Last Word On Basketball

New York Knicks: Steps to Contention

New York Knicks owner James Dolan at the Phil Jackson Press Conference introducing Jackson as the new president of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, New York, USA. 18th March 2014. Photo Tim Clayton (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The New York Knicks have been in the middle of a dramatic fall from grace for a few seasons now. Madison Square Garden was once seen as the ideal basketball venue and the Knicks as an attractive organization. That is no longer the case. Continous front office mishaps and rash roster decisions have doomed the Knicks. It’s still New York, however, so one would think that they have the ability to bounce back eventually.

How the New York Knicks can Improve

Step One: Allow Mitchell Robinson to Flourish

Mitchell Robinson is one of the two Knicks young stars, alongside RJ Barrett, with the potential to become great players.

Barrett has already been trusted with real starter minutes. Robinson has not. This is not due to a lack of talent for Robinson, but due to a logjam in the frontcourt in New York.

After striking out the last offseason on top-tier free agents, New York splashed money on Julius RandleTaj GibsonBobby Portis, and Marcus Morris. Morris is no longer a part of the team, but the other three are. Randle is a solid contributor at power forward, so his minutes are understandable. Gibson and Portis, however, don’t quite fit and block Robinson from truly flourishing.

Robinson put up averages of 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game in 23 minutes on the floor this season. That puts his per-36 minutes’ averages at 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game. It’s also important to note he lives in the paint and shot 74 percent from the field. It’s safe to say he’s a legitimate starting center.

Portis should be a lock to leave on a $15.75 million team option. It will be interesting to see what happens with Gibson. Tom Thibodeau, the new Knicks coach, knows Gibson well and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he keeps him on board. If Gibson is waived before October 17, however, only $1 million of his money is guaranteed. The Knicks can either free up more cap space or keep Gibson on board as a back-up veteran.

Robinson is only 22. He has shown massive signs of growth and the capability to start. He must be given the reins in New York.

Step Two: Target a “Big Fish”

The Knicks won’t jump into contender status as soon as next season. What they need to do, however, is to target a big name through either free agency or trade. Not only would this improve the team, but also show that they’re serious about moving up. Truth be told, the Knicks have been somewhat of a laughingstock the past few years, and need to re-do their image in hopes of attracting more stars down the road.

They should inquire about Anthony DavisBrandon Ingram, and Fred VanVleet in free agency. They are unlikely to leave their teams, but it wouldn’t hurt to show interest. More realistic upper-tier free agents this summer include Goran DragicDanilo Gallinari, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. There are other big men like Serge Ibaka and Montrezl Harrell, but their signings would be counter-productive to Robinson’s growth.

Free agency this offseason, simply put, isn’t the best way to attain a star. The 2020 class is a lot weaker to years prior. Due to that, the Knicks also need to be active in the trade market. Names that might be available that New York should case include Chris PaulZach LaVineBradley Beal, and Jrue Holiday. With a pending implosion within the Philadelphia 76ers organization, perhaps Ben Simmons may also be available.

The Knicks have a collection of young names and draft picks belonging to them and other teams, like the Dallas Mavericks. The best way to attract a star in the future is to already have another star on your team, and that is exactly what the Knicks must do.

Step Three: New York Knicks Need to Aim for a Guarantee in the Draft

The Knicks did not have any luck in the draft lottery and will be drafting at eighth overall. If they choose not to trade the pick in any kind of deal for the aforementioned players, then they’re best suited aiming for a low-risk, medium-reward player. This means that the player they target is already solid in multiple aspects, but likely lack All-Star potential. That’s okay, as the Knicks just need production.

Three prospects they need to keep an eye on are Isaac OkoroDevin Vassell, and Tyrese Haliburton.

Okoro is one of the best small forwards in the draft. He already has an NBA-ready body at 19-years-old. He’s a very athletic and tough defender, and that will only get better under Thibodeau. His offensive game needs work, however. He’s solid around the rim and as a slasher, but he needs to improve his shooting. A great draft comparison for him is OG Anunoby.

Vassell is the definition of a “three-and-d” player. He’s not going to blow teams away with his stat lines, but he’s a great perimeter defender and has the shot mechanics to become one of the better three-point shooters in the league. Last season at Florida State he shot 41.5 percent from three. This, paired with his 6’10” wingspan, will allow him to be an accurate shooter even when being guarded. A Michael Redd comparison is his ceiling, but at his floor, he’s a prime Kent Bazemore.

Haliburton is an interesting prospect in that he’s a combo-guard, but not a complete player at either guard position. Like Vassell, however, Haliburton can shoot and is energetic and tenacious on defense. He also brings a great passing vision and a high basketball IQ to the table. He may not be an ideal starting point guard right away in New York, but he has the potential to be a very solid contributor. A Lonzo Ball comparison is fitting.

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