As the New York Knicks prepare to wind down their season, a lot of people will look back at how and why this season turned astray. The Knicks may not have been expected to replicate last season’s success, but many predicted them to be a top-five playoff team, not fighting the improbable chance of making the eighth-seed of a historically weak Eastern Conference.
An oft-discussed moment in the Knicks season was their pursuit of Kyle Lowry back in December. At the time, the Knicks were still pretty terrible, but the season was relatively young, and the amount of injuries the team was dealing with had people hopeful they could regroup later on.
So, when the Knicks called the Raptors to ask about Kyle Lowry, a lot of fans were skeptical. On one hand, Lowry’s been a solid point guard his whole career — a guy who could defend with vigor, run an offense, and spread the floor. On the other hand, Lowry was headed for free agency this summer (and still is) and had a reputation as a negative locker room presence. To top it all off, the Raptors were asking for Raymond Felton, either Iman Shumpert or tim Hardaway Jr., and a first-round pick. All of this for an above-average point guard rental? The skepticism was understandable.
Fast-forward four months later, the Knicks are two games out of the playoffs with just a 33-45 record. Carmelo Anthony has played brilliantly, but he hasn’t gotten consistent secondary help (save for J.R. Smith’s recent surge and Amar’e Stoudemire’s efficient, albeit limited, scoring). Since the start of 2014, the Knicks are eighth in offensive efficiency, despite laboring through Felton’s worst season as a pro and limited effectiveness from Pablo Prigioni, Toure’ Murry, and the now-Memphis Grizzly, Beno Udrih.
Meanwhile in Toronto, Lowry has had the best season of his career. He’s averaging career-highs in points per game (17.6) and assists (7.6), while pitching in 3.7 boards per game and 37.5% shooting from beyond the arc. The Raptors, for the whole season, have a 105.7 offensive rating, ninth best in the league. However, with Lowry on the floor, that number jumps to 107 points per 100 possessions.
Lowry’s scoring would be second highest on the Knicks, his three-point shooting would be fourth best on the team, and his assist numbers would be the best on the team. Compare this to Felton, who is averaging 9.6 points per game, 31.9% 3FG, and 5.6 assists per game, and it’s not hard to imagine how much better Lowry could have made the Knicks.
But would the price tag have been worth it? Lowry certainly would’ve improved New York, but by how much? Chances are they’d probably be a middling playoff team in the fifth to seventh seed range. Would he have been worth giving up their 2018 first-round pick, plus either Shumpert or Hardaway Jr.? Lowry fits a more immediate need, but both Shumpert and Hardaway are young and on longer, cheaper contracts.
Hypothetical situations — like how a team would perform with Player X on them — are nearly impossible to predict, but it’s clear Lowry could have helped the Knicks. How much? They’d be playing meaningful games right now, likely with a playoff seed sewn up. Perhaps they could have even found their point guard for the next few years if Lowry re-signed this summer. Would a very good point guard and a playoff spot convince Carmelo Anthony to stay in New York? Would it be worth giving up a pick and a young wing player? All tough questions to answer, but nonetheless interesting to hypothesize when looking at how this season turned out.