What we have learned about the New York Knicks this offseason.
Entering the 2020 NBA, the New York Knicks were rumored to be in the running for several former All-Stars. Names like Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, and others swirled around the New York rumor mill.
However, the conclusion of the draft has left the Knicks in an all-to-familiar situation. As has been the case many times in recent years, talks of acquiring a star fizzled out without any notable action. Hayward signed a massive contract to join LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets while DeRozan and Oladipo both look poised to return to their respective teams for the upcoming season.
In lieu of adding an established talent, the Knicks once again turned their attention to the draft. To all our surprise, they were able to steal the National College Player of the Year Obi Toppin with the 8th overall pick. Toppin will join RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and Kevin Knox as unproven, but interesting prospects.
While many fans are frustrated to begin another season with a star, the Knicks’ 2020 draft and offseason reveal quite a lot about the franchise’s future direction. Here are two key takeaways.
The Team is Emphasizing the Draft over Free Agency
The NY Post has reported that the Knicks are currently tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers as the poorest projected teams in 2021. Both franchises are predicted to win just 22.5 games over the course of a shortened 72 game schedule. This means the “tank” is on.
Knicks president Leon Rose and company seem to be playing the long game. After years of being rumored as a free agent hotspot, it is clear that no NBA superstars are interested in dealing with the Knicks perceived dysfunction. This is true no matter how bright the lights are in Madison Square Garden and the New York market.
The fact that New York has passed on aggressively adding a difference making talent is a clear indication that the team feels as though their best chance at a franchise player is through the 2021 NBA draft. If the Knicks indeed finish at the bottom of the league standings, they will be in prime position to add a major piece in the form of a top selection.
The Team is Committing to Developing their Young Talent
Despite mixed results, it is important to remember that the Knicks already possess two former top prospects in Knox (drafted 9th overall in 2018) and Barrett (taken 3rd overall in 2019). Despite being a second-round selection, Robinson may also have the highest ceiling of any player on the current roster.
The absence of an All-Star caliber player (like those listed above) will create maximum opportunity for this young core to develop through valuable playing time. It is important to remember that each of these young assets suffered massive disruption when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Barrett’s rookie season was ended prematurely, while Knox’s sophomore campaign was cut short.
Hopefully, the 2021 season will allow these players to resume a normal schedule as they take advantage of learning under a proven coach in Tom Thibodeau.
What does this mean?
Ultimately, it means that the Knicks seem to be deferring the addition of a potential star free agent. The team seems to believe that their best chance at adding its first superstar since the Carmelo Anthony era comes in the form of 2021 top prospects Cade Cunningham, Brandon Boston Jr, Evan Mobley, and the rest of next season’s draft class.
The team is also wisely hedging their bet by exhausting their current resources in search of the next go-to player.
While this strategy may not yield the immediate results most Knicks fans so desperately crave, it does indicate a clear direction. After repeatedly missing out on the LeBron James’ and Kevin Durant’s of the world, I for one am optimistic that a draft based rebuild is the team’s best chance to permanently right the ship.
Then, after a young core has been established, the team may have the appeal to bolster their quest for contention by finally adding their superstar free agent through the class of 2021, 2022, or beyond.