The New York Knicks spent an exorbitant amount of money this off-season to solve multiple positions of weakness. Having secured the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference last season, the team did more than enough to increase their odds of placing even better during the 2021-22 season.
Their free-agent acquisitions will play a big part in taking a step forward this upcoming year, including the retention of three familiar faces that were preparing to hit the market.
Grading the New York Knicks free agent signings:
1.) C: Nerlens Noel
With Mitchell Robinson playing in just 31 games last season, Nerlens Noel was forced into a more significant role. Averaging 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and shooting 61.4% from the field, Noel had one of his best years to date. However, his biggest impact came on defense, where he blocked 2.2 shots per contest and stole the ball 1.1 times on average. He was a maestro in the paint, meeting players at the rim to reject shots.
While Noel’s stats donâ€™t stand out, a lot of his value doesnâ€™t show up on the stat sheet. The Knicks seemingly overspent a bit on his retention, extending him on a three-year, $27.7 million deal. However, it is essentially a two-year contract with the third year not guaranteed. Paying him nearly $10 million is quite a lofty amount for a backup center, but the value he provides cannot go unnoticed.
2.) PG: Derrick Rose
The very moment the Knicks acquired Derrick Rose from the Detroit Pistons at the deadline, the team took a massive step forward. It is clear that Rose is more than capable of being a starting point guard in the NBA, but age has certainly taken its toll on his stamina. With Elfred Payton offering little to nothing during the postseason, Rose was forced to play more minutes, picking up small injuries that impacted his production and efficiency.
Nonetheless, he averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 assists, and shot a career-high 41% from three with the Knicks last season over 35 games.
After realizing how much gas Rose has left in the tank, president Leon Rose elected to re-sign him on a three-year, $43.56 million deal. This is another contract that has no guarantees for the third season, and pairing ham with Kemba Walker should mitigate fatigue for the most part.
3.) SG: Alec Burks
One of the Knicks’ top scorers last season was Alec Burks, who played an essential role off the bench. Serving as a shooting guard and small forward, the former first-round pick from 2011 averaged 12.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and shot 42% from the field. He also hit on 41.5% of his shots from three, representing another high percentage shooter who curates immediate offense when called upon.
Burks isn’t the most stout defender, but his ability to play multiple positions and rotate in different combinations was enough to convince the front office to keep him on a three-year, $30 million deal. Burks’s contract also has an out after the second season, as the Knicks eye a potential big-name free agent with the opening of more salary space.
4.) SG/SF: Evan Fournier
One of the Knicks’ more lucrative free-agent acquisitions was Evan Fournier, formerly of the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic. Replacing Reggie Bullock as the team’s primary shooting guard, Fournier averaged 17.1 points last season over 30 minutes per game. Attempting 6.7 3-PT shots per game, he hit on 41.3%, a solid clip. The difference between Fournier and Bullock is that the former is able to create shots for himself, which should take pressure off power forward Julius Randle, who also signed an extension this off-season.
The Knicks landed Fournier on a four-year, $73 million deal. The team has an out after the third season, giving them a bit of flexibility down the road.
5.) PG: Kemba Walker
One of the biggest surprises of the off-season was the signing of Kemba Walker. Having landed him on a two-year, $17.9 million deal, the Knicks couldnâ€™t imagine in their wildest dreams he would be available at such a great price point. Having struggled to stay healthy last season with a degenerative knee issue, Walker was only able to play in 43 games.
After the All-Star break, his statistics skyrocketed, but the injury lingered and eventually forced him to miss more time. At 30 years old, Walker was most recently an All-Star in 2020.
The veteran point guard averaged 19.3 points, 4.9 assists and shot 42% from the field last year. Finding an efficient way for Walker and Randle to play cohesively will be a challenge for New York but canâ€™t be any worse than Payton running around aimlessly like a chicken with its head cut off.
As stated above, the duo of Rose and Walker should be great for limiting minutes and keeping both healthy for a full 82 game season.
6.) Taj Gibson
Gibson’s role on this team falls into two categories, extra reserve, and leadership. Gibson is an all-effort type of player who contributed valiantly during the postseason after Noel picked up an ankle injury. His value as an offensive weapon is next to none, but Taj plays relentless defense and sets the tone for the rest of the team. He signed a two-year, $10.1 million deal with the Knicks, but the 2nd year is non-guaranteed.