The Knicks are walking two timelines. Having their young players learn from the team’s veterans will benefit both the team and the young core.

As The Knicks Wall’s self-proclaimed developmental specialist, it’s time to take a look at the “young Knicks” with an eye toward what they are and should be developing. This is a team largely built around young veterans and even younger prospects with only a few older players sprinkled in, and as such, there is a high learning curve for development. With only one player on the active roster older than 30, the average age of the Knicks is a youthful 25.02 years old which makes them the eighth-youngest team in the Association.

While there is not a plethora of veterans, there are still a few elder statesmen on the roster that can be helpful mentors and role models for the young Knicks. When you look at the way that teams develop their young players, the inclusion of older plays is often integral to that improvement as a team.

So what we are going to be looking at is finding the one thing each young player can learn from a vet on the roster. Now, I will be a little liberal with my use of the term veteran, but the concept remains the same. The young prospects on this team need to continue to develop and improve, and while that is on the coaches to facilitate, older players need to be a guiding light with what they’re modeling for their younger teammates.

RJ Barrett and… Evan Fournier?

The first player I am going to mention is probably not who you would expect. That is everybody’s favorite Frenchman: Evan Fournier. While Evan Fournier is the most frustrating player on the roster (at least while Cam Reddish maintains his current rate of play), there are things that he brings to the table that nobody else on the roster does. Every single player on the roster can benefit from learning from Fournier (on offense only), but nobody more than RJ Barrett.

You may be thinking to yourself that this sounds backward, but let me explain what I mean. Even though for the last year, every person on Knicks Twitter has complained about Evan Fournier getting too much playing time, the idea of him always made sense. The reason for that was clear: floor spacing and shooting. Those are two things that this roster is missing and nobody would benefit more from that than the third-year man out of Duke.

For the second straight season, RJ Barrett is off to an abysmal start shooting from deep. This has been a common trend in the young Canadian’s career and something that creates real long-term issues. Right now the Knicks are off to a good start, but your young star really cannot afford to be shooting 18% from deep early if you want to be a serious team. Those people expecting and hoping for a leap for RJ in the first year beyond his extension have to be disappointed with the start.

This highlights what RJ needs to work on and what he could learn from the 29-year-old sharpshooter. RJ Barrett is off to an astounding 0% shooting rate on pull-up threes, whereas Fournier is shooting 44% from beyond the arc in the category. This has been a trend throughout Fournier’s career, he has consistently been a top-end pull-up shooter. Conversely, RJ Barrett has struggled in that area his whole career.

Even when you zoom out and look at pull-up jumpers as a whole: in 2021-2022, RJ shot only 30% on two-point jumpers last year as a 45% two-point shooter altogether. The other side of the coin in that capacity is Evan Fournier who shot nearly 45% on pull-up twos and shot an impressive and consistent 39% on all pull-ups. That number is not only impressive due to its consistency with his 41% from the field in general, but because of the 40% frequency on pull-up jumpers. That shot mechanism contributed to only 18% of RJ’s field goals in 2022.

The reason that is an important aspect of Fournier’s game and something that would greatly benefit RJ is because of the spacing it provides for the offense. The idea of keeping a defense honest is incredibly valuable for someone with such a potent offensive game at the rim like Barrett. From his days at Duke through his now heavily-contracted fourth season in New York, The Maple Mamba has always been more of a theoretical three-level scorer than a practical one. In order to become that, RJ not only has to become a more consistent shooter but one that can make defenses pay with his pull-up shooting.

Obi Toppin and Julius Randle

Two players that will be interconnected forever with their Knicks careers for better or worse will be Julius Randle and Obi Toppin. Whether you discussed it when Obi was drafted or whether you have used it as an excuse for why you think Julius Randle should be traded, if you are reading this article it is almost impossible that you have not talked about the fit between those two power forwards. They are not only linked because of their similarities on the court but because of their differences. It is so easy to say that Obi Toppin cannot share the court with Julius Randle, but only because he cannot do what Julius Randle can do.

Even the biggest Obi supporters have concerns about his half-court offense, and more specifically what he can do with the ball in his hands. Nobody will ever question the former Dayton Flyer’s prowess in transition, and you can even track a marked improvement in his off-ball scoring. Obi is a proficient cutter and an improving jump shooter. What he does not have in his arsenal is what Julius Randle’s game is based upon.

While it may be unsurprising to anyone who has watched, the tracking stats are staggering. 73% of the 24-year-old athlete’s field goals come from 0 dribbles, and even beyond that, nearly 94% of his field goals are on two or fewer dribbles. Quite simply: Obi Toppin does not dribble the basketball unless it’s strictly necessary. For as many things as he does well, dribbling the ball downhill to go get a bucket is not yet one of them. As you might imagine given the severity of those numbers, the efficiency and accuracy numbers have an inverse correlation with the number of dribbles leading to a field goal. When Obi takes more than three dribbles, his field goal percentage plummets from 55.8% from the field down to 32%, and an even worse 20% on seven-plus dribbles.

Given Obi’s impressive 53.2% field goal percentage and the fact that 64% of his field goal attempts are two-point field goals, these numbers could be seen as highly alarming. When you consider the fact that 60% of those attempts are from less than 10 feet, the negative percentages really paint a clear picture. These discrepancies clearly convey that he struggles to create his own shot, his efficiency going out the window when asked to dribble the ball to get a bucket.

Conversely, that is where Julius Randle shines. While efficiency was always a criticism of the leftie forward’s career, dribbling the ball was never the issue (spin moves aside). Bullyball is what he does best and getting downhill with the ball in his hands is the way that he is most effective in creating a basket for himself or a teammate.

When contrasted to the staggeringly high numbers from Obi Toppin, the Kentucky big man’s numbers are startlingly low. Compared to the nearly 75% of attempts coming off of zero dribbles for Obi, only 34% of shots last year were created that way for the former Most Improved Player. Not only are the frequency numbers per dribble significantly higher but they also trend more positively the more dribbles he takes. With 26% of his jump shots coming off three-to-six dribbles, it is clear that is where he really thrives in the offense. Randle shot nearly 40% from the field in those situations, and an even more impressive 44% from the field on seven-plus dribbles.

While the former 8th pick of the draft may never have the full bullyball game that Julius Randle wields in full force, it would be a huge step for his development to add a portion of it to his game. The need to be able to put the ball on the floor is apparent, and being able to create buckets in that way would bring his offensive game to the next level. While the Obi Toppin discussion always comes down to the increased three-point shooting, being able to create for himself and to use his athleticism to get to the basket is an equally important layer. The efficiency that Toppin has shown throughout his young career is one of the big selling points from his defenders – if he were able to continue that efficiency in the half-court setting, there would be even less denying his need to be on the court more.

Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose

You may have some assumptions about where this is going but the last young Knick we are going to talk about is Immanuel Quickley. There is only one player to help him develop – while Jalen Brunson is an amazing guard to have on the Knicks, Quickley’s mentor must be Derrick Rose. Derrick Rose at his peak was one of the most dominant guards we have seen, and his athleticism made him a nearly unstoppable force. However, that is not the player he is in New York and that is okay. He has been fantastic in his role off the bench for the Knicks and brings a layer of scoring and aggression that benefits the whole team.

Immanuel Quickley is a different kind of player, but there are things that he could add to his game modeled after the one-time MVP. Immanuel Quickley was drafted as a three-point specialist but both he and the team need him to be more than that. In the 2021-2022 season, 54% of all shot attempts from IQ were from deep. Conversely, 79% of Rose’s field goals in his team on the court in his 2021 6moty finalist season were from inside the arc. Immanuel Quickley does not have the same skillset as Rose and will never have the layup package that the Chicago native has.

But while Rose’s layup package is historically great, what he brings to the table is more than just that.  Even though Rose has lost a step from his prime athleticism, he still has the body control to use angles and create space where there is none naturally. When healthy in the 2021-2022 season, Derrick Rose shot 41% when defended very tightly (a defender from 0-2 feet). This success continued with him being 50% from the field when being defended tightly (2-4 feet).

The way he is able to use his body to score around rim protectors is what made him special at his peak, but is even more impressive at this point in his career. He no longer has the first step to go around every defender and dunk on the big men under the basket, yet he still finds ways to score.

The easy comparison to draw is the floater packages that both guards use in the paint, but that is only one weapon in the Derrick Rose arsenal, while it can feel like the lone tool in Quickley’s utility belt. The signature floater has garnered much attention for the Kentucky guard, it is at times limited as it prevents him from hunting potentially easier shots. He is so reliant on the floater that at times he pulls it prematurely instead of getting a better look at the rim.

One of the reasons for that is the lack of strength and fear to go directly at defenders at the rim from Quickley. That is where the Derrick Rose effect needs to come into place. Even though there may be physical limitations at this point in his career, it is the angles and use of his body to protect the ball and find ways to score around the basket. That is something that Quickley would benefit from that would significantly improve his scoring prowess given the respect his jump shot receives already.

The “Young Knicks” are always going to be a talking point, and whether it is their playing time or their development, it is always going to be controversial. What is clear, however, is that there is room to grow for all three of these players as well as the other young prospects on the roster. While Derrick Rose may be the only 30-year-old on the team, there is still plenty of opportunity for mentorship. It is the job of the coaching staff to further support that development but having players to learn from is an important part of any great team’s success. While it is early in the season, this is something to monitor going forward.

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