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Schmeelk: Knicks Player Development Grades

How Would You Grade The Young Knicks?

John Schmeelk
November 28, 2018 - 1:36 pm
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Player Development Recap

The Knicks season was never about wins and losses. It was about player development. Without development of the Knicks young players that they control beyond this season, the chance of making any real progress towards being a winning franchise is slim to none. Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh are not included in this discussion because all three are free agents after the season.

The Knicks new player development program led by Craig Robinson is a huge key to the franchises long term success. There has been plenty of good and bad so far this season. Let’s start with the good news and work backwards.

Allonzo Trier: Grade: A

Of the Knicks controllable assets, Trier has been their best performer and it isn’t close. An undrafted free agent, Trier has proven to be an advanced offensive player. Fizdale used him as a point guard for the first time against Detroit on Tuesday and he answered that challenge with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists on 7-11 from the field and 9-12 from the free throw line. He was adept operating out of the pick and roll and made good decisions as a passer.

Overall this season, he is averaging 11.4 points per game on .491/.459/.826 shooting. It is extremely rare to see that kind of efficiency out of a rookie, especially one that operates out of isolation situations so much. His 50% shooting from mid-range (between the paint and three point line) will likely normalize but his ability to get to and finish at the rim (60%), along with getting to the free throw line (3.3 FTA per game) bodes well for his future efficiency to hold up.

Mitchell Robinson: Grade: B

Robinson is as raw as they come. He gets pushed around with his lack of strength and his prone to committing foolish fouls that are a product of his inexperience. This is to be expected from a player that didn’t play in college and took an entire year off from any organized basketball.

Robinson’s raw tools, however, are the making of a future starter in the NBA. His rim protection and shot blocking ability are insanely advanced. All the advanced metrics like RPM and PER rate him highly due to his impact defensively, and ability to finish with dunks and touch around the rim (71% FG).

He is an athlete that can move on the perimeter and his defensive instincts, which often can’t be taught, are there. It will likely take another year or maybe more, but when Robinson figures it all out, he has All-Defense potential. For now, his foul trouble and rookie mistakes will understandably limit his minutes.

Damyean Dotson: Grade: C+ 

The Knicks second round pick in 2017 that was inexplicably benched by Jeff Hornacek last season has shown the ability to be the type of two-way player NBA front offices cherish. He has the quickness to guard shooting guards and the power to defend forwards and rebound the position (4.5 per game).

His shooting needs to improve (.431/..323/.636) but he has shown enough flashes to think he can become more consistent in that area. He is averaging 10.1 points per game and shows the approach and poise of a veteran. He could become a solid roleplayer off the bench for a good team. The Knicks control him on an non-guaranteed contract next season.

David Fizdale inexplicably benched him for four straight games, but after a 17 point game on 6-8 FG and 3-3 3PT, it would not be surprising to see him replace Mario Hezonja in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

Frank Ntilikina: Grade: C- 

It is not a good sign that the last two players on this list are the Knicks past two lottery picks. Despite his numbers, Ntilikina has made progress from last year. He has a much better handle and is a bit more creative and effective finishing around the rim. His improved strength has made his already high level defense even better, allowing him to guard forwards.

Sadly, all of that is overshadowed by his poor shooting and lack of development offensively. His shooting from the field (.352) and from behind the three point line (.269) is worse this year than it was last. His aggressiveness hasn’t increased the way it should. His points per game average has only jumped a half point to 6.4. Even his assist numbers haven’t moved. His shooting has to get better if he is going to become a viable NBA starter. He is only 20 and has time to move the needle there. His shot doesn’t appear to be broken.

David Fizdale deserves some of the blame for this. He has moved Ntilikina from an off the ball guard, to point guard and then back to an off the ball player. When playing off the ball with ball dominant players like Trey Burke and Allonzo Trier he often gets lost due to his passive nature and never gets his hands on the ball.

He played his best ball as the team’s primary ball handler. He defended well and ran the team competently. His shooting left a lot to be desired and he didn’t get to the rim frequently enough, but it still looked like his true position. Ntilikina’s strength and length set him apart and give him an advantage over other point guards that he doesn’t have on the wing. His mentality is also that of a distributor, not a shooter. Why the Knicks think he fits better as a wing is confounding.

At some point this year, he needs a chance to be the team’s primary point guard and given the opportunity to sink or swim. The Knicks need to know what they have in him, and playing off the ball in the corner watching Burke and Trier run pick and roll isn’t going to help them do that. It will be very important to see how Fizdale develops him.

Kevin Knox: Grade: D

The Knicks first round pick this season looks overwhelmed, and at times lost on the court. He is shooting just .333/.333/.680 and has failed to score more than five points in five of his last six games. He has only five assists all season long and looks to shoot almost immediately after getting the ball.

He has not been able to get to the basket off the dribble and create for himself or others. His defense has been a struggle as well. The type of player that played in the Summer League in Las Vegas hasn’t showed up in New York. Instead, the Knicks are seeing the one dimensional pull up jump shooter that played for Kentucky most of last year.

How Fizdale develops Knox the rest of the year will be a big part in judging the coaching job he has done this season.

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