Knicks Mailbag: More Upside for Frank Ntilikina or Kevin Knox?

John Schmeelk
May 17, 2020 - 9:08 am

I thought it was a good time for a mailbag. Here are some questions I got via Twitter about the Knicks:

From @AnthonyD80: Despite how little we know about the actual person - how encouraged would you be if we found out that Brock Aller was de facto GM given his background in numbers, the CBA, perceived strategic thinking etc. vs the let’s say less than modern GMs we’ve had recently?

I’m encouraged whenever the Knicks bring someone in from outside the organizational structure to help run the front office. You can file this under the “anyone but Steve Mills” rule. Aller’s ability to manage the cap successfully in Cleveland and maneuver through league rules is something that can benefit the Knicks. The Knicks have not done the best job using their cap space creatively in recent years, and it seems like Aller’s background will enable him to maximize the team’s resources.

We don’t have any idea how well Aller evaluates players or whether he understands how to build a championship team. At the end of the day, as important as cap management and analytics can be, picking the right players is what separates the best GM’s from the ordinary ones. It is the furthest thing from an exact science in the world, but some people are better at it than others. The Sacramento Kings, for example, selected Marvin Bagley Jr. over Tre Young. They chose… poorly.

Leon Rose, as team president, will likely be making those decisions anyway. There’s a reason he was hired and the buck ultimately stops with him. Aller’s presence to help him navigate the other details of the job, like the cap and building an organization, does inspire some hope. 

@Jasper755: What will MSG do to keep fans safe? Or will Dolan just pack fans in and say it’s at their own risk?

It will more than likely be the NBA and New York City and State government that will set all standards for sporting events in this pandemic atmosphere. MSG will follow those rules or it will not hold events. I have no doubt the Knicks and MSG will follow any rules that apply to them. It should be noted that MSG and its other properties, at least according to reports, have done right by their venue staff in the early months of this pandemic.

@freespree5: What are some ideas for how the Knicks could use a drop in the cap to their advantage? Could you see a team deep in the luxury tax giving up a 1st to take on a deal?

I’m going to turn this into a longer and complete article for next week, but if the salary cap does drop dramatically, and with the Knicks having a significant amount of cap space this summer, they could be in a great position to help the franchise by taking higher paid players from teams looking to help their bottom lines. From a potential amnesty clause, salary dumps in trades, or even signing free agents on the cheap this summer, the Knicks could be the beneficiaries of a terrible league economic situation. I’ll go into it in more detail next week. 

@Giantsthings Do you think the Knicks will ever give Frank a chance to be the #1 PG consistently and should they?

Frank has gotten periodic, short-lived opportunties to be the starting point guard, and he has never played well enough offensively to seize the job permanently. He finally slid into a more consistent role at the end of the season as the team’s primary backup behind Elfrid Payton and was playing his best basketball. Unless another big jump happens next season, I am not sure he is ready to be a starting point guard and primarily facilitator for a team. He may never be. Ntilikina should get consistent minutes every game as a backup point guard and even as an off-ball player being used for his defense. If he plays well in those roles he can get a look as the starting point guard in the future. 

@NickTuths What’s the single most positive thing Knick fans can take away from this season?

It is most likely over and fans don’t have to suffer through more bad basketball? I kid. In terms of positive things that happened this season on the floor, there aren’t many and none that stand out as beacons in a dark storm. RJ Barrett played as I expected his rookie season and didn’t flame out. He defended better than most thought he would but he was terribly inefficient on offense. Frank Ntilikina showed progress, though not enough, towards the end of the season. Mitchell Robinson continued the momentum from his rookie season and still looks like a good rim-running, shot-blocking machine.

No wait, there is one. Steve Mills is no longer running basketball operations for the Knicks. He has been a constant for nearly twenty years in that building when nothing has gone well. It isn’t all his fault by any stretch, but it is a good thing that the team is finally moving on to something new to lead the franchise forward. It was a long time coming. The hope is Leon Rose ends up being a good choice.

@JoeKnixDo you think the amount of Covid outbreak in the NY/NJ area will impact free agents willingness to sign with the Knicks this offseason?

I don’t. Players do not spend their offseasons in their home cities, and the team travels often during the season. No matter where players are next year, they are going to have to take precautions when it comes to COVID-19. I could be wrong but I doubt it will be a big factor.

 @PJP98782215 Why is it that you love Frank and hate Knox? Don’t you think Knox’s ceiling is much higher? Granted he may never get there, but do you think Frank could have ever dominated summer league or been Rookie of the Month?! Frank is a nice player. Fine. Knox is a guy with real NBA upside.

I know at minimum Frank Ntilikina is going to be a good defender, unselfish with the ball, and an above average passer. All he has to do is become league average as a three-point shooter to become someone that can be a helpful player on a good team in the league for a decade. Three and D wings with other skills to dribble, pass, and help the team are very valuable in the modern NBA.

With Knox, he doesn’t do any one thing at even a league average level at this point in his career. Why does he have real upside? He is not a good enough athlete to play small forward. His shooting is regressing after adding an odd exaggerated arc in his second season. His defense is less terrible than it was as a rookie but still poor. He is not a playmaker with the ball in his hand and struggles to create his own shot. Knox’s high-end outcome, in my opinion, is as a stretch four that can hit an open three, attack closeouts and not hurt the team too much on the team on defense. I don’t consider that high upside.

I overreacted to Knox’s summer league performance as a rookie. He was inefficient that summer despite putting up good counting numbers. Do not let what someone does in summer league, or the G-League make you assume they can do that in the NBA. Knox can still become a playable NBA player, but he has A LOT further to go in his development than Ntilikina to get there. I prefer the safer bet.