2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Season Preview: New York Knicks

The Knicks' rebuild continues under new president Leon Rose and veteran coach Tom Thibodeau.

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

Will Thibodeau change Knicks’ fortunes?

When last seen, the Knicks were … putting the finishing touches on their sixth straight season in the bottom five of the Eastern Conference. They saw a win increase in a shortened season, but they had a low bar (the league’s worst record in 2018-19) in that regard and they were one of eight teams that failed to qualify for the league’s restart in Orlando. Mitchell Robinson showed flashes of being a two-way force inside and small steps were taken on both ends of the floor, but the veterans the Knicks brought in (on short contracts) last year didn’t really move the needle. The ultimate result was the latest in what feels like an endless cycle of restarts.

Whats new? The major changes have occurred in leadership. Former agent Leon Rose has taken over the front office and veteran coach Tom Thibodeau is now running things on the floor. The Knicks brought in a few more low-cost free agents and Obi Toppin is the latest lottery pick that they hope will stick. But if there’s going to be real improvement or even just a sign of promise, it will have to come from within.

Whats missing: The Knicks have some bigs that can finish at the rim, but they lack shot creation on the perimeter unless RJ Barrett (last year’s No. 3 pick) takes a big step forward. And while Thibodeau has a reputation for being a defensive coach, he couldn’t pull the Timberwolves out of the bottom 10 on that end of the floor in his 2 1/2 seasons in Minnesota and he doesn’t seem to have the personnel to keep the Knicks from being a worse-than-average defensive team for the 17th time in the last 18 years.


Elfrid Payton | 10.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 7.2 apg
Caretaker at the point until the Knicks can find a serious upgrade. Kept the offense afloat last season.

Alec Burks | 15.0 pts, 4.3 reb, 2.9 ast
Known more for attacking the basket, but has become a sold 3-point shooter (38.5% last season).

RJ Barrett | 14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.6 apg
Rough, off-the-dribble shooting numbers as a rookie, but showed a knack for getting to the line.

Julius Randle | 19.5 pts, 9.7 reb, 3.1 ast
Saw a big drop in efficiency last season with a lower free throw rate and poor shooting from the outside.

Nerlens Noel | 7.4 pts, 4.9 reb, 1.5 blk
His 4.79 steals + blocks per 36 minutes was the league’s second highest mark (min. 750+ minutes played)


Reggie Bullock | 8.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.4 ast
Will be 19 months removed from back surgery when the season begins.

Austin Rivers | 8.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.7 apg
Scored 41 points in a game last season. Scored 3 (on 1-for-9 shooting) a few nights later.

Mitchell Robinson | 9.7 pts, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 blk
The talent is there. Added consistency and focus would make him a keeper.

Obi Toppin | 20.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.2 apg (Dayton)
The college player of the year should be ready to contribute offensively. Defense could be an issue

New York Knicks, last 5 seasons

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2019-20 21 45 0.318 105.9 27 112.4 23 -6.5 26
2018-19 17 65 0.207 104.0 30 112.9 26 -8.9 28
2017-18 29 53 0.354 106.3 20 109.7 22 -3.4 23
2016-17 31 51 0.378 107.1 18 110.7 25 -3.6 24
2015-16 32 50 0.390 103.9 24 106.7 18 -2.8 22

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


It’s difficult to envision the Knicks ending the Eastern Conference’s longest active playoff drought (seven seasons and counting), though the new play-in scenario offers more hope than usual. More important than the results is the establishment of an environment in which young players can develop. Because that kind of structure has been absent, we don’t know yet if Barrett or Robinson are future franchise cornerstones or future journeymen, or if the Knicks should cut bait on Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. But the next six months are an opportunity to push those players further, while establishing the Knicks as a competent organization from top to bottom. They only have to look across the East River to find a franchise that rose from a worse position to one which established stars wanted to join.

Predicted finish: 22-50.

* * *

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.


NBA Logo

Want every headline right at your fingertips? Sign up to receive NBA emails!

By clicking "Submit", you agree to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. You agree that your personal information will be used to send you messages about NBA related products and services, and share your personal information with NBA partners and affiliates so that they can also contact you about products and services that might be of interest to you.