5 Knicks questions ahead of 2021 NBA training camp

Kevin Knox Tom Thibodeau Mitchell Robinson KNICKS TREATED ART

Here are a few things to keep an eye on during Knicks training camp, which starts next week:

How does Mitchell Robinson look?

Robinson was limited to 31 games last season due to two significant injuries (shoulder, foot). His foot injury – a fracture – sidelined him for the final two months of the season.

At the time of the injury, the Knicks viewed the final weeks of the regular season as a chance to more fully evaluate Robinson at center. The current Knicks regime hadn’t seen much of Robinson on the court since they took over. Obviously, Robinson’s injury prevented Leon Rose & Co. from evaluating the 23-year-old. In Robinson’s absence, Nerlens Noel solidified the Knicks’ defense. Noel signed a three-year deal to return to New York in the offseason. Noel and Robinson will likely compete for the Knicks’ starting center spot in training camp.

It’s unknown if Robinson is fully healthy entering camp. But Julius Randle told SNY earlier this month that Robinson looked “brolic” during informal team workouts recently.

“Mitch looks good, man. Mitch is brolic; he’s big. You can tell that he took the weight room seriously,” Randle said. “So Mitch looks good, and he’s one of those pieces that people don’t even really know that we had last year because he missed so much time. So he’s going to be a huge factor for us coming into this year, for sure.”

The Knicks’ social account noted Robinson has added significant weight/muscle in the offseason. If the added weight translates to success on the court, Robinson will be in line for a significant raise in the summer of 2022. He will be an unrestricted free agent in the 2022 offseason. So the start of training camp also marks the beginning of a pivotal season for Robinson and the Knicks.

How will the trade market impact the Knicks?

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Even during training camp, the trade market is front and center in the NBA. Ben Simmons has no plans to play another game for the Sixers, sources confirm. As of last week, even if Simmons showed up to training camp, he would be unlikely to take the court, sources say.

It’s hard to see the Knicks giving up the assets to acquire Simmons. They have two veteran point guards on the roster (Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose) and, presumably, are comfortable rolling with Walker and Rose into the season.

But the Knicks – and many other teams – will continue to keep an eye on Damian Lillard’s situation in Portland. The Knicks were among the many teams keeping close tabs on Lillard’s status in the 2021 offseason. The expectation late in the offseason was that Lillard would be in Portland for at least the start of the season; it’s safe to assume Lillard isn’t going anywhere unless he requests a trade from the Blazers. But the Knicks – and most of the league – will be monitoring things in Portland.

Kevin Knox

What about Kevin Knox?

Another note on trades: New York had expressed some interest in free agents late in the 2021 offseason. They had even expressed some interest in free agents once their 15-man roster was full. One of those free agents the Knicks had interest in was under the impression that they could move Knox in a trade to create a roster spot.

Knox is a player to watch during camp. He was mostly out of Tom Thibodeau’s rotation last season. Thibodeau and others credited Knox for continuing to work and practice hard even though he wasn’t playing. Will that drive translate to a rotation spot for Knox in 2021-22? If it doesn’t, the Knicks will have a decision to make on Knox, the No. 9 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

How do the second-year Knicks and rookies fit into Thibodeau’s rotation?

Historically, Thibodeau hasn’t played rookies often in their first season. But Immanuel Quickley earned time in Thibodeau’s rotation as a rookie in 2020-21. Obi Toppin was playing regularly in the playoffs. So you shouldn’t automatically cross rookies Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride out of the rotation. They will have a chance to earn minutes in training camp and the preseason.

But if Thibodeau settles on a 10-man rotation, there may not be any room for the rookies. It will be interesting to see how Toppin looks in camp. He had a strong Summer League and has expressed confidence that his second year in the league will be better than his first season. If Toppin can give the Knicks consistent minutes at power forward, they can manage Randle’s minutes throughout the season.

Is everyone vaccinated?

A New York City mandate states that all Knicks and Nets players must be vaccinated – or must have an accepted exemption – to play or practice in the city. So any Knick who isn’t vaccinated will not be able to play home games at the Garden. The statute doesn’t apply to Westchester County, the site of the Knicks’ practice facility. So unvaccinated Knicks should be able to participate in training camp practices prior to the preseason opener.


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