Marcus Morris, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Knicks are in a brutal slide, but there are a few realistic goals that can help draw meaning from a lost season.

Danny Small

Is there any hope for the New York Knicks this season? Yes and no. Of course, the playoffs are a pipe dream, but that doesn’t have to mean the 2019-20 season was a total failure. There are a few areas where the Knicks can improve.

Although these are more of a consolation prize than anything else, the Knicks are at the point where small victories can feel like a breath of fresh air. Perhaps this is an exercise in setting the bar low, but this is the reality the 4-17 Knicks face.

Win 15 Games at Home

Madison Square Garden is the Mecca of basketball—or at least, that’s what people say. The Knicks were a paltry 9-32 at home last season en route to a franchise-worst 17-65 record. Despite their disappointing record, the place sells out every game.

Thus far, the Knicks are 3-8 at home with wins coming against the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, and Cleveland Cavaliers. In order to reach 15 wins at home, the Knicks must finish 12-18 at home. That might seem a bit high with the way the team is currently playing, but let’s be real, finishing with a home record of 15-26 would be a major step forward for this roster.

In fact, it would be almost impossible for the Knicks to finish below their win total from last season if they can figure out how to protect the Garden. That was a mandate set forth at the beginning of the season and it’s not too late to make a full turnaround. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but crazier things have happened.

Shoot 72.5% From the Free-Throw Line

As a team, the Knicks are historically bad from the free-throw line—67.4% to be exact. This is an issue that has cost head coach David Fizdale‘s squad at least three wins so far this season. It’s a major issue that most NBA teams don’t have to deal with, but the Knicks aren’t most teams.

The yearly average on free throws is usually between 75% and 77% across the entire NBA. Therefore, 72.5% shouldn’t be considered a lofty goal. After all, the Knicks have three-quarters of the season left to change the narrative.

Upping their free-throw percentages from 67.4% to 72.5% might sound like a tall order, but there are two players who could turn around the team’s fortunes. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are a combined 136-for-235 (57.8%) from the charity stripe.

Barrett is still adapting to life in the NBA. His percentage should increase as the season progresses. In his first 11 games, the rookie shot 44.8% from the line. Over his last nine games though, he’s converting on 68.4% of his attempts. That’s progress.

Randle, on the other hand, probably won’t make such a drastic improvement as the season goes on, but he should finish higher than his current 66.7% would indicate. The forward was a 72.2% free-throw shooter before he came to the Knicks.

Improvements from Barrett and Randle make 72.5% a realistic goal for the Knickerbockers. And make no mistake, even a slight uptick in percentage will result in a few more wins.

Acquire Draft Capital

The first and most likely way the Knicks will acquire draft capital is through a trade of Marcus Morris Sr. The Knicks can officially trade their recent free-agent signings on Dec. 15. The veteran forward has been the Knicks’ best player and he deserves a ton of credit for carrying the offense. That being said, he doesn’t have a long-term future in New York.

He’s perfect for a playoff team that needs to add some bench scoring. At 18.7 points per game on 42.4% from the field and a ridiculous 52.4% from three, it’s easy to see Morris fetching something in a trade.

How much? Well, that’s still a bit unclear at this point.

Another—more difficult—way for the Knicks to acquire draft capital would be through taking on a bad contract with a pick attached. The Memphis Grizzlies took Andre Iguodala’s salary from the Golden State Warriors with a first-rounder in 2024 attached.

That ship might have sailed when the front office decided to sign a bevy of free agents on one-plus-one deals, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. It’s a long-shot, for sure. However, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, and Elfrid Payton all have moveable contracts.

The one thing the Knicks should not do is move any young players in return for draft picks. Although Frank Ntilikina’s value is at an all-time high, he’s shown enough to warrant a place in the long-term plans.

Furthermore, trading Dennis Smith Jr. or Kevin Knox at this point in time would be selling low on two players with plenty of talent.

The Knicks are in a tough spot without much hope for the near future. However, taking small steps forward like protecting the Garden, fixing their free-throw woes, and adding draft capital for the future can be counted as progress amidst this slow rebuilding process.

 

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