Westchester Knicks: Previewing The 2016-17 Season

Mar 10, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early (17) dribbles the ball during the first half against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz won 87-82. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early (17) dribbles the ball during the first half against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz won 87-82. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

The Westchester Knicks are coming off 28-win season, which saw them make the playoffs for the first time in their short history. The team was ousted from the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Sioux Falls Skyforce.

Their 2015 first-round NBA D-League Draft pick, Jimmer Fredette, was a key piece in their success last season. Fredette was one of two players, along with Thanasis Antetokounmpo, to receive a 10-day call-up.

In addition, he was one of two players, along with Jordan Bachynski, to represent Westchester in the NBA D-League All-Star Game in Toronto, Canada.

Not to mention, Fredette participated in the 3-point contest and fell short to the eventual champion, Andre Ingram. The No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft finished All-Star Weekend on a high note by winning the All-Star Game MVP.

While Westchester had a superb season last year, things will look a tad different at the Westchester County Center.

Many of the players who suited up for the team during the 2015-16 season have moved on. Only six players—Jordon Crawford, Kevin Capers, Cleanthony Early, Damien Inglis, Devondrick Walker, and Keith Wright—from last year’s roster will be a part of this season’s roster.

That’s the nature of the NBA D-League. Every roster goes through constant change from season to season.

Westchester Knicks head coach Mike Miller gave his thoughts on what he expects from the new players on the roster.

“The D-League is all about change and adapting. You come in knowing that this team is not going to be like last year’s team,” Miller told reporters. “There’s different guys and it’s all about who can help us and the club in New York.”

Outside of the returning players, the Knicks added five players in the NBA D-League Draft. Two of those five selections ended up getting waived when the team had to trim their roster down to 10 players.

The most notable player the Knicks selected was Max Hooper. Hooper, who is known as a 3-point specialist, took 257 shots during his senior season at Oakland University.

All of those shots were from 3-point range.

Adding Hooper to the team should make the Knicks more of a threat from downtown. Last year’s squad didn’t have many shooters outside of Jimmer Fredette. The team shot 32.6 from beyond the arc, which was 19th in the NBADL

With the addition of the Oakland product, it’s fair to expect that to change.

While the team is aiming to win the NBA D-League Championship, the ultimate goal is for the organization to develop their young players so they have an opportunity to be a contributor to the big club, e.g Langton Galloway, or find a great opportunity with a club in Europe, e.g Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

In the short-term, Chasson Randle will be an important part of Westchester’s success. But the likelihood is that Randle will be the fourth call-up in team history once he’s back in shape.

One of the main questions this season will be the team’s defense. Last season, the team had one of the top defenses in the league with Jordan Bachynski in the middle holding down the defense.

His nickname “BLOCKchynski” was more than just a nickname. He blocked five or more shots a handful of times during the 2015-16 season. He, alongside 2015 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Darion Atkins, formed a solid frontcourt in Westchester.

“Me [Jordan Bachynski] and Darion [Atkins] are the defenders of the team. As bigs, we’re the last line of defense,” Bachynski told me last season. “We’re involved in a lot of different defensive rotations; with the pick-and-roll, and with the ball being swung out. Darion is an amazing defender, great rebounder. I think he’s really invaluable to our team.”

Both players ranked in the Top 11 in the NBA D-League in blocks last season; Bachynski ranked No.3 and Atkins ranked No.11.

One returning player, Keith Wright, is expected to have a larger role on the team. He didn’t see much playing time with the Austin Spurs last season. At one point, the Atlanta Hawks assigned Edy Tavares to the NBA D-League via the flex assignment rule.

When he arrived in Austin, Tavares had a prominent role on the team. He played almost 17 minutes (16:51) in his first game in Austin and totaled 21.6 minutes per game in 29 outings.

With his role decreasing, the Spurs traded Wright to the Knicks for former Harvard teammate Wesley Saunders.

On Feb. 23, the day Westchester traded Gani Lawal, the Knicks were in need of backup big who could rebound. The Knicks felt Keith Wright could fill that role. And he did just that.

In his third game in a Knick uniform, he totaled 10 rebounds off the bench. The next game, Wright notched his first double-double (15 points and 10 rebounds) of the season.

Not only did Wright receive more playing time, but he had the opportunity to show what he could do. He could score, rebound, and showed his versatility as a forward who could defend multiple positions.

The Harvard product started the final nine games of the season, including the two playoff games.

While Wright showed what he could do, Westchester will need a collective group of players to step up this season, especially in the rebounded department.

“He’s [Wright] going to have to pick up part of the rebounding. We’re looking at a couple of the other guys that are going to have to rebound well,” Miller said. “Jaylen Bond, young guy from Temple is a rookie, averaged double figure rebounds a year ago at Temple, so we think with that combination of guys, we can fill that void.”

When it comes to the guards on the roster, there are a few who could be productive on the defensive end. Chasson Randle has the potential to be a good defender, as he has the length to get it done on that side of the ball. Randle showed he can be a pesky defender in Summer League and the preseason. In the Summer League, he grabbed 3.0 steals per game. And in the preseason, the Knicks guard totaled 1.3 steals per contest.

Along with Randle, Jordon Crawford is looking to prove himself as well.

Crawford, who spent most of last season coming off the bench, is looking to prove he can thrive as a starter. When Fredette received a 10-day call-up in February of 2016, the 5’6” guard was added to the starting rotation.

In six games, he averaged 15.8 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.8 steals in 30.5 minutes per game.

Also, he saw his shooting percentage increase in his new role. The Bowling Green product shot 50.8 percent from the field—an 8.9-percent increase—and 42.1 percent from beyond the arc—a 15.5-percent increase.

After an impressive stint as a starter, Crawford feels his confidence is much higher.

“I worked hard this summer and put the work in and piggybacking off last season that my confidence is a lot higher. I think that’s the biggest thing playing at this level is your confidence.

From one returning player to another, Damien Inglis could be an X-Factor this season.

Inglis, who was a part of the Milwaukee Bucks’ roster, was assigned to Westchester via the flex assignment rule. He played in 13 games with the Knicks, not including the three games he spent with the Canton Charge.

Westchester head coach Mike Miller expects Inglis to fill up the stat sheet.

“Damien [Inglis], we expect to be a numbers guy for us; to put up points, rebounds, and be efficient.”

In his short time in Westchester last season, he was able to provide the team with an offensive spark off the bench. He had eight outings in which he scored in double digits.

On Feb. 25, Inglis had a superb game against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. He totaled 15 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, and two blocks.

He has the the athleticism to be a solid player in transition, as he showed in the video above. He could also excel on defense, especially in the post.

Inglis has the potential to play both forward spots. That would mean he would play alongside Cleanthony Early, which would provide New York with an scorer.

In seven games last season, Early averaged 15.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game.

Must Read: Westchester Knicks Finalize 2016-17 Roster

After making improvements from Year 1 to Year 2, the Knicks could be raising their expectations. The team won 18 more games in Year 2, along with making the playoffs.

With Westchester filling some of its needs and some players expected to have larger roles, the Knicks could be poised to win the first playoff series in franchise history.