The New York Knicks preseason is done. Their regular season begins on October 19 against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies. While we understand that the preseason is supposed to mean nothing, someone failed to tell this season’s NBA players. From LeBron James to the No. 1 draft pick Paolo Banchero, everyone played like it were the playoffs.
The Knicks’ 3-1 preseason record can be attributed to three players. Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson all played well. The New York Knicks’ big three could have breakout seasons or are they now players under the most pressure? Probably not.
The Knicks showed that the team needed a bonafide point guard, and Jalen Brunson is that man. In his four preseason games, Brunson averaged 17.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. RJ Barrett, the guy with the $120 million extension, is continuing where he left off last season.
It may only have been the preseason that didn’t mean anything, but Barrett shot 46.2% from the field, 50% from beyond the arc, and 81.3% from the line. Finally, Mitchell Robinson was a monster under the boards. In the last preseason game against the Washington Wizards, Robinson had 20 points, 12 boards, two steals, and two blocks.
But this is about the three New York Knicks players who should look at their play over the last two weeks. Has it gotten better from the end of last season? These three are under the most pressure heading into New York’s season opener.
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Julius Randle must return to 2020-21 form
Julius Randle seems to have accepted his new role on the team. Randle has settled into the fourth guy position, no longer the star or the team’s go-to guy. But is that an acceptable role for him to redeem himself? If the Knicks have a big three, shouldn’t Randle be one of them?
During the 2020-21 season, there was no Knicks’ big three. There was only Julius Randle with RJ Barrett beside him. They were learning from him. Randle averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting 41% from distance that season.
It was the best season of his career. He became an All-Star and was awarded the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Randle led his team to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Unfortunately, he could not be found when the playoffs came. The Knicks fell apart without their leader.
Then came the 2021-22 season, and a petulant, angry Randle showed up. As a result, the Knicks ended up with a 37-45 record and as the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference while missing out on the playoffs altogether.
Is fourth man enough? Should Randle try again to be the leader on the team or is the addition of Brunson and emergences of Barrett/Robinson too much to break through? He did look comfortable. Randle didn’t have to score the most and helped his team better with the rebounds and assists. When he had the ball, he facilitated it well.
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Immanuel Quickley is a key for the New York Knicks
This season is Quickley’s third. For the guard, it isn’t a matter of numbers or percentages. In my opinion, it is a matter of confidence. Quickley’s confidence comes and goes. And without that confidence, he can’t lead. Although Derrick Rose is the “leader” of the second unit, Quickley, after three years, should be ready to take over from Rose.
Quickley’s numbers weren’t there at the beginning of last season, and he couldn’t buy a basket. More importantly, he wasn’t a very good floor general. Derrick Rose is 34 years old, and even though he has just got himself down to his rookie weight, he can’t be expected to give 20 minutes a night. Quickley has the scoring. Now, he needs to be able to lead the second unit. If Quick is not ready to take over for Rose where is his place in the rotation?
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3. Evan Fournier has to live up to price tag
The pressure on Fournier is Quentin Grimes. The Donovan Mitchell trade fell through because the Knicks’ front office decided to bank on their young players. Fournier is 30 years old. But he is the vet who broke John Starks’ record for three-pointers in a single season during the 2021-22 season. It was one of his only bright spots of the season.
With the addition of Brunson, the Knicks are now a very young team. Even Randle, 27, is in his prime. Grimes can play the 1, 2, or 3 positions. He has the defense that Fournier lacks and Thibs loves.
Thibs played Fournier for 16 minutes in the last preseason game. He averaged 19.1 minutes during the four games of the preseason. Does this mean that Thibs will give the greater minutes to Grimes?
Knicks fans will be watching what Thibs does and the players who play for him. They want to win, but they are reasonable people despite what many outside of New York believes about them. Some New York Knicks fans will settle on not getting a star so long as their players win as they grow.
If Randle never returns to his former glory but makes plays that make his teammates better and not just the team’s turnover machine, there is no telling how many games this team can win and what seed they can make.
Let’s face it. This team may make the play-in as presently constructed. But if players such as Immanuel Quickley are developed and can take that next step, leading that second unit, making them as strong as Brunson’s starters, there is no telling how far these New York Knicks can go.