o/u 38.5 – OVER
In the 2021-22 NBA season, the Knicks turned in a disappointing 37-45 record. Julius Randle took a step back from his All-NBA and first All-Star season regressing from 41% 3pt shooting to 31%. In the offseason. In the offseason, they moved on from Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel while adding Jalen Brunson in free agency. If that was one single exchange, the Knicks won that deal.
The Knicks explored trading the house for Donavon Mitchell to pair with their new point guard Brunson, but elected not to as negotiations demanded they’d give up too much capital without enough insurance the addition of Mitchell would put the group over the top.
One major trade chip in those talks was recently extended RJ Barrett, who took major steps in his game a season ago – scoring 30+ points 11 times, and in nine of those outings shot >45% from the field. Major questions around Barrett’s game have been focused on efficiency and versatility as a scorer. Last season he showed he can score at a high-level while being efficient and not sacrificing his playmaking ability. The addition of Brunson helps establish roles: an issue Barrett has dealt with in his first two seasons while being used a plug guy to fill a multitude of needs.
With the injury to Derrick Rose, Randle regressing, and Kemba Walker never fully gelling with the group, there were lots of opportunities for Barrett to have the ball in his hands in the second half of the ‘21-22 season. This leads to the x-factor for the Knicks season: Coach Tom Thibodeau. A leader reluctant to play young talent who is in need of on-court experience to play through mistakes and learn, Thibs often sides with the veterans he can count on such as Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Alec Burks, Evan Fournier, and Julius Randle.
This organization has often lacked realistic vision and internal honesty about the outlook of their teams, Coach Thibodeau has enhanced this delusion in his Knickerbocker tenure. The Knicks are not title contenders. They are not contenders for home-court advantage in the highly competitive Eastern Conference.
The best case for this group in either of the last two seasons is the play-in tournament, a 7-10 seed. If that is your season outlook, electing to play veterans in an effort to milk every possible win while sacrificing the development of young talent such as Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley and Quiton Grimes leaves an organization uncertain what they have in their young guys.
The question to ask about the Knicks is: who the hell is playing? Is Randle going to return to All-Star form or does Obi Toppin get the chance to show if last season’s stats in games he started at power forward were a fluke? Does Jalen Brunson help solidify Barrett’s role and allow him to find his niche? Is Evan Fournier going to start or will Quinton Grimes, the player the Knicks refused to add to any Donavon Mitchell package, get some burn? Will Derrick Rose continue playing 25 minutes per game to Quickley’s 20 minutes?
The issue with Thibs playing the guys he is familiar with is the team’s ceiling for success with them is not high enough. The last two seasons, the Knicks have sacrificed developing a young core and planning for who they will be in 2-3 seasons to maximize the present. That strategy is applicable if there are legitimate insinuations of competing. Rather, this team is left with disappointing seasons, question marks around their young prospects, and angry fans stuck in purgatory who boo the owner.
As a team that has shown shortsightedness and neglect for young talent, I would bet the Knicks push all their chips in to see if they can land a 9 or 10 seed. They will aim to hit their over, and that would be a successful season in their eyes – even though they could hit the over and still be below .500. Hopefully for Knicks fans there are some questions answered about the young guys, but I’d lean more towards expecting 30+ minutes of Rose, Randle and Fournier. Buckle up! (and try to find some action on who the first coach fired this season will be)