After whiffing on the summer’s big names, the New York Knicks have a litany of young talent and 11 power forwards to focus on. Here are their five biggest questions for 2018-19.
1. Which former Knicks’ wing is the best comparison for R.J. Barrett?
The Knicks don’t have the best glut of wings to choose from when it comes to finding a comparison for Barrett’s intriguing blend of scoring ability, confounding shot selection, blossoming playmaking and predominant left-handedness.
Allan Houston was too good of a 3-point shooter to feel apt. Richie Guerin played in too different an era and is probably too optimistic in terms of Barrett’s scoring potential in the NBA. The same goes for Bernard King. We’ll settle on a happy medium by saying Barrett is kinda, sorta like a left-handed Latrell Sprewell, only craftier and without the reputation of being a head case.
In five seasons with the Knicks, Sprewell averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He wasn’t a great 3-point shooter (34.9 percent) or particularly efficient overall (41.8 percent from the floor), but he was able to make reads with the ball and served as one of New York’s leading — albeit slightly inefficient — scorers. Barrett’s court vision and facilitation skills are far more advanced, as are his rebounding abilities (7.6 per game in college), but this seems like a decent baseline to set for his Knicks comparison.
2. Project Kevin Knox’s second season on a scale from Wesley Johnson to Joe Johnson.
I mean … is it weird that “Wesley Johnson” feels optimistic right now? At least Wesley Johnson can defend and occasionally shoot the 3-ball. Kevin Knox shot a respectable 34.3 percent from 3 on a whopping 4.9 attempts per game as a rookie, but pretty much everything else about his first NBA season was abysmal.
Despite averaging 12.8 points per game, he shot a miserable 37 percent from the floor. He averaged more turnovers per game (1.5) than assists (1.1), was an underwhelming rebounder for his size (4.5 per game) and was one of the most clueless defenders in the league. Sure, he’s only 19, but he still posted the worst Net Rating on the Knicks among players who played at least 20 games (-13.1) and was dead last out of all 514 NBA players in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus metric at -7.47. The guy right in front of him, at No. 513? His RPM was only -5.81.
I was tempted to go with “New York Knicks Larry Johnson,” who was a shell of himself, rebuilt his game with post-up moves after his athleticism waned, and averaged a similar 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game on .464/.320/.756 shooting splits over five years in the Big Apple, but that honestly felt too lofty. As bad as it sounds for Knox to aspire to be Wesley Johnson as he approaches his second season, it would actually be an upgrade for the former ninth overall pick.
3. True or false: Mitchell Robinson leads the league in blocked shots.
As a rookie, Mitchell Robinson ranked fourth in total blocks (161), finishing just behind Brook Lopez (179), Rudy Gobert (187) and Myles Turner (199). He also ranked second in blocks per game (2.4), trailing only Myles Turner (2.7).
This, despite playing 759 fewer minutes than Turner, 962 fewer minutes than Lopez and 1,217 fewer minutes than Gobert. So yeah, Robinson is probably going to lead the league in blocked shots by a hefty margin. He’s a shot-blocking god among shot-taking mortals.
Keep in mind, he only started in 19 of his 66 appearances as a rookie, averaging a meager 20.8 minutes per game. Assuming this 21-year-old with ample room for growth stays healthy and sees an uptick in minutes as New York’s full-time starting center, this one might not even be close.
4. By the end of this season, Frank Ntilikina will be .
Seen as a legitimate NBA player!
Frank Ntilikina‘s first two seasons in the league have been thoroughly underwhelming (mostly on the offensive end), but he’s riding a wave of momentum from his time at the FIBA World Cup that will hopefully translate to the NBA this season.
With team France this summer, Ntilikina put up 8.0 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game — improvements on the 5.9 points, 3.1 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game he’s averaged in the NBA, and even more impressive considering he only played 19.5 minutes per game in FIBA.
Throw in his usual pesky defense, his 51.6 percent shooting from 2-point range (a drastic step up) and his 33.3 percent conversion rate from 3 (another improvement, believe it or not) and Ntilikina’s FIBA outing could provide the jumpstart his NBA career needs. No matter what his preseason numbers look like (he started by going 3-for-10 from the floor in his debut, including 1-for-4 from deep), he just looks more confident and is positively impacting the Knicks when he’s on the floor. Here’s hoping it carries over to the regular season.
5. I think Julius Randle could be Anthony Mason for a new generation. Change my mind.
Well, let’s see here … both are burly, bulldozing power forwards who can score in secondary or tertiary roles. Both have displayed some passing chops. Both are strong rebounders despite being slightly undersized.
The similarities in their base-level stats are quite striking too, given how eerily similar their career peaks are:
- Randle (2018-19): 21.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 3.1 APG on 52.4 percent shooting
- Mason (2000-01): 16.1 PPG, 9.6 RPG and 3.1 APG on 48.2 percent shooting
Randle has watched film of Mason, and both have largely been non-threats from 3-point range. Both are slightly underappreciated outside of their respective fanbases, both will have played for the Knicks after this season, both could’ve served as the inspiration for Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” … wait, what was I supposed to be doing again?
Oh right, the differences.
Randle is a slimmer, taller version of Mason, with a greater chance of succeeding in the modern NBA thanks to his improving handle, driving ability and emerging 3-point stroke (34.4 percent on 2.7 attempts per game last year). Mason was more of a defensive bruiser, while Randle is an offensive force. Randle is basically an evolved version of Mason, for a new generation.
S**t, I did this wrong, didn’t I?