2021-22 Kia Season Preview
2021-22 Season Preview: New York Knicks
The Knicks have their sights on taking a big step forward after ending a lengthy playoff drought.
Playoff basketball has returned to Madison Square Garden. The Knicks didn’t just end a seven-year playoff drought last season, they were the league’s third-most improved team, climbing from 12th to fourth in the Eastern Conference behind Tom Thibodeau’s fourth-ranked defense and Kia Most Improved Player Julius Randle.
Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier have been added to help an offense that really struggled as New York was quickly eliminated from the playoffs. The Knicks’ returning core – featuring the 26-year-old Randle and the 21-year-old RJ Barrett – is primed to take another step forward. This team is still a tier below the best teams in the East, but that second tier is a much nicer place than the one the Knicks were on for the seven years prior to last season.
Can Walker rebound? The Knicks don’t necessarily need their new point guard to hit the glass, but they do need him to come back from a tough season in Boston. In 2020-21, he dealt with knee issues, didn’t play both games in any of the Celtics’ 15 back-to-back and missed 29 games total. Walker (31 years old) scored just 0.92 points possession on pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions last season, a mark which ranked 38th among 73 players with at least 200 ball-handler possessions (and was down from 1.03 points per possession over the previous three seasons). The Knicks could really use Walker’s off-the-dribble offense and they got him on a very cost-effective deal, but there’s a difference between the Walker of two seasons ago and the one we saw last season.
Walker and Fournier, along with the continued development of RJ Barrett, should help the Knicks climb out of the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency. But the defense, which had some luck in regard to opponent 3-point shooting last season, could take a step backward. This team could be just as good (or better) as it was last season and still take a small step backward in the Eastern Conference simply because teams around them are a little bit better. Predicted finish: 47-35.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Kemba Walker: Effective FG% of 55.3% at Madison Square Garden is his third-best mark in any arena.
Evan Fournier: Struggled post-COVID last season. Still shot 46% from 3-point range with Boston.
RJ Barrett: Much-improved shooter, both from the 3-point line and the free-throw line, last season.
Julius Randle: Struggled with extra attention in the playoffs. Won’t need to carry such a heavy load this year.
Nerlens Noel: Defensive anchor (second in blocks per 36 minutes), but not much of a factor offensively.
Derrick Rose: Shot a career-best 48.4% on non-restricted-area 2-pointers last season. Still best off the bench.
Immanuel Quickley: Audacious rookie made a real impact off the bench. Shot 47% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
Alec Burks: His 46.5% on pull-up 3-pointers ranked second among 93 players with at least 75 attempts.
Obi Toppin: Saw limited action behind Randle, but the rookie had some good playoff moments.
Mitchell Robinson: Bouncy rim-runner and shot-blocker played just 31 games last season. Still just 23.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Knicks have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
STAT TO KNOW
1 — The Knicks were the only team that ranked in the top 10 in 3-point percentage (39.2%, third), but in the bottom 10 in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (34.7%, 24th). They led the league in clutch 3-point percentage, shooting 40-for-95 (42.1%) from beyond the arc with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
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