The New York Knicks will enter the 2019 offseason asking an ever-familiar question; who’s going to be the point guard moving forward?
Frank Ntilikina missed nearly half his sophomore season. Emmanuel Mudiay hasn’t “got right” like coach David Fizdale promised. Dennis Smith Jr. doesn’t have time to prove he can be a solution.
Seemingly every summer, the New York Knicks enter the offseason with the same question; who will be the point guard next year?
This position has long-plagued the team, predating the Carmelo Anthony-era to present. Via the NBA Draft and free agency, they’ve swung heavy-and repeatedly struck out.
In 2017, the Knicks finally drafted point guard Frank Ntilikina. Fans were upset the franchise didn’t opt to select a more athletic and offensively-sound guard like Dennis Smith Jr. or De’Aaron Fox.
Those same offensive deficiencies may eventually prove to be Ntilikina’s downfall. After missing 23 consecutive games, the guard was injured in just his second game back and consequently shut down for the remainder of the year.
Since 2017, they’ve drafted/signed a plethora of journeymen to fill the position’s needs: Ron Baker, Emmanuel Mudiay, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, etc. But for whatever reason, the Knicks outright fail to fill that position long-term.
That could change this summer, with an abundant of point guard talent available between the upcoming draft and free agency.
The 2019 NBA Draft
This year’s draft isn’t necessarily loaded with talent, at least not beyond the lottery. So if they don’t win the “Zion sweepstakes,” New York’s Plan B will have to be drafting a point guard.
Among those available, R.J. Barrett headlines the class. He and Duke clinched their way into the Elite Eight on Friday night with a 75-73 win over Virginia Tech.
The Blue Devils point guard is an incredible passer, a capable left-hand finisher who takes advantage of his size. In the first half, Barrett recorded just two points, with seven assists. But he was constantly willing the offense to life, making extra passes.
And in the second half, he got back to what he does best—scoring. Barrett finished with 18 points, 11 assists, and four rebounds on the night. He, Zion Williamson, and Tre Jones kept the team afloat without starting shooting guard Cam Reddish.
Elsewhere amidst March Madness, Ja Morant really turned heads with his triple-double performance in the first round:
The Murray State point guard came out the gate running: facilitating, scoring, dunking, and rebounding his way to the top of most mock drafts. Morant and company failed to win their following matchup against Florida State, 90-62.
Still, he’s one of the top three prospects in this year’s draft, despite his 165-pound frame. Morant has an incredible basketball IQ, and athleticism comparable to that of Russell Westbrook.
Other names come to mind like Coby White of UNC or Darius Garland out of Vanderbilt. But based on where the Knicks are projected to draft, one of Barrett or Morant is more likely—and more qualified.
2019 Free Agency
While Knicks fans love the idea of RJ Barrett or Ja Morant taking on Madison Square Garden, there’s no denying the temptations and glamour of a win-now point guard in free agency. New York will enter the summer with the capability to sign two max contracts.
Among those, Kyrie Irving has long been rumored to want to play with the Knicks. He hasn’t had a free agency since 2014, so for now; it’s pure speculation. But if the interest is mutual, he more than fits the bill for New York’s first max slot.
Irving’s playing some of the best basketball of his career, despite the cloud of drama that’s long-hovered the Boston Celtics. He’s averaging 23.8 points, and a notable 7.1 assists (career-high).
And as recent as Friday night, Irving showed he’s still got the clutch gene with which he won Cleveland a championship in 2016:
.@KyrieIrving too clutch ? pic.twitter.com/la4Q4hxtXR
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 30, 2019
But Irving has just turned 27, and he’s had multiple surgeries done on his knees. His next stop may be the last for which he can compete for a championship. The Knicks will need to ensure Irving they plan on being competitive with their second max slot.
Other than Irving, emerging free agent Kemba Walker could also consider the Knicks. He made a name for himself when he won the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden:
Walker is putting the finishing touches on a career-season, and one that will determine whether or not he leaves Charlotte. He’s averaging a career-high 25.2 points and 5.9 assists.
Could he return to the arena where he saw so much success as a collegiate athlete? Similar to Irving’s situation, New York will have to present Walker with a plan. Because the Knicks aren’t doing much better than the Hornets Walker would have to walk out on.
The 2019 Roster?
While all signs point to New York finding an upgrade at point guard, there’s a viable scenario that sees them keep one—if not more—of their current names.
Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr.’s contracts are already on the payroll for next year. The Knicks could very well draft Zion at one overall, and strike out in free agency—as they are known to do.
That could result in keeping the two guards, as opposed to clearing their salaries for cap space. Ntilikina, Smith Jr, and Williamson could headline the rebuild with Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. That’s not a bad bunch to roll with.
Hell, Marc Berman of the New York Post mentioned that the cap space they earn by waiving Ntilikina, could be used to resign Mudiay:
“There are eight games left, and the 20-year-old [Ntilikina] could be traded on draft night to open cap space to potentially re-sign Emmanuel Mudiay, a Fizdale favorite.”
That would be some kind of “Twilight Zone” episode, even for Knicks fans. Any kind of scenario that sees New York retain point guards would likely need to see the Knicks practice self-control with their colossal cap space.
And there’s always the Los Angeles Lakers approach. New York could sign locker room-presence veterans to one or two-year deals and hope to make a splash in free agency.
New York’s point guard situation is as fluid as ever, and that’s the issue. Fans would appreciate the start of a solution this summer, and it could come in many forms.
So pay attention to the draft, free agency, and even the rest of March Madness, New York Knicks fans. Much like the front office, nobody knows where your future point guard is coming from.