The New York Knicks are a completely different team from last year, so who will be the starters in 2019-20?
The New York Knicks are in a position to build off of last year’s lowly 17-win campaign and that means a new-look lineup.
Seriously, the team’s roster looks so different compared to last year, it’s practically a makeover worthy of Queer Eye.
OK, that’s a bit of a stretch since New York missed out on big free agents in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Even still, the Knicks on paper are looking more than capable of increasing their win total.
This puts head coach David Fizdale in an interesting position. Only seven players on the current roster made starts for the Knicks last year. Of those seven, only two, maybe three, are absolute locks to start for the upcoming season. With so many new faces aboard, Fizdale must choose wisely as to which group works best to start a game on the right foot.
The good news is the New York Knicks, for all their faults, have a strong young core which could, in turn, help build a solid lineup. Thus, don’t be surprised if the following quintet makes most of the starts this season.
Center — Mitchell Robinson
Look out, NBA world, here comes Mitchell Robinson! The second-year center showed up to the NBA Summer League in great shape and averaged 13.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game. At just 21 years old, the 7-foot-1 Robinson is ready to assume the starting center’s role for a whole season.
Moreover, it just makes sense for Robinson to start. He played in 66 games last year but started just 19. He averaged 20.6 minutes per game to go with 7.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks. Per 36 minutes, however, he averaged 12.8, 11.2, and 4.3.
There is an elite center within the basketball player who is Mitchell Robinson. In 2019-20, he could very well have his NBA coming-out party.
Power Forward — Julius Randle
New York deserves a superstar like Durant, but needs a player like Julius Randle right now. The Knicks’ reputation for drama and instability likely cost them in free agency this summer. It still didn’t stop Randle from signing a three-year, $63 million contract to come to New York as the Knicks’ big win on the market.
The former Kentucky Wildcat will automatically be penciled in at power forward following a career year with the New Orleans Pelicans. Randle averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds, shooting 52.4% from the field and even 34.4% from three-point land.
Randle is still just 24 and still developing a consistent jump shot, but he also isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the paint. With Fizdale’s system requiring toughness on defense, Randle can provide plenty of that.
Not only that, but Randle said he had “options” this offseason but chose New York anyway. That he wants to be here despite the team’s reputation speaks volumes about him.
If he can build off of last season and play tough defense, the New York Knicks will have landed quite a prize in free agency.
Small Forward — Marcus Morris
This was definitely the toughest hole to fill, especially since second-year forward Kevin Knox is around and will only be 20 years old come next season.
Still, Knox struggled to find his shot in Summer League and might be best as a spark off the bench for now. Enter an established veteran in Morris, who backed out of a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs to sign a one-year deal with New York.
Yes, folks. You read that correctly. Morris could have signed with the Spurs, a dynastic team whose trips to the playoffs are almost automatic at this point. Instead, as he told Shams Charania of The Athletic, he chose New York so he could be closer to his family in Philadelphia. The Knicks also having spare cap space following the re-working of the injured Reggie Bullock’s contract also helped.
That said, though Knox could easily start at small forward, Morris is just a more complete player. He isn’t the strongest defender and can be a streaky scorer, but he posted 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Boston Celtics last season. Morris also shot 37.5 percent from long range and has only twice posted a negative VORP in his career.
He isn’t the sexiest option at small forward, but the best one for the New York Knicks to start the season.
Shooting Guard — RJ Barrett
Last month, the New York Knicks made RJ Barrett the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Come October, he will be New York’s starting shooting guard.
Those who watched Barrett play in the Las Vegas Summer League may have opinions on this. He averaged 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists, but struggled with efficiency and shot just 34% from the field. His three-point shooting and overall jump shot are still raw and his rookie year could feature a lot of growing pains.
Despite that, Barrett has the potential to be a cornerstone of the Knicks’ rebuild. He posted 22.6 points per game at Duke last year and will be an elite scorer once he diversifies his offense.
The point is mere layups off the glass does not an elite scorer make. The best way for Barrett to learn this lesson is to go straight from the frying pan to the fire of the starting lineup. Sure, he’s a raw 19-year-old, but he won’t learn to compete in the NBA unless he struggles a bit first and adjusts accordingly.
Some may think starting Damyean Dotson at shooting guard may be the better option, but he is more of a three-and-D type. Barrett, meanwhile, is an elite scorer just waiting to blossom. By sitting him on the bench and not putting him in the starting lineup, the Knicks won’t do his development any favors.
Point Guard — Dennis Smith Jr.
How quickly we forget Dennis Smith Jr. was once a highly-touted NBA prospect! The former NC State star posted 15.2 points and 5.2 assists as a rookie for the Dallas Mavericks, but then saw his production take a dip when Luka Doncic came aboard last year.
Thus, with no clear path to improving in Dallas, Smith was sent to New York as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade. He averaged 14.7 points and 5.4 assists in 21 games but still struggled with his three-point shot.
The good news for Smith is thanks to Irving signing with the Brooklyn Nets, his job as New York’s starting point guard is safe. He’s still just 21 years old and is a better option than Elfrid Payton or Frank Ntilikina.
He isn’t the perfect point guard, but Fizdale can easily get the best out of him as the New York Knicks continue rebuilding.