The New York Knickerbockers’ 77th season kicks off midweek in Memphis. Beyond the hope of opening the year with a win at one of the league’s top teams, hopes float around the team and its players. Hope means questions. Questions mean answers, or, failing that, gossip. Get your hair curlers and Pall Malls and smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Here is your 2022-23 P&T Knicks roundtable preview.
What change do you most hope to see from the Knicks this season?
Professor: I’d love to see an alternate jersey that’s actually cool.
Lee Escobedo: It would be great to see the positive vibes return to MSG. Hopefully, Julius Randle microdosed mushrooms during the summer to get his groove back. Hell, maybe Tom Thibodeau joined him and that explains the beard.
Kento: The front office putting some pressure on Thibodeau to actually stick with the timeline and prioritize developing the younger guys instead of doing everything he can to squeeze out a play-in team that gets knocked out in the 1st round. That and Randle finding a productive role. I don’t need him to be the All-Star he was two years ago, but he has to be better than he was last season.
Sean Saint Jacques: Fluidity on the offensive end of the floor. The addition of Jalen Brunson needs to lead to a more efficient and stable offense. The Knicks gave up so much for him so that has to be a success.
Antonio: Probably . . . someone doing . . . something? Maybe? Whether that is the front office moving on from Thibs, Thibs moving on from aging veterans and favoring youngsters, or youngsters stepping up for real and turning into hella solid contributors and legitimately building the core of what is to come.
Richardson: A faster paced, well-organized offense.
What is your biggest fear for this team?
Professor: That Obi Toppin plays 18 minutes a game before he’s traded away.
Escobedo: Things remain the same. Randle continues his one-man ISO ball, and Thibs shows a shortness of patience with the kids while extending the leash for the vets.
Kento: The power forward situation being a mess again. Randle repeating his inefficient and uninspiring play while Toppin has another year of his development stunted by a stubborn coach.
Sean Saint Jacques: Randle. Can he flourish again with RJ Barrett along with Brunson being added to the mix? It’s extremely important for the Knicks this season that he is firing on all cylinders. He needs to be better on the offensive end and limit turnovers. To be fair, there are other big fears, but if the Knicks are going to make the play-in or better Randle needs to be part of it in a massive way.
Antonio: Cutting or trading Cam Reddish before bringing Zion Williamson to the NY Dukies. Ahhhh, dude . . . nah, seriously, Lee got it right. If everything stays the same as it did last season, and if we come to realize it is what it is with the current group, that’d be worrying. A big letdown for me.
Richardson: They miss the play-offs, miss the play-in, and still miss out on Wemby (a.k.a. Victor Wembanyama).
By the end of this season, the Knicks’ best player will be _________ .
Professor: Randle, for a few reasons. First, I imagine everyone who answers this will pick RJ or Brunson, and where’s the fun in reading the same answer over and over and over again? Second, I’ve never understood why last year, Randle’s worst as a pro, is seen as more a reflection of who he “really” is than the year before, his best campaign. And it’s not just the counting stats, though I wouldn’t sneeze at the fact that no one else on this roster has ever put up the points, rebounds and assists he has the past few years (or the usage, natch).
Randle admitted that he struggled in 2019-20 after signing what was, at the time, his biggest contract ever. He wanted to live up to it, tried to do much and lost sight of himself. Last year Randle struggled, after again signing what was his biggest contract ever. Remember when Alex Rodriguez got busted for PEDs? His justification was he was trying to live up to the then-record deal he’d signed with the Texas Rangers. A few years later he was a Yankee and he did it again. It makes sense: he surely didn’t feel less pressure in the Bronx than he had in Arlington. Randle’s latest contract is worth double his first deal with the Knicks. He’s had a year to get over that and finally has a good point guard on his side. I think he’s going to remind people why he got that second deal in the first place.
Escobedo: Barrett. Brunson will become the most important, but Barrett will be the best. The hope is RJ becomes our best player until Leon Rose and the front office can trade for or sign a legitimate first option. Until then, Broadway Barrett presents the best archetype of a two-way player who can hit clutch shots, lead by example, and add to his game season after season. Barrett showed this pre-season he has improved his finishing around the rim. His shooting splits were career-best in a four-game sample size, and the game appeared to slow down for the fourth-year wing. Unlike Randle, or even Brunson, there’s something special about rooting for a homegrown talent, someone we’ve watched grow since draft night into a star. The last one Knicks fans had was Patrick Ewing. Barrett is next.
Kento: I love RJ and think he can become the face of the franchise at some point, especially if he can be more consistent defensively. Shoot, it’s possible it happens this year. But with Randle still likely to be a major factor on offense and Brunson being the guy with the ball in his hands, I can very easily see a world where Bhimarrett doesn’t take the offensive leap that many are expecting. So until he does, I think it ends up being Brunson. He posted amazing numbers when playing without Luka Dončić last season, and I really believe he could — with the help of some fan voting, of course — make a run at an All-Star appearance this season.
Sean Saint Jacques: It has to be Barrett and I think it will be. He is so close to moving into that role on the Knicks and I think he has an All-Star type of season in 2022-23. Every season under Thibodeau he has gotten better on both ends of the floor and I can’t wait to see what his impact on this Knicks team will look like this year. When you add Brunson as well, that could really open things up for Barrett to have his best season to date. I expect to live up to that for this season.
Antonio: I have to go with Randle. He is the best player donning Knicks threads these days, full stop, like it or not. JR is coming off a tough year and is two seasons removed from an absolute outlier of a season no one really believed to be true. Something in the middle of the spectrum is pretty reasonable for him to rebound to. It should be achievable for a consummate veteran like Randle is, and that’d already be more than enough to have him as the honcho of this bunch.
Richardson: RJ Barrett. It was a toss up between Barrett and Brunson, but I predict RJ plays more total games AND makes 200 three-pointers. That’s right, 200. We set lofty goals in the Richardson household.
Which Knick is the biggest X-factor in terms of the team’s ceiling?
Professor: Brunson. He’s the most seemingly obvious upgrade at the franchise’s forever position of need. It’s not just Brunson’s play that will lead New York. I can’t remember the last Knick I thought of as a leader. Honestly it may be Ewing. The Knicks need Brunson not only to put up numbers, but to be their metronome when they need steadying and the pilot light sparking them when they need a boost.
Escobedo: Thibodeau. The season’s ceiling depends on how our curmudgeon coach handles rotations, minutes, and, most of all, Randle. Is he able to bench Randle during stretches where he is a negative-impact player? Can he resist the urge to bench the kids when they’re hot on a blitzkrieg run? Can he restore the team's defensive identity while allowing Jalen Brunson to take the ball out of Randle's hands? If he can — and the achievement of such cannot be overstated — then this team has the potential to shock the world come playoff time. And no, not in the sense of making the Finals like the ‘99 squad, but definitely getting out the first round, and maybe beyond.
Kento: Randle. There’s a lot of potential answers here. Brunson, as a point guard with All-Star potential, certainly will have a lot riding on him, as will Barrett, who’ll be asked to take another step offensively while improving his defense. But if Brunson and Barrett only improve a little bit, or hell, just do what they did last season, they are still going to be a positive impact on this team. But we can’t necessarily say that about Randle. While his numbers last season don’t look awful, he carried with him a cloud of negative effort, mentality, and attitude that ended up following the team for pretty much the whole second half of the season. Randle doesn’t need to be an All-NBA level player again, but the team can only reach it’s ceiling if Randle is willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Sean Saint Jacques: The relationship on the court between Brunson and Randle. I said this earlier, but that is so important for the future of this team. If they can get on the same page, this offense becomes extremely tough to deal with along with RJ and Mitchell Robinson being in the fold. If they don’t work well together, this season could be extremely frustrating for the Knicks.
Antonio: As long as Thibs doesn’t trash his mentality and builds an entirely new and refreshing one, everything will stay the same and that could be the Big X to limit the potential of all other possible X-factors. He’s the puppet master judging by what we know about the coach getting the benefit of the front office’s doubt and a rather long leash. That said, if Thibs ends up giving up somehow, I’m betting on Obi flipping the page once and for all a la late 2021/22. He was barely impactful last year, but if he does what we know he can do, he can be a game-changer.
Richardson: Derrick Rose. With Brunson leading the first squad and Rose directing the second, both units have a competent All-Star at the head and can compete with any team in the league. Without Rose, I worry about inconsistency, at least for the first leg of the season.
The last Knick coach to complete at least three full seasons was Mike D’Antoni. Does Tom Thibodeau join him this year, or not?
Professor: It gives me immense joy to guess “yes.” I think Leon Rose and Co. give Thibs the year to see what happens, and I think he deserves it. Last year was not his finest work. So what? A couple years ago, Mike Budenholzer was a clown who didn’t make enough adjustments or play his best players enough minutes. Boy Genius Nick Nurse has won one bubble playoff series in three years since Kawhi Leonard left town. Pat Riley’s Miami teams missed the playoffs five of his last six years as head coach, including a 15-67 finale. After reaching the ‘99 Finals with New York, Jeff Van Gundy coached six more seasons, not once winning a single series. They weren’t bums. Neither’s Thibs. I’d be as excited about him earning a contract extension as I was RJ. Because it’d mean something went right.
Escobedo: After one year of overachieving and underachieving the next, Thibs deserves one more season to even the scales of judgment. Whether he joins his idol, Jeff Van Gundy, in the “four+ years club” is dependent on where the Knicks finish the season, how Thibs manages minutes for our young core, and if they can get out of the first round.
Kento: Yes. Barring a catastrophic and historical disappointment, I believe he finishes the season regardless of how the team performs. The more interesting question may be, will he be the starting coach at the beginning of next season?
Sean Saint Jacques: Yes. Injuries or an extremely disappointing season are the only things that could lead to the Knicks showing Thibs the door. I think this Knicks team will have a much better season than a year ago, so I don’t think this will happen. However, it is the NBA, and it is New York, so the Knicks need to meet those expectations.
Antonio: It was fair to give Thibs another go this season after the rollercoaster-like two years he’s spent in NYC. I don’t think the front office will rush a decision when it comes to axing him in the middle of the year, though, and I’m betting on him finishing the season with the Knicks even if he gets removed from the organization the day after the regular-season finale.
Richardson: Guaranteed. Thibs will only get the heave-ho if the team loses a bunch, but he intends to win every game, and in Brunson he has a dependable, durable lead guard who shares his vision. This team is more likely to overperform than under. They’ll win enough games for Tommy to stay employed.
Where do you think the Knicks end up in the East?
Professor: They finish top-8, advance via the Play-In, then lose in the first round to Philadelphia. For no good reason, the Garden faithful start a “F*** JAMES HARDEN!” chant from the jump of Game 3. This backfires.
Escobedo: This is the year of the 50 burger. Brunson provides the team with it’s first All-Star-caliber point guard since Walt “Clyde” Frazier (editor’s note: Mark Jackson was voted an All-Star as NY’s point guard, but never repeated the feat, so Lee’s point remains). He’s fearless, stoic, and a dawg — terms that have been absent from Knicks point guard play for over three decades. Brunson makes everyone better and the game easier for all. You add his intangibles to the deepest roster in the East, and it’s good enough for the 6th seed.
Kento: The Knicks got better but so did a lot of, if not all of, their direct competition in the Eastern conference. I think that Vegas’ expectation of them winning 39.5 games is pretty low and that the Knicks are being overlooked a bit. But after how much they underperformed last season, it’s probably for the better. They’ll hit the over on that bet and finish the season 41-41, finding themselves in the play-in game. I suspect they can win that but unfortunately, that’s as far as they get as they’ll end up losing in five games in the first round.
Sean Saint Jacques: I put the Knicks in the play-in for my full season preview on the podcast this week. Somewhere 8th-10th feels about right. The Hornets, Pacers, Cavaliers, Bulls and possibly Raptors will also be in the mix; however, if the Knicks can improve even a bit from last season, they will be in good shape for the play-in. New York had a disappointing season last year and were still in the mix for it, so this season they should make it after addressing their biggest need on the team with the acquisition of Brunson.
Antonio: The play-in is a must, right? Right!? Lots of talk about how the East is better than ever, how this, how that, but you either evolve or you get lost. I’m sorry, but I’m just not accepting the latter option for this team. 538 has the Knicks at 40-42, finishing 10th in the East sandwiched by the Hornets (41-41) and Bulls (34-47). I see no way New York finishes below Charlotte, so that’s at least some 42-40 positive record. Give me those 42 and I’d be pretty cool with that. I don’t like the odds after that, though. New York will be lucky to sneak into the first round through the play-in only to ultimately get demolished by whomever with a 0-4 series loss. Here’s praying for that 1-4, though.
Richardson: Mmm, freshly squeezed optimism juice . . . makes me predict a sixth place finish.
What stupid issue will fans fight about amongst themselves this time around?
Professor: If the Knicks get off to a decent start, one wing of the peanut gallery will pipe in about those Ws being fool’s good, coming at the expense of the ping pong balls they need to actually make meaningful progress this decade. If the Knicks get off to a slow start, the cries will grow louder. Basically, unless the Knicks open 30-0, people will be disappointed no matter what.
Escobedo: The Randle/Thibs paring will always have fans talking conspiracy. It’s not a stupid issue as much as it is exhausting. Obviously, one of these two needs to go. And the team will never reach its full potential until that happens, and the fanbase will continue to toss tomatoes at James Dolan’s tower until it does.
Kento: The Knicks will very likely do worse than Cleveland, so when they do fans will bring up the Donovan Mitchell trade again. There’s literally nothing that can be changed at this point, regardless of where people stand on the deal, yet there’ll be a whole bunch of regurgitating the same discussions that went on during the offseason. And it is going to be unbearable and annoying.
Sean Saint Jacques: I love this question and there are so many to choose from. My colleagues have mentioned some good ones already. I’m looking forward to a “replace Brunson with Immanuel Quickley” conversation after Brunson has one rough patch during the season. First of all, Derrick Rose (if healthy) exists, but also: give me a break. I love IQ, but currently we don’t live on a planet where he is a starting point guard in the NBA.
Antonio: There will be some stupid discussion involving the bigs and their minutes, their value in potential trades, the role Thibs gives each of them, etc. Get ready for a long season with Mitchell Robinson, Jericho Sims, and Isaiah Hartenstein (not even including Toppin here, but who knows!) filling your Twitter timeline to the brim. You’ll hate it.
Richardson: If Quentin Grimes’s foot/ankle hinders his availability and performance throughout the season, some genius will complain about not trading him for Donovan Mitchell when we had the chance.
Say you can’t pick the Knicks. Who is your title favorite heading into the year?
Professor: Milwaukee has the league’s best player, a fits-like-a-glove Big 3 and the know-how to win their second title in three years. They nearly toppled Boston last season without Khris Middleton. And NBA fans have deserved a Bucks/Warriors title bout for years now. Let’s hope this is the year it happens.
Escobedo: The Clippers have the deepest roster since the late 2000s Lakers. They’re blessed with the best coach in the league (Ty Lue), a superstar in Kawhi Leonard, a two-way All-Star in PG13, and a band of merry pranksters ready to combine their powers to bring a chip to the most downtrodden franchise in the West. True NBA heads are rooting for John Wall.
Kento: I legitimately don’t know and it’s been like that for a couple years. And that’s great news for NBA fans, considering we went through a four year period not too long ago knowing it was going to be Cleveland and Golden State every year. I think the Clippers, Nets, and Nuggets all have a good shot, but they’ve also all had injury problems recently. And the last time Miami was coming off of a Finals appearance, they looked awful. I’ll go Warriors over the Bucks in what may be a Last Dance-esque effort with Draymond Green potentially on his way out.
Sean Saint Jacques: I think it will be a Bucks-Grizzlies NBA Finals, with Memphis lifting the Larry O’Brien. I do want to add that the Nuggets could be really scary this season, but I feel like a healthy Milwaukee team is the best in the East, while the Grizzlies will put it altogether after dealing with an ill-timed injury to Ja Morant last season in the playoffs against Golden State.
Antonio: I started following the Nuggets closely the minute Carmelo Anthony landed in the Rockies (no. 1 stan here, just in case) and I have ever since. I don’t think any suffering tops what you experience rooting for NYC teams, but it’s been close to it doing so to an extent for the Nuggets since the summer of 2003. It will take a miracle coming from the Injury Gods of Basketball for Denver to break through the whole year healthy and ready to fight for the chip, but I wouldn’t hate them facing the Knicks and defeating NYK 4-3 in the Finals. That won’t happen because the field is stronger than ever to make a solid pick here, but Denver has it all to pull the feat off if they can stay on the court. It’s time the Joker gets the last piece of gold missing in his Serbian home’s dining room.
Richardson: I am constitutionally opposed to speaking well of our Eastern conference competition, so I’ll pick a team from the West: the L.A. Clippers.