By: Scott Brock-Wilson and Justin Lynch
The next two teams in our series are revealed.
Click on the previous sets of rankings to view them:
#30 and #29
#28 and #27
#26 and #25
24. New York Knicks
Last Season: 17-65, Missed Playoffs (Last in East)
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Arron Afflalo, Kristaps Porzingis, Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn, Kevin Seraphin
Key Offseason Losses: Andrea Bargnani, Shane Larkin
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Jose Calderon
SG: Arron Afflalo
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Kristaps Porzingis
C: Robin Lopez
Key Role Players:
1. Langston Galloway
2. Kyle O’Quinn
3. Jerian Grant
SBW Season Outlook:
For Many teams, the Knicks’ offseason would’ve been considered very good, but that is not the case in New York. The Knicks landed a respectable starting center (Lopez), a guy with a very high ceiling (Porzingis), a solid starter and even better sixth man scorer (Afflalo), a quality backup center (O’Quinn), and, oh by the way, they get back a supposedly healthy Carmelo Anthony. This team has now made their roster respectable, not good, but respectable.
Let’s start with Anthony. He only played 40 games last year due to injury and had Knee surgery in February. So far, his shot has looked normal since coming back from injury, which is what we expected from one of the top scorers in the NBA. When healthy last year, he averaged over 24 points and nearly seven boards. His usage rate was at 32, which is consistent with the year prior. However, that is also attributed to the lack of offense around Anthony as Bargnani was the next leading scorer on the team.
The scorer the Knicks brought in this offseason was Afflalo. He will be in charge of either complementing Anthony’s scoring when on the floor with him, or being the primary scorer when Anthony is not on the floor. Additional scoring off the bench will be provided by Galloway, but the Knicks cannot count on him because his sample size is just too small. He averaged nearly 12 points in 45 games, but had a measly PER of 12.3.
Obviously their most intriguing addition was that of Porzingis. He is at least 7 feet tall with a 7’6 wingspan, but only 230 pounds. There is no doubt the main concern is toughness and whether he has the build to play in the league. He has a very good shot extending all the way out to three and a nice touch. This will allow the Knicks to space the floor more for Anthony to create driving lanes. I know it’s only preseason, but I think it may show what is a sign to come this year for Pozingis. In just over 20 minutes of playing time in each, Porzingis had only two boards to go along with six points (two threes) in the first game, but bounced back nicely with 10 boards and nine points in the second game. I will expect him to be inconsistent on the boards and to average single digits in terms of scoring this year.
The bolstered the front line this offseason with a goal of trying to get big men who can protect the rim, which was badly needed last season after practically giving away Tyson Chandler. So they signed Lopez, O’Quinn and Seraphin. Lopez is exactly the defensive anchor they were lacking as he holds opponents to only 45% from within three feet.
However, when looking at all of this, one has to remember that it is not necessarily good to have a bunch of good, older role players. This creates a scenario where the team is stuck in no-man’s-land, where they’re not good enough to be a contender, yet not bad enough to get a good pick. Now, the Knicks have not reached this scenario (because they are not good enough), but they do have to watch out for that. The Knicks do not want the older players taking away experience and important minutes that normally go to developing players just to barely miss the playoffs (or get the 8th seed) and get a worse pick. It’s not worth it Knicks fans.
JL Best-case scenario:
Melo returns to form and even starts to try on defense (maybe that’s far-fetched). Lopez’s rim protection and ability to dive on pick-n-rolls opens up space for Afflalo and Porzingis to shoot. Porzingis is more NBA-ready than people initially believed, and he proves Phil Jackson might not be a terrible GM. Derek Fisher does like Jason Kidd and figures out how to coach, as this team squeaks out a .500 record, and grabs the eight seed.
JL Worst-case scenario:
Porzingis shows little promise and shades of Nikoloz Tskitishvili plays in everyone’s mind. Melo demands a trade, but no one will take on his contract. Derek Fisher is fired before Matt Barnes gets a hold of him and Jose Calderon is finally done. Robin Lopez gets suspended for a month for beating up a mascot and the team has one of the worst record in the East. They convey their first rounder to Denver in a pick swap, but then immediately are forced to send Denver’s pick to Toronto. They lose out on the KD sweepstakes and are in the same spot next year.
Projected Record: 28-54
23. Sacramento Kings
Last Season: 29-53, Missed Playoffs (13th in West)
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Rajon Rondo, Willie Cauley-Stein
Key Offseason Losses: Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Ben McLemore
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: DeMarcus Cousins
C: Kostas Koufos
Key Role Players:
1. Darren Collison
2. Willie Cauley-Stein
3. Marco Belinelli, Omri Casspi
JL Season Outlook:
Ahh, the Kings. The only team in the NBA to throw away valuable first rounders and a top-10 pick to clear cap space. With that cap space, they got rejected by Wes Matthews and Monta Ellis, who took less money to avoid Sacramento’s dumpster fire. And if there wasn’t enough drama, Boogie Cousins (their best player) and George Karl (their head coach) openly hate each other. Oh, I almost forgot. They recently signed Marshall Henderson to a contract. Yes, that Marshall Henderson.
But let’s get off the Kings for a second here and look at the positives. For all their front office troubles, they still have Boogie Cousins, one of the best post scorers in the NBA and still just 25 year old, and Ben McLemore, their 2013 first round selection who showed some real improvement in year two (enough so that the team felt comfortable dumping Nik Stauskas for, well, nothing) . McLemore is 22 years old, and looks to keep improving in a system that allows him to grow, while not having the burden of being the go-to-guy.
The draft was maybe the biggest day for the Kings offseason. The Kings selected the uber-athletic, 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein. Cauley-Stein was the defensive leader on a near-perfect Kentucky team and, I may be reaching here, he has the potential to transform a defense with his unique ability to pick up guards off pick-n-rolls on the perimeter, while also being a menace at the rim. Cauley-Stein can guard three spots right now, and he’s only getting better. Offensively, he was very limited in college, but despite not having a post game, he will learn to dive on pick-n-rolls and cause defenses to at least pay attention to him. He has also been reportedly working on his jump shot. Don’t expect him to come in with a sudden ability to shoot, but all signs point to him being able to eventually become a consistent mid-range shooter.
The big free agent that landed in Sacramento was former all-star Rajon Rondo. Rondo was poison to a previously deadly Dallas offense, and he is now years and an ACL tear removed from his peak. At 29, Rondo still can’t shoot, but much of his game is still intact. The question is whether he shows up or not. Rondo has a history of fighting with players and coaches, but above all else, he’s a competitor. Rondo likely won’t be of much help, but playing in a contract year and having the chance to help bring a team from the dungeon of the NBA, while playing in an up-tempo offense could be good for Rondo and his night-in-night-out effort.
Through all the commotion in Sacramento, the Kings actually have decent pieces. If Cauley-Stein can contribute sooner rather than later, he can complement Cousins well defensively. Add a Rondo that’s working hard to the mix and the three have a lot of potential defensively. Rudy Gay won’t help much on that end, but his rebounding will complement the two bigs well, not to mention he’s a 20 points/game scorer and shot 46% from the floor last year.
Other role players including Kosta Koufos and Darren Collison will help the effort, and guys like Marco Belinelli and Omri Casspi will be deadly floor spacers for Rondo and Cauley-Stein.
The Kings will likely struggle again, but after seeing their start to last season and their new additions, don’t be surprised to see the Kings make a run at .500
SBW Best-case scenario:
Boogie continues to be a top ten player in the league and decides to play defense. McLemore is finally able to break out in his third season now without Stauskas looming behind him trying to take his spot. Rondo returns to his form two years ago in Boston, as Collison builds off of last season’s impressive performance (16/5.5/3). Koufos shocks the world and is worth the money, and Cauley-Stein turns out to be one of the best defenders in the NBA right away. He also develops more of an offensive game learning from Boogie & co. Karl and Boogie hash out their differences as somehow Karl gets this team full of strong personalities to mesh. They make a push for the 8th seed and are playoff contender.
SBW Worst-case scenario:
EVERYTHING blows up. Henderson finds himself back in jail. Rondo is a head case, constantly arguing with Karl, Cousins and Gay, and doesn’t like how Collison is getting a fair amount of minutes. Boogie demands a trade, even after Divac fires Karl. The team crumbles as the season continues finding themselves near the bottom of the competitive Western conference.
Projected Record: 30-52