The following article is from contributor @blames_dolan.
The year 2020 thus far has been a roller coaster ride to say the very least, but one sense of normalcy is that the Knicks are still in dire need of an upgrade at the point guard position. While they’re in prime position to draft one with the 8th overall pick, and still have the beloved Frank Ntilikina on the roster, it’s been reported they’re interested in pursuing Toronto’s Fred VanVleet in free agency.
Even with the Knicks being early in their rebuild and long shots to make the playoffs next season, VanVleet should be a priority for the Knicks in free agency. Yes, he will demand a high-salary and multi-year deal that will eat into next off-season’s cap space, but are you really expecting them to be potential suitors for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George or Bradley Beal? Do you really want to max out Jrue Holiday or Victor Oladipo? And Rudy Gobert obviously doesn’t make any sense with Mitchell Robinson.
With Tom Thibodeau on board and the Knicks wanting to successfully market themselves around the league, you can likely rule out tanking. After surrounding RJ Barrett and Robinson with a bunch of poor-fitting, space-clogging veterans, acquiring players who can complement their young core should be the number one priority. VanVleet fits the bill and would only help Barrett, Robinson, and their precocious neophyte in their development.
VanVleet’s versatility to play either guard position makes him fit like a glove for this current Knicks team. At just 6’1” 195 pounds, VanVleet started at shooting guard this past season in a Toronto starting lineup that had a net rating of 13.1 per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. When Norman Powell, Toronto’s first guard off the bench, would sub in for Kyle Lowry, VanVleet would slide to the point guard spot and the Raptors wouldn’t skip a beat, outscoring their opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions. For the Knicks, this would give them endless lineup possibilities with VanVleet, as he could start alongside a traditional 2-guard or even share the backcourt with Ntilikina or a rookie PG. Elfrid Payton’s inefficient outside shooting and inability to play off the ball hindered the Knicks’ ability to do this last season.
In addition to his positional versatility, VanVleet’s ability to both create his own offense and space the floor is a huge plus. VanVleet shot 39.0% from three last season on 6.9 attempts per game, and improved Toronto’s 3P% by 2.3% when he was on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass. VanVleet also improved his shot-creating ability last season, increasing his percentage of unassisted points by 8%. Even with a career high in usage rate and taking nearly five more shots per game, both VanVleet’s effective and true shooting percentage improved.
Although you would never refer to him as a “point god” like Chris Paul, VanVleet is a fine play-maker for a combo guard. While sharing point guard duties with Lowry, he averaged a career high 6.6 APG and assisted on 28.0% of his teammates’ made shots last season, an improvement of 4.0% from the year before. In 16.5 MPG without Lowry on the court last season, VanVleet’s assist percentage increased to 34.0%, which would have ranked in the top-10 at the point guard position.
VanVleet is an obvious fit for the Knicks, but will he actually leave Toronto? Not only are the Raptors championship contenders, but they have VanVleet’s bird rights, meaning they can re-sign him over the cap at up to his maximum salary. This also means they can pay him more than any other team, since they can offer him a 5-year contract with 8% annual raises, compared to other teams who are limited to 4-years with 5% raises. At 26 years old and the beginning of the prime of his career, I would expect VanVleet to cash in and pursue nothing less than a long-term deal. Especially since he may be the best available unrestricted free agent.
Convincing VanVleet to leave a championship contender in Toronto for a rebuilding team for less money might be challenging, but with the Knicks entering free agency with as much as the second most salary cap space in the league, it’s good to hear they will pursue him. Especially with the next best unrestricted free agents besides Anthony Davis being DeMar DeRozan (hard pass), Danilo Gallinari (reunion?!), Marcus Morris (reunion?!), and Davis Bertans (Wizards will overpay to keep him, most likely). Unlike those players, VanVleet can perhaps solve the franchise’s most glaring position of need.