The NBA season is less than a week away and teams are finishing up their preseason fixtures to get ready for the regular season. The New York Knicks enter the 2018-19 season with a new coach in David Fizdale and a star nursing an injury as Kristaps Porzingis is still recovering from an ACL injury. Their season opens up at Madison Square Garden against the Atlanta Hawks on October 17, but the team still has questions on who should be in the starting lineup. While a lot can change in a week from now, these five would be the opening day starters if the NBA season started today.
Point Guard: Trey Burke
The first decision for David Fizdale to make is who should be the team’s starting point guard. Frank Ntilikina was selected with the eighth pick in last year’s draft and the results were mixed. He proved to be a solid defender and good passer, but was unable to score effectively throughout the course of the season.
The Knicks signed Burke off their G-League affiliate on January 14 and averaged 12.8 points and 4.7 assists in 36 games. Burke’s ability to shoot the ball from behind the arc combined with his play-making ability give him the edge over Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay, two players who have struggled to shoot three-pointers in their NBA careers. Burke’s 6’1″ frame makes him a bit of a liability defensively, but his offensive game gives Burke the edge in the point guard competition.
Shooting Guard: Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Knicks’ second leading scorer is a lock to start for the Knicks, but the question is where does he start. Does Fizdale use Tim Hardaway Jr. at small forward to give the Knicks more flexibility on the perimeter, or at shooting guard, his more natural position? Courtney Lee’s presence on the roster gives the team a lot of options, but he’s dealing with a neck injury and might not be ready for opening day.
Hardaway Jr. is one of the Knicks’ top three-point shooters and is the team’s best scoring option with Porzingis out of the starting lineup. Even with Lee on the roster, Hardaway Jr. is the team’s best shooting guard and should be put in that position on opening day.
Small Forward: Kevin Knox
The rookie from Kentucky is simply too talented to be on the bench. Kevin Knox can shoot from behind the arc, but his game is mostly driven around attacking the basket. The 6’9″ forward has the defensive length that Lee and Hardaway Jr. lack, which provides the team with defensive versatility.
His size might make Fizdale start the 19-year old at power forward, but the youngster does not have the frame to play there as a rookie. If the Knicks want to properly develop Knox, they need him to play on the perimeter where he can learn to use his size to create mismatches.
Power Forward: Lance Thomas
If Porzingis was healthy, he would be the clear choice. The Latvian big man has a unique combination of size and shooting touch that makes him a matchup nightmare in the NBA. His absence leaves Fizdale with the Mario Hezonja and Lance Thomas to start at power forward.
Hezonja joins the Knicks from the Orlando Magic, but the former fifth overall pick did not average more than 10 points per game during his time there. Thomas has spent his last three seasons with the Knicks, but he has been nothing more than a bench player during his career. The edge goes to Thomas as he has more familiarity at the position than Hezonja, who is more of a natural small forward.
Center: Enes Kanter
The big man from Turkey is the clear choice at center after he finished tied for sixth in the NBA in rebounds per game with 11. His back to the basket game was a good complement to Porzingis and he should do the same thing with Hardaway Jr. Mitchell Robinson is a talented rookie, but he does not possess Kanter’s offensive game just yet. Fizdale needs a reliable scoring option outside of Hardaway Jr. and Kanter looks like the man for the job.