By Pete Baxter
The New York Knicks have been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season. At 19-18 at the All-Star break, they are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and have won seven of their last ten games. Today, Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported that he believes the Knicks will be active buyers before the trade deadline to make them even more competitive.
There is an unusually high quantity of good to great players who have been reported to be on the trading block this season. The Knicks have finally become a good team, but have a long way to go to be truly competitive against the elite teams in the league.
Let’s take a look at the moves that most sense for the Knicks to make to help them take the next step this year, based on their most glaring needs:
Need #1: A Reliable Backcourt Scoring Threat
Enter Victor Oladipo. It has been widely speculated that Houston Rockets expect to be sellers before the deadline, as the wheels have completely fallen off for the franchise since parting ways with James Harden. The Rockets are sitting at 11-23 and are in the midst of the worst losing streak in the league, dropping their last 13 straight games. Oladipo appears to be being openly shopped.
Julius Randle has turned in an All Star campaign so far, dropping 23.2 points per game for the season on 40% shooting from three. RJ Barrett has improved this year, and is chipping in 16.5 points per game on a less efficient 35% clip from three. After their top two offensive threats, Elfrid Payton, Derrick Rose, rookie Immanuel Quickley and veteran Alec Burks all chip in around 12 points per game, and none are major threat for defenses to key in on. The Knicks have thrived this year thanks primarily to their defensive efforts, giving up the least amount of points of any team so far this year.
Adding a reliable 20+ point per game scorer to their starting backcourt could push the Knicks into the short list of true contenders in the Eastern Conference. Victor Oladipo, as long as he stays healthy, fills that void. Also, all signs seem to be pointing to the possibility that the Rockets would sell low.
The Knicks receive:
Victor Oladipo, Rodions Kurucs
The Rockets receive:
Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Alec Burcs, 2021 first round pick
The Knicks cement their starting line up with Oladipo joining RJ Barret on the wing. They add a true #2 offensive threat to take pressure off Julius Randle and free up Barrett for more opportunities.
The Knicks give up one of their two first round picks for next year. They still have the Mavericks’ first rounder that they received in the Porzingis trade. The Rockets receive three solid, veteran role players. Two on expiring contracts in Ntilikina and Burks, and Knox with a second year left on an inexpensive deal (Knox likely has the highest ceiling of the three). The Rockets also receive a much-needed first round pick as they truly begin their post-Harden rebuild.
Sounds like a win-win, and one that pushes the Knicks closer to challenging the 76ers and Nets as the Eastern Conference elite.
Need #2: A True Starting Center to Pair with Julius Randle
The Knicks have gotten by with a rotating cast of role players in the front court next to their lone All Star. Mitchell Robinson is a solid young rebounder and ring protector with a poor offensive skill set and a recent bout of the injury bug. Nerlens Noel is a solid defender with a very low offensive ceiling.
Enter Andre Drummond, a two-time All Star and walking double-double, and one of the best rebounders in the league. Drummond has been made inactive by the Pistons as they prepare to move him, and the time is now for the Knicks to make a move.
The Knicks receive:
The Pistons receive:
Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, 2021 2nd Round pick
The Pistons receive a draft pick, which seems to be their top priority in moving Drummond, as well as two young role players with potential. Knox has another year on his deal, and could quickly replace Drummond in the frontcourt rotation, while Ntilikina is still a project that could be worth investing in for a rebuilding Pistons squad.
The Knicks suddenly have one of the most formidable front courts in the league, with the dynamic combination of Drummond and Randle. Drummond can score, good for 17+ points per game the last five straight years, taking pressure off Randle and Barrett. As noted, he is consistently one of the greatest rebounders in the league, averaging nearly 14 boards per game for his career. He is also an adequate defender, particularly as a rim protector, averaging 1.5 blocks per game for his career.
The Pistons are ready to make a move, and the Knicks could offer an intriguing package back without losing much talent or negatively impacting their playoff hopes. Drummond could help the Knicks take the next step.
Option #3: Swing for the Fences
The third option for the Knicks is to go all-in on acquiring a superstar. They have the cap room, the draft capital, and the flexible salaries to make intriguing proposals for at least two top-15 players in the league.
The Knicks receive:
Karl Anthony Towns
The Timberwolves receive:
Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox, 2021 1st Round Pick, 2022 1st Round pick
The Knicks receive one of the top young big men in the league to pair with Julius Randle in the post. Karl Anthony Towns becomes the greatest player to rock a Knicks jersey since Carmelo Anthony’s prime, and finally escapes the NBA purgatory in Minnesota.
Minnesota has spent half a decade trying to build a winner around KAT, and has failed. Moving on a pushing the rest button would not be a shocking decision.
A long-shot for sure, but one that makes sense.
The Knicks receive:
The Wizards receive: Imannuel Quickley, Alec Burks, 2021 First Round Pick, 2022 First Round Pick
The Knicks receive one of the top scorers in the NBA, a perennial All Star, and suddenly have a true pair of All Stars to challenge the NBA’s super teams.
The Wizards are suddenly flush with draft capital, and receive a high potential rookie in Imannuel Quickley to fill the gap in the backcourt.
Perhaps the most exciting proposal here, but probably the biggest long-shot.
All signs seem to point the Knicks preparing to make a serious splash in the coming weeks. With their top-notch defense, hard-nosed coaching, and budding stars in Randle and Barrett, we could be on the verge of a new golden age for Knicks fans.
More to come.