While this season has been a major disappointment for the Knicks, the team's ability to develop its young players represents a glimmer of hope for the future of the franchise.
As Stefan Bondy of the Daily News points out, the Knicks coaching staff has put together several success stories. Lance Thomas joined the Knicks on a 10-day contract and eventually earned himself a spot in the starting lineup along with a $27 million deal. Langston Galloway began his career on a 10-day deal with New York, yet ended the season as an All-Rookie selection (before being signed away by the Pelicans a year later). Ron Baker went undrafted last year and is now starting and playing well for the Knicks. Willy Hernangomez was a second-round pick who has developed into an offensive weapon at just 22-years old. Undrafted rookie Chasson Randle is now starting to look like a piece of New York's future. Justin Holiday never played meaningful minutes before joining New York as a throwaway in the trade for Derrick Rose but is now averaging career-highs in every major statistical category.
Besides Hernangomez, the rest of the players mentioned above went undrafted, while three played for the Knicks D-League team in Westchester.
When talking about player development, it's easy to automatically associate this with younger players. Development certainly has a lot to do with a team's ability to draft a prospect and provide them with the support they need to flourish into an impactful professional.
But clearly, there are other ways to find players who can contribute and make an investment in their improvement. Undrafted players are gaining more favor due to their later experiences. As Bondy notes, Thomas is a perfect example. The forward was 26 when he was acquired by the Knicks, boasting a resume that included plenty of time and dedication on the D-League and international hardwood, but not so much in the NBA. He was unproven at that level of competition.
New York recognized early on that the path Thomas had taken to that point made him a stronger player and person. His ability to grind and stay the course makes him a valuable commodity because he sets a great example for those that look to follow in his footsteps. Now a well respected veteran in the locker room, Thomas also has a great relationship with Carmelo Anthony.
Thomas made his mark by exhibiting hustle, energy, and a relentless fight on the defensive end. Keeping in the theme of development, Thomas proved, even at a more mature age, that a player isn't simply set in his ways. Showing versatility, Thomas has since emerged as a very reliable "3 and D" presence. He shot 40 percent from deep last season and, after a slow start, has risen up to shoot 46 percent from long range this season. His ability to keep opposing defenses honest from the corners adds value to this team's offense. Thomas developed such a skill in his arsenal over time.
So many people are quick to criticize Phil Jackson for dealing Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to Cleveland without much to show for it. The executive's made some questionable moves during his tenure, but Thomas' ability to adapt and progress has certainly softened the blow from such a trade. He's been a great acquisition who has developed into the perfect role player.