Young Knicks Players Showing Signs Of Growth

12/06/2018 at 04:12pm

By Ian Levy
Nylon Calculus, brought to you by The Step Back

Entering the 2018-19 season without All-Star Kristaps Porzingis – who continues to rehab a torn ACL suffered in February – this year was all about player development for the New York Knicks. New York is already getting very exciting contributions from a slew of young players, including some who were not expected to be significant contributors this year.

Here are a few of the key young players showing up for New York as they build for the future.

Emmanuel Mudiay

When he arrived in New York last season, Mudiay’s career prospects looked slim. His reclamation this year has been impressive, taking over the starting point guard position and looking more and more like the dynamic creator he was billed as when he entered the NBA.

Mudiay has hit 14-of-35 (40 percent) on catch-and-shoot 3s. The improvement in his long-range shooting numbers has been the most visible sign of improvement but what he’s done around the basket is much more important. Mudiay is shooting 55.6 percent in the restricted area this season and 48.1 percent on drives. The latter number is not, in and of itself, that impressive. But it’s a huge increase from last season and the first time in his young career he’s made more than 40 percent of his shots off drives.

Mudiay’s ceiling leans heavily on his impressive physical tools and his ability to leverage them to create efficient offense. His poor finishing the past few seasons has taken away what really should be the first option for him on any given possession. With attacking the basket to score now a viable weapon, he’s getting more out of his off-the-dribble game and defenses are forced to adjust more, opening up space for his teammates.

Noah Vonleh

Noah Vonleh came into the league as an athletic 19-year-old big with a profile that suggested a big who could both space the floor and create an impact around the basket. This year, he’s finally delivering on that potential on a consistent basis. Vonleh’s made 20-of-43 catch-and-shoot 3s and has been the second-most productive rebounder on the team, besides Enes Kanter. The Knicks have been outscoring opponents in the minutes Vonleh is on the floor, but getting outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when he goes to the bench, the worst mark of anyone in the Knicks rotation. With size, shooting, rebounding and defensive mobility he’s looking like a very nice complement to Porzingis when he does return.

Frank Ntilikina

It’s been a difficult start to the season for Ntilikina, who has seen his minutes decline as he struggles to make shots both inside and outside. But for as many questions as there are about his offensive game, Ntilikina still looks like a potential force on the defensive end. He’s versatile -- spending about 40 percent of his defensive possessions on point guards, 30 percent on shooting guards and 20 percent on small forwards. He generates steals and deflections and has a nose for recovering the ball -- of the 122 players who create at least 1.5 deflections per 36 minutes, Ntilikina ranks 15th in the percentage of defensive loose balls recovered.

Kevin Knox

Knox has as much potential as anyone on the roster, but he also happens to be the youngest and most raw player the Knicks have. Knox’s defense still needs a lot of work but the fact that he’s spent about 30 percent of his defensive possessions on shooting guards and power forwards, and 25 percent on small forwards, hints at a player whose skills and physical tools could unlock all sorts of interesting lineup combinations. He has been struggling to score efficiently around the basket and from the perimeter, but Knox has shown solid shooting mechanics and getting reps this season to practice creating offense for himself should pay dividends down the road.

Allonzo Trier

The Knicks may not have been expecting much when they offered undrafted free agent Trier a contract this summer but he looks like he could be a useful piece in the long term as a 3-and-D wing with some secondary scorer potential. Trier is 11-of-23 on catch-and-shoot 3s and has been fairly effective as a defender while spending about 20 percent of his possessions defending point guards and small forwards, and about 50 percent on shooting guards -- exactly the kind of versatility a smaller wing defender needs.

The upside potential Trier has displayed as a creator is definitely interesting. He has the best true shooting percentage of any wing or backcourt player on the Knicks roster, despite about two-thirds of his made field goals being unassisted.

Mitchell Robinson

Of all the young players on this roster, Robinson -- a 20-year-old center who sat out last year’s college basketball season because of eligibility issues -- was probably the least likely to be contributing regularly. His size and athleticism made him an intriguing prospect but his lack of experience had him labeled as a project. Robinson does indeed have plenty to work on both ends of the floor but he’s already made a difference finishing in transition and protecting the rim. He already has 45 blocks despite only being the closest defender on 85 interior shot attempts (an absurd rate that is at least partially explained by his incredible propensity for blocking jumpers). Opponents are shooting just 54.1 percent inside of six feet when he’s the closest defender, a number on par with the likes of Jusuf Nurkic, Dwight Howard and Jarrett Allen.

Nylon Calculus covers basketball analytics for The Step Back, a premium NBA vertical at