The Future is Bright in New York

RJ Barrett (9) contests Jalen Brunson’s (13) shot (Photo Credits: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports).

The New York Knicks have disappointed their fans for the past 30 years and the 2021-22 season was no exception. The Knicks finished fourth in the east in 2020-21 led by Julius Randle. They lost in the first round of the playoffs but gave fans hope that things are starting to change in New York. In 2021-22, they failed to live up to expectations and finished with a 37-45 record –– 11th in the east. 

Randle failed to capitalize on his breakout season and saw his averages in points, assists, and rebounds all decrease. Part of Randle’s success in 2020-21 came from behind the arc where he shot 41%. In 2021-22, Randle shot 30% from three, a devastating 11% dropoff. 

While Randle likely won’t shoot above 40% from deep in 2022-23, it’s unlikely he will continue his poor play. The offensive talent New York added this offseason will take the pressure off Randle and increase his efficiency. 

Despite the poor season, the Knicks saw improvement from RJ Barrett. Barrett averaged 20 PPG, 5.8 REB, and 3 AST in 2021-22. Although his shooting averages dropped, his usage rate increased. Throughout the season, Barrett developed into the Knicks’ go-to option on both sides of the floor. Barrett’s exponential growth places him among the top young two-way players in the league heading into the 2022-23 season. 

The Knicks also made a splash in free agency after signing former Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson to a four-year $104 million deal. Brunson was a key piece in the Mavericks’ run to the Western Conference Finals in 2022, averaging 21.6 PPG, 4.6 REB, and 3.7 AST in the postseason. Whether or not he can succeed as the primary ball handler in New York is unknown, but he is sure to make a significant offensive impact. 

The Knicks tried to further improve their roster this offseason by pursuing All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell. New York was engaged in trade talks with Utah and seemed to be the only franchise with the assets to match Mitchell’s cost.

The Knicks complicated negotiations when they resigned Barrett to a four-year $120 million rookie extension — essentially removing him from trade talks. Not long after Barrett put pen to paper, Mitchell was sent to a young Cleveland team quickly climbing the ranks of the Eastern Conference.

Missing out on Mitchell might end up being a blessing in disguise for the Knicks. Mitchell would have improved the team, but he wouldn’t have added much versatility to the roster. Brunson isn’t as talented as Mitchell, but he brings a similar skillset. Considering the costs of both players, pairing Brunson and Mitchell in the backcourt could have made more problems than solutions for the Knicks.

Led by Barrett, the potential of New York’s young core is exciting. Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley have both shown flashes of becoming key rotation players. Jericho Sims and Quentin Grimes played well in the Summer League, with Grimes even being in the conversation for Summer League MVP.

New York’s treasure trove of draft capitol is among the most valuable in the league. In the next seven drafts (2023-29), the Knicks own 11 first round picks. Four of those picks are in 2023 alone. A trade for Mitchell would have costs most of their young players and picks, and wouldn’t have solidified the Knicks as a top three team in the east.

Heading into the 2022-23 season, New York is a fringe playoff team. Even if they manage to escape the play-in tournament, it’s unlikely they get passed the likes of Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami, and Boston.

In the age of player empowerment, player movement is at an all-time high. It’s nearly impossible to predict which players will test free agency or request a trade. However, the Knicks are among the few teams that can take advantage of this trend.

New York is often proclaimed the “Mecca” of basketball due to the popularity of the game throughout the city. NBA greats like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kobe Bryant have spoken about the excitement that comes with playing at Madison Square Garden. The lights seem to shine brighter in the garden, and the opportunities that come with playing there is sure to attract star talent.

The Knicks don’t only provide a big stage for superstars, but the roster is talented enough to excite players around the league. Barrett is only 22-years-old and has the potential to be an All-Star. Brunson is 26-years-old and his years in Dallas alongside Luka Doncic showed how well he compliments superstar talent.

Most importantly, the Knicks have the assets required to make a move for an All-Star caliber player. They may have missed out on Mitchell, but the future is bright for New York basketball.

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