You ask, we answer. The Post is fielding questions from readers about New York’s biggest pro sports teams and getting our beat writers to answer them in a series of regularly published mailbags. In today’s installment: the Knicks.
What are [Tom] Thibodeau’s and new management’s thoughts on Dennis Smith Jr.’s future as a Knick? He is probably one of the most athletic guys on the team. Given the proper tutelage and confidence, I think he has Russell Westbrook/Steve Francis potential. — Darryl D.
It’s now or never for Smith Jr. as the uber-athletic point guard enters the final year of his rookie contract, paying him $5.7 million. Can Thibodeau salvage the career of the 2017 lottery pick who suffered a major regression last season?
He’s not a prototypical Thibs player. Defense and ball-sharing have never been high on Smith’s priority list. Also, Smith may feel he wants a fresh start out of New York.
“Dennis can be coached hard if you’re a straight shooter,” one NBA personnel person said. “And Thibs reputation is being a straight shooter.”
Smith’s jump shot was anything but straight last season, but three major interruptions damaged his third season and made the Kristaps Porzingis trade look even more brutal. Porzingis is averaging 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds in the Orlando bubble for the high-flying Mavericks.
GM Scott Perry refused former player development director Craig Robinson’s pleas to send Smith to the G-League to ease him back.
Another NBA scout cautions about the former Maverick, “He’s certainly not a Thibs kind of player, but let’s see how committed they are to getting him right. You don’t want to force it because they traded Porzingis for him. Knowing when to cut bait is important. There may be too many things to fix with him.”
Thibodeau has been something of a point-guard whisperer dating to Derrick Rose, but is reluctant to evaluate a player until he starts working with him.
Smith missed three weeks early in the season after his stepmother died, then was out with an oblique injury for a month. He also sat out the season’s final seven games with a concussion.
The North Carolina State product played in 34 games, averaged 5.5 points and then interim coach Mike Miller didn’t take to him. Now it’s up to Thibodeau — hopefully during OTAs for the “Delete 8’’ or individual workouts — to figure him out. Smith could be traded on draft night.
President Leon Rose said of Smith “that’s a special talent right there.” Sounded like Rose was trying to up his trade value.
“Dennis needs to mature a bit and become a great worker,” one NBA source said. “He needs to step it up or he will be in China soon.”
Now that Thibs is our new coach, how do you see this draft going? I always felt [Tyrese] Haliburton was the best choice at 7. But now I’m not sure. [Isaac] Okoro may be another [Jimmy] Butler and is looking like a Thibs pick. — Knickerbocker Al
The Knicks have hired a share of new scouting blood led by one of the NBA’s top college scouts in Walt Perrin. Perry will run the draft but with the event pushed to Oct. 16, Thibodeau has time to acclimate himself with the current lottery crop. He’ll have more input with the later picks — their selection from the Clippers late in the first round and Charlotte’s second-round pick at 38. Okoro, out of Auburn, is a solid small-forward defender but the Knicks may want a more transformative player if they pick in the top six. LaMelo Ball still is their top point guard in this draft — and that’s the position they’ve keyed on. The lottery is Aug. 20.
Which current Knicks player(s) do you expect to excel with the hiring of the new coach? Which do you expect to regress based on Thibodeau’s philosophy and style? — Jude Auguste
If the Knicks re-sign Taj Gibson, he knows exactly what Thibodeau wants from their previous experiences together in Chicago and Minnesota. Frank Ntilikina is a defense-first, pass-first point guard. He could really gain traction under Thibs, who is all about ball sharing and D. RJ Barrett, too, has the high motor and dedication that Thibodeau loves. The jury is out on the Thibodeau/Julius Randle match as the former Laker showed in his lone Knicks season a tendency to over-dribble and not be a force on defense. Randle also has not been a winner in his career, failing to make it to the playoffs. Kevin Knox’s low motor won’t sit well with Thibodeau.
Source: New York Post
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