The hype surrounding the New York Knicks this season is well-deserved. But if the bench isn’t addressed, MSG may be in for a rude of awakening.
The New York Knicks have, once again, found themselves in the news this offseason.
The difference, however, is that coverage has been more positive than negative.
Sure, Derrick Rose comparing his new club with the Golden State Warriors was certainly a stretch. But the trade for the former MVP was well received as it was a low-risk move with a potentially high reward.
The Joakim Noah signing was seen by some as a reach; too many years for too much money. But the center has intangibles wanted by any organization. Leadership qualities, a win-at-all-costs mentality, and wanting to wear “New York” across his chest for pride rather than checks.
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The contract offered to Courtney Lee may have been a bit high for a journeyman shooting guard that most recently averaged 9.6 points per game, but Phil Jackson justified the contract by believing that Lee is the final piece to a starting lineup that will see him join Rose, Noah and the orange and blue dynamic duo of Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.
When ranking starting fives throughout the National Basketball Association, the Knickerbockers could be near the top.
But that’s not their problem. Their bench will decide whether this team is a pretender or contender this upcoming season. With the way it’s currently constructed, the former may be more realistic than the latter.
Brandon Jennings inked a modest one-year, $5 million pact with the Knicks to be their backup lead guard. At 26 years of age, he still has a lot of basketball in front of him.
Jennings, however, has a knack for ignoring teammates as he looks for his own shot, as evidenced by his career averages of 15.5 points and 5.6 helpers per contest. His offense will ignite the Madison Square Garden faithful, a la J.R. Smith, but he could bring along the same headaches as well.
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For the backup shooting guard position, it appears as though there will be a competition between the inexperienced Justin Holiday and grizzly veteran Sasha Vujacic.
On one hand, Holiday hasn’t had a chance to shine in his brief NBA career. But his athleticism, size, and quick release behind the three-point line could make him a part of the rotation sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, Vujacic is a favorite of Jackson and has supreme knowledge of the triangle.
Both men bring different abilities to the court, but neither of the two are great options behind Lee.
Lance Thomas, who will be playing behind Anthony, is the most well-rounded player coming off of the pine. Once a throw-in during the Knicks/Cleveland Cavaliers/Oklahoma City Thunder trade back in 2014, Thomas has gone from a 10-day contract experiment to a lock down defender with an evolving offensive game. The former Duke standout was rewarded with a hefty four-year, $27 million extension, and his work ethic will reward the Knicks in return.
Kyle O’Quinn is the lone veteran big man off the bench and will initially be the primary backup to both Noah and Porzingis. Despite flashing signs of prowess on the offensive end, his shotty knees hinder his defensive play, something that the Knicks will sorely need in the paint.
After the aforementioned foursome, head coach Jeff Hornacek has a bevy of youngsters to work with. Both Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas showed promise during Olympic play, albeit against lesser competition.
Ron Baker, J.P. Tokoto, and Chasson Randle represent the 2016 Summer League signees yet figure to be outside of the rotation unless something unforeseen comes about.
When the regular season rolls around, the Knicks will have a renewed sense of energy, one that hasn’t been seen in midtown Manhattan in some time.
With that said, if the front office doesn’t address the bench any further, the hype will be all for naught.
Dan Federico is a contributor for Elite Sports NY. You can interact with him on Twitter or contact him via email.