Schmeelk: After Break, Knicks Should Be Focused On Future

Must Increase Youngsters' Minutes, Ensure Good Lottery Spot

John Schmeelk
February 14, 2020 - 1:20 pm
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The Knicks hit the All-Star break in a state of flux. They have a presumptive president lined up in Leon Rose, but he hasn’t been officially hired yet because he is trying to extricate himself from his former life as an NBA agent. Other than scant reports, there’s little indication who his general manager or head coach will be next year.

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Meanwhile, Steve Stoute foolishly went on ESPN’s “First Take,” and was oddly asked about owner James Dolan’s historic role in basketball operations despite the fact he just got hired and is not working in basketball operations. Why the Knicks decided it was a good idea to have Stoute be the first Knicks employee other than Mike Miller to address the media since president Steve Mills was fired is confounding. Stoute was put in a bad position that he did not handle well.

Stoute, in an interview that was supposed to be about his role in branding, ended up indicating Miller was going to be replaced at some point before next year. The appearance went so poorly that Knicks public relations had to issue a statement saying Stoute did not speak for anything happening in basketball operations.

There’s no indication when Rose will officially be hired, or when his introductory press conference is going to be. Until we hear Rose speak, there is no way to know what his vision and plans for the franchise are. There’s so much nobody knows. Everyone is waiting.

On the floor, the Knicks are 17-38 after starting the year 4-18 under then-coach David Fizdale. Miller’s 13-20 record would put the team on a 32-win pace over an 82-game season. With that said, the Knicks closed their pre-All-Star-break season by losing two straight to the Hawks and Wizards. The loss to Washington was a blowout defeat at home, with the Wizards playing the second half of a back-to-back.

The loss put the Knicks seven games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with only 27 to play and four teams between them and the current eighth seed, Orlando. Any far-fetched dreams that anyone might have had of the Knicks making some kind of playoff run ought to be extinguished. It is not going to happen.

The more important standings for the Knicks are the draft lottery standings. They are percentage points behind Minnesota for the fourth-worst record in the NBA. They trail the Hawks and Cavaliers, who are virtually tied for the second-worst record in the NBA, by 2½  games. The Warriors’ league-worst 12-43 record puts them five games away from the Knicks.

With the more egalitarian lottery odds, the different between fifth and first changes the chance at landing the first pick by only 3.5%, and the chance of landing in the top four by only 10%. The fifth spot in the lottery, however, can pick as low as ninth, while the team with the worst record can select no lower than fifth. It’s more a matter of how far a team can fall, rather than how high a team can pick.

There is no clear-cut No. 1 player in the 2020 draft, making the draft lottery odds slightly less important. There’s a chance the player selected first or second won’t be much better than the player picked fourth or fifth. There will likely be a huge dip, however, if the Knicks select eighth or ninth instead of in the top three.

Frank Ntilikina
USA TODAY Images

As the Knicks play out the string, their attention needs to be on the future. It is time to see a jump in minutes for the younger players on the roster such as Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson, and even Allonzo Trier, Ignas Brazdeikis and Dennis Smith Jr.

It doesn’t mean veterans such as Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson or Reggie Bullock don’t play anymore, but their minutes should be reduced from 30-35 to 20-25. Players such as Bobby Portis and Wayne Ellington should play fewer minutes than that given their effectiveness and the players behind them at their positions.

Since the All-Star break, the Knicks’ veterans on short contracts have continued to play major minutes. Perhaps once Rose’s hire is made official things will change, but it shouldn’t take that long. There is no detriment to seeing guys such as Ntilikina, Knox, Dotson and Robinson play 25 to 30 minutes a game and on the floor at the same time to see how they perform.

If that group of players wins games, it means the future is brighter than previously thought. If they lose, the team’s lottery odds improve. There is no downside. It also would give Rose and whoever else is in his front office a closer look at some of the younger players on the roster when they have to decide how to build the team moving forward.

The worst-case scenario is for the older veterans with no guaranteed contracts beyond this season to win a bunch of games playing major minutes, the young players don’t play enough or develop, and the Knicks draft closer to 10th than fifth. There is significant downside to giving minutes to players who are not part of the long-term future.

The rest of the season is not going to be dramatic, but it can be educational. There are still a lot of players the Knicks need to find out more about before the season is over. If it means a few more losses, so be it. Right now, what happens with the Knicks is more about the future than the present.

You follow John on Twitter at @Schmeek for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can find his podcast, “The Bank Shot” on WFAN.com, RADIO.COM and all your favorite podcast platforms. 

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