After last night’s win (yes, finally!), the Knicks stand at 11-47 heading into the All-Star break. The recently ended 18 game losing streak has dominated headlines lately and taken the attention away from just how well the young players for the Knicks are developing.
And it’s not just the guys that were drafted or signed as undrafted, in the case of Allonzo Trier. It’s the G league guys too, really showing off the depth the Knicks have as far as talented players that can make an impact.
First off, let us take a look at the draft rookies and how they’ve fared this season and how they project moving forward, beginning with Mitchell Robinson. Mitch has been on quite a tear lately with a recent 5 game double digit scoring streak that ended last night. In addition to his recent scoring outburst, his defense has been remarkable, as he finished with 4 blocks against the Hawks last night. Robinson’s per 36 averages for this season are incredible; 12.4 pts, 9.5 boards, and a whopping 4.3 blocks per game (basketball references). Last night was Robinson’s 7th time this season with 4 or more blocks. Remember, Mitch didn’t play basketball at all last year and didn’t even spend time in the G league this season. His growth as a basketball player has taken off and he’s certainly played very well since the team welcomed DeAndre Jordan. Great mentor for him and somebody he can emulate his game after moving forward.
Next, Kevin Knox has certainly had his highs and lows this season, just like any other rookie. He won Rookie of the Month in December and hit a rough patch shortly thereafter. For Knox, it’s not that he doesn’t have the ability but with recent trades affording him more shots, it’s his shot selection mostly that could use some work. He’s been ultra aggressive which is great to see, but he hasn’t shot over 45% from the field in a game since Jan 13th (basketball reference). The next step in Knox’s progression is to learn how to impact a game when his shot isn’t falling. Rebounding the basketball better is a good place to start, as he should be a better rebounder for someone his size and length. Learning how to impact the game defensively down the stretch in these last 24 games would be nice to gain some momentum going into the summer.
Allonzo Trier is our final rookie from this years draft class to take a look at. He’s had an interesting season and notably one that ranks among the best ever for someone who was undrafted. The recent trade for Dennis Smith Jr took away some touches for Zo, and he struggled a bit initially to find his footing again. On the season, he’s averaging 10 points and 3 boards per game (basketball references). He certainly projects to be a great bench scorer moving forward and has been pretty solid off the bench throughout the season. Trier’s next step is becoming a more willing passer. His vision is there but his natural talent is scoring the basketball. He’s someone that will benefit from a general increase in talent around him on the floor moving forward, as it opens up the game more for him. He’s a better catch and shoot guy than he realizes but he doesn’t get many of those opportunities with this team. If the Knicks land on some big free agents heading into next season, Trier would fit in nicely as an off the ball scoring option, seeing many more open looks.
While the Knicks front office absolutely crushed the draft this year, we must make note of how promising the G league has been in preparing guys to move up to the big club when called upon. Luke Kornet, Kadeem Allen, and recently John Jenkins have all been brought up from the G league and had immediate impact. Kornet spent a little bit of time back and forth but we’ll count him as a G league guy for the sake of evaluation. Kadeem Allen has been playing as if he’s been with the team this whole season, not missing a beat. He looks like one of the best guards on the team since joining the club and posted 14 points and 9 assists last night in the win vs the Hawks. John Jenkins also had his best game with the club last night, dropping 14 points and 5 boards. Luke Kornet got the start in a new lineup and while he didn’t have his best shooting game, he’s certainly shown to be an NBA caliber player this year. His presence spreads the floor for the guards to penetrate to the basket and provides a tough cover on pick and rolls. Not sure what they’re feeding those guys in Westchester, but it’s working!
Despite all the losing, the front office and Coach Fizdale have set the franchise up to move forward in the right direction. This group of youngsters, as well as Damyean Dotson, Frank Ntilikina, and newcomer Dennis Smith Jr have bright futures moving forward. It’s important to ignore the outside pressure that some media members try to place on the club or takes that may paint a picture of disorganization or of a mess. This front office is anything but disorganized and has shown a concrete plan for this whole season and upcoming off-season. People have taken note of the Knicks developmental department, as agents are asking to place their players in the Knicks G league system as others have seen success. Players on one year deals like Vonleh, Hezonja, and Mudiay have had their moments with Vonleh and Mudiay in particular improving greatly.
Post All Star break, expect more of the same, with these games down the stretch important in the evaluation of which players to move forward with heading into next season and beyond.