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Knicks season in review, part I: Some familiar questions resurface

Fans were left with some familiar questions in an inconsistent season.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

After spending the last five years or so getting into Knicks debates on some form of internet forum, I’ve taken a bit of a backseat this year.

There are a few reasons for this, partly that arguing team decisions amongst your fellow fans without decision-making power is a bit pointless, but also that these questions have already been asked and answered.

The only issue is that the Knicks haven’t decided to look at these answers, which is why the same questions are being futilely debated yet again.

Should the Knicks give $70+ million to an inconsistent, poor-defending shooting guard? I thought we had this squared away with Tim Hardaway Jr, but Scott Perry got his guy as usual in Evan Fournier, and here we are. A hint to the answer: If you’re making a list of several comparably-paid, inconsistent-to-bad players that are also considered bad contracts to prove the contract you just signed is ‘fine’, it’s probably not. I don’t want to give $80 million to Buddy Hield or Duncan Robinson either. In fairness, the Mavericks are now paying Hardaway even more than the Knicks did.

Is it better to trade your one good vet at the deadline to get an asset and free up minutes for the youth, or to make no trade at all?

I thought we finally cracked this one after trading Marcus Morris, but Alec Burks routinely playing 40 minutes down the stretch of the season after being mathematically eliminated from a ten-team playoffs to edge out wins over the likes of the Pistons shows that there may be more research required on the subject. At least he played better as the year went on, so we have a chance to be disappointed at next year’s deadline, too.

Should the Knicks tank or go for wins ?

As is normally the case, the team’s answer was a resounding neither. It is worth pointing out that Team Tank is not necessarily for outright intentional losing and more synonymous with playing the kids if you’re losing anyway, which should yield a similar result. As usual, I’m going to throw out my monthly reminder that in 2018 (the last year of juiced lottery odds), when the Knicks young core was so shallow Scott Perry included Ron Baker with a straight face, the Knicks went out of their way to ride veterans on their way out of the league in the likes of Jarrett Jack, Michael Beasley, Trey Burke, and Kyle O’ Quinn to win five more games than the Mavericks, who ended up with Luka Doncic and just two more games than the Kings, who...ended up with someone else. It’s pretty much inarguable that it would have been nice to at least have a chance at a franchise talent that season when they had none. I don’t think staying ‘competitive’ kept Porzingis happy anyway.

The Suns, Grizzlies and Mavericks finished with the bottom three records in the West in 2017-18 and 1st, 2nd, and 4th this season. The Knicks finished 11th in the East that season and tried ‘competing’ with a hodgepodge of lackluster veterans again and finished 11th this season. The poetic consequences of establishing a ‘winning culture’ instead of trying to build something sustainable.

There are a few more regurgitated questions — like “Does it make sense to play Derrick Rose 35-plus minutes after you’ve nearly ended his career multiple times doing so?” — but you get the point. We’ve at least seemingly, hopefully, caught up to the rest in the league in figuring out that Elfrid Payton is bad at everything and we’ve re-revised our answer that Randle was actually bad all along. While the Same Ol’ Knicks have brought on the same ol’ tedious debates in numerous ways however, there is one key , impactful difference: a real young core and competent draft selections. Several components of the SOK were still there—in a ‘lost’ year, the underwhelming vets who we inexplicably tied up a ton of cap room and depth chart to were able to do no wrong, playing to Thibs’ cold heart’s content as long as they were able to walk. Obi Toppin impossibly had just seven games with 30+ minutes and Immanuel Quickley had just three starts.

Read between the lines, however, and you’ll see the genuine difference about this team that nearly undoes its other repeated sins entirely. Obi and Quickley are actually good and should’ve been playing! For the first time in a while, “The Kids” aren’t just Also Bad But Younger™—they’re truly good, and genuinely probably the better winning option than the ‘win-now’ vets. While the past crummy Knicks don’t make a high bar to clear, it is just astounding how much better this core is. Gone are the days of pretending that Damyean Dotson is young or that there’s something to unlock in Mario Hezonja, Emmanuel Mudiay, Dennis Smith Jr, or any other young guy who that platooned the dead-last spot in any advanced stat ranking. This season, the Knicks had six players 23-or-younger with a positive VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). In 2020, they had five in the negative.

Join me tomorrow for Part II, as I break down the Knicks’ young core.