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Checking In On The Knicks’ Rookies

Richard W. Rodriguez-AP

While the Knicks seem destined for the draft lottery yet again, the team has struck gold with their three picks in the 2018 draft

Although the Knicks can only “boast” a record of 4-10, it seems for the first time in a while that the team might finally be on the right track. In the absence of Kristaps Porzingis, New York is playing, largely, on effort alone. Yet, outside of a few clunkers against Miami and Orlando, the Knicks have been competitive and actually fun to watch. This unlikely phenomenon has been the product of the exciting play of a trio of rookies who, while still developing, are on pace to outperform expectations.

Thus far, lottery selection and Summer League standout Kevin Knox has been the least impressive of these rookies. Picked at No. 9 in this year’s draft, Knox was always viewed as a project, and as a riskier prospect than the more NBA-ready players like Miles Bridges. In his seven games, Knox has looked shaky coming off a nagging ankle injury sustained early in the season. He has averaged 8.4 points off the bench and just 1.4 rebounds, though the truly concerning number is his 32.8% shooting from the field. It’s incredibly early, but Knox has looked every bit the project he was projected to be.

 

Despite his struggles, the Knicks’ floundering of late will see Knox inserted into the starting five. Knox was one of the team’s few bright spots (along with Mitchell Robinson’s nine blocks) in Sunday’s lopsided loss to the Magic, as he posted 17 points in 25 minutes. Many of Knox’s college issues have seemingly carried over to the NBA; his shot selection is often poor, and he has shown a less-than-stellar 3-point touch (he’s shooting 36.4%, moderately higher than the 34.1% during his lone season at Kentucky). When his shot isn’t falling, he has trouble staying engaged on both sides of the ball, which leaves him out of sync with the rest of the team. The raw talent is there, and the best way for Knox to learn is by logging major minutes against NBA competition.


On the other hand, Mitchell Robinson has carried over his surprising Summer League play into the regular season. After coming off the bench or logging DNPs in the first five games, Robinson has supplanted Enes Kanter in the starting lineup, and looks as though he might not spend any time in the G-League after all. Selected with the 36th pick, Robinson appears to be an extremely promising defensive player; he’s averaging 1.8 blocks in 18.5 minutes per game, and he’s third on the Knicks with an 18.1 PER. Though he suffers from the same issues as any other rookie—he’s currently averaging more fouls per game than defensive rebounds—a future frontcourt of Robinson and Porzingis has fans pining for a throwback to the ‘90s Knicks’ elite defense in the paint.

 

The biggest surprise has been Allonzo Trier, the undrafted rookie from Arizona. Following an underwhelming Summer League, the guard has emerged as one of the Knicks’ better players. Drawing comparisons to undrafted Knicks legend John Starks for his scoring ability and scrappy attitude, Trier has provided a much-needed lift off the bench for New York. 

On a roster devoid of scoring talent outside of the streaky (and highly paid) Tim Hardaway Jr. and back-to-the-basket Kanter, Trier has demonstrated the ability to create his own shot and finish at the rim. He currently ranks fourth among rookies in total points scored, and has been one of the Knicks’ few consistent play-making threats. David Fizdale affirmed Trier’s importance to the team when he was allowed to isolate with the Knicks’ final possessions in regulation and overtime against the Bulls on Nov. 5—even though that game ended in a one-point loss for New York.


Despite his electric individual play, Trier’s hot start has not contributed to the team’s success. While averaging 11.4 points for the anemic Knicks offense, Trier’s on-off splits show that the team is worse offensively (108.7 vs. 109.6) and defensively (116.3 vs. 112.8) when he is on the floor. Part of this discrepancy could be attributed to the fact that Trier plays most of his minutes with the second unit, though these numbers could be indicative of the Knicks’ larger problems.


All three of these rookies have demonstrated an ability to fill their roles on the rebuilding Knicks, even if their ongoing development might be a struggle. The biggest problem for the entire roster is assists, and these three rookies contribute little in that regard. Trier leads the trio with an average of 1.4 assists. Coupled with the team’s lack of assists, the youngest team in the NBA seems to have problems functioning as a cohesive unit. Five players going one-on-one every possession does not look to be the way to team success, and that makes up a majority of New York’s offensive sets so far. Regardless, these young players have the makings of a team core once they figure out how to play together.  

While New York’s record is only 4-10, the Knicks’ front office should be optimistic about the future. The scouting department has seemingly hit on three rotation-caliber players, and their development should take priority as the team awaits the return of Kristaps Porzingis and 2019 free agency. Knox, Robinson, and Trier have shown that they can make meaningful contributions to an NBA team, and now the responsibility falls to David Fizdale to help the trio learn to play together within a team-first framework. If he can, the Knicks might finally have the pieces of a young core to build on for future contention. 

Edited by Emily Berman.

SQuiz
On November 11th, Mitchell Robinson set a Knicks' rookie record with nine blocks in a game against the Magic. Who did he pass to break the record?
Created 11/14/18
  1. Kristaps Porzingis and Willis Reed
  2. Kristaps Porzingis and Lonnie Shelton
  3. Bill Cartwright
  4. Patrick Ewing

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