Knicks Lead

Can Knicks’ Youth Entice Superstars in Free Agency?

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New York is widely regarded as one of the best cities in the entire world. The lights, glamour, history and sports are just a few reasons why tourists visit the Big Apple daily. Sports, however, have been lacking lately, especially in Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks’ recent trade surrounding star forward Kristaps Porzingis has made New York’s upcoming offseason crucial to its future.

Despite losing the cornerstone of its franchise, the Knicks should look at the positives of the trade. By moving guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, the Knicks will have $74.6 million in cap space this summer. The organization will be able to sign two max free agents such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler — all of whom have been linked to the Knicks at some point.

A lot of cap space doesn’t guarantee to make a big splash, though. Signing big name free agents will require a strong offer and supporting cast. The money will be there, but it’s up to Durant, Irving and/or Butler to decide whether the young guns are prepared to make a run at a title.

Sophomores

The Knicks are the second youngest team in the NBA – only behind the Bulls. The roster consists of rookies, sophomores and only four players with over eight years of NBA experience.

Dennis Smith Jr. will have a huge impact on whether New York is a preferred destination for free agents. Smith was almost drafted by the Knicks in 2017, but his lack of effort on the defense caused the Knicks to prefer French guard Frank Ntilikina. Ironically, both guards are now on the Knicks and will need to improve facets of their games to aid potential superstar signees.

Smith, a sophomore, has shown some improvement, especially on defense, but still has a ways to go to reach elite status. His offensive attack has taken a dip from last season. He went from 15.2 points per game to 12.9 and 5.2 assists to 4.3. To make matters worse, Smith’s three-point shot isn’t there just yet (34.4 percent). Likewise, Ntilikina has a poor jumper (29.1 percent from downtown). However, Ntilikina cannot produce any offense whatsoever. He averages 5.9 points per game on 34.2 percent shooting from the field.

Rookies

Sophomores aren’t the only enticing players on the New York roster. In fact, the rookies have been more impressive and hold more value. Forward Kevin Knox entered the NBA with high expectations, especially with Knicks fans booing him on draft night. The No. 9 pick is only 19 years old and has shown potential to be a scoring threat from all three levels of the game. Since Dec. 9, Knox is averaging 15.7 and reached double digits in 19 of 24 games.

The New York front office has paired Knox with a second-round steal. Center Mitchell Robinson was highly touted coming out of high school, but he opted to skip college to prepare for the NBA Draft. This decision caused the center’s stock to significantly dip. The Knicks took him in hopes he would be able to provide minutes as a backup center and produce decent stats as a rookie. So far, Robinson averages 5.3 points and 2.0 blocks in 17.2 minutes per game. He also gives life to the team with high energy and his high motor on the court.

The draft concluded with just two picks for New York, but the Knicks still found a diamond in the rough. Guard Allonzo Trier went undrafted out of the University of Arizona but has been one of the more impressive rookies thus far. He’s averaging 10.2 points on 44.9 percent shooting from the field and 38.2 percent from deep. His inexperience shows at times, but with time, his composure in clutch situations will develop.

The NBA Draft

The Knicks will also be adding another piece this summer with their first-round pick. New York owns the worst record in the NBA at 10-42, but with the new lottery system in place, the Knicks chances of landing the top pick is not as great as years prior.

Winning the lottery will be ever so crucial for the Knicks, as forward Zion Williamson is lighting up the world at Duke this season. He is projected to go No. 1 with his teammates R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish following soon after. Any of the Duke trio would be a great add to the roster, but Williamson is the clear top target.

Failing to get Williamson could impede superstars from signing in New York. Adding other top prospects such as the other Duke frosh or Murray State’s 6-foot-3 point guard Ja Morant would be a strong addition to a very young Knicks squad.

Is It Enough?

The Knicks front office took a leap of faith with this trade. If the organization fails to sign at least one superstar, the trade was a complete failure. It’s certainly possible for the Knicks to capitalize on their cap space but because of the poor and inexperienced supporting cast, it’s unlikely that any big-name free agent lands in the Empire State.

The cap space would go to waste and the Knicks front office would be clowned – as usual – for trading away Porzingis. The rebuild that started in 2015 with Porzingis would be restarted with the Knicks’ first-round selection. Whether it be Williamson, Barrett, Reddish, or Morant, the pressure will be on him to uplift the Knicks from the gutters.

The trade is one of the riskiest NBA moves in recent memory. Is the risk worth the reward, though?

Only time will tell.

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About Brendan O'Sullivan

Quinnipiac University '22. Associate Sports Editor for Quinnipiac Chronicle. Writer for TLSM, Hoops Prospects, and Fancred.

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