How Will the NBA's latest 2020-21 Season 'Updates' Affect the Knicks' Strategy?

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There is a bit more clarity as to what the 2020-2021 NBA season is going to look like.

Here’s what we know: according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA Draft has been locked into November 18, and free agency will begin sometime afterwards, though that date has not been set yet.

Shams Charania has reported that the earliest the new NBA season could start is December 25, with Martin Luther King Jr. Day another option in January. Marc Berman of the New York Post has reported that the season could start as late as February or even March.

According to Charania, the NBA wants to play an 82-game season with fans in the stands, which they understand will be more possible the later they push back the season. Charania also reported that the league is considering keeping teams in local regions next season, which means the Knicks could primarily be playing games against teams like the Celtics, Nets, and Sixers.

The potential of a delayed Olympics in the summer might create an artificial finish line for the season. The season also can’t go so long that it would jeopardize a 2021-2022 season. In other words, the season is going to be different in many ways no one might even be anticipating right now.

So, what does all this mean for the Knicks?

It might not mean anything. The Knicks could go about next season like it is any other year. It could turn into a more typical 82-game season than seems like today. But would it be wise? Is it a good idea to bring in new veteran pieces to a team in an effort to make a run at the eighth seed when there are so many potential unknowns? Probably not.

The Knicks were always going to have a big decision to make about the pace of their rebuild. How important is it to Leon Rose to make significant improvements in 2020-2021? Was the addition of significant difference-making veterans part of the discussion when Tom Thibodeau agreed to take on the Knicks job? We don’t know.

We do know that when Thibodeau took over the Timberwolves, a team in a similar rebuilding period as the Knicks, he played it out with the young players in his first year. He used the season to figure out exactly what he had, and an odd 2020-2021 season seems perfectly positioned for Thibodeau to do exactly the same thing in New York.

The Knicks could have as many as 10 or 11 players that will be 23 years old or younger on the roster. It is important for Thibodeau to decide which of those players he thinks can help the team long-term, and which ones show the most improvement under the Knicks’ new player development regime.
With the fate of the G-League next season in reasonable doubt, the Knicks might not have anywhere to play their youngsters except at Madison Square Garden.

It will also be important for the Knicks to learn as much about their young players as possible next season. They have to decide if they want to sign Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., and Mitchell Robinson before they become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2022. They need to determine if RJ Barrett is someone to build around, or someone that is just along for the ride. Is Kevin Knox an NBA player? Ignas Brazdeikis? Kenny Wooten? Jared Harper? And what role will the Knicks’ two first-round picks and sole second-round pick from this year’s class play in the team’s future?

This doesn’t mean the Knicks shouldn’t surround the young players on the roster with the right complimentary veteran pieces so they can make an appropriate evaluation. A veteran point guard of some kind is a must, as are shooters than can spread the floor. Those players shouldn’t, however, control the game and take away opportunities from the Knicks’ youngsters.

This strategy would also help maximize the team’s odds in the 2021 NBA Draft. There could be as many as seven or eight players in next year’s class that could be considered the top player in the 2020 draft. Even with the flattened odds in the draft lottery, an improvement of just percentage points of selecting in top three versus eighth, ninth, or tenth improves the Knicks’ long-term chances of landing a difference-making star. Great players can be found up and down the draft board, but they are most likely to be found in the top few picks.

There are arguments to be made for acquiring someone like Chris Paul, or throwing money at Fred VanVleet, Davis Bertans, or Danilo Gallinari, but does it truly serve the long-term interests of the franchise of becoming a perennial contender? Probably not.

In an uncertain time, one more year of developing the young players makes more sense, before making the big franchise altering decisions in the summer of 2021.

Follow John Schmeelk on Twitter: @Schmeelk

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