By John Schmeelk
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With the All-Star break over, the second half of the Knicks season is not going to be filled with any sort of playoff run. With Kristaps Porzingis out, the Knicks are once again merely playing out the string.
It’s an unfortunately familiar situation for Knicks fans but at least there are still reasons to watch. Here are five:
This is the most important part of the rest of the Knicks season. Coach Jeff Hornacek has stated that he is (finally) going to cut back Jarrett Jack’s minutes and hand the point guard position to Emmanuel Mudiay (21 years old), Frank Ntilikina (19) and Trey Burke (25). All three players are young, and the final 23 games of the year will be a good chance to see if any of them could possibly be the point guard of the future.
All three players have something to prove. Can Mudiay play enough defense and be efficient with the ball? Can Burke defend and be more than a scoring sparkplug off the bench? Can Ntilikina improve offensively? It would appear as though Hornacek has decided to give Mudiay the first opportunity to start, an odd decision given that he has a lot more of his play on tape than Ntilikina.
Get Ntilikina Reps At PG
Ntilikina gets his own section here because, unlike Mudiay and Burke, who have both failed at the NBA level over multiple seasons, Ntilikina has barely been given a chance to play consistently with the Knicks’ best players around him. Hornacek used fatigue and knee pain as an excuse for his low minute total in past games, but it doesn’t explain why the Knicks aren’t going to start him now. Ntilikina should be getting maximum minutes with the team’s best players and be allowed to play through some of his mistakes.
The rookie didn’t handle point guard duties with his European team, and he needs as many reps as possible. Playing off the ball some won’t hurt him too badly, but most of his minutes need to come as the team’s primary ball handler. Despite some suggestions he is better off as a two-guard, his best skills are still his court vision, passing and unselfishness, which are all important traits for a point guard. He needs to show he can be more aggressive and efficient offensively and handle pressure better by avoiding some of the careless turnovers that have plagued him much of the season.
Getting Looks At Other Youngsters
Damyean Dotson needs to play. The Knicks have two good wings in front of him in Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr., but they need to find Dotson a consistent 15 to 20 minutes per game. He has shown flashes of good defense, shooting and decision making, but he never plays consistently enough to find a rhythm.
Similarly, but slightly less important, is the playing time of Luke Kornet, Isaiah Hicks and Troy Williams. Odds are small that any of the three are long-term answers, but they are worth a look. Kornet’s outside shooting and shot blocking prowess are an interesting combination.
The Knicks aren’t going to win many games the rest of the way, but they can play hard and lose or they can put the stamp on the envelope and lose. Hornacek’s fate might already be sealed after the season, but the team not putting forward a good effort the rest of the way would push the front office in that direction if they aren’t already there.
Lottery Or Bust
I took an in-depth look at the Knicks’ chances of moving up in the lottery before the All-Star break, and they aren’t great. The Knicks sit in the ninth spot, and odds are they won’t slide much further down the lottery order. Moving up might be tough. In my opinion (at this moment) there are seven elite talents in the draft: Slovene swingman Luka Doncic, Arizona center DeAndre Ayton, Duke power forward Marvin Bagley III, Texas center Mohamed Bamba, Missouri small forward Michael Porter Jr, Oklahoma point guard Trae Young and Michigan State power forward Jaren Jackson. If the Knicks can just climb up two spots, it would greatly improve their chances of landing one of the above seven.
There are still a bunch of quality players after those seven in Duke big man Wendell Carter, Miles Bridges, Michigan State forward Mikal Bridges, Alabama point guard Collin Sexton and Kentucky forward Kevin Knox, but choosing from the seven above would be far more appetizing and give the team a better chance of finding another franchise player to pair with Porzingis.
If you haven’t already, Knicks fans, put Michigan State, Arizona, Texas, Duke, Villanova, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Alabama games on the DVR.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk