Morning Knick Fans.
Real basketball starts this week. Take a second, close your eyes, and inhale the sweet, sweet smell of glorious possibility.
RJ Barrett, Rookie of the Year? It’s possible!
Julius Randle, NBA All-Star? Why the hell not!
Frank Ntilikina, still a Knick on Christmas? Let’s not get carried away.
I wouldn’t go so far as to make any of these particular predictions, but I do have eight more guesses at what’s going to happen in the season ahead. ICYMI, here are the last eight from a week ago.
Before we get there though, the news…
According to several reports, The Knicks waived forward VJ King, guard Lamar Peters and forward Kenny Wooten. They still have one more two-way spot to give out, but are at roster capacity (15 players on pro deals) for the regular season. Expect all of the players waived to make their way to Westchester in short order.
Marc Berman of the NY Post reported over the weekend that according to a New Orleans source, Elfrid Payton was “all but promised” the starting job when he signed with the team over the summer. Make of this what you will.
Paskal Siakam signed a 4-year max extension with Toronto. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as Siakam is really, really good, and going to get better. Still, a sad day for any Knick fans who were hoping Toronto might let this thing play out into next summer.
Finally, also from Berman, the Knicks may make their decision on Frank Ntilikina’s contract option before the first game. They also have the same decision to make on Dennis Smith Jr., and one would assume they will make both at the same time. If I was a betting man…I would still not wager on this.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: my last eight predictions for the 2019-20 New York Knicks:
10. The early season rotation leaves a lot of people upset. Mitch will start. Knox and RJ will get minutes. Other key "core" pieces will play every night.
But don't be surprised to look at the box score on some evenings, scroll down the minutes column, and see a lot of numbers that begin with a "1" for several names you might be expecting to get a heavier workload, including some of the ones I just mentioned.
Read the tea leaves. Every single message this offseason has been about everyone on the roster having to "earn it" from now on. Translation: don’t be surprised to see the vets play more than the young guys early on in the year. David Fizdale admitted as much when asked about Robinson and fellow sophomore Kevin Knox after a practice during training camp.
Go through the roster. Pen, don't pencil, Julius Randle in for 30 minutes a night. Ditto for Marcus Morris, who is going to get major time. If that wasn’t evident before preseason it should be now. Wayne Ellington seems like a safe bet to get time as well, having averaged 24 minutes a game over the last five years for a reason. Taj Gibson seems like a regular. You know Elfrid Payton is going to play a significant role (see above), especially with David Fizdale singing his praises at camp , calling him an "irritant."
(My dream one day is to work in a profession where this is considered a compliment)
Add it all up, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see guys like Robinson and Knox hover around 20 minutes a game for the first few months, and for other young players to not get any time at all on some nights, at least until a trade or two loosens up the roster. Just remember: this is by design, with the goal being for the vets to rub off on the kids in a way that might take a while.
But good things are worth waiting for, and the rotations and minutes distribution you see in October and November will likely change a great deal by February and March. It's already been 20 years...what's another couple of months?
11. The Knicks are a top five team in free throw attempt rate. They were 8th in the NBA in this stat last season after finishing 28th in the league the previous two years. If we know nothing else about David Fizdale, it's that he values getting to the line above all else (If you're searching for reasons why Allonzo Trier might wind up being a Knicks for longer than Frank Ntilikina, consider: Trier had more free throw attempts over a four-game stretch in late February/early March than Ntilikina had all season).
If you don't believe me about Fiz, just listen to the man himself:
I want to get the ball moving. I want a lot of guys involved in the game with the understanding of whoever’s got it going that night, we’ve got to keep that guy going. We’re going to be an attacking team, a team that gets into the paint. We want to be a team that gets to the foul line. (via Marc Berman, NY Post)
Putting pressure on the rim is the No. 1 priority,’’ Fizdale said. “I think that’s what creates everything else.
The fact that they may run the offense at least partially through Julius Randle, who got to the line nearly seven times a game last year, only increases the possibility they're in the running for a lot of easy points. However...
12. They still finish near the bottom of the league in assists. While Fiz has talked about ball movement, my guess is that this will be in furtherance of getting favorable matchups in the pick and roll, which should (hopefully) allow his money makers to make their money.
That's partially because this team doesn't have anyone with elite vision, but if we're being fair, that's at least somewhat by design. My read of Fizdale's (and to a greater extent, the organization's) offensive "philosophy," so to speak, is that they want to run a system appealing to today's star players - one that allows individual brilliance to shine. Obviously with shitty players, you get...well, you get last year.
Replace Noah Vonleh with Julius Randle, Lance Thomas with Marcus Morris and Emmanuel Mudiay with a (hopefully healthy and properly motivated) Dennis Smith Jr., and in time, things could look quite a bit different.
(FWIW, they were 16th among NBA teams in assist rate in the preseason)
13. The Knicks will finish in the top 12 in transition points per 100 possessions. According to Cleaning the Glass, they were 4th in this stat during the preseason.
I don’t think they’ll stay quite that high, just because they won’t run as much as some other teams (they were only 18th in frequency of transition plays), but when guys like Barrett, Randle, Knox, and even Marcus Morris get the rock and go with it, they’ll be very tough to stop. That’s part of the reason they were second in points scored per 100 transition possessions over their four fake games.
For more on the Knicks transition game during the preseason, check out this thread from Posting and Toasting’s Dallas Amico, which gets into how DSJ was actually quite stellar getting out an running on Friday night.
14. There will be another media dustup. Last year's we had Daily News-gate in various forms throughout the season. I'm begrudgingly calling a repeat this year, probably over something very silly. I hope to holy hell that I'm wrong, but the team's silence for three months this summer - while understandable - wasn't a good sign.
I just hope it comes and goes quickly and with as little pain as possible, because truly, these incidents have become the bane of my existence in just about every way possible.
15. Fiz will start running the offense through RJ Barrett by Valentine’s Day, if not Christmas. I don't care that he's not a nominal point guard. He's best with the ball in his hands, and the team is better when he’s out there, making shit happen.
Best of all, if he does emerge as a primary ball handler-type player this year, the team will have some flexibility filling the point guard position moving forward, being able to go with a Pat Beverly or Jrue Holiday type. Now where ever can we find one of those guys…
16. The Knicks power structure survives the season. That means Mills, Perry, and Fiz.
Basically this means they're going to start to figure some things out. It won't always be pretty, but there will be a positive atmosphere surrounding this club more often than not. These aren't stupid men, despite how they's slyly portrayed at times in the media. They knew exactly what they were doing with the way they built the team this summer. They weren't caught off guard by any stretch, and I have it on good authority that they started to at least privately fear Durant might follow Kyrie to Brooklyn before he ever tore his ACL.
So no, this wasn't grasping at straws as the clock struck 6pm on June 30. It also doesn't mean it will work. History suggests it won't. But if anyone can keep the ship straight when the waters get choppy, it's Fiz (remember, he was in Miami for the 2010-11 season, when they started off 9-8 and the sky was falling).
If he does and the kids grow, at the end of the day, yes, the season will be considered a success.
That being said...
17. The Knicks win 33 games. It would be pretty chickenshit of me to do a predictions column and not guess a win total, so here you go. I have as little confidence in this as I do my ability to make it through a Knicks game without popping open a cold one. If you told me they were going to win 26 games, I would not be shocked. Nor would I if you told me they'd approach 40 wins.
Regarding the latter, I desperately want to drink that Kool Aide. Hell, I've been brewing that Kool Aide for decades now. The formula seems so obvious: a bunch of dogs/dawgs enter the season knowing that everyone is counting them out, and each member of the roster emerges as the best (read: most unselfish) version of themselves. They play hard and fast. The rotation questions never arise as 12 guys go 110 miles per hour for 16 to 26 minutes a night. They catch teams off guard early, scrap their way to a 17-25 record at the midway point, and the young guys emerge late, going nearly .500 over the second half of the season.
God this just makes me…why, it makes me so excited…
But on the other hand, while I understand the formula that gets them there, I just can't get there myself.
Here's the thing: New York is definitively worse than at least 18 teams in the league, and it will be the rare occasion that they walk onto a court and know they're more talented than the opposition, if ever. After last season's lottery, my guess is that teams will not tank as aggressively as in years' past. Moreover, even when they play mediocre or bad teams, the best player on the floor will often be wearing the opposition's jersey (Beal, Blake, CP3, KAT, Booker & Fox all come to mind).
Looking at the schedule over the first half of the year, there is a very real chance they will be underdogs in something like 35 of their first 41 games. And when have you known the Knicks to win every game they were supposed to win?
Oh no…here comes the come down…
Look at it this way: if they double last season's win total, they end up 34-48. Yes, there were some atrocious basketball players on this team last year, but there were also wins that came on the heels of efforts from the likes of Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, and yes, even Enes Kanter. Pass the pills.
So that's why I'm at where I'm at. I hope I'm wrong and they follow the first blueprint I laid out. Maybe they do.
I just need to see it first. Luckily, I won't have to wait much longer. Season starts in two days.