The New York Knicks have no shortage of new faces in the fold after free agency and the depth chart has a few interesting positional battles.
No matter how you slice it, the 2019 NBA free agency season has been a massive disappointment for the New York Knicks.
All season long, Knicks fans were brimming with optimism at what was to come. Superstar free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were long rumored to be heading to the Big Apple, and New York had a 14% chance to win the Zion Williamson sweepstakes.
After a crude and unfortunate series of events, none of that transpired—KD and Kyrie joined the Nets, and earlier in the summer, the ping pong balls favored the Pelicans, who landed Zion.
The Knicks, to their credit, did not panic after striking out on their biggest targets. General manager Scott Perry strung together a series of veteran players with manageable, team-friendly contracts, to surround the Knicks existing core.
Those players include Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, and Elfrid Payton.
As the dust settles on free agency (at least, for the Knicks), and preparations for Las Vegas Summer League are beginning to ramp up, let’s take a look at the possible depth chart post-free agency.
New York’s point guard trio is essentially made up of lottery picks with largely unfulfilled expectations.
Smith isn’t a perfect player—his three-point shooting (32% in his sophomore season) and playmaking abilities leave something to be desired, but his athleticism is unquestionable. Smith has an explosive first step and great downhill speed. As a player who went in the top 10, Smith still has room to grow, but the potential is there, and that’s really what the Knicks are banking on at this point. He’ll be the chief creator for their offense to start the year, and is viewed as a potential building block.
Elfrid Payton, inked for two years at $16 million, is a serviceable backup. Like Smith, his shooting isn’t his strong suit, but his defense is much better. At 6-foot-4′, he has plus size for his position and is capable of handling explosive point guards. This is vital in a division that now includes Kemba Walker, along with Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry.
Ntilikina was in and out of the rotation in 2018-19 and dealt with injury problems towards the end of the season. His size and defense are still positive attributes, but he offers little offensively, which at times makes him unplayable. He’ll have to battle his way back into the rotation during the season.
Trier was a pleasant surprise for the Knicks in 2018-19, averaging just under 11 points per game while shooting 39% from beyond the arc. Trier can become a good floor-spacing two if he shoots more and he has the ability to create his own shot. While his playmaking needs improving (as does his tendency to stagnate the offense with his isolation play), he represents a solid rotational player with the ability to score 20 plus on a given night.
Reggie Bullock is an above average three-point marksman, who joins after spending last season with the Pistons and the Lakers. The former Tar Heel shot just under 40% from three last year, but is two years removed from shooting a staggering 44% from three over 62 games with the Pistons in 2017-18. At 28, Bullock is probably in the prime of his career, and could be a useful offensive weapon for New York.
Damyean Dotson saw his scoring average jump over six points per game in his sophomore season. At 25, he’s a solid bench scoring option who can space the floor. His upside is limited, but he’ll be able to give the Knicks quality minutes off the pine.
Wayne Ellington was acquired for two years, $16 million. At 38% career from behind the arc, the former Detroit Piston represents a solid floor-spacing wing with the ability to knock down open threes. Every team needs a guy like him in today’s NBA. Will he offer much else? Unlikely.
He is one of the Knicks’ two best young players, and their last two lottery picks, make up the cream of their small forward crop.
RJ Barrett is the most exciting asset the Knicks possess after a stellar freshman season at Duke landed him No. 3 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. A gifted scorer with a knack for creating his own shot, it’s very possible that the Knicks could turn into Barrett’s team by the end of the season. His growth will be the main attraction for Knicks fans this year, as his talent could translate into multiple All-Star appearances. Seeing him play without the shadow of Zion Williamson looming over him will be exciting, and hopefully, translate into victories.
Kevin Knox didn’t have the greatest rookie season, but he’s only 19. He shot 37% from the field and 34% from three, and suffered from poor shot selection at times. However, his natural scoring ability and shooting stroke are definitely present, which means that he is bound to show improvement. He could be a genuine sixth man. Or, he could start and play crunch time with Barrett moving to the two.
Brazdeikis, a second-round pick this summer, may get some burn as a reserve. The Michigan product averaged 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds for the Wolverines in 29.6 minutes per game, and garnered Big Ten Rookie of the Year honors.
Randle may not have been the marquee signing the Knicks were hoping for, but he’s a legitimately above-average NBA player. Randle, 24, enjoyed his best career season with the Pelicans in 2018-19, averaging 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. He also brought his three-point average up to 34%.
A super athletic big with a knack for rebounding, Randle is a really good piece for the Knicks—he could offer some stability, particularly on the offensive end, if younger players (Barrett, Knox, and Smith) are struggling.
Bobby Portis was also acquired during the free-agent frenzy. He averaged around 14.2 points and 8.1 boards last season, making him a serviceable bench big, even if his contract (two years, $31.5 million) is a bit steep.
From second-round draft pick to genuine building block—no Knick had a meteoric rise quite like Mitchell Robinson last year. He figures to be a major piece moving forward. His rim protection was well documented last season (an impressive 2.4 blocks per game), but the manner in which he ended the regular season (over the final six games of the 2018-19 season, Robinson averaged 11.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game) gives Knicks fans reason to be optimistic. At just 21, he has plenty of room to grow.
Taj Gibson’s best days are certainly behind him, but the 34-year-old Brooklyn native can be a mentor to young bigs such as Robinson while providing valuable minutes off the bench. Entering his 12th season this year, Gibson averaged around 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in 24 minutes with the Timberwolves last season.
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