The Knicks find themselves in a familiar position this offseason. Coming off another losing season, New York will, once again, spend the summer desperately searching for a point guard.
There has been plenty of unpredictability and chaos surrounding this franchise for the better part of two decades. However, scarcity of quality point guards and an abundance of defeats have been two fairly constant themes since the turn of the century. Dating back to the start of the 2001-2002 season, the Knick are 240 games below .500 (528-768). The Minnesota Timberwolves are the only team in the NBA with a worse record over that stretch. One common denominator on most of these awful Knick teams has been the lack of a steady, solid point guard.
Just how putrid and inconsistent has the Knicks point guard play been over the last decade? Well, (via Basketball Reference) here are the franchise leaders in total assists among guards since 2006-07:
1. Raymond Felton (1,225 assists)
2. Chris Duhon (944)
3. Nate Robinson (715)
4. Jamal Crawford (705)
5. J.R. Smith (602)
6. Pablo Prigioni (568)
Over those ten years, the only New York point guard to post a PER above 17 over the course of a full season was Nate Robinson in 2008-09.
A quick look around today’s NBA serves as a reminder that quality point guard play has become virtually imperative for teams that hope to compete at the highest level. Of the eight teams that have won a playoff series in 2017, seven of them have point guards that have made an All-Star team. (George Hill of Utah is the only non-All-Star on the list.)
The last Knicks point guard to be named to an All-Star was Mark Jackson back in 1988-89.
Coming off three straight losing seasons, the Knicks roster has plenty of holes that need to be plugged. Still, no need is more pressing than finding a point guard for the present, and the future. All too frequently, the Knicks have had neither. Thus, the consistent losing. This summer, either via the draft, free agency, or even possibly a trade, New York will hopefully (finally) find a solution. Below we take a look at each possible approach:
There will be a number of top-tier point guards on the market this summer. Unfortunately, it’s extremely unlikely that any of them would consider signing with the Knicks. Not only will the Knicks likely have less than $20 million to lavish on free agents in July, but New York is also no longer the ideal destination for players it once was.
* Stephen Curry:
* Chris Paul:
At this time last year, it didn’t seem like an impossible proposition. The thinking was that the Knicks were going to have plenty of cap space in 2017 and, assuming they posted an impressive record during the 2016-17 season and made a bit of noise in the playoffs, Carmelo Anthony could conceivably convince his buddy CP3 to join Melo and Kristaps Porzingis in New York. Instead, the Knicks are a nightmare, Phil Jackson has alienated Carmelo Anthony in every way imaginable, and the chances of Chris Paul leaving L.A. for NYC have dropped from slim to none.
* Kyle Lowry:
Earlier this month, when asked about his free agent priorities, Lowry focused on only one thing.
“A ring, Lowry said. “Nothing else. I just want a ring.”
Yea, so, we’ll move on…
* George Hill:
Hill is a talented, underrated point guard and would be an undeniable upgrade for the Knicks, but the fit isn’t quite right. For starters, Hill is 31. How many more high-level seasons does he have left in the tank? The Knicks are nowhere near a competitive team right now, and likely won’t be for a while. Signing Hill would be a “win now” move for a team that should be thinking long term. In addition, Hill’s injury history is a concern. He’s missed a total of 80 games over the last three seasons.
* Jrue Holiday:
Holiday turns 27 next month, and his best basketball is ahead of him. While not a superstar, he’s above average on both ends of the floor. Holiday a reliable shooter and crafty scorer, who makes smart decisions in pick-and-roll action. Defensively, his quickness and length allow him to keep opposing point guards out of the paint. Durability issues have been a problem in the past, but Holiday only missed three games due to injury last season. The downside is that he will be expensive (well north of $20 million annually) and, as a result, likely out of Knicks price range. Nonetheless, if the Knicks don’t draft a point guard with their lottery pick, Holiday will be a target, especially if the Knicks choose to re-sign Justin Holiday and Jrue considers giving New York a bit of a discount to play alongside his brother.
* Jeff Teague:
Teague is in his prime at age 29. He’s been durable and solid, if unspectacular, since becoming a full-time starting point guard. He would make sense as an intriguing option, but Teague’s hometown team, the Pacers, will be motivated to keep him in Indianapolis to show Paul George they’re serious about remaining competitive.
* Derrick Rose:
The experiment simply didn’t work. Rose’s 2016-17 stats (18.0 ppg, 4.4 apg and 3.8 rpg) look good on paper, but he was often a net negative, due primarily to his lethargic, subpar defense. He ranked near the very bottom of the league in Real Plus/Minus. While his skill set would fit with some teams, his ball-dominant style doesn’t mesh with Kristaps Porzingis, who should be the focus of the franchise going forward. Bringing back Rose, who tore his meniscus in April, would make very little sense.
* Milos Teodosic:
The Knicks have had plenty of success unearthing gems via international scouting, but the 30-year old Teodosic is not a player that has flown under the radar. Last summer, in a poll of NBA general managers, Teodosic was voted the best player not currently playing in the league. He’ll have plenty of interested suitors come July, with the Nets, Kings and Nuggets at the top of the list. Although he’s one of the best passers in the world, he’s a sieve on the defensive end. Teodosic would bring plenty of excitement and flair to MSG, and it’d be fun to watch him work with Porzingis, but considering his age and defensive issues, he’s not an ideal fit in New York.
* Patty Mills:
Mills has come off the bench his entire career and may be looking to land a starting gig this summer. If the Knicks strike out on their primary targets, Mills, age 28, might make sense as a placeholder for a few years.
Some other free agents that will be up for consideration: Tyreke Evans, Shaun Livingston, Darren Collison, Deron Williams, Sergio Rodriguez, Langston Galloway (player option), Brian Roberts, Shelvin Mack, Trey Burke (restricted), Ramon Sessions (team option), Michael Carter-Williams, (restricted), Raymond Felton, Tyler Ennis, Ty Lawson.
With the Knicks failing to jump up into the top-three via the lottery drawing, we can effectively take Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball off the board, as they are expected to be the first two players selected.
* De’Aaron Fox:
Unfortunately for the Knicks, it is extremely unlikely that Fox falls out of the top-five, let alone slides all the way down to No. 8. It’s unfortunate for New York because Fox has the type of superstar upside that could potentially turn around a franchise. He is lighting quick with remarkable athleticism and length for the position. Fox is hands-down the best defender among all point guards in the draft. And while concerns about his shooting ability are legitimate, it should be pointed that out that over his final ten games at the University of Kentucky (including the SEC and NCAA tournaments), Fox averaged 19.6 points while shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and 47.4 percent from 3-point territory. Pairing him with KP would put the franchise on a path towards success, but the Knicks will likely have to trade up in the draft in order to have a shot at selecting him.
* Dennis Smith Jr.:
It most other years, Smith would be arguably the best available point guard prospect in the draft. However, because the Class of 2017 features so many supremely talented playmakers, it’s quite possible Smith is still on the board when the Knicks are on the clock. Smith’s remarkable explosiveness allows him to blow past helpless defenders. He averaged 18.1 ppg as a freshman at N.C. State, due in part to his ability to get to the basket at will. He is strong enough to either finish at the rim or draw contact and get to the charity stripe. Smith posted a free throw rate (the number of free throws per 100 field goal attempts) of 48.6 percent last season. That’s tops among all guards in this draft. He’s also terrific in transition (averaging 1.18 points per possession). He isn’t a world-class passer, but he is certainly unselfish and willing to find open teammates. Smith led the ACC in total assists (197), assists per game (6.2), and assist percentage (34.2) in 2016-17. The main knocks on Smith were his lack of defensive intensity (he took plays off from time to time) and his below-average wingspan. He also tore his ACL back in 2015, so an injury concern exists. Still, considering the massive upside this kid brings to the table (as evidenced by his dominant performance at Duke), it would be difficult for the Knicks to pass on him if he’s available.
* Frank Ntilikina:
Two years ago, Phil Jackson made the most important and single-best decision of his Knicks tenure by drafting Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 draft. Might Phil decide to spend this year’s lottery pick on another international man of mystery? Just 18 years old, Frank Ntilikina (pronounced nee-lee-KEE-na) is a highly enticing prospect. He’s 6-foot-5 with a mammoth wingspan (nearly seven feet). Due to his combination of length and athleticism, Ntilikina projects as one of the most versatile and capable perimeter defenders in the draft. Playing sparingly off the bench in France, it’s difficult to make determinations based on Ntilikina’s stats and game tape from last season. However, he was phenomenal at the FIBA U18 European Championships last December, averaging 22.7 points and 6.7 assists, while shooting 58.6 percent from three-point range, over the final three games of the tournament. He shot 42 percent on 1.6 threes per game this year. If the Knicks are drafting solely on who fits best in the “The Triangle” (which is something they should not do), then Ntilikina may very well be the pick. He is taller, and a superior defender, and is a better long-range shooter than Smith at this point in their respective developments. On the other hand, Smith is more suited to excel playing the type of pick-and-roll game featured by the vast majority of successful teams in today’s NBA. Non-triangle-centric teams may ultimately prefer Ntilikina to Smith as well; it’s just that Ntilikina happens to check most of the boxes in regards to Triangle requirements. Ideally, the Knicks will make a decision based on which player they feel fits best alongside Porzingis.
If the Knicks don’t land their point guard of the future on draft day and then strike out in free agency as well, they may choose to explore some trade possibilities to address the point guard position. Keep in mind, these aren’t ideal solutions, as there is a reason each player may be on the block. Here are a handful of potential trade targets that may pique the Knicks interest.
* Emmanuel Mudiay:
Mudiay has not lived up to the hype since being selected with the seventh overall pick (three spots behind Porzingis) in the 2015 draft. After an understandably rocky rookie season adjusting to the NBA, Mudiay surprisingly saw his playing time and production decrease in his sophomore season. He lost his starting spot and was banished from the rotation in January. Mudiay saw only spot minutes for the remainder of the season until injuries allowed him to get back in the lineup in April. Meanwhile, Jamal Murray, the Nuggets first-round pick in the 2016 draft, stepped in and stepped up. Murray exceeded expectations and appears to be a franchise cornerstone in Denver, which mean Mudiay would likely be available for the right price.
* Reggie Jackson:
As I discussed earlier this month, the Pistons may be motivated to make a major move this summer after a terribly disappointing 2016-17 campaign. Jackson is coming off an injury-plagued season and is set to earn $51 million over the next three years. Meanwhile, Detroit often played better with backup point guard Ish Smith running the show, and Smith is owed just $12 million through 2019.
* Ricky Rubio:
The Knicks and Wolves were purportedly close to swapping Derrick Rose for Rubio at the trade deadline back in February, before that deal dissolved. Despite, Rubio’s relative struggles at the time, it would have been a phenomenal acquisition for the Knicks. First and foremost, Rubio is locked into a very affordable contract. He is set to make $14.3 million next season and $14.9 million in 2018-19. Considering the current market for point guards, that’s a terrific value. Unfortunately for New York, they weren’t able to pull the trigger. Over the second half of last season, Rubio played some of the best basketball of his career. In 24 games after the All-Star break, Rubio averaged 16.0 points, 10.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds. (Only two other players, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, averaged at least 15 points, 10 dimes and four boards per game over the season’s second half.) There was a report this week from ESPN’s Ian Begley that the Knicks are still interested in trading for Rubio, but with New York no longer able to include Rose in the deal, it doesn’t appear the Knicks would have the requisite pieces to pry Rubio from Minnesota. That ship has sailed.
* One of the many point guards on the Phoenix Suns roster:
The Suns currently have Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyler Ulis under contract. They also have a player option on Leandro Barbosa. In addition, Phoenix has the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. Some have speculated that despite their depth at the position, the Suns may be tempted to nab another a point guard if they feel De’Aaron Fox or Dennis Smith is undoubtedly the best player available when they are on the clock. Even if they draft a wing as expected, Phoenix may still be willing to deal. Regardless of what happens next month, they would love to dump Knight’s contract (he’s owed a total $34 million over the next three seasons), but will find it extremely difficult to find any team willing to take on that deal. Knight is coming off the worst season of his career, as he averaged 11 points per game (on 39 percent shooting) and 2.2 assists. The coaching staff benched him after the All-Star break and he didn’t play another minute the rest of the year. Eric Bledsoe is one of the most athletically gifted guards in the NBA and averaged a career-high 21.1 points and 6.3 assists per game last season. The issue with Bledsoe is that he has had trouble staying healthy. In addition, the Suns would likely want more than the Knicks have to offer. Phoenix snagged Ulis in the second round last summer and he was buried on the bench for most of the year until injuries allowed him to crack the rotation. Once he got a chance to play, he proved he belonged. Over Phoenix’s final 15 games, Ulis averaged 16.1 points, 8.5 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
* Tim Frazier:
If the Pelicans ink Jrue Holiday to a max contract, might they consider trading Frazier? Unlikely, as Frazier is set to make only $2 million next season and was near the top of the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.
* Matthew Dellavedova:
It is probably safe to assume the Bucks would be happy to move Dellavedova. Milwaukee signed him to a four-year, $38 million contract last summer; however, Malcolm Brogdon surprisingly wrestled the starting job away from Delly in late December and never looked back. Brogdon, who is a candidate to win the Rookie of the Year award, is clearly the Bucks’ point guard of the future.
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