Knicks fans have a lot to be optimistic about going forward despite their team falling short of the playoffs. Their winning ways since the All-Star break may be too little too late, but it’s been New York’s 25-and-under group leading the charge, offering a glimpse into what kind of damage this core can do once fully developed.
This recent stretch is sure to put additional pressure on the front office to build around their young core in the offseason, but is that the right decision? One way to assess is by comparing the Knicks’ young core to teams across the league to see where they stack up. For purposes of this exercise, we’ll be looking at players 23 years old and younger as the midway point.
Let’s begin with New York and their newly crowned top dog RJ Barrett. A promising patch of prospects is only as good as their lead, who ideally has star potential. We’ve seen that from Barrett over the last couple of months, adding to a consistent trend of him improving between and during seasons.
He’s just 21 years old and has objectively been the Knicks’ best player as of late, averaging 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists on 44.6 percent shooting from two and 34.7 percent from three. Those numbers include his early-year struggles and are far more impressive since the calendar turned.
Looking back to this year’s draft, New York took Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, Rokas Jokubaitis and Jericho Sims. While it’s far too early to judge this class, three of those names have already contributed at the NBA level to a material degree, with Jokubaitis serving as the unknown import we could see next season.
The season prior, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley joined the squad and have both displayed credible postseason performances as rookies and strong year two leaps. Both are in the midst of the best basketball of their professional careers.
That leaves Mitchell Robinson and Cam Reddish, two guys with big questions surrounding them. Robinson made a tremendous impact after working his way into shape. However, Robinson could leave in free agency this upcoming summer. We only saw glimpses of Reddish before he got injured, and with the largest spread between floor and ceiling of the bunch, it’s too soon to expect anything concrete.
Not a bad bunch. The known quantities in Barrett, Toppin, Quickley and Robinson include a potential All-Star, a quality starter and at least legitimate role players in Toppin and Quickley. There’s an argument to include others in the final category as well.
Now to compare to the rest of the league. This will be imperfect analysis, with a team like Phoenix not appearing despite forming a contender with mostly 24-year-olds.
We can immediately give certain teams the edge for nailing a draft pick on a franchise-altering superstar. The Hawks have Trae Young, the Celtics Jayson Tatum, the Cavaliers three All-Star types, the Mavericks Luka Doncic, the Hornets LaMelo Ball plus Miles Bridges, and the Grizzlies Ja Morant. No amount of Quickleys or Toppins you have can make up for the production out of those guys.
Then we get into the real debates. Some of New York’s foes in the East have a fair share of quality youngsters.
The Chicago Bulls leaned on Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White all season, especially in Lonzo Ball’s absence, plus they have Patrick Williams and Troy Brown Jr. Without an RJ-level prospect they don’t appear to stack up, however.
Closer to the coast, the Pacers are led by Tyrese Haliburton, who can easily make an All-Star Game with any team success in the next few years, with Isaiah Jackson, Jalen Smith, Duane Washington Jr, Goga Bitadze and Oshae Brissett rounding out their core. This squad is still relatively young with much to prove in meaningful basketball games.
In Washington, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Daniel Gafford and Corey Kispert have shown they can fit in and contribute. However, without a major piece they fall short of the Knicks.
Those are some relatively easy wins for New York. On the flip side, the league’s top rebuilders likely outshine the Knicks in this department, if only for the sheer volume of talent.
Take Orlando, who lack a Barrett-level guy at the moment but field lottery picks as over half their roster. Cole Anthony looks real, Franz Wagner is a gifted rookie and Wendell Carter Jr.is shaping up nicely. They also have five others that can be anything from busts to All-Stars depending on how their development.
Ditto for Detroit, led by first overall pick Cade Cunningham. It may be early but he already looks comfortable getting what he wants on the court. Then you have to worry about Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, who can already find roles on competitive teams. Will Killian Hayes, Marvin Bagley III and Hamidou Diallo improve enough to really threaten teams?
Houston has the youngest and consequently least concrete bunch, led by Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. This is another roster nearly entirely stacked with prospects that look like future impact players one night and benchwarmers the next. This makes it all the more difficult to evaluate, with little meaningful basketball being played.
Oklahoma City is obviously the most egregious example, but even if you’re no Lu Dort or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl believer, having Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gives them an easy edge. Josh Giddey and Tre Mann look more than legitimate, as well.
Outside of the NBA standings chasm we have some toss-ups. Minnesota’s core likely overpowers New York’s behind the explosive Anthony Edwards and a mix of interesting players. Jaylen Nowell is a bucket, and up front Naz Reid, Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaden McDaniels cause havoc on a nightly basis.
Toronto’s youth movement is led by Scottie Barnes, a serious Rookie of the Year contender and undefinable talent. Gary Trent Jr. has been great, along with Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn.
How you weigh New Orleans’ prospects against New York’s depends entirely on what the situation is with Zion Williamson, who we’ve yet to see this season. They’ve done a solid job of surrounding him with guys like Herbert Jones, Jaxson Hayes, Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III.
Other teams not getting a mention include Golden State, with a core mostly made up of rookies and James Wiseman, and Denver with Michael Porter Jr.’s health in question. The L.A. teams don’t cut it, and while Tyler Herro and Tyrese Maxey are bonafide studs, they aren’t enough to propel their cores into a higher tier.
By the above tally, the Knicks are just outside the top 10 young teams in the league, with some give or take. Perhaps that’s not the ranking fans hoped for given the team’s play of late, but it’s also ahead of schedule and far beyond where they were a few years ago.
However, there’s clearly reason for fans to be excited about the potential of this group. The chemistry and joy is impossible to ignore. This group plays defensive-minded, high-effort basketball that one day may turn into winning basketball.
Source: Yahoo Sports