Welcome back to the NBA, folks! It’s season preview time, and every weekday between now and the start of the season, we’ll be taking a look one at a time at all 30 teams east to west and worst to first by division and asking and answering one simple question:
Is this team any good?
We start by rendering the title absurd and asking about the New York Knicks.
This is a team that had a hotly-touted rookie, Kevin Knox, put up the second-worst season in NBA history when measured by VORP (minus-2.2; only Michael Olowokandi‘s dreadful minus-2.6 in 1999-2000 is worse in the annals of professional basketball.)
This…is a team that sucks. So let’s shift focus and ask not if the Knicks are good but if they’re sufficiently not-totally-crap to clear the bar on their over/under for the season for wins.
Over/unders for all 30 of these previews will be, for purposes of consistency, based on the Caesars Palace rankings released on July 25 and published by the NBA’s official site.
2018-19 Record: 17-65
2019-20 Over/Under: 27
Hoo boy. Ten extra wins. You sure about that one, Vegas?
The idea that the Knicks are going to be decent and not total crap seems to rest on three pillars:
One, that Barrett is going to come into the league and instantly excel. But is he really? The guy shot 30.8 percent from three in college and 66.5 percent from the free throw line. And that was with him getting a lot of good looks as Duke’s opponents focused on stopping Williamson.
The Knicks’ backcourt promises to be a Dumpster fire of guys who scare exactly nobody with their shooting, which is a shame insofar as the Knicks could otherwise turn Mitchell Robinson into the next Myles Turner or Rudy Gobert.
How good is Robinson defensively? He didn’t play enough minutes to qualify for the advanced-stats leaderboard, but he had a 10.0 block percentage. That’s higher than Turner’s official league-leading 8.4 from last year and had Mitchell played enough minutes, it would’ve been the fourth-highest block percentage in a single season in NBA history and the highest ever by a man not named Manute Bol.
Robinson is an elite defender, and unlike Turner, Robinson has a keen nose for the rebound the way your dog has a keen nose for a steak being cooked. His 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes and 16.3 total rebounding percentage suggest not only volume but actually room for improvement; Jarrett Allen, at 16.8, was 20th in the NBA in that stat last year, and Hassan Whiteside‘s 25.9 led the league.
Robinson is a second-year player. He’s only going to get better at rebounding. And his instinct for rim protection isn’t going anywhere. He is a future Defensive Player of the Year if he keeps this up.
The Knicks are super-duper forward-heavy, and with as putrid as their guards are, why not try going the opposite way with it and running out a big man lineup? They’ve got Randle and his 1.9 VORP, Robinson and his 2.7 (LeBron James, as a rookie, posted a 3.1 in that stat, and Luka Doncic posted a 3.6 last year), they’ve acquired guys like Taj Gibson (.144 WS/48 on a bad Timberwolves team), and…
…well, Morris was actually kind of terrible in Boston, posting just 0.3 VORP and .104 WS/48 on a team that won 49 games. And Knox put up the second-worst season of all time.
That’s the problem here. The Knicks have all their good players playing the same positions in the frontcourt, Randle is a terrible stretch 4 who plays much better closer to the basket where he’s going to clog the toilet and be unable to share the floor with the better Robinson, the backcourt—and this cannot be repeated enough—is complete garbage…
That’s the whole problem with the Knicks. If this were a sensibly-constructed roster, with elite shooters surrounding a dominant low-post presence who anchors the defense and ensures that the other team cannot effectively challenge in the restricted area, they’d be the Utah Jazz.
But they’re not. They’re the Knicks. Three of the guys on the floor (at least) at any given time will be trash fires, and if Barrett doesn’t learn how to shoot, he’s going to draw the wrong kind of comparisons to Ntilikina or Emmanuel Mudiay, who stunk out the joint last year (minus-0.2 VORP) and has negative Win Shares for his four-year career.
I can see Robinson running into the same problem the Knicks had with Kristaps Porzingis, a guy with a ton of talent who underachieved because his team sucked.
And as such, I can’t see this team winning more than 24 games in any scenario. I’m taking the Under, and of course the question of whether they’re any good is busted, busted, Busted.
NEXT: Brooklyn Nets.