The wait is finally over. Well sort of, but not really. New York Knicks basketball is upon us as the Knicks (0-0) prepare to launch their 2023 preseason tonight at Madison Square Garden against the extensively retooled Boston Celtics (1-0).
While both the Celtics and the Knicks succumbed to playoff defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat in consecutive postseason rounds, this new Celtics team arriving in town tonight looks very different from the Celtics who left the TD Garden last May. The Knicks still look like… the Knicks.
When the final buzzer sounded on the NBA Season, Boston’s GM Brad Stephens frantically hit the red button and immediately went to work. On June 24th, the Celtics acquired former Knicks first-round pick Kristaps Porzingis in a multi-faceted three-team trade involving the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies.
Stephens’ most substantial, audacious, and fiscally extravagant move of the summer, however, materialized in the form of a historic $304 million dollar contract extension to Jaylen Brown, the richest in NBA history. Incorporating Porzingis into their ranks and securing the steadfast presence of Brown alongside the illustrious four-time NBA All-Star Jayson Tatum, the collective sentiment throughout the league was that the Celtics had enough to compete for a championship. Brad Stephens disagreed.
Merely a few days after the Portland Trail Blazers acquired Jrue Holiday as part of the Damian Lillard trade saga, the Celtics made a push to acquire Holiday back from Portland. Boston presented Portland with the ability to further extend their rotational depth and build upon their long-term future since the departure of Lillard. Portland accepted and sent Holiday back East in exchange for Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams, and two future first-round picks.
In stark contrast, the Knicks off-season was rather uneventful. While the Celtics embarked on a formidable quest to assemble a roster reminiscent of “The Avengers,” the Knicks, in their pursuit of excellence, put together their own superhero squad akin to the formidable strengths of “The Mystery Men.”
The additions of Donte DiVincenzo and Ryan Arcidiacono, served as further bricks in the the Knicks’ best attempt to rebuild the 2015-16 NCAA Champion Villanova Wildcats, reuniting them with former Wildcat teammates Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart. With the inability to compile a roster of NBA Champions, perhaps putting together a one-time NCAA Championship team was Leon Rose’s contingency plan. Regardless, when this quartet takes the hardwood together, there will be more chemistry on the court than in a NASA science laboratory.
Thibodeau has already articulated his strategy concerning the utilization of his starting lineup for tonight’s opener. When asked about utilizing his starters tonight, Thibs acknowledged they will see meaningful but limited minutes. Over this past weekend in speaking with the media, he said, “Usually the first game you’re going to get something and then you keep adding, the last one will be closer to the normal rotation.” (h/t NY Post)
While this means that the heavily anticipated point guard battle between Brunson and Holiday won’t materialize as much as we’d hope, expect to see the Knicks’ primary starting lineup from last season—Brunson, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson kick off the game and most likely be pulled early for the Knicks new acquisitions and emerging talents to assume the reins for the majority of the contest.
As minutes for the veterans will be limited, don’t count on seeing which version of Randle we are getting this year. Instead, direct your attention to Jericho Sims. Already earning early praise from Thibs, the coach said this weekend, “Jericho has really had a great camp. He’s the one guy. Coming off the (shoulder) surgery, he had a great summer the way he worked. He’s really done a good job for us.” High praise this early from Thibs is a great sign for Sims as compliments from the head coach this early on is not typical.
Given Robinson’s proneness to injuries and foul trouble, and Randle’s propensity for inconsistency, the prospect of the 24-year-old Sims capitalizing on extended playing time tonight to establish himself as the primary backup at the center position appears increasingly likely.
Speaking of youngsters, what can we expect to see out of Summer League standout Charlie Brown Jr.? Despite being 26 years old, Brown’s NBA career spans just 41 games dispersed among four different teams, none of which featured him during the 2022-23 NBA season. After spending the entire season last year with the Delaware Blue Coats of the NBA’s G-League, the Knicks invited Brown to participate in the Vegas Summer League as a New York Knick.
Over four games, Brown showcased his prowess by averaging an impressive 19.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, two assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game. Given the prevailing uncertainty surrounding Immanuel Quickley’s long-term future with the team, the Knicks may look to expand their depth at the guard position. With the expectation that Grimes’ minutes are going to be limited tonight, Brown is likely to relieve DiVincenzo intermittently throughout the game.
The Celtics opened their preseason last night in Boston with a 114-106 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Considering tonight’s matchup is the second leg of a back-to-back, the Knicks might find themselves fortunate in terms of the Celtics’ player rotation. Expect that Boston Celtics Head Coach Joe Mazzulla will still stick with his regular starting five of Holiday, Brown, Tatum, Porzingis, and Al Horford. However, last night’s game against Philadelphia, during which eight players, including all five starters, logged between 23 and 26 minutes, could indicate what the Knicks could expect to see tonight.
Considering all factors, there is a strong possibility that Mazzulla might opt for a more conservative approach and allocate playing time more evenly among the second unit of Payton Pritchard, Derrick White, Sam Hauser, Oshae Brissett, and Luke Kornet. Pritchard notably led the team last night with 26 points on 6-of-11 shooting from behind the arc. Celtics fans may even get their first glimpse at one or more of the seven players who earned a DNP last night. If Mazzulla does the Knicks a favor and indeed gives a more balanced distribution of minutes to the second unit, the Knicks win by 15 tonight. Easily.
However, if Mazzulla does the opposite and plays his starters the same number of minutes or more than he did last night… Well, let’s hope not.
Manhattan, NYC. Madison Square Garden. Tip-off is 7:30 P.M. Go Knickerbockers!