It has not been a good start to the season for the New York Knicks. Currently sitting at 2-9, they are tied for the worst record in the NBA and the rumblings that always seem to pop up in New York to indicate that change could be on the way are here. Following their blowout loss to the Cavaliers on Sunday, team executives Steve Mills and Scott Perry met with the media to discuss the team’s early season struggles, which was out of the ordinary, because postgame press conferences are spaces for players and coaches to talk.
Perry and Mills talking to the media and expressing their discontent poured gas on whatever flames had popped up at the beginning of the year. There are rumors that the “groundwork” is being laid out for New York to fire coach David Fizdale this season, and according to Ian Begley of SNY, Mills and Perry have been speaking extensively with Knicks owner James Dolan. The pair are reportedly getting the feeling that if the team can take some steps forward, then their jobs are safe.
Dolan speaks with Mills and other top decision-makers regularly, just as most NBA owners do, but this conversation seemed to carry a little more weight. Sources familiar with the conversation told SNY that management came away with the impression that their jobs would be secure as long as the Knicks ‘showed progress’ this season.
How Dolan and other organizational decision-makers define ‘progress’ is unclear. This conversation took place before the Knicks’ 18-point loss in Chicago on Tuesday. That game certainly wouldn’t fit the loosest definition of progress.
There’s one problem in all of this: What exactly is “progress” for a 2-9 Knicks team that finished with the worst record in the NBA last season? Do the Knicks really believe their army of power forwards who were signed this offseason will be enough to bring this team back to playoff contender status, or do they have more realistic goals of becoming a bad, but competitive, team?
While there’s no actual way to predict what the Knicks need to do to fit Dolan’s idea of progress, we can figure out where their current biggest weaknesses are and ways they can address them.
As of this writing, the Knicks have the worst offense in the NBA. Their 99.3 points per 100 possessions is enough to be worse than the Orlando Magic by a full point, with the difference between the two teams being that Orlando tries to play games with low scores while the Knicks seem to just do it on accident. Their ball movement doesn’t lead to assists all that often — they’re 28th in assists per game — and they’re dreadful at getting easy points. Despite being sixth in the NBA in free throw attempts, as a team, they’re shooting 65 percent from stripe. They also have the worst True Shooting percentage and second worst effective field goal percentage, behind the Magic, in the league.
Pick an offensive stat. The Knicks are probably bad at it.
A huge part of these struggles has to do with the team’s lack of any real point guards. Elfrid Payton was off to the best start to the season of their bunch, but a hamstring injury has left him sidelined during New York’s most recent skid. Dennis Smith Jr. has been away from the team following the passing of his stepmother, which has left them reliant on Frank Ntilikina and rookie R.J. Barrett to assume point guard duties. A team that lacks creators, especially with the sheer amount of forwards that exist on this roster, is going to struggle offensively.
They’re even lacking a lot of their secondary options. Reggie Bullock is recovering from surgery on a herniated disc and Damyean Dotson has been getting worked back in slowly following shoulder surgery. All of this has put a heavy load on Barrett to make up for the missing pieces, and while he’s had some nice moments to make him a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season, he’s still a rookie who is trying to navigate life in the league.
If Mills and Perry feel that progress is their key to sticking around for another season, then they need to find a way to address this. For starters, figuring out which of the Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Marcus Morris, Kevin Knox, Taj Gibson, and Mitchell Robinson traffic jam they like the most is important, as they can then find trades for the ones that don’t fit their long-term plans. While none of those players are going to bring back a ton, they can still try to use that return to not only bring in some offensive help, but piece together out a rotation that makes more sense and has players in more natural roles.
The guards will hopefully pan out a little better as the team gets healthy, but it’s far from perfect. Even with Smith and Payton expected to come back, their fits on this roster feel awkward at best. Ntilikina’s future in New York is somehow still up in the air, and bringing in an NBA starter capable point guard could help out a lot. Adding Bullock’s shooting would offer some much-needed spacing, but all of this is speaking in marginal terms.
The Knicks may not be quite as hopeless as their record shows, but this season could become lost very quickly if they don’t start acknowledging their problems and moving on them. Injuries certainly play a role, but this was a team with serious roster construction issues well before players started missing time. If New York finishes this season playing competitive basketball and doesn’t have the worst offense in the NBA, then that would be seen as progress. However, the real measure for this team is more likely the development of Barrett and the other players expected to be part of their core moving forward.
The question is how far they have to come, because if the only person who disagrees with the general assessment is Dolan, Mills and Perry may have their hand forced sooner rather than later.