As the season approaches, the New York Knicks are beginning to take shape despite the need to answer a few important questions.
The New York Knicks are entering year one with David Fizdale at the helm. There are no expectations for this season and the excitement around this youthful team is palpable. The hope is that this year will be a stepping stone towards bigger things in the future. But as we prepare to begin a new era of Knicks basketball, there are a few questions that must be answered.
What to do with Joakim Noah?
Joakim Noah’s tumultuous tenure with the Knicks appears to be nearing its conclusion. But whether or not the Knicks can find a trading partner is still up in the air. Recent reports point to the Knicks parting ways with Noah by Oct. 15 — the roster deadline for teams to shrink to a 15-man roster (not including two-way contracts).
This question has been lingering for the better part of 2018. There’s no reason to delve too deep into the weeds here. There’s an outside chance they find a team willing to trade for Noah, but in all likelihood, they will use the waive-and-stretch provision to preserve future cap space. The conclusion of the Joakim Noah saga will help answer other questions for this team.
Where does Noah Vonleh fit in the picture?
The Knicks and David Fizdale have maintained that they are going to keep the 15 players that give them the best chance to be successful. Noah Vonleh has shown enough flashes to warrant an opportunity. As it stands, Vonleh is the 16th man on a non-guaranteed deal.
Once the Joakim Noah situation sorts itself out, that leaves an open roster spot that Vonleh will surely fill. But once his roster spot is secure, where will Vonleh fit into Fizdale’s rotations?
The athletic and physical big man could be useful in a frontline rotation for Fizdale that will include the reliable Enes Kanter and the unproven rookie, Mitchell Robinson. Kanter should get the lion’s share of the minutes most nights, but Vonleh and Robinson should have their fair share of opportunities.
Vonleh will show his value against teams with physical bigs to match up against. Robinson is already showing flashes of brilliance — especially as an instinctive roll man — but he can get outmuscled on the inside by stronger bigs. After all, Robinson is still only 20-years-old.
Expect all three players to see minutes and Fizdale has already made it clear that he’s comfortable running out Kanter, Robinson, or Vonleh. Kanter is the most polished of the three, but Vonleh knows he will have an opportunity to prove himself. He told Marc Berman of the New York Post:
“There’s a lot of opportunity here. Fiz is open to giving guys an opportunity to grow as players, and play free, and just go out and play, as long as you play hard and the right way.”
A productive Vonleh would be a boon for Fizdale’s squad. He would give the Knicks a solid option in games where Robinson’s youth shows and also lighten Kanter’s load on a nightly basis.
There aren’t many guarantees for Vonleh, but so far in the preseason, he is showing that he deserves to be a part of the rotation on opening night.
What's the plan with Allonzo Trier?
This is a question that the Knicks won’t need to answer on opening night. Anyone who’s watched any amount of Knicks preseason can tell that Trier should not be playing for the Westchester Knicks. He will devour the competition in the G League.
He deserves to be with the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, not the Westchester County Center. Heck, he deserves a role in the rotation based off of his performance in the preseason. He’s averaging 15.8 points on 54.1 percent shooting and 37.5 percent from three-point range. Of course, it’s preseason so take it with a grain of salt, but it is hard to argue with the eye test in Trier’s case. Simply put, he looks like a legitimate player.
But fortunately for Scott Perry and Steve Mills, they have 45 days on Trier’s two-way contract. Due to the rules of a two-way contract, the Knicks can use his 45 days of eligibility with New York before deciding how to clear a roster spot for Trier. This buys the Knicks over a month to either trade someone on the team or decide who to will be cut..
Playing Trier for a majority of the season in Westchester would be counterproductive. He deserves to be on the main roster and the Knicks front office has to be mulling over the possible ways to clear space for him on the roster.
Who will start at point guard?
For my money, this is the most intriguing question as the season approaches. Trey Burke appears to have the inside track on the job. He started the first two preseason games with Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina coming off the bench. Mudiay would start the team’s third preseason bout against the Pelicans and Ntilikina started on Monday against the Wizards.
All three of the Knicks’ point guard triumvirate had an opportunity to make their case for the starting job.
It’s safe to say that Mudiay is out of the running. He hasn’t looked great in preseason and even though Fizdale is emphasizing open competitions for all starting spots and playing time in general, Burke and Ntilikina always had a leg up on Mudiay.
Burke is a much better shot creator than Mudiay and Ntilikina is miles ahead defensively. Combine that with Mudiay’s uninspiring preseason thus far and he looks like a longshot for the role.
That leaves Fizdale with the option of Burke or Ntilikina. Friday’s final preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets should tip Fizdale’s hand and I tend to think he’ll stick with Burke as the starter.
Burke could function as a fantastic second-unit point guard. His defensive limitations will be less pronounced and he can bring much-needed scoring to a second unit that will rely on Mario Hezonja, Mitchell Robinson, and Emmanuel Mudiay to put the ball in the bucket.
But the Knicks coaching staff is still evaluating Ntilikina and they seem to like him as a combo guard that spends a little more time off the ball than he does as the primary ballhandler. This is the most enticing competition left in advance of the season.