Victor Oladipo Rockets white uniform tight shot
The Knicks are in rebuild mode, but they’ve progressed faster than anyone could have expected.
At the halfway mark of the 2020-21 season, the Knicks are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 19-18 record. And with around $15 million in cap space, they can make a splashy deal before the March 25 trade deadline.
New York has found itself linked to guards like All-Stars Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal. They’ve also been brought up in conversations concerning Houston Rockets guard Victor Oladipo.
Though it’s unclear how much the Knicks’ top decision-makers are interested in Oladipo, he has the lowest value of all three guards.
The Washington Wizards seem reluctant to make Beal available in any trades and Beal has made it clear that he would prefer to stay in Washington. Meanwhile, LaVine is coming off his first All-Star appearance on Sunday and has the Chicago Bulls in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
A free agent this offseason, Oladipo has been inconsistent since rupturing the quadriceps tendon in his right knee in January of 2019. Meanwhile, a 13-game losing streak has derailed Houston’s playoff hopes. Their midseason swoon has made it even more likely that a trade for Oladipo (among other Rockets) will happen.
Already traded once this season by the Indiana Pacers to the Rockets, Oladipo has averaged 20.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.2 steals in 24 games split between both teams. He hasn’t played any back-to-backs for either the Pacers or Rockets this season. In fact, Oladipo has yet to play a back-to-back since his return from his injury.
Oladipo has yet to rediscover the magic that led to his fantastic 2017-18 season with the Pacers, where he won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award and made the All-NBA third and All-Defensive first teams.
He’s been a step slow on offense, failing to create separation on drives. The burst he had a few years ago has been noticeably absent. Oladipo often settles for difficult jump shots and has struggled shooting from long distance post-injury. He’s shooting just 33.1 percent from the three-point line on 181 attempts this season.
Defensively, Oladipo has shown that he can still be an impact player. He’s a strong help defender and is great at forcing turnovers and creating transition opportunities for himself and his teammates. That’s a weakness of a Knicks defense that plays a more conservative scheme.
Though the Knicks are already a good defensive team (second in defensive efficiency), they’re not converting their stops into easy buckets on the other end. That has contributed to New York’s 23rd rank in offensive efficiency. The Knicks are last in fast break scoring percentage, 25th in points scored off turnover percentage and 23rd in deflections per 36 minutes.
With a weak collection of free agents at the guard position, Oladipo is sure to have some suitors on the market. He recently turned down a two-year, $45.2 million contract extension from the Rockets and he previously declined a four-year contract extension starting in the $25 million per year range from Indiana. He’s looking for a long-term max contract. And his name has also been linked to teams like the Miami Heat and even the Golden State Warriors.
For the Knicks, it’s difficult to figure out what kind of trade package Oladipo is worth. With his looming free agency, the Knicks wouldn’t want to include a significant young player or future draft pick.
Would a package of Kevin Knox, another expiring contract, and a second-round pick work? Would two veterans like Austin Rivers and Alec Burks with two second-rounders be enough? It’s hard to gauge what the Rockets are expecting back for the guard.
Similar to the Carmelo Anthony situation years ago, it might make more sense to pursue Oladipo as a free agent if the Knicks are really that interested in him.
Oladipo has yet to reestablish himself as a star in the league. He will be 29 in a couple of months and the early returns on his recovery are cloudy at best. It doesn’t seem to make sense for the Knicks to commit to Oladipo.
The Knicks have put themselves in a position where they will likely be a much more attractive free agent destination than previous seasons. Julius Randle has established himself as an All-Star and New York’s younger players like RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson have shown improvement.
There might be other stars down the road for the Knicks to strike on. Prudent decision-making is important, and so far the Knicks’ front office has been measured in their approach.
It might be best for the team to wait for a true superstar to become available, and a commitment to Oladipo seems short-sighted. It might help the team slightly this season, but an acquisition of Oladipo would lower New York’s ceiling in the future.