NY Knicks or Philadelphia 76ers: Which Atlantic Team Has Brighter NBA Future?

John Dorn@johnsdornCorrespondent IIIJuly 27, 2015

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 14: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers and Kristaps Porzingis #46 of the New York Knicks guard each other during the 2015 NBA Las Vegas Summer League game on July 14, 2015 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE  (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Dow/Getty Images

Looking around the NBA last season, it was harder to find two more hopeless teams than the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers. Two of the three worst finishers in the NBA in 2014-15, their lowly records were a good depiction of how torturous their years really were. 

But with a new season comes new hope, and both teams have reason for optimism. The Sixers' futility earned them Duke's Jahlil Okafor with the No. 3 pick, and the Knicks ended up with Kristaps Porzingis at No. 4, who impressed in the summer league and who some say has star potential.

There's an interesting dynamic between the two rebuilding Atlantic Division rivals.

Sam Hinkie's front office has taken an approach previously unseen in major professional sports—gut the entire roster, sacrifice several seasons and hope that stockpiling years' worth of assets will someday build a powerhouse.

Phil Jackson similarly gutted the roster he inherited in 2014, but knew the Knicks' salary cap restrictions would delay any significant rebuilding strides until 2015—and also made an ill-fated attempt to compete in the interim.

Both teams are still years away from reaching their goals, but we can argue about which side is set up for the most long-term success.

Current Assets

New York

Though they ended last season with few NBA-caliber players in the starting lineup, the Knicks have regained some credibility for 2015-16.

One bright spot from 2014-15 was guard Langston Galloway, who is returning to New York for his sophomore season and could see major minutes either behind or beside Jose Calderon at the point—along with first-round pick Jerian Grant.

The 23-year-old Galloway averaged 11.8 points after his call-up from the NBA Developmental League and provided encouraging signs on the defensive end. At the very least, Galloway seems to be a worthy second-team guard moving forward.

Porzingis is another young piece, but unlike Galloway—whose expectations are tempered—this year's fourth overall pick is expected to make a big difference in New York during the coming seasons. 

The 19-year-old Latvian 7-footer shone in Las Vegas, knocking down shots from distance and using his many skills inside the arc. His lack of mass will certainly be an issue in the short-term—standing at over 7'2", he weighs in at just 220 pounds. But assuming he will physically mature some in the coming years, Porzingis seems as good a long-term prospect as any. 

The Knicks also did well in adding NBA-level talent to their starting five, nabbing Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo, both formerly of the Portland Trail Blazers. Lopez will bring above-average rim protection and rebounding over the next four seasons. Afflalo has maintained a positive defensive reputation over his eight NBA years while averaging better than 11 points per game on 45.3 percent shooting. 

But the piece Philadelphia cannot come close to replicating on their roster is Carmelo Anthony, who will be returning to the starting five after playing in a career-low 40 games last year.

At 31 and coming off knee surgery, it's reasonable to expect some rust from 'Melo out of the gate. But he is just one season removed from averaging 27.4 points and 8.1 rebounds on 45 percent shooting. And as he ages, his shooting touch should keep him a viable scoring threat even after he loses some quickness off the dribble.


Much of last year's unproven talent smorgasbord is still in place for Philly.

Returning from injury will be last season's pleasant surprise, Tony Wroten, who averaged 16.9 points over 30 games before partially tearing his ACL. Isaiah Canaan and Pierre Jackson also will figure into the point guard mix.

Robert Covington enjoyed a breakout campaign for Philly in 2014-15, putting up 13.5 points per game and earning a starting job by the end of the season. Nik Stauskas, acquired from the Sacramento Kings earlier this month, is another piece to build with, but he struggled mightily in his rookie year, averaging just 4.4 points on 36.5 percent shooting. 

Almost all of Philly's current talent resides in the frontcourt, with their two primary pieces: Okafor and Nerlens Noel. 

Noel will need to shift positions for his sophomore campaign, likely bumping down to the power forward, where he played just six percent of his minutes last season, according to Basketball-Reference. It will be a change worth monitoring, considering the 6'11" big man took 80 percent of his shots from inside 10 feet last year—attempts beyond that range connected at a sub-30-percent clip.

It was an encouraging rookie campaign for Noel, though. At 20 years old, he emerged as one of the better young rim protectors in the league. According to NBA.com, among defenders who faced at least seven shots at the rim per night, Noel ranked sixth by holding opponents to a 45.4-percent field-goal percentage. 

His defensive prowess could be a good omen for the coming season, while paired with Okafor, who has a reputation as being a sieve defensively. But on the offensive end, Noel's lack of range could be an unfavorable fit with Okafor, who's also mainly limited to paint touches. 

Jul 14, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) holds the ball away from New York Knicks forward Alex Kirk (53) during an NBA Summer League game at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In Okafor, though, the Sixers have their centerpiece. 

Widely regarded as the best player of his draft class through most of last college season, the center fell to No. 3, to the Sixers' benefit. After a slow start to the summer league, Okafor had no trouble putting his skills on display—showing off his impeccable touch and great footwork around the paint. As soon as he can adjust to NBA pace and solve any conditioning issues that may exist, Okafor should be able to find success early and often.

Still, as good as Okafor and Noel figure to be over the long-term, they're essentially the Sixers' lone big-time assets in the 2015-16 lineup. In terms of tangible assets under control right now, the Knicks have a sizable edge over Philadelphia. 

In the Pipelines

New York

What the Knicks have gained in short-term asset building, they've begun to sacrifice in future room for growth. It's hard to measure just how much New York will be handicapped in the coming years due to the gigantic salary cap spike coming, but there will be limitations with Anthony and Lopez each locked in at eight-figure salaries through 2019. 

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 14:  Thanasis Antetokounmpo #43 of the New York Knicks looks on against the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2015 NBA Las Vegas Summer League game on July 14, 2015 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expr
David Dow/Getty Images

In terms of draft picks, the Knicks have long been in trouble—but the dust is finally starting to settle a bit. They aren't in next year's draft at all, but starting in 2017, they'll no longer owe any future first-round picks—a debt they've been in since 2010, when the team traded for Tracy McGrady.

In addition to a handful of second-round picks, the Knicks own the rights to Willy Hernangomez, a European center who could come to the NBA as soon as 2016-17, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. 

One of Jackson's 2014 second-round picks, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, could figure into the roster as soon as this year, after spending all of last season in the D-League with the Westchester Knicks. The 23-year-old could give New York defensive support on the wings.


Hinkie has sold the Philly faithful on the future ever since he took over as president of basketball operations in 2013. And while it's undoubtedly tough to bear in the present, there's plenty to theoretically look forward to. 

The biggest could-be of all is center Joel Embiid, the third overall pick in 2014. But after missing his rookie year with a foot injury—which will also sideline him for this coming season—it's difficult to envision Embiid being the franchise cornerstone he was drafted to be. 

Though it's difficult to believe, Embiid could still return in time to fit along with the Sixers' timeline for competition. Likely finishing in the high lottery again next May, a nucleus of a potentially healthy Embiid, Noel and Okafor is Hinkie's dream.

And this is before we even mention Dario Saric, the 12th pick of the 2014 draft who could make the move to the NBA for 2016-17, according to ESPN.com. A 21-year-old scoring big man, Saric would add to the glut of Philadelphia frontcourt assets that the team could either keep or flip for talent elsewhere on the court. 

Looking ahead to the draft, though, there seem to be even more reinforcements heading to Philly. 

The team could have as many as four first-round picks in the 2016 draft, two in 2018 and an unheralded collection of second-rounders that act as the equivalents of trade tokens and/or lottery tickets.

The Verdict

Sooner or later, though, Hinkie will need to prove to other NBA players that his plan has an end goal—and in the foreseeable future. To this point, the GM has simply treated his players as faceless, identity-less trading chips, used to acquire the next future assets (see Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels).

It's a process that more seasoned players could sniff out as unethical. 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 5: General Manager Sam Hinkie of the Philadelphia 76ers watches the 76ers warm up prior to the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 5, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User e
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There hadn't even been any murmurings of Philadelphia showing interest in legitimate NBA free agents until this summer, when ESPN.com reported that the team had a meeting set up with Jimmy Butler before the Chicago Bulls handed him a maximum qualifying offer. 

The 76ers' process is an interesting case study, but without buy-in from talent somewhere outside the organization, it all could be a never-ending chase for a future that never comes.

To this point, there hasn't been such buy-in, and if Hinkie continues his trend of treating every player as a replaceable pawn—particularly by repeatedly offering players four-year, mostly non-guaranteed contracts that are effectively ultimatums—it's hard to imagine a desirable free agent willingly signing on to the program. 

The Knicks' situation isn't an overly desirable one, either. But in New York, there's a top-20 talent signed on through 2019 and NBA players that are willing to be part of a process. 

Until the 76ers find their James Harden via trade—or until some brave soul takes the leap of faith in free agency—this is their reality. The Knicks are flawed now, and might still be flawed when Jackson's finished product eventually arrives. 

But at least that finished product will be something resembling an NBA team. Nobody's sure if we'll ever be able to say that about Hinkie's 76ers.

Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.


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