With the preseason finished, so is the time for preseason opinions. Now is the time for 82-game opinions. Let’s roundtable.
1) If the Knicks stay reasonably healthy, where do you hope they finish as far as record and/or seeding?
Flynn: Hope? Now there’s a word I haven’t hear ‘round these parts in a long time. I do, however, believe the Knicks can approach 50 wins if fully healthy. I’m tired of hearing about how improved the rest of the East is. The Knicks were on a 50-win pace following the Derrick Rose trade, and they’ve improved in almost every possible way. I don’t know about their seeding, but I expect them to finish above the play-in game mix.
Escobedo: Once the dust settled from free agency I was anticipating a slight drop to the sixth seed. Then the Kemba Walker/OKC fleece happened and you couldn’t convince me we would be anything lower than staying fourth. After a perfect preseason it’s Knicks in four all day. I think with renewed depth, the current Coach of the Year, a big year from RJ Barrett and a competent front office, we will hit the 50 burger and earn the third seed. Feels crazy to even type that. But, you can’t tell me nothing at this point. Seriously though, who can challenge us? I’ll give you the Bucks and Nets (even without Kyrie Irving), but with the chaos in Philly the top three isn’t as stable as last year. So please, tell us, who’s better than the Knicks at #3?
Richardson: That 41-31 record was the result of great play, great coaching, and a few lucky breaks. Julius astonished, RJ defied expectations of a sophomore slump, and Rose arrived in time to keep their asses above water. (How many teams play their best PG with the secondary squad??) As for those lucky breaks — NY won a few games with the opponent’s best player sitting out for the night...shame on me, I can’t think of examples off the top of my head. But look it up. And I can’t find the stat, but teams shot terribly against us from deep last year, often on unchallenged threes. So that was lucky. Overall, Thibs, Johnnie Bryant, and Kenny Payne squeezed all they could out of a ragtag group.
This year, they have a more cohesive and talented squad offensively. New York has become one of the deepest teams in the league — at every position. A regression on the defensive end can be expected, but probably not to the extent some think. Thibs demands wins and has shown an unexpected flexibility to achieve those ends (see the most recent Washington game, when he rolled out a small-ball lineup to seal the deal). Health is the main concern, but depth counteracts that. So, everything I see points to this team winning 47-50 games.
Bootum: Well I’d hope for the first seed. Realistically, though, anything lower than the Bucks isn’t out of play with the Nets/Sixers respective nonsense. I would say 4-seed at minimum, higher if those teams fall apart. Record-wise I am expecting 50+ wins, and it wouldn’t shock me if that was 55+. I think it’s somehow understated how much Elfrid Payton held back this team at times, and Rose alone helped so much even when he was inefficient at first. The offense should take a massive leap and the defense should not fall back much, if at all. It’s also worth noting that the Knicks are one of few teams with a great deal of continuity in an always-changing NBA. That alone can help them knock out a ton of wins early in the season. They were nearly unstoppable down the stretch last year till the playoffs when everyone was clicking, and I don’t see much reason for why they shouldn’t build on that.
Miranda: the play-in? no thanks/happy to finish top-six/also, fuck paul pierce
2) What are you looking for this year to show progress from last?
Flynn: This is easy. The offense was butt last season, ranked 23rd. This is why you go out and replace Payton and Reggie Bullock with Kemba and Evan Fournier, even if there might be a bit of an adjustment period. I want the offense to approach what we saw in the preseason. That would be progress.
Escobedo: Last year had so many high points: the Knicks resurrected their 1990s defensive reputation, secured the fourth seed in the East, and made the playoffs. Oh, and Bobby Shmurda was released and celebrated outside on the MSG marquee. For this year, the goal is to hear Mike Breen yell “Bang!” more after drained 3-pointers. This will come from the team hoisting 8-10 more 3s than the 30 per game they attempted last year. So take them, but make them good ones, please, preferably from the corner. We should also be more competitive from the jump in games now that Payton won’t handicap the Knicks as a four-on-five on offense. Kemba can be a totally different player at the point when healthy. The expectation should also be on RJ to average over 20 a night. If he does, and either ties Randle as leading scorer or, even better, surpasses him, the sky’s the limit for these Knicks.
Richardson: A more diversified offense. And they’ve already shown signs of improvement on that front, scoring 125, 117, 108, and 115 in their preseason contests. Thibs promised more 3s, and they launched a ton through those four games. Kemba and Fournier bring a gravity that Elf and Reggie didn’t. Just rewatch the highlights on YouTube, and you’ll see that the 2021 floor spacing is superior to 2020’s. Julius and RJ continue to be threats from deep or barrel to the basket for an and-one. Hell, Julius seems able to score from anywhere at will now. Add Mitchell Robinson or Taj Gibson to the mix and they’re threats because of the lobbing ability (Mitch) or the surprising jumper (Taj; I love Nerlens Noel, but he’s no major threat to score.) And that’s just the starters. In comes the bench squad. Rose is shooting a silky floater from midrange or 3, Alec Burks is a reliable hand, Obi Toppin has shown signs of scoring the way we’d hoped when he was drafted, and Immanuel Quickley is streaky but lethal when he’s on a roll and always demands attention. So, yeah, a more diverse offense. I think we’ve got it.
Bootum: As everyone else has echoed, the offense. So much of last year was not just riding Randle, but Quickley, Burks, and Rose at times. The Knicks have seven genuine reliable scoring threats this year (not even counting Toppin) with the additions of Walker and Fournier, both of who like to play within the offense and share the ball. I’d like to see a continuation of preseason in guys continuing to share the ball and playing as a unit. Isolation play has its merits, but team ball can certainly take the offense to another dimension.
Miranda: rj takes the leap/randle shows he’s the real deal/beat philly someday
3) Last season New York finished 3rd in defensive rating and 23rd in offensive rating. Where do you think they end up this season?
Flynn: The D will slide a bit this season, if only because they were too reliant on opponents missing some pretty decent shot attempts. If the Knicks are going to return to the playoffs, they need to make up that difference on offense. Let’s say eighth in D-rating, 14th in O-rating.
Escobedo: There’s no amount of homerism that can get me to lie around Walker and Fournier as bad defenders. Check the tape, it’s a fact. But if anyone can work around players’ weaknesses on the defensive end and integrate them within a system that covers for weaknesses and responds fluidly to opponents, it’s Thibodeau. The newly-signed Knicks will also drastically improve what was an anemic offense last year. The Knicks were too dependent on Randle bailouts and blast-from-the-past games from Rose. I predict fifth in defense and eighth in offense from increased three-point attempts and being three-deep at every position.
Richardson: Across the league, there are a few teams that should score more than New York. The Nets, Warriors, Blazers, Jazz, Bucks and Hawks (bastards). With the added firepower of Kemba and Fournier, and based on the small-sample size of preseason games, I predict the Knicks will be a top-12 offense. As for defense, it hurts to lose Reggie, but not as badly as you’d think. RJ has shown flashes of sturdy D so far; look for Thibs to put him on the toughest assignments. Many folks praised Elfrid’s defense, but I saw many guys skip right past him. So if Kemba’s soft on that end, he isn’t much worse than Payton.
As for Randle, the truly remarkable thing about his development last year was that he improved on both ends. We’ll continue to get solid play from him. Then there’s the center position. We saw the other night against Washington how much Mitchell affects the game. When he checked in, Kuzma looked positively afraid of him. Those extra 40 pounds have changed a beast into a BEAST. We didn’t have that last year. Noel is great, but he’s thin and got pushed around by bigger bodies. So, look for us to place in the 5-10 range defensively.
Bootum: A fall-off defensively could be expected with incorporating Walker, but anything lower than a top-10 defensive rating would be surprising. The offense should really shoot up, though. The bench unit alone of Rose, Quickley, Burks, Toppin and Gibson had an offensive rating of 119 and a defensive rating of 99, both of which would lead the league. The starters with Rose in place of Payton and Noel for Robinson was 117 with a defensive rating of 101. Those numbers are staggering, and even more proof this team at full-strength may be underrated. Factor in expected improvements to Barrett, Quickley, Robinson, plus the additions of Fournier and Walker, and they can be ORTG and DRTG darlings all year long.
Miranda: offense top-15/can the D finish top-10?/that’s their bread’s butter
4) If all the Knicks fought in a steel-cage death match, who’s walking out alive?
Flynn: Quickley, because he went to my high school.
Escobedo: Taj has shown he is willing to do absolutely whatever it takes to win. I have to believe this would translate to a death match as well. The man is both brains and brawn. His chiseled physique and dawg mentality ensure he could take anyone outside of Randle one-on-one. But we have yet to see Randle perform in do-or-die situations, something Taj has a decade of doing as a playoff starter with the Bulls, Wolves and last year’s Knicks. So it’s not hard to imagine Taj outsmarting Randle, a skill he honed growing up in the Fort Green projects during the ‘90s, dodging stick-up boys, crooked cops and gang-bangers to survive.
Richardson: Rose. He’s got that whole zen-ninja vibe and has proven to be a cold killer on the court. Thibodeau has rewired his brain to not quit until deactivated. Unless nunchucks are allowed. If so, I can see Quickley being a master of nunchuckery, killing all comers.
Bootum: Thibs. He already has contingency plans to take everyone down, like Batman. Though he would probably play the Penguin.
Miranda: the one who’ll survive/once a boy but now a man/rj all the way
5) Is Randle most likely to improve, hold steady or regress?
Flynn: One of my biggest worries is Randle’s adjustment in the context of this new, more talented offense. He doesn’t have to do as much, but how long will it take him to incorporate that less-is-more attitude into his offensive game? I believe he will make the adjustments — he adjusted quickly to Mike Miller’s new schemes when Miller replaced David Fizdale mid-season — but it could take a few weeks. The counting numbers will go down, but don’t be so quick to call it a regression.
Escobedo: I think we see a slight dip in Randle’s numbers simply because of the talent Leon Rose added with the Boston backcourt, as well as an anticipated uptick in production from Barrett, Toppin, and Robinson. However, I think Randle’s efficiency holds firm. None of this matters until the playoffs start. That’s where we have to see Randle play better and average more when it matters more. Last year against the Hawks, who were middle-of-the-pack in defensive rating and employed a zone to see just how elite Randle was, he showed his Carmelo Anthony impersonation has limitations. The silky midrange game and footwork employed during the regular-season failed him. To truly take on the role Melo played for our #KnicksTape team, he has to rise above the pressure and read what the defense gives him. Sometimes it’s just about having the audacity to be great. Until Randle gets his next shot at proving himself come playoff time, regular season stats only mean so much.
Richardson: My answer as a basketball fan is that he’ll hold-steady and possibly, slightly improve. My answer as a father who has experience life with three infants: man, babies can screw with your sleep. So it’s a hold-steady, and maybe a slight regression.
Bootum: I think anyone is lying if they can say they know for sure. This man has gone through so many transformations so fast. At times he was an energy/defensive big off the bench for the Lakers. Then he was an elite pick-and-roll scorer for the Pelicans. Then he was dreadful on the Knicks his first season; though that obviously was not all his fault, he put up one of the worst 3-point shooting seasons ever. Last year he shot like Kevin Durant and didn’t even drive much at all. Ideally, he would continue to improve his shot as he appeared to do down the stretch, attempting more advanced pull-up and contested 3s as he continued to in preseason. But a shooting regression from someone who didn’t look like they could shoot two seasons ago wouldn’t shock me. Regardless, I think this roster allows him to go back to the old pick-and-roll him in New Orleans at times, which we didn’t see much of last season. The additions of Fournier and Walker will generally make his life worlds easier on offense — so if he does “regress,” it’ll be hard to notice and he’ll be about as impactful, I hope.
Miranda: too scared to answer/last year’s leap was historic/i have no idea
6) If you were trapped for a week in a house with no power due to a hurricane, which Knick would you most like to be trapped with?
Retro grammar queens: If you were trapped for a week in a house with no power due to a hurricane, with which Knick would you most like to be trapped?
Flynn: Fournier. He seems like a dude who knows about fine dining and such. Plus I could learn French.
Escobedo: I’m going left-of-center and choosing Thibodeau. This scenario sounds pretty apocalyptic. Give me a box of matches and Thibs waxing basketball knowledge in the tone of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. After a week I would walk out of that house prepared to be a better coach than at least Luke Walton.
Richardson: Taj. Pick a season and let him tell stories. I bet he’s seen all the crazy, salacious behind-the-scenes NBA stuff we’ve heard rumors about. And I bet he knows where Thibs buries the bodies.
Bootum: Jericho Sims. Don’t know much about him, but he seems chill.
Miranda: mos def james dolan./1% motherfuckers/never lose power
7) What are your best-case scenarios for the rookies this year: Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride and Jericho Sims?
Flynn: I must say, Thibs’ heavy use of Grimes in the final preseason game has thrown me for a loop. Might the rook actually get significant time in games when a vet guard is injured or rests? That would probably be his best-case scenario. As for McBride and Sims, they might be better served kicking ass in the G League this season.
Escobedo: The leash Thibs has for rooks can be counted in centimeters. Best-case for Grimes is coming in when Burks can’t handle a bigger, more athletic wing and plays 10-15 minutes, knocking down 3s and playing within Thibs’ system. Of the three, I think Grimes has the best chance to play more than 10 minutes per game on this deep squad, due to his size, defensive motor and 3-point stroke. McBride possesses two of these virtues, but lacks size and plays behind two former All-Stars Thibs is bound to overrely on. McBride’s best-case scenario would come with a scary caveat: we find out Walker isn’t able to play an 82-game season anymore and Thibs has to go deep on McBride to mitigate minutes alongside Rose and Quickley. It also helps that he and Grimes are used to intense coaching from the sidelines. Bob Huggins of West Virginia and Houston’s Kelvin Sampson are dawgs in their own right and care little for feelings and ego; it’s about the betterment of the team. And that can only be achieved through mental fortitude and hard fucking work. Simms has the most bodies in front of him for playing time — especially if Toppin continues to improve on defense and show he can play alongside Randle, not just behind him.
Richardson: Deuce gets some G-League time to keep his skills sharp and subs in for some riveting garbage time. Sims plays more than we’d expect (or perhaps like), appearing in 20-25 games, and gradually shows more certainty on the defensive end. Finally, Grimes wins over Thibs and takes some of Burks’ minutes — say, 10-12 minutes per game by the All-Star break.
Bootum: Best-case for really all the rookies is that they can fill in situationally as Sims did for Robinson and Noel in preseason, and as Grimes did against Washington. I would not be surprised if we don’t see much of them, but I would be shocked if we didn’t see them at all. Besides Deuce, who seems loved by the team and staff regardless, they all showed they can contribute for moments at a time, though it was just preseason. Someone will have to step up when Walker/Rose/Burks are inevitably out, and I would not trust that to be Kevin Knox reliably.
Miranda: i can see mcbride/spelling kemba, getting run/versus tough point guards
8) With crowds back, will you miss hearing Thibodeau bark, or enjoy the silence?
Flynn: I don’t get MSG, so I use League Pass. When I’m watching home games, I love to hear the crowd. On the road, I usually mute that shit.
Escobedo: I’ll take the pandemonium only Knicks fans can bring over Thibs’ guttural growls any day of the week. It’s going to be great to have fans holding the team accountable again. A rollicking Madison Square Garden creates a feeling artists of all mediums have been trying to duplicate for decades. It’s primal, empathetic, and as old as time. The kind of thing that makes the hair on your arm stand up. It has to be akin to the feeling early humans had when they used a homemade spear to kill dinner for their family. God giveth and God taketh away. Let’s be thankful we are finally living under better times.
Richardson: Thibs yelling is my ringtone. More, please.
Bootum: I miss the rage.
Miranda: it’s a trick question/even a sold-out Garden/can’t out-loud that man