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July mailbag, part one: Minutes, trios, memes and Milwaukee*

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*Giannis, really. “Milwaukee” was mostly alliterative.

NBA: 2019 NBA Awards Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Lot to get to. Let’s.

1) Fretting our minutes fretting ‘bout minutes. @Observeman24 writes:

It’s July, friend of mine. With adults at the wheel for once, we’re in calm waters. I’m not worried about nothing. But what about once the season starts? If the Knicks are playing short-term vets over the youthful future, do we run David Fizdale outta town?

The best thing the Knicks did last year was not screw up. They have oodles of cap space and draft picks plus some inexpensive young talent. The difficulty’s risen. Not screwing up is only the first step; at some point there have to be tangible results on the floor. The sooner the better, if they want to land the two or three superstar jackpots we all dream of some day.

If Elfrid Payton, Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson are three of the Knicks’ best eight players at the All-Star break and the team is within shouting distance of the playoffs, then yes, those guys should keep playing. As far as possible outcomes, that one’s not half-bad.

DREAM OUTCOME: The Knicks make the playoffs; the young players excel; a veteran or two play well enough to be flipped for an asset.

NEXT-BEST: The Knicks double their win total; the young players all improve; the veterans stabilize the team’s play.

MEH: New York wins in the mid-20s; none of the youngsters make the leap; the vets start to fend for themselves; midwinter is all buyout leaks and innuendo.

UH-OH: There’s little to no growth; Mitchell Robinson regresses; RJ Barrett lands with a thud; Kevin Knox never earns his father’s name; the veterans rebel against the kids being prioritized.

Obby’s scenario only comes into play for me if the team is contending for the playoffs. I think the young Knicks will need to win the bulk of the playing time, and I think that’s fair and good. Decisions are soon due on whether Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina are cornerstones or somebodies that we used to know. If they’re Payton-level next year, there’s your answer.

I think the kids will play...when they’ve earned it. Or when injuries or a midseason eight-game losing streak kill off hope of meaningful games in April.

2) With our current roster, rank your top 5 PG-SG-SF tandems...

— Walt Clyde Phraser

WCP asked for the top five trios that included RJ Barrett, but I ended up picking my top five overall. So, the five combos I’m most looking forward to, from least- to most-anticipated:

5. Ntilikina, Trier, Dotson

Last season only two three-man Knick lineups who played as many minutes as these three posted lower defensive ratings, both featuring Mitchell Robinson (and Dotson). I like this threesome for its well-roundedness. Two of the three can defend. Two can shoot. One can create for himself, one can get looks for others, and one’s looking to get looks. Pair them with almost any bigs — Robinson and Randle? Portis and Barrett? Gibson and Morris? — and let the night unfold.

4. Ntilikina/Payton, DSJ, Brazdeikis

Smith spent 20 percent of his Dallas days off the ball. The Knicks typecast him strictly as a point guard during his dress rehearsal last year in New York. I’d like to see him freed from playing conductor. What might he look like alongside Ntilikina or Payton, bigger, better-defending, capable ballhandlers? DSJ’s next minute alongside either will be his first; he was paired with a bigger guard in Luka Dončić, but Dončić immediately became the focal point of the offense; neither Ntilikina nor Payton would be. It’s easy to forget how excited many of us were to see Smith and Ntilikina together. Let Smith guard the other team’s weaker guard, give him free rein to attack the defense and throw in some Brazdeikis, what with the off-ball cuts and spot-ups.

3. DSJ, Frank, Knox

Here are per-game averages from three rookie seasons:

A (75 games): 29 minutes, 13 PTS, 5 REBS, 1 AST, 37% FG, 34% 3P, 72% FT, 22.3 USG, -1.3 win shares

B (78 games): 30 minutes, 12 PTS, 3 REBS, 2 AST, 38% FG, 34% 3P, 71% FT, 22.4 USG, -1.5 win shares

C (80 games): 28 minutes, 11 PTS, 2 REBS, 4 AST, 37% FG, 33% 3P, 85% FT, 20.4 USG, 3.0 win shares

A is Kevin Knox. B is Adam Morrison. C is Chauncey Billups. As you may have heard, Knox is only 19. Anybody smart enough to project what he becomes should’ve been using them smarts to build a way off this winning blue marble we’re intent on undoing. Billups played for five teams his first six seasons. Morrison had a C/C- rookie year and was out of the league at 25. All that space in between those two? That’s where Knox is gonna land. Somewhere there.

Robinson, Trier and Dotson are the only players on the roster the Knicks drafted who’ve exceeded expectations, and only Robinson projects as potentially better than “starting-caliber.” It’s critical that Ntilikina or Knox show growth this year. If two of this trio raise their game, the Knicks can achieve meaningful games in March, which would create a nice fall-and-rise momentum to take into next summer. And why do we fall?

2. DSJ, Dotson, RJ

If the Knicks were a globally popular and successful soccer team — say, the Spanish men’s team 10 years ago — there would be so much more demand for 24/7/365 content that some British tabloid would have a whole couple of pages devoted to whether the soul of the offense moving forward would be defined by Dennis Smith Jr. or RJ Barrett. I’m relieved not to live in that reality, honestly. I’m a simple creature, content to see how the Knicks’ two most talented offensive pieces fit together. With DSJ and RJ likely to fall just below Julius Randle in usage rate this year, I think they’d both benefit from the high-yield, low-demand brand of ball Dotson deals in.

1. Payton, RJ, Brazdeikis

I’m convinced these three will get in some memorable scrap. Someone will foul Barrett too hard, or mouth off to him. Barrett will approach them to stand up for himself, Payton will gently push Barrett away, then take up the argument for him, and then just as the offending opposing player tries to escalate things, a brief and brutal Brazdeikis brotherly bit of brawn briefly wakens us, once more, to life.

3) Which new Knicks free agent signing will provide the year’s best Knicks meme, and what will it be for? This does not include rookies.

— AJ_in_VA

Let’s scout some GIFs!

JULIUS RANDLE: There’s some Kyle O’Quinn-ish purity of joy to Randle. That’ll play well here.

BOBBY PORTIS: So...Portis-eyes is not a thing you’re gonna wanna be called. Ever.

The man is intense. Too intense?

Do what you will with this.

There is worldliness to Portis. Perhaps a premature (by which I mean advanced) world-weariness. He looks like he’s been hurt before. Ever wonder what Bobby Portis would look like if his cat got run over? You’re welcome.

ELFRID PAYTON: Payton is a de facto meme rookie this year. Most of his GIFs before last year were focused on his hair. All I’ve really learned is he has long, lovely fingers. Which, as these things go, is comforting to know.

I’m a freedom fighter in the streets, but in the sheets a little restraint goes a long way. I prefer the quiet storm. Payton got a little of that. A little majesty.

REGGIE BULLOCK: Honestly most of the “Reggie Bullock GIF” search turns up Sandra Bullock GIFs. I like her. Have some Sandra Bullock today.

Frankly, a lot of weird stuff came up while searcing for Reggie Bullock GIFs.

The Archie comics crowd will recognize Reggie Mantle.

WAYNE ELLINGTON: Ellington becoming the memesiest Knick would be an enormous upset, though not without precedent. Three years ago, Leicester City overcame 5000-to-1 odds to win the English Premier League, over the likes of usual suspects Manchester City and Satanic fronts Chelsea and Manchester United. There isn’t much film on Ellington, but what there is is this slow-down/smile mash-up sure to light you up like a Tannenbaum.

TAJ GIBSON: I enjoy Taj Gibson enjoying Taj Gibson.

I enjoy the rarely seen double-threat of world-class athlete who also looks like some. Nerd.

Jimmy Butler has been in two of these GIFs and he isn’t even a Knick. What a ham.

Impeccable taste in footwear.

MARCUS MORRIS: Your king.

Fans of the 1994 New York Rangers remember Esa Tikkanen. He was an antagonist.

And he could play.

If the Knicks ever reach the playoffs with Morris, I imagine his energy being along the lines of Tikkanen or (shudder) my heart’s GOAT Knick, Xavier McDaniel. Thy will be done, Lord.

Knick fans of a certain persuasion will enjoy Jeff Hornacek staring down the business end of a Morii.

The frontrunner is Morris. Portis is the dark horse. Randle will place.

5) If roughly a year from now Giannis Antetokounmpo wants out of Milwaukee, and is open to signing an extension with the Knicks, what trade package that doesn’t include Mitch would you offer that’s fair for the Bucks?

— Russ

You lost me at “that doesn’t include Mitch...that’s fair to the Bucks.” If Giannis wants to sign in a year with the Knicks, you trade whatever Milwaukee wants. Trade Mitch. Trade three #1s. Trade Kristaps Porzingis again. Trade Scott Perry. Trade every banner in the rafters (they’re just symbols, prompts. False light). Expand the deal and swap owners, while we’re at it. Mallory Edens has broached the idea before.

A year from now Giannis will be just 25. He’d be the best- or second-best player in the sport, a level of greatness no Knick has ever reached. Last year, per-36 minutes, Antetokounmpo averaged (rounding off) 30 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 stocks (steals + blocked shots). Here are all the Knicks who’ve reached any of those levels in even one category this century (minimum 1640 minutes):

30+ POINTS = No one.

14+ REBOUNDS = Enes Kanter in 2018.

7+ ASSISTS = Raymond Felton in 2011; Chris Duhon in 2009; Stephon Marbury in 2004 & 2005; Howard Eisley in 2003; Mark Jackson in 2002.

3+ STOCKS = Marcus Camby in 2001. Don’t sleep on how good Camby was.

(Ed. note: Honorable mention to Mitchell Robinson last year with an absurd 5.7 stocks per 36. He just didn’t qualify for the leaderboards because of lack of total minutes played. Should solve that problem this year, hopefully.)

There’s no pussyfooting when you’re in position to acquire a 25-year-old MVP, especially one who’s never missed more than 10 games in any season. There’s no offer that’s fair for the Bucks. You can give them cap space, a horde of draft picks and your best 4-5 young players. They’re still the loser in the deal. I’d trade Mitchell Robinson every day for a year for Giannis. I don’t know what that means.

I do know there was a tsunami of quality mailbaggery this month, so part two will be here before you know it. We’ll touch on what success means for each Knick next year, our deepest darkest owner-swap fantasy, and the lost art of compulsory heckling.