In this part two of my review of the New York Knicks 2016-17 Season Review, the bench players receive grades.
Coming into this season, the Knicks’ bench was considered a weak-point. There were unknown names and not enough depth for some positions. However, we had some nice surprises from the bench that can play a part for the future of this franchise.
Willy Hernangomez was a second-round draft pick from 2015. However, he did not come over to the States and play for the Knicks until this year. Hernangomez was a pleasant surprise for the Knicks. Even though there were growing pains and inconsistent play, Hernangomez showed flashes and the ability to play in this league. He can become a solid player, alongside Kristaps Porzingis, and secure the franchise’s frontcourt for the future.
He can rebound, score in the paint, and portrayed more confidence in his shot as the year went on. However, he will need to improve on the defensive side of the ball, especially when guarding bigger forwards and centers. He was exposed for his defensive deficiencies when trying to guard bigger and athletic big men. If he can improve his defense, the Knicks might have another future piece to build around.
By watching the Knicks all year, you could easily tell that Kyle O’Quinn was the prankster of this group. Every team needs that “fun and joking guy” in the locker room to keep things loose.
O’Quinn showed signs of improvement in his second year with the Knicks. When he was signed as a free agent in 2015, the Knicks’ fans did not really know who this player was. However, he showed grit and toughness in his first few games with the Knicks and the fans began to like his play. But as the year went on, he got jump shot happy and become an annoyance on offense.
This year, O’Quinn started the year off great. He was not settling for jumpers. He went in the post to score, rebounded with ferocity, and played tough. He played the “blue collar” type of basketball that Knicks’ fans appreciate and love. But he still has not shown enough consistency. If he can play like he did in the first half of this season for a full season, the Knicks have a player, and his grade will be higher next year.
When Rose missed games in the beginning of the season, Brandon Jennings provided a nice spark for this team. He pushed the tempo and helped the team play faster, which led to easier buckets for his teammates. His jumper was average at best, but he portrayed he can setup buckets for his teammates.
As the year went on, Jennings’ contributions declined. His play became stale, which in part could be a fault of the triangle, which is still being imposed on this franchise by Phil Jackson. He was eventually released by the Knicks and signed by the Washington Wizards.
For an undrafted player, Ron Baker showed poise, composure, and gave this team good minutes at the point guard position. There is something to be said about a four-year college player. They seem to not be consumed by the big moments. Baker is a nice young piece going forward. He may not be an elite-talent or even a starter in this league. But Baker can be a nice bench player for the Knicks.
Justin Holiday was the “other guy” that came over in the Derrick Rose deal. Holiday provided instant offense from the bench, and he can shoot the basketball from the perimeter. His lanky wingspan can be used to disrupt the opposition’s back court. He can be a nice piece on a contending team. Additionally, Holiday was the only Knick to play in every single game this season. The Knicks should bring back Holiday for another big reason: to help recruit his brother Jrue Holiday.
Mindaugas Kuzminskas was signed from Lithuania this past offseason. He showed versatility, ability to dribble into the paint, and shoot from downtown. However, is overall game was not too impressive. His defense needs to improve if he wants to play in the NBA. Sometimes, he looked intimated by the bright lights and the moments were too big for him. Even at the age of 27, he looked like a true rookie.
When he plays, Lance Thomas is a difference-maker for this team. He is good on offense, but it’s his defensive play that helps this team the most. The Knicks were one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Therefore, his value on defense cannot be overstated. However, for him to be valuable, he needs to stay healthy for a full season. He was injured again this season, and it seems like he will never play a full season due to injuries. If you are injured, you cannot contribute.
The remaining players, Sasha Vujacic, Maurice Ndour, Marshall Plumlee, and Chasson Randle will not get grades. We know what Vujacic is at this point in his career. Ndour, Plumlee, Randle did not get enough playing time in meaningful games. However, Plumlee and Randle are two players to keep an eye on. If given a shot, they can hopefully get more minutes next year
The bench was not as weak as it was thought to be in the beginning of the season. This unit showed more hustle and heart on defense. At the end of the year, some of these players showed the coaching staff that they deserved a spot next year. Hopefully, the Knicks recognize the good players and give them a shot for next season and beyond.