The New York Knicks fell to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of their first-round NBA Playoff series Wednesday night in front of a boisterous Madison Square Garden crowd. In the process, New York’s surprising 2020-21 season came to an unfortunate conclusion.
In no way this mean the Knicks’ season wasn’t an overwhelming success. Prior to playoff struggles, forward Julius Randle was looking every bit the part of an NBA MVP candidate. Second-year wing R.J. Barrett took that next step and is now considered a franchise building block moving forward.
The backdrop here is a new power structure in the Big Apple that includes head coach Tom Thibodeau and president Leon Rose. Fresh off their best season since 2012-13, things are pointing upward for the long-downtrodden New York Knicks. Here’s three reasons why the 2020-21 season tells us this story.
New York Knicks have young building blocks
It’s been a long while since these Knicks actually had young core players to build around moving forward. We mentioned Barrett above. While the 20-year-old wing still has some growing to do, he improved considerably as a sophomore.
- 2019-20: 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 40% shooting, 32% three-point
- 2020-21: 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 44% shooting, 40% three-point
That’s a massive improvement. It also has Barrett on the verge of becoming a consistent 20-point scorer. While rookie lottery pick Obi Toppin was in and out of the Knicks’ rotation this season, another first-rounder in Immanuel Quickley jumped on to the scene. He averaged 11.4 points on 40% shooting from distance in limited action. Whether it’s as a point guard or off-ball guard, Quickley now figures into the Knicks’ long-term future.
Despite his “advanced” age by comparison, the 26-year-old Randle has proven himself to be a capable top-end option for a contending team. Sure Randle proved during the playoffs that he’s not a No. 1 guy. But when a dude can average 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists, he’s shown himself to be part of something. These are the three core players the New York Knicks will likely build around moving forward.
New York Knicks are now an attractive destination
It was just a couple years ago that things seemed to hit rock bottom for the Knicks. They made major plays for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency before both opted to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Despite the status of the Big Apple as basketball’s Mecca and the presence of Madison Square Garden, these Knicks couldn’t take advantage of North America’s largest media market to attract top-end free agents. Whether that’s this coming summer or during the 2022 offseason, the expectation is that this will change.
We saw it first-hand during the Knicks’ first-round loss to Atlanta. MSG can be that electric atmosphere that defined the now-defunct Oracle Arena in Oakland and other big-name venues. Now clearly on an upward trajectory, the Knicks are going to be an attractive destination for free agents and those looking for trades.
Tom Thibodeau and Leon Rose changed the New York Knicks’ culture
Knicks owner James Dolan still exists in that role and has refused to sell the team. This is an unfortunate backdrop for an organization that has fallen on hard times under the embattled billionaire. With that said, the presence of both Thibodeau and Rose has changed things up big time.
In particular, Rose’s status as a former NBA player agent will help cultivate relationships with both current Knicks players and those looking to join the organization. It’s similar to what we’ve seen with Rob Pelinka and the Los Angeles Lakers and Bob Myers with the Golden State Warriors.
As for Thibodeau, he remains one of the most-respected minds in the game. The head coach has seen his relationship with Julius Randle grow big time. Varying levels of success with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves in previous stops also add another layer to this. The culture has changed with these Knicks. That will lead to continued success moving forward.