Dennis Smith Jr., RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox
ESNY Graphic

After their worst season in franchise history and a disappointing summer, the New York Knicks are looking to start fresh this year.

Danny Small

For the New York Knicks, there’s nowhere to go but up. The 2018-19 season was historically bad in Madison Square Garden as the Knicks only managed to squeak out 17 wins. For large swaths of the 82-game schedule, the Knickerbockers were painful to watch. There’s no denying it.

But during all that losing, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The Knicks had the best odds to land Zion Williamson in the draft and surely Kevin Durant was coming to the Knicks in free agency with a running mate in tow.

As we all know, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The New Orleans Pelicans jumped the Knicks in the lottery to land Williamson. To make matters worse, Durant and Kyrie Irving spurned the Knicks for the Brooklyn Nets.

Of course, the knee-jerk reaction was to crucify the Knicks for tanking away the season and trading Kristaps Porzingis with nothing to show for it. While the Knicks’ vision for the future didn’t go according to plan, they are going to be a much-improved team during the 2019-20 season.


They may have missed out on Zion Williamson, but the Knicks still have a potential star in RJ Barrett. The No. 3 pick in the draft is dripping with talent and will be a key contributor for the Knicks from day one.

Not to mention, New York added plenty of proven veterans on low-risk deals this summer. Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, and Reggie Bullock all bring valuable experience to a locker room that is brimming with young talent.

Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, and Allonzo Trier are all looking to build off of their rookie seasons. Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina are both entering their third year in the NBA with hopes of locking down a consistent role in the rotation. Playing time will be tougher to come by for this young group, but competition for minutes can often bring out the best in young players who are still looking to prove themselves.

But there are issues that come with so much turnover on the roster. With both players entering their third season with the Knicks, Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson are now New York’s longest-tenured players.

Continuity is consistently underrated in the NBA and it’s reasonable to expect a slow start from the Knicks. Of their first 10 games, seven are on the road and six are against playoff teams from last season. The other four are against the Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, and Cleveland Cavaliers. In other words, the Knicks don’t have time to feel one another out and slowly ease into the season.

Head coach David Fizdale must make sure his team is ready to hit the ground running if they want to have any chance of making that eighth seed in the Eastern Conference a possibility.

Roster

Frank Ntilikina — G — 6-4 — 190
Damyean Dotson — G — 6-5 — 202
Kevin Knox — F — 6-7 — 215
Mitchell Robinson — C — 7-0 — 223
Allonzo Trier — G — 6-4 — 200
Kadeem Allen (TW) — G — 6-1 — 200
RJ Barrett — G-F — 6-6 — 202
Ignas Brazdeikis — F — 6-6 — 216
Julius Randle — F-C — 6-8 — 250
Taj Gibson — F — 6-9 — 225
Bobby Portis — F — 6-10 — 246
Wayne Ellington — G — 6-4 — 200
Elfrid Payton — G — 6-3 — 185
Marcus Morris — F — 6-8 — 235
Reggie Bullock — G-F — 6-6 — 200

New York Knicks

Major Questions

Will David Fizdale take a step forward in year two at the helm?

This is a major question that is flying under the radar to a certain extent. Fizdale was given a brutal roster to work with during his first year roaming the sidelines at Madison Square Garden. For much of the season, his go-to offensive weapon was Tim Hardaway Jr. It’s hard to put the 17-win season squarely on Fiz’s shoulders.

With all that said, there were some concerning signs about Fizdale’s long-term viability as head coach. New York struggled mightily in late-game situations and outside of Robinson, the defense was a complete dumpster fire.

Again, Fizdale wasn’t given a lot of talent to work with, but the coach has to take some of the blame for what was tied for the worst season in franchise history.

Additionally, Fizdale struggled to maintain order in the locker room last season when Enes Kanter was pulled from the rotation. With so many worthy players vying for a spot in the rotation this season, the potential for more drama is high. In fact, there were already “grumblings” about playing time during the preseason.

Moreover, Fizdale wasn’t the master recruiter many hoped he could be for the Knicks. Popular belief was that his strong relationship with stars like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would make New York an attractive destination for free agents. That didn’t come to fruition.

Since 2004, only two head coaches have lasted longer than two full seasons with the Knicks (Mike D’Antoni, Mike Woodson). It’s hard to see general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills cutting ties with Fizdale after preaching patience for the last year.

That being said, if the Knicks don’t show significant improvement this season, the clock will start ticking on Fiz.

Does RJ Barrett have what it takes to become a star worth building around?

Knicks fans sure hope so. Barrett was the consolation prize for New York after missing out on Zion Williamson. The ping pong balls were cruel, but that doesn’t mean the Knicks missed out on a star in the draft.

Barrett seems to have everything he needs to be successful in New York: a bright personality, a strong support system, and a knack for scoring the basketball. The 19-year-old rookie will struggle to shoot the three-point shot consistently, but he’s already showing a propensity for scoring at the rim.

Among all the young guys on the roster, Barrett has the highest star potential on the roster. He can handle the ball well enough to make Fizdale consider running him at point guard from time to time. The neophyte plays with a fearlessness that is rare to see in someone his age.

At the very least, Barrett will be a guy that can help the Knicks win games this season and beyond. However, New York needs more than another promising young player on the roster. They need a star worth building around—especially after trading away Kristaps Porzingis.

Barrett has all the tools to fill the void in the Garden, but whether or not the Knicks can develop him into a star remains to be seen.

Will the Knicks challenge for a playoff spot?

The simple answer is no, they won’t even come close to a playoff spot. For the playoffs to even be a possibility, so many things need to break right for the Knicks.

Randle must play like an All-Star and a No. 1 option New York can lean on during crunch time. Smith or Ntilikina will need to take a big leap and take a firm hold on the point guard position. And Barrett must have a rookie season similar to that of Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Ben Simmons, or Donovan Mitchell.

It’s possible, but not likely. A much more realistic scenario for the Knicks involves incremental progress. Even reaching 30 wins this season—a potential 13-win increase—would be a monumental step forward for this team. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Predictions

Danny Small—Editor-in-Chief

Final Record: 26-56
Eastern Conference Finish: 12th
Team MVP: RJ Barrett
NBA Awards: None

Chip Murphy—Staff Writer

Final Record: 25-57
Eastern Conference Finish: 12th
Team MVP: Julius Randle
NBA Awards: None

The Knicks have a competitive and watchable team for the first time in years. They won’t make the playoffs but they can make some noise that fans will care about. RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson are both promising and Julius Randle looks like an All-Star.

The league is wide open for the first time since Kevin Durant went to Golden State. It feels like five or six teams have a legitimate shot at winning the title.

Geoffrey Campbell—Staff Writer

Final record: 27-55
Eastern Conference Finish: 12th
Team MVP: Julius Randle
NBA Awards: None

Forward progress is the goal for the New York Knicks 2019-20 season. A year after winning just 17 games, fans are hoping that at least one or two out of RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., Allonzo Trier, or Frank Ntilikina become household names. Outside of that, all eyes will be on head coach David Fizdale and his ability to establish an offensive and defensive identity.

Fiz will also take on the herculean task of avoiding a mutiny with at least 12-13 players on the roster who can make a reasonable case for playing time in the rotation. Overall, there are reasons to be excited and encouraged, but given the Knicks’ history with both player development and organizational dysfunction, keep expectations low and your sanity will remain relatively intact.

Josh Benjamin—Senior Writer

Record: 31-51
Eastern Conference finish: 11th
Team MVP: Julius Randle
NBA Awards: RJ Barrett All-Rookie Team

The Knicks won’t make the playoffs this year, but they’ll still move forward. Every addition made this offseason was not just to improve the team, but its overall culture as well. Plus, win or lose, this group plays for David Fizdale. Look for Randle to emerge as the star on the court while RJ Barrett slowly looks better and better over the course of the year. There won’t be playoffs at MSG this season, but don’t be shocked if the Knicks find themselves in the conversation for a hot minute. This team is hungry and plans on eating well.



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