After striking out on marquee free agents, the New York Knicks signed a plethora of talent and built a roster deep down to its bench.
Through that, the Knicks have assembled a competitive balance between both the starting and bench units. As opposed to last season, New York now has NBA-level talent across each position.
Let’s take a look at the Knicks’ suddenly bolstered bench unit, and just who each player is as an individual talent.
A fifth-year point guard, Elfrid Payton is a great pickup for New York. Drafted originally out of Lousiana by the Orlando Magic in 2014, he’s talented enough to stay on Dennis Smith Jr.‘s toes, and remind the guard nothing’s promised.
Payton is a phenomenal passer with some limits offensively. Still, he went for a near-record breaking streak of triple-doubles last year with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Payton went for five straight triple-double performances, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Russell Westbrook, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson as just the (fittingly) fifth player to do so in history.
NBADraft.net had Payton’s NBA comparison as Rajon Rondo as early as February of 2014, and it’s holding up. He’s the exact kind of guard you want on a bench unit home to so much firepower.
Payton averaged 10.6 points, 7.6 assists, and 5.2 rebounds in 42 appearances with the Pelicans.
New York fans will already be familiar with these next two players. But their fit in this lineup is to be determined.
Allonzo Trier went undrafted out of the University of Arizona last year, signing a two-way contract with the Knicks shortly after the draft.
He proved to be as high-grade a diamond as you can find in the rough, averaging 10.9 points over 23 minutes his rookie year. And he looked every bit the same player in this year’s Summer League in Las Vegas:
But his tendency to fall victim to tunnel vision in both transition and the open floor may lead to his downfall in this year’s already complicated minutes distribution.
The kid gets buckets, don’t get me wrong. But so does Damyean Dotson, whose name you won’t see anywhere else in this column. Other than Knox, the third-year forward may prove the biggest loser of this year’s free agency within his team.
But without seeing an uptick in Trier’s 1.9 assists per game, or general willingness to pass the ball, a window of opportunity may open up for Dotson.
With both guards relatively adept on the defensive end, this could be the straw that breaks the camels back for head coach David Fizdale.
Still, Trier will be a go-to target among the lineup for the team’s second-string point guard in Payton. (And Frank Ntilikina, should he ever touch the floor this season.)
As previously mentioned, the Knicks’ free agency hasn’t been kind to Kevin Knox, who’s only entering his second season.
After being drafted ninth overall in last year’s draft, it was obvious he’d be playing in the starting five. Not that the talent gap was that wide, but New York’s next option was Mario Hezonja.
Knox played out 57 of his 75 appearances in the starting five.
One year later, he’s not projected as a potential starter for New York. Veteran forward Marcus Morris is likely to command the starting job, after signing his one-year deal worth $15-million.
Knox did a lot of things well last season, once he was convinced it was okay to shoot the ball. He started outscoring a measly 7.1 points per game in November but was steamrolling defenders by the end of December, where he averaged 17.1 points.
Here’s my favorite performance of his rookie season, which came along the heels of his strong December. A 31-point night against the Philadelphia 76ers in mid-January.
Knox needs to be more aggressive in the post, something most rookies lack after cruising through college. But his three-point shot showed promise towards the end of the year (.368 clip in March and April).
Knox will have the opportunity to improve both this season, as it’s clear the Knicks are invested in him. But after New York added their mass of forwards, he’s being thrown into the shark tank.
Do or die. Sink or swim. Get better, or lose your starting spot to Morris or Reggie Bullock.
Taj Gibson will likely see minutes at both the four and the five.
But after seeing Bobby Portis against the Timberwolves earlier this year, I think Gibson will play more backup power forward while Portis ends up the second fiddle to Mitchell. Gibson is entering his 11th NBA season, and shouldn’t be looking for a huge role.
It would surprise no one to see his minutes fall behind Knox, Dotson, Randle, and Portis on the totem pole. But he’s still got plenty of play left in the tank at age 34.
His best game last season?
A 25-point performance against his new team:
And his game is still expanding, along with the rest of the NBA’s big men, to the three-point line. Gibson matched his career made three-pointers (11) last year on just 34 attempts.
He’s played NBA basketball on some great rosters, and some, well, not so good teams. But Gibson is a bonafide professional and a great addition to a previously young locker room.
Behind starting power forward Julius Randle, Portis is the most exciting signing for New York this summer.
At 6-foot-11 and 250 pounds, he’s coming off the best sprint of his career after being traded from Chicago to Washington at the deadline. And he’s only 24.
Portis averaged 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds on a .403 shooting clip from deep in 28 games with the Wizards. Here he is exploding for 28 points and 13 rebounds in a late-March loss to the Utah Jazz:
His potential as a stretch-five is unmatched. Portis can rebound, holds his own within the post (offensively and defensively), all while shooting as well (if not better than) today’s guards. What he can show the young Mitchell Robinson is invaluable.
The entire Knicks lineup is just fun on paper. And their second string is no different. That’s without mentioning Frank Ntilikina, Ignas Brazdeikis, Wayne Ellington, or Reggie Bullock.
It’s a team balanced with veterans and youth. Defense and offense. Hated players and hometown favorites.
Overall, New York is finally a viable underdog, and I don’t doubt it’ll just be Knicks fans rooting for them. Madison Square Garden may once again be home to some watchable basketball—as long as 35-40 wins counts for that much.
According to NBA.com, the Knicks had a top-10 bench in both scoring (42.4 points per game) and rebounding (18.9 per game) last season. I’d say they’re on the cusp of repeating that, if not improving on what’s already established.