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Trilly Grades Your Rebuild: New York Knicks Edition

Welcome back,

Today I’ll be looking at the Knickerbockers. You can find past entries here but I’ll warn you now, there’s only two.

The rules are the same: I’m going to be taking a look at three things they did well, three things they failed miserably at and three things they could do this summer to stop stinking. I’ll be issuing one of two grades based on my findings: Oh hell yeah (good) or Oh no (bad). This is the internet, things are classic or trash with no in between. You wouldn’t expect nuance on Twitter so please do not expect it here. Thank you.

New York Knicks (14-57, 15th seed Eastern Conference)

Good Things

1. The tank is going well

The Knicks have the worst record in the league and a 2.5 game cushion at that. They have won exactly one (1) game this month. You may recall:

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When your one win for the month ends with Mario Hezonja permanently banishing LA LeBron to Toronto Hakeem status, people don’t really care about that being your only win for the month. THAT is a tank done properly.

2. GM Scott Perry has shown an ability to find young talent

In Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson & Allonzo Trier, Scott Perry has found rookie pieces in the 1st/2nd rounds as well as the undrafted free agent pool. “Piece” is used loosely here, but that’s kind of the point. When you find three young/cheap pieces in one draft class, you’re usually afforded the luxury of seeing what level of “piece” they become. Mitchell Robinson is Tim Duncan with 45 inch vertical, he is a good piece. Trier has been a great find as a bench scorer, a very solid piece. Knox?? Well,, it is hard to say. Perry also traded for some nobodies for Dennis Smith Jr. The man knows young talent and how to acquire it.

Kevin Knox is my baby boy, it’s no secret. I have/will/would again kill for his honor without question. Having said that, he has not been good this season. In fact, he has been bad. NBA Real Plus-Minus has ranked 503 players this year. Offensive RPM has Knox ranked 476th. Defense is where he makes his money: I’m lying, he’s 501st there. He’s shooting 36% from the field and 34% from 3P. He has more turnovers than assists and about as many fouls as both combined. Yet still, I will stan.

He’s the third youngest player in the league, older than only Jaren Jackson Jr and Isaac Bonga. He’s closing in on 1800 minutes played this season, and 46% of those have come at power forward. The league is trending smaller but that means that “small” ball fours he’s guarding look a lot like PJ Tucker and JaMychal Green. Imagine guarding your strongest uncle for 30 minutes a night. And then guarding your second strongest uncle the next night. It’s a wonder he’s made it to 1800 minutes at all. JJJ made it to 1500 minutes before injuries shut him down, Bonga has played 14. Some would say it’s a good sign Knox has even been healthy enough to be this bad all season!

He won Rookie of the Month for December averaging 17/6, shooting 38% from 3P. The 34% from 3P on the season isn’t godawful and 74% from the FT line suggests there is some room for improvement. His 3P Attempt rate puts him between Trae Young and Otto Porter, and his Free Throw Attempt rate has him between Jayson Tatum and Caris LeVert. He’s taking the right kinds of shots for a modern wing, if not making them just yet, which is encouraging. At 6’9″ with a 7′ wingspan, he has the right body type and length to defend multiple positions in the modern NBA, if not the effort and know-how just yet. Robinson had an entire year off to work on his body. Trier is 23, if this didn’t work out he’d have to hope there was an opening in the varsity Senior Citizen league in Poughkeepsie. Whether Knox puts in the work on his body/game, and he’s got a lot of work to do, is on him. Just give him some time to do so. Plz. I am done stanning now.

3. Tons of cap space

I mean wow! The Knicks have about $90 million dollars in contracts expiring this summer. It’s an ideal situation really. The Knicks have SO much cap space and SO much cheap young talent. They could add any max free agent, hell maybe even two! The only thing that could make this better would be already having a young All-Star on the roster. Somebody that could really make those other young pieces pop, as well as entice another free agent to sign. But where the hell do you find a guy like that, Latvia aside?

Bad Things

1. Tons of cap space

Listen, do you know how many teams could open up cap space if they attached their best asset to bad contracts? All of them. Literally all of them. Miami’s payroll right now is $153 million. Pretty steep, right? Not really! You attach Bam Adebayo to Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson to Ryan Anderson and Justise Winslow to Goran Dragic? Voila. The cap space will be HUGE! Bigger than my great, great grandmother huge.

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If you’re trading Porzingis for cap space, you must have a big free agent in the bag. You have to. The Knicks have done absolutely nothing over the course of either of our lifetimes to earn this kind of trust, but they HAVE to. I’m perfectly fine with collusion so if Scott Perry’s first order of business was locking down commitments from Kevin Durant/ Jimmy Butler/whoever, I’m fine with it. However, I’m writing this blog now and that hasn’t happened yet. So trading Porzingis to maybe sign a 30-year-old 7-footer with knee/foot issues or a man that goes city to city like Johnny Appleseed to call his teammates “pussy” doesn’t cut it over here. Bad thing.

2. This is a bad year to tank in

Yes, there is Zion. But this is the first year of NBA Draft Lottery reform and the Knicks are the guinea pig. They have the worst record in the league and with that are guaranteed no worse than the 5th pick. Last year, they’d have no worse than the 4th pick. They have a 14% chance of winning the top pick and a 52% chance of a top-four pick, same exact odds as the Suns and Cavaliers. Last year, they’d have a 25% chance of winning the top pick and a 100% chance of a top-four pick. All this for a 14% chance at Zion and an 86% at not Zion. You really do hate to see it.

3. Poor asset management

They’ve still seen multiple guys they let go this year for nothing, go on to produce elsewhere. Joakim Noah is putting up career per 100 possession numbers in Memphis. Wesley Matthews is playing 33 minutes a game for a top-four seed. Enes Kanter is giving another team with homecourt good minutes off the bench. I get the trade market for these guys was slim to none, and thus they were bought out. But it’s not ideal watching nearly 50% of your 2018-19 payroll have great seasons elsewhere on your dime. Frankie Smokes is 20 years old and was getting DNP’s for the worst team in the league before an injury. There’s something there defensively and your offense already stinks anyway. Find out what you have in him during this sunken season. Or put him in the Porzingis deal and try to get another asset from Dallas, even a minor one. I could see Dallas/Phoenix/Atlanta wanting to kick the tires on Frankie, as he should be able to do the tough defending so Doncic/Booker/Young don’t have to. Now his value is at an all-time low and you still don’t know what you have with him.

Trilly’s Summer Prescription

1. Regardless of whom you traded to get the cap space, the Knicks have it. And young talent for cheap. And their own picks, plus a future first from Dallas. You can win this summer without drafting Zion and signing Kevin Durant but you have to be sma….oh who am I kidding lmao. Best case is Zion and KD/Kyrie. Worst case is probably Cam Reddish and Kemba Walker/Nikola Vucevic. All three are fine players in their own right, but that can’t be all you have to show for a sub-20 win season and trading the teams last homegrown All-Star since David Lee. The most likely scenario is something in the middle? RJ Barrett and Tobias Harris/Malcolm Brogdon isn’t a bad summer by any means, but again you traded Porzingis for that? The following summer’s free agent class isn’t as appealing, assuming AD already has his next team in mind. Using the cap space on the wrong people and killing your cap flexibility while stepping on the youth movement is what Scott Perry can’t let happen this summer.

2. Whatever they decide above, it appears to be an all-in or all-out strategy. Say Durant says he’s coming. One, do you believe him??? Two, if he does he’s ready to win right now. I’m sure he’d love to play with Zion and maybe you could sell him on that. Cam Reddish? Doubtful. Aside from that, what do you look for in moving that pick? If it’s not #1, it probably isn’t enough to guarantee you AD. Do you try to move the future Mavs pick to win now? Do you trade all the young assets you have now that don’t gel with your free agents? The Lakers showed us when your young talent can’t develop until the older guys either hit the bench or the disabled list. If you whiff on the big free agents, do you have the patience to pass on giving your cap space to Khris Middleton/another year of DeAndre Jordan? Will you use your cap space to facilitate other deals and pick up assets moving forward? We’ll see if these are the same old Knicks.

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3. Are they Big Brother anymore?

Are we sure the market matters anymore? Porzingis and Odell Beckham just pushed their way out of New York. Of course, it matters to an extent but is your management competent seems to be the bigger question now. If you want New York, the Nets have cap space, better young pieces, and the big market. The Nets/Clippers have clearly outmaneuvered the Knicks/Lakers, but we find out this summer if guys are ready to put the little brother stigma to the side. Until then….

Rebuild status: Oh no