Grading the Knicks' recent offseason acquisitions

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By WFAN Sports Radio 66AM & 101.9 FM New York

The Knicks have 16 players under contract, including their two draft picks. At least for now, their roster is full. Despite those numbers, they can still make significant changes to their roster if they choose due to about 18.5 million dollars of cap space remaining and veterans on contracts that are easily terminated if the team chooses.

As it stands now, let’s take a look at who the Knicks have added to their roster this offseason.

1.   Alec Burks:
29 years old, 6’6, 214 pounds
one-year, $6M contract

2019-2020 Stats
66 combined games with Golden State and Philadelphia
.418/.385 /.900 shooting
15.0 points per game
4.3 rebounds
2.9 assists
.9 steals

A solid wing that can do a little bit of everything, Burks can shoot well enough to be a threat at the three point line, is not a detriment on defense and is a smart passer. He is not a difference-maker but is a rotation player that is known as a solid professional. He was drafted by Walt Perrin in Utah and coached by Knicks assistant Johnnie Bryant. Burks has been traded three times since 2018 in trades that involved future draft picks. He could have value for the Knicks at the trade deadline.

Grade: A-

2.   Nerlens Noel:
26 years old, 6’10, 220 pounds
one year, $5M contract

2019-2020 stats
18.5 minutes
.684/.333/.755 shooting
7.4 points per game
4.9 rebounds
1 steal
1.5 blocks

Noel has not lived up to his potential after being drafted sixth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. He did manage to settle into a backup role for the Thunder the last couple of seasons. He is a rim-runner that can catch lobs on offense, and protect the rim well defensively. He is a solid back-up that can step into the same role as Mitchell Robinson. He was traded for a second round pick at the trade deadline in 2017.

Grade: B

3.   Austin Rivers:
28 years old, 6’3, 200 pounds
3-year, $10M contract (final 2 yrs non-guaranteed)

2019-2020 Stats
23.4 minutes
.421/.356/.703
8.8 points
2.6 rebounds
1.7 assists

Rivers, much like Noel, never lived up to his 10th overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft. His best season came in 2017-2018, when he started 59 of 61 games for the Clippers (and his father Doc Rivers). He averaged over 15 points per game that year on a less than efficient .424/.378/.642 shooting. He is a career 35% three point shooter as a combo-guard that can run an offense in a pinch, but is better off the ball. He will compete for backcourt minutes. Rivers was packaged with Kelly Oubre Jr. to the Suns in 2018 for Trevor Ariza.

Grade: B-

4.   Elfrid Payton:
26 years old, 6’3, 195 pounds
one-year, $5M contract

2019-2020 Stats
45 games
.439/.203/.570 shooting
10 points per game
7.2 assists per game
4.7 rebounds per game
1.6 steals per game

Knicks fans should be familiar with Payton, who returns. The Knicks played their best ball with Payton on the floor last year, but those on-off numbers are swayed by the fact he was injured for most of David Fizdale’s time as head coach. Payton can organize a team, but he cannot shoot and had the tendency of over-dribbling last year while only having eyes for Julius Randle when he passed the ball. He is the only full-time veteran point guard on the roster. Due to CBA rules, the Knicks are unlikely to be able to trade Payton during the season.

Grade: C-

5.   Omari Spellman:
23 years old, 6’8, 245 pounds
1 year $2M dollars left with a 2022 club option

2019-2020 Stats
49 games
18 minutes
.431/.391/.793 shooting
4.5 rebounds

Spellman doesn’t quite have the length teams want from a power forward and he has battled some fitness issues in his career. He can spread the floor with his three point shot and is a good enough athlete for the position. The Knicks think they can get his weight issues under control and make him a contributing player as a stretch-four.

Grade: C+

6.   Jacob Evans:
23 years old, 6’4, 210 pounds
one year, $2M left with a 2022 club option

2019-2020 Stats
20 combined games with the Warriors and Timberwolves
14.4 minutes
.338/.342/.862 shooting
4.4 points
1.4 rebounds
1.1 assists

Evans, a former 28th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has had trouble earning his way onto the floor in his first two years in the league. The Knicks will have to decide whether to pick up his 2021-2022 team option (same for Spellman) shortly after the start of the season.

Grade: C

The most important number for all of the above players is their contract numbers. All of them make a relatively small salary and only have one year guaranteed contracts remaining, which makes them easy to move. The remaining Knicks cap space gives them far more flexibility in finding matching salary to make trades work during the season.

All of these players are potential trade targets for teams that might be dealing with injuries at the trade deadline or have a need for a player to fit a specific role. The small contracts also give the team freedom to simply release them if they do not fit the culture or complain about a lack of playing time. They are short-term placeholders that can be used as trade-fodder for draft picks and not much more.

The roster will present some challenges for Tom Thibodeau, who will have to decide who deserves the majority of the playing time. Knicks young players like Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Ignas Brazdiekis and Dennis Smith Jr. will have every opportunity to earn significant playing time. Someone like Ntilikina, who is in his fourth year, should be able to beat out someone like Austin Rivers for playing time.

The Knicks filled out their roster with low-level NBA players that they do not owe playing time to and can be either be moved in a trade, or flat-out released if the fit isn’t good enough. They can also play them in case of injury or if their young players play so poorly they need to be benched or sent to the G-League.

It was the right way to construct the roster with the Knicks at the beginning of their rebuild process and an unimpressive free agent class. It was also the easy part. Now the hard part comes. Leon Rose and Brock Aller have to continue to take advantage of the team’s cap situation and signed player to continue to gather assets, while Tom Thibodeau uses the players given to him to develop the team’s young players into a winning team.

You can find my Knicks podcast, The Bank Shot, including the most recent episode recapping free agency, here.

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