Every now and then a team is presented with an unencumbered opportunity to rebuild itself. The New York Knicks, flooded with losses, cap space and a high draft pick, have such an opening. Right now the Knicks have only five players with guaranteed contracts for next season, somewhere around $27 million dollars in cap space, and the number four draft pick in a loaded lottery. Next year they don’t have their pick, and thanks to the rapidly expanding revenue base of the league, everyone will have cap space. The chance is here and now to fix this.
If you’ve been paying attention you’ve heard the rumours of signing Greg Monroe and drafting Kristaps Porzingis. One of these men has a good back-to-basket game, with adequate defence. The other we know can shoot the heck out of the ball, but is a mystery apart from that.
It seems that Knicks management have forgotten they already have these skills combined into one, sometimes inefficient, player: Carmelo Anthony. Throughout his career Carmelo has done one thing well. Give Melo the ball and he will get you a shot. In the low block? Check. On the elbows? Check. From outside? Check. Sometimes it’s not a good shot. Sometimes it doesn’t matter.
Regardless, the unique chance management has to structure this team for years to come means they cannot afford to waste it on duplication that would result from Monroe and Porzingis. They need to fill roles and holes.
First off, the Knicks need someone that can get the bucket on a regular basis. The Knicks ranked dead last in point-in-the-paint in 2014-15, so they are definitely missing this. Basketball has always been about the need to create holes in the defence. The easiest way to do that is beat your man off the dribble. It leads to lay-ups and three pointers, the two most efficient shots on the court. Current Knicks guards Calderon and Hardaway are both primarily jump shooters who work best off the ball – neither excel at getting to the rim.
Who’s available: It seems easiest to fill this hole through the draft. If the Knicks are lucky enough for D’Angelo Russell to fall to four they should snap him up. Emmanuel Mudiay is intriguing but his lack of shooting is a worry. Unrestricted free-agent ball-handlers are few and far between and make for depressing reading. Rajon Rondo and Jeremy Lin head a list of caretakers and has-beens. A lot will depend here on how the draft progresses. Rumours swirl about trading the pick for Eric Bledsoe or Ty Lawson. Both would be a new upgrade on the existing roster. But neither represents value for the pick.
What the Knicks do here depends on how the draft goes for them. It’s more likely that they end up with Justice Winslow than Russell. Word is Winslow can’t beat anyone off the dribble because he can’t shoot off the bounce, allowing defences to pack the paint against him. Porzingis may be an option at four, but I’m worried he’s more Darko Millicic and Macej Lampe than Dirk Nowitzki. Getting shooting on the wings would be a must should the Knicks gamble on Mudiay in the draft.
Who’s available: Here is where the Knicks have to hit free agency with vigour. Danny Green, DeMarre Carroll, Wesley Matthews, would all immediately provide the perimeter shooting and defence that the Knicks lacked so dramatically last year. Carroll and Matthews are both risks due to injury, and it would shock me if Green left the Spurs. But the Knicks should kick those tyres – even if the Knicks get Winslow, signing at least one of this trio will allow the Knicks to play Melo at the four, and improve both their perimeter shooting and defence.
The Rim Protector
The Knicks allowed 4.4 more points per 100 possessions than the rest of the league last season, showing that they desperately need to fill the rim-protector they lost when Tyson Chandler was traded to Dallas last year. We’ve all heard that Greg Monroe will be coming to Gotham, but he doesn’t protect the rim or move horizontally well enough to cover for Melo. It’s instructive to think how porous the Knick’s defence when the front court was manned by Amare and Melo. Monroe’s career defensive +/- (1.2) is better than Amare’s (-0.3) but he is not sufficient to cover for Melo (-1.2).
Who’s available: Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Tim Duncan. Stop dreaming. Nabbing a big in free agency is more about avoiding the likes of Greg Monroe and Brooke Lopez. Both are inadequate defenders to stand next to Melo. The Knicks should focus on hitting on low-paid players with the right fit. A mixture of Kosta Koufus (career defensive +/- of 2.9), Omar Asik (1.7), Brandon Wright (1.1), and bringing back Cole Aldrich (2.7) are all better value ways to shore up the front court at a fraction of the cost of Monroe.
We’ll get a better idea what direction the Knicks are heading later this week. If the Knicks can get better penetration from the guards, shooting on the wings, and protection at the bucket they can start to improve. Regardless of which direction they go, the Knicks know there are plenty of options out there. But if the Knicks want to start building a contender they need to start filling some roles.