By John Schmeelk
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You really have to wonder why the Knicks couldn’t make a deal work to trade one of their big men to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Nets managed to move center Tyler Zeller to the Bucks for a guard with an expiring contract and a second-round pick. Zeller has one year left on his contract and makes a little more than $2 million less than Kyle O’Quinn.
Maybe getting money to match was the issue, but it’s hard to believe the Knicks couldn’t figure out a way to send O’Quinn to Milwaukee and make the money work. It’s hard to argue he hasn’t been a better player than Zeller this season and he has the same contract length. There isn’t a large market for centers at the deadline, so the Knicks missed a golden opportunity to solve their glut at the position. With Robin Lopez also on the block, finding another fit could be hard.
The potential return for O’Quinn isn’t even that important, as long as the Knicks don’t take back a player with a longer contract. A second-round pick would be fine. It is addition by subtraction, and not because O’Quinn is that bad of a player or trouble in the locker room. He is simply keeping someone the Knicks need to learn about on the bench. By removing O’Quinn from the equation, it would help the team in the long run, especially since he is likely to opt out after this season, anyway. With the Knicks trying to preserve cap space, the chance he returns is slim to none.
Willy Hernangomez understandably wants to play and develop after being on the All-Rookie team last season. According to multiple reports, he has made it clear to the Knicks he would be happy to wind up somewhere he could get more playing time. However, odds are the Knicks won’t find enough value for him and he’ll be on the roster at the end of the season.
What I find scary is Marc Berman of the New York Post reporting that the Knicks believe this experience might be a good thing for Hernangomez, so he can learn about dealing with adversity. Might there be a minuscule of benefit there? Sure. The idea that it could be more beneficial than him actually playing more and getting better at basketball is hard to believe.
The matchup with Milwaukee on Tuesday night is the final game before the trade deadline. If the Knicks’ roster isn’t any different prior to their game Thursday against Toronto it would be very disappointing.
— It doesn’t sound like Frank Ntilikina is going to start anytime soon. Head coach Jeff Hornacek was asked by the media (quotes passed on by Ian Begley) if he is still considering starting the first-round pick at point guard at some point this season. While he did not give a definitive answer it certainly didn’t sound like it was in the plans.
After praising Jarrett Jack’s ability to get the team into sets and do basic point guard things, Hornacek said Ntilikina has not grasped everything needed to go out there and play every single night. If he does at some point going forward, he may get the opportunity, the coach added.
If that answer sounds vague it’s because it is. Starting would make sense for Ntilikina’s development since it would get him on the floor with Kristaps Porzingis more. The team performs far better (albeit in a smaller sample size) with Ntilikina and Porzingis on the court at the same time (6.6 net rating) than with Jack and Porzingis sharing the floor (0.0 net rating). It would balance out the starting lineup, which struggles to stop people, with a good perimeter defender.
Even if he doesn’t start, getting Ntilikina more consistent minutes should be the bigger goal. While he is averaging a little more than 20 minutes a game for the season, his minutes went from 24.2 in December to 18.9 in January to 11.9 so far in February. He should be playing 25 per game.
Perhaps Ntilikina’s sore knee has something to do with it, but Hornacek has had a very quick hook when he has played poorly and hasn’t stuck with him long enough even when he has played well. Hornacek has also played Ntilikina off the ball far too often when his future is as a point guard.
Perhaps things will change after the trade deadline. The sooner the better.
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