The Knicks begin training camp Monday ahead of their preseason opener Oct. 1 against the Washington Wizards in the nation’s capital and the start of their regular schedule versus the Atlanta Hawks Oct. 17 at Madison Square Garden.
Knicks president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and first-year head coach Dave Fizdale have high expectations for their young nucleus but a realistic outlook because wins will likely be slow to accumulate once again after a 2017 season in which the team was 29-53, 11th in the 15-team Eastern Conference.
With the possibility of All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis out for the entirety of the upcoming season as he recovers from a torn ACL in his left knee, sustained last Feb. 6 at the Garden in a game versus the Milwaukee Bucks, the primary objective of the three aforementioned architects is to rapidly develop second-year guard Frank Ntilikina, rookie first-round pick Kevin Knox and 2018 second-round pick Mitchell Robinson, as well as grow 26-year-old Tim Hardaway Jr.—who they signed to a four-year, $71 million free-agent contract last summer after originally drafting him with the 24th overall pick in 2013—into a consistently productive player from the shooting guard and small forward spots on both ends of the court.
All four could be significant to the Knicks’ goal of attracting one of the NBA’s elite free-agents that will be on the market next summer. Undoubtedly, Porzingis is critical to that paradigm. “Our goal is to not to do anything that jeopardizes KP’s future as being one of the foundational pieces of this team,” said Mills this past Monday at an event held for select season ticket holders at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “He’s back,” revealed Mills, referring to Porzingis’ return to New York from Europe.
“We’ll have some medical evaluations this week, and we’ll start to develop what the right plan is for him to come back,” said Mills. “But we’re not going to do anything to jeopardize the future of the franchise. We’re going to stay true to that.’’
Knox, a 6-foot-9 forward from the University of Kentucky, drafted by the Knicks with the ninth pick in the first round in June, who turned just 19 Aug. 11, showed exceptional potential at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas in July. His athleticism, ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, as well as his ability to knock down three-pointers from the perimeter, provide the Knicks a versatile frontcourt player who could become a potent complement to a healthy Porzingis.
The 6-foot-11 Robinson, a 2017 McDonald’s All-American and projected lottery pick before he decided to skip college to take a year to solely prepare for the draft, slipped to the Knicks as the 36th pick and was one of the surprises of Las Vegas. Robinson exhibited superior athleticism—some scouts and coaches compared his bounce off the floor, particularly his second jump, to a young Kevin Garnett—and strong shot blocking skills around the rim.
Although raw offensively and lacking the necessary strength to consistently establish and hold his position in the post, Robinson has a high ceiling and should become a key rotation player for the Knicks in the 2019-20 season.
As for Ntilikina, the 20-year-old guard from France alternated between point-guard and shooting guard in his rookie season under former Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek. At an extremely long 6-foot-5, he already has the skills to be an All-NBA defender but showed a lack of assertiveness and decisiveness on the offensive end. If Ntilikina markedly improves his perimeter shooting and decision making with the ball in his hands, he can elevate himself into an impactful, valuable player.