With the regular season just around the corner, who will the Knicks choose to round out their roster of 15?
Even with the NBA Draft foregone and the free agency signing period largely over, there are still roster decisions to be made before the beginning of the 2021–22 NBA season. The New York Knicks’ roster currently sits at 19 players, a number they will need to whittle down to 15 before the start of the season (in addition to a pair of two-way contracts for a total of 17.)
The current makeup of the team is as follows:
Obviously, the Knicks’ key playmakers and free agent signees are safe, in addition to their rookie draft class. There are a few players on this list, though, who might not see it through to the beginning of the season in October. The ones most at risk are Dwayne Bacon, Luca Vildoza, Aamir Simms, and M.J. Walker. And with the rest of the roster spoken for, there is only one available roster spot and one two-way contract available (the other is occupied by second-round draft pick Jericho Sims) between them.
Dwayne Bacon, guard/forward: Bacon, signed by the Knicks in August after being waived by the Orlando Magic, is on a non-guaranteed Exhibit 10 contract for the league-minimum salary. Bacon will be eligible to play in training camp with the Knicks, where he will ultimately be given his opportunity to impress the team and prove that he should make the cut. A four-year NBA veteran, the 26-year-old shooting guard has averaged 7.3 points per game on 40.2% shooting from the field and 31.4% from three-point range in his career.
People are about to find out how good Dwayne Bacon is at basketball this year.
Watch how this Orlando situation helps him. pic.twitter.com/RgqPbJvC7c
— Ball Don't Stop (@balldontstop) December 13, 2020
Bacon’s path to this roster might be the most difficult, as his skill set is mostly met by the other guards on the team. Bacon is not very adept as a three-point shooter, only shooting 28.5% on the shot last season. So, the majority of his shots come from inside the arc, with over 46% of them coming from inside 10 feet of the basket. He struggles on defense, as well, having put together a Defensive Rating of 115.3 in his career.
The Knicks heavily utilize R.J. Barrett and Alec Burks, two guards who shot over 40% from three-point range last year and excel at getting to the rim for buckets, too. Outside of them, the Knicks just drafted Quentin Grimes, a complementary guard option expected to be used for his three-point prowess. The newly signed Evan Fournier is expected to start in the backcourt now, as well. With them all taking up minutes and covering a variety of team needs, holding onto Bacon would just be holding onto a backup plan should one of them get seriously injured.
Having just completed his fourth year in the league, too, Bacon is ineligible for the team’s other two-way contract. This would eliminate the possibility of the Knicks stashing Bacon in the G League while keeping another roster spot open. Unfortunately, he may very well not be with the team when the season begins. He did play a fair amount of last season alternating between guard and forward, a spot where the Knicks may be thin. That could be his saving grace.
Luca Vildoza, guard: Vildoza has been with the Knicks the longest of these four, having signed with the team during the tail end of last season. They agreed to a four-year, $13.6 million deal with only the first year being guaranteed. With last season counting as that first, the non-guaranteed years on Vildoza’s contract now begin.
The crafty 25-year-old Argentinian point guard got his first playing time with the Knicks in the 2021 NBA Summer League. He was rather unproductive, only playing in a couple of games logging 6.4 minutes per contest. He was held scoreless in both but got a couple of assists and a steal in his playing time. He did also play in Summer League just off the heels of playing for the Argentinian men’s Olympic team.
In his young career, though, Vildoza has largely impressed with his team TD Systems Baskonia in Spain. In the 2020–21 season, he averaged 10.9 points, 3.7 assists, and shot 42% from the field. Vildoza plays a defense-first game, nabbing 1.6 steals per game last year with Baskonia in the Liga ACB. He is an excellent on-ball defender and does a great job at reading offensive schemes.
The Luca Vildoza signing is a huge deal for the Knicks. The 25-year-old Argentinian PG has been one of the most coveted guards in Europe for some time. Excellent pull-up game, creative PnR passer, feisty defender. Brings the Argentinian spirit to the floor. Huge fan of his game. pic.twitter.com/fRixQ9yv9N
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) May 5, 2021
Unfortunately for Vildoza, though, his skill set closely resembles that of Knicks draft pick Miles McBride. McBride is also a defense-first guard who did not let his Summer League minutes go to waste. Playing in all six games, “Deuce” averaged 15.2 points per game to go along with 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals. The Knicks may lean more on McBride as their ball-stopping guard of the future as he has a bit more versatility and youth to build upon. Aside from him, the Knicks have several other point guards they will give minutes to before Vildoza.
Again, his contract is easy to part with, as the Knicks only owe him the first year of that four-year contract. While he is a rookie eligible for a two-way contract, it’s tough to imagine the 25-year-old being content with splitting the G League and NBA. He could much more easily be back in Spain improving his game with Baskonia while awaiting his next NBA opportunity.
Aamir Simms, forward: Simms, a four-year player at Clemson, went undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft. The Knicks added him to their Summer League team, and he impressed enough for them to keep him around. Simms saw extended playing time in the last two games, combining for 15 points, nine rebounds, and 5-for-9 shooting from the field.
Like Bacon, Simms was also signed to an Exhibit 10 contract. This means that his contract is non-guaranteed, but he will have up until training camp to make his case for a roster spot.
Oh man, Aamir Simms on heads.
Clemson up 10 on SC State early. pic.twitter.com/ougspz7ouP
— Mitch Brown (@MitchBTV_) December 2, 2020
M.J. Walker, forward: Walker also went undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft following four years at Florida State. Like Simms, he was invited to the Knicks’ Summer League team and showcased enough talent for the team to hold onto him past the summer. He played in the final three games, averaging 4.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 56% shooting from the field.
Walker is also signed to an Exhibit 10 contract at the moment, making him the third active player on the team with one.
Trey Davis and M.J. Walker have given the Knicks great minutes tonight
Walker 3/3 from downtown pic.twitter.com/hN8LKY83pl
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) August 15, 2021
Simms and Walker may have a better case than the other two aforementioned players for that roster spot, given the lack of depth at the forward position. Kevin Knox is a player who, while the longest-tenured Knick, is certainly at a crossroads in his career. Having fallen out of the rotation last year, he doesn’t seem to have much of a place this season.
While Julius Randle, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson, and Nerlens Noel are locked into the four and five positions on the court, there could be room at the three behind R.J. Barrett. This could be a spot where the Knicks look at Walker and Simms for depth at the position. They are both high-efficiency players who can shoot competently from three-point range, and also compete in the paint.
So, a very likely scenario could be that the Knicks give both their last roster spot and remaining two-way contract to these two, each contingent on who performs better in training camp. One of these two should definitely be getting that two way-contract, as Bacon is ineligible and it would be tough to imagine Vildoza staying in the country for a two-way deal.
No matter the end result, it’s refreshing that the Knicks have a good problem on their hands, forced to parse through four solid players to retain two. Even if Vildoza were cut, it’s entirely possible that the team could end on good terms with him and bring him back into the fold another year or two down the line. Regardless, the Knicks have set up a rock-solid foundation and being forced to make decisions like these is only proof of that.