“Disappointment” is the word that could best sum up the New York Knicks over the past 50 years or so. New York last won a championship in 1973 and has faced repeated playoff heartbreak, especially in the 1990s.
More recently, though, the Knicks haven’t made the postseason since the 2012-13 season, despite some unrealistically high expectations from their fans. The team has had little to no consistency in the front office since then, and that has shown itself in the many ill-advised roster acquisitions that the franchise has made in the last several years.
New York’s passionate fanbase deserves some good times in the near future, but that is certainly not a guarantee. USAbetting asks some key questions that will help determine whether the Knicks can start to turn things around.
Will the New Front Office Actually Prove Enough to Stick Around?
The Knicks’ franchise has been the definition of ineptitude for the past several years. Led by owner James Dolan, the team has won just 30.9 percent of its games since the 2014-15 season. Normally known as a sought-after free agency destination, New York has not attracted any star free agents as of late, despite its best efforts.
There has been no consistency in the Knicks’ front office in recent years. The team hired Leon Rose in March as its sixth general manager in the past seven years. Assuming the Knicks don’t bring back interim head coach Mike Miller, they will hire their sixth head coach since February 2016 this offseason. It’s no wonder that marquee free agents aren’t flocking to the Big Apple’s most popular team.
Knicks fans have to be wondering if this combination of franchise leaders will finally be the one that works for the team. New York is definitely in a good environment to move up the NBA ranks, with a passionate fanbase and an owner that is willing to spend lots of money on players.
However, if the team continues to make puzzling personnel decisions both during the offseason and during the season, the front office carousel could continue.
Can Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox Shoot Consistently From Three-Point Range?
The Knicks’ drafting ability has been especially key in recent years due to the management’s poor results in free agency and with trades. Unfortunately, two of their three top-10 draft picks since 2017 have not yet lived up to expectations.
Frank Ntilikina went No. 8 in 2017 and Kevin Knox went No. 9 in 2018. They both had definite weaknesses at the time of their drafts, but shooting was not one of those weaknesses for either guy. They both projected as capable catch-and-shoot options who could help space the floor for their teammates.
At this point, both players have disappointed with their shooting strokes. Ntilikina has made only 31.1 percent of his shots beyond the arc in three seasons, and his volume is not very high. Knox is certainly more willing to take those shots, but he is usually inaccurate. After making seven of eight threes to start the season, he made 55 of his next 188 attempts, or 29.3 percent. That’s well below the league average of 35.7 percent.
New York ranked dead-last in the NBA in 2019-20 in three-pointers made per game, and the team was fourth-last in three-point percentage. Ntilikina and Knox are very likely never going to be stars (or even above-average starters), but living up to their pre-draft hype as capable shooters would help the Knicks tremendously.
Can the Knicks Find a Decent Trade Package for Julius Randle?
The Knicks signing Randle to a three-year, $62 million deal last summer was a very puzzling move. He is a solid big man, but he’s also a guy who takes up a lot of touches and shots when he’s on the court. He tends to play a lot of isolation basketball on offense and doesn’t defend or shoot from the outside well.
I believe it is possible for the 25-year-old Randle to play a key role on a winning team, but it requires much different circumstances than the Knicks are currently offering. He needs to play with good defensive players and shooters and New York is short on both types of player. His tendency to dominate the ball also prevents the Knicks’ youngsters from getting more touches.
The Knicks should look to find a trade partner for Randle as soon as this offseason, if possible. There should be some potential value that they can get in exchange for him, particularly in the form of a player who can offer shooting and/or defense, or perhaps some draft capital.
Are R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson a Future Star Duo?
The Knicks’ top two young prospects right now are 20-year-old R.J. Barrett and 22-year-old Mitchell Robinson. Barrett is a strong, left-handed 6’6” wing who gets to the rim, defends and rebounds pretty well. Robinson is a mobile 7-foot big man who knows his role and makes an impact around the basket on both ends.
That said, there are serious questions surrounding both players as it relates to their All-Star potential. Barrett’s shooting, ball-handling and decision-making must improve significantly. Robinson must learn to be more disciplined on defense and expand his offensive game beyond just finishing around the rim.
While both Barrett and Robinson played key roles for the Knicks in 2019-20, I expect New York to give them even more leash in 2020-21. If they show major improvement, the Knicks will not only be better off in the short term, but they can also increase their chances at convincing top free agents to join the team in the next few offseasons.