From the Knicks’ Opening Night banger against the Celtics to gauche SideTalk NYC videos of Knicks fans being loud and embarrassing; from Julius Randle’s thumbs down incident to Thibs’ refusal to play the kids, it was a rough season at MSG. Although there are still reasons to be bullish on the Knicks — namely Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley’s run at the end of the year — the team did disappoint in 2021-22. You can thank their supposed star player and coach for that. Randle and Tom Thibodeau’s less-than-stellar performance made it so Knicks fans are burning sage after having to root for Kyrie and KD against the Celtics. (This is not up for debate. Kyrie and KD are dynamic to watch and we must support them against the Celtics). There are things that the Knicks must do to come back next season in a better spot than they were during the season. Counting down the list of what they need to do is as taxing as watching Thibs coach this season.
5. Trade Randle
I don’t hate Julius Randle. I think he was frustrated this season. That happens to the best of us. I don’t want to beat up on him more than I already have. He’s still relatively young at age 27 and can still score. At his best, he can be dynamic like he was against the Sacramento Kings. Part of the reason why this year was so sad to watch was that Randle was excellent the year prior. This year, it seems like the way he wants to play — slow and methodical — is not the way the team should be playing. With players like Obi Toppin and IQ being very athletic and needing an up-tempo style, it leads me to think that Randle would not fit on next year’s team. The Knicks playing with pace would be huge for the team, allowing them to get easy baskets instead of the paint drying half-court offense that we were saddled with in the first half of the career. If the Knicks want to push the ball effectively with RJ Barrett rim running downhill — which is what he is best at — then Randle will have to go. This is an addition-by-subtraction move for the most part. I think Randle can garner a move back for him — he is good enough, but after last season I wonder if interest has gone away. He’s still a talented and skilled player. He is no longer a fit for this team though. It happens. Trade him for point guard help or another wing.
4. Draft a Wing
One of the takes that I don’t always feel comfortable sharing is that I don’t think RJ Barrett is a lock to be a star. I like RJ. He is comfortable being the leader of the Knicks in a way that Randle isn’t. I enjoyed the fact that he plays hard every game. He doesn’t get down on himself even when the team is struggling. There are more good things about RJ than bad. I’m just more cynical on his development than I am with Obi Toppin, for example. When he is going downhill, he is so big and strong that he can be tough to stop. However, he is not a great finisher, and he is a player whose game needs to have that. I’m not sure that is a skill that he can improve. He isn’t an adept shooter off the dribble and his free-throw shooting, although improved towards the end of the year, prevents him from being as effective as he ought to be. It’s still early and RJ has made strides. He’s leaps and bounds better than he was when he first drafted him. His game keeps developing. But unless he can get DeRozan-like savant footwork, it might be tough for him to become an elite player. If the Knicks have an opportunity to draft a wing that is the undisputed best player available, they should definitely do that. Even though a point guard is being considered (wrongly) as the position of need. It isn’t anything against RJ. It’s just the practical choice.
3. Extend Mitch to a Fair Deal
Although Mitchell Robinson doesn’t have Thibs’s offensive sets down like Joakim Noah once did, or Taj Gibson still has, he is the Knicks’ best option at the five. Robinson is an excellent rim protector, the rare defender who can block shots at the paint and the three-point line. Nerlens Noel’s injury-riddled season was one of the many issues that the Knicks had this year. You can’t trust him to stay even if you’d like his defense at that spot. He’s cheaper than Mitch will be on his next deal, but it is best to have Noel as a luxury and keep Mitch as the regular starter. Jericho Sims, while being a rookie, impressed me with his ability to understand the dribble handoffs and pick-and-rolls that Thibs wants to run. Still, he is not ready yet. A four-year extension for Mitch should be in the works for just under 80 million. If that is too hopeful, then I’ll eat my words. If Mitch does not get re-signed, I don’t hate our options at that position but Mitch would be the best option. Tell World Wide Wes and his partner Leon Rose: EXTEND MITCH-ROB.
2. Start Quickley
There’s going to be talk about Derrick Rose coming back healthy. That’s a good thing. Rose is still a good player who can help a team win. He’s still old though, with fragile bones, and ideally, he isn’t playing a ton of minutes for us. He’s coming off the bench and playing the last minutes alongside the starting point guard: IMMANUEL JAYLEN QUICKLEY.
Quick had an excellent end to the season. The game in Miami was the highlight for me. He took over in the fourth and ended the postgame press conference wearing shades and a black shirt. All he was missing was a cigarette hanging from his mouth. Alongside Obi Toppin, who we will get to in a minute, Immanuel Quickley has earned the right to be the starting point guard heading into the season. If you isolate Quickley’s numbers, he averaged 15 points a game the last ten games of the season. That would have been 21 points per game if Thibs played him similar amounts of minutes he played Alec Burks. If Leon Rose knows what he is doing, he will force Thibs to make Quick the starting point guard. The best way for the Knicks to win games is to start the best players on the team and IQ is one of those players. If World Wide Wes is going to “leave a worldwide mess”, then Quickley shall be the one to clean it up for the organization. Start IQ.
- Start Obi
Athletically, Obi Toppin is somewhere between Stromile Swift with the skill of someone like John Collins (but a much better passer). That’s a pretty good mashup. He was still growing into his body as a rookie. His rusty and rigid hips made his running and style of play look awkward. This year, he felt more fluid in his movement. It showed throughout the season, but especially towards the end of the year. Against the Wizards, he scored a then career-high 35 points and six threes. Then, on the last game of the season, he led the Knicks with 42 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Raptors. As I said previously, I don’t hate Randle. I don’t think you can maximize Obi and play Randle the kind of minutes that Thibs would want to play him. In order to maximize Obi Toppin, Julius Randle has to be traded. To use both is to sacrifice Obi, a player who I think has the potential to be an elite offensive player if he can get to a decent clip from the three point line. Not only is Obi Toppin a skilled player but he is also a fan favorite that brings the Garden faithful to their feet. Randle doesn’t play the high-octane style that Obi does, which undoubtedly affected the way the fans treated him compared to Obi. Sometimes, that clouds people’s judgment. In this case, however, the team would function better with Obi’s style of play as opposed to Randle’s. If the Knicks want to take the next step next season, part of that will be Obi Toppin becoming the team’s best player. A trade for Randle should be imminent when the NBA Finals ends.