There has been a lot of talk about the Knicks rotation of players, having too many mouths to feed. Who should start, who should be included in the rotation, and who is on the outside looking in? Half the preseason down, there are standouts and hold outs around.
Game 1 at WAS: Win, 104-99 (1-0)
Stock Rising- Marcus Morris 17/7/2 (boop), RJ Barret 17/7/3, Taj Gibson 16/9/2, Kevin Knox 12/7/1, & Frank Ntilikina 9/5/3
Stock Holding- Julius Randle 11/7/7, Wayne Ellington 12/3/1, Mitchel Robinson 5/7/1 (four blocks)
Stock Falling- Elfird Payton 5/2/5
Game 2 at Home: Loss, 99-115 (1-1)
Stock Rising- RJ Barret 15/7/1, Allonzo Trier 14/1/2, & Julius Randle 14/8/4
Stock Holding- Marcus Morris 21/6/0, Frank Ntilikina 5/3/3, & Wayne Ellington 6/3/5
Stock Falling- Elfrid Payton 0/8/2, Bobby Portis 13/9/3, & Mitchell Robinson 3/1/3
While the sample size is small, both preseason games served to rise and dampen the Knicks’ expectations. There is a lot that will still play out in the final two games of preseason and the early season as the rotation solidifies. The race for rotation minutes, despite having more guards available, became a little clearer for the backcourt. Now it is worth noting before this dive that both Dennis Smith Jr. and Damyean Dotson have not played. Both should be ready for the next preseason game against the Hawks. Seeing how they factor in will need further evaluation, but their situations are inverted currently.
Starting at the point, the spot belongs to Dennis Smith Jr., so long as he’s available. Fizdale seems to be taking a slow and measured approach to give Frank more time. He’ll preach about earning what you kill but also give Payton a combined 50+ minutes in both games when his efforts on defense have been uninspiring. Much too early to call but if this continues Fizdale may have blinders for Payton much how he did Mudiay. In the second game, he notched two assists and eight boards while not scoring in 26 minutes. If he’s not going to add to the offense and his defense is sub-par (to be polite) then what is he adding to the team? Does he deserve to take the time that could be for Trier’s instant offense or Frank’s higher-level defense?
A.R.C.E. Point Guard Rotation: Dennis Smith Jr. (start), Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier (atypical moments), Kadeem Allen (TWD-two way deal), Elfrid Payton (OTR- out of the rotation)
Moving along to the 2nd guard, what was traditionally the shooting guard has gotten much more pressed for minutes and this is an amazing thing. RJ Barrett has shown not only to be what was advertised but truly “NBA ready.” Maybe because his classmate seems incapable of dropping less than 25 on hyper-efficiency against the better competition… point made. Due to Zion, RJ has been underappreciated and undervalued which is strange to say for someone who (prior to Zion’s emergence) was thought to be the no question number one pick. He’s strong, smart, and isn’t fazed by the big moments. His play-making ability can be an up-tapped gold mine when surrounded by better players because he’s willing to make the smart basketball play. Having a more cohesive order and established roles for players should allow him to expand that part of his game. He’s earned himself the starting role and seeing what the future holds for this young man will be fun for anyone along for the ride.
A.R.C.E. Shoot Guard Rotation: RJ Barrett (start), Wayne Ellington, Allonzo Trier (FFM- fighting for minutes), Damyean Dotson (FFM), Reggie Bullock (hurt, OTR)
Back-court addressed, the frontcourt has become harder because of other positions becoming more solidified from play. There could be some potential issues with fit at this role in comparison for the others and because of that, finding the right players at these spots and the roles behind the starts will be the task of the season. Morris started in both previous preseason games and he’s been producing very well on offense.
A question brought up from a game one analysis remains unanswered, do RJ, Morris, and Randle clash? When the offense is running well, it seems everyone can grab a plate but when it slows down, RJ and Randle have looked a bit awkward at times and having all three together can seem like a turn by turn system on offense. Would it be better to keep Knox out for a spacer role instead? More games need to be played before making a definitive call.
As far as Portis and Gibson go, they both had a pretty underwhelming play in the second game (Portis only game), but Portis took up much more time and it didn’t help. Mitchell Robinson reminded NYK why he didn’t start or play many minutes. While the second half of the year was much improved, he can get frustration fouls in bunches, often chasing a block. Should he become less foul prone, better at picking his block attempts, or live with just contesting with his length, the center spot is his. With that being said, listing two separate rotations based on Randle or Robinson at the center spot leads to some interesting outcomes.
A.R.C.E. Small Forward Rotation w/ Robinson at C: Marcus Morris (start), Kevin Knox, Ignas Brazdeikis (Iggy)
A.R.C.E. Power Forward Rotation w/ Robinson at C: Julius Randle (start), Kevin Knox*, Taj Gibson, Kenny Wooten (FFM/OTR)**, Bobby Portis (OTR)
A.R.C.E. Center Rotation w/ Robinson starting: Mitchell Robinson (start), Taj Gibson, Julius Randle, Bobby Portis (FFM)
*With all the talk about the off-season and RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox in-game seemed tangibly quicker, made better decisions, and had an improved effort on defense. This will go a long way improving the teams standing.*
A.R.C.E. Small Forward Rotation w/ Randle at C: Kevin Knox (start), Iggy Brazdeikis
A.R.C.E. Power Forward Rotation w/ Randle at C: Marcus Morris (start), Taj Gibson, Kenny Wooten (FMM)**, Bobby Portis (OTR)
A.R.C.E. Center Rotation w/ Randle at C: Randle (start), Mitchell Robinson, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis (FFM)
**Kenny Wooten really only played a bit in summer league but he’s got great defensive instincts, a little foul happy, but he fits into the “dog mentality” the players and coaching staff have been talking about. With a high variability between our capable defenders to those that leave room from improvement, giving time to a low usage defender will serve well to avoid spreading the ball too thin.**
Anyone feeling upset is rightfully so because this is only after two preseason games; however, ignoring the output and patterns occurring with certain players on the floor is a disservice to the fans, and ultimately the players as well. Coming to play in New York will bear more scrutiny than anywhere else in the league. In most cases right now, it has crossed a line bordering outright sabotage as media bears the responsibility to be unbiased and educated.
The players deserve better but instead of over correcting media’s problems, hold players accountable for things within their control like defensive effort. Payton and Portis have let a lot to be desired defensively and when they were putting out more effort, it never affected WAS offense. It is another reason why Dotson, a poor defender, lost a lot with the rise of FIBA Frank and more notably Barrett. Ellington seems like a more polished version of himself as well so while he has support among fans, he’s likely to have little minutes for himself.
The NBA is a very unforgiving league but should Dotson have improved defensive effort and results, he’ll be able to fight for minutes between himself, Ellington and Trier.
For those to see how this will effect my month to month win total breakdown, keep a lookout for a November breakdown and you can find my last one here!