Phil Jackson (kind of) left the comfort of the Montana wilderness to bring a title – or at least credibility – to his floundering former squad. If Jackson was running a small-market team, he’d be thoroughly applauded for his offseason work, and he’s getting plenty of praise as it is. Drafting Kristaps Porzingis is a high risk-high reward move. In free agency, Jackson went about rebuilding the frontcourt.
Last year the frontcourt in New York was rough, to say the least. The Knickerbockers rolled out players like Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, Lou Amundson, Quincy Acy and Bargs. Any way you slice it, that’s horrible.
Jackson addressed the weak frontcourt early in the offseason by first drafting Zinger and then signing Robin Lopez and Kyle O’Quinn to reasonable contracts. Phil also brought in recent draft bust Derrick Williams to try to save.
Let’s not look past their misses – they were bad. A large market team shouldn’t struggle to pull in big names. The marketing capital of America provides money to athletes well beyond what they will make over the course of their deal. The Knicks missed on LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe, who elected to spend his winters in Milwaukee. David West took a jab at the organization when he spurned them:
West said the rumors about him going to the Knicks are ridiculous; he wants to be with a contender; the Knicks don't qualify.
— Bob Kravitz (@bkravitz) July 2, 2015
Their offseason moves aren’t taking them to the Finals. Hell, it might not even take them to the playoffs. It does, however, offer a bit of credibility to future free agents that the Knicks aren’t the fumbling organization they’re made out to be. Jackson isn’t safe from criticism, but he’s had a nice offseason.
Their new frontcourt is going to offer versatility. It’s a safe bet to pencil in RoLo as starting center for as many games as he’s healthy; given his past, that much is hard to predict. Anthony is going to be back healthy to presumably play some small-ball power forward, although there are other options.
Phil Jackson Derek Fisher could slot O’Quinn in at power forward if he wants to add muscle up front, while Porzingis and Williams can play some 4 as well.
With all this in mind, let’s take a closer look at Lopez and O’Quinn, two players who will be counted on to help turn the Knicks around.
Lopez probably won’t be on the next recruiting trip the Knicks take, but potential free agents will take note of his presence. Last season with Portland, Lopez averaged 9.6 points and 6.7 boards on a team that looked like a powerhouse in the West before injuries dismantled them.
Defensively, RoLo isn’t Rudy Gobert, Dwight Howard or any other elite rim protector, but he’s pretty darn good. Last season, according to SportVU data, Lopez held his opponents to 46.6 percent shooting on two-point attempts and 54.7 percent on shots within six feet. Both marks were below the usual field goal percentage of those players.
Dane Carbaugh of Sporting News did a good job of looking at Lopez on defense:
Lopez in the pick-and-roll isn’t elite, but he makes sure he does his job of protecting the rim. Lopez tends to hang near the rim, leading to some open mid-range shots, which isn’t the worst thing in the world:
@mrwagner25 most just a hang back guy. Effective deterring at the rim, gives up a ton in the midrange though.
— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) July 9, 2015
Offensively, Lopez has gone from limited to serviceable. While Lopez does a lot of his work in the paint, defenders have to honor him on the elbows. In a league where spacing is everything, moving a big man out of the paint, especially for Carmelo to drive, is huge:
The best part about this signing? The Lopez twins take NYC. If you’re picturing a two bedroom loft in NYC, you’re probably right. The next bet is what networks jump all over this reality show.
O’Quinn only played roughly 16 minutes per game last season on a Magic team trying to find playing time for some of its young players. The 24-year-old stands at 6’10, 250 pounds, and he’s going to carve space in the lane. The Knicks are STEALING the big fella with a four-year, $16 million deal.
Most don’t know about O’Quinn, because honestly, how could you? He’ll get a chance to show what he’s got in New York and will pleasantly surprise Knicks fans.
His size leads him to be a capable defender with a high ceiling. Last season with the Magic, the team had a defensive rating of 102.5 while he was on the court and 105.9 with him on the pine, per NBA.com. Granted, O’Quinn was getting a lot of time with reserves, which can skew the data, but still solid nonetheless. There’s certainly some solid potential on that end.
Offensively, he shoots it at a pretty good clip in the paint and can stretch the floor a little bit as well. He shot poorly from behind the arc, but he’s not afraid to hang out there and drag his defender with him. With consistent playing time, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that he could increase his percentage.
There’s no arguing the Knicks missed out on top-tier free agents, but they signed players who are going to help them increase their win total. Once the team shows a culture of winning again, it’s fair to assume free agents will be more open-minded about signing with New York. For right now, Phil is learning on the fly.