Projecting New York Knicks' 2017-18 Depth Chart
Meet the 2017-18 New York Knicks.
Gone is Derrick Rose and his superteam delusions. In are No. 8 pick Frank Ntilikina and former first-round choice Tim Hardaway Jr., who scored a supersized check upon his return to the Empire State.
Those are the notable roster changes, which doesn't seem like much given the way this organization has fueled the rumor mill. Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis are still rocking orange and blue, and Joakim Noah is still around to bog down the financial books.
But the Knicks are transitioning away from today's false hopes to get to tomorrow's unknown. When you're trapped in a four-year playoff drought, a blank slate's appeal is tough to overstate.
Besides, the 'Bockers aren't starting entirely from scratch. As their projected 2017-18 depth chart—which includes a prediction about which of their four non- or partially guaranteed contracts will become permanent—shows, youth is ready to drive this franchise into its future.
Starter: Frank Ntilikina
Ideally, the 19-year-old French floor general would be eased into the action as his bony body fills out. But given the dearth of talent at this position and New York's minuscule playoff chances, the Knicks might as well throw their new point man into the fire and see how he reacts.
As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman sees it, there's a blueprint for Ntilikina's success inside the Eastern Conference:
"Ntilikina should succeed the way Malcolm Brogdon did last year with the Milwaukee Bucks—by moving the ball, shooting and defending. The Knicks' new combo guard brings similar length, three-and-D capability and basketball IQ, which should translate in a complementary role, even if he isn't the most dangerous athlete, scorer or playmaker."
That's not a super-exciting projection, but it doesn't need to be in order to outshine New York's other options. Ramon Sessions ranked 67th among point guards in ESPN's real plus-minus last season. Ron Baker was 79th at shooting guard. These should not be barriers in the development of the franchise's second-most important prospect.
Backup No. 1: Ramon Sessions
The Knicks spent a long time in search of a veteran mentor for their young point guards. That they finally settled on Sessions in late July shows he wasn't their first choice and didn't have better options than their minimum offer.
Sessions, nicknamed Serviceable*, is fine in a complementary capacity. Despite being a non-contributor from distance (career 31.6 percent) and fairly inefficient overall (sub-40 percent shooting in two of the last three seasons), he's sturdy when he plays (career 10.6 points and 4.1 assists).
The Knicks need to remember why he's there. As long as they don't harbor any illusions about him starting (something he's done just 35 times over the past five seasons), they'll get their money's worth out of the veteran.
*Not his nickname
Backup No. 2: Ron Baker
It's tough to tell what the Knicks saw in Baker's rookie campaign that they deemed worthy of a two-year, $8.9 million agreement.
He shot below 38 percent from the field, 27 percent outside and 66 percent at the line. His 7.5 player efficiency rating was exactly half the average number. He's a subpar athlete by NBA standards, but he'll keep the ball moving offensively and pester players at the other end.
The Knicks obviously like him, and they didn't cough up that coin for him to ride the pine. He'll have a shot to compete with Ntilikina and Sessions for the spots above, but the most likely scenario sees Baker with minutes as the third option at both backcourt positions.
Backup No. 3: Chasson Randle
New York was Randle's second NBA employer last season, inking him in February after he was waived by the Philadelphia 76ers. He averaged 5.3 points in 12.5 minutes over 18 outings with the 'Bockers.
His contract included a partial guarantee for the upcoming campaign, and his offensive arsenal looks powerful enough to keep his roster spot. He left Stanford as the program's all-time leading scorer and shot 41.7 percent from three during 21 G-League contests last season.
Starter: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Forget about the contract, if you can. Forget about the circle of Hardaway's Knicks life, or the massive gap between what New York paid ($71 million) and what others were offering ($48 million, per ESPN's Zach Lowe).
Focus on Hardaway the player, since he's probably bound to the Big Apple for at least the next three seasons (player option in 2020-21). He's 25 years old, coming off his most productive season and might have the roster's best combination of shooting and athleticism. If he's not filling the biggest role of his career in 2017-18, something went awfully wrong.
"He can really score," an Eastern Conference scout told Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman. "His shot selection isn't great, and he doesn't make other players better, but he's got a nice stroke, is a good finisher and can put points up in a hurry."
Hardaway's salary alone would warrant a starting spot, but his skill set demands one, too. Put the two together, and the Knicks will be force-feeding him all the minutes he can handle.
Backup No. 1: Courtney Lee
If the Knicks didn't weigh more than talent in their decisions, Lee would have a decent shot of winning the starting gig. He has a surer shot and much better defensive history than Hardaway, so a truly open competition might come down to a coin flip.
But it's not that simple. The Knicks need to see a return on their sizable investment in Hardaway and don't have as much riding on Lee. The 31-year-old's three-and-D game looks more attractive to a contender than a rebuilder.
As long as Lee is in New York, he'll see consistent floor time. He could even move into a starting role if Carmelo Anthony ever gets shipped out. But Lee lags behind Hardaway in the pecking order, and it would take a dramatic development to change that.
Backup No. 2: Damyean Dotson
For being the No. 44 pick, there's a lot to like about this newcomer. He has good size and athleticism, and if the last 12 months are to be trusted, he's a flamethrower from three. After shooting just 34.2 percent over his first three college seasons, he hit 44.1 percent as a senior and then followed that with a 48.0 percent showing at the Orlando Summer League.
With the post-Phil Jackson Knicks looking to do more running and gunning, Dotson should be looking at some year-one playing time. But his minutes will be sporadic, as Hardaway, Lee and Baker could all keep him off the floor.
Starter: Carmelo Anthony
If you think it's wild to suggest Anthony will still be on the roster, I have some bad news for you: Once New York handed out a no-trade clause, it lost control of this situation.
Anthony is the only one with the power to solve this puzzle, but things aren't breaking like he wants. So, as NBC Sports' Kurt Helin observed, everyone is stuck in a stalemate:
"[Anthony] has only been willing to waive the no-trade for the Houston Rockets, and those two sides have not been able to reach a deal [because Houston wants to move Ryan Anderson, the Knicks don’t want him, and nobody else does either without a couple of first-round picks thrown in]. Other teams—Cleveland, Portland—have tried to get Anthony interested in coming to them, but so far to no avail. Trade talks are stalled out."
Unless the Knicks decide they'll take what little the Rockets are offering or Anthony expands his list of acceptable destinations, this story won't change. And good luck waiting on either side to relent. New York needs to get assets back if Anthony leaves; Houston doesn't have any coveted ones available. And Anthony earned the clause, so he deserves to use it how he sees fit.
Assuming he's in New York—at least until closer to the trade deadline—he'll reprise his role as the Knicks' starting small forward. But don't be surprised if he's squeezed for minutes and touches like never before as the franchise continues nudging him toward the exit.
Backup No. 1: Lance Thomas
Injuries ravaged Thomas' 2016-17 season, and his absence/ineffectiveness destroyed the defense. New York ranked 25th in defensive efficiency with a 108.7 rating; when Thomas played in 2015-16, the number was only 103.2 (would have been fifth).
A healthy Thomas is an instant jolt to the second team. He can defend multiple positions and feast on open shots (42.3 percent from three last two seasons).
He doesn't have the scoring chops to be a starter, and since he's already 29, it's safe to say he never will. But the Knicks don't need to force him off the bench. Even if Anthony gets moved, they'll either bring back his replacement or pair Hardaway and Lee as the starting wings.
Backup No. 2: Mindaugas Kuzminskas
His rookie year was everything it needed to be. He occasionally flashed big-time talent, proved stable enough for regular rotation minutes and didn't embarrass himself. His final tally wasn't much—6.3 points on 42.8 percent shooting, 1.9 rebounds in 14.9 minutes—but there were moments of floor-spacing, hustling and off-the-dribble creating.
Kuzminskas' defense is bad enough to cut into his playing time, and he's the rare sophomore with zero (or very limited, if he's lucky) upside, since his 28th birthday is coming in October. In other words, expect more of the same.
Starter: Kristaps Porzingis
The Knicks can't have nice things. We've all known that for a while.
But their mishandling of Porzingis looks bad even by their dysfunctional standards. They took trade calls on the 7'3" 22-year-old, while he has lobbied for Anthony to stay and expressed frustration over their lack of direction. The latest cringe-worthy report, courtesy of longtime analyst Peter Vecsey, involves head coach Jeff Hornacek's telling Willy Hernangomez to tell Porzingis to "stop playing like a p---y."
Just for a quick refresher, Porzingis is New York's most important player since Patrick Ewing and biggest hope for future relevance by a mile. Alienating the youngster in any way makes zero sense, other than we're talking about the Knicks.
Luckily, they haven't lost Porzingis' loyalty. More importantly, they still have his potentially transcendent combination of size, athleticism and ability. Last season, he was one of only four players to total 100 threes, 100 blocks, 400 rebounds and 1,000 points. That should serve as his springboard to All-Star production (or close to it) this year as he becomes the organization's focal point.
Backup No. 1: Michael Beasley
There's no disputing Beasley's status as a draft bust—he was the No. 2 pick and now sits 28th in career win shares from his 2008 draft. But when clubs are desperate for cheap scoring, they give him a call. The Knicks fit that bill in a big way with limited cap room, last season's sixth-worst scoring second unit and perhaps a massive void to fill in the event of an Anthony trade.
Hence, Beasley's move to Madison Square garden.
"He's a very talented offensive scorer but has been an aloof player at times and drifted during games," an NBA executive told Marc Berman of the New York Post. "But when he has the ball, he can score against anyone."
Beasley's minutes must be restricted. He hasn't averaged more than 24 since 2010-11, and there's no reason for the Knicks to change that. As long as they maximize his torrid offensive streaks and minimize his defensive exposure, they'll find value in the minimal-cost reserve.
Starter: Willy Hernangomez
While the two players behind him collect $21.8 million combined this season, Hernangomez will make just $1.4 million as a sophomore. But he'll earn the lion's share of the minutes, reflecting an encouraging rookie effort that ended him on a high note (11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds after the All-Star break).
"He's doing what I thought he would: giving great energy and showing a great feel for the game," Scott Roth, a Minnesota Timberwolves scout and Hernangomez's former coach in Spain, told Weitzman. "He's proven that if he gets 20 minutes, he's going to get a double-double."
Hernangomez should clear that bar easily, even while factoring in time for Porzingis to play the 5. Hernangomez is part of the Knicks' young nucleus, and he has considerable opportunity to build onto a foundation of fundamentals, footwork and fervor. Even with only 72 games under his belt, he looks like a building block.
Backup No. 1: Joakim Noah
Noah's first season with the Knicks played out like a disaster movie, only without the climatic conclusion. He just arrived on an overpriced $72 million deal, continually underperformed and then disappeared with a knee surgery, then a drug suspension and finally shoulder surgery in April.
He may have helped the Knicks—and simultaneously lost his starting spot for good—by forcing Hernangomez into a substantial role. As far as on-court contributions go, Noah rebounded, defended and moved the ball, but New York fared 2.6 points worse per 100 possessions when he played.
His salary will be cumbersome until it's wiped off the books, but that won't prevent him from handling a high-energy reserve role.
Backup No. 2: Kyle O'Quinn
O'Quinn's second year with the Knicks was his best in five NBA seasons. He's a per-36-minute monster—14.5 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.0 blocks—and he has the requisite energy to be an instant-impact reserve.
But he doesn't have the best hands. Or great awareness. Or the defensive discipline to stay out of foul trouble.
He could grab command of the second center spot as Noah finishes his suspension, but there's a better chance O'Quinn's inconsistency puts him third among the centers in minutes.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.