Knicks Trade Rumors: Defensive-Minded Options To Help Jeff Hornacek

Dec 14, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) celebrates after a score against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Cleveland 93-85. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Hornacek publicly questioned if the New York Knicks have the talent to improve on defense. A number of players on the trade market may be able to help.

The New York Knicks are 16-18 overall, 11-6 at home, and 5-12 on the road. One could easily point to the struggles away from Madison Square Garden as the source of New York’s problems, but the true culprit for inconsistency was exposed on Monday, Jan. 2.

Returning home from a three-game road trip, New York allowed the Orlando Magic to score at will during a crushing 115-103 Knicks loss at The Mecca.

New York allowed Orlando to shoot 49.5 percent from the field and 15-of-31 from 3-point range in a truly abhorrent defensive effort. For perspective, Orlando entered Monday’s outing at No. 25 in the NBA in points scored per game.

Following the disheartening effort against Orlando, head coach Jeff Hornacek outright stated that the Knicks need to find a player who can, “Play some defense.”

Hornacek added that the players on the roster are trying, but may not be good enough to get the job done.

Message sent.

Hornacek is clearly attempting to motivate his team, but the Knicks shouldn’t write off the possibility of actually making a trade. The Orlando game was a reflection of what’s plagued New York all season, as it ranks No. 23 in defensive efficiency and No. 25 in scoring defense.

If the Knicks decide to pursue a trade, then the following players would be the best options to help stabilize the defense.

Dec 14, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) defends a pass in the first quarter by Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Allen

Position: Shooting Guard
Age: 34 (1/11/1982)
Experience: 13th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .486/.294/.672
2016-17 Season Averages: 27.7 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.5 ORPG, 1.0 APG, 1.8 SPG

If the New York Knicks are looking for a perimeter defender who can lock down multiple positions, then there’s no better option than Tony Allen. He’ll turn 35 years of age on Jan. 11, but Allen remains one of the premier on-ball defenders in the NBA.

A five-time All-Defensive Team honoree and former NBA champion, Allen is the most decorated defensive player on the market.

Allen, whom Kobe Bryant singled out as the toughest defender he’s ever played against, would be a massive acquisition for the Knicks. His erratic jump shot is a concern, but he has an uncanny ability to strip players of the ball and turn it into points on the other end.

Allen is currently No. 4 in the NBA with 3.11 steals per 48 minutes.

More importantly, he’s holding opponents to 41.0 percent shooting from the field and 31.8 percent shooting from 3-point range.

New York has struggled to defend the 3-ball in big games, which establishes Allen’s potential value. It’s also No. 29 in the NBA in points via turnovers per game, which establishes why Allen’s ability to create turnovers is so critical to note

With an expiring contract and a hunger to win a second ring, Allen could be the leader New York needs along the defensive perimeter.

Nov 20, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) recovers an outbound ball during the first quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Millsap

Position: Power Forward
Age: 31 (2/10/1985)
Experience: 11th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .444/.318/.760
2016-17 Season Averages: 34.1 MPG, 17.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.7 ORPG, 3.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 1.1 3PM

The term elite shouldn’t be thrown around lightly, but three-time All-Star Paul Millsap may deserve it on the defensive end of the floor. In 2015-16, Millsap was named to the All-Defensive Second Team after leading the Atlanta Hawks to a No. 2 ranking in defensive efficiency.

Thus far in 2016-17, he’s No. 5 in the NBA in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and No. 2 amongst power forwards. With an expiring contract, however, he could be on the move.

Millsap would be an excellent fit alongside Kristaps Porzingis, who could make the move to center. Millsap has the length and power to defend post players at the 5, thus alleviating a physical burden from Porzingis.

He also has the range and athleticism to switch on the pick and roll, step out onto shooters, and get back and solidify New York’s transition defense.

Millsap is easily the best offensive player on this list, as well as one of the Top 25 overall players in the NBA. If New York can swing a move for Millsap, it would be hard to blame team president Phil Jackson for doing so.

For perspective, Atlanta is allowing 100.1 points per 100 possessions with Millsap on the court and 108.0 without him in 2016-17.

Dec 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) takes the court against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Pelicans won 108-93. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens Noel

Position: Forward/Center
Age: 22 (4/10/1994)
Experience: 3rd Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .581/.000/.615
2016-17 Season Averages: 11.6 MPG, 6.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.1 ORPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG

Nerlens Noel is relatively unproven as an NBA player, but the signs of defensive brilliance have been clear. He’s an athletic big man with the range, instincts as a shot-blocker, and active hands to make an instant impact on defense.

It’d be hard to justify the New York Knicks building a defensive interior with a pair of thin big men, but it’d be ignorant to pretend Noel isn’t available.

Noel has been one of the most commonly referenced names in trade rumors for close to a year. It started with mere speculation after the Philadelphia 76ers selected four players at the same two positions with lottery picks: Joel Embiid, Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Dario Saric.

The rumors grew stronger as the 2016-17 NBA regular season neared. They remain persistent as the trade deadline approaches.

As for what Noel brings to the table, he boasts career averages of 6.8 defensive rebounds, 2.1 steals, and 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes. Those averages alone lend credence to the belief that he can put his 7’4″ wingspan to use as a defensive anchor.

Noel may not be worth the asking price, nor the player whom the Knicks need at power forward or center, but his upside shouldn’t be entirely disregarded.

Oct 8, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks guard Chasson Randle (4) drives to the net between Brooklyn Nets forward Chris McCullough (1) and Brooklyn Nets forward Justin Hamilton (41) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Chasson Randle*

Position: Point Guard
Age: 23 (2/5/1993)
Experience: N/A
2016-17 Slash Line (NBA D-League): .440/.410/.852
2016-17 Season Averages (NBA D-League): 32.2 MPG, 21.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 2.7 3PM

The New York Knicks will be able to hand out 10-day contracts starting on Thursday, Jan. 5. In turn, the Knicks will be able to test the waters with Westchester Knicks star, preseason showman, and Summer League standout Chasson Randle.

With Randle dominating offensively and flashing his potential on defense, a call-up from the D-League could soon be in order.

The asterisk on Randle’s name is due to the obvious reality that he isn’t a player whom the Knicks would acquire via trade. Nevertheless, he fits the bill as a player who could help Jeff Hornacek improve the quality of the defense.

The Knicks don’t necessarily need help in the backcourt, but Randle could help Hornacek diversify his rotation and push his stars defensively.

Randle stands at just under 6’2″ with an impressive 6’7″ wingspan and active hands in the passing lanes. He’s shining as more of a scorer in the NBA D-League, but he’s a team-oriented player who’s willing to do what his coaching staff asks of him.

With a smooth stroke from 3-point range and the potential to be a plus defender, Randle could be the in-house fix to New York’s issues.

Dec 28, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) looks to pass while guarded by Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha (25) during the first half at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Thabo Sefolosha

Position: Small Forward
Age: 32 (5/2/1984)
Experience: 11th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .469/.317/.756
2016-17 Season Averages: 25.8 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.6 3PM

Thabo Sefolosha is in his 11th NBA season. The fact that he’s still playing significant minutes on a postseason-caliber team at 32 years of age is a testament to just how far his defensive prowess has taken him.

Though the recent spat between Sefolosha and New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony implies this trade won’t happen, Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein of ESPN report that the Atlanta Hawks are fielding offers for the 32-year-old swingman.

S‎ources told that the Hawks, fearful of losing Millsap in free agency without compensation in the summer, are not openly shopping him but are taking calls on the 31-year-old and other pending free agents, notably sharpshooter Kyle Korver and swingman Thabo Sefolosha.

If Anthony and Sefolosha can put their issues behind them, then they could form an exceptional duo at small forward.

Sefolosha is widely regarded as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. He has the size and length to defend players at the 2 and 3, as well as the active hands and physicality to disrupt a go-to scorer’s rhythm.

That much is evident in the fact that Sefolosha currently leads the NBA with 3.54 steals per 48 minutes. He generates a healthy amount of that production during on-ball situations.

Sefolosha is on an expiring contract that makes him an ideal rental for the Knicks. He’s making $3,850,000 in 2016-17, which creates room for flexibility in designing a trade package to offer to Atlanta.

With 88 games of postseason experience and 69 starts in the playoffs, Sefolosha could help the Knicks prepare for a long-awaited push towards the next level.

None of these players will be easy to acquire, nor is a deal imminent, but one thing is clear: Jeff Hornacek knows how vital it is for the Knicks to improve on defense.

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