The success of the Knicks’ rebuild will be largely contingent on thorough player development. Will they be able to utilize Westchester to their advantage during that process?
The significance of G League affiliates is often undervalued by those in the NBA world. Many fans, and even front offices, sometimes don’t put much stock or invest much energy into their minor league teams. One could argue, however, that this year is one of the most important for the Knicks in recent memory, at least in terms of finding out which guys can play at the next level. The Westchester Knicks need to be a crucial stepping stone for players looking to improve their game and potentially make an impact on the big-boy Knicks down the road.
We all know the Knicks are going to absolutely stink this year, so the focus shouldn’t be on acquiring veterans with bad contracts to try and win a couple more games. This upcoming year is all about playing the young guns, and more importantly, developing them so they are able to form a core that is a) attractive to marquee free agents in 2019 and beyond, or b) able to compete on their own down the road. This is where the significance of the Westchester Knicks comes into play.
Last season we saw several players go from the G League to contributing at the NBA level, such as Trey Burke, Isaiah Hicks, and Luke Kornet. Expect to see the same sort of pattern this year, with more opportunities given to guys with the extended absence of Kristaps Porzingis and the fact that the Knicks are looking to find talent that they can either use as trade bait or keep to contribute in the future.
One guy I’d like to focus on is the Knicks’ second-round selection, Mitchell Robinson. After sitting out of basketball for the past year to train for the draft, Robinson is a prime candidate to begin his year in White Plains as a DubKnick. Obviously, it’s too early to project the roster, but there is a huge chance we don’t see Mitchell in the bigs right away. As we know, Robinson has had a very unconventional path leading up to the draft, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a successful NBA talent. One player that comes to mind in terms of their similar career paths and skill level on the floor is Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside has become a successful player on the pro-level after bouncing around the G League, in addition to some international teams. His development took a little bit longer than most younger prospects, but he was able to round out into an elite shot blocker and solid contributor down low.
Robinson will have a lot of rust to shake off, and getting himself used to the physicality of a pro-level game will be a challenge at first. He is an incredibly raw talent and thus his development in the G League will be key as he looks to make an impact on the NBA roster in the future. If he is able to make the most of his time in Westchester and is properly utilized and given time to grow, it will position him for success on the next level. Robinson could take a full year in the G League to find comfort in the NBA, but that’s why the high-risk second-round tag is associated with the big fella. It’s not hard to instill confidence in Coach Miller, and that the staff in White Plains will be of great assistance to the growth of Mitchell Robinson.
The Other Guys
Some other candidates for Westchester who are looking to improve and make the NBA roster are Luke Kornet, Isaiah Hicks, and undrafted free agent Allonzo Trier. Kornet and Hicks were recently re-signed, and clearly, the Knicks see some value of keeping them in the fold. Both of these guys spend ample time in Westchester and got some NBA action last season, but were ostensibly not ready to play at the professional level.
This year is crucial for both Hicks and Kornet in terms of improving enough to carve out a potential roster spot going forward. Hicks should get a lot of playing time down in Westchester, and it will be interesting to track both he and Kornet’s progress as the season plays out. Going forward, I don’t see either of these guys becoming starters for the Knicks due to the fact that New York has plenty of bigs who have a higher upside. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be key role players and filler guys on the bench—a very underrated component of a successful team. If development in the G League goes according to plan, you could see Hicks playing a role like Jordan Bell on the Warriors and Kornet playing a role to an Ersan Ilyasova, a former Sixer and Buck.
As for Trier, he too has has a strange path to the draft. After a couple of suspensions and some issues surrounding his eligibility, he signed with New York a few days after the draft. Trier is a pure scorer who excels on the offensive end. I liked his game in college but never thought he reached his full potential. Trier has the opportunity to do that in Westchester as he looks to make a name for himself in the pros. I think developing Trier could be a huge benefit for the Knicks considering he has the potential to be a starting 2 guard going forward. Assuming he goes to the G League, Trier has the opportunity to work on his shooting, decision making, and defense.
Last but not least, the Knicks made a step in the right direction when they hired Craig Robinson as the vice president of player development and G League operations. This move was not widely discussed, but it was an underrated hire. Robinson has had an ample amount of experience coaching on the college level, as well as some prior front office exposure with the Milwaukee Bucks and their young core of budding stars.
Expect Robinson to work with both the New York and Westchester Knicks, as he will be a huge part of the developmental aspect of the Knicks’ rebuilding process. If he is here for the long haul and the rebuild goes according to plan, loads of credit should be given to Robinson, who was largely an under-the-radar hire.