Written by Kevin Meng
Yesterday was part 1 of the free agent targets. And now here are the free agents that the Knicks should target in 2016. In order of importance.
#1) Hassan Whiteside
Projected average salary: 22 million per
Hassan Whiteside is the on the cusp of becoming the first player in league history to multiply his salary by 20 from one season to the next. Count Blockula went from being an obscure NBA misfit playing out contracts in Lebanon to a bonafide NBA star. He averaged 14 points, 12 boards, and nearly 4 blocks per game, all in under 30 minutes of playing time per contest. His rim protection is really what makes him so valuable, though. Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan will have nightmares of him for years to come. Had he not gone down, I’d have expect both of them to turn into raging alcoholics suffering from PTSD.
He gets lost on defense at times, lacks focus every now and then, and is still developing his offensive game, but scoring comes easy when you’re in the top .01% of humans in history in terms of size. Hassan get ball. Hassan dunk. His contract will be for less than the max for Batum or Conley, and the thought of KP AND Whiteside patrolling the paint together in their primes is so exciting that right-wing political groups would consider it scandalous, and it still isn’t legal in Mississippi. Despite our deficiencies at guard(which could be rectified through trades, especially if RoLo becomes redundant), this guy is priority #1. He isn’t so much a 2-t free agent as he is just a foundational franchise piece. He does happen to fit the age bracket we need.
#2) Kent Bazemore
Projected average salary: 15 million per
Bazemore isn’t going to blow anyone away or leave anyone’s jaw hanging low for too long, but what he will do is give the Knicks a reliable 12ish points every night, and, more importantly, the consistent three point shooting and stingy perimeter defense that this team so sorely lacked. He was only 36% from 3 this season overall (still solid), but he was a killer from the corners (a shot he will get plenty of), and he even shot well around the rim (60% from 0-3 feet). He was a net positive in every defensive metric this season for ATL, including being a +3.8 in defensive winshares, and at 6-5 he is lanky enough to guard multiple positions.
With Melo, KP, and hopefully an improved Grant at point guard, the Knicks won’t need someone to create offense, they’ll need someone to hit 3’s, get to the rim off of fakes, and play defense. He has improved every year, and at 26, he might still have a little more room to grow. He definitely isn’t the second most talented player on this list, but he is priority number 2 because of A) how he fits and B) how realistic of a target he is. The average NBA starter is going to get 15 per in this inflated market, so expect the bidding on him to start in that range. Giving him 15/16 per season would eat up only about half of our space, and leave us plenty flexible for 17’. Imagine KB at the 2 instead of he who shall not be named (that’s Sasha Vujacic, by the way).
#3) Evan Fournier
Projected average salary: 18 million
Haw Haw! C’est la vie, mon ami! This sharpshooting Frenchman is the best thing to come out of Saint Maurice, France since, well, ever. At just 23 years old, he is probably the wing with the highest upside on the market this offseason. When you put up 15ppg on 59% true-shooting and a gaudy 40% from bomb territory, the league takes notice. The best thing about him? He’s only going to get better on both ends. He has steadily improved his scoring every season in the league, and still managed 15ppg despite a low USG%. At 6-7 he has the tools to be a serviceable defender, and best of all is that he can get to the rim, and does so more often than you’d think– nearly 1/3rd of his shots this season came within 3 feet of the cup, and he converted .634% of attempts. He isn’t just a sniper from range.
There’s nobody in Orlando with the offensive talent to rival Melo or GOATstaps Porzingis, so there’s no reason to think that Monsieur Fournier won’t have an easier time scoring in the Jardin du Madison Square. He’s a restricted free agent, so the Knicks will have to overpay to pry him from Orlando, but the Magic have been pretty open about their plan to chase big-name free agents. Paying Fournier 18ish per season in the hopes he grows wouldn’t be the end of the world, especially since the cap is going to rise next season, and that might just be average starter money by then (dear god, what have we done?). The reality is that with this cap climate, teams will be in bidding wars. And with further impending spikes in the next three years, it’ll be hard anyone signed this year to be on a bad deal. His max will start at $21.5, expect him to get close to it. Someone will offer him more than he’s worth.
#4) Allen Crabbe
Projected average salary: 14 ish
At first glance, Crabbe doesn’t look like much: 10 points and 2.7 boards per contest; however, if we look a bit deeper, it’s easy to see why snatching him from Portland would be a deft pull for the Knickerbockers. First, Crabbe is a sniper from deep, shooting 39% from 3 this season and a gentleman’s 43% on corner bombs. Second, Crabbe is only 24, meaning he works fine no matter which way we go. What I really like about him, though, is that he has upside and is better than his numbers represent. When extrapolated out to per 36 minutes a game (he only got 26 per game), his #’s begin to jump out: 14ppg/3.7rpg. And that’s all as an afterthought on a Portland team dominated by Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum. At 6’6 he can play either wing spot, and he won’t cost nearly as much as the others on the list. Whether in the playoffs next season or in the draft lottery, a 2nd unit headed by Crabbe would help the team solidify the bench for the foreseeable future.
#5) Harrison Barnes
Projected average salary: probably more than he’s worth
Harrison Barnes is more confusing than David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (what is that movie about, anyway?). The reason he isn’t higher on the list is because it’s impossible to tell where he fits with us and within the league from here. Is he a go-to guy, capable of being a top 3 option on a great offense or is he just looking great because the Warriors are an all-time great squad? Is he the guy that can carry the scoring load or is he just a compliment?
What we do know is that he averaged nearly 12/5 this season as a spectator on Golden State (his USG% was below 16!). He is a legit 3 point threat (38% on the year), and is known as a more-than- capable defender, a player who regularly guards 3’s and 4’s on the perimeter and in the post. The Dub’s were a gaudy +10 with him on the court per 100 possessions, and at 6’8, 210, I can’t help but think that he’d fit like a glove with Melo and KP on the frontline.
If we decide to part ways with Melo and go young, then he’s only 24, and capable of playing the 3 or the 4. He’s shown flashes of his athletic ability at times, and even has a nice little post game. I’m not so sure even he knows who he is in the league at this point, so how can anyone else? If his situation weren’t such an enigma, and if the team didn’t have Melo in his spot already, then he’d easily be a bigger priority; still, it never hurts having an athletic, sweet-shooting defensive cog that’s 6’8 on the team. Is his max deal of 20 + per worth the gamble that he’s the next superstar in waiting? That’s hard to say. But since giving a bad contract will be hard this offseason, I don’t see any reason not to spend Dolan’s money.
The Knicks are chugging along smoothly in 2nd class on mediocrity railroad, heading for one of the biggest forks in the road in franchise history (chances that Kevin Seraphin is excited to hear the word fork?). Do they overpay undeserving players and max out now to give Melo a crack at losing in 6 games to Cleveland or do they deal him, go young, and try to build around KP? The problem with this offseason is that there are no players deserving of the max, and nobody capable of vaulting the Knickerbockers into contention. Signing two-timeline free agents helps in both the short-term and the long-term. They’re good enough to help next season and still leave the team plenty flexible for 2017 when we will be immediately disappointed as all of the beautiful free agents choose far better looking suitors at the offseason dance.
Stay tuned to the New York Knicks podcast to keep up on all of the drubbings the blue & orange take next season!