Dec 6, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Knicks guard Allonzo Trier (14), forward Kevin Knox (20) and center Enes Kanter (0) react on the bench late in the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

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Schmeelk: Knicks’ Player Development Stalling

John Schmeelk
January 08, 2019 - 1:18 pm
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The Knicks must not have a friend in the scheduling office. They get to finish their west coach trip playing the World Champion Golden State Warriors on the second day of a road back to back on Tuesday night. They are 1-4 since their last home game, when they hosted the Bucks on Christmas Day, but more disappointing than the record is their young players that are spinning their wheels a little bit.

It starts with both second year guard Frank Ntilikina and second round rookie Mitchell Robinson. Both are hurt and missing important opportunities to gain more experience and develop. Their defensive prowess and length are sorely missed on the court.

Robinson was healing from a sprained ankle and looked poised to return to the court, but then injured his groin during his ankle rehab. Robinson, though still wet behind the ears and lacking polish and knowledge defensively, makes a noticeable impact with his length and athleticism when he plays at center. Of the Knicks three centers (Enes Kanter, Luke Kornet) he has the lowest defensive rating when on the court, at 109.8. He can protect the rim and switch pick and rolls.

Robinson’s body might take some time adjusting to being a professional basketball player. His last full season of competitive basketball was his senior year in high school before taking a year for training to prepare for the NBA Draft. Though his ankle injuries are the result of stepping on feet, which can happen to anyone, it might take some time for him to become accustomed to the constant wear and tear of a NBA season.

Ntilikina, meanwhile, is battling an ankle tendon injury. Tendons can be trickier to heal than ligament damage in a typical sprain, so it’s possible he might have to miss a few more games. It’s valuable playing time he is missing, and opportunities for Knicks brass to determine what the best course is for him moving forward. His absence means Knicks fans will have to watch Trey Burke’s incessant low percentage long two point jump shots for twenty minutes or so per game for the immediate future.

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Allonzo Trier has struggled mightily to find his touch coming back from his hamstring injury. In his six games since returning, Trier has shot 11-40 from the field, and scored just 28 points in just under 17 minutes per game. His habit of constantly complaining to the officials after contact near the rim has gotten worse. It has been a struggle for him.

Damyean Dotson has only cracked double digits once in his last seven games, an 11 point outing against the Lakers on just 4-11 shooting. During that stretch, Dotson has taken only 37 shots, making just 11. Dotson isn’t someone that will create his own shot, run pick and roll or isolate and take people off the dribble. He is a catch and shoot player that has become adept at catching and shooting on off-ball screens. It is the responsibility of his teammates to get him more opportunities.

Emmanuel Mudiay has also fallen into a rough patch and is playing much less efficiently, which was a hallmark of his career before this season. In his last six games Mudiay has scored 84 points, but it has taken him 94 field goal attempts (making just 35 for a 37% FG) to get there. He has averaged only 2.3 free throw attempts per game during that stretch, and has shot just 4-18 from behind the arc. He has struggled mightily finishing near the rim.

They are all signs of regression to the mean of what he has been for most of his career. It is a small sample size, and Mudiay has plenty of time to bounce back but there should be some worry here. Regardless, he is still much improved, but his flaws could prevent him from being any more than a less than twenty minutes per game bench point guard.

Even December’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, Kevin Knox, has fallen on some hard times shooting the ball since the Knicks left on this road trip. In his last five games, Knox is just 20-61 from the field. He is still averaging over 12 points per game because he has made 9-24 three point shots, and shot 15-21 from the free throw lines.

In the last couple of games he has begun settling for more off-balance shots off drives where he can’t get all the way to the hoop. At just 19 years old, he is still flashing an advanced offensive skillset that projects well for his future despite this rough patch.

The Knicks aren’t only losing a lot of games (nine of their last ten), but they are also stalling out in some of their plans for player development. They also trail the Cavs by two games for the worst record in the league, and the Suns by 1.5. They are tied with the Bulls in third. When the Knicks come home to host the Sixers, fans aren’t going to have a ton to cheer for.

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