This summer was supposed to be the crowning jewel in modern New York Knicks history.
After finishing the 2018-19 regular season with a share for the top lottery odds in the NBA Draft and unloading Kristaps Porzingis to open up a second max salary slot in free agency, Knicks fans were salivating over a potential rotation including the likes of Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Yet as has so often been the case, New York’s offseason did not go as planned. They missed out on the opportunity to draft Williamson when they fell to the No. 3 spot in the NBA Draft Lottery, and would later get spurned by both Durant and Irving, who elected to join the “other” team in New York, the Brooklyn Nets.
What had looked to be a summer full of promise has become one of disappointment, and now Knicks fans are hoping that top draft pick R.J. Barrett can prove his value alongside signings like Julius Randle and Bobby Portis.
Here are the three Knicks players facing the most pressure heading into the 2019-20 season.
3. Dennis Smith Jr.
Dennis Smith Jr. was considered a potential steal when the Dallas Mavericks drafted him ninth overall in 2017, and he would make the All-Rookie Second Team after putting up 15.2 points, 5.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds in his first season.
However, Smith did not make quite as big of a leap in his sophomore season as Dallas had hoped. Although his shooting efficiency improved, Smith averaged 3.1 turnovers per game and seemed to struggle to coexist with rookie sensation Luka Doncic. As such, the Mavericks were willing to part ways with their young point guard in order to acquire Porzingis.
Smith looked like more of a playmaker in New York, but he had a hard time spacing the floor and finding his range from the perimeter.
The Porzingis trade was a polarizing move in New York, and in hindsight, it is one that Knicks fans are likely to criticize given that they failed to sign a marquee free agent. Considering that he was the centerpiece of that deal, Smith is going to face a lot of scrutiny in his first full season.
Knicks assistant coach Keith Smart noted that Smith has been working tirelessly to improve his outside shooting during the offseason, but he will also have to learn to defer to Barrett at times in an effort to let the rookie grow as a player.
2. Julius Randle
There is no question that Randle is an elite offensive talent. He averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists with the Pelicans last season while shooting over 50 percent from the floor and 34 percent from beyond the arc. He is just as competent facing up slower defenders as he is using his physicality and strength with his back to the basket.
However, the Knicks were also in the bottom half in the league defensively, ranking 22nd in opponent points per game and opponent field goal percentage.
Unfortunately for New York, Randle is one of the worst defenders in the league. Despite his size and athleticism, ranking 414th out of 515 players (minimum 50 games played) in defensive rating.
Randle might benefit from playing alongside defensive stalwart Mitchell Robinson, but he needs to improve his footwork and awareness in the frontcourt.
If he can even be an average defender, he might even be regarded as a potential All-Star.
1. R.J. Barrett
Barrett is sure to be one of the most scrutinized players in the league given New York’s immense market and his individual talent.
The former Duke standout is an elite scorer, but can he also develop as an outside shooter?
How will he deal with the pressure to develop into a star from the opening tip?
We will see how Barrett handles the spotlight when he steps on the floor, but Knicks fans are certainly hoping that Barrett performs well enough to create some optimism for the future.