Let’s Talk About The Core Of The New York Knicks

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“We have a core of players we can build around to build a [championship-contending] team,” Walsh said. “We’re not finished. There’s more pieces. But I think we got some really good players that can lead a team and form a core of that team. What we have are the most important things.”

via Pro Basketball Talk: Donnie Walsh thinks Knicks have the core of a title team (originally via New York Post)

This is something I’ve contemplated from time to time during the last eight months. Do the Knicks have a “core” that can be used as a basis for what the team needs to win going forward? Who we can definitively say is part of the Knicks’ core is also debatable, given the team’s only recent surge into relevancy.

There’s no question that the Knicks have some high-pedigree, quality players on the team. Amar’e Stoudemire was the first to become part of the Knicks’ central plan to contend last season, and he performed at a high enough level for much of the season to warrant positivity (before fatiguing somewhat down the stretch) . He’s signed for 4 more years and more than $80 million, so it’s clear he isn’t going anywhere (for better or for knee-worse). The Knicks traded three of their young, promising players to the Nuggets in Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Raymond Felton (actually 4, if you count Mozgov) for the oft-discussed Carmelo Anthony. Things didn’t go perfectly, Carmelo may or may not have set the record for “least open teammates passed to” (I’m just estimating), and the Knicks were swept in the first round by the Celtics. That’s not to say Carmelo isn’t a terrific offensive player, or that he isn’t part of the Knicks’ future. He clearly is, and maybe he’ll grow into his role on the team as new players are added and remaining players acclimate equally to his play style.

Beyond Carmelo and Amar’e, it’s a little more difficult to determine who stands to be a key cog of the Knicks going forward. Chauncey Billups is at the tail end of his career and near the end of his contract, so it’s unlikely the Knicks will deign to re-sign him (at least as a starter) as the years progress. Toney Douglas has been known to be a both great and terrible player at various moments, but he’s displayed the ability to be a quality backup combo guard during his years with the Knicks. At the very least, he’s established (which is more than can be said for most of the Knicks’ roster). Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter, Bill Walker, Derrick Brown, Ronny Turiaf, Shawne Williams, Shelden Williams, Roger Mason Jr., and Andy Rautins aren’t especially likely (in other words “not at all”) to be viewed as long-term pieces by the franchise.

Who does that leave us with to consider?  The Knicks’ two draft picks, Iman Shumpert and Josh Harrellson, and last year’s surprise breakout rookie, Landry Fields. Iman Shumpert has been receiving high praise from various sources on his play of late and seems to have NBA skills, so his chances of being a viable rotational player with the Knicks are trending towards existent (though we really know nothing with no NBA games to serve as judgment). Josh Harrellson is a second-round pick and thus has low chances of ever being an NBA rotational player, but he has a sweet nickname (“Jorts”) and has been known to do good deeds. I’ll give him the slightest outside chance of becoming a productive NBA player on nickname alone.

This brings us to Landry Fields, who is probably the most likely player non-star to be part of the Knicks’ “core” going forward. I’ve written about the varying saga of Fields before, but it’s hard to place how Fields fits in with the semi-new look Knicks. There were rumors that the Knicks had refused to include Fields in the ‘Melo trade (when rumors were on full blast during the trade deadline), which led many to believe the Knicks’ viewed Fields as essential to the team they were building (and based on the stellar rookie campaign he was having, it’d be a warranted decision). But after Carmelo and Chauncey Billups joined the team, the production of Fields dropped off considerably, eventually culminating in a cacophony of playoff disappointment. Whether it was because of the new (and arguably more essential, at least in ‘Melo’s case) personnel additions or “the rookie wall”, certainly more Knicks’ fans regard the future of Fields with doubt than previously. How Fields’ performs next season, whenever that is, will likely determine his ultimate level of necessity to the franchise’s perception of their personnel.

All of these considerations leave us with the following core: Amar’e, Carmelo, (probably) Landry Fields, (maybe) Toney Douglas, and (possibly) Iman Shumpert (Sorry, Josh Harrellson. I’ve momentarily turned my back on you for convenience). That leaves the Knicks with two superstar forwards whose skills rest almost solely on offensive skill, an inexperienced, efficient (rebounding, versatility, etc.) young guard, an unreliable yet fun combo guard, and an unproven rookie, respectively. Is this a championship-level core that an NBA team can build around? No. But it can be viewed as the beginning of building a core that can contend. If the Knicks can pick up a couple of defensive role players (no easy task) and another high-caliber player (likely a point guard or center), they’ll form a core that is indeed worthy of championship-contending recognition. They have two stars and a couple of young, decent players, which is more than much of the league can say. And they’ll have the means and ability to make the necessary additions to the team going forward. The Knicks might not have a strong core today, but they’re in position to reach that goal during the next few years.

Seth Carstens