Schmeelk: Knicks’ Coach Must Prioritize Developing Young Players

Miller Should Try To Win, But Can't Minimize Giving Youngsters Minutes

John Schmeelk
January 08, 2020 - 1:39 pm

Since the Knicks hired Mike Miller as their head coach, they are 6-9. Until losing three straight, which could become four in Utah Wednesday night, the second of a road back to back, they were 6-6 with their new interim head coach. The team looked competent, competitive, and the offseason moves were looking better.

Listen to your team news NOW.

The renewed winning also put the Knicks in the same conundrum that was discussed prior to the season. With Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington healing from their injuries and returning to the floor, Miller was looking at a roster with too many players that deserved rotation minutes. There was always a glut in the front court, but now it was becoming apparent the wing would become a no-holds barred battle for playing time too.

In a game the Knicks were not competitive in during the second half against the Lakers, Marcus Morris was hurt and Bobby Portis played only six minutes before getting ejected, Kevin Knox played just 19 minutes. Reggie Bullock started and played 27 minutes. Elfrid Payton’s 29 minutes more than doubled Frank Ntilikina’s 14. Damyean Dotson played only 5 minutes, while Wayne Ellington played 15.

The Knicks should be trying to win games and veterans should be getting playing time if they earn it. It is foolish, however, and counter-productive to the team’s future to minimize the youngster’s minutes as much as they were last night. It is starting to look like a trend based on how Miller has been forming his lineups the past week. What happens when Marcus Morris returns and Bobby Portis isn’t ejected after six minutes?

There’s no reason Wayne Ellington should be playing triple the minutes of Damyean Dotson when he is in the middle of the worst shooting year of his career. Dotson, even with his slow start shooting after an offseason shoulder injury, is shooting better from deep than Ellington (32% vs. 30%). He is a young player that could be re-signed at a low cost this offseason with a chance to be a decent two-way wing.

It was refreshing to see Kevin Knox get minutes at power forward last night after Bobby Portis’ ejection. There was even a lineup for all of two minutes that featured Ntilikina, Barrett, Knox and Robinson on the floor at the same time. Ellington was the fifth man in that lineup, but it could have easily been Damyean Dotson, which would have been a nice potential look, albeit a brief one, into the future.

 Knicks forward Kevin Knox II defends against Golden State Warriors guard Jacob Evans Dec 11, 2019; San Francisco, CA
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks still need to remember what their ultimate goals are. While it is important they continue to play respectable basketball and prove to be a strong stable environment, player development needs to be a priority. Despite the recent three game winning streak and a poor bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Knicks are not going to make a playoff run after starting the season 4-18 under David Fizdale.

The common refrain around this time of year when veterans continue to eat up minutes is that the team is “showcasing” their players for potential trades. It makes sense for Reggie Bullock, who is returning from injury. Wayne Ellington is a known commodity and continuing to play him as he has his worst shooting season might only hurt his value. If the Knicks have received interest for Bobby Portis, which was reported by Ian Begley of SNY, they need to pull the trigger on it immediately.

There has also been a groundswell of support to forego a trade for Marcus Morris. He is undoubtedly the Knicks best player, and they are far worse with him not on the floor. But he is also on a one-year contract on a team that isn’t going anywhere that plays the same position as the Knicks 20-year-old first round pick from two years ago. Morris’ excitement to try to win in New York and turn the franchise around is admirable, but the Knicks can always re-sign him in the offseason after a potential trade. It is true that a late first round pick, or even a couple of second rounders are unlikely to land a difference making player, but they can also be used in assets for other moves in the future too.

The Knicks can also take back players on longer deals for expiring contracts, like Portis and Morris, to maximize their return. The 2020 free agency class is very weak, and cap space this summer should be very low on the Knicks priority list. Anthony Davis is not coming to New York as a free agent this summer. He can maximize the amount of money he gets from the Lakers by waiting to re-sign this summer. It is purely a financial decision.

The Knicks future is wrapped up in two different areas. The first is whatever new players they can land in the draft or free agency in future years. The other is the development of the young players currently on the roster. By trading vets for future assets, they also free up playing time for those young players to develop. It’s a win-win, and it needs to happen.

Follow John on Twitter: @Schmeelk and find The Bank Shot on your favorite podcast platform for everything on the Knicks.