Is there hope for Knicks, Cavaliers, Hawks, Warriors?

The Knicks, Hawks, Cavaliers and Warriors, the worst teams in the NBA, are a combined 40-120. Is there hope for the dregs of the league? Let’s examine. 

New York Knicks (11-29)

Point Differential: -7.9

Biggest problem: With a roster full of young players and veterans who played elsewhere last season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Knicks are struggling defensively. New York is 27th in defensive rating, giving up a whopping 112.9 points per 100 possessions. It’s important to note, however, that the Knicks’ defensive woes may be attributed partly to bad luck. Opponents are shooting a league-best 38.9 percent from beyond the arc against New York, more than a full percentage point higher than the next-closest team. Still, even with a few more wayward shots from deep by opponents, the Knicks’ defense would still likely only improve from dreadful to just plain bad.

Where did it go wrong? The Knicks went into the summer of 2019 hoping to make a big splash in free agency. Unfortunately, they whiffed on every big name and instead divvied up their cap space on veterans Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis, Elfried Payton and Taj Gibson. They hoped that quintet would combine with RJ Barrett, the team’s 2019 lottery pick, and fuel a successful campaign.

Yet neither Randle nor Portis has played good defense, and Gibson, 34, is far removed from being a cornerstone of those Tom Thibodeau Bulls teams. Payton in particular was a curious signing given he’s been associated with eye-opening defensive drop-offs in previous stops. Barrett, whose game I analyzed before the draft, has struggled, averaging just 13.8 points and 2.4 assists and putting up woeful shooting numbers (38.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from beyond the arc). Barrett’s struggles and stalled development from other New York prospects have produced this mess.

Is there hope for 2020? Despite their team’s woes, there’s good news for Knicks fans … sort of. Morris (19.1 ppg, 46.9 percent from 3) has played well. Because he has a tradeable contract, he’ll likely fetch the Knicks a decent asset and/or a solid young prospect at the deadline in February. Also, with the team far, far, far from a playoff spot, the Knicks can give Barrett a ton of playing experience. Plus, the Knicks can get a better assessment of frustrating but talented prospects Dennis Smith Jr, Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina. If they were in a heated playoff race, their minutes would be drastically curtailed. Great silver lining, eh?

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