The New York Knicks had a productive offseason, re-signing most of their free agents and acquiring additional cheap talent, despite having virtually no salary-cap flexibility and very few assets. However, general manager Glen Grunwald had a few missteps and failed to address a couple of the team's pressing needs.
New York Should Have Passed on Andrea Bargnani
The entire Knicks organization operated under the illusion that the team was a legitimate championship contender last season. They were served a dose of reality by the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs. And that was with a wide open field.
The Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers in the East—and Oklahoma City Thunder out West—were severely depleted by injuries to Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Danny Granger and Russell Westbrook, and Dwyane Wade was playing on a gimpy knee for the Miami Heat. New York is likely the fifth-best team in the East behind Miami, Chicago, Indiana and a much-improved Brooklyn Nets team.
The Knicks need another superstar to play alongside Carmelo Anthony, and their best chance of acquiring one will come in the summer of 2015, when Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire and other players come off the books. New York should be stockpiling whatever assets it can in order to upgrade its roster at that time.
Instead, New York shipped a 2016 first-round pick and two second-round picks, along with Marcus Camby, Steve Novak and Quentin Richardson, to the Toronto Raptors for Andrea Bargnani.
Bargnani has been a huge disappointment since the Toronto Raptors selected him first overall in 2006.
The 7-footer is an atrocious defender, averaged less rebounds per 36 minutes than Iman Shumpert (4.6 to 4.9) last season and his outside shooting, once his only strength, has fallen off precipitously in recent years.
Andrea Bargnani's scoring statistics for 2008-09 through 2012-13 via basketball-reference.com
Bargnani has battled injuries over the past couple of seasons. He could benefit from a more limited role and new scenery. If he regains the shooting form he displayed earlier in his career, he can help the Knicks spread the floor and allow Coach Woodson to play a bigger lineup against physical teams like Indiana and Chicago.
But Bargnani is not going to put the Knicks over the top.
One first-round pick (which is likely to be late in the draft) and two second-round picks do not sound like much, but those are the type of assets that the Knicks could have used to sweeten a deal for a star player down the road. Remember, New York’s 2014 first-round pick, second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 and the right to swap first-round picks to the Denver Nuggets in 2011 were included in the Anthony trade.
The picks New York sent to Toronto for Bargnani were especially valuable for a team that is short on coveted assets. Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the only young players on the roster with any value, and New York has few draft picks to work with over the next few seasons.
Future picks swapped by the Knicks (via Hoopsworld.com)
2014 — Owed second-rounder (top-55 protected) from Sacramento Kings (Nate Robinson, Patrick O’Bryant).
2014 — Owed second-rounder (protections TBD) from Oklahoma City Thunder (Ronnie Brewer).
2014 — Owe second-rounder to the Houston Rockets (Marcus Camby).
2015 — Owe second-rounder to Houston Rockets (Marcus Camby).
2016 — Denver Nuggets have right to swap first-rounders (Carmelo Anthony).
2016 — Owe first-rounder (after possible Denver swap) to Toronto Raptors (Andrea Bargnani).
2016 — Owe second-rounder (31 to 37 range) to Portland Trail Blazers (Raymond Felton).
2017 — Owe second-rounder to Toronto Raptors (Andrea Bargnani).
New York Should Have Drafted For Upside
Grunwald opted for the safe option with the 24th pick in the June draft, selecting Tim Hardaway Jr. out of the University of Michigan. The Knicks GM explained the team's thought process (via Al Iannazzone of Newsday.com):
We looked at getting the best player available. Secondly, someone who could contribute right away, and the third criteria was filling a need on our team.
Ultimately, the decision was driven by the fallacy that the Knicks are serious contenders right now. Hardaway is a hard-working kid, and after three years at a top program, he possesses the maturity and experience to contribute immediately if injuries force him into the rotation.
However, Hardaway's upside is limited.
He does several things well, but does not excel at any one facet of the game. He also appeared to reach close to his ceiling as a collegiate player, which casts doubts on how much potential growth he has at the pro level.
It is hard to be too critical of the Hardaway pick. Any player left on the board that late in the first round comes with major flaws or question marks. Yet, there were players with greater potential still available.
Reggie Bullock, who was selected one pick later by the Los Angeles Clippers, is bigger, more versatile defensively and put up better shooting numbers in college than Hardaway. Tony Mitchell and Jamaal Franklin are two tremendous athletes, who were still on the board.
Archie Goodwin was projected to be a lottery pick a year ago, before his stock plummeted during a disappointing freshman season at the University of Kentucky. Some of Goodwin's struggles were a result of playing out of position, and there is no question that the talent, length and athleticism is there. He is exactly the type of player the Knicks should have taken a chance on at that point in the draft.
Instead of taking the long view, the Knicks opted for the player they believe is most likely to help them now. The irony is that if Coach Woodson is forced to play Hardaway major minutes during the season—or at all in the playoffs—it means that one or several key players suffered injuries and the Knicks would be unlikely to advance anyway.
The Knicks Needed to Add a Defensive Point Guard
Point guards shredded the Knicks defense last season by penetrating into the paint with ease. According to mysynergysports.com, New York surrendered .84 points per possession to ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls, which ranked 27th.
The problem was at the point of attack.
The Knick point guards lacked the lateral agility to keep their opponents in front of them. Raymond Felton, who is not as quick as he was during his days with the Charlotte Bobcats, ranked 211th, allowing .93 ppp to ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls, and Pablo Prigioni was not much better, finishing 196th with .89 ppp.
The Knicks re-signed Prigioni, who at 36 is not getting any quicker, and added veteran Beno Udrih to the mix. Udrih is a heady offensive player and was a bargain for the veteran minimum of $1.4 million, but he does not solve the defensive issues at point guard. The Slovenian ranked 187th in defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers with a ppp of .87 allowed.
Look for Shumpert to cover opposing point guards more this season.
New York brought the young shooting guard along slowly last season after his return from a torn ACL. However, Coach Woodson would like to be able to deploy his best perimeter defender on the other team's wing scorers. It is also difficult to cross-match Shump onto a point guard when the Knicks go to a dual point guard lineup.
There were not many backup point guards available on the free agent market in the Knicks' price range. Aaron Brooks and Will Bynum are not much better than Udrih defensively. Brooklyn product Sebastian Telfair would have provided an upgrade, as would have former Knick Toney Douglas, who regained his confidence last season with the Houston Rockets.
Grunwald needed to be creative and scour the overseas and trade markets for a defensive-minded point guard. Another option was to use the Knicks' first-round pick on the lightning-quick Isaiah Canaan out of Murray State or an athletic wing player, who could provide some quality defensive minutes.