The Knicks went into the All-Star break over .500 for the first time since 2013 and are in the middle of a very intense and close playoff race — and that’s not all. Coach Tom Thibodeau has come in and has successfully created the kind of culture so many new coaches talk about trying to instill. Julius Randle was a first-time All-Star, and while there have been some growing pains, the young core of RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Mitchell Robinson have all shown signs of promise. So what do we want to see going forward in the second half of the season?
1) More development from RJ Barrett
Barrett’s continued growth has to be what all Knicks fans want to see. He started the year looking very aggressive and while his jump shot faltered, he looked like he was on his way to a very good sophomore season. Ever since, he has gone thorough his share of ups and downs. He saw his minutes go down in February as his scoring suffered, only to bring it back and finish the first half of the season on a positive note with a few solid games.
As currently constructed, RJ Barrett is the Knicks’ second best player, and if they want to take the next step as a team, his improvement will be a key factor. Thibodeau and the Knicks obviously want to remain competitive and make the playoffs. but hopefully the team can allow their young star to go thorough the growing pains now so that he can be ready when the team is ready to take the next step.
2) Make the playoffs
As stated above, the Knicks brass has made it clear that they want to make it to the playoffs. This would have been number 1 on this list were it not for this year’s draft class. With the likes of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley, Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green all available this summer, missing the playoffs and being in the lottery to possibly grab one of those players may be more beneficial in the long run.
That being said, the Knicks have not been this competitive in nearly a decade and any kind of playoff experience will be beneficial to this team, especially the younger players. Making the playoffs could also help bolster their shot at potentially landing a free agent in the future. MSG may not be at full capacity, but to see playoff basketball back in New York City would be would be amazing.
3) More Immanuel Quickley, please
This one probably will not happen, but getting a better look at Immanuel Quickley and seeing if he can be the point guard of the future would go a long way in understanding what the team needs are and what they need to do personnel-wise going forward. Thibodeau loves both Elfrid Payton and Derrick Rose, so Quickley will most likely not get the full point-guard minutes, but if the Knicks do end up with one of the top picks it will be hard to pass up on one of the top guards. If that is the case, the question of what to do with Quickley will arise. Even if he ends up not being the point guard of the future, getting him continuous and consistent playing time now will only help accelerate his growth.
4) Trade Elfrid Payton
Payton has been very solid for the Knicks. He plays pretty good defense and while he struggles with his jump shot and gets a bit too trigger happy at times, he can have nights where he carries the offense. That being said, it seems beneficial for both parties if the Knicks could find a trade partner for Payton. There are contenders as well as teams right under that level looking to improve their odds that could use a veteran point guard like Payton. Again, this is nothing against Payton, but the Knicks could get a young piece that may have not panned out or possibly a draft pick, and Payton could potentially get a chance to play for a contender. This would also greatly increase the chances of #3 happening.
5) The Mitch Is Back
Mitchell Robinson has been out since February 12th due to a broken hand, but he was in the midst of a very solid season. While his numbers were not anything crazy, he had cut down on his fouls and had really become a solid starting center, capable of being the anchor of the defense, one that is ranked 2nd in the league in defensive rating. Veteran big man Nerlens Noel has filled in admirably, but fans are looking forward to having the young big man back.
6) Don’t overpay for a marquee name
Victor Oladipo, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine have all been linked to the Knicks at one point or another this season. While getting one of those players would be amazing, it would also cost a lot of resources. There is no way that we get any of those players without giving up either multiple picks and/or RJ Barrett. The Knicks want to be competitive now but they are still not good enough to go all in. Making a move this big would only improve them a little bit, as they would still be too thin to compete with the top teams in the conference.
Long labeled as the team that would try to buy championships or mortgage their future for a quick fix, the Knicks have actually done a solid job of building smartly and efficiently as of late. All that work could be undone with one bad move, so as nice as it would be to get a star of that caliber the smart move here would be to keep the core as is, and to continue developing with the hopes of building for the future.