What should the Knicks do with the backcourt?


With the 2015-16 season, comes expectations and the answers to questions. The New York Knicks have several questions that need to be answered, but one that has caught my eye has been the unfurling of the backcourt rotation.

Last season, the Knicks backcourt kindly went to hell. Jose Calderon missed the first handful of games and never caught up as a playmaker for the offense. Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith were subsequently traded to Cleveland mid-way through, Tim Hardaway Jr. regressed, and while a nice find, Langston Galloway tailed off after a couple of games of “Langsanity.”

This offseason, the Knicks took the steps to avoid last year’s disaster, acquiring former Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant in the draft at the cost of Hardaway Jr. After missing out on the likes of Danny Green and Wes Matthews in free agency, the Knicks signed former Blazer Arron Afflalo to a contract worth $16 million over two years.

That was it. Outside of some moves on the exterior (signing Thanasis Antetokounmpo, bringing in Wesley Saunders to a camp deal), the Knicks are going into camp with an uninspiring Afflalo, Calderon, Galloway, Grant, Thanasis and Early combination.

More from Knicks News

Afflalo and Calderon are the starters and should be the starters. Both are veterans and give the Knicks an offensive boost next to Carmelo Anthony as floor spacers. Both finished last season as above-average shooters from beyond the line (Calderon with 41%, Afflalo with 35%, via basketball-reference) and Calderon bring a steady playmaker at the point guard position.

Defense will be an issue, though. Calderon is a notoriously poor defender, while Afflalo always had the reputation as a solid defender, but he’s also been slightly overrated on that end. Last season, Afflalo took steps towards being a poor defender, registering a -1.89 in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus statistic, but held opponents to shoot 32.2% on threes, according to nba.com’s stats.

This is where the reserves come in, specifically, Langston Galloway. Galloway wasn’t as bad as Afflalo in ESPN’s metric (-0.47) and defended the three well, allowing opponents to shoot just 39.7% from the floor last season as a rookie. His size (six-foot-one) hinders him a bit, but he’s still a long-limbed (six-foot-ten wingspan) defender, who can dabble at either guard position.

One step further, I think Knicks head coach Derek Fisher should look at Galloway as the defensive boost off the bench. Next to Calderon, he becomes someone who can stop either guard position, while hiding Calderon on the lesser of the two. When playing Galloway next to Afflalo, that’s allowing Galloway to both defend point guards, but ease the pressure off of Afflalo.

Whatever his role is, Galloway has real potential to be a Swiss army knife in the backcourt for New York.

This may also be a place for the rookie Grant. He’s a larger wing, currently standing at six-foot-five with a six-foot-seven wingspan. At Notre Dame, he was known for his ability to do everything, including defense. Calderon’s starting job appears secure at the moment, but if Grant can provide solid offense and defense as a rookie, it’s not impossible to envision Fisher expanding Grant’s role on the roster.

More from Daily Knicks

As for the others, place Thanasis and Early in the “we don’t know” category. Early’s numbers suggest success (43.8% allowed overall, -0.35 DRPM), but he’s still operating under a small sample (39 games), he’s most likely going to be defending small forwards, and he still looking to figure out what he can provide to get on the floor. At Summer League, Early struggled offensively and could use a three point shot to improve his game.

Thansis is awesome, but I can’t help but look at him as an unfinished product. Last year, Thanasis had a wonderful season with the Westchester Knicks, averaging 13.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals. His raw percentage numbers were insane,  but in Summer League, he looked raw, often getting fouls for his intense play on defense and struggled in the halfcourt offense.

In an early look, the best direction for the Knicks is having Calderon and Afflalo start, Galloway being the next man up, capable of defending either player, and finding a way to Grant playing time in his rookie season. Both Thansis and Early will somehow equate into this, but will also see some time at the small forward spot.