Schmeelk: Knicks Preview and Predictions

Season Tips Off Wednesday Night Vs. Hawks At MSG

John Schmeelk
October 17, 2018 - 9:22 am
The Knicks' Frank Ntilikina is guarded by the Pistons' Ish Smith on Dec. 29, 2017, at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

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A new season of Knicks basketball begins Wednesday night when New York hosts the Atlanta Hawks. Unfortunately for Knicks fans, it is going to be another season of rebuilding. This team is going to lose a lot of basketball games. It is going to be selecting in the lottery once again, possibly in the top three or five -- and that’s OK.

For once, the Knicks have a plan. The front office and head coach have all said publicly this season is about development. There were no ill-conceived trades or free agent signings of chronically injured, past-their-prime former stars last offseason. Aside from the premature stretching of Joakim Noah’s contract, team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry have been patient.

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Instead, the Knicks are all-in on rebuilding through the draft and their youth movement. The new regime is benefitting from the two things Phil Jackson did well in his time as Knicks president: drafting and not trading future draft picks. Holdovers Frank Ntilikina and the injured Kristaps Porzingis have been joined by Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Allonzo Trier as young pieces who the Knicks hope can form their core in future seasons.

It gives Knicks fans a reason to watch this season, even if they aren’t winning a lot of games. Even though Porzingis probably won’t see the court until after the All-Star break, if at all this season, Ntilikina, Knox, Robinson and Trier will create some fun for fans along the way and offer a glimpse into the future.

Fans will also get the opportunity to see how David Fizdale, a young coach who could be with the Knicks for a long time, runs a team and manages his players. Early signs are positive that he can strike the right balance between old-school coaching and analytics and understands how you need to play to win in the modern NBA. Even without the requisite talent to make a playoff run, everyone will learn if Fizdale is the right man for the job long-term.

Perhaps the best news for Knicks fans is that this may be the last year of the franchise being more concerned with lottery position than playoff seeding. The Knicks have room to sign a max-level free agent with seven to nine years of experience next summer. Rumors are swirling and speculation in NBA circles is rampant that Kevin Durant may have his eyes on New York next summer. If not Durant, then perhaps Kawhi Leonard?

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If the Knicks can add a true star to a healthy Porzingis and their young core and whomever they draft in 2019 become good players, they could be on their way to being a contender in the playoffs. Knicks fans, as always, should not hold their breath, but for once, there is real hope on the horizon.

Here are some predictions on what I think will be the major storylines for the Knicks this season:

1. Ntilikina will not leave the starting lineup, unless by injury. He may lack the flash and panache a lot of fans expect from their guards, but he does too many things well that help teams win games for Fizdale to remove him from the starting lineup. He’ll average near 30 minutes and 10-12 points per game and make an All-Defense team.

2. Knox will work his way into the starting lineup by December after starting to play well as the centerpiece of the second-unit offense. He’ll average between 11 and 13 points and around eight rebounds per game.

3. Enes Kanter will play well and put up career-best numbers, but by the end of the season, it will be abundantly clear that Mitchell Robinson is a far better future choice at center thanks to his rim-protection skills and ability to finish around the rim. Kanter will go on to sign a nice contract with another team, though he will have to take a pay cut from his current $18.6 million salary.

4. Trier will be given a full-time NBA contract after his 45-day maximum in the NBA on his two-way contract is reached. Emmanuel Mudiay will be released. Trier will show he can score, but his isolation tendencies will make it difficult to find a consistent role for him. He will still get a multiyear deal from the Knicks.

5. Trey Burke will prove to be a scoring backup point guard who can provide a spark off the bench. The Knicks will not be able to retain him because of his cap hold next summer, as they try to maximize their cap space.

6. Tim Hardaway Jr. will set career highs in scoring in Fizdale’s high-paced offense. He will stay a streaky shooter with only average efficiency. The Knicks will shop him a bit around the trade deadline, but they will not find any takers due to his contract.

7. Courtney Lee will get traded before the deadline. The Knicks will have to attach a second-round pick to jettison him to clear enough space to sign a 10-plus-year veteran to a maximum contract.

8. Porzingis will not return to the floor until the end of March and will play limited minutes in about a dozen games, just to prove he is healthy to Knicks brass and potential free agent additions. He’ll play under 20 minutes a game but will show he is healthy.

9. The Knicks will win 27 games and finish with the fifth-worst record in the league. They will move up in the lottery for the first time since they picked Patrick Ewing in 1985 and select a player from Duke third overall.

10. July 4, 2019: ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski will report that the Knicks have agreed to terms with Kevin Durant. I believe.

11. I wake up and realize it was all a dream ... or do I?

Some other NBA predictions:

• The Rockets will beat the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs but lose to the Warriors in seven games after Chris Paul breaks a finger in Game 5. The Warriors defeat the Celtics in the NBA Finals in six games.

• LeBron James will win league MVP.

• The Bucks will play the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. Milwaukee's Mike Budenholzer will win Coach of the Year.

• Boston's Kyrie Irving will not finish the season and will have to undergo another surgery on his knees or ankles.

• The Celtics' Gordon Hayward will win Comeback Player of the Year.

• Dallas' Luka Doncic will be Rookie of the Year, and it won’t be close.

You can follow me on twitter for everything on Knicks, Giants and the world of sports @Schmeelk.