New Yew York Knicks head coach David Fizdale said that his entire starting lineup is up for grabs as the team heads into training camp.
It’s a good mentality for a team whose star, Kristaps Porzingis, is set to miss extended time as he recovers from his torn ACL. There is an interesting blend of youth and experience on the roster, so it will be interesting to see which players earn a spot in the first unit after training camp and preseason concludes.
The Knicks have the rights to their own first-round pick in 2019 so the idea of bottoming out and letting their young players develop would not be the worst thing in the world. If the team can land a top talent to add to their core, perhaps they can at least make things more interesting for when Porzingis is healthy and ready to return.
Fizdale is tasked with an interesting predicament, but it is wise to let the best men earn their gigs. The closest thing to a lock would be Enes Kanter as the big man for the Knicks. Kanter opted into the final year of his contract and can prove himself to be one of the top centers who will be available in the upcoming free agency class.
Even though rookie Mitchell Robinson looked very sharp during summer league, the 19-year-old did not play college basketball and would need a lot more time to develop before receiving that much playing time. But his trainer Marcell Scott believes he will be a starter midway through the year (via New York Post):
“I knew once they saw Mitchell on the court and saw all the stuff he brings to the table, the G-League would be eliminated from the conversation. I honestly think at the halfway mark, at the All-Star break, Mitch will be starting.”
Otherwise, however, the rest of the group certainly has competition worth monitoring. The most traditional candidates to start at power forward next to Kanter would be Noah Vonleh or Lance Thomas.
Vonleh signed a minimum deal to join the team, but he’s a former lottery pick with a lot of room to improve. Vonleh averaged a career-high 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes with the Chicago Bulls last season. Thomas, 30, started around half of the games he played for New York last season but offers the most experience.
The favorite at small forward might be rookie Kevin Knox, their 2018 lottery pick who could play at either forward position in the NBA. The 19-year-old had a fantastic summer league, averaging 21.2 points and 6.5 boards per game. Fizdale does not seem to mind the idea of giving a starting role to a first-year player once he earns it.
If the team prefers to reward experience, Mario Hezonja signed a one-year deal worth $6.5 million with the Knicks this offseason. While he has a lot of talent, he has had trouble living up to his potential in the past.
Thomas, of course, could also play down a position if he is not the starting power forward. Fizdale, however, typically prefers length and wingspan and likely will utilize that in his starting lineup.
As such, veterans Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee more likely project as shooting guards under Fizdale. Hardaway started 69 of the 76 games that he played last season while Lee was in the first unit for 54 of his 57 games.
Ultimately, we can expect an intense positional battle between the two. But it’s also worth mentioning that 2017 lottery pick Frank Ntilikina, now listed at 6-foot-6, will likely play more off the ball in the future. That means he will be in competition for the shooting guard spot as well.
Trey Burke looked sharp for the Knicks once he found his way to the team last year. He has a significantly better chance of earning their starting spot at point guard than Emmanuel Mudiay, although Mudiay did start 14 of the 22 games he played for New York last season. If nothing else, Fizdale has quite a few permutations to choose from.
DunkWire, Courtney Lee, Emmanuel Mudiay, Enes Kanter, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Kristaps Porzingis, Lance Thomas, Mario Hezonja, Mitchell Robinson, Noah Vonleh, Tim Hardaway Jr, Trey Burke, New York Knicks