Big Man Rotation, Small Forward Starter, Possible Emergence Of Non-Guaranteed Contract Guys To Take Center Stage

By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks open their preseason schedule on Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden. Here are five things to watch for during the game:

Will Frank Ntilikina play?

The Knicks’ rookie point guard had to leave practice early on Monday due to a sore groin. The ailment isn’t considered serious, but there’s no reason for the Knicks to take any risks in their first preseason game. If they hold Ntilikina out, Ramon Sessions and Jarret Jack will get most of the playing time.

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At the Knicks’ open scrimmage on Sunday, Ntilikina showed the poise and intelligence of a player that has played professionally in Europe against grown men. He knew how to run the offense and thought pass first. He also showed off a jumper and got to the rim a couple of times. The key for Ntilikina is his athleticism. Will it allow him to create offense through penetration against NBA-level defenders? Knicks fans might have to wait until Friday to find out the early story.

How will the big men rotate?

The Knicks have four (five if you count Kyle O’Quinn) big men that will demand minutes at center and/or power forward. How head coach Jeff Hornacek manages the minutes of Kristaps Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, Enes Kanter, Joakim Noah and O’Quinn will be important. Who will start? Who will play with whom? What combination can work offensively and defensively?

gettyimages 622091798 Schmeelk: 5 Things To Watch For In Knicks Preseason Opener

Knicks big man Willy Hernangomez in action at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

I would bet the Knicks begin with Porzingis and Hernangomez since they are the young incumbent starters, but Kanter should be able to push Hernangomez for major minutes. The Knicks have raved about Noah’s activity so far in camp, but his ability to stay healthy will always be a question mark.

Who will play small forward?

Indications are that either Doug McDermott or Courtney Lee will be the starter at small forward. With Tim Hardaway, Jr. locked in at shooting guard with his defensive deficiencies, it would be hard to have McDermott at small forward, but that’s what the Knicks tried in their scrimmage on Sunday.

Lance Thomas

Knicks forward Lance Thomas, left, dives for the ball against the Raptors’ Serge Ibaka during the game at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 27, 2017. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Mindaugus Kuzminskas, Michael Beasley and Lance Thomas lurk in the background. Thomas figures to be a key defensive player throughout the season. Kuzminskas proved last season he is not overmatched in the NBA. Beasley can score, but the Knicks will have to decide if that’s worth all the other things he is poor at (defense and ball movement).

How will the Knicks defend?

Judging by the open scrimmage, the Knicks look like they will try to push all pick and rolls towards the sidelines and baseline where there is less room to operate. This is an effective strategy but one that can be difficult to execute without experienced veteran defenders. It requires a lot of anticipation and understanding. We’ll see if the Knicks can pull it off.

The Young Guys

Can any of the non-guaranteed contract players step up and earn their way into the rotation? The primary guy to watch is Damyean Dotson, the Knicks’ second-round pick, who can play defense and shoot. He also showed a decent basketball IQ in Las Vegas. Other players looking to make a splash are Luke Kornet (jump-shooting big man), Jamel Artis (scoring wing), Nigel Hayes (gritty defensive-minded forward), and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (6-foot-4 shooting guard). One of those guys will try to play their way off of the Westchester Knicks and into a spot with the big team.

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