The following post is by Jordan Gold. You can follow him on Twitter @Jordan_Gold0
Knicks training camp officially kicked off this week and, with that, a new season of basketball begins. Well, we all know that this was not the summer most Knicks fans and team personnel had hoped for, but the Knicks still come into the season with a really promising core of young players and a group of hungry veterans ready to prove that the Knicks are no joke. Here is a look at five of the biggest storylines as the Knicks season gets underway.
NOTE: I did not address the starting point guard battle in this because I already blogged about it a few weeks ago here.
How will the Knicks juggle all the Power Forwards?
This has been the biggest criticism of the Knicks offseason that they have too many power forwards, but in reality, it is not an issue at all. With the modern-day NBA trending more and more towards positionless basketball, it is not much of a worry. Julius Randle has plenty of experience playing center and the same with Bobby Portis. On the other hand, Marcus Morris has played a ton of minutes over his career at small forward. This storyline of having too many power forwards has maybe been the most overblown storyline from the offseason, and it will be exciting to see how Coach Fizdale uses all of the new acquisitions in different spots. It is totally possible that we see lineups throughout the year that consist of Randle, Morris, and Portis all on the court together and it won’t be weird.
How will the coaching staff handle the young guys and the starting lineup?
With a team in the midst of a rebuild like the Knicks, managing minutes between veterans who expect to play big minutes and getting the young guys their fair share is a tough task. The Knicks signed plenty of veteran guys this summer like Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton who expect to play a large role this season, but could certainly cut into the growth of guys like Mitchell Robinson RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Allonzo Trier. Fizdale will need to figure out a happy medium of keeping the veteran guys involved, while also making sure the young, potential franchise cornerstones get the minutes they need to progress their game in the right way. A potential starting lineup that could make a lot of sense would be: Dennis Smith Jr. at point guard, Barrett at shooting guard, Morris at small forward, Randle at power forward and Robinson at center. This lineup would mix up veterans with young guys and allow guys like Trier, Knox, Portis and Payton to flourish with the second unit.
Who are potential trade chips?
If Fizdale cannot figure out that happy medium mentioned above and the team is not winning, it will be interesting to see how the front office handles the trade deadline. Guys like Gibson, Ellington, Bullock and also Morris, Portis, and Elfrid Payton are all on expiring contracts and could be great assets to send to needy teams at the deadline. The priority for this season needs to be about building a winning culture at the Garden, but also maybe, more importantly, making sure guys like Robinson, Barrett, Knox, and Trier get the minutes needed to groom them into major contributors down the road. If the Knicks are several games under .500 by the time the trade deadline comes around it would not be surprising to see a lot of these veterans on one year deals head elsewhere. While the Knicks seem to be focused on winning, this team is still in the middle a rebuild and holding onto someone who could bring back assets needed to win down the road would not be the right move if they are far away from the playoff picture.
What is Julius Randle’s Role?
When the Knicks missed out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, it was a smart move for them to bring in a guy like Randle. The now sixth year pro out of Kentucky has only gotten better every season he has been in the league, is still extremely young at only 24 years old and is coming off the best season of his career averaging 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Besides his strong production on the court, Randle seems to be a strong character guy and someone who could help lead this young Knicks group into the future. I expect Randle to not only lead the Knicks in scoring this season and compete for an all-star spot in the depleted Eastern Conference talent pool, but also be the emotional leader of this group.
What do we do with Frank Ntilikina?
This may be the single toughest question the Knicks have to answer heading into the season and they are not going to have a lot of time to decide. The team’s deadline to pick up Ntilikina’s 2020-21 contract option is Oct. 31, giving them a short amount of time to decide what to do. Ntilikina has been extremely up and down in terms of production in his first two seasons with the Knicks, but his strong play at the FIBA World Cup could prove that he has finally turned the corner. Ntilikina is still so young at just 21 years old and his athleticism, length and tenacious defense is a perfect fit for the modern NBA. The smart play here for general manager Scott Perry would be to pick up his option. By doing this he either turns out to be productive and a strong part of the team’s young nucleus, or you can trade him and at least get something in return from a team willing to gamble on a 21-year-old guard with a lot of potential.