Power Ranking New York Knicks Roster Heading into 2017-18 Season
If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything but the 2017-18 New York Knicks roster. Already more banged-up than a Staten Island Ferry, the Knicks also have as many new faces as familiar ones and more contracted players than available roster spots.
Envy not poor head coach Jeff Hornacek (and Invisible Man Kurt Rambis, who is still there). With all those variables, it's nigh impossible to imagine what the opening night starting five might be, and what it will settle into for the bulk of the season.
Looking ahead to the 2017-18 season, we're ranking every Knicks player. These rankings aren't where the players will be slotted by year's end, or even who's best in a vacuum. These players have been slotted to represent where they stand at this moment.
A number of factors went into these rankings, such as health, past value to the Knicks, overall skill set and likelihood that they will be cut or traded by the new front office. There's also a strong "who's hot, who's not" factor based on what we've seen so far in the postseason.
Here's our look at where each player stands just days before 2017-18 tips off.
Where the Knicks Currently Stand
A quick refresher of the Knicks situation.
The preseason roster includes: big men Kristaps Porzingis, Joakim Noah, Willy Hernangomez, Kyle O'Quinn, Enes Kanter (fresh from the Oklahoma City trade) and rookie Luke Kornet; forwards Michael Beasley, Lance Thomas and rookie Nigel Hayes; point guards Ramon Sessions, Jarrett Jack (on an unguaranteed contract), rookie Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke, who was just signed Wednesday to an unguaranteed contract; and at the wing, Tim Hardaway, Courtney Lee, Ron Baker, Doug McDermott and rookie Xavier Rathan-Mayes.
Noah is suspended the first 12 games of the regular season, and the team is permitted to carry a 16-man roster during that time. They are also allowed two of the NBA's newly created two-way contracts, which allow a G-League affiliate player to spend up to 45 days with the New York Knicks; one of these is already assigned to Kornet.
Rathan-Mayes and Hayes are presumably headed to the G-League, but that still leaves the team with one extra Knick during Noah's suspension, and two when he returns.
Both point guards with unguaranteed contracts, Jack or Burke, seem a likely target; yet there is also a surplus of big men.
G-League Bound and Down
20. Xavier Rathan-Mayes: In three preseason appearances, the rookie shooting guard has gone 1-of-9 from the field. His total points, assists and steals altogether are equal to his total fouls. He's simply a step slow for the pro game now and will have to catch up in the G-League if he wants another attempt.
19. Nigel Hayes: The rookie forward has avoided making troubles for his teammate and has begun causing troubles for opponents, which is about as much as you can hope for at this stage. He's unafraid of contact, gets to the line, defends his man and has logged two steals and one block in his limited minutes.
18. Luke Kornet: Kornet holds this spot above Hayes only because he already has a two-way contract. However, that position may not be so secure. He has missed every preseason game so far, due to a sore hamstring, and the Knicks are already overloaded with bigs. Kornet does, however, offer something most of them don't: daggers from long-range. He holds the NCAA three-point record for seven-footers.
17. Trey Burke: This will be 24-year-old Burke's fifth NBA season, having just completed a stint with the Washington Wizards, where he averaged 5.0 points and 1.8 assists in 12.0 minutes per game. Burke's minutes and performance may have slid during his first three years with the Utah Jazz, but he is still young and his sudden appearance is no doubt a bad look for Jarrett Jack.
16. Jarrett Jack: Jarrett Jack was already vying against Ramon Sessions for the spot of veteran mentor for Frank Ntilikina, and now he has the younger Burke to compete with as well; not to mention combo guard Ron Baker.
Jack has played more minutes than Sessions, but Sessions has had more starts. Jack is slightly ahead on assists, but Sessions has a big lead on rebounds. Jack is better at drawing free throws but Sessions has better shooting efficiency. Add it all up, and Sessions' plus/minus is plus-0.7 while Jack's is only minus-14.0.
While he has not performed poorly, the Knicks may choose to diversify their options at the point, and if so, Jack's time in New York may come to an end.
15. Mindaugas Kuzminskas: "Cheese" has not played yet this season, due to a sore left calf. The good news is that in his absence, some of his new teammates have begun to get a thriving transition game going—and that is something Kuzminskas shone at last season.
Kuzminskas' stock should probably be raised a bit higher simply for the exquisite, multi-lingual Twitter trash-talking he unleashed on his Knicks teammates Willy Hernangomez and Kristaps Porzingis during the EuroBasket competition this summer.
14. Ron Baker: Ron Baker was rusty in his first appearance this preseason, after missing the first three games due to a sprained ankle. "Burgundy" entered the court Monday night versus the Houston Rockets and immediately drove the Knicks off a 0-17 cliff. He went 0-of-3 from long range, committed four turnovers and four fouls in 24 minutes.
He was not sharp. Nevertheless, he was still overflowing with his usual hustle. After poking the ball away, he chased it down, dove onto the floor to secure it and dished to a trailing Enes Kanter who slammed it for two.
13. Damyean Dotson: While Baker convalesced and rusted up, rookie Damyean Dotson swept up his minutes. A strong on-man defender and wily rebounder for his position (4.0 per game), he's also a sharpshooter from behind the arc. Nailing them at 50 percent, he quietly racked up 17 points versus the Rockets on Monday.
The assumption was that Hardaway and Lee would be competing with one another for minutes; however, the two are playing so well beside one another in preseason, that it's possible they could play as a duo more often, leaving Dotson the opportunity to pick up where Justin Holiday left off as the three-and-D backup on the wing.
12. Doug McDermott: McBuckets hasn't sunk too many buckets yet. He's averaging 5.5 points on 36.4 percent shooting. He's nevertheless made an impact with solid rebounding and a couple of highlight plays—particularly a full-speed, rim-shaking, one-handed jam right down the lane off the dish from Willy Hernangomez.
11. Lance Thomas: What to do with Lance Thomas? Depending on the moment he goes from uplifting his entire team to making a foolish foul and boneheaded turnover. It is as though there are two Lance Thomases.
Overall, his shooting is not bad at 41.2 percent, his rebounding is okay at 3.3 in 18.6 minutes and he's a versatile player. His health seems to be improved over last season and his moves in the post look stronger and more deft.
10. Kyle O'Quinn
Kyle O'Quinn has a locker room presence and an on-court energy (as well as a Captain Underpants Halloween costume) that might make him an essential member of the team.
Plus, he's still rejecting shots like they're unwanted prom date invitations (1.5 per game), and always has an eye for where the ball is. He doesn't always see his man, though.
Hornacek yanked him off the court Monday after an embarrassing fail to contest Nene, and those mistakes could hurt him on an overloaded team. O'Quinn's butterfingers continue make him turnover-prone and he has also made a few ill-timed fouls. He can be a major difference-maker for the Knicks, inspiring them to make quick, energetic runs, but unfortunately it can also go in either direction.
9. Frank Ntilikina
Rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina, nursing a sore knee, has only appeared in one preseason game, but his position as part of the future seems, for now, to be secure.
Although he only shot 1-of-7 in his debut against the Brooklyn Nets Oct. 3, he also logged three assists and one steal in fewer than 18 minutes. He flashed his greatest potential when he turned a steal into a fast-break layup attempt, drew the foul and sunk two free throws.
Working alongside Beasley and Lee, Ntilikina was very quick at responding to opponents' maneuvers on defense, using not just his impressive wingspan, but his wily knack for knowing where to provide help.
8. Ramon Sessions
Ramon Sessions may not be a star, but he's a capable point guard who's immediately come in and started doing his job.
Off the court you can catch him pulling aside Ntilikina on the sideline to give him notes. On the court he's moving the ball and encouraging a beautiful chemistry between Hardaway, Lee and Beasley, and helping generate a legitimate transition game with his rebounds and outlet passes.
On one particularly lovely play versus the Rockets, Kanter tipped the ball to Sessions after a defensive board, Sessions pitched the outlet to Hardaway on the break, and Hardaway dished it backwards to a trailing Beasley who finished with a one-handed dunk.
Sessions is fairly efficient at getting to the hoop and while he doesn't always finish, he puts teammates in a position to be ready with putbacks, or he draws fouls. He's certainly earned the starting position for now.
7. Joakim Noah
The 12-game suspension is a killer. Noah looks in fine form, as he showed off in his first appearance when he smoothly polished off a block on one end with a floater at the bucket at the other.
The communication on the defensive end picks up immediately when Noah walks onto the floor (encouraged by his frequent reminders about communicating). He has only played 21 minutes total this preseason so far, but he currently has the best plus/minus on the team (plus-3.0 per game) and has logged nine rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in that 21 minutes. With him on the court, the Knicks went on their best run of the preseason: an 18-2 blitz over the Brooklyn Nets.
He is the only one who always blocks out and rarely loses his man. That doesn't mean he won't lose his job (or the use of another body part to injury). For now, however, he looks leaps and bounds better than last season.
6. Enes Kanter
Enes Kanter does not have Porzingis' defensive prowess, but he does have perfect form when doing push-ups. (He showed this skill off after a nasty crash to the floor.)
It's also nearly impossible to stop him from getting to the hoop once he's on the block with the ball in his hands. Kanter has had some nights when he couldn't finish at the rim, but he never failed to get there.
The effort is dogged, the footwork is clever, the rebounding, especially on offense, is good. Kanter has no outside shot, but with 50.0% shooting from the field he put up 15 points per game.
Although his skills on defense are minimal, his effort is not. There's potential for the Knicks staff to upgrade Kanter's game by teaching him to apply his fine footwork to the defensive end. If they can turn him into a legitimate two-way player, he becomes a stronger candidate to fill the starting role at the 4 or 5 ahead of Willy Hernangomez and others while Noah is suspended, Porzingis is injured...and maybe even after that.
5. Willy Hernangomez
Although Noah has more boards per minute than the others, Willy Hernangomez leads the team in rebounds and is looking particularly spectacular on the defensive glass—something the Knicks were desperately lacking last season and need to feed a transition game.
Hernangomez still plays on rollerskates; his travels and moving screens continue to make him turnover-prone. However, his post maneuvers so far look better than ever, he's holding down his position more fiercely, and his craftiness under the bucket is tricking opponents to foul him (he leads the team in free throws attempted at 5.5per gam).
He's also finding his teammates. The pass to the streaking McDermott for a slam was just one example of Hernangomez's growing ability to thread the needle.
4. Tim Hardaway Jr.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is not the same man he was two years ago; and that is a great compliment.
Thanks to his years with the Atlanta Hawks coaching staff, Hardaway's defense is vastly improved. He is perpetually in the passing lane, setting himself up for two steals per game. He never lacks for effort and always contests his man. There is room for improvement, though, as he still struggles to close out, and leaves opponents paths to drive past him.
He continues to be a great marksman, scoring 16.3 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting. He particularly shines on his quick catch-and-shoot because his hands are up at the ready as soon as his feet are in position.
His attitude is also entirely different. I'm not convinced, yet, though, that all traces of the sulky kid are gone. When the Knicks need to play out of a deep deficit, they'll need someone else to prevent that dispirited attitude from creeping in and affecting his performance.
3. Courtney Lee
Hardaway and Courtney Lee are competing for the starting job (although they're playing so well beside one another in preseason, that it's possible they'll play as a duo). It's a tough choice.
Hardaway is a more prolific scorer, but mostly because Lee hasn't had the offense run through him. Lee is more efficient from downtown (54.6 percent) and currently equals Hardaway in assists and rebounds.
They're both very strong on defense, but while Hardaway likes to sit in the passing lane, Lee is more versatile, great at providing pressure, giving help and closing down the perimeter.
For now, Lee has a superior plus/minus (0.0 to Hardaway's minus-12.0) and when paired with Kanter, Porzingis or other scorers on the floor, he'd probably be the better option. However, expect to see these two teamed up more often than battling it out.
2. Kristaps Porzingis
Despite inefficiency and injury thus far, Kristaps Porzingis remains the big man among New York big men. He no doubt has a starting job at the 4 or 5 once he's well, and he'll undoubtedly own the spotlight with Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose having moved on.
Let's blame the sore hip that eventually caused him to leave the game against Brooklyn Sunday for the fact that he shot only 2-of-7 from the field, committed three fouls in just 16 minutes and ended with a dismal minus-20 that night. Give him credit for the fact that he also hauled down five rebounds and racked up three blocks in that time.
Nevertheless, it's worth noting that when KP is bruised, the team is bruised. When his body is not fully healed, he plays sloppy defense, gets into early foul trouble and causes lineup problems for his coaching staff.
Getting and keeping him healthy is a priority. A healthy Porzingis is certainly New York's best player.
But even a healthy KP comes with questions considering he was outshone most of last season. We need to see him truly take the wheel this year and become the star his skill set indicates he can be.
1. Michael Beasley
Remember how this ranking has a level of "who's hot, who's not" to it?
Enter Michael Beasley.
Beasley's self-applied comparison to Kevin Durant suddenly seems less outlandish after four games in a Knicks jersey (albeit, only slightly less). He has glittered at both the 3 and 4 spots, at both the offensive and defensive ends, both with the ball and without it.
On top of his 12 points, Beasley leads the team in steals (2.5), averages 6.0 boards and 1 block per game, and is surpassed in assists by only the point guards (3.0).
His help defense still needs work but his defensive rebounds, speed and sharp-eyed outlet passes have been core to the Knicks transition game, as he works smoothly with Lee and Hardaway (and Sessions and Kanter) with a chemistry more common in a team that's been together for two years, not two weeks.
He still has the pretty jumper and smooth footwork that made him such a high draft pick years ago. And believe it or don't, Beasley, who was always a magnet for trouble, had the cool head that prevailed in pulling Jarrett Jack away from James Harden before a technical foul could escalate into an ejection.
It's only preseason, and after all the Knicks haven't won a game yet. Nevertheless Beasley and New York could be a better love match than fans or team leadership could ever have expected.