Once again, the New York Knicks’ offseason was defined by the star they didn’t get. Donovan Mitchell, the New York native who seemingly wanted to return home, is in Cleveland and the Knicks are still searching for their guy … or at least some sustained success. After a breakthrough in 2020-21 — the East’s No. 4 seed and the league’s fourth-ranked defense — the Knicks took a big step backward last season. Their offensive upgrades didn’t pan out and their defense fell out of the top 10 as they finished six games out of the Play-In Tournament. Julius Randle went from accepting the Kia Most Improved Player Award to asking Knicks fans to be quiet. The Knicks still have won just a single playoff series in the last 22 seasons, also holding the NBA’s worst regular-season record over that stretch.
The Mitchell saga overshadowed the Knicks’ acquisition of Jalen Brunson, a big upgrade at point guard who can help his new team climb out of the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency (where it’s finished in each of the last four seasons). The Knicks have several rotation guys still under the age of 25, so improvement can (and should) also come from within. But if they’re to have any chance of reaching the playoffs in a strong Eastern Conference, Randle’s ability to bounce back will be critical.
How good is RJ Barrett? The Knicks didn’t trade Barrett for a star and, instead, signed him to a four-year, $107-million extension that kicks in next year. He’s now a franchise cornerstone in the spreadsheet but still has to prove he can be that on the floor. His scoring average has seen big jumps in each of the last two seasons and he’s still just 22 years old. But while had some big games and big moments last season, he (like a number of Knicks) took a step backward in regard to his shooting, finishing with the fourth worst effective field goal percentage (46.6%) among 89 players with at least 750 field goal attempts. (Randle had the worst mark — 45.9%). To really earn cornerstone status, Barrett needs to be both more efficient and more consistent.
Simply, there are too many good teams in the Eastern Conference — the eight that made the playoffs last season plus Mitchell’s Cavs — for the Knicks to be any higher than 10th in preseason projections. But a lot can happen over the next six months. Maybe one or more of those nine teams ahead of them has issues. Maybe another star becomes available via trade. Maybe Brunson continues to score efficiently at a higher volume, Barrett finds some consistency, and the Knicks rediscover their defense from two seasons ago. Projection: Play-In Tournament.
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
1.06 — Jalen Brunson scored 1.06 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season. That was the best mark among 79 players with at least 200 ball-handler possessions.
— John Schuhmann
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Jalen Brunson: With Luka Doncic out, Brunson averaged 32 points on 51% shooting over the first three games of the playoffs, pushing Dallas to a 2-1 series lead.
Evan Fournier: Has shot 39.7% on 902 3-point attempts over the last two seasons, but needs to give the Knicks more on both ends of the floor.
RJ Barrett: Pull-up shooting numbers (31% on pull-up 2s, 25% on pull-up 3s) were particularly rough last season, but he gets to the line at a good rate.
Julius Randle: Doesn’t need to be as good as he was in ’20-21, but definitely needs to be better than he was last season, and may need to defer to Brunson.
Mitchell Robinson: Highest FG% in NBA history (72.2%) among players with at least 1,000 field goal attempts. Free throws are another story.
Quentin Grimes: Shot 38.1% from 3-point range as a rookie and could start instead of Fournier to further shake up a starting lineup that struggled last season.
Isaiah Hartenstein: Seven-footer who brings a lot to the table — passing, finishing, rim protection — as one of the league’s best back-up centers.
Immanuel Quickley: Has been an impactful reserve for two years and can still improve a lot more, with better playmaking and shooting inside the arc.
Derrick Rose: Shooting splits of 47/41/91, with an assist/turnover ratio of 2.83, in his 61 games with the Knicks over the last two seasons. Missed the final 53 of 2021-22.
Obi Toppin: Provides some needed energy and bounce. Team was best with him on the floor last season, but Randle’s presence limits his minutes.
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
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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