New York Knicks

The Knicks should be focused on opportunities for their youth

The New York Knicks are in the second year of a full rebuild and they can’t even get that right.

Things were supposed to be different for the New York Knicks. They were long thought to be the final destination for the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving team-up but the duo instead opted to go to the Brooklyn Nets instead.

The Knicks did a good job of rolling with the punches. Instead of overpaying for second-tier free agents, they were smart and targeted veterans on short deals to give them the ability to go shopping again in the future when another good free agent group comes along.

New York has recent lottery picks R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina attempting to find their footing in the league. With their current roster being far from championship-ready — or even playoff-ready at the moment — it would make sense for the team to give the youngsters an opportunity to learn on the fly.

Yet, in their first game of the 2019-20 season, that was not the case.

They lost 120-111 to the San Antonio Spurs on the road. Normally, a nine-point defeat against a potential playoff team is something to celebrate. In this case, it is not. Their six free-agent signings (Julius Randle, Marcus Morris Sr., Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton and Wayne Ellington) combined to attempt 64 of the team’s 94 shots.

The four young players had 27 total shots — Barrett who shot a blistering 69 percent led the way with 13 field goal attempts.

In a game that featured several double-digit scoring runs by the Spurs, it would seem that there were ample opportunities for head coach David Fizdale to turn the game over to his less-experienced players to give them a chance to get their feet wet.

Just last year, this franchise was doing everything in its power to lose games in hopes of strengthening their shot at getting the number one pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Now, after bringing in the third overall pick, suddenly they’re ready to push all the chips in after adding a group of middling free agents? It doesn’t add up.

Part of the reason that Durant and Irving are playing in another borough is that the Nets were able to showcase their young pieces and develop them into useful rotation players.

Barrett’s debut has future star written all over it (21 points and five rebounds in 37 minutes) and Knox was productive in his 21 minutes (13 points, five rebounds and 3-of-4 on 3-pointers). Having Morris and Randle come in as the headliners of the free-agent class means that they need to get theirs as well and that takes away from opportunities that these two developing pieces should be getting as New York builds for the future.

The handling of Smith and Ntilikina is worse. They, along with Elfrid Payton, have been locked in a battle for minutes at point guard all offseason. No definitive decision has been made as of game one — Allonzo Trier started but was replaced by Payton to begin the third quarter — and Payton’s 26 minutes led the trio. Smith (10 minutes) and Ntilikina (2 minutes) were complete afterthoughts for most of the night.

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Besides the future draft picks, Smith was the big addition from the rushed Kristaps Porzingis trade and Ntilikina is coming off playing some of his best basketball as a member of the French national team at the FIBA World cup. However, neither seem to be getting their fair shake to start the season.

Is this a mandate from James Dolan or Fizdale trying to save face? Who knows when it comes to the Knicks. But if they keep this up they will be wasting an opportunity to build up a youthful core that could be key in attracting a big-name free agent down the line.

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