Coming into the 2019-20 season, the New York Knicks have low outside expectations. A failed bid to sign superstar Kevin Durant as well as guard Kyrie Irving forced the Knicks to alter their free agent plans. They signed a pu pu platter of mid-tier free agents to short-term contracts that will allow them to re-enter free agency next summer.
The youth movement is underway in New York and many questions still remain about the direction the organization is heading in. The failure to sign any big name free agents has lowered the bar for the Knicks as a team. The need for in-house player development is more important than it has ever been for a franchise that hasn't re-signed a first round pick to a second contract since 1994 first rounder Charlie Ward.
Despite the expectations that the team will finish with one of the worst records in the NBA, there are still positives to look forward to for the upcoming season.
1. Second Year Players Kevin Knox And Mitchell Robinson Taking The Next Leap
Coming into the 2018-19 season, no one could've predicted that second round pick Mitchell Robinson would outshine lottery pick Kevin Knox. Robinson made the NBA's All-Rookie second team after leading all players that played at least 1,000 minutes in block rate. He collected 11 double-doubles and solidified himself as a key building block of New York's future.
Knox on the other hand struggled mightily. Though he piled up the points, Knox was historically inefficient as a scorer and passer. Questions remain about whether he can build his value back up and what position is best for him. There is still hope for Knox who is just 20 years old.
2. Will R.J. Barrett Shine?
Though Barrett fits the profile as the elusive scoring wing with size and athleticism, he comes with the flaws of an inconsistent perimeter shot and questions of his defensive ability.
The third overall pick in the 2019 draft, Barrett had an up-and-down Summer League performance, but he does have some hype heading into his first season in the NBA. The question is how the Knicks envision using him. Is he penciled in as a starter, or will the Knicks bring the rookie on slow and play him behind veterans on the wing?
3. Julius Randle Embraces The Number One Option
Randle has a variety of tools on the offensive end. One of the fun elements of his game involves snatching a rebound and proceeding to take the ball coast to coast for a finish. Randle is a nightmare for opposing defenses with his ability to attack in the open floor like a runaway locomotive.
Fresh off a season that saw him average a career-high 21.4 points and shoot an encouraging 34.4 percent from three with the New Orleans Pelicans, there is the chance for Randle to take his game to another level. New York's limited options on offense also help Randle's chances of toppling career marks in multiple categories.
Still, Randle hasn't reached All-Star status because of inconsistent effort on defense. There are concerns about how Randle fits in the Knicks' defensive scheme. To be fair, there are concerns about how almost every player in the NBA fits in New York's defensive scheme.
Last year, Randle saw 26 percent of his minutes at the center position according to Basketball Reference. With Robinson, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis all likely to see time at center, will Randle strictly play at the four?
4. Finding A Long-Term Option At Point Guard
The last Knicks point guard to hold the starting spot for consecutive seasons was Jose Calderon from 2014-16. The organization has seen a revolving door of point guards from Derrick Rose to Jarrett Jack all flame out. The recently acquired Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith, Jr. are expected to battle for the starting position.
The third point guard on the depth chart is Frank Ntilikina. The third-year guard has played well in the FIBA Tournament for France. Still, the Knicks have been very low on Ntilikina since the man who drafted him-Phil Jackson-departed from the franchise.
With Payton and Smith battling for minutes, Ntilikina will likely be forced into a backup role as a secondary ball handler at the two-guard. Can Payton or Smith create separation? Neither point guard is a particularly good perimeter threat. They both excel in an up-tempo game due to their athleticism. Both former lottery picks will have a lot to prove.
5. Gaining Assets For Veterans At Trade Deadline
Knicks fans just collectively sighed. Is this what the Knicks have been reduced to? This became the best possible outcome when Knicks president of basketball operations Steve Mills essentially apologized to Knicks fans for striking out in free agency in a statement.
The Knicks picked up numerous mid-tier veterans including Marcus Morris, Portis, Gibson, Payton, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock. All six players are either on one or two-year deals with a team option or partial guarantees in the final year. If these veterans play well and the Knicks are far out of the playoff picture, they could be attractive trade chips that could net second round picks.
Realistically, Morris fits the profile of a likely trade candidate at the trade deadline. He provides a specific skillset as an offensive shot creator that could help a playoff team. Asset management is a very important part of the NBA, and a second rounder could be an added sweetener in a future trade.