This basketball season in New York was an abject failure, but honestly, it's not a complete disaster. We've still got Porzingis. We still have young players in Ron Baker, Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas who have ingratiated themselves, if not with their numbers but their 24/7 effort, to the New York faithful. And most importantly, we still have a pick in this year's draft.
To their credit, since the All-Star break, the Knicks have #embracedthetank in a manner that befits both the organisation and the fans; the games are competitive enough through the first 3 quarters to keep casual fans interested, but when the 4th comes, 'Melo and Rose are benched and Baker et al. get some running time. There's a make-do illusion of playoff aspirations, but really anyone even moderately clued in on the state of the Knicks knows the endgame is to tank for a high pick while giving the younger guys extended playing time. It's about the best you could hope for at this point.
It's great that the Knicks are (FINALLY) looking to go full rebuild, but part of looking towards the future is understanding how present-day players would fit into it, if at all. There are currently 4 Knicks players whose contract ends at the end of this season, and with Phil Jackson and the Triangle not going away anytime soon, it may be time to consider what players from this year we expect to see back next season, and who we don't.
1. Justin Holiday
I've written previously on why I think Justin Holiday is the perfect back-up to Courtney Lee, and I'm here again to repeat that fact. They're both 3-and-D players who don't demand the ball, hit shots when asked, and turn up to practice every day. It sucks that they can't share the floor, though, as they are the only two players on the Knicks who provide a semblance of perimeter defense, in fact, Holiday has the best Defensive Rating of any Knick who has played significant minutes. Letting Holiday walk would turn our three-point defense from awful into downright unwatchable.
Offensively, the similarities between Lee and Holiday continue. Holiday will only take about 6 shots per game (half of which will be from down town), and has been averaging 7.4 points per game for the season, with a 42.7 field goal percentage. It's nothing flashy, but it's consistent and reliable, and it's emblematic of Lee and Holiday's reputation as hard-workers who treat the game like any other non-televised job. Players like this should absolutely be a part of New York's future.
2. Sasha Vujacic
Averaging less than 8 minutes played per game for the season, there's really not much Vujacic can offer the Knicks rebuild aside from being a veteran presence in the locker room. To his credit, he's been superb at mentoring the younger guys in basketball and FIFA alike, but it's hard to justify giving money and a valuable roster spot at this point to someone who barely plays.
That's not to say he couldn't potentially return next season in an assistant coaching position, in fact, it's more likely given Jackson's predilection for employing former players. Vujacic has championship experience as a player under the Jackson-coached Lakers and understands the triangle better than anyone which again, given Jackson's predilection for, gives him some legitimate value in a coaching context going forward.
But as a player, he just won't make the cut.
3. Ron Baker
A true silver lining in this woeful season has been the increased runaround given to Knicks rookies Ron Baker, Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas as a result of playoff hopes vanishing, and the reception they've received from Madison Square Garden for their scrappy, all-effort play has made it clear that New York fans aren't really fussed with big-name scoring types at this point (not that they'll be getting any in FA, anyway) and are content, maybe even happy, with guys who just give a damn.
Baker, like Vujacic, doesn't offer much statistically. He plays a little over 12 minutes per game, averaging 3.3 points and 1.3 assists, and has only played 35 games out of this season. When watching him live, though, Baker passes the eye test in a big way. Those 1.3 assists come more from finding open men on the perimeter after collapsing the defense or making the extra pass leading to an easy bucket, rather than the skittish dribble hand-offs you might be used to seeing from NBA rookies.
But his gritty, Dellavedova-like defensive intensity is what makes most Knicks fans psyched about having Baker on board in the future. He consistently provides on-ball pressure without reaching for steals, dives for loose balls and comes ready to play every night. It's kind of corny to use that parlance now because of how typical it is when describing goofy-looking white players (e.g. "He's the first one to practice and the last one to leave, a real gym rat"), but it's so goddamn applicable to Baker that you might as well. I think most Knicks fans would be ecstatic, but not entirely surprised if he grew into a player similar to Pat Beverly or the afore-mentioned Delly.
4. Derrick Rose
We tried, but it didn't work out. The Rose experiment failed in New York for several reasons, but the long story short is that his paltry 4.4 assists per game makes for a stagnant team offense, he shoots near 55% at the rim but 22% from beyond the arc so opponents simply back off him, and his defensive effort can occasionally be dogged and ruthless, but it was mostly average and sometimes non-existent. He straight-up missed a game without telling anyone.
That said, Derrick Rose showed us this year that he is still good enough an offensive player to be valuable to a team. His 17.8 points per game was his best scoring output since 2011. He can still split double-teams and crash to the rim, twisting his torso to make the bucket (without the And-one though, he averages less than 4 free throw attempts per game). Rose could definitely be a plus to a team like say, the Nuggets, who already have a talented facilitator in point-center Nikola Jokic and seem to be falling out of love with Emmanuel Mudiay.
So with that in mind, he's going to expect to get paid. But he's not a player we should be committing long-term money to, regardless of his offensive output.