The New York Knicks didn’t utilize Allonzo Trier this past season, but he should have the chance to be the sixth man next season.
Allonzo Trier should have the opportunity to rise above his current role with the New York Knicks to earn the sixth man designation next season. The sixth man, conceived by Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics Head Coach Red Auerbach, is the first player off the bench, typically the top player of the second unit as well as the go-to score, and usually plays as many minutes as the starters.
While coaching the Celtics, Auerbach believed there was enough scoring in the starting lineup that he could afford to have one of his better scorers come off the bench and dominate the opponent’s second unit. The most prominent player under Auerbach who played that role was none other than Hall of Famer John Havlicek.
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Red’s revolutionary innovation would create career paths for players like Manu Ginobli, Jamal Crawford, and Lou Williams (both Crawford and Williams have won the award three times, making them tied as the top recipients of the prize). All are solid play-makers and decent defenders, but above all, they’re bucket getters. This characteristic is the main reason why instead of an everyday bench player, Trier should be the sixth man for the Knicks. It’s a role that has been ambiguous for the Knicks in recent seasons, and solidifying that spot should give the roster clarity.
Trier is a fearless and capable scorer at all three phases of the game, and he’s demonstrated those qualities as a rookie during the Knicks 2018-19 season. Whether it was driving to the rim and embracing contact, using his body to create space, or knocking down shots from anywhere on the court, it was apparent that Trier had a knack for scoring.
He had an outstanding rookie season (considering he went undrafted) by averaging 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 44.8 field goal percentage, 39.4 3-point percentage, and an 80.3 free throw percentage. What’s impressive about those numbers is that he only played 64 games his rookie season. Before he got injured, it seemed like he was continuing to improve as the season progressed, and there was a probability that he could’ve had higher rookie season averages.
Unfortunately for Trier this season, his plans didn’t unfold the way he envisioned. Trier’s goal this campaign was to abandon the “Iso Zo” nickname, which he earned through his basketball career by being a top-notch isolation scorer. He was ready to demonstrate that he could be a well-rounded player. Sadly, he would accumulate many DNP-CD’s and only played 24 games this season while averaging 12.1 minutes per game.
Some believe that he was relegated to the bench because he played very little defense. Others think his benching was because he liked Twitter comments that criticized RJ Barrett. Most likely, it was due to a full Knicks roster where too many players needed minutes, and his dominant on-ball skill set didn’t fit David Fizdale or Mike Miller’s system.
But even though Trier got the short end of the stick this season, he was always ready to come in and provide efficient offense. Just watch as Trier brings the Knicks back from the grave against the Charolette Hornets to make it a competitive game.
I can probably guess what many are thinking. Based on the three defining qualities that you listed (a scorer, solid playmaker, and above-average defender), how can Trier become the sixth man if he is lacking the latter two?
I get that. But those are two traits players can improve throughout their careers, especially if they start when they’re young (and Trier is only 24).
We’ve seen players who are primarily scorers improve other attributes of their game to become key contributors in the NBA. Speaking of Crawford and Williams, both were predominately scorers when entering the league. Yet, both were able to improve as playmakers and defenders to become dominant sixth men.
Even with Trier’s limited playing time, we did see slight improvements in his areas of weakness.
As a playmaker, it was noticeable Trier made the conscious effort to make the extra pass whenever he was on the floor, and the numbers show it. According to NBA Advanced Stats, Trier averaged 21.2 passes within 22.8 minutes per game during the 2018-19 season. That is one less pass per minute, which is not terrible but could be better (considering Julius Randle averaged 42.8 passes within 32.5 minutes per game). However, Trier averaged 12.1 passes within 12.1 minutes, which is an improvement considering he is making a pass per minute.
Now it’s understandable that it’s not a significant increase, but it is progress. And if we are to criticize Trier for his lack of passing, then we should criticize Damyean Dotson for averaging 14.2 passes within 17.4 minutes (and he played twice as many games as Trier).
But Trier shouldn’t be heavily scrutinized for his playmaking skills so early in his career. Learning to be a facilitator requires time to become familiar with your teammates’ tendencies, and their spots are on the floor. That’s why the norm is trending that players need four to five years to develop.
As for the defensive end, we’ve seen from these past two seasons that Trier is capable of playing defense when he’s focused. He doesn’t need to become the next Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, but as long as he can be an above-average defender, he will be a solid contributor for the Knicks. Also, considering that the game is moving in the direction that’s focused more so on scoring than defense, Trier should be fine.
But if there is any reason why there should be faith in Trier is that he is determined to get better.
Trier has been an underdog his whole life and has to prove that he should be valued continually. If that doesn’t scream Knicks mantra to you, then I don’t know what does. Think about players like John Starks and Anthony Mason (who also won the sixth man award). They were talented players but never given an initial fair shot. Trier clearly fits that mold.
Trier will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and there is a high likelihood he will not be resigned. If the Knicks let Trier walk, he would be a player the Knicks will regret losing because a pure scorer is challenging to find. And considering this team ranked second to last offensively, the Knicks should make sure he stays (for the right price, of course).