New York Knicks: 5 Biggest Questions Entering Training Camp

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2017

New York Knicks: 5 Biggest Questions Entering Training Camp

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    This is different. A new NBA season is almost upon us, and the New York Knicks aren't experiencing delusions of grandeur.

    Last year at this time, Derrick Rose tried unsuccessfully to sell the Knicks as a superteam. Now, new president Steve Mills is cautioning, "We may not be there at first," on the Official MSG Blog.

    Frankly, the change is refreshing. Rather than recklessly rushing through rebuilds, New York is taking its time to collect and develop young prospects. (That seems to be the plan, at least.) Some Knicks youth have already started to shine, and there are chances for more to join the conversation in 2017-18.

    That's the fun kind of basketball uncertainty. It's also not the only type New York possesses. The Knicks are overloaded with unknowns, so we have analyzed the five biggest ones and ordered them by significance.

5. Can Tim Hardaway Jr. Quiet His Critics?

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    Raised eyebrows would have been a much better reception than the real reaction to Tim Hardaway Jr.'s new four-year, $71 million pact.

    "They're nuts," one agent told Bleacher Report's Yaron WeitzmanUSA Today labeled it the offseason's "first truly bad contract." NBA Twitter skewered the signing.

    If the offer was made in 2016—when free-agency dollars downpoured on nearly every hooper with a pulse—its criticisms wouldn't have been nearly so fervent. But with the league's return to relatively reasonable spending this summer, the price tag looks exorbitant for a scoring specialist who's averaged 11.0 points for his career.

    Hardaway's fingerprints rarely run across the box score. He's forgettable as both a rebounder (career 2.1 per game) and a distributor (1.5 assists). His defense is notable for the wrong reasons (57th among shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus last season, per ESPN.com).

    That said, the 25-year-old is young enough to assume he's not done developing. Plus, he already has a few well-defined strengths. He has a good shooting stroke and better athleticism. Scoring has always been his niche, and last season he set personal bests in points per game (14.5), points per 36 minutes (19.1), field-goal percentage (45.5) and true shooting percentage (56.8).

    That's not worth $71 million, and his contract could always be a burden on the Knicks' cap. But his salary doesn't matter inside the lines, and he's capable of goosing this offense with spacing, explosiveness and transition buckets.

4. Who's Running Point?

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    The long-term outlook for Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina is bright. The impossibly long lead guard (6'5" with a 7'0" wingspan) promises to provide two-way versatility with relentless on-ball defense and an improving outside shot.

    But the 19-year-old's present looks murky even by freshman standards. His offense is a work-in-progress on all levels. His handles need tightening, his jumper isn't where it needs to be, and he requires much more seasoning when it comes to running an offense.

    "Ntilikina is eventually going to be rock-solid in almost any situation...where [he] may falter is if he's thrust into a huge role as a lead guard early on in his career," Mike Schmitz wrote for DraftExpress.

    Sounds like an easy solution, right? Just slow-play the new guy and put the ball in more capable hands.

    Of course, that's assuming the Knicks have viable alternatives. One glance at the depth chart shows that's an optimistic leap to take. Only two other point guards hold guaranteed contracts—Ramon Sessions, whose abysmal 2016-17 season was mercifully cut short by knee surgery, and Ron Baker, who isn't a point guard and posted a paltry 7.5 player efficiency rating as a rookie.

    Chasson Randle and Jarrett Jack are two potential alternatives, although neither possesses a guaranteed salary. Besides, Randle is barely more experienced in the Association than Ntilikina (26 games, 299 minutes). And Jack is a 33-year-old who's made 34 appearances the past two seasons—only two in 2016-17due to a torn ACL and torn meniscus.

    It's possible that even in his raw state, Ntilikina could be New York's best option. And even if he isn't, he might be the most deserving of minutes given his importance in this rebuilding effort.

3. How Will the Post-Triangle Offense Look?

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    How long after Phil Jackson's exit do you think Jeff Hornacek was burning his geometry notebooks like a high school student on the last day of class?

    If it happened right away, the skipper was too polite to share that. The day after Jackson left, Hornacek told reporters, "We're going to do a lot of things from last year," per Scott Cacciola of the New York Times.

    But Hornacek's latest offensive instructions don't include any triangle elements.

    "If there are, he hasn't implemented them yet," Jack told Marc Berman of the New York Post. "So far, it's a lot of much more fast-paced offense, movng, cutting, more ball movement. From what I understand, that's the crux of it for now."

    If anything from this offseason should excite 'Bockers backers, this is it. The offense Hornacek oversaw during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns was everything last season's Knicks' attack wasn't—fast-paced, exciting and consistently entertaining.

    The 2016-17 Knicks were unrecognizable as a Hornacek team. They were a bottom-third outfit in three-point attempts (21st) and fast-break points (24th) and middle of the pack in pace (15th). During his two full seasons as head coach—2013-14 and 2014-15—the Suns were top-third in long-distance looks (fourth and 10th) and pace (third and eighth) and top-three in fast-break scoring (third and first).

    New York is younger and more athletic than it has been. The time to push the tempo is now, and Hornacek should be revitalized by ridding himself of his ex-boss' three-sided restraints.

2. How Much Longer Will Melo Be Around?

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    It's been more than two months since a deal sending Carmelo Anthony to the Houston Rockets was said to be "at the 2-yard line," as a source characterized it to Stefan Bondy and Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

    Even Eli Manning's New York Giants think this is anemic red-zone work.

    The potential transaction seems to be moving backward, as Isola now reports Anthony's camp "is cautiously optimistic" about moving to Space City before media day. Fox Sports' Jason McIntyre reports that if Houston doesn't happen, Anthony would OK a deal to the Portland Trail Blazers.

    So, what happens next? Great question. If a logical next step had surfaced by now, the dysfunctional Melodrama would be a thing of the past.

    Instead, New York is paying desperately for the decision to grant Anthony a no-trade clause. And the 10-time All-Star is barricading his own way out of the Big Apple by handpicking a destination that probably isn't possible, since Houston doesn't have what New York wants.

    If everyone waits long enough, someone will eventually blink. Maybe Anthony widens his list of landing spots. Maybe the Knicks can scrounge up enough sweeteners to stomach paying Ryan Anderson $61 million over the next three seasons. Or perhaps both parties blink simultaneously by way of a buyout agreement.

    Until this is resolved, expect more uncomfortable moments on and off the floor. Or business as usual for the blue and orange.

1. Is Everything Cool with Kristaps?

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    What would you do with a winning lottery ticket? You'd find the safest possible place to keep it, right?

    Well, you're not the Knicks. Their jackpot ticket—Kristaps Porzingis—has been carelessly left lying around and sometimes placed uncomfortably close to open flames.

    Porzingis belongs in the NBA equivalent of a safety deposit box. He might be the first of his kind, a 7'3" unicorn with athleticism, three-point range and rim protection. He's just 22 years old and is the Association's only player to ever tally at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 250 blocks and 100 triples in his first two seasons.

    Surely, New York would see his franchise-changing potential and handle him like delicate china, right? Nope. The Knicks shopped him at the draft—you know, in case there was a new Porzingis to draft, I guess—after previously annoying him with their drama and dysfunction.

    Amazingly, there don't seem to be any burned bridges. Porzingis called New York "home" in early August and added, "I hope to stay there my whole career," per NBA.com's Shaun Powell. But that doesn't mean the big guy is happy.

    "[Porzingis] isn't too thrilled about the organization...as evidenced by his keeping his word to stay as far away from the team as possible during the offseason," per Isola. "... Other than text messages, the Knicks have had little to no contact with their future franchise star."

    Knicks basketball, folks. There is nothing like it.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference or NBA.com.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.