While the Knicks dream of landing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, there’s more to constructing a winning team than All-Stars; role players with winning mentality are also needed.
It is hard to be a rational Knicks fan this time of year.
Hopes are extremely high for landing one, if not two, superstars heading into the most important offseason of the last 20 years. The collective fan base psyche embodies the wise words of Michael Scott when re-entering the dating scene: “No question about it, I am ready to get hurt again.”
There is a belief deep, deep down that the team will miss out on both crown jewel free agent Kevin Durant and the league’s third eye, Kyrie Irving. While speculation of their coupling in New York is not unfounded, Knicks fans are obviously bracing themselves for the impact of another season losing 60+ games.
Luckily, there is a class of free agents available that could help the Knicks regardless of superstar acquisition. This list will rank the players who aren’t of the caliber of the daunted K’s: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, and Kemba Walker.
There are tons of free agents outside these players available, and armed with the most cap space in the league, the Knicks are looking to strike. These players’ value to the Knicks via free agency will be calculated based on the following variables: Do the Knicks sign KD? Are we continuing the rebuild? Everything will be considered, starting here.
Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks (RFA)
6’5″, 229 lbs, guard, age 26
The Knicks are lacking anybody who can competently affect both sides of the court the way Brogdon does. In terms of need, his size and skill set are exactly what the Knicks should be looking for, regardless of what else transpires in free agency. Let’s start with his offense.
On a team that dominated its opponents by curating a shot profile exactly how modern NBA squad should, Brogdon fit perfectly into the team’s philosophy. He took 56% of his shots at the rim, landing him in the 98th percentile of the league, per Cleaning the Glass. Brogdon is a quick attacker at the rim—a skill he showed off impressively once he returned from injury in the playoffs.
His ability to attack off the dribble and finish on either side of the rim, or go under the hoop, is very impressive: there were a handful of moments in the Bucks-Raptors series where he took Kawhi Leonard off the dribble to the rim and finished. The Bucks’ ability to space the floor with shooters opened up the middle for guys who can attack one on one with consistency, and Brogdon flourished. Add to that his career 40.8% from three on 3.2 attempts per contest, and you have the profile of a player who could fit in nearly any scheme.
The icing on the cake: Brogdon led the league in free throw percentage at 92.8%. He is not an extremely high-volume shooting guy, at about exactly 20% usage rate for his career, but that could fluctuate higher given his age and ability to shoot from the outside.
On a team competing in the playoffs, Malcolm had proven a valuable secondary scorer in a halfcourt offense. For a team transitioning slowly from rebuilding to the playoff race, he models the type of shots to go for—attempts at the rim and threes.
Brogdon is a valuable player largely due to his defensive respectability. A low-rate foul percentage (just 2.2%, marking him in the 94th percentile) would provide an immediate upgrade to a perimeter defense lacking both experience and ability.
He can switch comfortably 1 through 3, and has the smarts to avoid drawing fouls defending big men in the post. His STL% and BLK% aren’t astronomical, but the Knicks need players capable of impacting the game positively on both sides—and that could start with Brogdon.
Brogdon is a restricted free agent and the Bucks have big decisions to make coming up this summer. Their ownership has shied away from paying the luxury tax in the past, but that could change with their new found success. The Knicks have the cap space to pry him away at the right price. Milwaukee may value him at $12 million AAV—a number the Knicks could beat. Without giving Brogdon the Tim Hardaway Jr. special (four years, $71 million), could three years, $50 million push Milwaukee’s wallet too far?
Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles Clippers (UFA)
6’1″, 185 lbs, guard, age 30
Patrick Beverley’s tenacious style of basketball has always drawn fans toward his game.
The Knicks are entering an offseason with a lot of questions, and among the most persistent is the backup point guard spot. Beverley has spent the past few seasons in Los Angeles and Houston, where he provided above average three-point shooting and hard nose defense that knocked players off their feet.
Beverley shot 39.7% for three last season on 3.6 attempts per game. As a point guard who doesn’t constantly attack closeouts in the halfcourt, his offense comes mostly from the three. Beverley is a playmaker who doesn’t need the ball in his hands, and the Knicks could use reliable three-point shooters who add value off-ball.
Beverley can play the 2 and could pair with Dennis Smith Jr., whose defense is unpolished. On the defensive end, Beverley forces turnovers, dives for loose balls, talks trash, and provides strong leadership. At 6’1″, he’s undersized for the traditional 2, but has no problem guarding bigger players.
Beverley makes sense in both a Durant or Durant-less world. With Durant, he could be a positive player on both sides of the ball alongside Durant and three others. Without Durant, Beverley can be an example to the young Knicks of how to earn their stripes on defense.
An unrestricted free agent coming off a season in which he made $5.027 million, Beverley will come at a team-friendly price. At age 31, he could command a two- or three-year contract. If the Knicks sign Durant, maybe they pay Beverley two years, $16 million. Without him, they could go three years and reduce the annual cap hit.
Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers (UFA)
6’9″, 235 lbs, forward, age 26
Tobias Harris has managed to play for five different franchises in just eight seasons. Now entering his prime, and coming off his best season yet, Harris will command a big pay bump and as much term as he can get. Are he and the Knicks a fit?
Harris has made his name by scoring from anywhere on the court. The Long Island native thrives as a secondary scorer. His ball-handling ability in iso and pick-and-roll situations is great, as is his pull-up jump shot. His size allows him to shoot over smaller defenders, and he’s catch-and-shoot forward with a quick release.
Harris’s fit on offense would be impacted by whether or not the Knicks acquire a superstar in free agency. With Durant, Harris would be the other forward on the court for big stretches, and would complement him well, whether creating for himself or off the catch-and-shoot.
Without Durant, his offense would lead the charge as the number one option in a group of younger players still finding their game. Tobias is a great model for what Kevin Knox could be, and having both could provide difficult matchups for opponents if Knox progresses his game.
Harris’ defensive value comes mostly from his rebounding ability. Logging most of his minutes at power forward, he grabbed 7.9 rebounds per game last season and posted a defensive rebounding percentage on field goals (fgDR%) of 17.3%, good for the 90th percentile. His rebounding ability would be a boost for a Knicks team looking for help in every single area. He isn’t the best defender, but as long as Harris plays respectable defense, he can prove his worth.
At first glance, it may seem like the Knicks shouldn’t go after a guy like Harris. He isn’t the mega-star they are looking for. But his age (a four-year contract would take him through ages 26-30) fits the Knicks young players’ timeline pretty well.
He shouldn’t be the first guy the Knicks go after in free agency. Harris’ previous team, the Sixers, will likely be aggressive in re-signing him, but they have financial restrictions. Other teams rumored to have interest (Utah and Brooklyn, to just name two) would probably be comfortable offering him around four years at $25 million per season.
The Knicks could easily match this, but shouldn’t go above $20 million per year.
Al-Farouq Aminu, Portland Trail Blazers (UFA)
6’9″, 220 lbs, forward, age 28
Al-Farouq Aminu has built himself a successful career with a strong identity. He’s a four who plays defense and can shoot the three. He isn’t super athletic, or super shifty with the ball; he’s a role player who helps the Blazers consistently make the playoffs.
That type of player is one the Knicks should value.
Aminu’s offense makes the most sense when paired with a superstar player, if the Knicks can land one. He doesn’t take a ton of shots (only 7.3 per game last season), but that’s not his role. Of those shots, he took 3.5 threes per game, nailing 34.3% of them. He can cut under the basket when defenders are lazy, and his ability to stretch the floor on the perimeter is useful. A decent passer, Aminu can also attack the rim when there’s a mismatch or in transition.
Aminu’s defense is the reason you’re paying him. He’s a good rebounder who uses strength to gain box-out positioning, and as a low-rate fouler would fit well defensively next to Mitchell Robinson. Aminu can switch onto bigs despite only logging 1% of his minutes at center in Portland last season.
The Knicks need competent defenders across the board, and Aminu would provide more value specifically if New York lands Kevin Durant. Aminu could provide quality rotation minutes throughout the season that would ease Durant’s transition to a team with much less star power than Golden State. Without Durant, he would be a quality addition to a team lacking veterans who can contribute on both ends.
Aminu’s contract situation makes him a candidate worthy of consideration. He earned $8 million last year, and will likely make a similar amount this season. The Knicks might be looking at two years, $16 million for Aminu—a sweet spot of cap hit and term. Such a team-friendly contract could be packaged into a bigger deal if need be.
Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks)
7’0″, 270 lbs, center, age 31
The longtime Nets player made his way to Milwaukee, where he completely reinvented his offensive game under coach Mike Budenholzer’s system, focusing almost exclusively on shots at the rim and three-pointers. Brook did himself a lot of favors this past season entering unrestricted free agency at a ridiculously low $3.382 million.
His offensive game now revolves entirely around the three-point shot. 65% of his shots per game were threes, with 6.3 threes and 9.7 field goals per game. Brook turned from back-to-the-basket big man to a catch-and-shoot threat from 33 feet, but his three ball isn’t his only offensive ability. He’s still good at cleaning up misses near the rim, and his post-up game is still stellar.
Mitchell Robinson splitting time at center with Lopez could be an awesome pairing. They have very different skill sets which, down the stretch of big games, could open up lots of options for Fizdale.
Danny Green, Toronto Raptors (UFA)
6’6″, 215 lbs, guard, age 31
Danny Green built up his free agency value immensely this past season, staking out a spot in one of Toronto’s most effective lineups. His three-point shooting and defensive abilities have proved valuable for the Raptors, who are now fighting for their first championship.
Green had a major bounce-back season, shooting 45.5% from behind the arc on 5.4 attempts per game. He isn’t a ball handler or a focal point of an offense; he’s a good fourth-to-fifth scoring option who can shoot 2-of-5 from the three-point line a game and you’d be happy with that efficiency.
His time in San Antonio molded Green into the ideal perimeter defender who keeps fouls low and chokes up lesser offensive players in the halfcourt. Hitting unrestricted free agency entering his age 32 season, Toronto will surely want to bring him back, especially if Kawhi decides to reside up north.
The Knicks will look at Green if they land a premier free agent. New York’s wings have no experience playing for winning teams, and there will be minutes to fill down the stretch of big games. His contract will come in around $8-10 million per season, which the Knicks will have to consider if there is no second star coming with Durant. His term will likely be two or three seasons, which would fit a Kevin Durant window.
Many teams will call for him, so there won’t be interest from his side if there’s no superstar coming along.
The Knicks will have a lot of options this summer, much of which is contingent upon landing a superstar. The Knicks’ cap space provides a ton of flexibility, and the best-case scenario is to bring in veterans who can mold a competent team on deals that won’t handicap the team long term.
Now let’s just hope and wait.