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New York Knicks 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

For the first time in a while the New York Knicks have a bright future in front of them, the question is will that materialize into a playoff run this season? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Knicks in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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The New York Knicks looked like a dumpster fire two summers ago and after some savvy moves in the draft and the hiring of David Fizdale as head coach the Knicks not only look like a team on the rise, they might be one of the teams to watch this season as a sneaky play for the post-season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

For all of the criticism I have given the New York Knicks in the past, I must admit that I like a lot of the moves they made this summer. I think bringing in David Fizdale is going to make a big-time difference on the court and in the locker room for this team. New York also did well in adding on players that have actual upside without compromising its cap flexibility moving forward. New York signed Mario Hezonja to a one-year, $6.5 million contract and signed Noah Vonleh to a non-guaranteed one-year, $1,621,415 contract. I like that New York is taking a chance on young players who haven’t fulfilled expectations but still have the chance to develop and contribute. I also liked the drafting of Kevin Knox, who projects to be a very good player. With all of this in mind, New York has its eye primarily on the recovery of Kristaps Porzingis and next offseason. There are rumors that New York could land some big-time free agents next year, so making a good showing on the court this year will be particularly important.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Am I dreaming, or did the Knicks actually play it smart this summer? They uncharacteristically made wise decisions this summer, such as drafting Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Nobody said the Knicks couldn’t draft but adding young prospects like Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh for cheap? Those were smart, not typical Knicks moves. Now, pending any surprises, they won’t see much success this year with Kristaps Porzingis out indefinitely. The upshot is that if this summer is a sign of things to come, then the Knicks are taking that first step towards relevance.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Matt John

Team culture is what it’ll be all about for David Fizdale and the Knicks this coming season. While Kristaps Porzingis rehabs and hopefully returns from his knee injury, others will need to help fill the void. Rookie players Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson are going to inject some much-needed new life into this franchise. Mario Hezonja was a sneaky good signing by general manager Scott Perry as well. Besides those guys, New York would love to see Tim Hardaway Jr. build and improve on last year’s numbers, especially upping that three-point percentage. This ball club is in for a dogfight being in the Atlantic, though.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Spencer Davies

In one sense, it feels like the Knicks might finally be lifting themselves up out of the purgatory that was the Carmelo Anthony/Phil Jackson ending. Kristaps Porzingis represents a foundational star the franchise hasn’t had in years, and there’s plenty of optimism about draftees Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Add in a surprising resurgence from Trey Burke, some strong rookie stretches from Frank Ntilikina and a new head coach in David Fizdale, and there are some real reasons for optimism in the Big Apple. At the same time, though, Porzingis’ torn ACL makes one realize just how thin this current roster is after him; someone like Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. might legitimately be the star of this unicorn-less squad. The Knicks don’t expect Porzingis back until at least December, likely longer, and they’ll be one of the worst teams in the league until that point. One even wonders whether the priority with Porzingis should be complete, 100 percent health rather than rushing back to add a few wins that almost certainly won’t equal a playoff berth.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Ben Dowsett

The Knicks look like a team that could surprise the pundits and sneak into in the post-season – if Kristaps Porzingis can make a quicker than expected recovery. Keep in mind ACL tears are not what they used to be and while no one wants to risk anything long-term with KP, there is a window in all of this that suggests if KP is back by the end of December, the Knicks might have enough talent to be a 35-40 win team. That kind of production would put the Knicks squarely in the hunt for the 8th seed in the East, which would be a solid season.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Kristaps Porzingis would obviously get the nod here if he were healthy, but KP tore his left ACL last February and is expected to miss at least the first three months of the 2018-19 campaign. In Porzingis’ absence, much of the scoring load will fall onto the shoulders of Hardaway Jr. The Knicks have a lot invested in THJ, as they doled out a four-year, $71 million contract to Hardaway Jr. in July of 2017. Last season, he averaged 17.5 points per game, but was disappointingly inefficient. He shot just 42.1 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3-point territory. If he can bump up those percentages closer to his 2016-17 levels (45.5 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from downtown), his scoring average could climb close to 20 points per contest. With limited offensive firepower on the roster, the Knicks need him to step up.

Top Defensive Player: Frank Ntilikina

Despite entering the league as a teenager last season, Ntilikina quickly established himself a terrific perimeter defender. The French Prince uses his height (6-foot-5) and length (seven-foot wingspan) to terrorize opponents as they cross halfcourt. His size and athleticism allow Ntilikina to guard multiple positions, from points guards to small forwards. His Defensive Rating (104.9) was best among Knicks regulars in 2017-18. If Frank can take his defense to the next level, he may have a chance to earn some consideration as an All-NBA defender in 2018-19.

Top Playmaker: Trey Burke

Burke is one of the more intriguing players on the Knicks roster heading into the 2018-19 campaign. Despite being selected with the ninth overall pick by the Jazz in the 2013 NBA draft, Burke had fallen off the NBA radar by the end of 2017. With no team offering guaranteed money, he was forced to settle for a G-League contract with New York. Burke rededicated himself and averaged 26.6 points and 5.3 assists per game for the Westchester Knicks. He was finally called up in mid-January and posted impressive numbers right away. He eventually worked his way into the starting lineup by March and started the final nine games of the regular season, averaging an impressive 18.7 points, 7.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and just 1.9 turnovers. Can Burke come close to matching that type of production again next season? We shall see.

Top Clutch Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Until Porzingis gets back in the mix, the Knicks will likely have to lean on Hardaway Jr. late in games. Unfortunately for New York, THJ has historically been a bit too reliant on his sometimes unreliable jumper. The Knicks need to encourage him to attack the basket more frequently and get himself to the free-throw stripe, especially in late-game situations.

The Unheralded Player: Courtney Lee

Looking at Lee’s final stat line from last season doesn’t tell the whole story. After the Knicks fell out of contention after the All-Star break, New York significantly reduced his playing time and opted to see what their younger players could bring to the table. However, when receiving consistent minutes over the first half of the season, Lee proved he was still a valuable 3-and-D wing. Over the first 60 games of the season, Lee led New York in total points, made 3-pointers, steals, minutes played and ranked third in rebounds. He is a bit misplaced on a rebuilding squad featuring a pair of teenagers, but talent evaluators around the NBA respect what he can bring to a competitive “win now” team. With two years and $25 million left on his current contract, the Knicks will likely look to move him by the February trade deadline in order to create the most cap space possible for the summer of 2019.

Best New Addition: Kevin Knox

When the Knicks selected Knox with the 9th overall pick in the 2018 draft, most pundits assumed it would take a while before he acclimated himself to the NBA game. At just 18 years of age, he was one of the youngest players in the entire draft and was inefficient offensively as a freshman at Kentucky. However, Knox was spectacular during Las Vegas Summer League action. He was named to the Summer League’s All-NBA First Team after averaging 21.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 three-pointers and one steal in 32.2 minutes.

– Tommy Beer

WHO WE LIKE

1. Kristaps Porzingis

It’s tough not to like Porzingis. At the start of last season, he showed that he has the potential to be one of the more dominant two-way players in the entire sport. Over New York’s first 12 games in 2017-18, he averaged 30.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 three-pointers and 2.3 blocks. In the process, he became the first Knickerbocker in franchise history to score at least 300 points over the first ten games of a season. If he can return healthy, his upside is enormous.

2. David Fizdale

Fizdale was one of the hot free-agent coaching commodities on the market this summer. He interviewed for numerous teams and was offered the Suns head coaching gig, but said it was a dream of his to coach in New York. He won’t have much pressure on him next season in terms of wins and losses, but he will be tasked with developing the Knicks young core. With Knox, Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson all 20 years of age or younger, it’s imperative that New York’s coaching staff puts these youngsters on the path to maximizing their full potential.

3. Mario Hezonja

Scott Perry, the Orlando Magic vice president and assistant general manager in 2015, and the Magic were reportedly hoping to land Porzingis with the 5th pick in the draft. However, Phil Jackson and the Knicks snagged KP at No. 4 and Orlando selected Hezonja. Super Mario did not live up to expectations over his first two years in Florida. As a result, the Magic decided to decline hia fourth-year option on his rookie contract last October. However, due to a rash of injuries to Magic forwards, Mario was given extended opportunities to play and he made the most of it. He started 30 games last season and averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 three-pointers and 1.5 steals, while shooting 46. percent from the floor. With Porzingis sidelined, there will plenty of minutes and shot attempts up for grabs, especially at power forward. Hezonja has a chance to step in and step up.

4. Mitchell Robinson

Like Knox, not much was expected of Robinson this season. After a stellar high school career, Robinson mysteriously sat out his freshman season on the collegiate level, choosing instead to prepare for the draft by working with an individual trainer. As a result, he slipped into the second round, where the Knicks scooped him up. Like Knox, he greatly exceeded expectations in Las Vegas. Robinson averaged 13.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, one steal and (a record-breaking) four blocks per game, while shooting a scorching 66.7 percent from the field.

– Tommy Beer

STRENGTHS

When a team finishes a season ranked 24th in offensive efficiency (scoring 104.1 points per 100 possessions) and 23rd in defensive efficiency (allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions) as the Knicks did in 2017-18, it’s difficult to pinpoint many strengths. However, for the first time in a long time, New Yorkers have reason to be optimistic about the future. It looks like the Knicks may have nailed both their 2018 draft picks. Their 2017 lottery selection, Frank Ntilikina, is only 19 has flashed elite defensive potential. And New York will likely have enough cap space next summer to make a max offer to the top free agents on the market. While the short-term outlook is somewhat bleak, the Knicks should be a fun team to watch next season and could be markedly better by 2020.

– Tommy Beer

WEAKNESSES

Ever since Phil Jackson was hired as president back in 2014 and “encouraged” the head coaches he hired to run the Triangle Offense, the Knicks have been far too reliant on mid-range jumpers. Last season, even though Jackson had already been fired, former head coach Jeff Hornacek failed to fix this flaw. In 2017-18, 62.1 percent of the total points the Knicks scored came off 2-point field goals, which was the highest such percentage among all NBA teams. In addition, 73.4 percent of all New York’s field-goal attempts were 2-pointers. In today’s NBA, the 3-point shot is more important and valuable than ever, yet the Knicks have been behind the times. One of the reasons David Fizdale was hired was that he has shown an ability to get his teams to take and make shots from downtown.

– Tommy Beer

THE BURNING QUESTION

When will Kristaps Porzingis return to the Knicks lineup?

As noted above, KP is working his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee. The typical recovery time for NBA players is usually 10-12 months. There have been some rumors from Porzingis’ camp that he is targeting a return around Christmas. However, that may be overly optimistic. It’s probably safe to assume that New York won’t be competitive this season. They had the second-worst record in the NBA over the last 50 games of the 2017-18 season. Vegas sports books have set their 2018-19 win total over/under at 29. They also have a very unfavorable schedule early on. With Porzingis sidelined for at least the first two months, they will likely be well under .500 by the time he is close to being cleared. At that point, why would there be a need to rush him back into action? It would be prudent to wait until he is as close to 100 percent as possible. In addition to extra patience likely being best for Porzingis, it could benefit the Knicks as well by increasing their odds of landing a high lottery pick next summer. Having KP return after the All-Star break makes sense for all concerned. This way Porzingis still gets two months to show he is healthy, which is important for his confidence heading into the offseason, and also serves as proof to potential free agents that KP is ready to reclaim his spot as an elite NBA player.

– Tommy Beer

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