If you talk to any New York Knicks fan about the Knicks’ 2020 season, most would be pleased with the results. True, many fans underestimated the Atlanta Hawks team they faced in the playoffs, but just getting to the playoffs for the first time in seven long seasons felt amazing for fans. The combination of Leon Rose, Scott Perry, and Tom Thibodeau has resurrected a proud franchise from the gutter of the NBA.
The Knicks overachieved last season by winning more than 20 regular-season games over their expected record. Vegas expected the Knicks to win only 21 games, and the Knicks ended the 2020 season with a 41-31 record. No one expected Julius Randle to play at the level he did, and the result of his play won Randle the most improved player award. Rookie guard Immanuel Quickley also had a great season and received a second All-Rookie team nomination.
The Knicks returned most of their roster from 2020. They re-signed free agents Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, and clutch bench player Alec Burks. The Knicks also exercised their team option for Mitchell Robinson, who is still recovering from his foot injury. In addition, the Knicks let starting guards Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton sign with other teams in the off-season.
The Knicks added a bonafide point guard in Kemba Walker, as the Knicks have lacked a skilled point guard for the last ten years. Replacing Payton with Walker is an instant upgrade on offense, as Payton disappeared in the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Knicks also signed combo guard/forward Evan Fournier. Adding Fournier will help the growth of RJ Barrett. Having both Fournier and Walker as 3-point threats should allow Barrett to see more open looks from beyond the arc. Fournier is also an underrated defender and should fit well in Thibodeau’s defensive scheme.
Jericho Sims PF – Sims is a strong power forward. He is extremely athletic and has the size to play a small-ball 5. The Knicks will try to maximize his 44.5” vertical, and his 7’3” wingspan on the defensive and offensive ends.
Quentin Grimes – SG Grimes is considered an up-and-coming, 3-and-D player. Grimes hit over 40% of his 3-point FG his last season at Houston. However, he may not see much playing time being behind Quickley and Rose on the bench rotation.
Miles McBride – PG McBride is a perfect Thibodeau guard. He plays the pick-and-roll well, plays good defense, and is an excellent shooter. McBride shot over 40% from the field and over 42% from 3-point range at West Virginia.
Key to Success
The key to the Knicks for this coming season will be the continued development of RJ Barrett, Quickley, and Toppin. Julius Randle may plateau based on his highly successful 2020 campaign. Randle led the NBA in minutes, and he will have to be healthy for the Knicks to have a good 2021 season. Adding another point guard in Walker should help the Knicks break down defenses, but will Walker stay healthy enough to make an impact through an 82 game season? The other teams in the Eastern Conference also improved— Chicago, Miami, Boston, and Toronto all made moves to improve their rosters during the summer, making things difficult for the Knicks to repeat as a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
Knicks finish 45-37, sufficient for the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. They face the Nets in the playoffs and lose the series 4-2.
The Knicks now look like a destination for players to come. At the trade deadline, I see the Knicks putting a package together for a disgruntled superstar– names like Damian Lilliard and Karl Anthony-Towns come to mind. Is it possible that Zion Williamson will want to reunite with college teammate RJ Barrett?
Knicks fans have hope for the first time in a decade, and we just want to build on last year’s success.