NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – May 6


If it nonetheless hasn’t sunk in simply but, it bears repeating: the New York Knicks are making their first journey to the NBA Playoffs since 2012-13.

Naturally, it’s comprehensible that the majority Knicks-centered articles are inspecting their ceiling this season. Alas, based on Kanye West, the current is the previous – so, like Yeezy, we’re wanting forward.

At present, the New York roster options seven gamers which can be 23 years outdated or youthful. Provided that the franchise will look to develop on its present, unpredicted successes, and probably herald assist through free company, the entire group’s up-and-comers should enhance to take care of a spot in subsequent season’s rotation.

However all prospects aren’t created equally. Rookies have longer leashes and the pattern dimension remains to be low, so we’ll depart Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley out of this dialogue for now – whereas Jared Harper has appeared in simply 16 minutes all season, which means extra data is required to supply an correct evaluation.

That leaves us with 4 contributors to evaluate and we’ll do exactly that. With the assistance of well-known abilities coach David Zenon, the next capsules establish areas of enchancment, current progress and what they need to accomplish to maintain pushing alongside the Knicks’ budding core.

Frank Ntilikina

22 years outdated, 4th season

Getting into the 2020-21 season, Ntilikina’s Knicks’ profession could possibly be described as constantly inconsistent. Surprisingly, this season has been worse.

Ntilikina acquired a career-low 9.8 minutes per recreation, taking pictures a career-low 19 p.c on two-point discipline objective makes an attempt and notching a career-low 2.7 factors. This all got here whereas enjoying for head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose penchant for protection led many to consider the veteran chief might get most manufacturing from the strong-willed guard.

However Ntilikina by no means acquired a severe look – Quickley hit the bottom operating; Austin Rivers, Elfrid Payton and RJ Barrett ate up a lot of the remaining minutes; and Derrick Rose’s arrival ultimately sealed the rotation up.

In that restricted motion, nevertheless, Ntilikina demonstrated an improved leap shot, giving supporters hope that he can nonetheless flip a nook. Sadly for the Frenchman, his struggles have been about extra than simply taking pictures.

Ntilikina’s decision-making has been problematic. Sure, he’s been good in catch-and-shoot alternatives this season, however he’ll have to enhance dramatically to safe a spot as a dependable 3-and-D contributor. He should additionally develop into a menace off the dribble as, at present, Ntilikina shies away from taking the ball to the ring in any respect –shockingly, the guard has tried simply three makes an attempt on the time all season.

Nonetheless, Ntilikina’s potential makes him anyone that Zenon needs to start coaching with:

“The consistency by way of his footwork and shot [is lacking]. And his launch level, ” Zenon mentioned. “That is 12 months 4, so it’s irritating to see him [continue to struggle].”

The three issues I ask folks about Frank: is his footwork the identical? Is his launch level the identical? And are his fingers the identical when he hundreds up together with his shot?” Zenon continued.

Typically, he’ll flip his information hand and at different occasions it’s not the identical movement. It could possibly be that he’s overthinking or it could possibly be how defenses play him.”

Zenon would additionally prefer to see Ntilikina develop into extra decisive off the dribble:

“When groups run you off the road, ice you, hedge you, opponents may drive you to your off-hand. Are you snug going downhill along with your left? As a result of I don’t see it.”

At greatest, Ntilikina will face stiff competitors. Rose might probably discover his approach again to the group, a long-time disciple of Thibodeau. Quickley and Barrett will obtain severe minutes as assumed franchise cornerstones too. Hell, the Knicks have already signed Argentinian guard Luca Vildoza, a former MVP abroad.

Ntilikina might cement a job in that group too, nevertheless it’s quick changing into an uphill battle. If he doesn’t enhance quickly, he’s most likely out of time in New York.

Kevin Knox II

21 years outdated, third season

Knox will most likely return subsequent season since he’ll nonetheless be on a rookie deal – until he’s concerned in a commerce – however after a disappointing season during which he averaged career-lows in factors (3.9), rebounds (1.5), assists (0.5) and minutes (11.0), he’ll have loads to show.

Knox annoyed the teaching workers and followers alike together with his low motor. Nonetheless, Zenon nonetheless has hope, all impressed by Knox’s taking pictures enhancements.

“He was turning the ball, so it was sitting within the palm of his taking pictures hand final season,” Zenon defined. “Then he began turning his hips, growing another unhealthy habits.”

This 12 months, he’s accomplished the other,” Zenon mentioned. “Straight up, straight down. The issue is that the remainder of the roster has been phenomenal, so it’s arduous to interrupt again into the rotation.”

And breaking into the rotation will proceed to be an issue, even when Knox improves once more this offseason.

Knox solved his Sophomore taking pictures woes, however he nonetheless must get to the ring extra decisively, rebound the ball higher and develop into a extra engaged and keen defender.

Above all, Knox will need to have a higher affect whereas within the recreation. His affect has been non-existent for too lengthy, one thing that won’t fly with Thibodeau. But he possesses vital, trendy abilities – he’s large, lengthy and he shoots it from deep.

Gone are the times of hoping that Knox grows right into a star (or perhaps a starter) – maybe he can nonetheless be productive off the bench. Knox may not have the ball in his fingers, however there are many different methods to affect the sport.

In any case, the onus is on Knox to determine how greatest to take action.

RJ Barrett

20 years outdated, 2nd season

Of the 5 Knicks profiled right here, Barrett is in the most effective form. After enjoying solely a portion of his rookie season as a result of COVID-19 play stoppage, he’s made severe enhancements.

Barrett’s leap shot is considerably higher as he shot 48 p.c on three-point makes an attempt by the month of April and 45.5 in Could alone. The Canadian additionally performed with extra poise this season and helped anchor the league’s fourth-rated protection (108.97) – which featured just one ‘elite’ stopper for a lot of the 12 months, Nerlens Noel.

In brief, his position with the group is fairly set. Barring a star signing, Barrett ought to are available in because the Knicks’ second possibility subsequent season.

“I do know RJ personally, he’s very aggressive,” Zenon mentioned. “Since he’s been at Duke, he’s been a perfectionist. He knew he needed to work on his jumper earlier than he got here into the league. If you happen to don’t see it by now, you gained’t see it.”

It speaks to the participant improvement system in New York,” Zenon continued. “From every part I’ve heard from gamers across the league and with the group, it’s phenomenal.”

But it surely’s additionally character. That’s a locker room filled with canines, and it’s going to assist RJ develop year-to-year, including to his recreation.”

Barrett’s low season program might be locked in as nicely. The highest prospect is a keen driver, however he’ll have to enhance his execution. Proper now, he lacks an elite leaping capacity, leading to blocks or misses on the rim. Moreover, Barrett must also look so as to add a step-back leap shot, which might make him even more durable to protect.

“I’ve heard that ‘RJ must get stronger or end higher’. Till you see him, you don’t understand how large he’s,” Zenon mentioned. “RJ is large, he’s received an excellent core, thick legs. And keep in mind, he didn’t play a full season final 12 months.

This season, he’s needed to be taught a brand new system. Derrick (Rose) joined, which was an adjustment. He hasn’t needed to give attention to driving to the rim as a lot, so he’s accomplished a terrific job of taking pictures from the corners [which is what he’s been asked to do].”

Yr three will likely be even higher,” Zenon defined. “I all the time say, 12 months three is if you make the leap. And it’s when you need to present that you just’re established offensively and defensively. If he’s going to be the kind of participant I do know he’ll be, he’ll come again higher subsequent season, and he’ll end higher on the rim.”

Mitchell Robinson

23 years outdated, third season

Robinson was as soon as seen as the one member of the Knicks price constructing round. Oh, how one season can change a story.

When he’s performed, the middle’s affect is plain. Over his three-year profession, Robinson has averaged 8.4 factors, 7.0 rebounds and a pair of.1 blocks per recreation. After all, he additionally set an NBA report for discipline objective share final season (74.2%).

Traditionally, Robinson has struggled to remain on the ground, getting in foul bother by principally foolish performs (e.g., not remaining vertical on shot makes an attempt). Nonetheless, he made unimaginable strides in his defensive decision-making this season.

By way of 31 video games, Robinson received the tally right down to 2.8 fouls per recreation over 27.5 minutes of motion. For context, Robinson averaged 3.3 fouls in 20.6 minutes per recreation throughout his rookie season and three.2 in 23.6 in 2019-20.

Robinson’s affect is profound on the defensive finish. Offensively, although, there may be room to develop.

The 7-footer is an unimaginable rim runner and he’s among the many greatest alley-oop targets within the league – past that, he’s restricted.

Robinson leaked quite a lot of long-range taking pictures movies final 12 months however he’s but to exhibit that capacity in video games. Granted, he’s been hamstrung by teaching modifications all through his profession, now on his third coach in three seasons. The restricted timelines with every coach have most likely damage his alternatives to stretch an offensive repertoire.

With Thibodeau returning subsequent 12 months, Robinson can start making his case. There are many examples of bigs including a shot later of their profession (Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol) and having a middle that stretches the ground clearly advantages an offense.

Zenon, who frequently works with Robinson, believes {that a} leap shot is in his shopper’s future.

“To start with, he’s a terrific particular person,” Zenon mentioned. “He’ll take heed to the coach and perceive the sport plan.”

Thibs is doing a terrific job,” Zenon defined. “Nobody needs to step on toes. Finally, Mitch will escape the jumper, nevertheless it’s not his time but. Finally, the group is profitable – and if it ain’t broke, don’t repair it.”

For the primary time in a very long time, the Knicks have severe upside. They’ll have choices to infuse their present roster with expertise this offseason, however a lot of their enchancment will most likely come from their comparatively younger core persevering with to mature.

Whereas that’s nice information for the group and its followers, some gamers will likely be on the surface wanting in. Certain, everybody might enhance sufficient to safe a job shifting ahead – but when historical past is any indication, a couple of of the above-mentioned gamers gained’t.

For now, it’s simply time to benefit from the long-awaited postseason return in New York.

David Zenon is a abilities coach with a particular give attention to taking pictures. His first basketball-related job was with the Westchester Knicks – however he at present works with 14 NBA gamers together with Serge Ibaka, Mitchell Robinson, Mason Plumlee and Ignas Brazdeikis.


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