Player Development the Key Issue in Knicks Youth Movement

The biggest problem with the Knicks isn't their draft picks, it's how they develop them. Or rather, don't.

Here's an uncomfortable truth about the New York Knicks that I've never been able to accurately explain: throughout the Dolan Era, a still-going time in Knicks history characterized by short-sighted managerial decisions and incompetent day-to-day ops, New York has actually drafted pretty well. Of course this is the same organisation who for more than a decade tossed away draft picks like so many cigarette butts (not only would the Knicks give away picks for players they wanted: see Curry, E., Bargnani, A., but also would give away picks for players they were trying to get rid of, J.R., and Shump come to mind here) but when they DID have a pick in the upcoming draft, they would mostly do something with it.

A quick scan of players drafted by the Knicks since 1999 certainly reveals a few duds (Mike Sweetney, Renaldo Balkman), but for the most part it's a list of serviceable-to-good role players (Trevor Ariza, Wilson Chandler, Channing Frye) with a couple of unpolished diamonds (David Lee, Danilo Gallinari) in there as well. Bearing in mind this is from a time when the Knicks having any draft picks at the end of the year, let alone ones in the first round was a slim possibility; the mere fact that they were able to strike some form of gold when they barely had any shovels to begin with speaks to rigorous scouting methods, and a small, but still there, perception of a well-run, competent organisation.

The biggest problem New York has faced with players received through the draft, and one that continues to plague them, is how to develop each player to their maximum potential. Whether the problem lies with an approach to player development that's too laissez-faire, allowing players to train how they see fit, or a more toxic, persistive culture of apathy, the end result is that players drafted by New York often stall in their development.

I feel like Iman Shumpert is the classic example of this, where in his first season he showed glimpses of being an effective two-way player with some potential as a secondary playmaker. With some coaxing and mentoring, he had all the tools to become a Danny Green-esque 3 and D player. To this day, he's never had a more complete season since his rookie year. Injuries can certainly be blamed for some of his stagnation, but not all of it.

Other players show signs of slight improvement as the years go by in New York, but it takes a change of scenery for them to truly blossom. While Danilo Gallinari was an obviously talented player during his New York tenure, it wasn't until his shipping to Denver in the Carmelo trade where he became the versatile offensive force he is now. Ariza and Frye had to go to the Lakers and Suns respectively, before they had it "figured out". 

The best example of this is the recently-signed Tim Hardaway Jr., who in his last season for the Atlanta Hawks put up 6MOTY-type numbers coming off the bench. It's great for any basketball organization to snare a player like that, but it's even better when they never let him go in the first place. THJ was drafted by the Knicks in the first round back in 2013, and after 2 years of ho-hum play coming off the bench, he was sent packing to the Hawks. In his short tenure with the Hawks, he (with the help of the Hawks developmental staff, no doubt) reinvents himself as a Lou Williams-type scoring threat, and once his paltry rookie contract ended, re-signed with the Knicks on a whopping 4-year, $71 million deal. 

Now that New York seems all-in on building from the ground up, the question that has yet to be answered but remains more pertinent than ever is how are the Knicks going to develop all these pieces? It's all well and good to have a unicorn in Porzingis, but he's never going to be "the guy" in New York unless he has people to show him how to be. I'm not talking about player-mentors either, I mean staff who can work with KP on his shooting so his jump shot won't go missing for weeks at a time, or defensive specialists who show him where to be on the court so he doesn't foul himself out of games.

The funny thing is, most of our rookies and draft picks (aside from KP, but even then he had defensive awareness from the get go) haven't been so-called "basketball projects", where a player with all the height and athletic tools have to be taught all the intangibles. In fact, most have shown themselves to be quite capable when given time. I was pleasantly surprised by Willy Hernangomez's play this season; he's shown potential to be a nightly double-double with his cunning post play and affinity for grabbing boards, but he was too much of a sieve on defense to be given starting minutes. I'm also excited to see how Ron Baker proceeds with his play this season, given what he accomplished with the limited minutes he received in 2016.

My point is, the Knicks already made their riskiest move when they opted to draft Porzingis, a gamble that has so far paid off. There is little-to-no risk in actually working with and developing the guy, and especially none in keeping Porzingis happy and wanting to continue playing in New York (after the Charles Oakley fiasco this year, this is especially pertinent). Surround him with other younger players with complementing skill-sets and develop them, rather than continually pointing the finger at him as the sole source of the entire organization's consistently-poor season record.

On that note, whoever ends up with Melo, I hope you enjoy him.

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