The Knicks have a lot of two-guard options, but who deserves to get the starting nod?
2022 free agency has been one marked by a lot of chatter and not much action.
The New York Knicks did make some vital moves, namely acquiring their main target of the summer, Jalen Brunson. Veterans Alec Burks, Taj Gibson, and Nerlens Noel were dealt to clear cap space to sign Brunson. The rest of the moves have been cosmetic.
Solidifying the center rotation was the focus after Brunson. The team locked up Mitchell Robinson for four more years. With Noel gone, the team moved quickly to sign Isaiah Hartenstein as a replacement. Lastly, the team rewarded promising young big Jericho Sims, signing him to a three-year deal after he outplayed his two-way contract.
Aside from that, it is more or less the same team. Despite some fans’ desires to clear room for Obi Toppin by moving Julius Randle out of town, Randle remains in New York as a core piece of the team. Brunson will slide into the starting lineup along with Randle, RJ Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson. Derrick Rose figures to remain in the bench role he has enjoyed since arriving in New York.
All roles set in stone except one.
Starting shooting guard remains the big question. Any replacement for the incumbent Evan Fournier should either be a two-way player that can take on the tougher defensive assignment in the backcourt or someone who can give the team a substantial bump in scoring.
There are a few options for Tom Thibodeau to weigh during training camp, which should result in an open competition. Should that be the case, here is how things would likely play out:
It was a prosperous visit to Vegas for Quentin Grimes. Championship game aside, Grimes left Summer League the biggest winner. Grimes showed the world he is more than a three-and-D prospect.
LET GRIMES COOK!! pic.twitter.com/2Ihmvf31lx
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 15, 2022
Grimes was the unquestioned leader of the team with as a steady handed scorer. He notched 24 points in his first three games, bumping his field goal percentage up with each successive contest.
The one hiccup was the title game against the Trail Blazers. The Trail Blazers made a concerted effort to remove him from the game, holding him to 5-of-16 shooting. But overall, Grimes was a cut above the pack and clearly one of the better players in Vegas this year.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 17, 2022
Beyond the trade negotiation-related benefits that Grimes gifted his team, he proved he could be in line for a bigger bump than anticipated. As a rookie, it was clear that Grimes understood his role as a three-and-D guy.
The initial appeal in playing Grimes next to RJ Barrett and Julius Randle was his low-maintenance offense and promising defense. In Vegas, he proved he could also put the ball on the floor and cause equal damage.
Year 2 of Quentin Grimes is off to a fantastic startpic.twitter.com/zULCgsIAQI
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 11, 2022
In Grimes, the Knicks could beef up their wing rotation with a nice defensive combo of him and Barrett. His presence can help Brunson deal with tougher matchups and his shooting keeps the floor spaced to allow space for Brunson, Barrett, and Randle, all of whom fancy the same part of the paint.
First Summer League bucket courtesy of Quentin Grimes pic.twitter.com/Uns3y5KBcn
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 9, 2022
If it is a truly open competition, Grimes checks every box. He is one of the best shooters and defenders on the team and adds size to the lineup. If he can use the blueprint Evan Fournier helped lay out, it is plausible for Grimes to take a larger leap than expected and find a home in the starting lineup.
If not now, when for Immanuel Quickley?
The team’s signing of Brunson would presumably validate the belief the team did not see Quickley as the answer at point guard. But a closer look can give hope to Quickley believers. Brunson’s appeal for New York beyond stability is his scoring prowess, which leaves the door open for an unconventional option at the two.
Quickley’s poor shooting from downtown gave the facade that year two was a stagnant year. That was not the case. Quickley took visible strides as a playmaker and rebounder, in addition to remaining an underrated defender.
With more playing time with a consistent lineup, Quickley improved his asset percentage took a noticeable leap from 16.2% as a rookie to 24.3%, and bumped his per game number from 2.0 to 3.5.
Quickley finds Taj with a DIME pic.twitter.com/nRagItSpiV
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 25, 2022
Quickley’s growth as a playmaker was amplified by his growing prowess on the boards. He puts his 6’8” wingspan to use on the defensive end, and towards the end of last season to crash the glass. Quickley recorded ten rebounds in three games last season, helping him notch the first two triple-doubles of his career.
The problem with Quickley’s path to starting is his success in his current role, though when it comes to closing games, Thibodeau does show trust in playing him in the fourth quarter. Perhaps this season is the one for Thibodeau to actually leave him in the full final frame. It is for this same reason that Quickley could see a more significant role this season, just not a change in minutes.
An enhanced closer role feels more like the next step for Quickley.
The second unit was the secret sauce to the miraculous playoff run and with Derrick Rose healthy once again it would be shocking for the meticulous Thibodeau to move away from the strong chemistry Quickley, Rose and Toppin possess.
How could the incumbent fall so far down the list?
Fournier’s record-shooting season saved the front office some face after jumping the gun last summer and dishing out $78 million to the sharpshooter. While he proved to be kryptonite for the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics, Fournier was largely frustrating to watch.
So far, the news on Fournier has focused on ways to get him out of New York. The front office has reasonable apprehension about a starting backcourt of Brunson and Fournier becoming the encore to Kemba Walker and Fournier. The pairing of Kemba and Fournier meshed as well as water and oil. They were a turnstile duo on the defensive end, and never consistently figured out their offense at the same time.
Because of the bad experience with Kemba, there is reason to believe Brunson and Fournier would not fare much better.
Before the offseason chatter or Brunson’s arrival, you got the sense team brass was not thrilled with their top signing. The front office blame game started in February when reports trickled out of Madison Square Garden that general manager Scott Perry actually wanted DeMar DeRozan, who was just as attainable as Fournier. Leon Rose, William Wesley, and Tom Thibodeau felt stronger about Fournier, which is the route the team went.
Fournier was an offensive upgrade over Reggie Bullock, however, it was not an $8 million upgrade. Bullock is leaps and bounds better as a defender and managed to shoot at a similar clip from beyond the arc. The reason the team actively looked for an upgrade was to provide more consistent scoring–an area Fournier did struggle with in his first season as a Knick.
When Fournier’s shot was not falling, he was arguably the worst starter last season. Fournier had a December to never remember where he scored single digits in seven out of 14 games and shot 32.7% from three.
There is still room for Fournier in the rotation right now if he has to stick around. A bench role next to Rose, in which Fournier exclusively spots up and plays in bursts, could be the microwave scoring the team needs.
The irony that everyone mentioned prior could be used to acquire Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz. Spida’s homecoming has been a recurring theme since the pandemic started, which coincided with the public beef between Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
The Jazz chose Mitchell over Gobert, dealing Gobert to Minnesota, but now appear ready for a full rebuild. That full rebuild translates to a blockbuster package with draft picks serving as the foundation. That is where the Knicks enter as the most logical trade partner.
The usual threat, Pat Riley and the Miami Heat, need a third team to get in the mix to even start a conversation with the Jazz. The Knicks on the other hand have already come close to completing a deal before ultimately declining a package that would have sent Quickley, Grimes, Obi Toppin, Deuce McBride, and six first-round picks. The Mitchell saga figures to carry into the season, with the Knicks still in pole position.
Landing Mitchell makes sense once you stop overthinking the fit. There are not many chances to land a 26-year-old star player (Mitchell turns 26 in September). And for the Knicks, who have yet to sign a star player in free agency since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010, passing on the chance to add a star in his prime would be risky business, to say the least.
Defensive concerns about the Brunson and Mitchell pairing aside, landing a star to pair with an ascending Barrett puts the team in a good position to lure another star in the future.
What the final package looks like remains to be seen, yet Mitchell appears willing to sacrifice to make the trade go down smoother.
Donovan Mitchell has a 15% trade kicker bonus in place; sources close to his camp believe he may be willing to waive his trade kicker if it helps smoothen out the process. #Knicks
The trade kicker is paid out by the team trading the player, not the team receiving the player.
— Trey Rodriguez (@TreyRodriguezNY) July 18, 2022
If or when the deal happens, the fit will undoubtedly come into question, as will the team’s ceiling under a core of Mitchell, Barrett and Brunson, and/or Randle. What cannot be debated is whether the team will have a surefire star starting at shooting guard that can help them a leap up the Eastern Conference hierarchy.