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Players the New York Knicks Should Build Around

For the better part of this decade, the New York Knicks have been the laughing stock of the NBA. 

This season has been no different, as the 21-45 Knicks have the fourth worst record in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks attempted a playoff push this season instead of developing their young guys. The team needs to focus on the future and determine which players on the current roster should be a part of the rebuild. Who should the Knicks build around in order to become a consistent playoff team in the future?

1: RJ Barrett

After being selected third overall in 2019, RJ Barrett showed flashes of being a future All-Star, but he also struggled with limited pieces around him.

As a 6’6″ shooting guard, Barrett has shown the ability to become a secondary playmaker moving forward. He can attack the basket with his left hand forcing the defense to collapse giving him an opportunity to find an open teammate. 

In 56 games this season, Barrett averaged 2.6 assists per game, which ranks him fifth on the team. His assists totals would have been significantly higher had the Knicks not signed Julius Randle, who took the ball out of Barrett’s hands. With his size, I expect Barrett’s playmaking skills to grow as the Knicks put the ball in his hands more often.

Another aspect of his game that needs some work is his scoring efficiency. Scoring 14.3 points per game in his rookie season is solid, but that statistic doesn’t show everything. 

On 13 field goal attempts per game, Barrett shot the ball 40.2% from the field. From three, he shot 32% on 3.5 attempts per game. The biggest concern is his 61.4% from the free throw line, which ranks last in the league among qualified shooting guards.

The more Barrett attacks the basket, the more likely his attempts at the line will increase. During the season, the guard averaged 13 field goal attempts per game with only 3.5 of those coming from three. Those numbers show that Barrett takes most of his shots inside the paint or mid-range giving him plenty of opportunity to go to the line. This means that he needs to work on his free throw shot and look to bring that percentage up in his second season.

An aspect of his game that goes overlooked is his defense. He averages one steal per game, and he can be a very solid wing defender as he gets older. With his size, he has the ability to guard multiple positions and use his 6-foot-10 wingspan to lock down his matchup.

Barrett did not have a great rookie season, but the situation he was drafted into had a drastic effect. If the Knicks decide to use him as a playmaker in addition to being a scorer, I see no reason why he cannot become a much better offensive player. Moving forward, the Knicks should prioritize building around their 2019 first round pick.

2: Mitchell Robinson

A 2018 second round pick, Mitchell Robinson brings a lot of energy and has the raw talent to become an elite defensive center. The 7-foot center has shown glimpses of being an all-defensive first team player, but also has some weaknesses that need to be worked on.

Offensively, Robinson isn’t a modern NBA center. Currently, a lot of centers have the ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. 

Robinson’s defensive skills could compare to those of Utah Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert. If Robinson ever becomes what Gobert is in 2020, he can be a dominant force in New York for years to come. 

In his second season in the league, the center didn’t show a lot of improvement, but a lack of progression was not all his fault. This season, Robinson averaged 23.1 minutes per game with veterans like Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson sharing the minutes at his position. 

Another weakness that the center has shown in the league is his ability to get in foul trouble. In his two seasons, Robinson has averaged 3.3 and 3.2 personal fouls per game, which ranked in the top 25 in both seasons. This is something Robionson will need to grow out of if he wants to be the future starting center for the Knicks.

The biggest strength he has on the offensive end is his ability to run the pick and roll. With point guards like Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks have had success finding Robinson above the rim to finish on the roll. 

Just like Gobert, the best attributes of the Knicks center comes on the defensive end. This season, Robinson has averaged two blocks per game, which ranks seventh in the NBA. If Robinson continues to grow as a player and can stay out of foul trouble, he can be one of the most dominant defensive big men in the league.

3: Frank Ntilikina

The Knicks 2017 first round pick is definitely a wild card for the future, but he can be a big part of a solid second unit. The team has Ntilikina, Payton, and Dennis Smith Jr. at the point guard position and will need to prioritize one over the other.

The guard the Knicks need to give the most minutes to is Ntilikina. He has progressed in each of his first three seasons, and already has plenty of talent defensively. It is just a question of if he can become more of a threat scoring the ball. 

In three seasons, the point guard out of France is averaging six points per game on 39.3% shooting from the field and 32.1% from three. He only averaged 20.8 minutes per game this season, and with more time on the court, he should become a more effective shooter. 

In the 49 games Ntilikina played before the All-Star break, he took 5.6 shots per game shooting 38.2% from the field and 30.4% from three. In the 8 games after the break, he took 7.3 shots per game shooting 44.8% from the field and 40% from three. Those eight games after the break showed that as the guard gets more shots, he can find his rhythm and become more efficient. 

Another aspect of his game that took a big jump in his third season was his free throw percentage. After shooting 72.1% and 76.7% in his first two years, he shot 86.4% from the line this season. 

The best attribute of the French point guard is that he is an elite defender who has shown on numerous occasions that he can lock up great players. 

Two examples from the 2019-20 season were against Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook and Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Dončić. With 4.6 seconds remaining in a game between the Knicks and Rockets in early March, Russell Westbrook got the ball off the inbound. He attempted to drive past the Knicks guard, but to not avail. The Rockets superstar settled for a tough jumper and missed it giving the Knicks a statement win.

Similarly, on November 14th against the Mavericks, the game was tight towards the end of the fourth quarter. With less than five minutes to go, Ntilikina took the ball away from Dončić and forced a jump ball. In two seperate games, Ntilikina was able to shut down two All-Star guards in the closing moments of two important wins for the Knicks. 

Should Ntilikina be starting for the Knicks during a playoff hunt? No, but he can be a very solid point guard off the bench. That will allow the guard to come off the bench and use most of his energy on stopping the elites guards of the NBA.

Ntilikina is already a great defender in this league, and he can become a much improved offensive weapon for the team moving forward. He is only 21 years old, and the Knicks should give him more minutes allowing him to fulfill his potential for the future of the team.

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