By John Schmeelk
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The new powers that be have stressed that they want a few characteristics from the rebuilding Knicks moving forward.
The folks that run this franchise want a young team that plays smart and hard, and one that brings it defensively. The Knicks have few players that fit that description. One is injured first-round pick Frank Ntilikina. Another is their second-round pick, Damyean Dotson.
Dotson has to play.
The Knicks chose him with the 44th pick. He was only available because of a sexual assault accusation while he attended the University of Oregon. Dotson averaged 17 points per game during his final year at the University of Houston and shot 44 percent from 3-point range. He also averaged nearly seven rebounds per game and played excellent defense.
Dotson has shown those same kind of skills so far in the preseason with the Knicks. He is the perfect fit as a modern-day “3 and D” wing that helps teams win games. In his limited minutes, Dotson hasn’t made the type of low-IQ mistakes that rookies tend to make. He could be a steal of a pick if the Knicks can find somewhere to play him.
Much like the logjam they have at center, the Knicks also have one at the wing position. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Dotson is nearly the same size as Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Courtney Lee. If the Knicks played one of those guys at shooting guard and the other at small forward, they might find time for Dotson off the bench, but that doesn’t seem to be the plan.
Doug McDermott is going to take minutes at small forward. Lance Thomas will take minutes at both small and power forward. Ron Baker might take minutes at shooting guard. Michael Beasley has played small forward in the past. Head coach Jeff Hornacek stated earlier in the week that he will likely have to play bigger players at small forward depending on the opponent.
At point guard, Ntilikina has missed a lot of the preseason, but veterans Jarret Jack and Ramon Sessions are nothing more than placeholders. Ntilikina defends, passes, and is the type of young player that should be able to be effective early in his career. He needs to play, even if it means a lot of mistakes and the Knicks losing a lot early in the season.
The Knicks have these types of decisions to make all across the roster. They are going to have to sit down veterans or move them to give time to younger players. Lee, Kyle O’Quinn, Joakim Noah, and Thomas are all in that category. Lee and Thomas are both good players that can help win games, but is that more important than developing younger players that might able to do just as well if given the chance to improve?
The answer to that question should be a resounding no, but it is a tough sell for a coach to make those types of moves at the start of the season. To keep the team engaged, Hornacek has to play the guys the players know will give them the best chance to win. If he doesn’t, the players might check out early in the season and that type of a stuff more often than not gets a coach fired.
The best thing the Knicks can do is shop veterans like Lee, Thomas and O’Quinn, and try to trade them for some kind of useful future asset. Until these guys are off the team, especially Lee and Thomas, they are going to have to play and take minutes away from someone like Dotson.
In turn, Dotson won’t develop and the Knicks might win a couple more games, which could cost them a better draft pick. Similarly, despite missing most of the preseason Sessions and Jack shouldn’t take minutes away from Ntilikina.
Lee and Thomas, especially, should be able to bring some kind of significant return. Guys like Noah, McDermott, Sessions, Jack and O’Quinn will just have to get benched by Hornacek at some point.
It will be a tough path for Hornacek and the front office to navigate this season, but they have to do what is best for the future. The Knicks are going to lose a lot, but they need to lose with a purpose. The youth on this roster must be the priority, even if it means more losses. It might just take some time to get there.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk