Ranking the Knicks' Most Tradeable Short-Term Contracts
What does a front office get when they whiff on every big-name free agent during the offseason? A consolation platter of mediocre players on team-friendly, short-term contracts willing to bet on themselves in the hopes of an eventual larger payday. Nothing against any of the Knicks' offseason acquisitions, but it's no surprise that even with an overhauled roster of more established NBA players the Knicks are still one of the league's worst teams. If a couple of those "vets" get traded, the Knicks will still be an NBA bottom dweller, and with the trade deadline fast approaching let's rank the five most tradeable Knicks — on short-term contracts — in terms of overall value as well as value as it relates to how a trade could benefit some of the team's longer term investments. Number one is a no-brainer:
1. Marcus Morris
To be clear, just because there are five names on this list does not mean that all five of these guys have positive trade value. Morris is probably the only new signee that could bring back something interesting, making the recent report that the Knicks have "no plans" to trade him even more concerning. The third-worst team in the league making it obvious that their best player on an expiring
contract is very available is not good business either, so hopefully the Knicks' true intentions with Morris lie somewhere in the middle. Morris, a career 37% three-point shooter, is shooting 46% from deep this season — a rate good enough to draw interest on its own. When Perry and Mills poached Morris from San Antonio this offseason they could not have hoped for much better play from the 30-year-old, and they could do themselves a favor by turning that pleasant surprise into another asset. It's already been reported that the Clippers and Sixers have interest in Morris, and if those teams are considering him then it's not hard to think of several other teams that the stretch forward would fit into seamlessly. Shooting wings are probably the most valuable commodity in the game right now, and in a league with a Warriors-sized hole at the top of the hierarchy an upgrade like Morris could be enough to move the needle for a number of teams. While the Knicks may suffer a bit as a result of losing their most productive player, it could force the coaching staff to experiment more with smaller lineups. Kevin Knox has done nothing to deserve additional minutes, but perhaps a trade could get RJ Barrett some more reps at small forward, perhaps his eventual everyday position given his NBA-ready body. Sure, holding onto Morris makes sense in a vacuum: he's brought scoring and consistency to a team in desperate need of both, yet that clearly has not been enough to make the Knicks competitive. Remove him from the equation and the final record won't be all that different; strike for the first-round pick while the 3-point shot is hot.
2. Bobby Portis
If you're looking for some evidence to back up the assertion that shooting pays in the NBA, consider the case of Bobby Portis versus Noah Vonleh. Portis, who is 95% hot trash and 5% a good 3-point shooter received a 2-year, $31 million contract (team option for the second year) while Vonleh, a two-way, much less selfish player can barely get off the bench in Minnesota and is on a veteran's minimum contract. A couple of mystery teams have reportedly inquired about Portis, and if there really are willing buyers then I question why Portis is even still on the team. And yet, after watching Portis nearly decapitate two people out of sheer laziness, I can still understand a team taking a flier on him. He's a career 36% three-point shooter and perhaps if he's used in small spurts as a heat check floor spacer he could help a good team. Take the Emmanuel Mudiay blueprint, whose efficiency numbers are up in a more limited role. Portis is a testament to the fact that a center who can shoot threes will always carry some value — no matter how much of a negative that player may be on the other side of the ball. Two teams have already let Portis walk with no hard feelings, why not add a third?
3. Taj Gibson
No signing has gifted the Knicks more veteran presents than Gibson, who feels more like a player-coach than the starting center, and backs that up by missing just about every perfect assist from Frank Ntilikina and co. It takes a certain basketball IQ to be in those finishing situations, but Gibson just isn't the athlete that he used to be. Lots of teams could use an extra big, and while Gibson holds little appeal on his own, perhaps he could be used as a throw-in to sweeten a Morris or Portis deal. At the moment, the organization seems wedded to keeping Gibson as the starting center, an understandable stance given that Mitchell Robinson is currently averaging 5.3 fouls per 36 minutes. Yet, similar to Morris, there's nothing for Gibson to maintain by starting: the team's gonna suck regardless of whether or not he plays and at this point it would behoove Mitch's development to be thrown back into the starting lineup and figure out how to last 30+ minutes. Plus, if you're looking for a backup big that has no problems with lift, enter Kenny Wooten:
Less Taj, more Mitch and Kenny.
4. Reggie Bullock / Wayne Ellington
I'll be honest, coming into the season these were two of the signings I was most excited about. Not necessarily because of the players themselves, but because they suggested a greater emphasis placed on shooting by the front office. The Knicks have actually undergone a slight uptick in three-point attempts, going from 29.5 attempts per game last season to 30.1 attempts this year, yet their league rank has dropped from 22nd to 26th, and neither Bullock nor Ellington look like the answer to that issue. Ellington has been particularly disappointing, and the fact that he only attempts 0.8 two-point field goals compared to 3.5 three pointers makes him an especially predictable matchup for defenses. Moreover, he owns a career 53% true-shooting percentage but it stands at just 46% this season. Bullock is also shooting lower than his career norms and it's safe to assume that both are due for some regression toward their means. Like Gibson, either of these shooters could make for nice throw-ins as part of a larger deal, and while it seems unlikely that either will make much of an impact on this year's Knicks team, their subtraction could free up more minutes to experiment with weirder lineups, particularly RJ at the three. Prior to going down with an ankle injury, Barrett had enjoyed a 13-game stretch of shooting 40% from three and 75% from the free throw line. He leads all rookies in free throw attempts per game, and now that he's made it clear that he already has the body to bang down low with grown men he should be put in lineups that maximize those driving lanes. Neither Bullock or Ellington are bad floor spacers, but ideally any moves that the Knicks make will serve to help their young core get reps at the positions where they can hone in on the most potent parts of their game.
5. Dennis Smith Jr.
Remember DSJ? It's been almost a month since he's gone down with an oblique injury and remains without any timetable for a return. Prior to the mysterious injury, Shams Charania reported that “rival teams believe Dennis Smith Jr. prefers a move from the Knicks. Several teams have made inquiries into the Knicks about Smith.” Any trade likely assumes that Smith Jr. gets healthy and it seems like teams are interested in him as a Fultz-esque flier. It's hard to imagine DSJ going for anything more than a second round pick, which comes down to if the organization believes that he's unsalvageable and no longer worth their time. Not much of Smith Jr.'s game translates to winning basketball, but dealing him now still seems like bad business. I shudder writing this because anything is possible, but DSJ's value can't really get worse. There's no need to retain him as some political statement about the KP trade — everyone knows he sucks, however that offer of a second round pick will still be there in the summer, so why not give him the rest of the season to see if he can rebuild his value to anything more than nothing. It's that or more Kadeem Allen, who definitely sucks.