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One Way Or Another, the Knicks Should Keep Luke Kornet

Photo: Tony Dejak/AP

Over the course of a G League and NBA season, the Knicks have developed center Luke Kornet. Now, on the brink of losing a roster spot, here’s why New York should keep Kornet on the squad.

After the New York Knicks drafted Mitchell Robinson, a raw 7-foot-1 development project, with the 36th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, news broke that they would also add undrafted scoring guard Allonzo Trier with one of two available two-way contracts. This calls into question the futures of last year’s two-way big man tandem, Isaiah Hicks and Luke Kornet.

The Knicks will likely choose between Hicks and Kornet for the remaining two-way contract slot and have given both players qualifying offers to allow the Knicks the right of first refusal whilst they round out the roster in free agency. It was reported that should another team come calling for Kornet and offer the second-year player a minimum of $1.2 million, the Knicks may not match, and this uncertainty has led Kornet to reconsider playing in the Summer League, the first game of which for New York commences July 7th.

In an either-or-choice between Hicks and Kornet, it’s a no brainer for the Knicks. Isaiah Hicks is a nice player as a high-motor rim-running back-up big, but Kornet’s ability to stretch the floor (35 percent from three last season) is the real difference maker. Not only is this something Hicks can’t do, it’s something no other Knick center outside of Kristaps Porzingis can do.

Joakim Noah needs to concentrate to make a layup these days, let alone shoot from deep, or anywhere else. Enes Kanter, assuming he opts-in to the last year of his deal, has been working on his three-point shooting this offseason at the request of new head coach David Fizdale. Until Kanter shows his three-point shooting translates from an empty gym to an NBA game, and Porzingis returns from injury, Luke Kornet’s shooting could be extremely valuable for Fizdale and the Knicks.

Kornet would add much needed versatility to a three-man frontcourt rotation. I’m not including new Knick Robinson in this big-man equation purely as I’d be extremely surprised if the enigmatic rookie didn’t spend the majority of the year with the Westchester Knicks. Even putting aside his on court abilities—that are as exciting as they are raw—the kid hasn’t played organized basketball since high school. He’s likely not ready for the NBA on or off the court, with the bright lights of New York and the hungry media-melee that will follow his every minute and movement needlessly endangering his development. It’s better to send him to one of the best G League outfits in the NBA first.

A three-point shooting center is the best fit stylistically for Fizdale’s offensive system, hence why he’s given Kanter some long-range offseason homework. The offense next year will likely feature a lot of five-out sets, with the center screening, spacing the floor and running dribble handoff action on the perimeter. Given this playing style, Luke’s value is obvious, but it’s worth factoring in his role as a very, very poor man’s KP for when the Latvian returns to the court.

Fizdale will be able to run sets at least approximating what the offensive system will look like going forward with Porzingis as the fulcrum, just with an inverted pecking order of first, second, and third options on any given play. Shooting at every position is clearly Fizdale’s preferred philosophy anyway, but it makes no sense to construct an offense deviating from this preference when you have the perfect stretch-five unicorn waiting in the wings.

Kornet as placeholder means the other Knick players will be running a spacing-centric offensive style that will be tweaked and familiar when KP gets back on the floor, rather than a Noah-centric group of sets that will be overhauled. This is an exaggeration, but the principle stands to benefit the other four Knicks on the floor, with five-out literally stretching the defense and encouraging and facilitating easier penetration into the paint for high percentage layups and inside-out treys.

So, keep Kornet and you give a young asset valuable chances at development whilst KP is out, allow your new head coach the roster versatility to play his preferred style, and give the other players on the roster reps and stylistic continuity for when KP returns.

So why the reported hesitation on the part of the Knicks in retaining the 22-year-old? It’s a good question, but I can think of two possibilities.

By extending qualifying offers, the Knicks front office has, wisely, kept their options open as to the contractual capacity they retain either, or both, of Hicks and Kornet. Signing Kornet to the minimum is an option and will take up one of 15 valuable roster spots but will also shed two-way contract playing time restrictions. Two-way players are limited to a maximum 45 days service with an NBA team, and if Scott Perry is high enough on Kornet that he envisions him in the rotation all season this would make sense. It would also leave the remaining two-way deal for Hicks, who could be more valuable next year when Noah and Kanter’s contracts expire.

The Knicks currently have one roster spot available, assuming Kyle O’Quinn, who has declined his option for next season, doesn’t return to New York. It’s hard to see him back given the front office’s public intention to limit any free agency acquisitions to one-year deals to keep the cap sheet clean entering 2019 free agency. O’Quinn will likely have more money—and more competitive basketball on offer somewhere else.

A second roster spot could theoretically open up in the unlikely scenario that Kanter opts out, which would surely make giving Kornet one of the 15 non-two-way roster spots even more likely by opening up a big hole at starting center.

By extending Kornet the qualifying offer and waiting for the free-agency dominoes to fall, Scott Perry has left his options open. If a young stretch-five pops up in free agency at the right price, the Knicks can now grab him, with Kornet’s rights as insurance if no such player is available. It seems unlikely a young, shooting five—gold dust in today’s NBA—makes it through free agency willing to accept a one-year deal, especially for anywhere near the minimum, but by being patient, Perry has kept that door open.

With Porzingis injured, a stretch-five is a position of need on the roster, especially given Fizdale’s expected offensive system. A guy like Kornet—although unremarkable—is a solid young player, with a modern skill set, that the Knicks can keep around with minimal downside on a two-way or minimum contract, which would be great value for the 22-year-old. I’d be surprised if he—or a comparable player with a similar skill set—isn’t on the roster going into next season.

One Comment

  • Nelson Ramos

    June 27, 2018 at 9:16 am

    Konter, Kanter and Hicks will all stay. No doubt. You miss one thing: Konter is also a PF. Knicks are developing young players. They have no interest to let go those while developing them. Konter will be in the roster and Hicks the second two way player. Knicks have now three 7’+ special and valuable players you dont find easily. Kanter will sign next year a 3 years contract. New York is the place where he feels comfortable, secured and from his message to the world can be inmediately and properly spread. No brain issue.

    Reply

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