Why The New York Knicks Off-Season Isn’t As Bad As You Think
Let me preface this article by saying I am a Knicks fan. Always have been always will be. Now let me also say that in my opinion I looked at these moves not through my Knicks fan lens but through the lens of an NBA fan. So while I do not believe I was biased while writing this article there’s always a chance of it subconsciously being there so with that being said let's get started.
The Knicks entered this off-season with more cap space than any other team in the league, $52.6 million to be exact. That coupled with a season that saw a revitalized Knicks squad finish fourth in the East left many fans, including myself, hopeful for the possibilities to come.
When the Clippers trailed two games to zero to a Mavericks team they chose to play in the first round I guarantee every Knicks fan thought, “If Kawhi wants to leave New York's gotta be at the top of his list.”
When Chris Haynes reported that Damien Lillard was going to ask out of Portland I’m sure Knicks fans were already thinking about how awesome, “Dame Time,” would be in the garden.
When you look at moves like those as the standard for the Knicks off-season, I’ll admit it makes the moves that actually happened look rough. The Knicks retained their core from last year signing Alec Burks to a three year $30 million dollar deal, Nerlens Noel to three years at $32 million, Derrick Rose to three years $47 million dollars, Taj Gibson for the veteran minimum, and extended Julius Randle for $117 million over four years.
The Knicks also brought in Evan Fournier at four years $78 million with the last year being a team option and Kemba Walker whose contract isn’t determined yet but will be around $9 million.
So did the Knicks add a star? No. Did the Knicks use up their cap space on players that are good not great? Yes. Is this a disaster for the Knicks? I don’t think so and here’s why.
First let's break down the players the Knicks brought back from last season.
Alec Burks is a 6’6”, 30-year-old shooting guard or small forward that brings a lot of versatility. Burks is not elite at any one thing, but he’s also not bad at any one thing either. He can play on or off the ball shooting 38.2% on catch and shoot threes, 46.5% on pull up threes, and 46.2% on pull up twos.
Burks is shifty with the ball in his hands and while not an excellent passer can make good reads and throw a lob here and there like he did in game 2 against the Hawks. Defensively he’s far from lock down but with good size and quick feet he is far from a liability on that end. He’s a jack of trades master of none, whatever you want to call Burks he’s a rock solid player and a great guy to have off the bench for a team with playoff aspirations.
Next we got Nerlens Noel who filled in as starting center for the injured Mitchell Robinson last season and did so beautifully. Noel isn’t your typical seven-footer and at first glance you might be wondering why someone who averaged 5.1 points and 6.4 rebounds got over $10 million for three seasons. To be honest I would listen to your concerns because Noel isn’t a good scorer or rebounder and has a very slight frame making him a fairly soft center.
But for all the negatives that come with Noel you got to take them in stride because the dude can be flat out amazing on the defensive end at times. Noel averaged 2.2 blocks and 1.1 steals in only 24 minutes a game last season. Noel was third in the league in blocks per game last season and the only players above him, Myles Turner and Rudy Gobert, played 31 minutes a game. So if you took his per 36 numbers, which would put him at 3.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game, Noel would’ve led the league in blocks and would’ve been top ten in steals. There isn’t a single player at Noel's height that could potentially be top ten in steals and blocks, except Noel of course.
With that said I can see why some people are put off by this signing. Getting an effective center for cheap has never been easier in the NBA and at over $10 million a year for a back up defensive specialist that number is a little high. Nonetheless the number doesn’t change the player and Noel is an above average back up big who is good insurance for an injury prone Mitchell Robinson.
Let's look at Derrick Rose next. The general reaction from this signing was negative which really surprised me based on the way Rose played for the Knicks last season.
After being traded from the Pistons midway through the season Rose averaged 14.9 points and 4.2 assists on 48.7% from the field, 41.1% from three, and 88.3% from the free throw line. Rose was less than two percent away from being in the world renowned fifty-forty-ninety club. He also only turned the ball over once a game and during our rough round one series against the Hawks, Rose was the only Knick to elevate their play. His numbers jumped to 19.4 points and 5 assists with very slight dips in efficiency that naturally come when you play more minutes.
As great as Randle was last year, a majority of the time I felt more at ease when the ball was in Rose’s hands in a crucial moment. Rose has seen it all over his twelve year career and at 31-years-old he’s still got a lot left in the tank. Paying a guy who can run your offense and give you steady scoring off the bench $14 million a year is a steal in today's NBA when comparable guys like Terry Rozier makes $20 million.
Another thing I want to point out about the three players above is that all of their contracts are team options in the final year. This means the only guaranteed parts of these contracts are the first two years making the strain these contracts put on the Knicks cap flexibility much more manageable.