Don’t expect the New York Knicks to make huge splashes in free agency this summer like the NBA world saw on Sunday with Paul George opting to stay with the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers.
With an eye on next summer instead, more moves like the minor one made over the weekend are par for the course. The Knicks inked small forward Mario Hezonja to a one-year, $6.5 million deal to provide yet another option to the frontcourt.
Hezonja is just 23 years old and struggled to find his legs in the NBA after being selected fifth overall by the Orlando Magic in 2015. The Croatian has averaged just 6.9 points per game over his first three years in the NBA but has steadily improved in the process including a 9.6-point-per-game 2017-18 season.
At face value, this looks like nothing more than a depth signing. The 3 became a major position of need after it was clear that Tim Hardaway Jr., who was signed to a four-year, $71 million contract last summer, could in no way be a replacement for Carmelo Anthony. Granted, it would be unfair to ask anyone to step in and play at an All-Star level like Anthony did for seven years in New York.
But the Knicks are being proactive in addressing the small forward spot as they drafted Kevin Knox out of Kentucky with the ninth-overall selection at the end of June. At 18 years old, he has some developing to do in order to become a consistent contributor at the NBA level, but his ceiling is awfully high on a team that has one eye on the future.
The signing of Hezonja ensures that Knox won’t just be thrust into the starting role and given a sink or swim ultimatum. It is also continuing the trend of general manager Scott Perry giving high draft picks that haven’t met their potential another shot in the NBA.
In the past year alone, the Knicks have helped the resurgence of Trey Burke’s career before acquiring Emmanuel Mudiay from the Denver Nuggets at the trade deadline. Burke was selected ninth in 2013 while Mudiay was taken just two slots after Hezonja three years ago.
The obvious knock to Hezonja’s game is his inability to consistently shoot the three ball. He’s at a 33.2-percent clip in 219 career games. But he is an athletic threat at 6-foot-8 that can put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop effectively. Last season saw Hezonja convert 69.1-percent of his attempts at the basket, which is better than Knicks center Enes Kanter’s 68.3-percent clip.
Joining a roster filled with players who have chips on their shoulders and youngsters ready to prove themselves, there is a chance that Hezonja could continue moving toward meeting that potential that had NBA scouts so intrigued three years ago when he came over from Europe.