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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Craig Robinson has plan to transform young Knicks

The Knicks' VP of player development looks forward to the offseason to begin his work.

Craig Robinson looks on during the championship game in the

Craig Robinson looks on during the championship game in the Ivy League Tournament between Princeton and Pennsylvania on March 12, 2017, in Philadelphia. Photo Credit: AP / Chris Szagola

The offseason will be important for the Knicks, and for Craig Robinson to implement his vision and plan to transform their players.

Hired last August to be the Knicks vice president of player development and G League operations, Robinson said he really “didn’t get going until training camp” and that “the bulk of the development is done by then.”

That was Robinson’s way of saying give it time before you judge him and his work.

This year has been all about development for the Knicks. The Knicks’ G League team has had success. But the Knicks' young players haven’t made big strides.

The Knicks had lost 17 of 18 games heading into Saturday while using many of those young guys. Robinson is confident though that by the start of next season you will see great improvement in the Knicks’ unproven players and in many areas.

Robinson wouldn’t reveal specifics or give “the special sauce” of his developmental approach that he called “innovative” and “transformative.” But Robinson has little doubt it will work if the players put in the work.

“What you’ll see when they come back next year there will have been some growth,” Robinson said. “Without deciding what that will be, look at every aspect of their development. Look at ballhandling, the strength and conditioning, look at shooting, looking at medical, his ability to play more minutes.

“That’s how you’ll be able to tell what he’s doing is working. It won’t be just because he’s making more shots. It’s a holistic approach. You’ll see our players getting better in the quantitative stuff in making shots and being able to play longer. But I think you’ll also see confidence and basketball IQ and able to handle different situations better.”

Robinson, the brother-in-law of former President Barack Obama, said the Knicks are doing things no other team is. But most of the league is much further ahead of the Knicks in player development.

It wasn’t that much of an emphasis with the Knicks previously. They were trying to attract and win with veterans. That didn’t work. The Knicks are headed for their fourth straight season of at least 50 losses, and have won just seven playoff games in 16 years and counting.

The fact that team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry have made developing players a priority is a step in the right direction for the franchise. Robinson and the Knicks have a large number of young players to work with and who have plenty of work to do.

Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Troy Williams, Ron Baker, Luke Kornet, Isaiah Hicks and will be Robinson’s main targets, as well as the Knicks’ high first- and second-round draft picks. Robinson’s strong words will put more pressure on them and him.

“I’m really excited about the future and I can be because I’m in development,” Robinson said.

The Knicks need versatile, athletic players to play with still-developing Kristaps Porzingis, 22 and Tim Hardaway Jr., 25. If they’re homegrown and they grow together the better. The Knicks can’t keep turning over the roster and expect to have chemistry and familiarity.

If they draft well, their young players improve and the Knicks can add a marquee free agent or two, they could have start building something sustainable, and finally create the right culture.

That’s what the Knicks’ new regime really wants to develop.

Second-half struggles

Jeff Hornacek said the Knicks’ struggles in the third quarter are as much mental as physical.

The Knicks began the weekend a minus-172 in third quarters, fourth-worst in the league. They’ve been outscored by 78 points during their nine-game losing streak. The Knicks led at halftime in six of those games.

“I think it might be in their heads,” Hornacek said. “Us as coaches we’re trying to say let’s get out of the locker room earlier so we can get ready for the third quarter, kind of try to change things up. It’s probably a mental block out there or we try too hard, we’re settling for shots. We settle for jumpers when we could be attacking the basket.”

In some of the games, the Knicks, especially minus Porzingis, just don’t have the talent or athleticism to hold off some of their opponents. But it’s fair to question whether Hornacek is making the necessary adjustments that other teams are.

Going forward with Troy

Troy Williams and the Knicks were a good fit. They needed players with athleticism, defensive versatility and the ability to make three-pointers and Williams just wanted an opportunity.

A 10-day contract became a two-year deal for the undrafted forward. Williams signed this week for the remainder of this season with a partial guarantee for next year.

“They were looking for certain things and I had those qualities,” Williams said. “I had to prove myself that I could use those qualities to help us.”

Williams, 23, is averaging 8.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals over 14.8 minutes in eight games with the Knicks. He totaled five points in four games with the Rockets before being waived.

Whether he can do it consistently remains to be seen. But Williams will get the rest of the season and training camp next year to prove himself.

“It’s more so now learning and getting the exposure,” Williams said. “I proved myself when I got the contract. Now it’s just learning and getting better.”

Slighting Dwight

Dwight Howard only gets up for games against his old teams. That’s what his former Hawks teammate Denis Schroder said after Howard had 33 points and 12 rebounds in Charlotte’s win over Atlanta Thursday.

“He plays always great against his former team,” Schroder said. “Credit to him too, but that’s like four games each year, you know? Houston, L.A., us. I think he’s always giving his best there but the other games he . . . ”

Schroder just shrugged at that point. He left out Orlando, but the point is well taken.

Howard was a plus-139 against the Magic, Hawks, Lakers and Rockets this season. He’s a combined minus-36 against the rest of the NBA.

The Hawks traded Howard after a disappointing postseason last year that included him getting pulled over by police in the early morning before an elimination game against Washington. The Hawks lost.

Fast breaks

- So much for the Lakers not playing for coach Luke Walton as LaVar Ball said on Jan. 7. Since then, the Lakers are 20-11.

- Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons recorded his eighth triple-double of the season in Thursday’s win over the Knicks, pushing him past Magic Johnson for second-most by a rookie. Oscar Robertson owns the record with 26. In that game, Simmons joined Johnson and Robertson as the only players to have at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in their rookie seasons.

- It’s hard to believe, but the Spurs are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997. (That’s the year they tanked for Tim Duncan). They’re tied for seventh in the West. But if they get in, and Kawhi Leonard is back, no team will want to face them. Another long streak also is in jeopardy: The Spurs need to finish 11-2 to win at least 50 games for the 19th straight season.

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