Knicks season preview: Bounceback year with Jalen Brunson?

Knicks season preview: Bounceback year with Jalen Brunson?

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Knicks season preview: Bounceback year with Jalen Brunson?

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Expectations for the Knicks last season were high after making the playoffs as a No. 4 seed in 2020-21. Injuries, a regression from Julius Randle’s All-Star year, and a stronger Eastern Conference all factored into the Knicks’ disappointing campaign. And while the conference has likely gotten even stronger, there’s reason to believe that the Knicks could still get into the bottom part of the playoff mix. While they may not be a top team in the East, it’s also hard to envision them being a Bottom 5 squad like last year.

Below is a preview of the upcoming 2022-23 Knicks season.

Roster changes

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Returning: Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose, Mitchell Robinson, Cam Reddish, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Jericho Sims, Miles McBride, Feron Hunt, Ryan Arcidiocono

Additions: Jalen Brunson (Dallas), Isaiah Hartenstein (Los Angeles Clippers), Svi Mykhailiuk (Toronto), Trevor Keels (Duke), DaQuan Jeffries (College Park Skyhawks)

Subtractions: Alec Burks (Detroit), Nerlens Noel (Detroit), Kemba Walker (Detroit), Taj Gibson (Washington)

Strengths

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

* Improved playmaking… One of the Knicks’ biggest problems last season was point guard play. The Kemba Walker era ended early and Rose missed a lot of time with injuries. The addition of Brunson will do wonders for their playmaking, especially if he holds up his form from last season. That along with a healthy Rose and some developments from Quickley and McBride could ensure the Knicks have good playmaking at all times.

* Have guys who can get to and finish at the rim… Perhaps one of the Knicks’ biggest strengths in their 2020-21 season is their rim finishing. They ranked 11th in points in the paint that season but cratered to league-worst last season. They should rebound in that department, especially with the addition of Brunson who is one of the best guards at scoring in the paint. Barrett and Randle still have room to be better at getting to the rim and their two main centers are great at finishing there.

* Good rim protection… Head coach Tom Thibodeau has always played conventional lineups featuring a center who can protect the rim. They succeeded two years ago with Robinson and Noel but the latter missed most of last season. They now added Hartenstein to the mix who was the league’s best rim-protecting backup center last season. They also have Sims who would serve to be a good third center with his rim protection and athleticism. This will anchor an already good defense and perhaps they can rise from 11th last season and get closer to fourth two seasons ago.

Weaknesses

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

* Not enough spacing… One of the trade-offs of having a traditional center who protects the rim on the court at all times is that they’ll always have a non-shooter in their lineups. This is especially problematic if Randle can’t get back to at least average three-point shooting and if Toppin can’t become a respectable one. They will need to find ways to spread the floor more and open up their offense if they’re going to improve their offensive rating from 23rd last year.

* No star power… This could change if one of Barrett, Randle, or Brunson really pop this season, but they don’t project to have an All-Star this year. Randle was that guy in 2020-21 getting most of the offense run through him but unless he regains that form, Brunson or Barrett could be looked at next for more on-ball responsibilities. Barrett, in particular, has the upside to raise the Knicks’ ceiling if he can improve his efficiency, defense, and maybe even become better off the ball.

Depth Chart

Knicks 2022-23 Depth Chart by Dionysis Aravantinos

Knicks 2022-23 Depth Chart by Dionysis Aravantinos

Possible moves

After striking out on Donovan Mitchell despite months of negotiation, the Knicks held their line and retained their assets. They still remain one of the teams with the best trade packages for the next available All-Star with the surplus of draft picks they have. They currently can trade up to eight first-round picks: four of their own and four owed by other teams.

New York is going into the season with 14 players on standard contracts and $9.6 million below the luxury tax. While they may not have a lot of high-end talent, they are relatively deep at every position, especially guard. With Brunson now expected to start and Thibodeau historically favoring veterans, some good promising young guards like Quickley and Grimes may not get enough reps in the rotation.

After extending Barrett, the Knicks are projected to be an over-the-cap team for next season. If things don’t work out for the team, they could potentially get back into cap space for the 2023 offseason by offloading players like Randle, Fournier, and Mitchell. The Knicks managed to generate cap space late this offseason when it became clear Brunson was gettable, so it’s possible they could do the same if someone they target becomes available next offseason.

Salaries

Prediction

5th in the Atlantic division, 10th in the Eastern Conference (as voted by the HoopsHype staff)

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