So far this season, the Knicks have found themselves in a tier akin to where they were last season. Neither great nor bad, but good and no better, and no worse. Now, last season, considering what the expectations were heading into the season, the tier of teams that consisted of really good but not elite teams was amazing to be grouped with. Following the tumultuous slog that was the 21-22 season, the surprising performances of Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle en route to an upset playoff series win was pure elation at its finest.
But the Knicks and their fans came into this season having tasted more success than it has in a decade and expected and yearned for more. More wins, more success, more upsets, more all-stars, more improvements, more everything. However, through their first 14 games, the Knicks have shown that they are, more or less, the same team as they were last season. The main difference is that, due to the expectations placed upon the team this season, it feels a bit worse.
That isn’t to say this is the same exact team with the same exact strengths and weaknesses because obviously, some things have changed. Obi Toppin is gone and Donte DiVincenzo is in. The outside shooting and the offense overall have statistically been a bit better. And both Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett have taken noticeable leaps in their play. But the improvements, however significant they may be, still have not been big enough to catapult this team into the elite tier of teams that are fighting for and have a clear path to a championship.
Thus far we’ve clearly seen that the current roster is, at the core, still very similar. Right now, they are a team that can beat any team on any given night but fail to beat elite teams consistently. They are also a team that will beat teams they are supposed to on most nights while having the potential to have multiple head-scratching losses to lesser opponents. As an example, we’ve witnessed this team beat a solid Hawks team twice, beat a star-studded Clippers team, take care of business against the Wizards and Hornets and almost edge out the Bucks and Celtics early on in the season. But we’ve also seen them struggle to stay in it against the Celtics the second time around, get dismantled by the Timberwolves just last night, and inexplicably drop a game to a Cavaliers team that was missing both Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen.
All this to say that right now, as mentioned earlier, the Knicks are simply just a good team. And until the roster goes through a significant change, the unfortunate truth is this is likely where the team will stay. Both Brunson and Randle are good, but they don’t come close to scratching the top 10 players list, they go through some really bad outside shooting droughts, and they get killed by stretch big men too often. The lack of size on the wings and a reserve power forward will hurt the Knicks a lot against bigger teams.
Now, there’s a chance that Randle continues to return to form, Brunson becomes even better than he was last season, Barrett continues to take the big leap he showed signs of early on in the season, and all three of Quickley, DiVincenzo, and Quentin Grimes become the best version of themselves for the remainder of the season. But that’s a lot of IF’s, and big IF’s at that.
I will say though, that I’m sure that the team, much like it did for portions of the second half of last season, will go through hot stretches where they look like a top 5 team. And overall, this is still a very very good team. They’ll compete, give themselves a shot in almost every game, and still have some really great players in the aforementioned Brunson, Randle, Barrett, Robinson, and Quickley. Those things certainly shouldn’t be lost on the fans. But the realistic ceiling of this team, as they are currently built, may just be another fourth or fifth seed and a second round out, and that is something that fans may need to remember