2 July 2023 | 22:15
The Knicks got better on Saturday.
They improved their offensive profile.
They added versatility on both ends of the floor.
They gave Tom Thibodeau another reliable backup and allowed the front office to trade from a strength — the backcourt — for a potential difference maker if such a trade occurs.
It’s not up for debate, no matter how much you may have liked Obi Toppin, who was dealt to the Pacers for two future second-round picks, and felt that Donte DiVincenzo (signed to a four-year, $50 million contract) is redundant with this list.
How much better?
That remains to be seen, and it won’t really be known for several months when the 2023-24 season rolls around.
But it was clear when the Knicks were eliminated in six games by the Heat that they needed more shot makers and offensive creators.
DiVincenzo, coming off a season in which he shot 39.7 percent from 3-point range and averaged 3.5 assists for the Warriors, upgrades them in those categories.
Remember, while the Knicks were one of the best offensive teams in the regular season, tied for third in the league in offensive rating at 117.0, they still shot just 35.4 percent from 3-point range, which was 19th in the NBA .
They shot just 29.2 percent from distance in the postseason, the worst of the 16 teams to reach the main draw.
The Heat basically dared them to beat them from the perimeter, and the Knicks other than Jalen Brunson couldn’t.
A career 36.2 percent 3-point shooter, DiVincenzo is improving the Knicks from beyond the arc.
Not only did he shoot nearly 40 percent from 3 last year, he did it on 5.3 attempts per. games, a high volume.
And like Brunson, he’s a high-IQ player who doesn’t foul often, averaging just 1.4 turnovers over his five-year NBA career.
Now, giving the 6-foot-9 Toppin weakens the Knicks in one area — at power forward on the other unit.
Barring a trade, they are limited and may not add anyone at that position.
RJ Barrett and Josh Hart were used a few times there last year, which feels like a fix at the moment for next season.
Hart is an elite rebounder for his 6-4 size — the former Villanova star was fourth among guards in rebounding at 7.8 last season and tied for sixth in rebounding percentage at 12.4 — and the 6-6 Barrett could be a weapon as an undersized four man attacking slower defenders.
Keep in mind that Toppin only averaged 15.7 minutes in his final year with the Knicks, so it’s not like there are heavy minutes to replace.
(As an aside, fans’ frustration with the Toppin move is understandable. He was the No. 8 pick in the 2020 draft who never really got an opportunity and was then shipped away for draft picks. His value only dropped when he was behind Julius Randle. That wasn’t going to change here, but the Knicks also didn’t figure out the player they used a top-10 pick on.)
Perhaps the biggest reason this was a good day for the Knicks, however, is the opportunities those two moves create.
That gives team president Leon Rose flexibility if the opportunity presents itself.
He can move Immanuel Quickley or Quentin Grimes, and not worry about a lack of depth in the backcourt.
The Knicks have an abundance of guards and small wings, players who are attractive to other teams.
Rose is now able to use those assets if the right player becomes available.
Essentially, the Knicks traded Toppin for DiVincenzo.
They shipped off a disappointing player who didn’t really have a role here for someone who is expected to be a much better fit.
Both players are almost the same age; Toppin is 25, DiVincenzo is 26.
That said, the DiVincenzo signing doesn’t necessarily move the proverbial needle.
I wouldn’t classify him as a difference maker.
But he’s a quality player just entering his prime who improves the back end of the roster.
The Knicks hit a single Saturday.
If that’s it for this offseason, coming off the franchise’s best season in a decade, it should be considered a success.