A first impression is a lasting one.
After shocking news broke of a trade on Saturday sending RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley north of the border to Toronto, many Knicks fans (including myself) were upset. Both RJ and IQ were beloved by the Knicks faithful - two homegrown Knicks that were easy to root for, loved playing here, and were accustomed to basketball life in the Big Apple. The trade officially marked the end of a chapter in Knicks history, one highlighted by Barrett, Quickley, and Obi Toppin.
With every end, however, comes a new beginning.
It was easy to let our hearts overtake our heads when assessing the departures in the Toronto trade, but the three player return the Knicks got from the Raptors was impressive.
The centerpiece of the trade, OG Anunoby, is an all-NBA defender, someone who led the league in steals last season and shoots the corner 3 at an impressive clip. Precious Achiuwa is a capable backup power forward/center, which is something the Knicks were in desperate need of. Malachi Flynn had an impressive college career, and despite struggling with efficiency at the NBA level, is a hard-nosed defender that could eventually woo Coach Thibs.
Assessing positional fits, spacing, rotations, and overall feel of a lineup is always hard to do in a hypothetical. Whether it be summer league, preseason, or the playoffs, witnessing a product on the court with your own eyes is imperative for predicting success. The league was watching to see how the individual pieces would fit when combined, and today’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves proved to be a proper measuring stick in assessing the new-look Knicks.
The Timberwolves came into the game with a 24-7 record, tops in the Western Conference. Their offense is crisp, and their defense is probably the best in the league. Armed with Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, and a strong supporting cast, eyes across the country were on Monday’s matinee at MSG.
It wasn’t too long after tip before OG, Barrett’s replacement in the starting lineup, made himself at home.
OG's first bucket as a Knick pic.twitter.com/PGKXVM7KHN— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 1, 2024
After a slow start to the quarter, Julius Randle woke the Knicks up on offense, scoring eight points and sparking a 10-0 run. On the other end of the floor, Isaiah Hartenstein was sonning Rudy Gobert. Check out this disrespectful stuff.
Thibodeau will be tinkering his rotations moving forward, and traditionally, RJ Barrett has been the starter closing out the first quarter alongside the bench unit. Today, it was Randle, and he looked great early, scoring 15 in frame number one.
Despite this, Minnesota responded quickly. Anthony Edwards and KAT took over scoring duties, and the Knicks couldn’t get shots to fall on the other end of the floor. A 20-7 run by the Wolves brought the end of the first quarter, one that was hot and cold for New York. Minnesota: 32, New York: 23.
The second period got off to an awesome start, and the Knicks were able to sustain the awesomeness for a full 12 minutes. Josh Hart and Quentin Grimes hit back to back triples early. The absence of Quickley gives Grimes a massive chance to expand his offensive game, and he looked great in the first half.
Brunson had 13 in the second, and OG looked incredible in his second quarter minutes. The ball was moving on offense, rotations were tight on defense, and the Knicks were giving fans a reason to believe in their front office. It was a best case scenario for New York, who outscored the Timberwolves 38-17 in the second, bringing a 61-49 advantage for them into the halftime break.
The second half picked up right where the Knicks left off. The Knicks kept on rolling on both ends of the floor throughout the third, with the lead being pushed to as many as 22. While his shot was off tonight, Jalen Brunson showed off his prowess as a distributor, dropping six dimes to his teammates, his most in a quarter this season. He would end up setting a career high with 14 assists before the night was over.
OG had a couple of nice plays in the third, too. When all was said and done, the Knicks were up 94-78 at the end of three.
As is tradition with the Knicks, the fourth quarter was not easy. Minnesota jumped out to a quick run at the beginning of the frame, and with 6:40 left in the game, Karl-Anthony Towns hit a huge three to cut the once-impressive New York lead to a measly four points.
Luckily, Julius Randle was on cleanup duty tonight. No other Knick would hit a field goal for the rest of the afternoon. Randle scored 12 points in the last 5 minutes. He would finish the night with 39 points, shooting 14-24 from the floor.
Despite some brief scares down the stretch, the Knicks were able to hold on for an inspiring victory. Anunoby’s Knick debut was impressive, and most importantly, it was a win. He contributed a lot on both sides of the floor, and the Knicks looked much more cohesive as a squad with him playing. Was it worth giving up RJ and IQ for? Only time will tell. But tonight, it paid off.
- Precious Achiuwa in 9 minutes tonight: 0-2 FG, 0 points, 3 rebounds. 2 fouls. Meh, but we can chalk it up to acclimating himself with a new team.
- Deuce McBride is going to see an expanded opportunity with IQ out of town, and has a chance to really stick in the rotation after signing a three year extension days ago. He also put up a goose egg in the points column tonight.
- Brunson shot 5-23, and Jaden McDaniels made his life hell. He’s an incredible defender, moves well with length, and is the backbone of the defensive movement happening in Minnesota.
- Rebounding tonight: +14, Knicks. Offensive rebounds were 16 to 4. That may have been the difference.
- Big Minnesotian spark from reserve Jordan McLaughlin. He’s a capable backup PG, but hasn’t seen playing time this year. Coming into tonight, he had 10 points in 51 minutes this year. Today, he had 9 points in 12 minutes. And was +13. Basketball!
- Donte DiVincenzo is now averaging career highs in points, FG%, and 3PT%. He’s 47.0% from the field, and 44.7% from downtown. The signing looks great at this point of the season.
Per xhu35: “Started the New Year right!” Yes, we did!
A happy New Year to all! And remember: The Knicks are undefeated in 2024. Stay classy, New York.