By: Chris Harrison
Longtime New York Knicks fans are undoubtedly familiar with a cycle that had plagued the franchise throughout the 2000s and 2010s.
Owner James Dolan would get fed up with the team’s lack of success and demand a short-term fix, usually in the form of a trade for a big name, regardless of fit, salary cap considerations, or whether or not they were still star players. Shortsighted deals for an injury-sapped Antonio McDeyess, a semi-washed Steve Francis, and the disappointing Andrea Bargnani immediately spring to mind. Even the trade for Knicks great Carmelo Anthony was hasty – the team could have acquired him in free agency the next offseason without unloading quality young players.
The team’s longtime disregard for the future led to a shocking stat – before RJ Barrett’s max extension last offseason, they hadn’t re-signed a first-round pick since 1999, before RJ was even born.
With that history in mind, the patience of the current Knicks regime is genuinely shocking. It’s no secret that the Knicks have tried to build up enough assets to trade for a true superstar who can lead them to their first championship since 1973, but they’ve been careful for once, biding their time until the right star is available.
With the Knicks established as a solid playoff-calibre team with two All-Star-level players and some promising contributors under the age of 25, they can actually afford to be patient.
How did last season go?
After a disappointing 2021-22 season, the Knicks managed to turn a slow start into a solid 47-35 record last year, earning the 5-seed in the Eastern Conference. They went on to smack the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs and pushed the eventual conference champion Miami Heat to six games in the second round.
The Knicks bet on Jalen Brunson, who had never appeared in an All-Star game, being the stabilizing piece that could get them back in the playoffs. It worked out even better than the team could have anticipated – he not only provided a much-needed steadying presence and filled the void at point guard, but absolutely balled out. After the All-Star break, the point guard used his physicality, excellent footwork, and soft shooting touch to put up over 24 points per game on 51.9% shooting from the field and 43.8% shooting from three. He was also a monster in the playoffs, even against defences geared up to stop him, dropping 38 and 41 points in the Knicks’ last two playoff games.
Last year’s Knicks were a bruising, slower-paced team that wore opponents down over the course of games. They had season-long issues with spacing, partly due to head coach Tom Thibodeau ensuring there was always a true big on the floor for rim protection (a role filled by non-shooters Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Jericho Sims). Still, despite appearances, the Knicks did not have the statistical profile you’d expect. They finished just 19th in defensive efficiency and third in offensive efficiency.
So how did a team that finished just 20th in field goal percentage and 19th in three-point percentage finish with an elite offense? They rarely turned the ball over (fifth-lowest turnover rate), took a ton of free throws (third in the league) and dominated the offensive glass (second-best offensive rebound percentage). In simpler terms, they could outscore you because they had the ball more than you. In the small ball era, few teams are well-equipped to deal with that level of physicality.
Still, the team’s shortcomings – especially the spacing issues and lack of ballhandling and playmaking outside of Brunson – plus a few disappointing playoff performances from key players like Julius Randle (who had just had an All-Star season) and Immanuel Quickley (who had just nearly won Sixth Man of the Year) led to the Knicks’ downfall in the playoffs.
What’s new this year?
Not much! Fan favourite (and recent first-round pick) Obi Toppin got traded to the Indiana Pacers and the Knicks picked up a solid role player in Donte DiVincenzo, a good shooter and capable ball-mover, but there weren’t any dramatic changes. The Knicks will be counting on internal improvement – looking for better decision-making from Randle when double-teamed, improved ballhandling and shooting from Barrett, and a return to form for Quickley – while waiting for another disgruntled superstar to demand a trade.
It’s not a bad place to be. A lot of front offices and even fans now believe that teams should always either be going all-in for a title or blowing it up and tanking for a top pick, but there’s value in being a solid playoff team, a move or two from contention, especially for a franchise that has only made the playoffs in six of the last 22 seasons. This team can be frustrating but Knicks fans finally have a team worth rooting for and one they can be proud of.
X-Factor: Quentin Grimes
Last year, Quentin Grimes took the starting shooting guard spot and never looked back. He’s a rock-solid defender, willing and able to defend top perimeter players and a good shooter who showed he has some playmaking ability off the dribble. He could be in line for more touches this year and if he can build on the promise he showed in last year’s Summer League, he has the potential to take his game to another level.
At just 6’4”, Josh Hart averaged 8.7 rebounds per 36 minutes last year. No wonder the Knicks feel comfortable going without a true backup power forward.
Franchise fun fact
As most NBA fans know, “Knicks” is short for “Knickerbockers,” which can refer to Dutch settlers back when New York was called New Amsterdam, or to the signature pants they wore. The term came from a fictional character created by Washington Irving (named Herman Knickerbocker), who eventually became synonymous with New Yorkers.
Somewhere between 45 and 50 wins and another second-round appearance.