The Knicks were one of the most improved teams in the NBA last season and they did it on the strength of value signings. Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks were two forgotten free agents who made major contributions, helping the team go from the NBA cellar to its first playoff appearance in eight years. The Knicks enter free agency with a projected $52.6 million in cap space per Spotrac.
Though they have been connected to some of the top free agents like Kyle Lowry, Evan Fournier, Lonzo Ball and Spencer Dinwiddie, it’s not a guarantee that they will be able to sign any of those players. Also, if their own free agents such as Derrick Rose, Reggie Bullock, Burks or Noel become too expensive, there will be other options. Having a backup plan is smart.
Below some of the upper echelon players, there’s a trove of role players and good fits who could sneakily help the Knicks make improvements on their playoff appearance last season. Here’s a look at some of the good value free agents the Knicks can find in the mid and lower tiers of free agency.
Jackson made himself a large chunk of money after a great playoff run with the Los Angeles Clippers. The guard averaged 17.8 points and 3.4 assists during Los Angeles’ run to the conference finals and hit numerous clutch shots along the way. Jackson makes sense as a combo guard who is capable of playing off the ball, as well as operating out of the pick and roll. He’ll likely be making over eight figures annually on his next deal.
McDermott is one of the best players in the league in moving without the ball. He averaged a career-high 13.6 points last season for the Indiana Pacers. The combo forward formed a nice partnership with Domantas Sabonis as he constantly came off of screens that Sabonis set and finished well in the paint and on the perimeter. Though McDermott isn’t much of a defender or rebounder, the 6-foot-8 forward’s ability to draw attention from the defense is a plus. A former Knick, the 29-year old McDermott could really help juice up the Knicks offense.
Signed to a minimum deal last year by the Los Angeles Clippers, Batum is one of the hottest role player free agents on the market after a bounce back season in Los Angeles. During the Clippers’ playoff run, Batum showed he was capable of playing multiple positions on the court. Though he’s not a major shot creator, Batum can defend, knock down threes (40.4 percent from three) and move the ball. He would provide a nice alternative if the Knicks ever embraced switching principles in a playoff series.
Zeller is likely switching teams after the Charlotte Hornets acquired center Mason Plumlee in a trade on draft night. Though Zeller isn’t a master of anything, he excels in many different facets of the game.
Zeller’s a strong screener, a solid pick and roll finisher and a good rebounding center. Though he’s neither a rim protector nor outside shooter, Zeller is efficient within his skill set. If Noel ever becomes too pricey, Zeller could be a nice alternative option as a backup center. The only concern is that Zeller has struggled to stay healthy. He’s missed at least 20 games in five seasons of his eight-year career.
One of the best reserve point guards in the NBA last season, Payne is hitting free agency at the right time. Shooting a career-high 44 percent from three, Payne showed he was the perfect backup to Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul. Payne had his moments in the postseason, like when he scored 29 points and had nine assists while filling in for Paul. Able to create his own shot off the dribble and a quality set up guard, Payne could make sense as a short-term starter for the Knicks until they can find that star level player at the position.
A career 38 percent shooter from three, Green is a legitimate stretch four. Green’s not going to wow you in any special way, but he’s capable of playing the four and the five positions while being able to hold his own on the glass. As the Knicks saw in the playoffs, spacing is a major priority, and playing a player like Green at the center with Julius Randle would’ve alleviated some of those issues.
Depending on what happens with Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons on the trade market, Korkmaz could be an attractive free agent to pursue. At 24, Korkmaz is a deep threat, making 12.2 threes per 100 possessions this past season. He’s improved slightly on the defensive end and he could be had, especially if the 76ers are concerned with spending while trying to re-sign Danny Green. The Knicks need shooting, and Korkmaz could fit that role as a spacer well.
With the Charlotte Hornets adding guard James Bouknight in the draft, and the presence of guards LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier on the roster, Charlotte decided not to offer Monk a qualifying offer. The decision made the shooting guard an unrestricted free agent. Monk is coming off of a season where he shot 40.1 percent from three on 212 attempts.
The guard has also made modest improvements on the defensive end and as a playmaker. The Knicks had an interest in drafting Monk in 2017, but ended up selecting Frank Ntilikina. They also have viewed him as a possible trade target before. Monk can create his own shot which would make him someone the Knicks should consider taking a flyer on.
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