Since Raymond Felton’s last stint in New York, the Knicks have started Jose Calderon, Derrick Rose, Jarrett Jack, Emmanuel Mudiay and Elfrid Payton at point guard.
It’s no secret they didn’t sniff the postseason during this stretch, and lacking a lead ball-handler who could both create for themselves and others at a league-average level was a big reason why. This offseason is a chance to turn that around, not only through the draft but a number of capable free agents.
Here are the top five point guards the Knicks should consider pursuing in free agency. Note this does not include restricted free agents as they are far less attainable.
VanVleet is the cream of the crop of this unrestricted free agent class, coming off another improved season, one removed from a breakout 2018-19 in which he helped his Toronto Raptors to an NBA championship. After his big series and Kawhi Leonard’s departure, VanVleet started every game in 2019-20, saw eight more minutes and five more shots per game. His usage rate also climbed to a career-high 21.7%.
The results held up VanVleet as more than a one-run wonder as his shooting efficiency increased, his assist percentage ticked up for the fourth straight year, he got to the free throw line more and still played the same level of scrappy, hard-nosed defense he was known for. Though not a point guard in the traditional sense, he’s got the makings to be New York’s best since Stephon Marbury, and at just 26 years old has room to grow. Another team will surely throw $20 million a year at him, whether the Knicks want to bid that high is the question.
Dragic is no slouch as a consolation prize, though on the older side and with less to provide defensively than VanVleet. When he’s healthy Dragic is still plenty effective as a floor general and creator, as displayed during Miami’s miracle run to the Finals this past year. His shiftiness as a southpaw can still mess with defenses, opening up cutting lanes and weak-side shooters when you get him on a dribble hand-off or high screen. The Knicks can badly use all of this, as well as his three-point shooting which hovers around league average. That Dragic has lived through many a postseason run over his 12 NBA seasons is another reason to bring him into the locker room.
Unfortunately, here’s where the shallowness of this free agent class exposes itself. This next group of names is pretty interchangeable with no clear winner, each a veteran that should buy in, fit with most systems and be a steady presence on and off the court. We begin with Augustin, who lost his starting job in 2019-20, but is only a year removed from starting on a playoffs team and shooting really well for them.
In fact, he cracked 40% shooting from three in four out of five seasons before dropping to 35% last regular season and breaking back out to 47% in the postseason bubble. It’s easy to see him sliding into a role seamlessly with how undemanding he is, and he’ll be able to open up room and set up guys like RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson well.
At one point in his career, Teague looked like a borderline All-Star, but is now on the other end of his production bell curve. Before The Minnesota Timberwolves traded Teague mid-season to the Atlanta Hawks, he was actually putting up serviceable numbers: 13.2 points and 6.1 assists per game on just shy of 45% and 38% from the field and three, respectively. These numbers tanked in Atlanta, along with his playing time, but bringing him in to conduct the offense for the Knicks may lock him back in.
New York wouldn’t be assured much with Teague at the one, he’s lost a step on both ends and didn’t bring much to the table defensively to begin with. But less drafting a star rookie or trading for a Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul, having Teague in the rotation wouldn’t hurt.
This is a strange one. Also near the end of his career, Rondo is most likely looking to latch back on to a contender after winning his second championship this past year with the Lakers. However, if a reunion with Tom Thibodeau -- who coached Rondo in Boston in 2008 -- fancies the veteran point guard’s appetite, he could end up in a Knicks jersey.
The other problem is he also generally can’t shoot from outside, can get unengaged defensively and looks at the rim so little defenders are ready for his set-up pass. Yes, Rondo corrects most of these in the postseason, but there’s no guarantee of making it if you’re the Knicks and he doesn’t have LeBron James and Anthony Davis there to cover up his worst habits.
Austin Rivers and Reggie Jackson didn’t make the list, mostly because of their score-first mentalities, which wouldn’t best suit the Knicks at this stage of their rebuilding.