The New York Knicks came out strong last game against the San Antonio Spurs with a 130-118 win, where the Knicks were in control most of the game.
With Sunday’s performance, the New York Knicks’ showcased arguably their best game this season against the 33-28 San Antonio Spurs team. While many will complain the Knicks are going at it wrong and might even give a shout-out during the Oscars concerning the failed tank, it still is nice to see the young core contributing against tougher competition, and see those strides as the season goes on.
It was even more exciting to see the Knicks’ new guard Dennis Smith Jr. and his play alongside Knicks’ up-and-comer Mitchell Robinson. This duo combined for 34 points with Robinson grabbing 14 rebounds and five blocks, with Smith Jr. dishing out 13 assists (two on pick-and rolls, and one in transition off the glass to Robinson). The chemistry and energy between the two has been a hopeful look into the future for the Knicks’ at this point in time.
But could this future stick with the possibility of Kyrie Irving signing on with the Knicks this summer? The biggest question the Knicks’ front office and coaching staff will have before free agency is how a lineup or rotation with Kyrie Irving would work for Smith Jr.
Regardless of where the sophomore guard is put, he’ll provide much needed depth in the second unit, but the question is how efficient he can be at the starting two-guard spot. So far for the Knicks this season, he has not logged any minutes at the shooting guard spot, but has played 22% of his minutes for the Mavericks at that spot during the 2017-18 season. We also saw a lineup with him and Emmanuel Mudiay in the mix tonight, but as we know, that’s probably not the best lineup defensively.
Smith Jr. playing the two might complicate things on the defensive end (Defensive Rating of 113 on the Knicks), as he’ll be going up against bigger guards than he’s used to. Offensively, we shouldn’t see any issues from the switch, but Smith Jr.’s explosive Derrick Rose-like game, will need to develop a jump shot with or without Irving.
One possible limitation with both in the lineup involves Smith Jr.’s usage rate, which while relatively low, could dip his production as seen in Dallas alongside point-forward Luka Doncic. While he can play off the ball, the question is how effectively can he spread the floor alongside Irving.
With the implication that Irving does sign, Smith Jr. will probably fit better at first with the second unit with someone like Damyean Dotson or possibly Duke’s RJ Barrett (depending on the lottery) starting the season to keep the floor spread and have a consistent catch-and-shoot guard alongside Irving. This would also include Allonzo Trier, but his value is more suited towards the second unit as an offensive spark.
This isn’t to say Smith Jr. won’t make his way to the starting lineup in this scenario, it will just depend on the development of his game offensively and defensively. That’s just how the landscape of the NBA looks today.
It’s do or die by the three ball, and for someone like Smith Jr. who has already had surgery on his ACL in high school and relies heavily on his athleticism and leaping ability, his career will always be in jeopardy. Playing alongside Irving and having a shot will go hand-in-hand, and hopefully will become the future Knicks’ fans can look forward to.