Knicks Forging Athletic & Defensive Identity

So much for an off season.

Since winning their regular-season finale, beating the Philadelphia 76ers 114-113 in the World’s Most Famous Arena, the Knicks have made one dramatic move after another.

And if all the changes and acquisitions haven’t got you thinking about the possibilities of what the 2017-18 season can hold, consider this:

The Knicks open the season Oct. 19 at Oklahoma City. Which means first-round draft pick Frank Ntilikina, in his NBA debut, could face reigning MVP Russell Westbrook.

Talk about Thunder.

In the meantime, the Knicks have been lightning.

Most recently, they signed scoring small forward Michael Beasley, the second player taken in the 2008 NBA Draft. Too old to fit the Knicks blueprint of getting younger and more athletic?

Beasley is just 28. He’s one of 11 Knicks on the 15-man roster under the age of 30. In his one season at Kansas State, Beasley broke Carmelo Anthony’s freshman record of 22 double-doubles by posting 28.

The 2017-18 roster still will have some familiar faces – with Kristaps Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, and Joakim Noah – but the stye of play will be drastically different.

“We’re going to emphasize pride, work ethic, accountability,’’ Steve Mills, the newly appointed team President said at an introductory press conference in which Scott Perry was introduced as GM. He added, “and particularly those kinds of things because those are what we believe New York fans expect from the New York Knicks.

“We’re going to emphasize youth, athleticism, teamwork and defense. We’re committed to rebuilding a team and building a team around the young core of players that we have.”

Since that press conference on July 17, that young core has increased in size and versatility.

Ntilikina, 19, has tremendous upside because of his 6-foot-5 size and seven-foot wingspan.

Second round pick Damyean Dotson, 23, was so impressive at the Orlando Summer League that the Knicks signed him to a two-year deal. He knocked down 13-of-25 from three-point range.

Dotson’s coach at Houston, Kelvin Sampson, said the Knicks rookie is a better shooter than Courtney Lee, although Lee is a better all around player. Sampson had also coached Lee when he was an assistant with the Rockets.

Ron Baker, 24, whose relentless style made him a rookie favorite, also signed a two-year deal. Baker reminds Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek of himself; a scrappy, tenacious player with a great feel for the game.

“One thing I’ve been trying improve on is my jump shot,’’ Baker told Al Trautwig on Knicks Night Live. “I think on the defensive end I bring a lot of energy and create some havoc so hopefully this year I can shoot the ball with a little better technique and make some more open shots.’’

Luke Kornet, 22, showed remarkable three-point shooting for a 7-foot-1 center. He signed a two-way deal, which will allow the Knicks to develop him.

His coach at Vanderbilt, Bryce Drew, said Kornet could have put up more impressive stats as a senior, but Kornet is a team-first player and the Commodores ran their offense through the big man to spread the court and create mismatches.

“I’ve been doing a lot of work in the weight room,’’ Kornet told “I know I can help the Knicks. I want to be in the best shape of my life when training camp starts. That means getting stronger and working on every aspect of my game.’’

Tim Hardaway Jr., 25, signed a four-year, $71 million free agent deal to return to New York. The Knicks took him with the 24th pick in the 2013 draft. He’s a more mature and polished player on the verge of emerging as an elite swing man.

Hardaway could be heavily featured in New York’s offense, and he believes he’s ready.

[Robbins’ Nest: Hardaway Ready To Lead In Second Stint With Knicks]

“I know how much work I’ve put in — obviously there’s pressure, but you got to embrace it and take it to heart,” Hardaway said. “We have a young corps. I know we’re hungry. We got to play off one another and do everything we can to make it special.”

The Knicks now have an athletic group of swing players in the 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-9 range. They can make the squad more versatile on offense while being more athletic on defense.

Beasley (6-foot-9), Dotson (6-foot-5), Hardaway Jr. (6-foot-6), Mindaugas Kuzminskas (6-foot-9), Lee (6-foot-5), Ntilikina (6-foot-5), and Lance Thomas (6-foot-8) give Hornacek a lot of options on both ends of the court.

Hornacek made it clear at the Mills/Perry press conference that this year’s team will have a defensive identity. Thomas is the best defender of the group, but Hornacek is expecting every player to step up and for the Knicks to embrace a nasty disposition.

“I think one of the key things is everybody plays hard,’’ Hornacek said. “Our guys played hard last year. We want to take that level to a higher level of playing hard, what that really means.

“Through practices, through the competition, not at games, but before and after practice with guys playing one on one. We’re going to put them in situations where they are really competing. I think we all look at our young guys and say that’s what we want to see.’’

[More From Robbins’ Nest]

Mills and Perry have seemingly been everywhere and talking to everyone at once. As Mills was recently spotted watching some Team Dyckman games at NYC’s Nike Pro City, while Perry is the point man on the Carmelo Anthony discussions.

Meanwhile, Perry has filled out the staff with some really impressive basketball minds.

He named Gerald Maddens Assistant General Manager, Harris Ellis Director of Player Personnel, Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of former President Barack Obama, Vice President of Player Development and G-League operations, Michael Arciero Director of Player Strategy and Fred Cofield as Scout.

“Last month, the day after I was hired, I started a full evaluation of the entire basketball operations staff,” Perry said in a statement. “My first goal was to build-up the highest level front office in the NBA. We are adding a host of highly-regarded and respected basketball people to work with the Knicks to fortify the franchise for years to come.”