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Early-season grades for the 2022-23 Knicks

A lot of subpar grades for a subpar team

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

We’re now 13 games into what has so far been yet another frustrating and disappointing 2021-22 season. With one tough stretch of the season behind us and a big Western road trip on deuck, it felt like a good time to evaluate the 6-7 New York Knicks.

Tom Thibodeau: C-

Let me make one thing clear: I was perfectly fine with Thibs being the coach this season. I believed that after he overachieved two seasons ago and masterfully led the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in what seemed like forever, he deserved one more shot. And there was some optimism that the front office, who were so adamant on keeping the trio of Quentin Grimes/Immanuel Quickley/Obi Toppin, would force or at least heavily push Thibs to play the kids. While it’s only been 13 games, we’ve quickly come to realize that not too much seems to have changed. Sure he finally removed Evan Fournier from the starting lineup and has even given into playing Julius Randle and Obi Toppin at the same time. That being said, Randle (-39) has the second worst plus/minus on the team, but is second on the team in minutes played. Fournier, who at -48 has the worst plus/minus on the team, was starting and getting big minutes until just last week. And while the trio of Quickley, Toppin and Cam Reddish have all gone through their share of struggles, they are all still top five in plus/minus among rotational players, yet all average 21.4 MPG or less. It’s been two straight seasons of Thibs — who always preaches holding people accountable — not doing that with his starters.

And it isn’t just the rotations. He certainly deserves credit for the team’s newly implemented increase in pace, but that’s about the only good thing he’s done strategically. The defense is as bad as it’s ever been during his tenure and the offense, when not running out in transition, stalls out and reverts back to the inefficient and selfish style of basketball the fans were forced to put up with last season. The front office deserves some blame, as they’ve put together an incomplete and flawed team, but Thibodeau isn’t even utilizing what pieces he does have to their maximum potential.

Jalen Brunson: B+

Brunson started the year off looking like the point guard we’d all been praying for. With his timely baskets and expert orchestration of the offense to start the season, fans (myself included) were quick to sing his praises. He’s since come down to earth with a few mediocre performances, and his defense will continue to be a weakness of the team. That being said, Brunson is still the best point guard the Knicks have had in a very very long time. He will get a pass for now as he is the only starter with a plus/minus higher than -20 this season.

Evan Fournier: D

Knicks fans knew coming into this season that Fournier was a horrendous defender, which is why most were hoping that Grimes could win over the starting job. Yet somehow, he’s managed to be even worse on defense than we remembered. After losing his starting job, his minutes have gone down, but the veteran guard gives up direct line drives into the paint constantly when he does play. This leads to the rest of the team having to then fumble around in an attempt to rotate and make up for his absolute lack of any resistance. I still believe Fournier is a serviceable player. He’s one of the best on-the-move three-point shooters in the league, as evident by the 241 threes he made last season. But this roster, as currently constructed, just cannot have him be in the rotation.

RJ Barrett: B-

Barrett’s season hasn’t been nearly as catastrophic or as ugly as Fournier’s, but he’s had his share of struggles as well. Averaging 18.9 PPG on 42.8% from the field is not too shabby but it’s also far from ideal. And Barrett’s up-and-down season doesn’t just stop with inconsistent shooting and decision-making. He, like most of the starters, has been lackadaisical on defense. He has been a bit better on that end of the floor as of late with Reddish’s on-ball defense allowing him to guard lesser players. While he seems to have turned the corner a bit, he still just isn’t doing enough on either side of the ball. Considering what fans saw last season, as well as that massive extension he recently signed, he needs to be — and should be — better.

Julius Randle: C

Rewind a few weeks to when the Knicks were coming off of a win against the Magic, and I wouldn’t have hesitated to give Randle a B+, or maybe even an A-. He was getting rid of the ball quickly, making great decisions, playing with more effort and energy than he had all of last season. But in recent weeks, he has reverted to doing all the things Knicks fans wanted him to stop doing. Many believed that the signing of Jalen Brunson meant a lot less ball-handling duties for Randle. Yet somehow, he’s reverted back to his 2021-22 ways of holding on to the ball too long. His scoring numbers look fine. But his 20.8 PPG average on 45.9% shooting from the field and 33.3% shooting from three have deceived many casual observers as to just how bad he’s been. A lot of his scoring as of late has come at the cost of taking his teammates out of rhythm. He has just 44 assists on the season despite having 39 turnovers and a usage rate of 25.8, which is the highest among all rotational players on the team. Also, his defense has been pretty much nonexistent for much of the last two weeks. The only thing keeping his grade from being even lower is his recent outside shooting, which is totally unsustainable.

Mitchell Robinson: C

Before Robinson got injured, he had been pretty good when on the court. Early on in the season, he looked like he had found the perfect balance of strength, quickness, and conditioning. But the problem, and it’s been a really big and recurring one, is that he can’t stay on the court. Robinson averages just 21.8 MPG while “backup” big man Isaiah Hartenstein currently averages 24.5 MPG. Foul problems have come back to plague Robinson. We’d always known about his tendency to rack up fouls at times, but this is a new low, or shall I say high, for him. His current average of 3.6 fouls per game (7th in the league) would be the highest of his career. The hope is that he can turn it around, but availability is the best ability, and so far he has not been available much.

Immanuel Quickley: B-

Quickley has started the season struggling with his shot yet again. He’s currently averaging just 8.8 PPG on an abysmal 36.8% from the field and an even worse 28% from three. This isn’t anything new. The third-year guard can be streaky, and is prone to being off the mark with his shot at times. Remember, just last season, he started the year averaging 9.2 PPG on 36% shooting through the first 58 games of the season before he went on a tear to close the year. But more concerning than just his ice cold outside shooting, is his inability to get to the line and make his free throws when he does get there. Quickley has never been incredibly gifted at getting to the line. In his first two seasons in the league, he averaged just five and four free throw attempts per 36 minutes respectively. But at least he made them count when he did get there, converting at an 88.5% clip over those seasons. But this season, he is getting to the line just just 3.5 times per 36 minutes and is shooting a career-low 81.5% from there.

Fortunately, IQ has been able to impact the game at other levels at times. His defense and playmaking has been solid again and as mentioned above, Quickley ranks second on the team in overall plus/minus with a +12. But Quickley’s biggest skillset and weapon has always been his scoring and more specifically, his shooting. Until he gets that back on track, it’s hard to see him performing up to expectations.

Obi Toppin: B+

Toppin has had a couple unfortunate games early on this season, but who hasn’t? And while a few others are in the conversation, you can certainly make the argument that the third-year forward has been the most impactful player outside of Brunson so far. It’s really a damn shame that he’s only averaging 17.8 MPG right now. With averages of 10.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 1.1 APG on 48.1% from the field and a whopping 40.0% from three on over four attempts per game, there is legitimately zero reason for Toppin to be playing as little as he is. If Toppin was playing on a team like the Warriors, with multiple future Hall-of-Famers or a team coming off of a championship run, then you could perhaps understand the lack of minutes. But he’s playing on a team that has no chance of contending and is outplaying many of those teammates getting more minutes than him on most nights. The Knicks should be grateful that Toppin is a high-character player and hasn’t been vocal about wanting out or complaining about his minutes.

Now, we can all nitpick about his shortcomings. Toppin is not the rebounder he could/should be with his size and athleticism, and although he’s become a better defender, he can still use work there. But his improvement as an outside shooter while still playing completely within the team offense, along with the improvement he has made as a defender leaves him as one of the few players outperforming expectations so far.

Isaiah Hartenstein: B+

Joining Toppin as one of the few Knicks playing better than expected is Isaiah Hartenstein. I believed Hartenstein was one of the best offseason pickups, not just for the Knicks, but league-wide. Given the right team, Hartenstein is a starting-caliber center, and the Knicks were able to sign him to a deal that comes out to just $8 million annually. His playmaking ability, mid-range floater, offensive rebounding, and rim protection have all been showcased already, and he’s done a great job of filling in for Robinson. Hartenstein is just a few three-point makes away from turning this grade into an A- and potentially starting a discussion for the starting job at some point.

Cam Reddish: B-

This grade may seem high for someone who is only averaging 8.3 PPG and 1.8 RPG, but a lot of this grade is based on performance vs. expectations. While Reddish isn’t doing anything incredible, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the steps he’s taken, regardless of how small they may be. Reddish still forces up shots and gets lost on defense at times but his overall focus and energy seems to be better than it was last season. He still has a long ways to go to be the player that his talents and abilities say he should be, but it’s been a nice step in the right direction for the young wing who has stepped up his defensive game to become the best perimeter defender on the team in the absence of the injured Grimes.

Derrick Rose: C

Rose is having the worst season of his career, and it’s been incredibly tough on the Knicks, who have relied on him heavily in the past. Averaging just 6.2 PPG and 2.2 APG on 38.3% from the field, the former MVP looks nothing like the guy we’ve seen the last two seasons. He doesn’t have that quick first step, he isn’t finishing acrobatically around the rim even when he does manage to get there, and he seems short on almost all of his jumpers. We may be spoiled, but we all know how good Rose can be and what he is capable of doing. And the hope is that he can get there with some more time. But this is unmarked territory for Rose. He is averaging just 13.3MPG. While fans are asking to see more of him to see if he can get into better rhythm, it’s also hard to warrant that when he does struggle so much with the minutes he already gets.

Quentin Grimes: Incomplete

Coming off of what was a very promising rookie campaign and an offseason that saw the front office prioritizing keeping him, Grimes had big expectations coming into the season. The hope was that he’d take the starting job and become the elite 3-and-D player he showed flashes of being last year. Unfortunately, he’s barely had the chance to be on the court. Grimes has been dealing with foot soreness dating back to preseason, and there really is no word on what the severity is/was, but he’s had trouble getting onto the court and staying on the court (partly due to conditioning issues). There isn’t much Grimes can do about the situation. But like Robinson, availability comes into play here.

Jericho Sims: C

Sims hasn’t gotten many minutes but he’s played just enough (more than the guys below) to warrant a grade. He’s started in each of the last two games and while he wasn’t particularly special in either, he’s more or less done what he’s been asked to do. Start, play hard, set hard screens, rebound, block shots. That being said he just hasn’t done much to really move the needle so we’ll keep him here for now.

Ryan Arcidiacono/Svi Mykhailiuk/Miles McBride/Trevor Keels: N/A

While they’ve all technically played, they’ve all played very sparingly and have not gotten enough of an opportunity to have their play and impact judged. So for now, it’s near impossible to give them an actual grade. The season is a long one and there’ll always be injuries and unpredictable circumstances so the hope is that if these guys’ names ever get called, they’ll be ready much like McBride and Sims were last season.