After matching the worst record in franchise history, the New York Knicks had a summer that was defined more by who they didn't get (Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) than by who they did. The result is a roster split between veterans that arrived via Plan B and youngsters that need time to develop. Star-shopping will have to wait, but the time is now to start pointing this franchise in the right direction. And maybe there's a star within the young core.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: New York Knicks
The worst record in the league got the Knicks the No. 3 pick in the Draft, which they used on Duke's RJ Barrett … Exercised their team option on Allonzo Trier … Struck out on the big free agents … Executed Plan B by signing second and third-tier veterans to short-term contracts, with Julius Randle, Marcus Morris (who backed out of a deal with San Antonio) and Bobby Portis being the biggest names … Third-year guard Frank Ntilikina played a big role in the United States' first major-tournament loss in 13 years, showing some new-found confidence and competence on offense for the French national team.
1. Allow the young guys to grow. The seven veterans that the Knicks added in free agency all averaged more than 24 minutes per game last season and clearly saw opportunities for significant roles in New York. But playing the vets will only win this team so many games and developing the youth (including four top-10 picks from the last three drafts) should remain priority No. 1
2. Shooters need shot generators. The Knicks are the only team that ranks in the bottom five in both 3-point percentage (34.6%, 26th) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (29.3 percent, 27th) over the last three seasons. To solve that issue, they added a league-high four players -- Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, Morris and Portis -- who shot better than the league average on at least 100 3-point attempts last season. The question is if they have enough playmaking to create open looks for those guys.
3. No defense. The Knicks have the league's most prolific shot-blocker in Mitchell Robinson (league-high 4.3 blocks per 36 minutes last season). But there's a difference between being a shot-blocker and being an impact defender, and Robinson won't turn into the latter overnight. There are a couple of plus defenders on the roster, but probably not enough for the New York defense to climb out of the bottom 10 in points allowed per 100 possessions, where it's been in 12 of the last 15 seasons.
MAN ON THE SPOT
The man tasked with developing the young guys, keeping the vets happy, finding ways to generate open shots, and getting the whole group to play defense is head coach David Fizdale, who had a rough first season in New York. He's got more talent to work with in Year 2, but no clear identity given the personnel. If the Knicks are not going to make the playoffs, they at least have to establish a clear foundation for growth.
Dennis Smith Jr. | 13.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.8 apg
Saw usage rate increase (but a decrease in efficiency) upon his move from Dallas to New York. Must shoot better off the dribble.
RJ Barrett | 22.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.3 apg (Duke)
Led the ACC in scoring as a freshman and could be the Knicks' best playmaker from Day 1.
Marcus Morris | 13.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 apg
Career-high effective field goal percentage (53.3%) last season. Shot even better (63.3%, 18-for-33 on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers) in playoffs.
Julius Randle | 21.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.1 apg
One of 10 players (and the only one that wasn't an All-Star) to average at least 20 points, eight rebounds and three assists last season.
Mitchell Robinson | 7.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg
Known for his blocks, but also finished well on the other end, shooting better than 70 percent in the restricted area.
Kevin Knox | 12.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.1 apg
Finished last in effective field goal percentage (among players with 500+ field goal attempts) and struggled defensively.
Elfrid Payton | 10.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 7.6 apg
Has 16 career triple-doubles (five last season). Fourteen of the 16 have come in the months of March and April.
Bobby Portis | 14.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4 apg
Ranked 25th in rebounding percentage (15.4%) among 299 players that averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 games or more last season.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Knicks' current playoff drought (six years) is the longest in the Eastern Conference, and it probably won't end in 2020. Though there's always more opportunity in the East to quickly turn things around, there doesn't appear to be enough playmaking or defense for this group to compete with the East's top nine or 10 teams. For this team and this season, success should be measured by the development of the young guys, of which there are plenty with potential.
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