicks should draft Malik Monk. One of the benefits (?) of being awful is having needs everywhere, so Jackson should just take the most versatile player he can get his hands on. He’s athletic on both ends, and can be a capable passer. His 3-point shooting is perhaps the most attractive aspect for the Knicks; his 39.7% shooting from deep would be second best on the Knicks last season (minimum 3.0 attempts) behind Courtney Lee’s 40.1%.
Whomever the Knicks select should be strongly considered for the starting job. If I’m being too subtle, let that lead into my next point…
Let Rose Walk in Free Agency, or Bring Him Back Cheaply:
Rose showed flashes of his MVP form averaging a solid 18.0 PPG, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds. But digging deeper shows that he was one of the worst defensive players in the league last year, with near career-lows in defensive box plus/minus (-2.2) and defensive win shares (0.6). The Knicks were also a -4.1 with him on the court, another career-low, neglecting his 10-game season in 2013-14. A weak defensive team like New York should not let Rose start. If he’s brought back, let him run with the second unit and give him a chance at Sixth Man of the Year.
Invest in Young, Two-Way Players/Establish a Defensive Identity:
After making a decision on Rose, Phil Jackson should re-sign guards Ron Baker and Justin Holiday. Both players were committed on defense, are on the right side of 30 and can shoot 3-pointers, which checks off every box the Knicks are looking for as they rebuild. Holiday contributed 1.2 defensive win shares, a 0.4 VORP and shot above league average from deep, while averaging career-highs in most categories, including minutes.
Develop Young Core of Porzingis and Hernangomez:
After drafting and resigning certain players, the Knicks must continue developing the younger players on their roster, namely their Euro big men Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez. However, the first step is mending the relationship with Porzingis, given Jackson’s grouchy, gaffe-prone approach to player relations.
It goes without saying: don’t trade Porzingis. Few (if any) in this draft have as high a ceiling as the 7’3” Latvian does. He is the cornerstone of the rebuild, and he continued to grow last year despite the drama, improving in scoring (18.1 PPG from 14.3) as well as blocks and field goal percentages. He is the type of two-way player that the Knicks should look to fill their roster with.PER (19.00) in just 18.4 minutes per. Hernangomez has the ability to become a Marc Gasol-type, so Willy should feature prominently in the Knicks’ future.
Nix the Triangle Offense and Shake Up the Coaching Staff:
While it may be painful for Jackson, it is time to deemphasize the triangle offense. While a prospect like Monk could perform well in the system thanks to his athleticism and aggressive cutting off the ball, most players have an aversion to it. If your system is driving away free agents and constricting some of your better scorers, it’s time to ditch it. Let Jeff Hornacek bring in some of his more high-energy run-and-gun sets he ran with the Phoenix Suns. Abandon the triangle and bring up the Knicks’ pace (15th last season).
After losing the triangle, it might be time to part ways with Kurt Rambis and bring in an actual defensive-minded coach. Rambis, the Jackson surrogate, did a poor job handling the defense in 2016-17, so it is time to move on and hire someone to retool the defense, which ranked 23rd in opponent’s points per game last season.
Photo: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
While the offseason is usually a time of great optimism, there is only so much the Knicks can do to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. They will almost certainly be stuck with Carmelo Anthony (barring a LeBron-demanded trade) and Joakim Noah, despite any wheeling-and-dealing they could pull off, so there are few real roster moves to make. Less than personnel, the Knicks need to establish an identity they have lacked since defensive-minded Tyson Chandler was dealt in Jackson’s first blockbuster back in 2014.
Going forward, the Knicks need to give opportunities to their young players and look to bring in two-way players that can affect the game in multiple ways, like Porzingis and Courtney Lee. Given the lack of impact moves, focus on the intangibles: development, player relations, and making New York a free agent destination again. If they (consciously or unconsciously) tank next season, they do own their pick in 2018, luckily. But in the end, it looks like 2017-18 could be another lost season under Jackson’s “leadership.”
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