Damyean Dotson was the Knicks’ second-round selection in the 2017 NBA Draft. On bad basketball teams — a label the Knicks certainly earned on merit last season — such players often get the opportunity to carve out a niche for themselves early in their careers.
Former head coach Jeff Hornacek certainly did not feel that should be the case as he handed Dotson a mere 474 minutes over the course of the full season. While it is not easy to justify handing out minutes to marginal prospects for their development when you are playing meaningful games, there was nothing meaningful about the games the Knicks played from January onward.
While Dotson mostly languished on the bench or found himself racking up minutes in Westchester, rookies like Semi Ojeleye in Boston, Terrance Ferguson in OKC, Sterling Brown in Milwaukee, and Jordan Bell in Golden State received more playing time on playoff teams. Hornacek’s affinity for Lance Thomas and Courtney Lee, two players the Knicks shouldn’t be long for, saw the duo soak up major minutes at the 2 and 3, minutes that would have better served the Knicks long-term if they’d gone to Dotson.
Unfortunately it was not to be, and as a result, what Dotson can or cannot do at the NBA level very much remains a mystery. Dotson arrived from the University of Houston with a reputation as a knockdown shooter, excellent defensive rebounder and solid-but-unspectactular perimeter defender. We saw hints of all of that last year, but with such a small sample (thanks, Jeff!) it is impossible to say with any real conviction how good he is or could be.
There were moments in the season when he showed the potential to develop into a very capable sniper from outside. Those strong showings were few and far between, sprinkled intermittently among a collection of performances which could charitably be described as nondescript. For the season, Dotson shot just 32.4% from beyond the arc, but when you are the first Knicks rookie to put up 30 and 11 since Patrick Ewing, the hope fans have is at least founded in something tangible.
Almost equally as important as improving his shooting percentage moving forward is for Dotson to maintain his strong defensive rebounding. His 17.5 DRB% was the highest mark among all non-bigs on the roster last year. This is a skill the Knicks must place increased value on from their guards and wings if they plan on moving Kristaps Porzingis, an extremely poor defensive rebounder, to the 5 more frequently long-term.
Defensively, Dotson’s over-exuberance when he got on the floor saw him get whistled often for reaching in or getting blown by after overplaying his man. The effort on that end of the floor is there, though. He fights hard to chase his man over screens and has exhibited a solid understanding of help defense principles. He also has quick, active feet when he’s defending on-ball.
Dotson has the raw ingredients required to develop into a 3-and-D wing — the archetype role player of choice in today’s NBA. As a rookie it was difficult for him to establish himself with how inconsistent his minutes were doled out. He would often go weeks without getting off the bench.
With David Fizdale now in charge, Dotson should have a new lease on life. Fizdale wants the Knicks to play faster and will presumably look to shift the Knicks’ shot distribution from the mid-range to the three ball. This should be a welcome change for Dotson, who thrived in a more open, freewheeling offense in college where he had the green light to launch from outside.
It is important to keep in perspective what would be a success for Dotson. If he is able to increase his three point percentage to around 37% or more in a bigger minutes load while maintaining his defensive rebounding prowess and effort on defense, that would do nicely for his career arc. If he can do so, the Knicks will have unearthed a quality rotation piece. If he fails to do so, he will be out of the league in a year or two like 80% of all other second rounders.
It is now up to Dotson to make the most of his opportunities this year. With the front office keying in on the summer of 2019 to make major moves, the plentiful chances afforded to him on a rebuilding team will not last long.