Based on results in the NBA Summer League, the New York Knicks appear to have drafted well. Here is why that matters beyond 2018-2019.
Consider the New York Knicks‘ present fortunes: Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, and Mitchell Robinson will enter the next NBA campaign at 23, 20, 19, and 20 years old respectively, with rotation pieces like Trey Burke (25) and Damyean Dotson (24) yet to enter their primes.
A five-point plan for the #Knicks in 2018-2019:
1. Sit KP all year.
2. Play Frank and Knox a TON of minutes.
3. Trade Lee and Noah for pieces.
5. Get a lottery pick and Kyrie in 2019. pic.twitter.com/3HEtXdiQr7
— Bryan Pol (@Bryan_Polettino) June 22, 2018
At the NBA Summer League, Ntilikina demonstrated his continued defensive prowess, mixing in some post-up abilities, and Mitchell Robinson, alongside Wendell Carter, Jr., was the surprise of the league, even outclassing the likes of Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III at times, projecting as a Javale McGee-type rim protector and rebounder with greater upside despite not playing a single minute at the collegiate level.
Given his defensive tenacity, shooting form, and capacity to attack the rim, Kevin Knox could end up being the steal of the draft and serve as the Donovan Mitchell-type they did not draft last year, perhaps even developing into a player in the mold of a Jayson Tatum, a stud who pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals to lead a Boston Celtics squad that was without Gordon Hayward all year and Kyrie Irving for the duration of the playoffs.
Two players of this caliber in one draft are now paired with a young, hungry coach in David Fizdale, looking to rebound from his mistakes with the Memphis Grizzlies, whom he took to the playoffs in 2017, a coach who won two rings as an assistant under Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Fizdale will run an open offense and not be restricted to running any form of the triangle, a system thrust upon the likes of Jeff Hornacek, who never found his niche in New York.
Prior to the season, the New York Knicks ought to consider the following:
Sit Kristaps Porzingis for as long as possible, if not the whole season.
A player of KP’s stature and size should not be rushed in returning from a torn ACL, although the Knicks will have to evaluate how effective he can be in coming back from an injury of that magnitude.
In an ideal world, Porzingis would sit out the season, putting the Knicks in a better position to land a high lottery pick. But if the Knicks have any aspirations at signing KP to a long-term deal (which they should), they will have to see whether or not he can be the player he once was: a unicorn-like athlete who can post-up, block, dish, dunk, and deliver from three at an electrifying rate.
Trade Tim Hardaway, Jr. to a team like the Sacramento Kings.
If Sacramento was looking to take a $78 million hit by offering Zach Lavine a massive contract, an offer sheet the Chicago Bulls matched, they might be inclined to absorb a deal of THJ’s ilk, especially given how close the two players are by comparison.
Three years at approximately $18.2 million per remain on the deal, and a spark plug scorer like him would be a key cog in the throes of the Kings’ rebuild, especially with his 20 PPG potential and the ability to hit the three ball (he once shot at 36% from distance in his final season in Atlanta two years ago, a mark he could legitimately return to).
Trade Courtney Lee to a team like the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizz are in need of depth at the shooting guard position and Lee, a magnificent free throw shooter (he shot 92% from the line last year, a career high), can stroke it from three (he shot at a 40.6% clip from behind the arc last year despite 278 attempts, a career-high) and is beyond serviceable on the defensive end.
Figure out what to do with Joakim Noah.
Trade him and absorb a large portion of his contract. Allow him to play and mentor the bigs (a player like Mitchell Robinson could learn from him). But whatever they do, the Knicks should avoid using the stretch provision on Noah, as it would be detrimental to the max space the organization can create in the next two to three years, when the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, or Jimmy Butler can join the Knicks alongside KP or any combination of the two should KP not re-sign.
THJ and Lee, on a rather cap-friendly deal, are tradeable. Alas, Noah is not. Might as well use him in some capacity this year, when he can be traded at the end of next season or in the middle of 2019-2020 when he becomes Joakim Noah, the expiring contract.
Help build Enes Kanter's resume and trade him to a willing contender by mid-season.
Like Noah two years from now, Kanter has value as an expiring contract and could help a contender with his double-double potential. Like J.R. Smith before him, Kanter is a social media sensation and has been a fan favorite in New York, but his greatest benefit to New York has yet to be realized when he can be traded at this year’s deadline for an asset or two.
If anything, David Fizdale should play the youngsters often, then play them some more.
See what Damyean Dotson, drafted a year ago, and the 23-year-old Mario Hezonja, a former top-five pick and surprise signing in free agency, have in their bones. Run a starting backcourt of Burke/Frankie early and often, featuring Ntilikina at the two-guard every so often. Let Emmanuel Mudiay run himself into his share of turnovers, bad shots, and team losses. Give Trey Burke the green light to run a second-unit offense like he is Allen Iverson (translation: commit him to a volume shooting regimen). Permit lobs and oops aplenty with Knox and Robinson, freakish athletes that they are, as common recipients.
Allow the kids to make mistakes with exceptionally long leashes, running units that (a) allow the team to grow and gel and (b) play poorly enough to land another lottery pick for the fourth straight year.
Creatively manufacture Brooklyn Nets' like cap space and somehow get two max-level players.
This prospect could be realized in retaining KP and pairing him with Kyrie or Butler, both of whom expressed a desire to play in New York, preferably alongside one another, or let Butler and Kyrie get what their collective hearts desire. Better yet, the Knicks could hone in on Durant, who, at his craftiest, can be the second-best player in the NBA, especially one who (a) will likely be coming off his third straight championship, (b) wishes to shed his alleged “snake”-like persona and prove he can be “the guy” to lead the way in the fashion he could not in Oklahoma City, and (c) one who can be the star to get New York its long-coveted title, pronouncing him a relative NBA immortal.
LeBron James, who has logged close to four-plus more seasons than his resume reads, given his astounding amount of playoff minutes, is likely to slow down at some point, more so if he must be the lead man in Los Angeles to carry a young Lakers squad to a title in the next two to three years.
Furthermore, the Golden State Warriors are likely to disband with Klay Thompson also joining Durant in free agency, seeing as all four—Durant, Klay, Draymond Green, and Stephen Curry—cannot go on as they have been for much longer without truly getting paid what each of them is worth, especially with practically nothing to prove from a championship standpoint as a collective.
Knicks fans, along with their front office, coaches, and player personnel, must realize that New York is going to be dreadful this season, like a sub-20 win campaign, lottery pick or bust kind of dreadful. The only means to reciprocate this level of substandard expectation for the Knickerbockers is to embrace it in the way everyone was all-in for the Summer of LeBron that never was in 2010.
This season, David Fizdale has nothing to prove as a head coach who inherits this messy, yet compelling situation and has free reign to get innovative with a variety of pairings and lineups that could prove quite large on offense and free to make mistakes on defense.
The summer of 2019 could be intriguing, given the availability of the aforementioned free agents, along with Kawhi Leonard (likely going to Los Angeles) and Karl Anthony-Towns, who might join Butler on the first train out of Minnesota.
Only this time, a free agent-to-be (or two) could be joining a bevy of young, lottery pick level talent as opposed to the hodgepodge roster Amar’e Stoudemire joined in 2010.