Greetings, Knickerbocker fans. The 78th season of NBA basketball begins this week, so the Posting and Toasting crew has assembled to answer questions and offer predictions about the hooping residents of Madison Square Garden.
Commence the meeting!
1) What will be the Knicks’ starting lineup by January 1 / mid-way through the season?
Losada: Brunson, Grimes, Barrett, Randle, Robinson. Status quo. For one, the Knicks have not been playing the waiting game only to jump at the first semi-good player (Donovan Mitchell) all of a sudden. For two, elite players don’t get traded mid-season unless something is very wrong. For three, no, the Knicks are not a Rasheed Wallace nor an Andre Iguodala away from a run to the chip so they will, rightfully, wait until next summer to make any really tectonic moves.
Kato: With New York constantly being linked to a big time trade, it’s possible that a player like Karl-Anthony Towns or Zach LaVine ends up a Knick and shakes up the starting lineup in a major way. But like Antonio above, I have a hard time seeing this front office pull the trigger midseason, especially when a guy like Joel Embiid is still potentially there to be had in the offseason. Barring any major injuries, I can’t see Thibs go with a starting lineup other than the current one they have of Brunson, Grimes, Barrett, Randle, and Robinson.
Richardson: Brunson, Grimes, Barrett, Randle, and Robinson, naturally. I have a nagging fear that one will suffer an injury but don’t want to jinx it, due to my magical ability to influence such things. Here’s an ominous warning for you: beware the Ides of March and a Julius Randle injury. Both would make for a disappointing April.
Wiesel: Same as opening night. Jalen Brunson, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson. Of course, things could look different given injuries, but there is no need to bring any of those vibes here. I do think there is a world where RJ Barrett could be an awesome sixth man, but with egos involved, it’s very unlikely to happen. Last season, Barrett would stay in at the end of the first quarter and play at the start of the second quarter with the bench. This strategy was repeated at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters. Barrett flourished in those minutes and showed a lot more confidence and aggression. Again, a nice idea, but unlikely. This question is more geared toward whether the Knicks will make a big trade mid-season. I’m going to say no.
Stein: As long as health holds up, the starting five of Brunson, Grimes, Barrett, Randle, and Robinson seems the be easy answer here. I agree with the rest of the team on this one. DDV and Hart are the options to push Grimes to the bench if he’s underperforming, but it won’t happen. I don’t think that the team makes any dramatic pre-deadline moves either, but that’s assuming that the Knicks are winning. The front office seems committed to running it back with the same core, and I believe that the trust in the current roster will be unwavering.
2) The Knicks ranked third in offense and 19th in defense last season. What will they rank this time around?
Losada: I’m not going to say in reverse but I think those two ranks would converge toward the middle of the pack. Ranking third in offense was a bit of a fever dream and Thibs ordered his boys to launch the eighth-most three-point shots. Will that happen again? Will the Knicks keep bagging offensive boards and second-chance points like madmen? I’m not sure, and the team ran plays at the sixth-slowest pace with the 20th-best TS% last year. The defense, however, will improve. The Knicks stole the sixth-fewest possessions per game but DDV is a dog and is now in tow. Not to mention New York allowed opponents to make the fourth-most 3-point shots per game against them and that should go down a bit.
Kato: Last season’s ranks, even to this day, still confuse me because of how much of an anomaly they were for a Thibs-lead team that often prioritizes defense above everything else. I think the Knicks will regress a bit offensively, but with Brunson, Randle, and hopefully an improved Barrett and Grimes, they should continue to be a top 10-ish offensive team. And defensively, with DiVincenzo in the fold and the potential regression of some opposing teams’ shooting against the Knicks, they have a chance to be in that 15-10 range. Top 10 in both seems like a lofty goal but it can be done. Realistically though, I say they end up around that seventh to ninth range on offense and 12th to 14th range defensively.
Richardson: This season they will rank higher for defense, lower for offense. Regarding the latter, Boston, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and at least one dark horse like Washington could leapfrog New York—and that’s only Eastern Conference competition, let alone a mixed metaphor. The Knicks will fall just outside the top ten for both categories, O & D, which is still very respectable, thank you.
Wiesel: I was surprised they ended up finishing tied for third in offensive rating last season. I see them regressing in that area, and anything inside the top 12 would be very respectable. On defense, I do expect them to be a top-12 unit. Josh Hart will be around for the full season. Donte DiVincenzo is a good defender. Quentin Grimes should continue to develop on that side of the ball. As always, Mitchell Robinson patrols the paint and had a really good preseason. The Knicks scored 116 points per game last season and gave up 113. I’m anticipating drops in both of those categories.
Stein: The Knicks’ offense can become so unbelievably stagnant at points. Finishing third in the league feels like an insult to James Naismith. Brunson and Randle are two incredibly effective isolation scorers, but the ball doesn’t move around the floor. Robinson has a limited arsenal, RJ Barrett isn’t the most efficient, and Grimes is a candidate to make a scoring leap, but his preseason was streaky. On the other side of the court, Robinson is an elite paint commander, Grimes is a dog, and Hart and DDV off the bench will bolster the second unit. I think a top-12 finish on both ends of the floor is a reasonable goal.
3) How many Knicks will average at least 18 points per game (and which players)?
Losada: Look at 18+ PPG players since the start of the century. There’s been a ton and even more each passing year! Members of the New York Knicks? Not so many! Randle and Barrett have reached that figure two years in a row. Count them in. Brunson did last year (easily) so count him in. The last time four players scored 15+ PPG for the Knicks was in 2011. Let’s go wild and say Grimes will explode for 15+ guaranteed with the upside to hit that 18-point plateau.
Kato: Brunson, and Randle are automatic locks for 18PPG with Barrett being a very very likely candidate behind them. After that, it becomes tricky. Grimes, with the potential for a larger role, could break out and make a run for it, and Quickley, who did average 17PPG from December 3rd onwards, has a chance as well. But with DiVincenzo coming over, and Hart being here for a full season, Quickley’s numbers may not see much, if any, of an uptick. There’s a slight chance for four guys here, but the overwhelming safe bet is stick with the aforementioned three.
Richardson: Four-ish. Randle, Brunson, Barrett, and Quickley. Grimes will increase his average to 15 per game. The Magic 8-Ball says Randle and Brunson will drop off slightly from last season’s production (they scored 25 and 24 points, respectively), leaving RJ and IQ to pick up the slack.
Wiesel: Brunson, Randle, RJ. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle are locks, and RJ Barrett will get enough volume to get up there. I just don't see it with the other guys. Immanuel Quickley averaged 15 points per game last season while playing 29 minutes per game. I’m not sure what will be so different this season for him. Asking Quentin Grimes to go from 11.3 to 18.0 is a bit much. I'd love to see Q get to 14 points per game this season. Josh Hart can have the occasional scoring night but it would be a win to see him average double digits. I second that opinion with Mitchell Robinson, who is looking for his first career season averaging double-digit points.
Stein: 4. Brunson and Randle are locks here. RJ Barrett has done it both of the last two seasons, and should have enough volume to get there again for a third. The prime candidate for the fourth player seems like Immanuel Quickley, who put up just under 15 PPG last season, but I’ll go out on a limb here and nominate Quentin Grimes as more likely to hit that mark. I think the breakout hype is warranted. His offensive bag is far deeper than the spot-up shooter role we’ve gotten used to so far, and his defensive ability will give him enough minutes to hit the 18 PPG mark.
4) What will be the Knicks’ final record and standing in the Eastern Conference?
Losada: I’m betting on 50 wins this season, and that should put New York in the realm of having a home-court advantage for at least one round in the playoffs. Sounds reasonable building on the 47-win 2023 season and the other mid-to-good-tier teams of the Eastern Conference not really improving their rosters that much. Clinching the no. 4 seed is doable. The no. 3 isn’t entirely crazy either.
Kato: I whole-heartedly believe that this team has the ability and coach to hit the 50-win mark. They won 47 games last season, and that was with a very inconsistent and subpar start to the season, and their roster has only gotten better since last season. A whole season of Hart, and the addition of DiVincenzo, while subtracting Fournier from the rotation completely, should lead to a better team. But, unfortunately, I don’t think it leads to a better record. They may have two very dependable guys in Brunson and Randle, have great depth, and a coach that’ll push them throughout the season, but there’s just a few too many obstacles for me to think that they get 50 wins. They’ll once again rely on Brunson and Randle to score a lot of tough baskets and hope that many of their key guys remain relatively healthy. And we haven’t even gotten to the fact that the conference as a whole should be pretty tough outside of the few bottom-dwellers. I have them being a better team this year but winning 47 games again.
Richardson: Raise a toast to fifth place again. Final tally: 50 wins, 32 losses, and two “Fire Thibs” overreaction posts.
Wiesel: I hate to be the downer here, but I don’t foresee a 50-win season. I’m happy to be proven wrong. Even if they don’t win 50 games, that is not considered an unsuccessful season. It is virtually the same team, and many felt they overachieved last season. I have them slightly worse in the 43-46 win range. We’ve been through a lot of frustrating years as Knicks fans, that I’m not going to sit here and be upset if they go from 47 to 45 wins. They didn't even come close to winning half their games from 2013–14 to 2019–20. A competitive Knicks team makes me happy, and I won’t be taking that for granted. I’ll put them at 45-37, finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Stein: Not to disappoint here, but I think that the Knicks are more likely to regress a bit than hit the 50 win mark. The squad will compete night in and night out, but their offensive efficiency was unsustainable, and they have yet to prove themselves as a true top-tier team in the NBA. That being said - as long as they make the playoffs, which they will comfortably, they have a chance to go on a deep postseason run. Call it 46 wins, 36 losses.
5) What are your thoughts about the new, In-Season Tournament? Will the Knicks win it?
Losada: The Knicks will bag the first (and last?) NBA Cup ever thanks to their depth. This team is, well, a team without a really top-heavy type of construction. I don’t see likes of Randle or Barrett or Brunson playing diva and sitting huge chunks of the in-season tourney like LeBron or Dame or Kawhi might. Strength in numbers, baby. Oh, and there is this guy we call Thibs calling shots from the sideline who I’ve heard refuses to lose at anything. Just saying...
Kato: I honestly don’t know what to make of the tournament yet. As a casual watcher of European football, I liked the idea of a mid-season tournament that allows teams to have more than one tournament per season. That being said, I am very skeptical about just how serious the players and teams take it because so much of the fanbase and media value championships over everything else. As for how the Knicks will do, I actually think they’ll thrive. Thibs seems like the perfect coach for this as he’ll see these games as crucial opportunities to improve and build winning habits whereas teams like the Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, and Bucks may be more likely to prioritize the end of the season. I don’t think they win it, but I think they get pretty damn close.
Richardson: I’ve tried to ignore it. The Knicks are in Group B with the Buckaroos, so . . . can I predict Mitchell Robinson’s free throw percentage instead? Two digits, the first is a four.
Wiesel: I don’t really care about the in-season tournament. I’m sure I’ll be into it once the games start, but it’s hard to get up for it. I do think this is a great style tournament for the Knicks to compete in. They are in a bracket with the Bucks, Heat, Wizards, and Hornets. Milwaukee could have their eye on the bigger prize in June, and you never know with Miami. The Knicks play hard, and I wouldn't be shocked at all to see them make a run in it. They have depth and a good variance of players that could pop on a game-to-game basis in a format like this.
Stein: The mid-season tournament has come off thus far as a gimmick-y way for the NBA to pretend that the regular season matters. That being said, who knows? Adam Silver has been a master at milking the watchability of the league, and it’ll be something I definitely tune into. The Knicks have a high ceiling, and if they get hot at the right time, they are perfectly built to make a run at something like this.
6) Who will be the Knicks’ MVP?
Losada: Tired: Brunson. Wired: Barrett. Tis the year, folks. The Maple Mamba will finally fulfill the prophecy, become the one-and-only face of the franchise, and be crowned King Knickerbocker in the eyes of both naysayers and believers.
Kato: Brunson started to match Randle in production and importance down the stretch last season and with a full season as a Knick under his belt, I think Brunson finds a way to be even better this season. Brunson will be a first-time All-Star, start the season the way he ended last season and not only be the Knicks’ MVP but quietly enter the outskirts of the NBA MVP discussion by season’s end.
Richardson: As Brunson goes, so do the Knicks. My runner up, delirious daydream pick: Jacob Toppin, whose surprising success this season makes for an awfully awkward holiday meal. “Obadiah, would you please pass the trophy—I mean, turkey.” Tensions rise until all three delightful dunkers, father and sons, compete in a driveway dunk-off. The eldest elevator wins in a walk and sends his bickering boys to their room, where they still share a bunk bed. Later, in the dark, a hand reaches up to the top bunk, offering what looks like a half-eaten Snickers bar but is really a white flag, thereby restoring fraternal peace in Brooklyn. But, yeah, Brunson will be the team’s MVP. No doubt.
Wiesel: Saying anyone other than Jalen Brunson feels wrong. The dude is New York basketball, and the fanbase goes as #11 goes. I wanted to shout out Julius Randle, who I never think gets enough love around here. Two All-NBA and All-Star appearances in the last three seasons. Scored a career-high 25 points per game last season and led the Knicks in rebounds per game. Rose his effective field goal percentage from 45.8 percent in that disappointing 2021–22 season to 55.3 percent last season. Had a career-high +8.1 win shares in the regular season. He’s coming off surgery; he should be good to go, and I’m excited to see how seemingly the NBA’s most overrated and underrated player performs this season. Other MVPs, I think, will be Grime’s improved shot-making, Mitch’s re-emergence as an efficient paint scorer, Hart’s blue-collar approach to basketball, and hopefully fewer threes attempted by RJ.
Stein: It’s Brunson. I think that Randle’s performance will be the main X-factor of the season, but Brunson is the MVP. I’m a real believer after watching last year’s playoff performance. He’s easily the best player on this team, and as he goes, so do we.