The preseason is already here. The regular season is inching closer. It definitely feels like the perfect moment to look back at what happened last year for a final time, check on some of the milestones and season-high figures achieved on all fronts, and try to predict who will and who won’t match those marks.
There is so much history to unpack and so much crystal ball to rub that I needed to split this column into two equally important parts. Here is the first of those for you, with the second one coming later this week.
What do you think? What are your own projections and predictions? Feel free to drop your thoughts in the comment section below and let us all know about your prognosticator skill set!
Points: 46 (Julius Randle & RJ Barrett)
The sauciest of statistics, because what is basketball if not a sport in which you gotta get buckets?
Both Barrett and Randle hit 46 points in different games last year in a span of 11 days! The former did it against Miami under the bright lights of MSG on Feb. 25. The latter had to wait no more than a week and change to dump that number at Sacramento on Mar. 7. Can they do that this season once more, though?
Truth be told, Barrett needed 38 minutes to complete that 46-point masterpiece. It also took RJ 22 shots from the floor and 22 (!) FTA to get there. He was at the top of his levels that day, though, shooting 59.1/54.5/63.6 against the Heat. Had he hit a few more freebies and just one more field goal he could have reached 50.
The playing time was crazy, yes, but Barrett definitely has it in him and it is not hard to think about him joining the 50-burger club as soon as this calendar year—not even having to wait to flip the calendar page.
Randle’s 46-point outing wasn’t really much better in terms of shooting efficiency (he logged a 72.1 true shooting percentage compared to Barrett’s 72.6%) and he played four fewer minutes on the day, but he needed a monster 31 (!) FGA to get there. He only shot a couple of freebies, hitting both, and he also attempted an unreasonable 16 (!!) three-point shots, nailing half of those.
Considering Randle didn’t attempt more than 10 3PA in any other game last year, and that he didn’t log a true shooting percentage above 75.5% in any game in which he scored 20-plus points, odds are he finds it hard to match or surpass that season-high next year.
Made Field Goals: 18 (Julius Randle)
Randle hit 18 buckets on Sacramento in the game discussed above. He was one of only 17 players to do so last season, with Kevin Durant and LeBron James the only two to achieve the feat twice over the full campaign.
The problem with Randle’s final outcome of 18 FGM is that he needed the fifth-most field-goal attempts to reach that mark. Only Devin Booker (33), Nikola Jokic (35), Jrue Holiday (36), and Kevin Durant (37) hoisted more shots in their 18+ FGM games last year, so Randle might have already shown his ceiling in that extraordinary performance against the Kings.
On top of everything, the Knicks were missing Quentin Grimes, Derrick Rose, Obi Toppin, and Kemba Walker that day. Mitchell Robinson got injured 1:40 minutes into the game. Randle logged an astronomical 42.5% usage rate. Definitely not the easiest context to replicate.
Made Three-Point Shots: 10 (Evan Fournier)
Shout-out to the 2022-23 Knicks' starting shooting guard! This performance was a true sight to behold by Fournier, whose 10-three-point-made outing was matched only by three players (Anthony Edwards, Saddiq Bey, and Kelly Oubre Jr.) last season and topped by another three (Robert Covington, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Malik Beasley; all with 11 3PM).
Since the start of the three-point era (1979-80) in the NBA there have only been 74 10-3PM games. Remove Steph Curry’s games from the list and you’re left with only 52 such outings. Even the likes of Klay Thompson (five) and James Harden (three) haven’t even had more than five 10+ three-pointers-made performances from beyond the arc.
Fournier will have it hard to put another masterpiece like this one up next year. While it is true that he “only” attempted 14 3PA against Boston in this January matchup and finished tied for the 16th-best 3P% (71.4) among those with a 10+ 3PM game, the truth is that he had never attempted more than 13 3PA in a single game before, let alone hit those long-range shots at such a high clip.
The next-best game by the Frenchman came a month after his season-high one when he hit 66.7% of his 12 3PA and finished with 30 points and 8 3PM. Before last season, Fournier only had two games scoring more than 60% of his 3PA in games in which he hoisted 10+ treys. It will take a miracle for him to match his season-high next year.
Made Free Throws: 14 (RJ Barrett)
This is a low mark to break—whether that is RJ Barrett or any other Knicks player who happens to grace a basketball court next season. Just last season there were 49 player-games in which said player hit 14+ freebies. It is not that scoring so many free throws is easy or gets done on a daily basis, but it isn’t an impossible feat to achieve, either.
In fact, it’s funny that RJ Barrett posted this season-high just two days before facing the Sixers at MSG and watching Joel Embiid dropping 23 (!) freebies on the Knicks, just proving how that mark is easily beatable. Of course, Embiid and Barrett play very different positions and big boys are always going to visit the charity stripe more than a guard/wing, but still.
Barrett has attempted 4.5, 3.8, and 5.8 free throws per game in the past three seasons. He broke into the 4+ FTM per game realm only last year. Asking him for another 14+ freebie-day might be unreasonable—mostly because other than that day, Barrett has attempted 14+ free throws in just one other game in his career (he hit 11 of them). I don’t see this happening next year, not at all.