#CrystalBasketball: Ranking the New York Knicks for 2017-18

How does every NBA player stack up heading into 2017-18, based solely on the level at which we expect them to play during the upcoming season?

That’s the question 16 NBA Math staff members and contributors sought to answer, ranking each and every player in the sport’s premier league on a 1-to-12 scale and then seeing who emerged with the highest averages. The distant past was irrelevant. Long-term potential doesn’t matter. Only what could come to pass in 2017-18 is factored in, assuming health for those currently healthy and full recoveries from those presently injured. For example, Brandon Knight will still be included in this analysis; we just assumed he’d already completed his rehab for the torn ACL and now has that as a prior portion of his overall injury history.

All players were graded on the following scale by each evaluator, and ties between players with identical averages were broken by sorting the 16 scores from best to worst and propping up the men who had the highest mark at any point in the top-down progression:

  1. Shouldn’t Get Minutes
  2. End-of-Bench Pieces
  3. Depth Pieces
  4. High-End Backups
  5. Low-End Starters
  6. Solid Starters
  7. High-End Starters, Non-All-Stars
  8. All-Star Candidates
  9. All-NBA Candidates, Non-MVP Candidates
  10. Lesser MVP Candidates
  11. MVP Frontrunners
  12. Best Player in the League (only one player could earn this grade on each ballot)

Journey with us team by team as we unveil the entirety of these rankings, culminating in a look at every player set to suit up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Today’s featured squad? The New York Knicks, who are plunging headfirst into the Kristaps Porzingis era.

19. Xavier Rathan-Mayes: 1.20

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 10.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 105.52 TPA (for Florida State Seminoles)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

When Xavier Rathan-Mayes first arrived on the Florida State roster, he was a score-first guard who thrived when he was attacking the basket. His three-point shot was shaky—surprising and disappointing, since that was billed as a strength while he was still being recruited—and he turned the ball over far too frequently, so most of his value stemmed from his passing proclivities. But three years later, he’s improved his per-minute assist and turnover numbers each and every season while gradually improving his perimeter stroke to the point that it’s at least somewhat passable.

That playmaking is especially key now that he’s trying to make the Knicks’ final roster.

This is a team largely devoid of players who create for others, so getting an unexpected boost from a wing player who’s so comfortable operating with the ball in his hands could play nicely. If he can continue to show off his passing vision while working on his shot and asserting himself as a versatile defender, training camp may not be the end of his story.

18. Jamel Artis: 1.33

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 18.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 106.89 TPA (for Pittsburgh Panthers)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

While Rathan-Mayes is the incoming rookie with a versatile approach, Jamel Artis is a scorer through and through.

His 18.2 points per game for the Pittsburgh Panthers came while he shot 47.5 percent from the field, 39.2 percent from downtown (on 5.9 attempts per contest) and 73.4 percent at the stripe. Throw in an ability to create his own offense while keeping his cough-ups in check, and you can see how the senior asserted himself as one of the nation’s more dynamic scoring forces before making the leap to the next level.

But is he explosive enough to thrive in the Association? His first step wasn’t particularly quick at Pittsburgh, and that could doom him to a far smaller role in New York.

17. Nigel Hayes: 1.53

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 22
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 134.53 TPA (for Wisconsin Badgers)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (Arjun Baradwaj)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

If you’re looking for the latest “good at everything, great at nothing” player in the NBA, here he is.

Nigel Hayes might struggle adjusting from Wisconsin’s glacial pace to the up-tempo play in the Association, but he certainly has the skills necessary to make an across-the-board impact. He can finish plays around the basket while slashing to the hoop or go to work from the block. He can create his own looks off the dribble or knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers. His passing allows him to serve as a de facto point forward. His athleticism and relentless hustle let him guard multiple positions and capably clean the glass.

Hayes just isn’t excellent in any one of those areas. The jack-of-all trades approach works once you’re guaranteed minutes, but developing a niche is usually a prerequisite for receiving actually run.

16. Damyean Dotson: 1.56

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 17.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 142.69 TPA (for Houston Cougars)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

It doesn’t matter the situation in which Damyean Dotson shoots. Whether he’s coming off a screen, working in a spot-up situation or dribbling into his jumper, he can produce that coveted swishing sound with his consistent, high-release shooting stroke. But one year after he slashed 46.9/44.1/83.0, can he get rid of the slight hitch in his motion that might make NBA defenders’ lives far easier as he takes an extra split-second to gather before his release?

If he can, the 23-year-old should keep scorching nets. He could emerge as an undrafted gem, especially after averaging 12.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists in five games at Orlando Summer League. Better still, the shot did translate, as Dotson hit 48.0 percent of his field-goal attempts and, again, 48.0 percent of his triples.

Should he never go cold, who knows what might happen. ​

15. Jarrett Jack: 2.27

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 33
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 3.0 points, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steals, minus-6.33 TPA (for New Orleans Pelicans)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Jarrett Jack no longer has the foot speed necessary to create separation as a scorer. He can’t blow by opponents or move quickly enough to get off clean looks, and his field-goal percentages have suffered dramatically. Ignoring the two-game sample with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2016-17, he’s really coming off a 2015-16 campaign in which he hit just 39.1 percent of his live-action shots and 30.4 percent of his triples.

That’s simply not good enough.

Regression to the mean should enhance this 33-year-old’s game to some extent, but he has to shoot far better if he’s going to make up for his struggling defensive chops and justify earning minutes in which he can excel as a low-volume facilitator.

14. Ramon Sessions: 2.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 31
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.2 points, 1.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-77.62 TPA (for Charlotte Hornets)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Ramon Sessions sometimes looks like he might have trouble guarding an office chair—hey, we’re at least giving him something that has wheels and thus some semblance of mobility!—and doesn’t often look to involve his teammates while he’s running the point. But those concerns are partially mitigated when he’s making shots.

He did during his final season with the Washington Wizards back in 2015-16. But with the Charlotte Hornets, he seemingly forgot how to finish plays around the basket, and his mid-range shooting completely disappeared. Sessions only connected on 28.1 percent of his jumpers from between 10 and 16 feet, as well as just 29.2 percent of his two-pointers from beyond 16 feet—both well below his career averages.

Any second-string point guard would see his on/off numbers suffer while backing up Kemba Walker.  But that, in a nutshell, helps explain why the Hornets’ saw their net rating plummet by a staggering 6.2 points per 100 possessions when Sessions was playing.

13. Mindaugas Kuzminskas: 2.69

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 27
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.3 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-52.83 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Brian Sampson)

Unless Mindaugas Kuzminkas learns how to shoot the rock—a big ask for a 27-year-old without any sniping pedigree—he’s going to struggle for minutes in the Big Apple. All but four of our 16 panelists viewed the Lithuanian forward as a legitimate depth piece, and that assessment is likely predicated upon his shooting stroke coming around.

Kuzminskas is a solid distributor from the forward positions, and he does lots of little things rather well. But he’s a glaring defensively liability without the size to guard 4s or the quickness of foot to slow down 3s, and that means he has to shoot better.

Slashing 42.8/32.1/80.9 simply won’t cut it going forward.

12. Ron Baker: 2.75

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 4.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-75.42 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (Louie Vicchiollo)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Let’s turn to HoopsHype’s Frank Urbina for some information here:

Nonetheless, Baker acquitted himself nicely as a first-year guard. His raw averages were uninspiring (4.1 points and 2.1 assists per night, over 52 games played), but the Knicks were 1.2 points per 100 possessions better when he was one of the five players on the court. For a New York squad that had the seventh-worst net rating in the league last season (negative-4.1), Baker’s on/off splits showed promise.

Mostly a hard-nosed defensive specialist, the Wichita State product did score 15 points in just 10 cutting possessions on the year…Baker also showed ability to create, both for himself and his teammates, out of the pick-and-roll – a trait any modern guard needs to master before becoming a true threat. At least in a post-triangle world.

If his shooting comes around, our lone voter who viewed him as a high-end backup might be proved correct.

11. Joakim Noah: 2.81

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 32
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 42.63 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Dan Favale)

Does Joakim Noah’s body work?

That was the biggest question during his first go-round with the Knicks, as his knees, back and rotator cuff all kept him from looking like his old self. Quite frankly, he’s never going to turn the clocks back far enough to remind onlookers of his Defensive Player of the Year candidacies with the Chicago Bulls, but a healthy Noah could at least become a valuable point-preventing piece off the New York bench.

Noah has phenomenal instincts on the interior, and those haven’t gone away. Ditto for his exemplary passing, so long as opponents aren’t sagging so far off him that they’re shutting down passing lanes and daring him to let fly with his unorthodox, side-winding jumper.

He just has to get into working order first, and that’s far from guaranteed.

10. Michael Beasley: 2.88

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 9.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, minus-51.54 TPA (for Milwaukee Bucks)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (Tim Stubbs)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Per ESPN.com’s Ian Begley, Michael Beasley had some bold words before the beginning of training camp: “I’m your favorite player’s favorite player. It’s not enough for me for him to know that. I want the world to know that.”

He was not, however, our voters’ favorite player. Only one viewed him as even a top-tier backup, while three saw him as an end-of-bench piece. And that won’t change until the combo forward proves he can do more than score. Empty totals aren’t convincing selling points, and that’s what Beasley’s outputs were for the Milwaukee Bucks while he failed to contribute in any other area.

Did he shoot the ball efficiently? Yes, to the tune of his career-high true shooting percentage (58.4 percent). But until he starts holding his own defensively or passing the ball with purpose, it won’t matter that much.

9. Doug McDermott: 2.94

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 9.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-105.67 TPA (for Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Breaking news: Doug McDermott is a gifted shooter.

His NBA career has been largely disappointing after his heroics at Creighton, but the 25-year-old has shown extended flashes of premier shooting ability that could help him move up the ranks. The Knicks offer another chance at a fresh start after he was dealt to Madison Square Garden as part of the package that landed Carmelo Anthony, and he could immediately assert himself as one of the squad’s most dangerous wings. To do so, he’ll just have to keep shooting like he did with the Oklahoma City Thunder, for whom he scored 1.4 points per spot-up possession to place in the 98.6 percentile.

McDermott has largely struggled to stick with  his assignments on defense and and can’t create his shot like he did against the NCAA’s leading stoppers. But even if he serves as a premier catch-and-shoot threat, that role holds plenty of value and will allow him to stick on a roster.

8. Frank Ntilikina: 3.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 19
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks (for Strasbourg IG)
  • Highest Grade: 5 (Nick Birdsong)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Patience, patience, patience.

As Jake Brown wrote for theKnicksBlog, New York shouldn’t expect too much from Frank Ntilikina during his rookie season. Not while the 19-year-old is attempting to transition out of a low-minute role for Strasbourg IG without any experience playing collegiate ball:

This is going to take time, though. Ntilikina hasn’t played in America and there is always that adjustment period. This entire first season for him will be a learning and a growing process. If anyone expects him to come out firing right out of the gate, they will be disappointed. It’s going to take a lot of patience, but after a year or two, expect to see him as the clear-cut starting point guard for this team.

Ntilikina’s impact early on will be seen on the defensive side of the floor, where he will be able to be a three-position defender. But don’t look for him to have a huge impact immediately like Dennis Smith, Jr. or De’Aaron Fox likely will.

The No. 8 pick of the 2017 NBA draft has a monstrous 7’0″ wingspan that will help him make an immediate defensive impact and switch on pick-and-rolls, but low shooting percentages and turnover issues will inevitably plague him, just as they do so many other young guards. And that’s fine. So long as he’s working on his craft and learning how to leverage his many physical and skill-based talents under the supervision of some veteran guards, he’ll boast more long-term upside than most.

7. Lance Thomas: 3.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 29
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-71.64 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (Andrew Bailey)

In 2015-16, Lance Thomas made 40.4 percent of his triples while taking 1.8 per game during his first full season with the Knicks. Not too shabby for a player who’d entered the campaign with a 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) lifetime mark from downtown. Surely that was a fluke, right?

Well, he solidified his status in 2016-17 by maintaining his per-game attempt tally but upping his percentage to an impressive 44.7 percent. Now he enters the 2017-18 go-round as an established three-and-D contributor who can legitimately help space out the floor for his teammates. At this point, defenders have to respect his shot and can stop sagging off in a foolish attempt to dare him into letting fly.

Couple that with an improving set of rebounding chops and the ability to finally guard his natural position rather than taking on the opponents’ best wing to cover for Carmelo Anthony, and the 29-year-old Thomas could be in for his best season yet. That just might not be anything truly special, as evidenced by our voting panel topping out with five panelists calling him an upper-tier backup.

6. Kyle O’Quinn: 3.44

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 27
  • Position: PF/C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 88.49 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Brian Sampson)

Kyle O’Quinn might not be as strong a fit without the triangle offense, which featured him perfectly from the elbows and made use of his triple-threat ability. The big man could capably put the ball on the floor, pass to a cutting teammate or knock down a mid-range jumper, which allowed him to morph into an ideal role player. In fact, the former Norfolk State product actually led the Knicks in TPA during the 2016-17 campaign—perhaps the most nondescript of all team leaders last season.

But asking O’Quinn to play more minutes was a tough proposition. He fouls too frequently and plays with constant aggression, which means his energy is typically best deployed in smaller spurts. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of having the impact of a starter in his minutes—something two different panelists thought he could do going forward, even in an offense that will ask him to expand his game.

If he ever becomes more disciplined defending around the rim—opponents shot just 47.1 percent while he was stationed there but constantly got him up into the air before engaging in easy finishes while gravity dragged him back to the hardwood—more will join the club.

5. Willy Hernangomez: 4.19

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 0.0 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

Though he was only the No. 35 pick of the 2015 NBA draft and waited a year before making his delayed debut, Willy Hernangomez quickly burst onto the scene, establishing himself as an All-Rookie contributor who’s suddenly become an important part of the Knicks’ young core.

“I like the Big Baby. He’s a guy who can score, he can pass, he can play D. He can do it all,” Carmelo Anthony said before the season even began, per Austin Ryback of The Sports Quotient. “I try to not make comparisons but I see a lot of Marc Gasol in him. That’s a great sign because Marc is a great player. So for him to have the skills knowing that he has at his age, it’s something special.”

If Hernangomez ever had a glaring weakness, that’s been remedied. He might not truly stand out in any one area yet, but his combination of shooting touch, basketball I.Q., footwork around the hoop, defensive instincts, rebounding ability, passing and so much more makes him a jack of all trades quickly emerging as a second-round gem.

4.  Enes Kanter: 4.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18:  25
  • Position: PF/C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.5 blocks, minus-40.61 TPA (for Oklahoma City Thunder)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (Nick Birdsong)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

Enes Kanter is incredible at the portions of basketball at which he excels.

Ask him to get an offensive rebound and finish the play in creative fashion, and he’ll do so more often than not. The Turkish big man has incredibly soft hands on the interior and a knack for positioning, which allowed him to rank No. 3 in offensive rebounding percentage (behind only Dwight Howard and Andre Drummond) while scoring 1.14 points per possession (62.9 percentile) on put-back opportunities. It’s the combination of volume and efficiency that makes him so special in this area.

But that’s only one role. Until Kanter becomes a more willing passer—he trended up in that regard during his final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder before serving as part of the Carmelo Anthony return, but his turnovers still nearly doubled his assists—and shows some semblance of growth on defense, his upside will remain firmly stifled.

3. Courtney Lee: 4.50

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 32
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 10.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks, minus-4.92 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 6 (Tim Stubbs)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

Don’t be fooled by Courtney Lee’s negative defensive box plus/minus or the fact that the Knicks allowed fewer points per 100 possessions while he was on the bench. Those numbers are ultimately devoid of context, which is what ESPN.com’s defensive real plus/minus attempts to remedy. And there, the 32-year-old shooting guard finished with…a distinctly negative score that left him sandwiched between Anthony Morrow and James Harden.

Maybe this all does have some validity.

Lee’s defensive role makes it tough for him to excel individually, since he’s often tasked with guarding the opponent’s toughest perimeter player. But regardless of his assignments, he’s lost a bit of speed to Father Time and is still working with a 6’5″ frame, which makes it far tougher for him to maintain the three-and-D reputation he’d earned in previous seasons. He’ll still have plenty of value if he shoots well, but this declining version of Lee isn’t exactly an ideal candidate to serve as a team’s third-best player.

Here’s hoping schematic consistency and playing alongside fewer liabilities can cause his defensive value to boomerang—by no means out of the realm of realistic possibilities.

2. Tim Hardaway Jr.: 4.75

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, inus-8.74 TPA (for Atlanta Hawks)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

This is not about Tim Hardaway Jr.’s astronomical contract. Player salary didn’t factor into our analysis, which looked solely into how effective players could be for their respective teams. Whether he’s overpaid, underpaid or doing pro bono work for the Knicks is irrelevant, so long as he can keep showcasing the improvements he first put on display for the Atlanta Hawks to earn such a massive deal.

Though his shot wasn’t previously consistent enough for him to take on a featured role, this 25-year-old shooting guard finally made the leap in the Peach State. Averaging 14.5 points while shooting 45.5 percent from the field, 35.7 percent from downtown and 76.6 percent at the charity stripe, he established himself as a dynamic offensive threat who could create his own looks while still keeping an eye open in search of teammates drifting free. Atlanta placed the ball in his hands more frequently, and the shift paid off.

But Hardaway has by no means arrived as a star. It should be telling that more than half our panelists still viewed him as an upper-tier backup. Even more importantly, the Knicks are aware he has more work to do, especially on the defensive end, where he remains a veritable sieve.

“They [the Knicks] said straight up, ‘You have to obviously improve a lot more on defense and improve a lot more on the offensive end.,” Hardaway revealed after he signed his new deal, per Steve Popper of USA Today.

1. Kristaps Porzingis: 7.56

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 22
  • Position: PF/C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.0 blocks, 8.66 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 8 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 6 (Ryan Jarvis)

During seven games for Latvia at EuroBakset, Kristaps Porzingis put on a show. Not only did he produce the highlights you can see above, but he dominated statistically: 23.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 53.4 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from downtown and 89.6 percent at the free-throw line.

Whether he was shutting down the paint on defense or creating his own jumpers off the bounce, Porzingis did everything for his team. Overmatched defenders had no idea how to slow a 7-footer who looked that smooth dribbling and pulling up for easy looks—easy for him, at least. And the same should remain true as he enters his third go-round in the NBA, ready to take over as the unquestioned featured option in one of the Association’s biggest markets.

Porzingis is a unicorn in the truest sense. He can simply do everything imaginable on a basketball court, and he’s finally set to enjoy a year in which he can play to his strengths rather than ceding touches to other offensive threats and being pulled out of the paint so frequently on the defensive side.

The path to season-end accolades is clear, and this 22-year-old already looks like he’s striding down it with his lanky limbs.

Who’s rated too high? Who are we selling short? Join the conversation using #CrystalBasketball on Twitter.

Follow NBA Math on Twitter @NBA_Math and on Facebook.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math or NBA.com.

Many thanks to our entire panel of voters: Andrew BaileyArjun BaradwajNick BirdsongMichael BrockTony EastDan FavaleAdam FromalRyan JarvisJordan McGillisTom RendeBrian SampsonAdam SpinellaEric SpyropolousTim StubbsFrank UrbinaLouis Vicchiollo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *