The Runner Sports

Narrowing Down The Knicks’ Rotation

The New York Knicks don’t have a very high ceiling as a team this season. Even in a relatively weak Eastern Conference, it seems unlikely that the Knicks will make the playoffs. Mediocrity is probably the best the team can hope for, even if that kind of season is now considered to be largely unproductive. The Knicks are not tanking, though, and head coach Jeff Hornacek will try to squeak as many wins as possible out of this roster. However, New York’s roster is filled with players that could conceivably compete for minutes, and narrowing down the rotation to nine or 10 players will be a significant challenge.

As the Knicks’ franchise player, Kristaps Porzingis is clearly going to be a part of the starting lineup. He’s the best player on the roster, and he appears poised for a breakout season. He’s missed some time in the preseason, but that’s most likely a product of the organization being cautious with what is by far their most valuable asset.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is probably the only other player with a starting spot locked up. After all, a team doesn’t spend $71 million on a player to park him on the pine. Hardaway is entering his second stint with the Knicks, and fans are surely hoping things will go better this time around. Hardaway is in line to receive a lot of offensive responsibility this season, and focuses for him will be offensive efficiency and defensive effort.

The starting point guard spot is a very interesting one. Rookie Frank Ntilikina is the future of the position for the Knicks, and while he could very well end up starting by the end of the year it seems far-fetched to think he’ll do so on opening night.

Ramon Sessions could very well be the favorite to start at point guard early in the season. He’s a 10-year veteran that could provide the kind of consistency that Hornacek is looking for in a starter at a very important position. He’s not a transcendent passer by any means, but perhaps steadiness is all that is required to win this job.

The Knicks also brought in fellow veteran Jarrett Jack to compete for minutes. Jack looks fully healthy after appearing in just two games for New Orleans last season, but his best days are certainly behind him. It’s feasible that he’s the opening night starter, but it’s also feasible that he gets cut. It’s difficult to imagine both Sessions and Jack on the team come opening night, as they serve the same purpose, but it’s possible they’ll both stick around.

Ron Baker is somewhat of a wildcard for the Knicks when it comes to the point guard position. He’s the best defender of the team’s point guard crop, and New York gave him nearly $9 million in the offseason, but we’re also talking about a guy that averaged just 4.1 points and 2.1 assists per game in a rookie season that saw him play 16.5 minutes a night. Luckily for Baker, he has the size to slide to the 2-spot, positional versatility that should win him minutes.

Courtney Lee fits the mold of a 3-and-D player at the shooting guard spot, but he also presents a roadblock in playing time for rookie Damyean Dotson. Dotson has a lot of potential on the defensive end, and he thrives in catch-and-shoot situations on the offensive end. That sounds a lot like Lee, and Dotson could be a part of the Knicks’ long-term. It depends on what the Knicks’ goals are this season.

The newly-acquired Doug McDermott presents the Knicks with a potentially potent offensive weapon. The former National Player of the Year has good size for the small forward position and boasts a nice outside shot. However, he’s a liability on defense whether he plays the 3 or the 4. Still, on a team that lacks offensive options, McDermott should factor into the rotation. While he has limited upside, McDermott is just 25 years old.

Michael Beasley is a difficult player to get a read on. While there is no denying that he is immensely talented, the former second overall pick has lacked consistency throughout his NBA career. There is no reason to believe that the light is suddenly going to come on for Beasley this season, but he could provide an offensive spark off the bench. He can’t, however, be depended on to give maximum effort on any given night.

The Knicks have a serious logjam down low, as Joakim Noah, Willy Hernangomez, and Kyle O’Quinn are all surely expecting minutes on a nightly basis. However, with Porzingis needing significant run and Beasley sliding to the 4 at times, the minutes don’t just seem to be there.

When healthy, Noah is a defensive ace that can also facilitate on offense. Enes Kanter is, by far, the most offensively gifted of the bunch, but he’s also one of the worst interior defenders in the league. Hernangomez offers the highest upside, and is the player that factors into the team’s future the most. Again, it all depends on what the Knicks want to do this season.

From what we’ve seen so far, this is the starting unit Knicks fans are most likely to see on opening night:

PG – Ramon Sessions
SG – Tim Hardaway Jr.
SF – Doug McDermott
PF – Kristaps Porzingis
C – Enes Kanter

That lineup leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end of the court, but it retains the most offensive potential and presents significant opportunity for cohesion. If Hornacek wants to narrow the rotation down to 10 players, it’s going to be a challenge. Expect Lee, Ntilikina, Baker, Beasley, and Hernangomez to receive minutes early in the season, and Noah could as well. That’s a group of 11 players, one that doesn’t even include O’Quinn.

Once it becomes clear to everyone in the organization that the Knicks are not sniffing the playoffs this season, things will change. Ntilikina’s minutes will increase, and Dotson should move into the rotation in some capacity. Noah is likely to miss time due to injury, but that’s still not enough to free things up in the frontcourt rotation.

Players like Lee, Beasley, and O’Quinn could be movable at the trade deadline, and the Knicks would have to explore such deals. Overall, though, it would not come as a surprise to find several Knicks players unhappy with their playing time at any given juncture of the season. Hornacek is not in an enviable position.