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Knicks Looking to Sort Out Young Talent This Season

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

Let's get this out of the way: the Knicks are going to be really bad again this season. But there is hope for certain young players; they don't have a single player over 29 years old.

There's a lot of young players who are looking to prove their value in the Big Apple. At the top of the list is Obi Toppin, their eighth overall pick in November's draft. In their first preseason game against the Pistons on December 11, he provided 11 points and 7 rebounds, shooting 4-for-9 from the field and 3-for-5 from the free-throw line. Last night, he had a far less glamorous outing, managing just 4 points, shooting 1-for-6 from 3-point range.

In the same game, sophomore RJ Barrett led New York in scoring with 15 points, shooting 7-for-16 overall and 0-for-4 from behind the arc. Two of those deep misses came in the first quarter in transition, the first clanking off the rim and the second missing it completely.

It's not like this one series is a portent for Barrett's second professional season. His second game was far more efficient, scoring 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting from the floor. Although he wasn't great from deep (1-for-5), 3-point shooting may never be a strong suit of his. Barrett has proven lethal – both at Duke and in the pros – when he drives to the rim or pulls up from midrange.

What the Knicks need to sort out this year is their gaggle of mediocre point guards. Dennis Smith Jr., the main piece in the Kristaps Porzingis trade in 2019, has been downright atrocious for New York. After a decent 21 games in his partial 2018-19 season in the Big Apple, the 2019-20 season saw almost every single statistical category plummet – including his minutes. He hasn't made the impact the Knicks would have hoped, but fans seem to forget that he's only 23 years old. New head coach Tom Thibodeau has been pleased with his performance in training camp thus far, too.

"I think he's come into camp and he's been very aggressive," Thibodeau said. "I think each day, he's gotten better and better. That's what we're asking him to do."

New York Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. dribbles the ball up the court in an NBA basketball game.
Dennis Smith Jr. | Image via Anthony J. Causi

Meanwhile, Frank Ntilikina is yet another young guard that has a lot to prove, beginning in the ongoing preseason games. In his three seasons in the league, the French point guard has averaged just 6 points per game. While Ntilikina has been disappointing on offense, his long arms have served him well on the other side of the ball. Like Smith Jr., he could also benefit from Thibodeau's defensive-minded strategy.

The hope is that veterans Elfrid Payton and Austin Rivers can provide some experienced minutes and mentor the Knicks' young guards. The 26-year-old Payton was serviceable for New York with 10 points per game, but we've seen his ceiling already. Meanwhile, Rivers left Houston this offseason in search of a larger role. He's the definition of a microwave scorer, and he could thrive with more minutes.

Knicks fans can expect another grueling season chock-full of poor spacing and inefficiency. If all goes well, RJ Barrett posts a borderline All-Star season and Obi Toppin shows promise on both sides of the ball. Fans have been frustrated with their team's consistent inability to attract marquee free agents. The truth is that they won't come for two reasons: either the price isn't right or they don't see enough promising talent to play around. The Knicks can only hope that this season will dispel the latter concern.


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