Jalen Brunson has the opportunity to cement himself in MVP conversations
Julius Randle has been such a tough star willing to play in every game, something that is rather rare these days. That has meant that Jalen Brunson has only played in two games as a Knick without Randle. And how has he fared in those games? Pretty well. It’s yet to happen this season, but in the 22-23 campaign, Brunson averaged 37.5PPG, and 8.5APG, while shooting 55.7% from the field. It’s a small sample size, but Brunson proved, like he did in Dallas when he played without Luka Doncic, that he is more than capable of being the lone focal point of an offense and carrying it efficiently. Now, Randle’s absence will be felt in a multitude of ways, and it’ll even impact Brunson a bit as well. The Knicks’ star point guard has become incredibly adept at relocating off the ball when Randle draws double-teams, leading to some nice wide-open spot-up opportunities for Brunson. Now with those chances gone, he’ll have to work even harder and do even more. But the silver lining is, that should lead to some incredible numbers for Brunson, which could firmly put him in the MVP conversation and get him the national respect he’s somehow failed to get from the media.
OG Anunoby’s ability to play the power forward makes his acquisition even more of a win
It’s no secret that the Knicks have benefitted greatly from the acquisition of Anunoby. Since he joined the team, the Knicks are 12-2 while having the best defensive rating, ninth-best offensive rating, and second-best net rating. His man-to-man defense, as well as his team defense, size, outside shooting, and cutting, have been exactly what the Knicks needed and it’s taken this team to the next level. Now with Randle out for the foreseeable future, Anunoby will likely be tasked with playing much more power-forward minutes, which makes the fact that they got him that much more meaningful. In the previous iteration of this roster, the Knicks had RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, two guys who weren’t capable of filling the positional void left by Randle. Although Anunoby won’t make up the offensive numbers Randle put up or garner the same kind of attention from opposing defenses, it’s incredibly valuable that he has the ability, size, and strength to play the four.
Knicks were lucky to have a tough schedule to start the season and have a relatively easy February
I, along with the majority of Knicks fans, spent my fair share of time complaining about how uneven, unfair, and odd the scheduling was for the Knicks. Between the In-Season Tournament screwing over the Knicks, leading to them having to play the Celtics and Bucks more, and the unideal amount of road games in the first few weeks of the season, the schedule was a point of discussion for Knicks fans. Thankfully though, they were able to navigate that portion of the schedule with a healthy, albeit less than perfect, Randle. Now, with Randle set to miss at least a few weeks, the Knicks and their fans should consider themselves lucky that, at least for February, the schedule doesn’t look very daunting.
Everyone, not just Brunson, will need to step up
You don’t replace a player like Randle with one guy. Despite having some flaws, Randle is such a crucial part of the Knicks’ and their success. He’s reshaped his game this season, and he’s become more physically imposing than he’s ever been, and that’s led to a more efficient season from the field. This new focus on getting to the paint and being more physical has also led to him drawing even more attention down low and he’s used that against defenses by launching what has mostly been on-target, and on-time passes to the likes of Brunson, DiVicenzo, Grimes, and Anunoby for wide-open threes. To even suggest that the Knicks will be able to fully replace Randle would be silly, but the Knicks can do their best to do so with improved play from everyone all around. It starts with the aforementioned Brunson, but everyone else has to step up, too. DiVincenzo will need to be a bit more of a playmaker and continue his hot shooting. Anunoby will have to be more aggressive in looking to score and help out on the boards. Hart will likely see increased minutes and will have to make sure he’s prepared to be the most energetic, havoc-wreaking, pest other teams have ever seen. Grimes, who has seen his role and minutes be inconsistent, will have to play with the same kind of aggressiveness he’s been playing with as of late. Achiuwa will be called upon to keep up his current form and be the rebounding menace he’s shown he can be. And Hartenstein, who has already stepped up big time in the absence of Mitchell Robinson, will need to step up once again to sure up the paint. Even guys like Jericho Sims may be called upon to fill in for spot minutes if someone gets into foul trouble. From Brunson, down to the last man, and even the coaching staff, this will need to be a team effort, and it will be a huge test of just how good this team is.