The Knicks are talented, too talented. New York is loaded with prospects that need the ball in their hands from the jump in order to do what they do best. Aside from the absurd amount of power forwards, there are many players that specialize in creating shots. While there are a lot of redundancies on this team, each player brings something different to the table. New York needs to figure out how they want the table set for the future, and waste no raw potential in doing so.
Frank Ntilikina, PG
‘Frankie Smokes’ is perhaps the most intriguing of New York’s ball handlers. He’s been playing pro ball since he was 16 and just turned 21. His potential is to die for. Being the 8th pick in ’17, his frame and skill set set him apart from from any opponent. At 6′ 6″ with a 7′ 1″ wingspan, Frank has height and a crazy amount of length. He takes advantage of this. Being able to defend any position, he’s a problem on both ends. Frank is a natural “point forward” given his size, handle, and play-making abilities.
His defensive ability is elite. In the Knicks’ January 23rd 4 point loss to the Rockets, James Harden gave the Garden an enthralling 61 point performance. When Frank was his primary defender, ‘The Beard’ shot 1/6 and turned it over 4 times. Frank is a defensive-minded, pass-first point forward who doesn’t need shots to be effective. This is the recipe to a starting point guard on a winning team. He managed to shut down the most unstoppable scorer we’ve seen since ’06 Kobe. The Knicks cannot afford to yank his minutes around, moving forward. He needs to have his time to shine.
Ntilikina played lights out in the FIBA World Cup. While leading the France squad to victory after victory on impressive outings, he shined on the biggest stage and took down team USA. France was down 7 with 8:11 left when he checked back in the game. USA would be outscored by 17 down the stretch. Ntilikina outscored Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell combined in the 4th quarter. In the last 7 minutes, he alone outscored USA 7-5 and finished with 11 points and 3 dimes on 56% shooting. Good defense, decision making, and clutch shooting helped secure the victory. “I’m healthy again” “I just have that feeling back”, Frank said after playing 8 games in a short stretch. His 8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 1 SPG on 44%FG in 19 MPG lifted Les Bleus to bronze. It’s on to the next one for the Knicks guard who put the entire world on notice; “this whole [Knicks] group is very hungry for next season”. Don’t sleep.
Dennis Smith Jr. PG
Dennis Smith Jr. can ball. But, will he be a winner in the NBA? None of the guys on this list have proven themselves to be that so far. It’s imperative that New York choose the ones that are yet to be. The Knicks traded for DSJ, DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews and 2 future first rounders, getting the most out of the Kristaps Porzingis trade. DSJ, like Frank, has had his troubles with being efficient. Although he shot 8% better than Ntilikina, he shot at only 41.3% during his 21 games with the Knicks. He did average a career high in assists with 5.4 and a low in turnovers at 2.6. He’s certainly primed for a jump, something he’s known for.
DSJ undoubtedly has the gifts to be more than a handful to contain, with the ability to score, or dish it. His freak athleticism is unparalleled, if he keeps dropping more dimes while his shot becomes more consistent, he’ll be lethal. Smith is a tough shot maker, but too often settles for them instead of making a better play. While he doesn’t have the size of Frankie Smokes, he’s the most explosive player from his draft class and plays like he’s 6′ 5″ instead of 6′ 3″. Dennis needs to take that next step in being an efficient scorer and court general at the head of an offense. He’s 21 going on 22, still learning to be a NBA point guard, and has the tools to be one of the best.
Elfrid Payton, PG
After the Knicks acquired their 2nd lottery pick point guard via trade, they went out and signed their 3rd. Elfrid can fill the stat sheet. Last season he averaged 11 points 5 rebounds and 8 assists on 43% shooting on 30 minutes per game. He’ll bring his game to the garden, and hopefully his wild hair. Payton is a good pickup as he is only 25. The Knicks however, need to decide what they are going to do about the investments they have at his position. Payton, DSJ, and Ntilikina will provide great competition for each other in practice but as a franchise, a direction must be picked. Frank is only 20, and DSJ is 21. These guys need playing time to develop and fill into their potential. Young guns with ceilings as high as Frank’s and Dennis’ need experience to develop. For any of these guys to sit on the bench for years to come, would be a waste of talent. The only thing Payton has failed to provide is defense, which, at the end of the day, wins championships.
Alonzo Trier, SG
Alonzo Trier was a bucket it in college and continues to be one in the league. 30 teams were wrong, twice, to pass up the Arizona Junior. The Knicks signed the undrafted free agent to a two-way contract. After multiple efficient 20 plus point scoring displays, he became the first two-way player to sign a guaranteed NBA contract within the first 2 months of the season. Trier had a notable second double double against the Rockets in a 110-114 loss. With 31 and 10 on 12-18 shooting, he went toe to toe with Harden’s offensive firepower, on better shooting splits. Trier has shown he has the bag to be a starting caliber shooting guard in this league, let’s hope the Knicks utilize him well.
RJ Barret, SF/SG
RJ Barrett adds to the mix of Knicks who need the ball in their hands to be effective. The 3rd overall pick is a 6′ 7″ SF who gets buckets and can lock up on the other end. While RJ doesn’t have the freak athleticism as his former teammate Zion Williamson does, his skill set is better equipped for NBA success. He’s not lacking in raw ability, he can get up and is quick. It’s his jump shot and handle that set him apart. He can even line up at shooting guard with his abilities. Barrett is a nightmare for opposing two-guards. The Andrew Wiggins player comparisons have been made several times. Don’t forget what we all thought Wiggins would be coming out of college. Kobe said “He [Wiggins] reminds me of a 19 year old me”. Knicks fans were devastated when they didn’t get Zion, but they got something just as good.
Kevin Knox, SF/PF
Kevin Knox had a decent rookie season. He played in the rising stars game, but didn’t make an all-rookie team selection. Knox showed he could score at times, but I don’t see him having too big of a future with the Knicks. RJ Barrett is projected to be a better small forward and brings everything Kevin does to the floor and more. Knox is traditionally a power forward. He has a good frame at 6′ 9″ 215, which makes him extremely difficult to guard. I think he could bring a lot of problems if he could fill the SG role, but playing purely out of the back court just isn’t his game. His abilities better serve him as a forward. He brings problems to the small forward position, but RJ and Marcus Morris are more likely to eat up minutes there. The Knicks not only have too many hungry ball handlers, but have too many forwards. With the arrival of Julius Randall, Bobby Portis, and Taj Gibson, the power forward position will be stifled for minutes. Kevin could carve out a role as a productive 6th man.
Damyean Dotson, SG
Dotson showed glimpses of being a solid shooting guard for the Knicks last year. He had several 20 point outings on good shooting splits. He even managed to drop 6 dimes on a few occasions. Dotson is a wild card in this mix, he went 44th in the ’17 draft, but for the most part is being outplayed by the undrafted signee Alonzo Trier. Dotson can easily be a solid spark off the bench.