The start of the NBA season is just four weeks away, which means it’s time for ESPN’s annual top 100 player list. In last year’s list, ESPN listed four Knicks in their top 100. They’ve done the same this year, but it includes a couple of different guys.
Robinson, who ranked in at 93 last season, returns to the list after another solid season. Ranking in at 98, Robinson barely made the cut, but still gets recognized as one of the league’s elite lob finishers. If he can remain healthy, which has always been a concern with him, he should benefit greatly from Jalen Brunson and his playmaking ability. Coming off of a sparkling new extension in the offseason, Robinson will be relied on heavily, not just for his finishing ability, but also for his rim protection. With the Knicks’ perimeter defense looking vulnerable, the Knicks will need Mitchell to outplay his ranking if they want to make any kind of noise in the conference.
Julius Randle comfortably remains in the top 100, but slipped almost 30 spots down as he ranks just 71st now after an abysmal season. This is an incredibly important season for Randle. There is a chance that if he can thrive with the arrival of Brunson. Perhaps he can push himself up higher on next year’s edition of this list. But if he repeats his performance from last season, he could see himself barely making the list next season.
Ranking slightly ahead of Randle is the newly-acquired Brunson. The former Maverick, who was missing from last season’s list, catapulted himself into the 67th spot on this year’s list after an incredibly efficient season. He went from averaging 12.6 PPG and 3.5 APG to 16.3 PPG and 4.8 APG, and solidified himself as a big game performer when he was tasked with leading the Mavericks in the playoffs without the injured Luka Doncic. There are still questions about whether or not he can be the number one guy, but the Knicks seem to be believers in him, as evident by his new $104 million contract. With the keys to the offense and a bigger role than he’s ever had, he could take the next step and see himself become a top 50 player this season.
Last but not least is RJ Barrett, who is the highest-ranked Knick at 63. His ranking may not be incredibly high when taking into account his age and ability, but this ranking was still surprising. Barrett, for the majority of his NBA career, has been underrated and even disrespected at times. Often disregarded by many analysts, reporters, and rankings, it would have been easy to assume that ESPN ranked Barrett way lower. After all, ESPN left Barrett off of their 25 under 25 list. Barrett’s recognition here was a definitely nice change given his exclusion from last year’s version of this list. That being said, there will still be a lot of pressure on him as the Knicks have 120 million reasons to hope that he can rank even higher in next year’s list.
Both Mitchell and Randle seem pretty fairly rated while Barrett and Brunson may seem kind of underrated at first glance. But if you look at the rest of the list, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick guys to drop down. Sure there are guys like Marcus Smart at 34, or Mikal Bridges at 49 that seem too high given their stats, but it’s hard to argue with their roles on championship contending teams. If anything, this list is an annual reminder that the league is filled with extremely talented guys and that even players like Brunson and Barrett, who many Knicks fans regard highly, have a hard time cracking the top 50.
With 30 teams in the league, getting four players in the top 100 isn’t bad, but the fact that not a single player from the Knicks ranked higher than 63 is glaring evidence that nobody believes that this team has elite talent. With the four on this list and a few other really solid players like Evan Fournier, Isaiah Hartenstein, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, and Quentin Grimes, the Knicks have some really nice pieces. But even after the nice offseason moves, this roster is still devoid of a superstar. Because of that, if the Knicks want to defy expectations and make another playoff appearance, these players will either have to greatly outplay their rankings or the team will have to come together and be way more than the sum of their parts.