There were so many mixed emotions following the New York Knicks’ loss to the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Many optimistic Knicks fans were proud of how this team exceeded expectations. The team was projected to float around the Play-In Tournament, but they clinched the fifth seed and even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, their first series win in ten years.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said post-game, “I thought we got valuable experience in the playoffs, [and] we learned a lot.”
That statement is certainly true because the only two players on the roster who had experience playing past round one were Jalen Brunson and Derrick Rose. Rose was a reserve last season, but Brunson quickly blossomed into their star, averaging 31.0 points, 6.3 assists, and 5.5 rebounds in the series against Miami.
It’s clear that after his stellar performance, and Julius Randle’s faltering in the postseason, this is Brunson’s team. Randle averaged 3.5 turnovers, as well as 16.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists on 37.4% shooting from the field. For comparison, he averaged 25.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists on 46.0% shooting in the regular season.
‘Disappointment’ is an understatement.
Nevertheless, the Knicks bring back a similar roster heading into the 2023-24 season. The only noticeable changes are that Obi Toppin is no longer the backup power forward, and the organization signed Donte DiVincenzo to a four-year, $46,870,000 contract over the summer.
Toppin was traded to the Indiana Pacers for two second-round picks, a questionable move to say the least. Sure, his traditional numbers don’t necessarily turn heads, but in the 15 games he started with the Knicks, 20.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists is certainly an eye-opener.
DiVincenzo was a huge get for New York. He’s a very solid shooter (nearly 40.0% from deep) and can make the hustle plays when you need them. Thibs is a big defensive coach, so he should fit right in off of the bench, and could even play his way into the starting lineup. Don’t be surprised if we see him closing games over Josh Hart or Quentin Grimes.
Speaking of defense, that was lacking for the Knicks last season. The offense was certainly prominent, with the team ranking fourth in offensive rating at 117.0. As for the defensive rating, New York was 19th in the NBA at 114.2.
Thibs also mentioned in his post-game press conference that, “They [the team] improved daily, throughout the course of the season.” Jalen Brunson can certainly hold that statement to be true for himself. The Villanova product bumped his scoring average to nearly 28 points on 51% shooting in the second half of the season.
There aren’t any players that have had serious trade talks surrounding their name, but a sneaky name to pay attention to is RJ Barrett.
Barrett has been stagnant in terms of improvement because for the past two seasons, he’s been hovering around averages of 19-20 points and 31-34% shooting from deep. To have a 9% drop from 2021 (40.1%) is disappointing, and while he’s a solid third option, he is inconsistent.
There were rumors of potential trades surrounding Barrett and other NBA stars on mediocre teams: Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, and Pascal Siakam to name a few. It’s probably a good thing these talks didn’t become serious, because the Canadian is only 23 years old, and a very solid perimeter defender, with room to grow on offense.
It would be unlikely that any notable Knicks get dealt midseason as well because the Knicks tend to stay quiet around January. For the past three seasons, the Knicks have either made one or no trades at the deadline. In 2021, they brought in Derrick Rose to help with depth at the point guard position. In 2022, it was Cam Reddish, and in 2023, Josh Hart.
The Knicks used to go for the big names throw way too much money and trade assets at underperforming players. Now the organization is ultra-conservative, making little changes to the roster year after year. The guard depth is very respectable, but they need someone to space the floor and defend at the four when Randle isn’t playing. Trading for a backup power forward midseason would be ideal.
Realistically, this Knicks squad isn’t built to compete with top-tier teams like the Celtics, Suns, or Bucks, that much is clear. Expect a big season from Brunson, with averages of around 23-26 points and 6-8 assists.
As for ‘King Julius,’ he should flourish during the regular season, but the playoffs will be the real test. Knicks fans and New York York media are ruthless, and it’s all about how he responds to the criticism. Let’s hope it’s not similar to his 2021-22, where his poor play garnered heavy jeers, and in turn, was giving thumbs down in MSG.
I have the Knicks finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference and getting to the second round of the playoffs, knocking out the 76ers or Cavaliers in round one. They’ll likely meet a team like Boston or Milwaukee in the second round, and put up a good fight to ultimately lose once again. When you make minimal changes to the roster, expect the same results.
All we can do as fans is watch their season unfold, but if there’s one thing we know, it’s that this is not a team of the past. The Knicks have promise and are no longer the laughingstock of the NBA.