Led by their 2022 offseason signing Jalen Brunson, the New York Knicks turned heads with their play last season and barged into the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Brunson’s outstanding play not only reenergized the franchise, but the whole of New York City as he became the heart and soul of the team. In his first season as a Knick, he averaged 24 points on 49.1% field goal shooting, two three-pointers, 3.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 0.9 steals in 68 regular season games.
The 26-year-old was even more spectacular in the postseason where he bumped up his scoring average to 27.8 points while he also tallied 4.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.
Now that a full year has gone by since the signing of Brunson, it is clear that his arrival was a key turning point for New York. Instead of rushing to build on this momentum though, the Knicks’ front office, led by their president Leon Rose, has taken a more patient approach.
New York has had a quiet offseason so far, with reserve guard Donte DiVincenzo as their only free agent signing. The Knicks also lost Derrick Rose (Dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies in a sign-and-trade) and Obi Toppin (Traded to the Indiana Pacers), albeit these two players saw their roles greatly diminished during last year’s push.
This leaves New York’s line-up rather unchanged, with Brunson, two-time NBA All-Star Julius Randle, and RJ Barrett set to relive their roles as this team’s primary offensive options in the upcoming season. As currently constituted, it is difficult to imagine this Knicks team exceeding last year’s second round appearance considering all of the heavyweights in the East.
Brunson may have proven himself once more as a lethal closer during the playoffs, yet he may already be at his ceiling as a rather unathletic 6’1 guard. His best role on a winning team in the NBA may ultimately be as a second option and this may ultimately force New York to make some moves.
Randle was actually expected to be the first option here, but his lackluster performances during his two postseason appearances with the Knicks have made it clear that he is not an ideal player for this role.
What Randle may be ideal for though is the trading block as he is currently in the middle of a four-year, $117 million contract that could help New York balance salaries to acquire a superstar. The team’s fans have grown impatient with him as well and it would not come as a surprise if his stay with the team ends sooner rather than later.
The Knicks have been recently linked to the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid although the consensus around the league is that the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player is inclined to stand pat. It will be interesting to see who else is rumored to be on New York’s radar in the coming months and if any offers are enticing enough for their front office to break out of their recent fiscal discipline.
While it may still seem early for this iteration of the Knicks, it would be prudent to act with haste given the speed of the NBA’s cycles nowadays. The goodwill built up from this past season could quickly evaporate with an underwhelming finish in the upcoming one which may put unnecessary pressure on for them to make changes.
This team is clearly on the way up, but is far from being a finished product. It will be crucial for their front office to recognize this and capitalize on opportunities to acquire the pieces necessary for them to make it to the top tier of the East. Brunson has proven to be amazing, yet he cannot do it alone.