With training camp around the corner, the Knicks season is getting to set to begin.
With a relatively disappointing summer passing by with no big stars signed, the Knicks will have to battle for a playoff spot this year. Although no big stars were signed, the Knicks did well to add a competitive group of players to immediately increase the talent level of the team. The team we will see on the floor this coming season is going to be vastly superior to the one fielded last year, albeit without any superstars.
With the Knicks adding the likes of Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington, along with others, the core of the team just got much more competitive. The frontcourt pairing of Randle and Robinson will certainly be an exciting tandem to watch this season. With the Knicks projected to win around 28-30 games by most sites, they need to outperform expectations in order to make the postseason. The improvement of one player specifically can lead the Knicks to the playoffs and exceed any expectation people had of the team. And that player is Dennis Smith Jr.
As we all know by now, DSJ was acquired in the trade with Dallas that shipped Kristaps Porzingis away near the trade deadline last year. The former lottery pick certainly has the tools to be an elite point guard in the NBA. Now he gets an opportunity to play a full season with the Knicks and should earn the starting role for this season. While he has all the athletic tools, he still has improvements as far as playing the point guard position.
The first improvements that we’ll look for this season is the fixed jump shot. After coming over from the Mavs, DSJ sported a hitch in his jump shot that made him pretty inefficient from the field. He’s been working hard over the summer to improve the jumper and be able to hit at a more consistent rate. We all know he can get to the rim but if he can extend his range out and knock down 3s pretty consistently, he can be special.
What’s also going to be important is his decision making. He’s a willing passer but he has to run the offense more efficiently and run the pick and roll well. Having Julius Randle on the court with him is really going to help that aspect of the offense blossom. Randle is an excellent pick and roll player and having him with DSJ should be very effective. The offense should also be much easier for Smith Jr to run because of the addition of shooters to the roster. With guys like Ellington stretching the floor, the offense will be much easier for Smith Jr to navigate.
Lastly, is Smith Jr’s defense. As we touched on above, he has all the tools to be an excellent defender. While he’s not a sieve on defense, he’s still a young player with room to grow. It’s unfair to expect someone to be elite in every aspect but solid improvements in each area would elevate Smith Jr substantially. It’s also not unrealistic because he is such a talented young player with a very high ceiling.
With a jump from DSJ in addition to the players the Knicks did add this offseason, they could certainly make a playoff push and surprise people. Ultimately, the Knicks showing that they can field a competitive team that’s headed in the right direction will make them more and more attractive. With the lottery odds no longer in favor of teams that are purposely tanking, the Knicks now can win as many games as possible while being competitive.
The new players that were added are all young but competitive veterans that can show the young players how to win in the NBA. This is an important aspect, is teaching the young players the keys to winning in this league because the NBA is tough to win.
This will be an important year for the Knicks future and with improvement from Dennis Smith Jr, the team could see the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.