My beloved Knicks will once again not be very good in 2019-20, but will be better than the 2018-19 version. That’s not saying much, but it’s not nothing. I’ll guess they’ll win between 28 and 32 games. If Perry moves rotational vets for assets and/or the team suffers rotten injury luck (again) another 20ish-win season is in the cards. On the other hand, it’s hard to concoct a reasonable scenario where this roster gets to 35 or more wins.
SO, Why Bother with ThE 2019-20 Knicks?
For those of us who are diehards (no judgment), we hold these truths to be self-evident that we are here for the Knicks until the bitter end. For everyone else who has not been so afflicted, in a sentence, what’s at stake this season is a chance for the franchise to turn the corner from moribund to competent. That’s not pegged to a specific record, though getting into the mid-30s in wins would mostly cinch it. Becoming a nondescript lottery team with a .500ish home record would be a meaningful developmental step. (Shout out to Phil! Thanks Phil. How’s it goink?) Soft bigotry of low expectations aside, it’s still just year two of a proper rebuild. And, it’s worth noting, NBA teams rarely double their win total in one off-season. Whether there is a lot of roster turnover or young teams run it back with the kids the next season, even improved talent takes a while to gel.
WHAT TO WATCH
What does Fiz do with R.J. Barrett?
I was (am) a bona fide R.J. skeptic, but to his credit he has changed the nature and extent of my skepticism through the work he’s put in on his body and game. In summer league I was really wondering whether he has the requisite athleticism to play on the wing in the NBA. He’s not springy and light-footed. He’s a hulking, “power” wing. This pre-season we saw that he’s not only come to grips with that, he’s doubled down on it, literally accentuating his strength, a mark of legitimate maturity. He’s also tightened up his dribble, which has helped his ability to finish at the rim and has helped his court vision to matter. Now, all I have to be skeptical about is whether a guy who was an unrepentant gunner in college will ever truly devote himself to a life of service. I am hoping he does, because I saw flashes of a wing version of Draymond (on offense anyway) in the pre-season. Yes please.
Can the Year Two Guys (TM) take a step forward?
Keven Knox looks like he’s gotten a little stronger in the pre-season. You can see him starting to fill out. His shooting stroke looks–and has always looked–legit. The concerns for him on offense are about shot selection and getting to the FT line. On defense however, he was dreadful in every conceivable way last season. So after a rookie season where he was allowed to do what he wanted, things could be very different for him. Either poor shot selection or ghastly defense could keep him out of the rotation on many a night this season. Can he show the maturity to stay on the straight and narrow offensively and rotate defensively? If this team has 35+ wins in it, the answer will have to be yes.
Mitch Robinson established himself as an official “phenom” as a rim protector last season. This season, for me the question is whether he will mature into setting hard Tyson Chandler-type screens, or stick with the Enes Kanter fake-screen nonsense he picked up. (I can’t imagine from where.) Even without improved scoring or rebounding he could be a big part of the solution to the team’s offensive spacing woes. I use Chandler as an exemplar of a player who offered virtually nothing on offense but lobs and putbacks, but who nevertheless used his body to create space for others (and easy lobs for himself).
Other guys seem less likely to be part of the rotation without an injury to a starter or key reserve. As a resident of Frank Ntilikina Island, Frankistan province, that pains me to say. Allonzo Trier has value as a decently efficient bench scorer. He looks intentional about taking open threes on ball rotation and getting to the FT line. Of all the bench bros (i.e., Trier, Dotson, Ntilikina, Brezdeikis and Allen), he’s the best bet to carve out a regular role as a closer. The Knicks need (efficient) offense, especially at the ends of quarters.
Can Fiz implement a coherent vision?
I still don’t think I can see what this team is trying to do or be yet. Of course, it’s worth noting that last season’s roster was mostly a bunch of kids and gunners who didn’t defend. In the pre-season thus far, I’m seeing a lot of forward-initiated offense. I like Julius Randle‘s ability to put it on the floor when opportunities present themselves, but if he and Marcus Morris are primary offensive facilitators the turnovers will come in waves. Many fans are wondering (me among them) if R.J. Barrett might be the best fit as a “point wing” initiating the offense. We shall see.