The Knicks are currently losers of 16 straight games and have the worst record in the NBA with under half a season to play. This may be reason enough for some to tune out, but the team's collection of young talent now has a touch over two months to develop their game over extended NBA minutes.
Considering these neophytes make up the entirety of the Knicks' books beyond this summer, it's as good a time as any to get used to seeing them, especially with the team's future in their hands. Here are a few reasons to watch New York and its youngsters play out 2018-19:
Dennis Smith Jr., staying solid
The key asset of the blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade, Smith Jr. has had free reign over the Knicks offense since his acquisition. In that time, the hyper-athletic point guard has had his highs -- a career-high 31 points on just 15 shots against the Pistons, including a few Dunk Contest-worthy throwdowns -- and lows -- a couple of sub-35 percent shooting nights.
Throughout, he's been exciting to watch. Smith loves to push the ball and find opportunities in full or semi-transition. He has no hesitancy in trying to slam it all over someone and his bursts of preed show why he was an easy lottery pick.
The biggest pros in his game are his vision and ability to get to the rim. He's already an impressive passer despite the low assist numbers, constantly looking for his roll man and lofting on-target lobs.
His weak side awareness is decent, watching it get better will be fun for Knicks fans. But Smith Jr. is a score-first guy right now, and for good reason. His herky-jerky hesitations and cunning crossovers help him find gaps for his blistering acceleration. He's got the strength to be a menace once he's at the rim, just see the 19 free throws he attempted in Detroit. His issue is remaining consistent.
Smith Jr. is usually only as good as his decision-making. When he settles for step-back jumpers or contested threes, his efficiency tanks and his creation is nullified. An aggressive Smith Jr. who is constantly looking at the rim or his teammates and looks to his jumper only when there's space would be a legitimate offensive threat every night. His eyes can narrow to just the hoop at times, but none of this is new for a young point guard. Watching him potentially make stried in these areas as the season unfolds will be exciting.
The biggest piece of his game that needs work is his defense. DSJ will die on plays quickly, succumbing to his habit of ball-watching and lose interest in getting over screens after the first couple in a set. A lot of this could be conserving energy for the offensive end, but he'll have to get significantly better on this end to be a starter on a competitive team. All in good time, and he'll have these next months to pick up some things.
Mitchell Robinson developing under DeAndre Jordan
Speaking of picking up things, Robinson now has his archetypal mentor in Jordan to learn from, at least until April. Though Jordan's best defensive days are behind him, serving as primary rim-protector for an NBA defense takes a lot of knowledge and intuition -- usually the biggest hurdles for a raw prospect like Mitch. Watching and talking to Jordan will help him know how to use his length, read the floor on both ends and give him the model of player he should try and be.
It's possible progress has been made already. Robinson has averaged nearly a double-double since the trade, shooting 76 percent from the floor and blocking two shots a night. He's a -1 through those four games, three of which were double-digit losses. Seeing him hit a new level to wind out the season is a scary thought.
The 20-year-old seven-footer might lead the team in "wow" moments per minute. There's seemingly no shot he can't get to, with perimeter jumpers getting sent into stands on a near nightly basis. He's developed some chemistry with his young guards, they know to look for him on the roll every trip down. MSG officials should worry about his hands getting tangled up in some retired jerseys when he reaches up for a lob.
The biggest flaw of his game was his tendency to foul, but even that has seen improvement over these last few outings. Defensively he can still get impatient and make the wrong decision, but these will come in time. He's already having a historic season, blocking 9.9% of shots, which only two players have eclipsed in over 600 minutes of play: Manute Bol and Alonzo Mourning. That is not small company. This kid is arguably New York's top prospect, and should be must-see TV every night.
Kevin Knox, figuring his game out
It hasn't been a strong statistical season for Knox, but there have definitely been moments of promise. Knox shot 38.4 percent from deep in the month of December, had a 17-point first quarter and is generally looking for his shot more since the early-season injury. With his biggest pre-Draft questions being what type of player he'll be and will he continue to be passive, the first is still a mystery while the second is clearing itself up.
There's still a lot to figure out with Knox. He has the body to be an excellent defender and is a high-I.Q. player, but he's struggled on that end. He has the scorer mentality but the shots just haven't fallen and he hasn't gotten to the free throw line enough. At times he's got a serious knack for setting up teammates but once he decides he's looking to score it's rare he finds the open man.
There's no serious concerns here, Knox is 19 after all, but these next few months can serve as a proving ground for the rookie. It would be beneficial for head coach David Fizdale to run a few more plays for him, but even in a more freewheeling system Knox getting minutes and shots, trying new things and sorting out where he'll earn his money is reason enough to watch his growth.