After taking time to get over the Knicks’ disappointing season it is time to reflect on the state of the Knicks going forward. Many of the local beat writers are saying the season was a mitigated disaster, which is a hyperbolic reaction. Yes, the Knicks underachieved, but how disappointing was really? This Knicks’ roster is not a finished product and no one expected the Knicks to compete for a championship this season, so what really was the goal. It’s simple, just build upon the success of the 2020/21 season. Usually that is measured in the form of wins, but talent acquisition is also just as important. So let’s look at the two and see if the short term failure, wins, impacted the long term goal, acquiring talent.
Last Season’s Issues
It is not hard to figure out why the team underperformed. The main reason is that their best player Julius Randle regressed. The second is the point guard play. Their best point guard and closer Derrick Rose only played in 26 games. The other point guard they brought in to replace Elfrid Payton, Kemba Walker, wasn’t a good fit. Dealing with those two issues in a vastly improved Eastern Conference resulted in a losing record. Unfortunately when looking at the long term (Big Picture), the Knicks can’t count on Julius Randle and Derrick Rose going forward. So let’s look at the moves made in the offseason to see if will make the team better in the offseason.
Offseason Spending: B-
While many were critical of the Knicks’ offseason spending in the summer of 2022, I wasn’t. A team can’t make moves that aren’t there to be made. I also didn’t want the Knicks making short sighted decisions just to win a press conference. The moves the Knicks made were save and prudent. This offseason is when the patience will start wearing off and the pressure will increase.
Julius Randle: D+
Let’s start with the biggest move, which was giving Julius Randle a contract extension. I was totally against giving Randle a 4-year $117M contract extension after just 1 good season, especially when you consider his performance in the playoffs. Leon Rose needed to make sure that last season’s performance wasn’t the contract year phenomenon we always see from athletes that are about to enter free agency. Unfortunately it was as he reverted back to his historical level of play.
But I do understand Leon Rose’s dilemma. He needed to reward Randle, especially to set an example for the real star players he will be courting. There also was the risk of losinf Randle for nothing in free agency. The only reason I won’t give Leon an “F” is because Randle’s contract isn’t horrible. It can be traded as he is projected to only be the 48th highest paid player next season. The issue isn’t so much is talent or production, it’s his attitude. that is what will make trading him more difficult. They key is whether Leon will need to staple compensation to Randle’s contract in order to trade him. If does, the grade changes to an “F”.
Evan Fournier: B
While Fournier’s play was disappointing at times, that was more able him finding his role if the offense early in the season. The bottom line is the Knicks got what they paid for when they signed Fournier. Plus he has been a good teammate and role model for the younger players. Many folks complained about Fournier’s contract, 3 years/$57M with a team option for a 4th season. But he is a better player than Reggie Bullock, the player he replaced. He is also better than former Knicks Tim Hardaway Jr., who got a 4 year/$75M contract. Because Fournier’s deal now looks more attractive because it only has 2 years left on it and the salary cap will be increasing $9M (7.6%) next season thus making his contract more affordable.
Derrick Rose: D
When Derrick Rose has played he has been good, his production far exceeds his $14M average annual salary. But the issue was that he wasn’t healthy, only playing in 26 games. The good news about Rose’s contract is that it only has 1 season left on it, so it has value since it is expiring. If Rose does return for another season and can play at least 50 games, he will be a net positive because of his play and status as a team leader. Remember, the Knicks had a losing record without Rose in the 2020/21 season.
Alec Burks: B+
Alec Burks was put in a tough spot this season as he was playing out of position as the starting Point Guard. Because of his versatility, talent, and contract, Burks is a desired player. Burks is worth more the $10M per season he is signed to. He also will be an expiring contract this offseason which will make him very appealing in a trade. There is a huge market for a tall Wing that can handle the ball and shootings 40% from beyond the arc. If Burks does come back he will be very productive, especially in his natural role, back-up Wing.
Nerlens Noel: D-
There is not much to say about Noel because he barely did anything this season due to injury. I was against paying the back-up Center more than our underpaid starter Mitchell Robinson ($1.8M). The only reason this signing doesn’t get an “F” grade is because his contract is tradeable since it is expiring. If a good veteran player goes on the trade market, Noel’s contract can be used as a salary filler.
Kemba Walker: C-
I wasn’t really excited when the Knicks signed Kemba, after all he just got traded and bought out for a reason. His knee issues and defense were a concern. But the contract he signed wasn’t bad, 2 years/$17.8M. When Kemba played, he was good, he did win player of the week honors. But he just wasn’t a good fit on this team. Again, the saving grace of this situation is that he will be an expiring contract, which does have value. He was also productive so there are teams that would be interesting in Kemba as a role player. Worst case scenario the Knicks release him which won’t wreck their salary cap. The risk was worth it, my only issue was that the front office and head coach, Tom Thibodeau, weren’t aligned on this signing.
Player Development: B
RJ Barrett: B
While the shooting percentages don’t support it, the eye test showed that RJ got better. Barrett’s decision making was vastly improved and he was most aggressive at getting to the rim. His free-throw attempts per game increased from 3.8 to 5.8, tops on the team. While RJ isn’t ready to be the number#1 option, he did show he ready for an expanded role. Most importantly that he has the right mind for New York, he doesn’t shy ahead from the pressure, he embraces it.
Mitchell Robinson: C+
I don’t blame Mitch for the slow start as we was working himself back from a broken foot and bulked up in the offseason to be stronger. Once Mitch realized the added muscle was making him too slow he shed the weight and we regained his old form. He was a dominate force on both ends of the floor; as a rim protector, lob threat, and most importantly an offensive rebounder. In the 2nd half of the season he was relentless on the offensive glass and the reason the Knicks won games. My biggest issue with Robinson is that his offensive game didn’t expand and his free-throw shooting didn’t improve either. As one of the few elite athletes on this roster, he talents needed to be maximized. Instead he is an incredible role player which limits what the Knicks can pay him. This makes it very probable that a desperate team with lots of cap space might overpay for his services. It would be a shame to lose Mitch, especially with no compensation.
Obi Toppin: A
What can we say about Obi, he has done almost everything you could have asked of him. The only thing that held him back was Julius Randle and Coach Thibodeau. The way he ended the season showed that he is ready to step into the starting lineup. The main concern with Toppin was his defense which he has worked hard to improve. The other concern was his outside shooter, which wasn’t good, 30.8 FG3%, ironically the same as Randle. But he silenced those doubts at the end of the season once he got extended playing time. Toppin’s performance at the end of the season took some pressure off of Leon, who has been criticized for drafting Toppin over Tyrese Haliburton. Obi also convinced Thibs that the team can move on from Randle.
Immanuel Quickley: B+
I thought about this grade, especially because I am biased towards IQ since he is one of my favorite players. I looked back at the entire season in order to avoid recency bias. IQ got off to a bad start, part of it was adjusting to the new shooting foul rules. But what was most impressive about Quickley was that he showed development in two facets of his game that he needed to improve: play-making and finishing at the rim. IQ is one of few players on the team with shooting gravity which naturally stretches the defense. Being able to exploit that as a play-maker that can finish at the rim takes his game to a new level. What also doesn’t get talk about enough by the media is his grit and maturity. He faced adversity head on and overcame it. That is a big deal, not every player can handle the immense scrutiny of the New York media. I look forward to seeing how good IQ will be in his 3rd season.
Cam Reddish: B
The 2021 rookie class can safely be considered very good. To use a baseball analogy, the Knicks didn’t hit any home runs, but did hit on all 4 picks, which on to itself is rare, as most teams missed on at least half their picks. When you consider that it usually takes 3 seasons to determine how good a player is. It is save to say the Knicks at least drafted 4 rotation players, of which, 3 have a chance of being very good starters.
Quentin Grimes – B
Great value for 25th pick in draft. Earned a spot in rotation, filled Reggie Bullock’s role of 3&D Wing. Has a chance to be very good starter.
Miles ‘Deuce’ McBride – B
Showed flashes, can easily be the back-up Point Guard next season due to defense and outside shooting. Also has a chance to developed into a very good starter.
Jericho Sims – B+
Great value for the 51st pick in draft. Showed he can be a solid back-up Center. Has limited upside, so don’t expect him to develop into anything more than a rotation player.
Rokas Jokubaitis – B+
Knicks missed out on opportunity to take Herb Jones who went to New Orleans with next selection, 35th pick overall. But Jokubaitis’s value as a ‘draft & stash’ pick increased due to his play at Barcelona, one of the best international teams. I can see Rokas being a player many teams would like included in a trade. He isn’t likely to play in the NBA next season, but likely in 2023-24 season.