As the Sixers head to New York to face off with the Knicks this afternoon, I chatted with Jonathan Macri, who does great work on the Knicks for KnicksFilmSchool.com in addition to his NBA writing for The Step Back.
Question #1: The Knicks and Sixers were considering many of the same players during last year’s NBA Draft, with the Knicks selecting Kevin Knox 9th overall and the Sixers selecting (before trading) Mikal Bridges 10th overall. How has Knox looked now that we are at the halfway point of his rookie year?
I think you can shed a positive or a negative light on Knox’s performance thus far, although the latter is certainly a tougher case if your expectations were anything close to reasonable. The best thing he has going for him is that his scoring, even as a teenager who was viewed as raw coming into the draft, is effortless. Heading into Friday night, he’s within a whisker of being a league average shooter from deep. More impressively, we’ve already seen improvement from the beginning of the year until now of Knox knowing when to put the ball on the floor and when to let it fly. When he does drive, he has an uncanny ability to use the glass to his advantage on little floaters around the basket, and he’s starting to get to the line, averaging 3.7 free throw attempts per game since the beginning of December.
All that said, he’s been far from perfect. He doesn’t finish well at the rim. His .478 true shooting percentage is among the worst of any high volume player in the league...and offense is supposed to be by far the stronger part of his game. To say he’s been a disaster defensively is an understatement. Still, the tools seem to be present for him to grow on both ends, and it’s not an effort issue on D. He also doesn’t think the game incredibly well, but given that that was arguably the biggest pre-draft concern about him, it’s been better than expected. Overall, he’s not lighting the league up like the guy we saw in Las Vegas Summer League, but he’s given Knicks fans plenty to be hopeful about for the future. No one I know regrets the pick.
Question #2: With the Knicks rebuilding and focusing maintaining young talent and financial flexibility, it’s expected that they’ll be sellers at the upcoming Trade Deadline. Which players do you expect to be on the block?
I don’t think anyone other than Kristaps Porzingis and Knox are untouchable, and I also can’t see them trading away rookie second-round pick Mitchell Robinson. If you told me anyone else on the roster was moved, I wouldn’t be blown away. That said, I don’t expect them to make any moves. It’s an open secret that they’d love to move the final year of Courtney Lee’s contract, but his removal from the rotation seems to be an organizational white flag, and that they’ve accepted that the price to trade him now is simply too high. Noah Vonleh is a player everyone will be calling about, but I have a feeling their price will be high. They may move Enes Kanter to Sacramento in a swap of expirings as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported this week, but honestly, who cares. The more interesting guy is Tim Hardaway Jr. There’s still some uncertainty about whether the organization views him as an asset, even on a contract everyone in the NBA seems to agree is somewhere between a slight and an egregious overpay. There are probably teams that could talk themselves into Timmy helping their playoff push. What the Knicks ask for in return is anyone’s guess.
Question #3: Many expect that the Knicks will be serious suitors for Kevin Durant. They’re also going to likely be in the running for presumptive #1 overall pick Zion Williamson. But aside from those two obvious targets, what types of players should the Knicks be targeting as they look to bolster their roster next season?
There seems to be an agreement among most fans that if Kevin Durant says no, and assuming Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irvng and Klay Thompson are off the table, the best thing the Knicks can do is essentially sit this summer out and either bring back current players like Emmanuel Mudiay and Vonleh on one-year deals or give similar contracts to free agents who don’t want to sign long term. Even without KD, the Knicks seem to have an outline of their front court of the future with Porzingis, Robinson (who has a chance to be REALLY good), and Knox. Yet there isn’t a guard on the roster you’d bet on being part of the care. I’m still very high on Frank Ntilikina, but his offensive struggles and overthinking of the game are tough to ignore. Still, he’s only 20 years old. How he performs during the second half of the season will go a long way in determining what the Knicks decide to do at point guard moving forward. In the draft, this regime seems set on continuing to bet on talent and upside, so it’s easy to see them looking at a Ja Morant, Cam Reddish or Kevin Porter Jr. if Zion escapes their grasp.
Big thanks to Jonathan for taking the time to answer some of our questions!