Last year the Knicks were the little engine that could, but coming into the new season they’re projected to do great things, will they live up to the hype or fall short? The Knicks have a deep roster and are coached by the reigning coach of the year Tom Thibodeau, but how good are they really?
Let’s start off with the good. They have a deep lineup which is essential in today’s NBA which features coaches resting their stars at least 7 or 8 times under the guise of ‘load management.’ Tom Thibodeau is not a coach who believes in load management, believe me, he rode Derrick Rose extremely hard late in the season last year and played him for 33+ minutes in each playoff game. Now that I read that sentence back it doesn’t sound great, but I’m going to stick with it just like “Tibby” sticks with his veterans.
The Knicks have heat check guys like Alec Burks, Immanuel Quickley (if they had a stat for most heat check 3’s in a season Quickley would be first in that statistic), and Dwayne Bacon. They have established stars like Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Kemba Walker, and Evan Fournier. The Knicks also have the oldest 33-year-old in NBA history in Derrick Rose and a great clubhouse guy in Taj Gibson.
To put it simply the Knicks are deep and down the stretch when guys get hurt or Derrick Rose has to rehab his knee for the 272nd second they have guys that can and will step up.
RJ Barrett is poised to make the leap this year. He is seemingly the only rookie that actually wants to improve his game. Ja Morant is content with making flashy plays instead of working on his shooting, Zion is too busy eating Wendy’s, and Tatum’s ego is getting too big for his own good. RJ knew going into his second season he needed to improve his game in pretty much every way, and he did just that. He worked on his game and put up great numbers for the Knicks. In his second season, he improved his 3 point percentage by 8, his shooting percentage by 4, and his ppg’s by 3. He also went from a good defender to a great defender, and I imagine Tibs watches game film of RJ Barrett shutting down Steph Curry and he recreates the Randy South Park meme of him let’s just say finishing his business all over the place.
Barrett is never going to average 25 PPG’s, but he is a guy that can play 38 minutes day in and day out, put up 20 points and shut down whoever he’s guarding. And in the era of point guards and shooting guards ruling the league, it’s great to have a guy like RJ Barrett who can shut down a Steph Curry or James Harden.
With all the sports media talking about how Kemba Walker is going to save the Knicks you’d almost forget about Julius Randle. The guy who averaged 24/10/6 last year as a power forward. That’s LeBron James esque. If Tibby was making a player in a lab he would’ve made a player exactly like Julius Randle. A power forward that can play offense and defense on an elite level. Randle was a top 5 defender last year and was snubbed of first-team All-Pro if you ask me. He’s only 26 so Tibby can afford to put some miles on Randle, and after disappointing in the playoffs last year Randle is eager to redeem himself.
Kemba Walker is a player people either say will really help this Knicks team or lead to their downfall. I say if the Knicks can get 35 games from Kemba where he’s healthy, that’s a win. Kemba’s knee problems aren’t just going to go away, but he was still able to shoot 36% from downtown with one leg. His defense is awful, but under Tibby, his defense can go from awful to mediocre. I will be skeptical of Kemba because he is still not 100% more like 74% healthy, but Tibby likes to play players he knows like Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley is due for an uptick in usage this year. All I ask from Kemba is 35 good games out of him.
Last year I raved about Obi Toppin and how he was the steal of the draft, but he disappointed a lot of people last year. Granted he was hurt and it was a shortened season, but there were stretches where he looked lost. Toppin mistook himself for a three-point shooter as the season progressed and it wasn’t pretty to see. But, in the playoffs last year he looked phenomenal, and if he can play on the biggest stage in the NBA he can play on a Tuesday night in Atlanta. Tibby doesn’t trust young players, but after a full season of watching Toppin and a full off-season to work with him, I think Toppin will round out nicely for the Knicks.
The Knicks were quieter than a lot of people thought they were going to be in the off-season, and I was actually disappointed that the Knicks didn’t pursue DeMar Derozan harder, but they got a piece they sorely needed and that’s Evan Fournier. Fournier had a down year in Boston, but I write that season off because it was a pretty wonky season. He turned into Michael Jordan during the Olympics and I think he’ll carry that game over to New York. The Knicks are a great defensive team that shot the ball surprisingly well, but they needed a guaranteed shooter. A guy that can consistently shoot the ball from beyond the arc, and Fournier is that guy. Tibby will utilize Fournier’s sneaky good defense, and put Fournier in a position to shoot 3’s all game long.
The Knicks are probably going to win about 44 games, 47 at the most, 41 at the least. For the first time in what seems like forever the East is actually a good conference. Remember when the Nets made the NBA Finals 2 years in a row, and the Pistons consistently won 55+ games. That was mainly due to a weak-ass conference, unlike the 2000s and early 2010s and mid-2010s, really until last year; the Eastern Conference is good, arguably more stacked than the Western Conference but that’s a conversation for another day. The Knicks will have tough competition this year so a title run isn’t likely, honestly, a perennial playoff team is good enough for me because the Knicks sucked so bad for so long it’s just nice to have a team that will consistently lock down the 6 seed.
If worst comes to worst and Kemba knees give out, Julius can’t repeat his success, RJ gets in his head too much, Robinson’s injury sidelines him for most of the year, Rose’s legs give out, and Tibs loses his edge the Knicks will win 25 games and they’ll be back to their old selves. I think Knick fans are so numb to disappointing teams they wouldn’t care that much and focus on insulting Trae Young on Twitter.
The only ugly thing about this team is having to listen to Derrick Rose’s knees click-clack while he runs around.
I think the Knicks are a good team, I think they will make the playoffs, and I think the Hawks will probably be the team that eliminates them again. Sending New Yorkers into a blind rage that results in Trae Young getting spit on by guys that haven’t paid child support in 7 years.