The year 2020 has so far been a roller coaster ride to say the least, but a sense of normality is that the Knicks are still in dire need of an upgrade to point guard position. Although they are in a prime position to draw one with the eighth overall pick, and still have loved Frank Ntilikina on the roster, it has been reported that they are interested in pursuing Toronto’s Fred VanVleet in free agency.
Even with the Knicks early in their rebuilding and long-range shots to make the playoffs next season, VanVleet should be a priority for the Knicks in free agency. Yes, he’ll ask for a high salary and multi-year deal that will dent next season’s limit space, but do you really expect them to be potential suitors for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George or Bradley Beal? Do you really want to maximize Jrue Holiday or Victor Oladipo? And Rudy Gobert obviously doesn’t make any sense with Mitchell Robinson.
With Tom Thibodeau on board and the Knicks wanting to successfully market themselves across the league, chances are you can rule out the tank. Having surrounded RJ Barrett and Robinson with a bunch of inadequate and cumbersome veterans, acquiring players who can complete their young core should be the number one priority. VanVleet fits the bill and would only help Barrett, Robinson, and their precocious neophyte in their development.
VanVleet’s versatility in playing in both guard positions makes him suitable as a glove for this current Knicks team. At just 6’1 “195 pounds, VanVleet began guarding last season in a Toronto starting lineup that had a net score of 13.1 per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. When Norman Powell, the first guard Toronto off the bench, took over from Kyle Lowry, VanVleet slid into the point guard’s spot and the Raptors didn’t miss a beat, outpacing their opponents by 16.2 points for 100 possessions. For the Knicks, this would give them endless training possibilities with VanVleet, as he could start alongside a traditional 2 guard or even share backcourt with Ntilikina or a rookie PC. last season.
In addition to its versatility of location, VanVleet’s ability to create both its own offense and floor space is a huge plus. VanVleet scored 39.0% from three last season with 6.9 attempts per game and improved Toronto’s 3P% by 2.3% when he was down, according to Cleaning the Glass. VanVleet also improved his shot-making ability last season, increasing his percentage of unassisted points by 8%. Even with a high usage rate career and making nearly five more shots per game, both VanVleet’s effective and real shot rate have improved.
VanVleet is an obvious choice for the Knicks, but will he really leave Toronto? Not only are they the Raptors championship contenders, but they have VanVleet’s bird rights, which means they can re-sign him over the limit up to his maximum salary. This also means they can pay him more than any other team, as they can offer him a 5 year contract with 8% annual raises, compared to other teams that are limited to 4 years with 5% raises. At 26 and in the prime of his career, I would expect VanVleet to cash in and pursue nothing less than a long-term deal. Especially since it might be the best unrestricted free agent available.
Convincing VanVleet to drop a championship contender in Toronto for a rebuilding team for less money might be difficult, but with the Knicks going into free agency with as much as the second most salary space in the league, it’s good to hear they will chase him. Especially with the next best free agents with no restrictions besides Anthony Davis who is DeMar DeRozan (hard pass), Danilo Gallinari (reunion?!), Marcus Morris (reunion?!) And Davis Bertans (Wizards will overpay to keep him, very probably). Unlike those players, VanVleet can perhaps solve the franchise’s most obvious need position.