The New York Knicks’ 2022-23 campaign is almost upon us. Who among the team will improve this year? Who will regress? And who’s just going to tread water? Here is a quick rundown of players and stats to watch during the upcoming season.
RJ Barrett: PPG/FG%/FGA
It’s very tempting to expect Barrett, who is still only 22 years old and entering his fourth season, to take another step offensively this year. However, it will be difficult to do so with Jalen Brunson entering the picture.
While Brunson has experience playing off the ball with Luka Dončić, the point guard clearly prefers to play with the ball in his hands, and, as evident by last season’s playoffs, Jalen is incredibly good in those scenarios. Of the 34 players during the playoffs who had 15 or more isolation plays, Brunson ranked 9th in PPP (points per possession), which was better than some of the elite names in the game, like Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, and Trae Young. And of the 34 players with more than 30 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball handler, Jalen ranked fifth in PPP.
With Brunson (presumably) being offered the keys to the offense during contract negotiations, and Julius Randle looking to bounce back, Barrett will find it challenging to get off the same amount of shots as last year. It will be interesting to monitor how many shots he gets, how efficient he is with the addition of a playmaker like Brunson, and how many points he can average.
Julius Randle: shooting percentages and turnovers
With Randle, traditional counting stats are not a concern. He has hovered around or exceeded 20 PPG in his last four seasons and in each of those years, he also managed to grab about nine rebounds per game.
Given the aforementioned improvement of Barrett and the acquisition of Brunson, Randle should play a less significant role than he’s had to in his last three seasons. The Knicks will no longer need him to score 25 points on a nightly basis just to have a shot at winning.
What New York will need, though, is someone who won’t hurt the team and is highly efficient. Having a competent point guard like Brunson should help Randle find his spots easier on offense without having to force the issue. This should lead to him getting much better looks, and it should also save his energy, thus improving his late-game efficiency as well. It remains a mystery how head coach Tom Thibodeau will shape this offense but there is no doubt that the addition of Brunson should lead to a decrease in ball handling duties for Randle and, hopefully, that means fewer turnovers, too.
Jalen Brunson: PPG/APG
The Knicks have been plagued with subpar starting point guard play for an incredibly long time, but they finally have a floor general they can trust and be excited about.
Gone are the days when fans were subjected to watching Alec Burks play out of position for 40 minutes, or watching Elfrid Payton sink the offense single-handedly. Brunson is a rising star who averaged 20.4 PPG and 7.5 APG in 17 games without Doncic last season. Now that he’s secured a big contract and has been given the keys to the offense, there will be a lot of expectations placed on the young guard. Ultimately, how far the Knicks go will depend heavily on Brunson’s ability as a scorer and a playmaker.
Mitchell Robinson / Derrick Rose: games played
While Robinson and Rose are not as crucial to the Knicks and their success as any of the three guys mentioned above, they are still key pieces.
Robinson is an elite lob threat on a team that likes to drive and one of the league’s better rim protectors. Rose, on other hand, has been one of the team’s best and most consistent players during his second stint in New York. Derrick has been one of the few Knicks who actually tries to push the pace, and his explosive scoring off the bench helps give the team a potent second unit. But Robinson and Rose can only contribute their skills if they are playing, and that has been the big issue with these two.
While Robinson was relatively healthy last season, his physical style of play means that he gets banged up pretty frequently. And not much needs to be said about Rose and his injury history. If the Knicks want to win more than the 39.5 games they are predicted to win, they will need both Mitchell and Derrick to remain healthy.
Immanuel Quickley / Obi Toppin: MPG
Potentially the topic most discussed last season was how underutilized both Quickley and Toppin were. Even amid a frustrating season that saw the team underachieve, Thibs inexplicably stuck with his veterans and mostly refused to give the two sophomores a larger role until very late in the season.
As Obi and Immanuel head into their third year, fans will want to see if the duo can build off their strong finish to last season, but they’ll need to be given the opportunity first. Thibodeau, who has always been tough on younger players, will seek to win games early and often, so there is a good chance that Quickley and Toppin will play relatively similar roles once again.
As long as Randle and Evan Fournier are on the team, it may be more of the same. That is frustrating because the team ultimately decided to keep Quickley and Toppin over going all-in on Donovan Mitchell. If New York is winning, there probably won’t be many complaints, but if the starters underperform, expect to hear more outrage about their playing time.
Isaiah Hartenstein: 3PM
Hartenstein might not have been a flashy signing, but he should really help the Knicks.
Although his stats aren’t eye-popping at first sight, he posted impressive per 36 numbers of 16.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.3 BPG, and 1.5 SPG on 62.6% shooting from the field. He’s a strong rim protector who had a higher defensive box plus/minus than Rudy Gobert, Bam Adebayo, and Marcus Smart, can switch pretty well for his size, and has impressive playmaking skills for a seven-footer. That being said, the skill-set that the Knicks may find the most useful is his shooting.
While Hartenstein doesn’t jack up many threes, he is highly efficient when he does shoot them. He only attempted 30 from deep last season but converted on 14 of them, good enough for 46.7%. His ability to knock down outside shots at the center position while also providing strong interior defense should be incredibly helpful to the team, and should create more space for Randle, Barrett, Brunson, Quickley, Rose, and Toppin. Hopefully, Thibodeau takes advantage of this and empowers him to shoot more than he ever has in his career.