Memphis is just days away from their first game of the season! There’s one preseason game left – 110-89 home victory over Indiana.
The Knicks went 2-1 in the exhibition season and will conclude their slate against the Wizards on Friday night.
Despite how meaningless win-loss records are at this point, we’ve seen what Tom Thibodeau’s team can be when they set their sights on proving last year’s playoff miss was a one-off.
The Knicks will have to rely on their players not only to skate by on a consistently low salary cap but also to recapture the sense of optimism and goodwill from the end of last season.
Let’s take a closer look at five of the Knicks most prominently facing this question. It’s worth taking note, though, that this extends to some degree throughout the roster and the team brass.
Is Julius Randle’s breakout season in 2020-21 the outlier of his career or will he become that player again? His counting stats and shooting percentages decreased across the board in a disappointing personal and team-wide season. He even had moments with New York fans where he was icy. However, next season there may be no one happier with the addition of point guard Jalen Brunson than Julius Randle. With less handling of the ball, Randle should have an easier time breaking out of his slump and returning to top form.
Julius Randle should get more freedom on the offensive end with his kicking skills running the Knicks’ offense. The 27-year-old was in a contract extension, which kicks in this season and worth $117 million for four years. So far, he has been coming off the bench and tallied 10 points, per game. “I love his demeanor; I love the play-making,” said Thibodeau in a recent interview. “I think we gotta search him out in transition a little more.” It also mentions that when Randle pushes it and creates speed with possession down floor, defenders are expected to collapse onto him creating space for other teammates to score goals.
Jill Brunson: The former Villanova star is calm and comfortable both in running the offense and in taking on some of the leadership responsibilities that come with his four-year, $104 million deal following a breakout NBA season last spring. Brunson has never played for Thibodeau before, but he arrives from the Bulls organization knowing him from when he was young. He was able to learn quickly, thanks to his father Rick’s connection with Thibodeau–himself a member of coach Rick’s staff in Chicago and Minnesota. Brunson looks like the perfect player for what this franchise needs, as well as having good on- and off-court skills.
There were calls for the head coach’s job when things went south last season. That’s what happens in New York, even for someone who had rightfully earned Coach of the Year honors following the Knicks’ 41-31 turnaround season in 2020-21. Thibodeau is talking about improving the team’s 29th ranked pace from last season, and maybe he’ll have a means to do so with Brunson and the return of Derrick Rose from ankle injuries. Other issues linger, and if Evan Fournier struggles; calling for his replacement to start over Quentin Grimes will grow. And while young players are pushing established veterans, it’ll be up to Thibodeau and his revamped coaching staff to keep everyone happy and productive – at least, help guide the Knicks back into 7-10 play-in positioning in the East.”
With the recent trade of Dejounte Murray to the Eastern Conference, Tom Thibodeau is hoping a healthy and revamped backcourt can improve the team’s tempo of play. Noah K. Murray • Leon Rose: Instead of signing one of the top free agent guards, like Donovan Mitchell, Thibodeau has turned to focusing on rebuilding a healthy and improved backcourt from within – starting with Zach LaVine. In addition, Thibodeau has been insistent that he will not allow defenses to load up on his big men ahead of a trade deadline deal – claiming he has enough young talent in place if another elite player becomes available while they still have time to make moves before trading season starts in February.
Derrick Rose: If Derrick Rose stayed healthy, he could be a valuable asset to the team. Especially since he’s 34 and has had multiple surgeries on his ankles after shutting down in December. He may not start the season, but he still provides plenty of value for being there at all. The younger players hold him in high regard, and Thibodeau trusts him fully.
Thibodeau provides a good answer when asked about one of their three-time All-Stars saying that they no longer have any ego.
Thibodeau indicates that “you can’t do the things he’s done without [one],” and that he doesn’t want to lose what makes their star player “special.” Thibodeau’s use of pronouns suggests that he thinks James has a certain ego, as does Brunson. It’s always been a team ego with both players, and they’re willing to share the limelight with others in high school and beyond. They adjust as they get older, knowing that they need to be team first always.
“You can’t do this if you’re by yourself. You need to have other people. But he’s always been a caring teammate, and that’s what endeared himself to his teammates. After all the years he’s been through, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to get through it.”
Veteran point guard Derrick Rose has had plenty of accolades throughout his career and still does. However, he’s always willing to share the limelight with everyone else on the team. Thibodeau, who’s coached Rose for much of his career, agrees. Sabo
Of course, there was that time when Rose was the MVP of the league at 22 for the Bulls in 2010-11 before missing much of the next three seasons with a torn ACL and other injuries.
“I think it’s incredibly hard for any athlete to go through one year injured, especially when you look at the work that he did,” Thibodeau said. “To do three straight years without being able to play on top of it is not an easy thing to do.”
“The last 22 years have been a wonderful journey for me,” says Alex Smith, “and I’m super grateful. So I want to learn from my mistakes and continue to grow, realizing that the process never ends.”
Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies will provide a challenging test for the Knicks in their first game of the season. The Knicks can only go so far in a tough schedule to start the season: they’ll have to face off with Ja Morant and the Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
The next three games will be against the Pistons, Magic and Hornets. The Charlotte game opens a stretch of eight consecutively against 2022 playoff teams. Away games include contests against the Bucks, Cavs, 76ers, Timberwolves and Nets, while you’ll face the Hawks at home.
Even going 6-5 or 7-4 in the next 11 games would be an accomplishment for the Knicks, who need to avoid digging themselves an early hole in the standings.