New York hosts Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks to kick off the regular season. Frank Ntilikina gets the starting job—with a twist including a Kevin Knox demotion to the bench.

Congratulations Knicks fans on making it through yet another eventful offseason.

What a long summer it was. Here’s a short recap of what happened: David Fizdale was hired as head coach; Kevin Knox (Kentucky) was drafted at ninth overall; Frank Ntilikina got ripped and dyed his hair blond; Kristaps Porzingis re-added “New York Knicks” to his Twitter bio; and most recently, Joakim Noah was stretched and waived.

In their first game of the 2018–19 NBA season, the New York Knicks will host the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. This will be their first meeting of the season, with three games remaining. The Knicks are looking to establish a defensive-minded culture, with an emphasis on conditioning and efficiency. The Hawks drafted Trae Young out of Oklahoma at fifth overall. Let the first tank-off of the season commence.


Some Thoughts Ahead of the Action

Take a moment to lookup both rosters. Examine both teams carefully. Now tell me, which roster is better?

The Knicks are fully committed to a direction for the first time since Haley Joel Osment famously uttered, “I see dead people,” in The Sixth Sense. Rid of the win-now pressures exerted by James Dolan, New York has so far stuck with the mindset that they will draft and develop their own talent. With that said, it has been made abundantly clear to fans that the ’18–’19 season has already been dubbed a “developmental year.”

What this means is that we should expect the youngins to play a lot. Courtney Lee is the old man of this group, and he just turned 33. Following Lee, Lance Thomas and Enes Kanter will be looked upon for leadership. New York’s guys are young; Frank Ntilikina is at the ripe age of 20, and Kevin Knox is a young 19. With Kristaps Porzingis out for the majority of the season, playoff contention is most likely out of the picture, unless Knox wins ROY and Ntilikina wins MIP (Lavar Ball taught me to “speak it into existence”). Their development is what fans should be looking for as the year progresses, not what the Knicks’ W-L will look like.

The Starting Lineup vs. Atlanta Hawks

  • PG: Trey Burke
  • SG: Tim Hardaway Jr.
  • SF: Frank Ntilikina
  • PF: Lance Thomas
  • C: Enes Kanter 

 

Players to Watch

Trey Burke…starting?

All offseason, Fizdale alluded to the fact that the starting point guard position will be given to the player that earns it. In other words, to “keep what you kill,” he may say.

Burke is coming off a lukewarm preseason, where he showed flashes of The Answer but also showed to be a defensive liability. With Ntilikina also on the floor with him, Burke may be sharing ball-handling duties. Trey gives the Knicks starting lineup an offensive threat that they need to win.

Frank Ntilikina…at small forward?

Some speculated that Ntilikina could play minutes at the small forward position, but no one said he would be the day 1 starting small forward over Kevin Knox. Here’s an interesting tidbit from Coach Fizdale as to why he made this decision:

Let’s be real, Ntilikina is starting because he’s extremely versatile. He can guard 1-4 but has the mindset of a point guard. Not to mention that Kevin Knox struggled mightily in the preseason.

Fizdale has already stated that Frank will “at times” guard Trae Young during the matchup. The two previously met in Summer League, where Ntilikina clearly had the upper hand in the matchup. Look for Ntilikina to be very aggressive defensively early on, looking to make a statement.

Kevin Knox…off the bench?

The rookie looked like a rookie in preseason. After looking like a star in Summer League, expectations were unreasonably high for Knox entering the preseason. Sure enough, the ninth overall pick came back to earth and struggled in four of five preseason games.

The hope behind bringing Knox off the bench is that he will be the leader of the second unit. Knox shined in Summer League because the team leaned on him for scoring, whereas in the preseason, the emphasis was more on playing as a team and getting everyone involved.

Although Knox is a raw prospect, he should contribute immediately to this team. Not only does he have the talent to tap into, but also Fizdale will provide him with the playing time needed to develop.

Playing against the Atlanta Hawks, who already lack overall talent, Knox should be able to flourish facing their second unit. The immediate pressure of being a day 1 starter is now off Knox’s shoulders, and he’ll be able to grow into that role as the season progresses.

Mitchell Robinson & Noah Vonleh: who will be playing backup center?

The legend of Mitchell Robinson continues, as he appears to be more NBA-ready than everyone expected. After taking the year off to train for the NBA combine, he eventually withdrew from the NBA combine—no, really. His agent held him out. Long story short, he dropped to the Knicks in the second round and he dominated Vegas.

Recently, Fizdale stated that Robinson will spend some time in the G League. Fizdale also made it clear that Robinson will also spend time with the Knicks.

“A lot of it is getting him to see these situations over and over and over again,” Fizdale said, per Newsday. “To get him the appropriate amount of minutes that he’s going to need, he will be spending some time there. But make no mistake about it, he’ll be with us a lot as well.”

Noah Vonleh, only 23, is already a known journeyman of the NBA. The former ninth overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Vonleh has played for the Hornets, Trail Blazers, Bulls, and now the Knicks. He is known for his rebounding abilities and his physicality.

With the waiving of Joakim Noah (good riddance), the Knicks will be reliant on two young big men to fill that backup center void. Mitchell Robinson dominated in Summer League and was effective in preseason—will he get the minutes? Or will it be the 15th man, Noah Vonleh?

Matchup of the Night: Frank Ntilikina vs. Trae Young

Bigger, stronger, maybe faster, Ntilikina enters his second season with a reputation for elite defensive skills. Tonight, Ntilikina gets the opportunity to defend one of the most prolific NCAA scorers of all time.

The majority of fans may be expecting a more offensive-minded Ntilikina in his second year, which is fair, but defense wins games, too.

Fizdale has said that he envisions Frank as a DPOY candidate. Fizdale is flexing Frank’s potential—not only by starting him in Game one, but by slotting him at small forward, where he’s never played any minutes. Hornacek would never have done this. Enjoy the matchup, fans.

Tip-off at 7:30 p.m. EST from Madison Square Garden.