The central storylines involving the New York Knicks in free agency will primarily focus on the players at the top of the food chain. With approximately $35 million in cap space, the Knicks have been attached to the cream of the crop in free agency. This includes top point guard targets Fred VanVleet and Gordon Hayward.
Those players at the top are important, but a major key (endorsed by DJ Khaled) to building a quality roster in the NBA is depth and finding players who could fit a team’s rotations and fill a key role. Here’s a look at seven sneaky good targets for the Knicks to look at in this whirlwind of free agency.
1. Shaquille Harrison
There are a few relative unknowns in free agency, but Harrison takes the cake. At the age of 27, Harrison has only played just shy of 2,300 minutes in his NBA career. The athletic Harrison profiles as a potential disruptor on the defensive end. His long arms allow him to play the passing lanes and cause havoc. Harrison averaged an impressive 3.1 steals per 100 possessions and was fourth in the NBA in deflections per 36 minutes (4.9).
Harrison’s outside shot is still a work in progress, but he made improvements last year, canning 38.1 percent of his three-point shots on 42 attempts. Still, the Knicks could use a springy athlete on the perimeter that complements coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive philosophy.
2. Kent Bazemore
The 2019-20 season was a weird year for Bazemore. He struggled in Portland at the start of the season, shooting under 40 percent from the field. After a midseason trade to Sacramento, Bazemore rose from the ashes shooting 38 percent from three in 25 games with the Kings. Bazemore’s always been a solid defender on the wing and is a budget 3-and-D option.
Though Bazemore can be a bit erratic on the offensive end, he’s still someone the Knicks should look at as an option in free agency on a short one or two-year deal.
3. Shabazz Napier
If the Knicks strike out on VanVleet, they will need a playmaking point guard on the roster. With the inconsistent Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith disappointing on the offensive end this past season, Napier would be a nice stopover option at point guard. He’s not a long-term solution, but Napier can keep the offense humming and allow the Knicks to potentially improve their playmaking after a disastrous offensive season last year at point guard.
Napier’s never going to be a lead point guard, but he’s consistently improved as a shot creator and passer throughout his six-year career. He’s also a decent outside shooter, converting 35.8 percent of his three-point attempts in his time split with the Minnesota TImberwolves and Washington Wizards.
4. Derrick Jones, Jr.
A former slam dunk contest champion, Jones’ athleticism is unrivaled in the NBA. Though he won’t bring much in terms of shooting (career 28.2 percent shooter from three), Jones’ value as a versatile player could open up different lineups for the Knicks. He’s just 6-foot-6, but possesses a wingspan of 7-feet. In Miami, Jones flourished at times as a small ball center. His ability to play multiple positions erupted as Miami used him at the top of their 2-3 zone in the bubble.
The Knicks lacked positional versatility last year in the frontcourt with a million centers on the roster. Having a player like Jones who is capable of manning all three frontcourt positions off the bench would be helpful. He’s also just 23 years old and could improve immensely down the line.
5. Garrett Temple
Temple’s option for $5 million was recently declined by Brooklyn. Though he’s getting up there in age, the 34-year old Temple is a solid option on the wing that will receive some attention in free agency. Temple has shot 35 percent from three over the past four seasons and has provided solid defense throughout his entire career.
Don’t expect an abundance of shot creation from the guard, but he could be a nice short-term option for the Knicks who need some two-guard help after letting go of Wayne Ellington.
6. D.J. Augustin
After shooting over 40 percent from three during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, Augustin fell to 34.8 percent this past season. He just turned 33, and history does show that point guards under 6-feet do not age well. Still, Augustin has proven that he’s a solid playmaker (6.6 assists per 36 minutes) and is capable of creating his own shot on a regular basis. Like Napier, he could be an option if the Knicks are unable to discover a point guard capable of shooting from the outside and providing stability in the backcourt.
7. Cheick Diallo
Big men are not en vogue in the NBA right now and Cheick Diallo is a perfect example. The size of a small forward 15 years ago, the 6-foot-8 Diallo has spent a good portion of his career playing as a backup center. Last year with Phoenix, 82 percent of his minutes came at the pivot position.
Much of Diallo’s damage is done in the paint as a pick and roll option. 61.3 percent of Diallo’s shots came within three feet according to Basketball Reference and he shot 77 percent on those shots. A 24-year old, Diallo could be a nice depth option for the Knicks late in free agency.