Earlier this week, ESPN released its annual NBA predictions, where the Knicks win just 39 games. Now, the Knicks are far from an elite team or a team you’d call a serious contender. But let’s remember, they won 37 games last season in a year where so many things went wrong. The Kemba Walker draft didn’t go well, Julius Randle had a very disappointing season in which his effectiveness dropped significantly; RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley started the year incredibly slowly; Derrick Rose missed most of the season; and Tom Thibodeau managed to come up with a different reason every night to lead Alec Burks to point guard.
Yet even with all these things going on, they have won 37 games. So while there is a world where Randle continues to struggle, Barrett and Quickley slowly walk out the door again, Rose encounters more injuries and Jalen Brunson somehow regresses, it seems unlikely that the Knicks are just two more wins than last season. . For several reasons.
We have to start with the addition of Jalen Brunson. Walker and Burks both had their moments, but we know they weren’t the answer at playmaker, which happens to be a very important position. The team performed much better with Walker on the bench and Burks, although a solid player, was overused by Thibodeau. In Brunson, the Knicks got a starting caliber point guard, which neither Walker nor Burks are, who showed last season, especially in the playoffs, that he’s capable of carrying a team. He averaged 16.3 points per game, more than Burks’ 11.7, while shooting 50% from the field, much better than Burks’ 39%, and he managed to average more assists (4.8) than Burks and Walker while having better assists. in relation to turnover.
And while Brunson will have to share the floor with Barrett and Randle, two players who like to have the ball in their hands, he should still have a bigger role and more opportunities than he got by sharing the ball and the ground with Luka Dončić. It’s something Knicks fans should be excited about. Last season, in games without Dončić, Brunson averaged 20.4 and 7.5 assists from 49.3% from the floor. If he can continue to improve this offseason, we could see an All-Star caliber performance from Brunson, which would obviously be a huge improvement and should already add some wins.
Second, we have to look at Randle. Now he may never come back to himself ’20-’21, and that’s fine. It may be difficult for Randle to play a lesser role and take fewer shots with fewer ball handling duties, but if he can do it and be somewhere between where he was last year and the year before , then the Knicks would take that. Because with the talent on this team, he doesn’t need to have amazing tally stats. An efficient Randle like the player we saw during his time in New Orleans — plus a slasher and roll man — could help the Knicks tremendously. It might be a big if, but if the Knicks can bring Randle back to focus, drive, confidence and trust in his teammates, that should do a lot.
Then there’s Barrett. Barrett showed phenomenal growth last season as a secondary goalscorer; while his stats may not take the same kind of leap this season with Brunson now pictured, there’s no reason to believe he can’t take the next step as a player. If he can become an even better shooter, playmaker and finisher, the Knicks will have a very solid three-punch on offense with Brunson, Randle and Barrett.
It’s important to note though that while we’d like to see their offense continue to grow, perhaps it’s their defense that makes the difference for this team. Barrett is not a lockdown advocate, at least not consistently. But we’ve seen in his first three years that he’s capable of defending some of the best offensive players in the league. We’ve seen the former Blue Devil have some great times guarding Jayson Tatum and Kawhi Leonard.
With a starting lineup consisting of an undersized guard in Brunson, Evan Fournier – a revolving door most nights – and Randle, whose defensive effort is often tied to how he shoots, Barrett will be tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best wing most nights. . It won’t always be a fun or pretty task, but how many wins the Knicks can get during the regular season may hinge heavily on how willing he is to do the dirty work on that side of the ball.
Last but not least is everyone. Rose’s return should help set up the second unit. The bench, for the most part, was good last season, but when Burks was moved to the starting lineup and Quickley was still struggling, the bench lost a lot of its punch and consistency. If Rose can stay healthy, they should have a very exciting and strong bench core that will fight on defense and try to get out in transition, which should benefit Obi Toppin. Quickley and Toppin both showed a lot of growth last season, and if they keep up the momentum and confidence they finished the season with, they could be in for a big year if given the minutes and time. opportunity.
You also have sophomores Quentin Grimes, who looked like one of the best players in the Summer League this year; Deuce McBride who should bring great intensity on defense when called upon; and Jericho Sims, who also showed a lot of promise this summer. I can’t forget newcomer Isaiah Hartenstein, one of the league’s best rim protectors last season, who also adds some shots off the bench.
Overall, this team is just better than last year, plain and simple. Of course, the East is always good. Boston has surrounded its core with more play and talent and should have a better and stronger regular season than last season. Philadelphia should be good again, especially with James Harden looking healthier. Milwaukee with Khris Middleton back in the mix should be a shoe for a top-4 seed. Miami with a healthy Kyle Lowry and crew will be dangerous. And we haven’t even reached Atlanta, which improved with the addition of Dejounte Murray, Cleveland should be good again, and Chicago, which was very good when healthy. I
I’m not here to pretend the Knicks will be at the top of the conference or even in the playoffs, because they may not be. But, if even a few of the things mentioned above go to plan, they should be able to hover around .500 and win over two more games than last season.