Schmeelk: Predicting Which Knicks Will Stay Or Go

John Schmeelk
April 12, 2019 - 11:46 am
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This year was always a stepping stone for the Knicks heading into a summer with the potential to completely upend the roster and be unrecognizable in 2019-20. Whether it’s drafting Zion Williamson, trading for Anthony Davis or bringing in two max-level free agents, there’s no telling who will be back from this year’s ragtag group of players.

Let’s decide who should stay and who should go.

MITCHELL ROBINSON

Robinson should be all but untouchable unless he is needed to bring in Davis, which could turn out to be necessary to land another star in free agency. If it is just Davis on his own, Robinson is too intriguing of a young piece to move for him. He has the potential to be an All-Defense and Defensive Player of the Year candidate for the next decade. After just his rookie year, he is already the best shot-blocker in basketball, averaging 4.3 blocks per 36 minutes.

Verdict: The 21-year-old center should be and will be back.

Mitchell Robinson
USA TODAY Images

KEVIN KNOX

I would be willing to move Knox in the right situation. Despite his brutal rookie season, due to his age, Knox should still have value around the league and could be an important piece in a packaged trade for an established veteran. If free agency (i.e. adding Kevin Durant) doesn’t put the Knicks in win-now mode, Knox could also be an important future piece who could still develop into a starting-caliber player. No one should be giving up on a 19-year-old, but it is also important to determine exactly what his ceiling as a player is.

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Verdict: Unless he is traded in a package for Davis, he’ll be back.

ALLONZO TRIER

The Knicks have a $3.5 million option on Trier next season, money they might need if they are able to pair Kevin Durant with another max player and neither is willing to take less than their maximum allotment. If the Knicks do pick up Trier's option, he then becomes untradeable due to league rules, so he would either come back for another year or hit the market as an unrestricted free agent. The Knicks could still bring him back in that situation with one of their roster exemptions. His scoring punch off the bench could be useful, even for a good team.

Verdict: The Knicks might decide the best use of Trier's $3.5 million worth of cap space will be on a max player, but they’ll do all they can to then use an exception to sign him back. Yes, he’ll return. 

 Knicks guard Allonzo Trier goes up for a shot and is fouled by Nets forward Rodions Kurucs on Dec. 8, 2018, at Madison Square Garden.
Andy Marlin/USA TODAY Images

DAMYEAN DOTSON

The Knicks can have Damyean Dotson back next year for only $1.6 million if they choose to. His salary is only slightly more than a cap hold, so it would be surprising if the team didn’t figure out a way to bring the 24-year-old shooting guard back. He can shoot and play defense, two of the most important skills in today’s NBA.

Verdict: Dotson will return.

DENNIS SMITH JR.

Smith was banged up for much of his time with the Knicks with a back injury all but erasing his final few weeks. To Smith’s credit, he tried to play through it to get on the floor. Not turning 22 until November, Smith still has that explosive ability to finish near the rim. His shooting is still too inconsistent as is his decision-making and focus/consistency game to game. It can take a point guard years to figure out the NBA, so Smith still has a chance. But there needs to be improvement quickly.

Verdict: With that said, if the Knicks need him to make a trade for Davis, Smith will likely be included. He will also probably be gone if Kemba Walker or Kyrie Irving come in free agency.

FRANK NTILIKINA

I have no doubt the Knicks will try to move Ntilikina on draft night or use his contract to match salary in a bigger trade for a different star. If the latter doesn’t end up becoming possible, I do not think the team will get a good enough return on draft night to make it worth moving him. If Ntilikina develops even a league-average 3-point shot (35%), his defense would make him a valuable player, maybe even a starter next to ball-dominant stars.

Verdict: Ntilikina should be back, but he won’t be. Gone.  

Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina controls the ball against Chicago Bulls point guard Cameron Payne on Nov. 5, 2018, at Madison Square Garden.
USA TODAY Images

NOAH VONLEH  

Despite his 3-point shooting tailing off to 33.6% by the end of the season, he proved to be a versatile defender, solid rebounder and decent enough offensive player to be a role-playing big man off the bench. If the price is right, he could be back.

Verdict: Someone ends up offering Vonleh more money than the Knicks can afford, and he does not return despite attempts to bring him back. Gone.

DEANDRE JORDAN

A lot has been written about how the Knicks might try to find cap space to bring him back because he is friends with Durant, but that doesn’t make a lick of sense. Robinson is already a better player, and Jordan isn’t nearly good enough defensively anymore to be worth valuable cap space.

Verdict: Adios.

LUKE KORNET

A free agent this offseason, Kornet can defend a little bit and stretch out to the 3-point line. He would be a fine low-cost backup to Robinson if the Knicks need to fill out their roster with minimum salaried players.

Verdict: He’ll be back.

EMMANUEL MUDIAY

Mudiay put up much-improved counting stats this year, averaging a career-best 14.8 points per game on a career-best 44.6% shooting. But his true shooting percentage still only sits at 53.1% due to his poor 3-point shooting (32.9%), struggles at the rim (51.5%) and inability to consistently get to the free-throw line (3.2 attempts per game). He still struggles defensively and his 3.9-to-2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio is not ideal for a point guard. Coach David Fizdale loves him, and he is right that Mudiay will be on an NBA roster next year. But he smells like a guy that puts up good numbers on a bad team.

Verdict: His $12 million cap hold makes it impossible for Mudiay to return, despite Fizdale’s pleas, unless he signs a league minimum or similar contract.

MARIO HEZONJA

You still see the flashes of star play that make your eyes widen, but too often Hezonja has Knicks fans trying to cover their eyes with his play style.

Verdict: There’s a chance he returns on a minimum contract, but odds are he’ll find a better landing spot elsewhere. Gone.

LANCE THOMAS

He only has $1 million guaranteed on next year’s deal, which the Knicks will pay to get his salary off the cap.

Verdict: If he doesn’t get a better deal elsewhere, he could be back as a veteran leader on the league minimum on the end of the bench. I think he'll be back.

KADEEM ALLEN

There are reports that the Knicks still control his rights on a two-way contract next season, but Allen might have done enough to earn a minimum NBA deal as a backup point guard. He can defend and is scrappy enough to get to the hoop.

Verdict: He’ll be back, whether at Madison Square Garden or in Westchester.

OTHERS

Henry Ellenson, John Jenkins, Billy Garrett and Isaiah Hicks are not NBA-level players, but the Knicks might be able to use the contracts of those they gave nonguaranteed money for next season in potential offseason trades to match salaries.

Verdict: None of these four players will wear orange and blue in the NBA next year.

You can follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports You can also check out his Knicks podcast, "The Bank Shot," which you can subscribe to on iTunes here: You can also listen to the latest episode with Matt Moore, NBA Writer for the Action Network, here.