The New York Knicks have played six games, and carry a thoroughly average 3-3 record. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few hot takes floating around the internet. Let’s take a look at some common early-season takes. Are they legit, or overreactions?
Julius Randle is good again (not an overreaction)
Starting this piece last week, the statement above initially stated, “Julius Randle is back.” I actually answered it with a “not an overreaction,” which might have been a bit too optimistic. Part of it was me trying to speak the continuation of his impressive early season play into existence but part of it was me really believing that he had turned the corner. Fast forward a few days and I’ve had to tweak the statement. Since then, we’ve seen Randle (and the Knicks as a whole) struggle against the Hornets, Bucks, and Cavaliers. Granted, those teams rank 11th, 1st, and 3rd respectively in defensive rating this season. But his average of 15.3 PPG on 35.7% from the field, and 69.6% from the line, while going 0-7 from downtown during that span, was tough to watch.
However, let’s also remember that he started the season off averaging 21.3 PPG on 51.1% from the field and 33.3% from 3 in his first three games. I don’t think we’ll ever see Randle get close to his 2020-21 All-NBA level form, and that’s okay. Because of how bad Randle was last season, fans should be fine with him if can hover somewhere in between where he was the last two seasons. And this is especially true if he can continue to keep the kind of positive energy and effort we’ve seen more of this season.
Julius Randle needs to go (not an overreaction)
This may sound weird coming immediately after the first statement. Like I stated above, I believe Randle is back to being a solid player despite some of the recent struggles. But I also think that he will continue to have some off games. At this point in his career, he seems to be someone that can punish the bad defensive teams but struggle against the elite ones. And when he does struggle, Tom Thibodeau seems to not care. And that’s why he has to be traded.
If the Knicks had a coach that held Randle accountable and let Obi Toppin take his minutes when necessary, then Randle would still have a place on this team. But as long as Thibodeau stays infatuated with playing Randle big minutes down the stretch regardless of how he is playing, it makes zero sense to have him on this team. His play style does not fit the rest of the roster, he isn’t good enough to build the team around, and he doesn’t even fit the timetable for the rest of the team. I root for Randle because I do think he can still be a productive player in the right situation, but he and Thibs cannot be together.
RJ Barrett’s offensive struggles are more than a slump (overreaction)
The fourth-year wing started the season with an abysmal 3-18 performance in Memphis. Since then, he’s played somewhat better, with a trio of mediocre performances that has resulted in him averaging 17.7 PPG on a not-so-ideal 40% shooting from the field and a Russell Westbrook-esque 21.9 3P%.
That being said, it is important to remember that Barrett has gotten off to slow starts before. Just last season, he averaged just 14 PPG on 39.6% from the field and 31% from three in his first 22 games. After that, he went on to average 22.8 PPG on 41.1% from the field and 35.4% from 3 in his last 48 games. That doesn’t justify just how bad he he’s been, but it should allow Knicks fans to hit the breaks on the overreactions and remember that he can and should bounce back. He’s already started to look better as he went 6-10 from the field and 3-4 from three in Sunday night’s loss to Cleveland.
Jalen Brunson is an All-Star point guard (not an overreaction)
Simply put, Brunson has been a savior. Any preseason talk about him being overpaid has been quickly swept aside as the starting point guard has impressed fans and analysts around the league. In just under two weeks of basketball, Brunson has showcased his impressive ability to run the offense and do so at an efficient rate. He’s has a couple off nights against some tough defensive teams but overall, he’s been pretty damn good so far and it’s been very refreshing to see the team have a floor general they can rely on consistently.
And the impact he’s had on this team goes beyond his 18.2PPG/7.2APG/4.2RPG stat line. His coaches and teammates have repeatedly alluded to his leadership and basketball IQ. It seems to have had a positive impact on his teammates so far. There seems to be more cohesiveness, chemistry, and composure regardless of the score and state of the game. Whether Brunson will actually make the All-Star game or not is still up in the air, but he has shown early on that he has the potential to be All-Star caliber point guard. For context, LaMelo Ball, and Darius Garland both made the All-Star game last season with averages of 20.1/7.6/5.2 and 21.7/8.6/3.3 respectively, so with a slight bump in stats, it’s definitely a possibility.
Isaiah Hartenstein should start (not an overreaction)
I love Mitchell Robinson. I’ve been a fan of his since day one, even through the conditioning issues, the foul troubles, and the injury-plagued seasons. And I’m glad he’s still on the team even though I hold the somewhat unpopular opinion that he got a bit overpaid. That being said, Hartenstein provides way more playmaking and potential spacing than Robinson does while still providing good rim protection. That isn’t to say that Hartenstein is better than Robinson. The latter is way more of an explosive lob threat, blocks more shots and is a better defensive rebounder than Hartenstein. But in basketball, you want to try to maximize and play to the strengths of your best players. While Barrett, Brunson, and Randle all can knock down open threes, they are all at their best when attacking the rim and playing downhill. In that case, it could be more beneficial to have Hartenstein in the starting lineup to get the most out of them.
I still think that Mitchell is the better player and he’s been pretty good so far this season. But Hartenstein has a nice mid-range push shot, is a better passer, and showed the ability to knock down open threes here and there last season. I don’t think it will happen barring some major changes. Thibs, understandably, is a big fan of Robinson, and he has way more experience and chemistry with the starters. Not to mention, he just got paid. However, I do think that there is enough of an argument here for me to believe that is isn’t an overreaction.
Cam Reddish is here to stay (overreaction)
I will die on the hill that Reddish is one of — if not the — most gifted players on the team. I know he has had some injury problems and that there have been questions about his motor, focus, and consistency but every time you watch Reddish, he reminds you of his talents and abilities. What makes him such an enigma, though, is that in the same game that he makes you a believer, he’ll also show you why so many are skeptical of him. He’ll block a shot and then finishing on the other end with a creative left handed layup off of a euro-step. But minutes later, he’ll get beat backdoor easily or force up an off-balance fadeaway that has no shot of going in.
So far, it does seems like he’s taken a step in the right direction. His averages of 8.2PPG and 2.7.RPG don’t wow you by any means but his energy and effort on defense has been a pleasant surprise so far. He’s been able to use his size, length and athleticism on that end more consistently than in the past It’s allowed him to stay on the court, which has in turn, given him a bit more leeway on offense as well. We’ve even see Thibodeau trust him enough to lean on him to close out close games.
Unfortunately, though, as long as Evan Fournier is on the team, Quentin Grimes’ eventual return will likely push Reddish out of the rotation. And when that happens, it may be hard for him to stay ready and engaged. I’d love for Reddish to be a part of the long-term plans with the team and am rooting for that to happen, but we have to remember that the Knicks very easily could have extended his contract prior to the season but chose not to. With his inconsistent play of the past, and the a logjam at his position once Grimes comes back, it’s hard to proclaim that he’s here to stay after just a few solid games.