While the training camps have started for the different franchises, USA Basketball continues its traditional presentation, franchise by franchise, of the upcoming NBA season. Like every year, this one takes the form of a countdown, from the worst record in the league to our favorite for the title of champion.
Today, heading for the Atlantic coast as we look at the case of the Knicks, in New York.
A team that had pleasantly surprised throughout the 2020/21 season, the first under Tom Thibodeau, which the Bockers finished in 4th position in the Eastern Conference, then qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Without however managing to pass the course of the first round.
Unfortunately, the sequel was not so happy, as the Knicks regressed heavily during the 2021/22 financial year. The problems were various: a failure of address ofImmanuel Quickley very early in the season, a Julius Randle sulky towards his public and terribly underperforming on the floor, a Kemba Walker too penalizing defensively and therefore shelved during the campaign, an attack often seized up which weighed down a defense also in regression, difficulties in winning at home (17 wins and 24 losses)…
Everything was not to throw away but, overall, the Knicks had a painful season, very frustrating for their supporters. Because the club collectively failed to capitalize on its qualification for the spring 2021 playoffs, when it had the tools to ensure, at the very least, qualification for the « play-in ».
The off-season therefore allowed Leon Rose and his staff to take a step back from the situation, after this disappointing season, to better identify the summer construction sites.
The first: the position of leader. A construction site constantly under construction in New York for years, the Knicks’ lead was in very poor condition, after failed experiences with Kemba Walker and Alec Bucks.
So, to finally bring stability to this crucial position, the leaders of the franchise have gone all out to afford the best point guard available on the “free agent” market: Jalen Brunson. Signed, “as expected”, for four seasons and 104 million dollars, the native of New Jersey has thus offered himself a new challenge, that of taking the reins of the attack of his heart club. An expensive but logical choice, which offers Tom Thibodeau a stable option for position 1, for the next four seasons.
New York also offered a second recruitment, more modest but still coherent: that of the pivot Isaiah Hartenstein, a safe bet in relay of Mitchell Robinson, in a different profile from Nerlens Noel.
The Knicks’ summer was obviously also marked by the soap opera Donovan Mitchell. Long considered the favorites to strike a deal with the Jazz, so much so that “Spida” admitted he already saw himself returning to the fold, the Knicks finally withdrew, after weeks of speculation, leaving the field open to the Cavaliers to win the services of the triple All-Star.
The reasons ? A Danny Ainge far too greedy according to William Wesley, and a desire to maintain internal stability according to Leon Rose.
Then followed, a few hours after the departure of Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland, the closing of the RJ Barrett file. Included in the discussions of the transfer of the former back of the Jazz, the Canadian finally extended for four seasons and 107 million dollars in New York. Now linked to the Knicks until 2027, the 3rd choice of the 2019 Draft also became the first player drafted by the Knicks in the first round, since Charlie Ward, to extend his lease in the « Big Apple » after his rookie contract. It was in 1999…
– Arrivals Jalen Brunson (Mavericks), Isaiah Hartenstein (Clippers), Svi Mykhailiuk (Raptors), Trevor Keels (Draft), DaQuan Jeffries
– Departures : Kemba Walker (Pistons), Alec Burks (Pistons), Taj Gibson (Wizards), Nerlens Noel (Pistons), Danuel House (76ers)
Not easy to determine THE player to follow for the next Knicks season, as the stakes are high. Obviously, Jalen Brunson will be scrutinized closely because he must stabilize a position that has been in abeyance for many seasons. Julius Randle is also expected at the turn this season. Became All-Star for the first time in his career and elected Most Improved Player in 2021, the Knicks strong winger experienced a brutal return to reality last year, between a very dubious attitude, an audience that turned their back on him and above all a disappointing level of play.
But it’s RJ Barrett who arguably holds the key to New York’s success, as the Canadian’s recent momentum may lead him to be the true leader of this team. Above all, the young talent of the Knicks, unlike the former Laker, is not a serious candidate for a transfer this season. Or at least it isn’t anymore…
Extended, RJ Barrett is registered for good in the long term in New York, and it is therefore he who should be the face of the Knicks in the coming years. Constantly progressing during his first three years in the league, he is in any case set to gain even more momentum in the Knicks’ game, starting next month. Particularly in attack, while Julius Randle will logically be (finally) relieved of part of the « playmaking », following the arrival of Jalen Brunson.
In particular, we will expect RJ Barrett to make further progress in two specific areas in attack: outside shooting (he regressed last year: 34.2% success on 5.8 attempts, against 40.2% on 4.3 the previous year) and circle finish. For the first point, the arrival of Jalen Brunson should help, since the former Maverick will bring his « playmaking » and his volume of play near the circle, and therefore space for RJ Barrett wide. In defense, he continues to deal with the best opposing outside players. What he did rather well last year.
Average age: 25.1
Payroll: $140.7 million (24th)
THE IDEAL SCENARIO
After a featureless 2021/22 season, the Knicks are returning to the formula that worked two years ago, when they reached the playoffs. Namely a solid defense, which is among the ten best in the league to the delight of Tom Thibodeau, and a reliable attack. Without being flamboyant, the offensive game of the Knicks is thus totally enhanced by the arrival of Jalen Brunson, who by his mastery of the « pick-and-roll » and his polished offensive game brings a real breath of fresh air to this club, orphan of a true master to play for so many years.
Next to the plaque last year, Julius Randle took the opportunity to redeem himself with the public at Madison Square Garden. If he does not return to his grandiose level of play of the 2020/21 season, the strong winger, on the other hand, shows a commendable ability to adapt, and often agrees to withdraw from Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett , the two catalysts of the attack on « Thibs », without dispute.
This same RJ Barrett remains true to himself: hardworking and constant in his efforts. The Canadian, as expected, is gaining ground in the New York attack, and it shows in his personal averages: he is approaching 22 points per game.
Young Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin and Quentin Grimes have the confidence of Tom Thibodeau. The first even receives a few votes for the trophy of the Sixth Man Of The Yearwhen the third, by his frequent good performances off the bench, pushes Evan Fournier to raise his level of play in the five majors.
The Knicks end the season with a slightly better than breakeven record. Not enough to integrate the Top 6 of a particularly high Eastern conference, but the men of « Thibs » however offer themselves a place in the « upper » part of the « play-in ». They only need one victory to reach the playoffs…
No miracle in New York. Despite a consistent offseason, the Knicks can’t get out of the soft underbelly they’ve been mired in since the previous season. The victories are not chained and the evils of the past season reappear, since the workforce is largely unchanged.
New playing master of the « Big Apple » club, Jalen Brunson has a hard time justifying his contract, especially since his handling of the leather on the offensive level does not please Julius Randle at all. And that, the MIP 2021 quickly makes it clear. Withdrawn into himself, sulky like last year, he does not pull the Knicks up.
Coupled with the team’s inconsistent results, Julius Randle’s situation becomes untenable, and the inevitable happens: he is transferred before the deadline.
The strong winger gone, the door that leads to an end of the season dedicated to young people is then ajar. And the club’s management, which recognizes a new failure in this 2022/23 exercise, decides to keep this course: Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose are also packing their bags.
Young people, precisely, in the middle of this very complicated situation, are living a two-speed season. First there is the frustration, when the results are not there in the first part of the season, and their coach then turns mainly to the veterans to try to raise the bar. Then the relief in the second half of the season after the departure of Julius Randle, when the hopes of playoffs fly away and that « Thibs », at the request of his management, gives free rein to the youth.
The Knicks end the season largely in the negative, far from the « play-in ». The Draft, which offers a choice of the Top 10 to the club, does not really reassure the supporters of the franchise, particularly furious since the announcement of the retention of Tom Thibodeau in his post. But the tactician is however warned: his seat is seriously starting to heat up, and he will have to find solutions from the first weeks of the following season.
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