Knicks: Grading the top point guards via trade, free agency based on fit

damian lillard, knicks

The New York Knicks will have their eyes on multiple point guards this off-season, whether it be through free agency or via trade. However, different factors must be considered when gauging which option should be prioritized and why.

Variables like system fit, compensation, and experience should all be at the forefront of the front office’s minds, but we know what Tom Thibodeau prefers in his point guards, defensive proficiency, and the ability to spread the ball around the floor.

Let’s take a look at each point guard the Knicks will be considering this off-season, aside from draft prospects.

Unrestricted point guard free agents available for the Knicks:

1.) Kyle Lowry (C+)

While Kyle Lowry has traditionally been a solid point guard throughout his career, he hasn’t played over 60 games in two seasons, playing a career-low this past year at 34 years old. Over 46 games, he posted 17.2 points, 7.3 assists, and shot 43.6% from the field. While he did average a 40% success rate from range over 7.2 attempts per game, the best ability is availability at times, and Lowry simply can’t be depended on as he will be 36 next season.

Based on his fit with the Knicks and lack of defensive production at this point in his career, New York shouldn’t consider overpaying for a veteran struggling to stay healthy.

2.) Mike Conley (C+)

Another free agent option is Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz. Earning his first All-Star appearance this past season, Conley played in 51 games, averaging 16.2 points, 6.0 assists, and shot 44% from the field. He’s another player that has dealt with injuries over the past few seasons, having played over 51 games just once in four years.

Conley will be 34 years old next season, offering another lefty shooter alongside RJ Barrett and Julius Randle. While he’s an adequate offensive PG, he’s missed some time lately and could begin to deteriorate sooner rather than later. Focusing on youth should be the Knicks’ MO, but he did average 1.4 steals this past year. Per 100 possessions, Conley was a +17 on the court, the highest of his entire career. Based on the small sample size indicating his elevation in play and the quality around him, the Knicks should be cautious with expecting a similar performance next season.

3.) Dennis Schroder (C)

While Dennis Schroder would theoretically be an adequate target for New York this off-season, he’s reportedly asking for $20+ million per, which far outweighs his production. After throwing up a dud during the postseason, the Germany-born point guard would be lucky to crack the $20 million mark. He averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 assists and shot 43.7% from the field. He’s a below-average three-point shooter and average defender, making him nothing special. At 27 years old, there’s no question that players like Anthony Davis and LeBron James made Schroder look more refined, so overpaying and submitting to his demands would be a mistake.

4.) Spencer Dinwiddie (B)

One underrated option is Spencer Dinwiddie, who’s coming off a serious knee injury, having played just three games this past season with Brooklyn. At 28 years old, he is one year removed from averaging 20.6 points, 6.8 assists, and shooting 41% from the field. He’s not much of a three-point shooter, recording a 30% success rate over 6.3 attempts during the 2019–20 season. I believe Dinwiddie has gas left in the tank and a lot to prove, but he’s also seeking a lucrative deal without much to stand on.

While he is a solid facilitator and aggressive scorer in the paint, coming off a serious injury and demanding big money should be a big red flag for the Knicks.

Pending player option:

1.) Chris Paul (A-)

Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns are on the verge of winning an NBA Finals, so the prospective idea that the veteran point guard will leave his current team is becoming less likely. Paul has a player option for the 2021-22 season at $44 million, but he could be seeking a long-term extension, whether that be with Phoenix or an alternative club. This season, Paul averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists and shot 50% from the field, including 39.5% from range.

Paul has played 70 games over two consecutive seasons, earning All-Star appearances in both. However, the 6-foot, 175 pound PG turned 36 a few months ago, and eventually, father time will catch up to him. However, he seems to be as good as ever, becoming even savvier with age. If he were to hit the open market, the Knicks would undoubtedly be involved in the sweepstakes. President Leon Rose was his former agent, after all.

Restricted free agent/qualifying offer:

1.) Lonzo Ball (A-)

Another player that has been connected to the Knicks over the past few months is New Orleans point guard Lonzo Ball. The Knicks were interested in trading for him at the deadline this past season, but nothing materialized. The expectation was that New York would pursue him this off-season, and that is still likely despite him being a restricted free agent. The Pelicans can match any offer sheets that are presented to Ball, having already exercised club options over the past two seasons.

Lonzo has his best days ahead of him, averaging a career-high 14.6 points, 5.7 assists, and shooting 41% from the field this season. He’s also an adequate three-point shooter, nearly hitting 38% over 8.3 attempts per game. Considering he is only 23 years old, a solid coaching staff and the association with Thibodeau should help him improve his game. The Knicks experienced an unprecedented spark in production last year across the roster, and there’s no question Lonzo could enjoy a similar reality if he found his way to New York, which would make his father, LaVar Ball, eternally happy.

2.) Kendrick Nunn (B)

One name that has gone unspoken is Kendrick Nunn, a 6’2”, 190-pound point guard who has spent the last two seasons with Miami. Averaging 14.6 points, 2.6 assists, and shot 48.5% this past year, he has quietly made a name for himself on a solid Heat team. Averaging nearly 30 minutes per game over 56 contests this past season, Nunn could be a solid target for the Knicks in free agency.

With the possibility that Nunn and Duncan Robinson could both sign big offer sheets, the Heat will only be able to match one, which could allow Kendrick to take his talents elsewhere. As proved this off-season, any player that is associated with the PG position has been connected to the Knicks, and Nunn is flying under the radar.

Trade possibility:

1.) Damian Lillard (A+)

Of course, the biggest name of all is Damian Lillard, who could look to force his way out of Portland based on the sexual assault issue presented by Chauncey Billups, the team’s new head coach. Lillard has historically been a loyal player and will likely stick with the team that drafted him back in 2012, but if he did desire a move, the Knicks would likely be at the top of the list. With plenty of young talent and draft capital to part ways with, they have the ammo to get it done, but he would certainly cause the front office to ransacked the roster in the process.

According to Ian Begley of SNY, the Knicks have no interest in trading RJ Barrett in any scenario, which would likely rule out any potential deal for Lillard. Nonetheless, he is a bonafide superstar, averaging  28.8 points, 7.5 assists, and shooting 45% from the field this past season. He’s also a high-octane shooter from range, connecting on 39% over 10.5 attempts. He has played over 66 games in all nine seasons of his career, earning All-Star appearances in four seasons consecutively. His fit with the Knicks would be tremendous, but the price tag to acquire him might simply be too much.

2.) Collin Sexton (B)

Another player, the Knicks, have been heavily connected to as of late is Collin Sexton of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Acquiring Sexton via trade would allow the Knicks to continue spending in free agency, as he is set to earn just $6.34 million next season. At 22 years old, he has plenty of potential left to untap, but he is a primarily offensive point guard, lacking the defensive strength to dominate at the opposite end of the floor.

Averaging 24.3 points this past season, he’s able to score efficiently on an everyday basis. He could use a bit more court vision, averaging just 4.4 assists, up 1.4 from the 2019–20 season. He played a career-low 60 games with Cleveland this year, which is still adequate. His minutes climbed to a career-high 35.3.

The Knicks likely wouldn’t have to give up significant value for Sexton, as one first-round pick and a young player might suffice. Most don’t believe Collin is a max contract-level player, but it is possible he reaches that level with the right coaching and situation.

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