Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Here's our weekly Knicks mailbag with SNY's NBA Insider Ian Begley...
@SRF_NY: What has happened to Dennis Smith Jr.? Despite his efficiency stats, in his first year with the Mavs he was at least a serviceable starting point guard and definitely passed the eye test. Now it seems like he's on his way out of the league. What's with the regression?
Suggesting Smith Jr. is on his way out of the league is a little strong, @SRF_NY, but earlier this season, several teams had similar questions about Smith Jr.'s play. They wanted to know what was at the root of his struggles.
My best guess is that there were a few factors at play. First off, Smith Jr. suffered several injuries in 2019-20, including one in training camp. That hampered his play. He also lost his stepmother in late October. The death, as you'd imagine, had a tremendous impact on Smith Jr. off the court.
The 22-year-old spent roughly two weeks away from the team following the death in his family. Once he returned, Smith Jr. struggled to find his rhythm; throughout the rest of the season, he was in and out of the lineup under David Fizdale, and then Mike Miller. Some of that was due to injury and some of it was due to ineffective play.
The injuries and the death of a close family member, presumably, are probably some of the reasons why Smith Jr.'s production (5.5 points/game, 2.9 assists per game in 15 minutes; 34 percent shooting) was subpar this season.
Even amid those results, some scouts viewed him as a talented player who, in the right environment, could reach his potential. And for a while in 2019-20, it seemed like Smith Jr. was destined for a change in environment.
A few weeks before the 2020 trade deadline, some people with the Knicks felt that it was a near certainty that Smith Jr. was going to be traded, per SNY sources.
But days before the deadline, Steve Mills was removed as team president. That probably prevented a Smith Jr. trade from happening.
Maybe, at this point, a change in scenery is still best for Smith Jr.?
In mid-January, when talking about his friend Bam Adebayo's success in Miami, Smith Jr. said that big factors in a young player's performance in the NBA are opportunity and fit. That's a credo that other players, coaches and execs echo.
Maybe the Knicks and Smith Jr.- - the best player the team received in the Kristaps Porzingis trade -- aren't the best fit at the moment?
Maybe another organization -- such as Orlando, which had some interest in Smith Jr. prior to the deadline -- would be a better fit for the young guard?
No matter where he ends up next season, Smith Jr. would do well to strengthen his outside shooting. His athleticism is unquestioned; when healthy, he can get by defenders with ease and find teammates around the rim. But scouts and coaches say he needs to be a threat to knock down an outside shot in order to put maximum pressure on opponents.
@boujeecoujee: What do Julius Randle's teammates think about his play style and whether he holds back the team or not?
There was a report in the New York Post a few weeks ago that RJ Barrett and other Knicks were upset that Randle held the ball too much. I haven't independently verified those details.
What I know is that the Knicks held a players-only meeting on the morning of Fizdale's firing. The meeting was called by Marcus Morris. One topic of discussion during the meeting? Trying to get the spotlight off of their embattled coach (Fizdale would be fired hours after the meeting).
Another topic discussed?
Some Knicks poor passing out of double teams. Randle and Barrett were among the players mentioned in the group conversation. So that tells you Randle's reluctance to pass out of double teams was an issue to at least some of his teammates at that point.
To address @boujeecoujee's question directly, I'd assume that some of those teammates felt that his style of play held them back from winning because the Knicks were 4-18 at the time of the meeting.
Did those feelings persist throughout the season? I'm not sure. But the on-court fit between Randle and Barrett is something that Leon Rose and the Knicks should probably examine in the offseason.
@dingo1414: Are there are any players here now that will be part of the Knicks' next playoff team?
The easy answer is that Mitchell Robinson and Barrett will be a part of the Knicks' next playoff team. We're assuming, of course, that New York makes the playoffs within the next few years and that neither Barrett nor Robinson are part of a trade.
The rest of the roster is a bit more difficult to project. When a new executive comes in, he or she is, generally, less invested in the players he or she inherits. So you can see Rose being more open to moving on from the players on the current roster because he didn't bring any of them in.
No current Knick has a fully guaranteed contract beyond the 2020-21 season. So you'd think players like Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, and Frank Ntilikina will have to excel in 2020-21 to ensure their future in New York under Rose.
@jusincred92: Does Becky Hammon have a legit chance of becoming the HC of the New York Knicks?
@alecjm13: Will we actually look at hiring Van Gundy again or it's just a rumor like it has been for years
I'd think the Knicks cast a wide net in Rose's first coaching search. Because of that, I'd think both Van Gundy and Hammon will get consideration. New York's roster is full of young players, so bringing in a coach and staff that can develop players well is paramount. Both Van Gundy and Hammon are well regarded in that area. For what it's worth, several coaches and people with a vetted interest in Rose's first coaching hire believe it will ultimately be Tom Thibodeau -- if he doesn't retain Miller (As noted in a mailbag earlier this month).
But those agents/coaches are making that assumption, in part, because of the close relationship between Thibodeau and Rose. It's not as if there is a handshake deal in place between the two men.
Also, I know John Calipari has stated publicly that he won't be coaching, but I still wouldn't entirely rule out Calipari as a Knicks candidate due to his close relationship with Rose.
@gabe69166829: Which draft prospect do you think fits best with the Knicks?
I think the Knicks would do well to find a point guard who can knock down an open shot. As Fizdale noted in a recent interview, that would make Robinson more of a threat in the pick and roll and would help space the floor in general.
So which lead guard will end up as the best shooter in the 2020 draft class? I try to lean on scouts who watch these players regularly to answer those questions. A few scouts I trust have projected Kira Lewis as a strong shooter at the next level. For more information on Lewis and other prospects, I'd recommend seeking people who pay close attention to these players all year round. A few recommendations? Spencer Pearlman and Rashad Phillips. The website 'The Stepien' also has detailed reports on prospects.