A glaring lack of athleticism plagued the Knicks last season. Can they flip the script and throw out a sneakily athletic team this season?
Athleticism is like pornography—you know it when you see it, and it can’t really be faked.
Last summer, Scott Perry was introduced as the General Manager of the New York Knicks. Immediately, Perry acknowledged the lack of athleticism and versatility on the roster and told reporters that he would do his best to fix that. So far, he’s done just that by trading for Emmanuel Mudiay at the deadline, and adding Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Allonzo Trier in the 2018 NBA Draft.
The 2017–18 New York Knicks roster wasn’t anything to write home about. Yes, we had Kristaps Porzingis all alone, to ourselves, without Carmelo Anthony taking shots away from him. The year was supposed to be a massive step forward for Porzingis, and was to a degree, but it ended very unfortunately and prematurely in a devastating ACL injury.
The 2017–18 roster was supposed to play fast, space the floor, shoot a lot of threes, and reduce the amount of mid-range shots. Instead, the Knicks ranked 29th in three-point attempts per game, while shooting 35 percent from deep, per NBA Stats. More impressively, the Knicks ranked 29th against in fast-break points, only ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers. Hornacek specifically placed an emphasis on how the Knicks would play differently with Phil Jackson gone, and instead he instilled an archaic offense where 17.4 percent of the team’s points came from the mid-range game. Compare that to the no. 1 offense in the league—the Houston Rockets—where only 5.4 percent of their points came from mid-range opportunities.
Over the course of 82 games, the lack of athleticism and versatility became apparent to the coaching staff and fans alike. Regardless of Hornacek’s gameplan, since his fate was inevitable, the roster was and still is flawed. With the no. 9 overall pick in the draft, Scott Perry’s first pick as GM of the Knicks was used on Kevin Knox, an 18-year-old forward out of Kentucky. Standing 6’9” with a seven-foot wingspan and a 36.5-inch vertical, the Knicks roster was already infused with youth, length, and athleticism that they desperately needed. Pair that with a new head coach in David Fizdale, and the Knicks suddenly have taken on a new identity—runners and gunners who will wear down opposing defenses.
New York added to that mentality with the 36th overall pick. Mitchell Robinson—who was regarded as a top-10 player coming out of high school—gives the Knicks some much-needed athleticism in the frontcourt, especially with Kristaps Porzingis likely out for at least the first half the season. Robinson is raw and most definitely a project, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he spent a decent amount of time in the G League, but his potential is tantalizing. A legitimate seven-footer with a 7’4” wingspan and freakish athleticism doesn’t come around very often. Steve Mills and Scott Perry rightfully recognized where the Knicks are in their rebuilding phase and capitalized on some prime high risk/high reward talent.
While we don’t have any evidence as to how the Knicks are going to play under Fizdale, we have a general idea. Fiz wants to play fast. He wants to play aggressively. He wants to play tenacious defense and he wants unbridled effort on the court and undivided attention off the court. Most importantly, he wants to shoot threes.
The most obvious evidence backing up the claim that Fizdale wants the team to shoot more threes is the impact that he had on Marc Gasol in his first year as head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. Prior to Fizdale joining Memphis, Gasol had shot a total of 66 three-pointers in eight seasons. Gasol shot just three total attempts from beyond the arc in the entire 2015–16 season. In Fizdale’s first, and only, full year in Memphis, Gasol shot a whopping 268 three-pointers. To put that in perspective, Kristaps Porzingis has shot a total of 785 three-pointers in his career. Under Fizdale, expect everyone’s attempts from deep to increase substantially.
Although the 2018–19 season hasn’t begun yet, there’s already a different vibe around this Knicks team. Regardless of Fizdale and the new coaching staff, the Knicks have suddenly and subtly become more athletic. If Knox starts, the smallest player on the court will be 6-5, which is already an advantage against smaller teams. Additionally, the size and length that Perry has added in the draft alone will factor into how the Knicks play defense. Expect a lot more switchability from this Knicks team defensively.
No matter how the team performs this season, the front office has taken a major step in the right direction. They know what identity they want to develop in New York, they have faith in their new head coach and his staff, and in two years time, the Knicks will most likely have four top-10 picks under the age of 25. Don’t hold your breath, Knicks fans, but there’s hope in the air.