The New York Knicks amassed a record of 17-65 during the 2014-15 NBA season, good for second worst in the NBA. While it was painful to watch, it was ultimately necessary. The Knicks now have a top five draft pick, and a ton of cap space to spend on free agents. With a sea of options for President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, General Manager Steve Mills, and Head Coach Derek Fisher to analyze, the Knicks should be in for an interesting offseason. Here’s our preview.
Second Scorer: Carmelo Anthony can’t do it by himself. Since he’s come over from Denver, Anthony hasn’t had a true second option – Amar’e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith have all tried, and to an extent failed. The Knicks need another guy who can create his own shot consistently, and average between 18 and 24 points a game. That’ll be key to improving the Knicks offense.
Center: He doesn’t need to be a back-to-the-basket, vintage center, but the Knicks need an interior presence – one they haven’t had since Tyson Chandler. This need will ideally be filled in the draft.
3-and-D Wings: Good perimeter defenders are key to any NBA contender, as are good three point shooters. Getting two of these guys would improve the Knicks on both ends of the floor.
Point Guard: If the Knicks plan on following the triangle offense, they don’t need a superstar point guard (think of Steve Kerr with the Bulls and Derek Fisher with the Lakers). What they do need is a solid point guard who can handle the ball and defend. The only thing Jose Calderon proved to us this year was that he isn’t that guy.
Bench Solidification: While the entire Knick rotation that ended the season would act as a pretty decent bench unit, they still need at least one stand out reserve. Langston Galloway, Alexey Schved, and Tim Hardaway Jr. seem like keepers, but a backup big would be particularly helpful.
Draft: The Knicks have a 19% chance at the number one overall pick, but they are almost guaranteed a top five selection. With that being said, here are the drafts top five prospects.
Karl Anthony-Towns is the projected number one pick. At 7’0”, Towns has the size and strength of a typical NBA center. His defensive instincts are fantastic, as is his rebounding ability. Towns has the ability to start at center from day 1, and projects to be a real building block for the future. One knock on his game is his offense– while he was crazy efficient at Kentucky, his post moves and midrange game leave a bit to be desired. If he can refine his low post moves and footwork, he could be a complete two-way player. His upside exceeds every other player in this draft class, and for that reason, he should be at the top of the Knicks board.
Jahlil Okafor has dropped from projected number one to number two, but he’s still a very safe pick. Okafor is one of the most polished offensive big men to come out of college in a long, long time. His footwork is already pro level, and he has the ability to dominate teams in the low post. Okafor projects as a 20 point scorer at the next level, but his defense is a bit underdeveloped. Okafor’s lack of elite size and athleticism mean that he may never become a dominant low post defender, but as a scoring five, there aren’t any better in this class.
D’Angelo Russell is an interesting player. He has ridiculous size for his position- a 6’5” point guard- skill, and basketball IQ. His shot is also pretty solid- he shot 41% from downtown at Ohio State. Russell may not be as explosive as some NBA point guards, but he is a calming presence at the 1. He should be a starter in the NBA for years to come, but a star? That may be too tough of an ask.
Emmanuel Mudiay is an über athletic point guard who plied his trade in China, where he stood out among grown men at just age 18. The former SMU commit has explosive burst and athleticism, and has drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Mudiay’s jumper and decision making may be suspect, but his upside definitely puts him in play in the top 5.
Justise Winslow may not have the star upside that the other four guys on this list have, but he’ll be a tremendous NBA player nonetheless. He is an incredible perimeter defender, and has an endless motor. Think Kawhi Leonard. Every title team needs a guy like Winslow, who has standout 3-and-D potential in the NBA. Winslow shot just under 42% from three at Duke his freshman year, and showed great slasher potential. He has great two-way potential in the NBA, which makes him a very solid worst-case scenario in the draft.
Free Agency: The Knicks have a surplus of cap space, after the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargniani come off the books this summer. This will allow Phil Jackson to dole out large sums of money on various free agents, and plug the various needs his club has. Will he buy four-five mid-level players to compliment Anthony, or will he try and break the bank on two stars with two max contracts? We’ll have to wait and see.
Point Guard Targets:
Reggie Jackson has flashed potential for his entire NBA career, but was criminally misused in Oklahoma City. After being traded to the Pistons, Jackson was incredible, posting averages of 17.6 points and 9.2 assists a game, and a PER of 19.8. He’s a restricted free agent, which means the Knicks might need to spend max money to get him (and even that may not be good enough), but he’s definitely a top choice at the position.
Patrick Beverley won’t have the opportunity to show off to the Knicks this postseason– he’s out for the season injured. However, his current NBA resume is pretty impressive. His biggest strength? On-ball defense. Beverley can lock down the NBA’s best point guards, which is particularly valuable in the playoffs. He’s never been a prolific offensive player (career averages of 8.9 points and 3.o assists) but his defense is undisputed. At 26, he could be the perfect starting point guard for the triangle.
Brandon Knight is pretty much an opposite of Beverley. He’s at his best scoring (averaged over 17 points the last two seasons) and can light it up from downtown as well (40% from three during the first half of the season with the Bucks). His defense isn’t as good as Beverley’s, however. While many thought he’d immediately re-up with the Suns, his numbers dipped considerably after the midseason trade that sent him to Phoenix. Knight would fill the void at point guard, and give the Knicks a second scoring option. Not too shabby.
Other: Rajon Rondo and Goran Dragic are interesting, but neither will likely end up with the Knicks. Rondo appears destined to be a Laker, while Dragic could very well return to Miami. Rondo isn’t the same player he once was, but he’ll still demand a large sum of money; ideally, the Knicks won’t even consider signing him. Dragic has fantastic offensive upside, but he’ll also probably demand too much money. The Knicks would be smart to stay away from them.
Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles before the playoffs, but his value remains undisputed. A good defensive wing who can hit the three, Matthews would be a great sign at the right price. The issue is, he may demand too much money, in which case the Knicks shouldn’t take the bait.
DeMarre Carroll is another player who may demand too much money. He had a breakout season with Atlanta (12.6 points a game, 39% from three) and is a terrific lockdown defender with a great motor, but he may not be worth the money he might ask for. The only Hawks starter not to be named an All-Star, Carroll always seems to play with a chip on his shoulder, and would be a tremendous addition to the Knicks at the right price.
Tobias Harris already expressed interest in joining the Knicks, but comes with some red flags. The first is his status as a restricted free agent; the Knicks might need to offer him max money to pry him away from the Orlando Magic. The second is his fit, or lack thereof, in the triangle offense. Still, he’s a long, lanky winger who can score and rebound in bunches. Similar to Carmelo Anthony, he can play and defend the 3 and the 4, and would slot in well to the team.
Wilson Chandler has roots with the Knicks. He was drafted by the team, and played with them until he was flipped to the Denver Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony deal. Chandler is another good 3-and-D talent, but for the Knicks to acquire him, they’ll almost certainly have to overpay. Unless he comes at a bargain price, Chandler’s upside isn’t worth the money.
Other: Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green are both unbelievable players. They’re both in the conversation for Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year. Butler was an All-Star this season. For Green, it’s only a matter of time. They’re both tremendous wingers – Butler has the ability to lock down the best on defense, can score the basketball, and has big-minute capabilities in his legs. Green can lock down 3’s and 4’s, and has a deadly three point shot. He’s also one of the smartest basketball players in the NBA. With that being said, there’s no way the Knicks can acquire either of them. They are both restricted free agents, and not even a max offer will be enough to steal them away. Butler and Green were invaluable to Chicago and Golden State’s success, respectively. No way either is allowed to walk. But we can dream, can’t we? Speaking of dreaming, LeBron James technically can become a free agent (player option). If he opts out… doesn’t matter. He won’t. No way he leaves Cleveland. Next.
Greg Monroe has also expressed interst in joining the Knicks. at 24, Monroe poses huge upside. He can play power forward or center, and can score and rebound at a high clip. Ideally, place him next to a very good defensive center and his defensive shortcomings will be masked (similar to Amar’e). The problem is that Carmelo’s favored position is power forward, which means Monroe would have to shift over to center. A front line of Greg Monroe at center and ‘Melo at power forward is undersized and would be terrible defensively. Unless Carmelo is willing to shift to small forward, Monroe might not be a good logistical option in New York.
Kevin Love is a name that might surprise you. Why would he leave Cleveland? He just made the playoff for the first time in his career, and is currently on a team that is favored to win the championship. Despite these factors, Love isn’t as happy as can be with the Cavaliers. This season, statistically, he’s down both in scoring, rebounding, and PER. His usage rate is down as well. Love has spent his career as top dog in Minnesota, and this season he was third wheel to LeBron and Kyrie Irving. If the Cavs win the championship, Love may take his ring and leave down to be the man (or at least, one of the top two options). If Cleveland doesnt win the chip, he may leave town and try to carry the load elsewhere. Love’s rebounding and offense fit in perfectly with the Knicks, and he would make a tremendous addition to the squad.
Marc Gasol is a big-time longshot. He’s always been happy in Memphis, and the team is good. However, their ceiling may be pretty limited, considering their small-market appeal. Gasol seems destined for the bright lights, similar to his brother, who has spent his last eight seasons in Los Angeles and Chicago. Gasol is one of the top defensive players in the NBA, and probably the best center as well. Adding him to the mix would instantly put the Knicks among the best in the Eastern conference.
LaMarcus Aldridge is also unlikely. He and Damian Lillard make a dynamic one-two punch in Portland, a young team with an exciting core and a raucous fan base. Why leave? And for the Knicks, why bother? He’s an older version of Monroe, a brilliant scorer and rebounder, but a player who is limited defensively. He also can only play the 4. Aldridge is an All-Star, yes, but the Knicks shouldn’t break the bank over him.
DeAndre Jordan is an interesting option. If New York doesn’t get either Towns or Okafor in the draft, they could look to Jordan to anchor their defense. He led the NBA in rebounds with 15 a game, and is a strong defensive presence at center. The downside? Cost, again. For a player with an offensive repertoire limited to just thunderous dunks, Jordan might not be worth a max deal.
Other: Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. The former Jazz big men are both strong offensive players who are slowly closing out the prime of their careers. While Jefferson is an option, it’s unlikely Millsap will leave Atlanta after the year he’s had. Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert both have player options, but Lopez’ health and Hibbert’s recent decline are causes of concern.
Ed Davis is a solid offensive big man off the bench. A good rebounder and a reliable second scoring option off the bench, Davis would make a lot of sense at the right price.
Brandan Wright is a very good backup center, and even a serviceable starter.
Josh Smith is a former All-Star whose career fell apart in Detroit. As a sixth man, he has sixth man of the year potential in the right environment. His ability to shoot midrange and handle the ball make him a good fit in the triangle.
Lou Williams is a contender for sixth man of the year. A knockdown shooter who can distribute the ball, Williams has the capability to handle a second unit.
K.J. McDaniels is an explosive scorer who could give the Knicks a great spark off the bench.
Realistic Projected Rotation:
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley, Jose Calderon
Shooting Guard: Tim Hardaway Jr., Langston Galloway
Small Forward: Tobias Harris, Cleanthony Early
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony, Quincy Acy
Center: Karl Anthony-Towns, Brandan Wright
Breakdown: A very solid team. Beverley is a typical triangle point guard, someone who can handle and knock down shots when need be, but his true value rests in his defense. Hardaway Jr., Harris, and Anthony can all score. Harris, Anthony, and Towns present great size for rebounding. Towns makes his mark as a brilliant defender and low-post anchor. This rotation fits all the Knicks needs- a point guard (Beverley), a second scorer and wing player (Harris), a center (Towns), and good bench options (Galloway, Caulderon, Early, Wright). This team would probably make the playoffs in the East, which would satisfy the fans somewhat, but could they contend for a title? Depends on how well the front court plays, but probably not.
Best Case Projected Rotation:
Point Guard: Brandon Knight, Calderon
Shooting Guard: Hardaway Jr., Galloway
Small Forward: Anthony, Early
Power Forward: Kevin Love, Acy
Center: Towns, Wright
Breakdown: What a team! Knight and Love are both brilliant scorers. Love and Towns can out rebound any front court, and Hardway, Anthony, and Knight can outshoot most backcourts. The bench remains solid, with Wright to anchor the front court and Galloway to score, and the team has some serious star power with Love and ‘Melo. A championship contender? You bet.
Screw it, Lets Tank Another Year Rotation:
Point Guard: Caulderon, Shane Larkin
Shooting Guard: Galloway, Hardaway Jr.
Small Forward: KJ McDaniels, Early
Power Forward: Anthony, Acy
Center: Towns/Jahlil Okafor, Jason Smith
They’ll be better than this years Knicks, but probably won’t make the playoffs, unless Caulderon and Anthony have big bounce back years. But the real reason Jackson sits back and waits a year is for free agency.
Kevin Durant, Nic Batum, Al Horford, and Brandon Jennings are just a few of the unrestricted free agents on the market. How about the restricted free agents? Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond. Guys truly worth max deals. The Knicks will sit back for another year, and then ultimately gamble on some of the NBA’s best players. That might not be the popular course of action, but it might pay the biggest dividends in the end.
So who do you think the Knicks will get? Who will they draft? Who will they overpay? Will they do anything? Let us know in the comments. And until we find out, enjoy the Playoffs!