The New York Knicks are through 15 games and it’s time to check in on the early returns up and down the roster.
At 4-11, the New York Knicks are quickly seeming like a long-term project rather than a young bunch with the potential to surprise a weak Eastern Conference and be on the playoff bubble. That being said, this losing actually comes with a draft pick for a solid draft class serving as a light at the end of the tunnel.
However, regardless of where next year’s pick falls, the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Phoenix Suns look like formidable foes in the race to the bottom. This season is shaping up to be about finding out if pieces of a successful roster for the future are on the current roster. Here are some of the early returns and possible expectations for the roster as it stands.
Porzingis is recovering at a decent pace, exchanging seemingly playful barbs with head coach David Fizdale over videos of his being able to sprint. Without an unexpected win streak in the offing, the unicorn should be allowed ample time to recover and assure that this injury is not the type with the risk of recurrence. Porzingis is an integral piece to any Knicks future and should be protected in the present as such.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Hardaway is picking up where he left off last season, but showing signs that in addition to being a high-volume scorer, perhaps he can learn to do so more efficiently as he matures. His 22.9 points per game is a career high and he has increased his attempts from the three-point and free throw lines, garnering some more love from the analytics community. His 42 percent shooting percentage leaves more to be desired, however, one can chalk that up to having to force some more scoring than ideal with a lack of other scorers.
The wrinkle to evaluating Hardaway is the exorbitant price the Knicks signed him for, but the team has been stuck with far worse contracts in the past. What’s done is done and Hardaway developing into a more efficient scorer and a better defender would either make him a solid piece on a better Knicks team where he has less burden to shoulder or makes him a more easily tradable asset at only 26-years-old.
Kanter has been a monster on the stat sheet this season, averaging a double-double and scoring efficiently. However, the advanced stats don’t like his net value when on the floor. Additionally, his long-term future with the team is inextricable from a likely high salary he will command after this season when a deal that got him more than $18 million this year on a player option expires. One of 30 National Basketball Association owners will likely pay him handsomely and most basketball experts wouldn’t say that paying a center like Kanter top-level money is a healthy use of the salary cap for a team with larger aspirations. Admittedly, it will be tough to let a player who brings his level of competitiveness and intensity walk. However, there are some players lower in this story who could make it easier to part ways with Kanter by making him redundant.
Lee is currently facing neck spasms that leave his return in doubt. How to treat this unique injury and when he will return to action remain up in the air. That being said, even if he is to return it would be smartest for the team to showcase his health and value as a veteran role player before dealing him. At 33-years-old he is not fit for seeing a rebuild through and a career double-figure scoring guard who is a consistent defender would be a welcomed asset to any team entering the late season and playoffs.
Thomas just had knee surgery and faces up to a month out of action. Much like Lee, the Knicks can hope he plays well upon his return in order to entice a playoff-bound team to add a solid bench veteran. Otherwise, his main value to the team is as a veteran presence for a young team.
Last year’s eighth-overall pick is averaging nearly 26 minutes a night, a marked increase from Jeff Hornacek’s apprehensive approach last year. The good news is that he continues to be a natural on the defensive end. On the offensive end, his hesitation and low shooting percentages everywhere but the free throw line is slowly becoming disconcerting. Still young, there is no need to panic, but on a team with a dearth of scoring options, one would hope Frank would take the opportunity to be aggressive and increase his comfort on the offensive end.
Recently returning from an injury, Knox seems to be getting back in the swing of things and getting aggressive on offense. His skill set and athleticism are tailor-made for the way the NBA is trending, but thus far he has struggled to put up points while managing a high shooting percentage. Only eight games into his career, it is still exciting to watch him operate and optimism is still okay.
Among the best stories of this young Knicks season, Dotson was a second-round pick in 2017 and little more than an afterthought last season, appearing in 44 games. He has impressed Fizdale and been rewarded with minutes. With that extra playing time, he has taken advantage. Just under 11 points and just over five rebounds on 43.6 percent shooting and 33.3 percent from three is just about as strong a return on a second-round pick you can hope for this early into his career.
Dotson is not the only second-round pick exciting Knicks fans. After a year off from basketball, Mitchell Robinson is producing in his 18.5 minutes per game, putting up 5.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and nearly two blocks on 63.6 percent shooting. The 20-year-old 7-footer has also been a good early return for the Knicks.
On the precipice of being relegated to the bust pile, the Knicks took a flyer on the ninth-overall pick from 2014 and it has been a success. He is playing the best basketball of his career with 7.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on 46.9 percent shooting.
Trier is another early feel-good story averaging 11.3 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting and 40 percent from three. He will have to work on minimizing his turnovers, but in the undrafted category where not much value is added, this could be a great find. Similar to Hardaway, he has been prone to forcing the issue at times, likely due to a lack of scorers up and down the roster.
Once seeming like a great find, Burke has seen drops across the board on his surprise output last year. The point guard position is key for the Knicks to find and develop, having had some of the worst talent there in the league for quite some time. Knicks fans have to hope that Burke’s stellar 2017-18 season was not a fluke.
Mudiay has been disappointing since being acquired in a trade last season. Fizdale seemingly still sees potential, he is only 22-years-old and was picked seventh overall in 2015. Out of the Mudiay, Burke, Ntilikina trifecta, the Knicks have to hope a starting and solid back up point guard emerge. Thus far, none of the three has been particularly outstanding but Mudiay has not shown as much upside as the other two.
Another flyer for a former top pick, Hezonja has been highly streaky but overall proven to be a solid bench player. Whether that is integral to any long-term Knicks plans remains to be seen, but at 23 years old he is another project with little downside to watching develop.
After becoming a fan favorite for his hustle and work ethic, the Knicks signed Baker to a deal that was criticized at the time for being a bit too generous for a hometown raise. Baker’s play has fallen off the face of the earth this year, shooting less than 10 percent. His deal only lasts one more year so whether he gets back on track or proves to be not worthy of a roster spot, the financials will likely have little to no impact on the Knicks in any season in which they are closer to fulfilling a rebuild.