Should Knicks “Young Core” Be Getting More Playing Time? Or Not…

As the Knicks season continues to sink and stink, with a 17-42 record and any chance of playoffs seemingly gone — Knicks twitter has been abuzz with accusations that the Knicks (aka coach Mike Miller) needs to play the youngsters more, and give up on this dream of finishing the season in grand style.

The only way, they say, for the “Young Core” players to get good is to play them — and stop playing vets like Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington, or even young free agent acquisitions that some wish had no future with the team — like Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, and Julius Randle.

Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic penned an article recently that quotes Toronto coach Nick Nurse as saying “I’m a firm believer that they need to be playing,” and Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson saying “It’s hard to develop in the shadows,” and Denver’s Mike Malone saying “If you don’t get game minutes… I don’t see how you’re going to get better.”

Here’s my 4 counterpoints:

  1. You can play some players forever they will not become stars or even starters. The coaches above may be referring to players who had the makings of good or star players (I don’t subscribe to the Athletic but I’m thinking Pascal Siakim, Fred Van Vleet, Spencer Dinwiddie, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, etc). Today’s NBA draft is more of a crap shoot than ever, because great high school players come out at age 19 after one year of college — increasing risk across the board because they’re not coming out at 23 anymore. Yes NBA teams have to develop players, but also just because you picked someone #8 or even #1, doesn’t mean he’ll be a star. That was never the case but it’s more of a crap shoot now.
  2. In many cases it’s better for a player ‘earn’ 15 or 20 minutes than granting him 25 or 30 minutes without merit. For two reasons:
    1. Make a guy earn 15 efficient minutes vs 30 where he learns it’s ok to be sloppy (see Kevin Knox last year),
    2. Sometimes it is a matter of developing confidence — let the guy play 15 successful minutes, vs 30 where he makes mistakes — like taking a starting pitcher who has been struggling out of a game after 5 good innings so he leaves with a good taste in his mouth. Do you remember when David Fizdale tried to play Dennis Smith Jr through ‘rust’ in the 2nd game of the year — and Smith Jr was booed off the MSG court? If a player is in a funk, don’t leave him out there to hurt his confidence.
  3. It is important that NY develop a Winning Culture. Coaching is arguably 65% of the NBA; having a good coach is as important to success as most any player (not all obviously). Mike Miller is being evaluated as much as any player is this year. Management already took Marcus Morris away from him; in these last 23 games Miller needs to show his coaching is as good as some fans think it might be.
  4. NY’s “Young Core” Players ARE Getting the Minutes they should (sans one). Finally — in the NY Knicks case — their “Young Core” players (aka the ones they drafted vs the ones they just picked up via free agency) have already in large part been evaluated and are getting the minutes you would possibly want to give them. This is detailed below.

Minutes Each “Young Core” Knick Deserves

Here’s my amateur scouting report (but as good as anyone else in media) on the “Young Core” Knicks:

Kevin Knox

  • Got 30 minutes per game last yr (actually 28.8); lots of sloppy ball.
  • Knew (and said) he’d have to earn his minutes this year.
  • Started out playing 15-20 efficient minutes; then went into funk of his own doing.
  • Playing better D now; improving.
  • He’s 20.
  • Being the #8 pick in draft does Not mean he should become star.

Damyean Dotson

  • NBA body for off guard at 6’6 and some bulk.
  • Intent on D but overrated there; loses his man a lot; straight up or via screens. Streaky 3 pt shooter. Looks like career reserve.
  • Averaged 27 mpg last yr; 17.5 this yr (NY has stacked backcourt).
  • Gets min that a reserve should get.

Frank Ntilikina

  • Not a point guard.
  • Good jump shot form & soft touch; hasn’t gone in but getting better. Hits free throws.
  • 6’6, skinny; slow afoot on D and quick guards give him trouble; soft on screens — goes around them does not fight thru them. But uses reach to defend & intercept passes.
  • Good glue player only 21 yrs old.
  • Has played 3,600 min in NBA.
  • Averages 21 mpg each yr of his 3 yrs; what he deserves.

Mitchell Robinson

  • Sky is limit; he’s at least Marcus Camby; could be Olajuwon if he develops a postup. Only 21 yrs old (Olajuwon & Ewing didn’t have postups at that age either).
  • Plays as many minutes as team can get him, warding him off foul trouble.

RJ Barrett

  • Looks like the real deal; future star; big body; ability to drive/score; loves contact; good in all aspects of game.
  • Improving his 3-pt shooting and free throws.
  • Many Knick fans were complaining he was playing TOO MANY minutes early in yr when he was logging 37 a game.

Allonzo Trier

  • Can score with the wind; fun to watch.
  • Went thru learning process last Jan/Feb where he was instructed to pass first. These days does that.
  • Intent on D.
  • Small for off guard at 6’4 and slender; hurts on D. Why coach hasn’t played him.
  • The one guy who deserves more minutes.

The Other Young Guys

And then finally — you have to look at players the Knicks DIDN’T draft too — for example in Brooklyn — they didn’t draft Spencer Dinwiddie — he’d been banging around the NBA for years, but the Nets saw talent and played him.

So here are some other young players the Knicks should play:

Elfrid Payton

  • Only 25 yrs old — the age when most NBA point guards ‘come into their own’. See Kyle Lowry, or even Michael Ray Richardson or Walt Frazier. Mark Jackson was 23 when he won rookie of year.
  • Can penetrate to basket seemingly at will, spreading the defense and excellent passer.
  • Orchestrates the offense with command.
  • Excellent on-ball defender; quick feet and quick hands; picks up a lot of steals.
  • Poor free throw shooter this year; shot 74% last year. Poor 3-point shooter. Hits the floater well. Needs to improve his free throws and 3-pt shooting.
  • He has at stretches this year, played the best point guard seen in 20 years in NY.
  • No reason why he can’t be the point guard of the forseeable future.

Dennis Smith Jr

  • Tremendous athlete; penetrates lane at will; takes off like Superman.
  • Very quick feet and hands — when he gets into it becomes one of best Knicks defenders — amongst the guards at least — right there with Payton and Ntilikina (in their own ways).
  • Able passer; gets lots of assists.
  • Makes a lot of mistakes.
  • Bad shooting form; bad shooter; bad free throw shooter. Has to improve here.

Julius Randle

  • 25 yrs old.
  • Can be a turnover machine — a Tasmanian devil on offense with spinning-out-of-control moves.
  • Sometimes tries too hard; his job recently made tougher with the trade of Marcus Morris, whom he had a great one-two game going with. Teams now concentrate their D on Randle’s drives late in game.
  • Only 25 yrs old.
  • Athletic, when he plays in control he is fun to watch. Can Score inside with whirlwind moves and slams.
  • Excellent rebounder; has played much better defense this year than anticipated.
  • Is a piece for the Knicks for the next two years — and then we find out if NY replaces him with Greek Freak.

Bobby Portis

  • Age 24
  • Acquired as a stretch 4– shot 40% from 3 last year; 6’11, rebounds and can score inside and out.
  • Nasty disposition. Most likely to get into a fight with an opponent or a teammate.
  • Not very good at interior Defense, but actually quite good at guarding smaller players (guards) on the perimeter.
  • When Morris was traded, said the Knicks wouldn’t miss him, as they could now pass the ball more and not worry about who would be the leading scorer. Yikes.
  • Not sure if he’ll be here next year.

Reggie Bullock

  • The guy the Knicks got when Terry Rozier, who was about to sign with the Knicks, instead signed with Charlotte who gave him a 3-year guaranteed deal. What a fall off for the Knicks — with Rozier this may have been a different season.
  • 6’5 with an NBA body (muscles and bulk) for an off guard
  • Known as a defender but his defense has been just ok this year.

Wayne Ellington

  • Age 32
  • Has helped win a few games with his late-game 3’s.
  • Not so great defensively.
  • Should not be playing over Trier

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