9 potential Knicks free agent targets using mid level exemption

Could Grant Williams be a Knicks free agent target?
Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams scores during the second half in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat Monday, May 29, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Knicks are a team with many options on the table this offseason in regard to how they want to build their team. However, if Josh Hart opts into his $12.9 million player option, which we discussed this weekend, it would allow the Knicks to free up $12.7 million in space, which is just more than the mid-level exemption.

So what could New York do with that MLE?

We covered some potential free-agent targets earlier in the offseason, so some of these names will be repeats, but we’ll now only look at players who could be interested in accepting the mid-level exemption. 

Donte DiVincenzo

We’ve covered DiVencenzo in the article above, but Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports reported that the former Villanova guard has declined his player option and that there’s “growing noise among league personnel” that he will be joining former teammates Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson in New York. 

The 6’4″ guard shot 39.7% from deep this year and 36.2% for his career, so he would bring the floor spacing that the Knicks desperately need. He is also a strong defender, which would make him a great addition to the rotation, especially if New York uses either Quentin Grimes or Immanuel Quickley in a deal for a big-name player. 


Bruce Brown Jr. 

We covered Brown in his own article here, so check that out, but the case for him is that he’s a reliable 3-and-D wing who, despite being 6’4″ has proven that, like DiVincenzo, he can guard bigger wings. Brown also shot 35.8% from three after shooting 35.9% from beyond the arc in two seasons with the Nets. He has also shown the skills to operate as a backup point guard, which would give the Knicks added flexibility. 


Grant Williams

Grant Williams played a career-high 25.9 minutes for the Boston Celtics this season but seemed to lose favor with the coaching staff in the playoffs, which makes his future in Boston cloudy. However, he has shown the skillset that could make him valuable to the Knicks if he were to be available. 

Although he is a low-volume three-point shooter, he’s hit 40.3% from beyond the arc on 3.5 attempts per game over the past two seasons while also snagging 4.1 rebounds per game; however, his defense suffered a bit as he played more minutes at small forward. In 2021-22, he was the 31st-ranked power forward with a 2.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and also had a 0.4 defensive RAPTOR score, which made him the 24th-ranked power forward. In 2022-23, playing primarily small forward, he was 67th in defensive RAPTOR and 63rd in WAR. 

However, given that the Knicks would likely use Williams as their backup power forward, his 2021-22 metrics may be more useful. He’s a better three-point shooter than Obi Toppin, whose spot he would take, and a better defender as well. He might just want more minutes than New York can give. 


Yuta Watanabe

Watanabe likely wouldn’t cost the full MLE, but he would be a good fit in this Knicks rotation. The 6’9″ forward started the season out on fire for Brooklyn but got hurt and then got lost in the shuffle as the Nets restructured their entire roster. He’s not quite the defender that a player like DiVincenzo is, but he ranked 45th out of 117 small forwards who played at least 900 minutes with a 0.3 defensive RAPTOR score. He also shot 44.4% from deep this year and is a career 39% three-point shooter, which could make him a great bench option to stretch the floor. 

Yuta Watanabe could be a Knicks free agent target
Brooklyn Nets’ Yuta Watanabe (18), of Japan, celebrates with teammates after a dunk by Kyrie Irving during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in New York.AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Seth Curry

Another name commonly linked to the Knicks is Seth Curry. He too is a strong three-point shooter, hitting 40.5% from beyond the arc for the Nets last season, and is fifth among players with at least 1,500 career attempts with a 43.5% mark from deep. However, he’s 6’2″, 32 years old, and not a great defender, so he’s not as great an option as some of the other names on this list.


Jae Crowder

Crowder was one of my favorite trade targets during the year because he wasn’t suiting up for the Suns, but he wound up playing limited minutes in 18 games for Milwaukee to close the season. Yet, he remains the perfect battle-tested, gritty veteran for this Knicks team. He shot 36.9% from three in two seasons with the Suns and remains a strong defender at the SF/PF positions. 


Georges Niang

Niang is another potential backup power forward option if the Knicks move on from Toppin. Also, Niang, like Watanabe, probably won’t cost all $12.4 million of the MLE, but he would likely be an upgrade on what Toppin is doing in New York. While everybody is hung up on Toppin’s supposed upside, his role in New York is as a floor-spacing PF, which is not his strong suit. Niang, on the other hand, is a career 40.3% shooter from deep.

He’s not a great defender, actually worse than Toppin, but if all Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks want Toppin to do is come into the game and shoot threes, they would likely be better off with Niang. 


Torrey Craig

Craig is the opposite of Niang as a versatile, 6’7″ wing who is a strong defender capable of guarding shooting guards up to small-ball centers. He is not a consistent shooter, but he did hit 39.5% from deep this season, which hints at more upside for a player who can be a lockdown defender on the other end. 


Harrison Barnes

Barnes is a big name who could be too expensive for MLE if he does move on from Sacramento. However, he’s also 31 years old, which may diminish his market a bit or cause him to take less money to play on a playoff contender.

Despite being thought of more as a scorer, Barnes was actually 32nd among power forwards this year with a 0.4 defensive RAPTOR, better than players like DeMar DeRozan and Mikal Bridgers. He also shot 37.4% from three and is a 37.8% shooter from deep in his career. At 6’8,” he can guard most players on the wing and would be a clear upgrade on Toppin as a 3-and-D wing off of the Knicks’ bench.

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Could Harrison Barnes be a Knicks free agent target?
Harrison Barnes playing for Team USA (wikimedia commons)