The offseason is an important time in any sport. Players can get some much-needed rest after a long season, get their bodies right and improve their games. How much a player gets done during the offseason and what they work on can often dictate not only how their individual season goes but how the team functions the following year.
After a bittersweet season, one in which the Knicks over-performed during the regular season but bombed out of the playoffs, there were a lot of questions during media day about what each player worked on and how this improved roster was going to take the next step as a team.
Julius Randle, who may have had the biggest letdown during the playoffs, revealed that was playing faster.
Among the things Julius Randle worked on in offseason: “Playing faster” & “making quicker decisions,” he says. Asked about ATL series, Randle says he felt that he could’ve “made the game way more simple.” Also says it’s great that all NYK players are vaccinated, will be available— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) September 27, 2021
It was clear during the playoffs last year that Randle at times was thinking too much and trying to make the perfect play or find the perfect shot. Oftentimes, he ended up getting into his own head and making things more difficult for himself and his teammates as the shot clock would wind down and the Hawks’ defense was able to set up better. If he is able to be more decisive, it should allow him to attack the defense in a more efficient manner and find better shots for both himself and his teammates. Having more offensive threats in newcomers Evan Fournier (a great on-the-move shooter), and isolation threat Kemba Walker should also help Randle not have to try to do as much this season.
There is also RJ Barrett and his offseason, who we took a look at in a previous article. The hope is that he can take the next step in his game by continuing to improve as an outside shooter, but also becoming more confident and efficient as a ball handler. If he can become someone that can get his own shot off the dribble to both create shots for himself and others over the next season or two, then the Knicks’ offense will be a lot more deadly than it was last season. As of now, Randle still relies on Randle and the guards to find his 3-point shots and even some of his drives are off of kick outs. If he can become an isolation threat and be able to take advantage of mismatches, Randle’s job becomes even easier.
Another thing to note is the return of Mitchell Robinson. The Hawks often were able to load up on to Randle’s side because they left Nerlens Noel alone and cheated Capela up to shadow Randle at all times. While Noel is a great rim protector, his frame and lack of offensive game hindered the Knicks’ offense during their lone playoff series. Robinson himself doesn’t have a versatile offensive package, but is a far greater lob threat than Noel is, giving Randle more space and options when attacking. With Mitchell on the floor, Capela will have to think twice about leaving the Knicks’ center behind to help out on Randle.
Immanuel Quickley, on the other hand, talked about some of his defensive improvements. He mentioned his work on the midrange pull-up and stated that he also worked on becoming better at the things he was already good at (floater, shooting). But one thing that was refreshing to hear about was how much of a better defender he thinks he can be this season. In an era where so much of the game is about offense and the stats players post, Quickley made it known that he thinks he can take a big step on defense as he has become stronger and has adapted his body to the NBA level.
The other Knicks rookie, Obi Toppin, got off to a slower start than the aforementioned Quickley. Quickley got used to the NBA game a lot faster than Toppin and had some big games and moments for the Knicks early on in the season. Meanwhile, the rookie big man had a harder time staying on the floor and really finding out what his role was. So coming into this season, Toppin knew that he had to get a lot better. And he, as well as the coaching staff, seem to believe that he was able to accomplish that.
The former University of Dayton star talked about how he really wanted to work on his 3-point shooting, something we saw glimpses of during Summer League. While he is still best used as a roll man and in transition, where he is able to use his elite athleticism, it will be his shooting that will really allow him to stay on the floor, as it will allow him to play alongside Randle at times and stretch the floor for the other guys like Walker and Barrett, who will surely have the ball in their hands a lot more. Fans should be excited for the hometown kid, as he ended last season on a high note playing more and more minutes as the season went on and having key moments in the playoffs.
Another interesting thing to keep an eye on may be Noel and a new addition in his game. Noel revealed that the team wanted him to work on adding the corner 3-point shot to his game.
Nerlens Noel said Knicks asked him to work on the corner three in the offseason and make it a shot that he can take in a game. Noel said that shooting from the perimeter is one of the things he worked on in the offseason.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) September 28, 2021
Having this could allow him to bring a new flavor to the Knicks’ big men, as none of the centers on the team are shooters. It would allow him to stay on the court more against teams like the Hawks, who were playing off of him to double and trap Randle. This should still be taken with a grain of salt. The NBA is heavily centered around outside shooting nowadays, and every season, we see a video surface of a big man working on their outside shot. We have seen guys like Ben Simmons and Dwight Howard getting up 3-point shots in the offseason, only for them to never actually shoot them during the season. Heck, we even saw former Knick Tyson Chandler go through the same reports.
The front office did bring in some outside help through the draft and by acquiring Walker and Fournier, but the team will need its returning players to not only replicate what they did last year, but take another step if the Knicks want to contend with a lot of the other teams in the conference that also improved. And for the most part, it seems like the front office is not only counting on that to happen, but believing that it will. There are a lot of ifs, but if Randle can become a more decisive player while replicating similar stats and Barrett can take the next step as an on-ball creator, and Quickley and Toppin become more consistent and versatile, then the Knicks have a chance of becoming a better team and even surprising people again this season.