Nov 18, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale huddles up against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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Schmeelk: Knicks Are Losing The Right Way

John Schmeelk
December 13, 2018 - 10:09 am
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The Knicks are starting to lose games the right way. This season was never about wins and losses. The Knicks were going to lose a bunch of games and be a bad basketball team. There was nothing anyone could do to stop that. Losses are painful but also help the team when ping pong balls decide the 2019 NBA Draft order in June, giving each one, especially against a fellow lottery team like the Cavaliers a silver lining.

There are four parts of the Knicks path back to relevance. The first is their controllable young players becoming good NBA players. The second is for Kristaps Porzingis to return from injury. The third is for them to draft a top player in the draft in June. The final part is the acquisition of a top free agent in July. Every time the Knicks lose with their young players doing well, they come closer to achieving the first and third parts of the equation.

The major goal this season was player development, and to start to build a foundation for the franchise with the young players drafted in recent seasons that are under team control. The Knicks could lose every game the rest of the season, but if Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson and even Allonzo Trier show they could be contributing, starting or even All-Star caliber players down the road, it would be a successful year.

In the team’s last two games, Kevin Knox has scored 45 points, grabbed 22 rebounds, and blocked two shots. Even though his season-long shooting numbers are still very poor at .350/.341/.652, Knox shot 7-15 against the Cavs to follow up a 10-25 performance against Charlotte over the weekend. In those two games, he made 7 of 14 three-pointers. As he gets more playing time he is becoming more efficient, which is usually the case for NBA rookies.

There are obviously a lot of areas of improvement for Knox, including defense, passing, creating his own shot, getting to the free throw line and getting all the way to the rim in the half court. His spot-up shooting and ability to finish in transition is a good place for him to start growing his offensive game.

'The Bank Shot' Podcast: Ntilikina's Back In The Mix

Frank Ntilikina’s last three games since returning from his banishment to the bench might be the best three consecutive games of his career. He’s shot 16-30 from the field and 7-12 from behind the three-point line, while being the teams primary ball-handler for twenty minutes a game. He’s averaging just under 14 points per game during the stretch and has shown the aggressive mindset everyone has been begging for.

Since being brought back from his inexplicable trip to the bench, Damyean Dotson is averaging 13 points per game on 52% shooting from the field and 47% from behind the arc in just over 25.6 minutes per game. Both he and Ntilikina are playing their typically gritty defense and both look like they can t least be good support players on a good team.

Mitchell Robinson’s numbers might be modest, but his defensive instincts are impressive to behold considering he hadn’t played basketball above the high school level before playing in Summer League last July. He has flashed rim running and protection ability at a high level.

Even though Allonzo Trier is nursing a hamstring injury, his scoring efficiency (.470/.391/.816) while averaging 11.3 points per game as a 22-year-old undrafted rookie free agent is very impressive. It remains to be seen whether the Knicks will control Trier’s rights beyond this season after they convert his two-way contract to a full NBA deal, but there’s a chance he will be part of the young core moving forward too.

Those are the players, along with Kristaps Porzingis that have a real chance to be part of the team’s future. The team’s cap situation and desire to sign a maximum free agent this summer will make it very difficult to retain players like Emmanuel Mudiay (12 million dollar cap hold), Trey Burke, Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh. It is never a bad thing for Knicks players to do well, but the focus needs to be on Knox, Ntilikina, Robinson, Dotson and Trier.

In the last couple of games, it has been. The Knicks youngsters are playing well while the team is losing games. If their good play helps the Knicks win games, that’s great, but given the team is counting on a high draft pick to deliver a potential star in June’s NBA Draft, losing isn’t the worst thing in the world. It was why when Fizdale prioritized the players on expiring contracts in an effort to win games, it was the most counterproductive thing he could have possibly done. It looks like he has figured that out.

If the Knicks finish where they stand right now, with the fifth worst record in the NBA, they have a 42% of picking in the top four. They only have a 3.5% smaller chance of picking first than the three worst teams in the league. Their chance of picking second is only three percent smaller, picking third is just two second smaller and picking fourth is just one percent smaller.

The Knicks draft prospects would still be better off finishing with as bad of a record as possible but with the NBA lottery odds being flattened out by the league last year, it isn’t as painful to fall out of the top couple lottery spots. The worst part of having the fifth worst record instead of the third, is that there’s a much greater chance of sliding down as far as eighth if the ping pong balls don’t bounce the right way.

Neither Knicks fans, nor the team’s management should be overly concerned with the team winning games. It’s a tough concept but it’s true. This season is all about the young players on their team and how they are playing. In the last few games, the results have been very encouraging.

You can follow me on twitter at twitter.com/Schmeelk and please subscribe to The Bank Shot, my new Knicks podcast that you find on your local podcast service.