This upcoming season for the New York Knicks is filled with potential and promise. After picking Kentucky forward Kevin Knox with the 9th pick, the Knicks seem poised to follow along with the youth movement they have begun to establish, since the departure of Carmelo Anthony. With new head coach David Fizdale now in the fold, the Knicks will look to continue to build upon the positive momentum of the summer heading into the new season.
However, with Kristaps Porzingis out until at least the All-Star break, and possibly for the entire season with a torn ACL, there are many questions as to what the lineup will look like while he is gone. There are many players that can play multiple positions on this roster, which is a good problem for Fizdale to have. Yet, this may deem hurtful for the Knicks as they try to gel this group of young players.
With all this in mind, here is what I envision the 2018-2019 Knicks starting five to look like come Opening Night:
Point Guard: Frank Ntilikina
The 8th pick in the 2017 draft, Ntilikina was the last draft choice by former Knicks President Phil Jackson. Only 18-years old for most of his first year, Ntilikina showed flashes of defensive brilliance that was the basis behind Jackson’s pick. The youngest player of that draft class, Ntilikina came straight from France and was considered to be a raw project, due to his lackluster offensive game. In his first year, Ntilikina only started nine games and failed to seize the opportunity to become the everyday starter as he struggled on offensive throughout the season.
If Ntilikina wants to win the starting point guard position for good, he will have to be more consistent on the offensive end. Until then, he will have to split playing time with Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay. However, Ntilikina’s stellar defense and continual offensive development may force Fizdale to choose him to start over the other young point guards. Ntilikina is poised for an interesting sophomore season that may spell out how the rest of his career will be like.
Other potential starters: Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay
Shooting Guard: Tim Hardaway Jr.
After spending his first four years split between the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, Hardaway Jr. surprised many by agreeing to return to the team that traded him, on a four-year, $71 million contract. In his first year back with the Knicks, Hardaway Jr. earned career highs in starts, minutes, points, rebounds and assists per game. While some lamented Hardaway Jr.’s drop in field goal and three-point percentage, there was no denying his overall production.
Hardaway Jr. will have to become a more reliable scorer if he wishes to start over veteran Courntey Lee. Lee, who is a better defender and pure shooter, will certainly make a push to be the starting shooting guard. If Hardaway Jr. can improve his defense and shooting, he can begin to live up to his hefty contract. If not, Lee is a more-than-viable replacement option for Fizdale to consider.
Other potential starters: Courtney Lee, Frank Ntilinka
Small Forward: Lance Thomas
One of the oldest players on the current roster, Thomas is the veteran presence that the Knicks will need as Porzingis sits out the first half of the season. The 30-year old Brooklyn native was an integral part of the Knicks squad last year. Capable of playing both small forward and power forward, Thomas helped fill the void left by Porzingis after his injury.
Noted for his hustle on both ends, Thomas will be an important piece in the development of rookie forward Kevin Knox. Thomas’ role on this team is well-defined, as he does many of the little things that can help the Knicks win close games. Since his contributions are so impactful, Thomas is almost guaranteed a starting spot in at least one of the forward positions to start the season.
Other potential starters: Kevin Knox, Mario Hezonja
Power Forward: Kevin Knox
A versatile stretch-four, Knox was considered by many pundits to be the steal of the 2018 draft. Like Ntilikina, Knox was the youngest player picked and showed plenty of promise during the Summer League. The soon-to-be-19-year old will be the offensive focal point in the absence of Porzingis, and can make the Knicks fans appreciate his game even more so.
Knox and Thomas will probably split the most time between the two forward spots, as they are exchangeable pieces in both positions. Yet, it will be in the power forward position where Knox will be able to take full advantage of his size and athletic ability. He will have an offensive mismatch most nights, and can help spread the floor for the big men. Knox’s rookie campaign will most likely be a reflection of how the Knick’s season ends up going.
Other potential starters: Lance Thomas, Noah Vonleh
Center: Enes Kanter
Last year was a breakout year for Kanter. After being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Carmelo Anthony deal, Kanter established himself as a double-double machine. A bench player for the beginning of his career, Kanter started a career-high 71 games at center for the Knicks, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds. One of the only capable true centers left in the league, Kanter can provide more muscle and bound for a team that is primarily filled with finesse players.
Kanter is a definite lock to start center, barring an unforeseen incident or injury. With the Knicks looking to move on from Joakim Noah’s albatross contract, and with second-round rookie Mitchell Robinson not yet ready to start at center in a professional game, Kanter should get the majority of playing time at the five spot. However, watch out for Robinson to try and make a lasting impression during his time coming off the bench–one that may lead to him being the eventual starting center. Until that time comes though, Kanter will be the starting center and can hopefully improve upon his impressive first year as a full-time starter.
Other potential starters: Joakim Noah, Mitchell Robinson
Although Porzingis is out for a while, if Knox and Ntilinka can continue to develop their game, the Knicks should be a respectable team. When and if Porzingis returns this year, Knox can return to the small forward position, unfortunately leaving Thomas as the odd-man out of the rotation. A starting five of Ntilikina, Hardaway Jr., Knox, Porzingis and Kanter sounds very intriguing, and just may be able to make some noise in the Eastern Conference in the second half of the season.
Regardless of where they ends up in the standings at the end season, there is plenty of reason for optimism for the Knicks. For the first time in a long time, the Knicks are set up to be playoff contenders in the near future. Even if Porzingis misses the entire season, that means the Knicks will likely end up as a high lottery team with plenty of cap space. In that case, the 2019-2020 Knicks may be one of the biggest stories in the NBA. Nonetheless, the future is bright in the Mecca of basketball, and this season should be entertaining for the new-look Knicks.