The Knicks have had as good an offseason as a franchise can have mired in a 20-year crisis. They hired the best man available for their open coaching job in Tom Thibodeau. They have made a number of excellent hires to enrich their staff and front office, especially assistant coaches Kenny Payne and Johnnie Bryant.
They had a bad night in the lottery, but that’s the norm for the team for the past 35 years, and if there was a bad copy to take a stance it was probably this one. There was no obvious cornerstone of the franchise, although it would certainly have been intriguing to see if LaMelo Ball lives up to its reputation.
The important business will start soon enough. The most essential part of the Knicks immediate project is also the simplest, in theory: get better players. Get more talent. The Knicks have been an epic and furious failure for two decades and there is no mystery as to why: most nights, dating back to 2000, they had inferior players than the other guy. Basketball is a simple game to understand in some ways.
The inner core – RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle (average age 22.5) – is the brick for now, and all three are players who should thrive in Thibodeau’s system, which will be heavy on player development.
The immediate need, the screaming, crying desperate need is for a professional point guard. Frank Ntilikina showed flashes, but by year 4 the Knicks need to see more than flashes. Dennis Smith Jr. has been a mockery of his entire career, and the Knicks can no longer afford to be seduced by what he could be but probably won’t.
There will be point guards galore available in the draft, starting with Ball, but the most intriguing one who seems most likely to fall to the Knicks at number 8 is Cole Anthony.
Anthony could be worth the bet on the future, a city boy who would be a legacy of the Knicks. But it is a bet. He had an injured and underwhelming freshman year in North Carolina, struggled as a shooter (.380) and his assist-turnover ratio was 4.0 / 3.5.
For the Knicks, the smartest game is to find an established point guard and make him an immediate part of that foundation, leaving them free to take the best player available at number 8 or turn into more assets for their deep pile of the same. And assuming the Knicks have been paying reluctant attention to the Nets’ adventures in the NBA bubble, they have to seriously think about making Fred VanVleet an offer he can’t refuse.
VanVleet emerged in last year’s playoffs for the Raptors and this year has blossomed into a level point guard just below the elite who can score (17.6 points per person), shoot (39% from 3), deal (6). , 6 assists) and playing defense (his 1.9 steals per game are double his previous high). He’s also played in the kind of winning environment throughout his career that Thibodeau wants – and needs – to create here.