Greetings, friends. The 2020-21 regular season is upon us, and the P&T staff is here to answer some questions and toss out some predictions. Let’s get to it!
Forget Game 1...what is the Knicks’ starting lineup for the final game of the season?
Joe: Immanuel Quickley/Alec Burks/RJ Barrett/Obi Toppin/Mitchell Robinson. Of course, my dream scenario is that Burks gets traded for a pick in March, Marcus Morris-style, and Frank Ntilikina takes over his minutes, but I doubt Burks will be that valuable at the trade deadline, and the Knicks seem to like him. Toppin will play nearly the entire season on the second unit, but Tom Thibodeau will give him a tryout very late in the season. As for Mitch and IQ, they should be starting Game 1, regardless of whatever veteran shenanigans go down early in the season. Still, they’ll get their chances eventually.
Stingy: I’ll try something that will surely backfire here. Immanuel Quickley, Frank Ntilikina, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson. In my world Elfrid Payton, Burks and Reggie Bullock have been parted out for uninspiring picks and expiring salary. Kevin Knox makes a leap, and his shooting proves invaluable. This development has everyone arguing about Knox vs Toppin. It’s much less upsetting than arguing for Ntilikina over Dennis Smith Jr and Elfrid.
Miranda: Quickley, RJ, Knox, Toppin and Mitch. If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up.
Alex: Quickley, someone not yet on the roster, RJ, Obi, Mitch. Who’s that mystery person? I’m not sure. I just have this weird feeling the Knicks are going to be players at the trade deadline this year. They have a surplus of picks (especially second rounders) and based off the money spent around the league this offseason, there are a lot of teams that fancy themselves contenders. The Knicks will figure they’re set at the frontcourt spots with RJ/Obi/Mitch and seek a backcourt player from some team that’s depleted in draft picks and not doing nearly as well as they figured they would be by midseason.
Bootum: Quickley/Rivers/Barrett/Randle/Mitch. Not ideal, but not the worst. I just don’t see Randle actually ever being shipped or bought out, and even if Obi outplays Randle/improves significantly, they may decide to just stay with what’s ‘working’ like they did with Taj and Mitch last year. Burks would fill in that Rivers spot, but I imagine he’ll be traded at the deadline, and I think they’ll have Rivers fill in that role over Bullock or Frank.
BennyBuckets: If nothing else, Tom Thibodeau is a man who appreciates process. While it’s possible that Immanuel Quickley’s impressive preseason portends a place in the starting lineup, it’s more likely that Elfrid Payton’s consistency will be counted on, at least at the beginning of games. Ditto for Randle, who will be starting throughout the year unless Obi Toppin forces Thibs’ hand by averaging 20 and 10 on 100% shooting from 50 feet out or something. Mitchell Robinson must wrestle the starting position from Nerlens Noel, lest his young career on the Knicks wind up being for naught.
Okay, enough stalling. Here’s the five: Elf, Alec Burks, RJ Barrett, Randle and Robinson. But the rookies and youngsters will all get opportunities, and those who capitalize will receive their share of minutes.
How many Knicks average at least 10.0 points per game?
Joe: Can you remember the five Knicks who averaged 10.0 PPG last season? RJ, Randle, Morris, Elf and Bobby Portis. RJ and Randle are probably locks to rejoin this club, but who else will join them? I’ll go with Alec Burks, Kevin Knox and Immanuel Quickley. Obi Toppin and Mitchell Robinson (9.7 PPG last season) will get close, but this lineup will be more balanced than last year. RJ will lead the team in scoring, supplanting Randle.
Stingy: Alright let’s have a look see here. RJ Barrett and Julius Randle for certain. I’ll give you Burks too. I’m also gonna count on Mitchell Robinson to get there. I’d expect 20 one night, six the next, but that would put him comfortably in the double digit stratosphere. My sneaky guy is Austin Rivers who has averaged double figures only twice in his career, but I have a feeling his usage will rise for a team that is a little dry in the on-ball shot creation department. If there’s a sixth player (!) in double digits that might imply the Knicks are a good team. I’m not ready to go there.
Miranda: Randle. Barrett. Toppin. Knox. Quickley. Payton. Burks.
Alex: Just out of guys currently on the roster, assuming we’re only gonna factor in their time on the Knicks (not like, Burks’ total average if he gets traded to another team and his average dips below 10): RJ, Randle, Burks, Mitch, Knox. Quickley will be close but no cigar. Obi will be further away than a dude that was dubbed one of the most offensively ready NBA prospects should be.
Bootum: Screw it, let’s go Quickley. I have to imagine he’ll eventually steal a starting spot and I can’t see him not squeezing out double digits if he does. Then also Randle unfortunately, RJ, Burks, and considering he almost did last year, Mitch has to break that threshold this year. Let’s go Obi too out of principle.
BennyBuckets: RJ, Randle, and, uh, hmm. Hopefully Burks, who has done so in each of the last four seasons. Robinson really should, especially if he wants New York to pony up some serious dough for a contract extension (Mitch has a $1.8 million team option for next season but the Knicks could extend him before then if they so please). Frank Ntilikina won’t, but you don’t understand his intangibles, which don’t always show up in your fancy ‘statistics’ and ‘analytics.’ Toppin might, but it’s really not clear whether he’s quite as ‘NBA ready’ as the internet keeps saying. He’s promising though, and could average 15 points a game if all goes well. Oh yeah, Austin Rivers. He’ll probably will, except because of him it’ll end up only being Rivers, Barrett and Randle who break the double digit mark.
Does Frank Ntilikina have a role by the end of the season?
Joe: In his season preview, Marc Berman predicted Frank will be traded for the second-round pick at the deadline. Call me crazy, but I still believe Frank has a role on this club. He helped anchor the second unit last season, and he can defend 1-4. He’ll eventually prove more useful than Reggie Bullock. That doesn’t mean they’ll re-sign him in the offseason, though.
Stingy: He’s got a role but it’s as a bench wing who can help initiate and run secondary pick and rolls. The nice thing is that you’ll be able to see him in the game when it’s time to seal or steal a win.
Miranda: For another team, yes.
Alex: Yeah, he’s gonna become a Swiss Army knife guy playing minutes from the 1-3 spots under Thibs. There’s noise from guys like Alan Hahn on Pod Strickland saying that Frank wants to be a point guard exclusively, and if that’s true, basically consider him gone at the end of the year.
Bootum: I think it will be a very depressing off-ball role where he’s known to be gone at the end of the season, but he’s too good not to play after a Burks trade and DSJ benching. If that qualifies as an actual role. He’s already in danger of being out of the rotation for Bullock before Rivers even comes back.
BennyBuckets: This is a make it or break it year for Frank, who is already breaking down after injuring his achilles in the preseason. If he can get healthy and display the defensive prowess he’s always shown while improving even slightly on offense, Thibs will want to keep him around. But NBA teams need healthy bodies they can rely on, and the ticky tack injuries in Frank’s career are already piling up. Rip this entire paragraph up if Ntilikina plays in the season opener and picks up where he left off last season, with averages of 9.5 points, 3.2 assists, 1.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals on 44% from the field and 35% from deep in the final six games of the year.
Who is the better rookie: Quickley or Toppin?
Joe: Quickley. The Knicks have an odd recent history of their second picks out-playing their lottery picks as rookies — Damyean Dotson over Frank, Mitch over Knox — and this season will be no exception. Toppin has the pedigree, and he seems like a fine overall team player, but IQ’s got what the Knicks need, baby — namely, shot creation and three-point shooting. He’ll be a starter sooner rather than later.
Stingy: Quickley. Yes, fit and need matters. They just don’t need Toppin as much. Meanwhile Immanuel can fit right in on both ends.
Miranda: He may not be as popular or as impactful, since Quickley is an oasis in the middle of a decades-long desert whereas Toppin is maybe the RC Cola to Randle’s Tab. But I think evaluations of Obi will mirror a lot of people’s attitudes toward him as the draft approached: underestimation followed by reminders that he went 17 spots ahead of Quickley for reasons.
Alex: Guess it depends on the definition of “better.” I think Obi still has more raw talent. Quickley fills more of a need and will put up better numbers and be given more opportunities. Obi is going to take a while to figure out how to use his athleticism against guys that are way bigger than the ones he used to play at Dayton, because he’s quite a bit smaller than most NBA front court players. That’s going to lead to him underwhelming out of the gate and (hopefully) finishing the season strong. But I’ll say Quickley overall.
Bootum: This roundtable should have been done before preseason because there’s no way on earth I can bring myself to say Obi right now. But I think even if Quickley comes down to earth it’s hard to see a rookie big man with defensive concerns being better than a point guard who does so many things this and really any team needs competently.
BennyBuckets: Toppin has the higher ceiling as an individual player, but Quickley’s potential impact on a team is insane. Sure, the Knicks were playing a depleted Cleveland Cavaliers team in that last preseason game, but Quickley’s confidence as both a table setter and scoring option made the Knicks look like a competent basketball team, which, man. Goals, right?
What is the Knicks’ final record (remember: it’s a 72-game season)?
Joe: 26-46. I’d really like to be more bullish on this team, but the front half of the schedule is an absolute beast, and Thibs will likely make the traditional Knicks head coach mistake of playing shitty vets too many minutes at the start. The team will show more fight in the second half of the season.
Stingy: I anticipate a consistent and prepared defensive team that will benefit from a few guys taking leaps forward. 30-42.
Miranda: 33-39. What a pretty number.
Alex: I said 21-51 in the Strickland roundtable, so I gotta stick to my guns there. I think there will be a lot of losses by 10 points or less, hard fought losses that count as “moral victories,” but losses nonetheless. The Cavs’ weird G-League preseason lineup ain’t walking through that door for some feel-good blowouts. We’re on to actual NBA competition.
Bootum: Again, after preseason it’s hard to imagine this team not winning 40 games. But most teams are not the Pistons or Love-less Cavs. Even if everything goes right for this team it’s hard to see them being any better than the 26th best team in the NBA. Even the teams considered to be potentially worse than us in the Pistons, Cavs, and Thunder have a lot of solid established NBA players than we do in Griffin, Wright, Rose, Love, Drummond, Nance, Hill, Horford etc. Gonna go a lowball 20 wins and at least have being right to look forward to if we’re that bad.
BennyBuckets: The Thibs effect means the Knicks are going to be more competitive on a nightly basis than they’ve been in the past few seasons, and the roster has some nice young talent who seem eager to prove their worth. Still, the NBA is extremely good, and on most nights, the opponent will be formidable. Las Vegas has the over-under set at 22.5 wins for the Knicks. They’ll beat the odds with 26 wins while missing the playoffs by plenty, but the end of the season will taste pretty yummy. Like a delicious froyo.