The New York Knicks took a big step forward towards rebuilding for the future when they drafted Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant in the past draft. Of course the mandate in New York is still to make the playoffs after handing Carmelo Anthony a max extension last summer, so the team also added veterans Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez in free agency after missing out on the top targets, and they also kept Jose Calderon.
Derek Fisher will have to find the balance between giving youngsters enough time to develop while simultaneously using lineups that have proven players on them. It’s the reason why Porzingis, while one of the more tantalizing young prospects in the league, might have to come off the bench, even though it currently looks like Fisher wants to start him. When it comes to Grant, both the team and the player might be better served by having him in the starting lineup.
I should clarify that it has almost nothing to do with incumbent starter Jose Calderon, who’s still the better player. The problem is he’s 34 years old and only has two seasons left on his contract. He’s not part of the Knicks’ future in any way. That doesn’t mean he’s not valuable now, but ignoring the fact that he’s not part of the core going forward would be reckless. It’s understandable for Fisher to want to go with a 10-year pro who can still play, but it might not be what’s best for the Knicks long term.
While having a veteran lead by example and allow a rookie to adjust to the league is often the preferred course of action for many franchises, Grant isn’t your typical point-guard prospect. At 23 years of age he’s a little on the older side, which means he has the maturity many other guys who enter the league in their teens haven’t developed. He does need to add some muscle to be better on the defensive end and finish through contact, but he’s big at 6‘4″ and showed a lot of poise at Notre Dame. He could potentially be a decent starter at the NBA level in the future. He also seems ready to get his feet wet now.
Grant’s seven points, four assists and two rebounds in 24 minutes a game in preseason aren’t eye-popping, but show he can contribute in several areas. He’s a floor general who can control the pace and get the ball to his teammates without turning it over, which is rare for a rookie. He can attack the rim, lead the break and has shown a knack for getting to the free throw line in preseason. He’s not the shooter Calderon is, but showed in college that he can hit open threes. His defense is a work in progress, although having another player with wing size out there could help the Knicks switch a little more and make up for any individual deficiencies.
Just as Grant adds some needed quickness and size to a starting lineup that could benefit from it, Calderon would provide a stabilizing force to a bench unit that’s looked a little chaotic at times. The Knicks have veterans coming off the bench, but not necessarily reliable players. Sasha Vujacic has spent the last five years overseas. Kevin Seraphin and Derrick Williams never found a permanent role on their teams, and Kyle O’Quinn lost his place in the Magic’s rotation last season. Porzingis (if he doesn’t start) and Langston Galloway are projects. A rookie might not be the best leader for those guys.
There’s also a question of durability. Calderon has missed more than five games in seven of his 10 season and is coming off a year in which he could only suit up for half the games. He took the summer off, but he’s still an older player at the tail end of his career. It’s hard to envision him giving the Knicks 30 minutes a game for 80 nights again. Injuries are obviously impossible to predict, but it seems more likely Grant — who’s young and ws durable during his collegiate career — could stay healthy, preventing the shuffling of lineups. That’s important for any team, but especially for one that’s added so many pieces as the Knicks have. Continuity leads to chemistry and New York needs to develop some quickly.
Alas, this is all moot, at least for the time being. Fisher will start Calderon as the Knicks chase a playoff spot:
@RAYROBERT9 It's clear that that want Calderon there as a starter. Fish has said he views him as a starter all along.
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) October 13, 2015
After a disaster of a 2014-15 season and with a couple of postseason slots in the East looking attainable, it’s tempting to ride veterans to 35 wins and see where the chips fall. Yet, like many things the Knicks have done in the past decade, it seems a little shortsighted. Starting Porzingis would change that outlook a bit, but going a step further and starting Grant as well would make some sense given the roster. It’d balance out lineups, could kick-start the developing of chemistry between the veterans on the teams with the youngsters and he doesn’t figure to be a big downgrade over Calderon.
Grant will start the season off the bench. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes over the course of the season. If it does, it could tell us that the Knicks are ready to go all in on their prospects.