The pre-season is over, and we have your report cards for bench players acquired in the 2016 off-season.
Last night, the Knicks made the final cuts to their roster by waiving Chasson Randle, Lou Amundson, JP Tokoto, Cleanthony Early and Damien Inglis.
This gives us a locked-in view at what the Knicks' bench will look like for the 2016 season, which given the pre-season brouhaha over who will stay and who will go, comes as a bit of a relief. As of now, the bench mob in New York consists of: Brandon Jennings, Justin Holiday, Lance Thomas, Kyle O'Quinn, Sasha Vujacic, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Willy Hernangomez, Ron Baker, Maurice N'Dour and Marshall Plumlee.
Given that 5 of those players are unproven NBA rookies, I imagine that this 15-man roster will eventually be whittled down to a 10 or 11-man lineup for consistent regular-season rotation. With that being said, some of this new blood will definitely bring some serviceable NBA skills when their number is called, if their pre-season play is anything to go by. So with no further , allow me to present the 2016 Knicks Bench Mob Grading Scale.
There is just one caveat with this report card; I'm only going to be looking at players acquired in the 2016 off-season. We already know what players like Sasha Vujacic can do (i.e. collect paycheques from Jackson-run teams based on his ability to ~know the triangle~ and to look for shots like a stoner hunts carpet-weed).
1. Brandon Jennings Grade: A
Disclaimer: I've previously expressed my love for Jennings, so admittedly I'm writing this with a fair degree of bias. But I still truly think he can be a great floor general off the bench if you can look past his truly gory shooting percentages (which is a big ask, dude had a 31% FGM in the preseason). His main plus as a point guard is his ability to collapse a defense with his lightning-quick dribble, and then either drawing a foul or slinging the ball out to an open 3-point shooter. His skill as a passer is perhaps underrated due to his relatively low career assist numbers (5.9 apg), despite being a starting player for most of the franchises he's played with. Phil Jackson told Jennings when he signed him that he believes Jennings should be the winner of the 2016 Sixth Man of the Year award, and as long as Coach Hornacek can reign him in when he gets a bit trigger-happy, that's not exactly an unrealistic goal. He's the brightest spark on the bench, and thus the grading curve scales in his favor.
2. Justin Holiday Grade: C+
To be honest, I still don't know what to make of Holiday. He overcame a rough shooting start to the preseason to finish up with some pretty competent stats (40 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 7.3 ppg) in line with his career averages. He scores mostly from open shots after the defense has been collapsed, so it's difficult to determine whether he has any kind of shot-creating ability. With Sasha getting older, it would behoove the Knicks to at least try out slotting someone with a bit more youth into Vujacic's traditional bench role.
3. Mindaugas Kuzminskas Grade: B
Kuzminskas, or "Kooz" as he is affectionally called (by absolutely no one from Boston), has a pretty versatile offensive skill set complete with shooting range and a savvy knack for finishing at the rim. He rebounds well, but like with most goofy-looking white players, lacks the lateral quickness to be a plus defender (at this stage of his career anyway). His basketball IQ seems pretty high, as he rarely looks lost on offense, so if he applied his ability to read the game to the defensive end of the floor as well he could certainly improve.
4. Willy Hernangomez Grade: B
Marc, though. Not Pau.
5. Ron Baker Grade: B
An undrafted combo guard from Wichita State, Ron Baker has been one of the genuine out-of-nowhere surprises that we occasionally get in the NBA preseason. He displayed a well-rounded skill set whenever he was given PT in the preseason, scoring off floaters, set shots and finding teammates with decimal-point precision passes, all while shooting 50% from 3-point territory. In fact, it could be argued his 3-point shooting could be his most impactful strength going forward with the team. Everyone at this point knows the value in having a team with competent if not above average 3-point shooters, so I won't bore you with the details of how pace-and-space works. Basically, being good at scoring three's makes it easier to score two's. Ron Baker is really, really good at scoring three's.
Plus, he has the best Frazier-given nickname: Ron Baker the Shot Maker.
6. Maurice N'Dour Grade: C-
Now we're starting to get to the bottom of the barrel. N'Dour played a full season in the Spanish League for Real Madrid before receiving a 2-year deal (only 1 year guaranteed) from New York. However, his preseason was a little... underwhelming. He's a prototypical "hustle" player; he'll jump for putback dunks, for balls going out of bounds, and probably just whenever the situation requires jumping. He'll set screens and yell "AHHHHHHHH" when his opponent is about to shoot. He'll probably play very few minutes apart from blowout games or whenever we need a third line of rotations.
7. Marshall Plumlee Grade: D
The worst of the Brothers Plumlee, who aren't that great anyway.