We’re now at the quarter stage of the season, so let’s have a look at the New York Knicks and how they grade out in my Knicks quarterly report card.
New York Knicks Quarterly Report Card
Currently sitting at 9-11 they are more or less playing as expected. They’ve won the games they needed to against below .500 teams, and lost against the teams with winning records. Sometimes they’ve stolen games here or there, but by and large, they get schooled by the better teams. At this stage, there is little evidence to suggest they are anything better than a .500 team or just below. In many ways, the results on the court are a by-product of the way the team has been built. Solid enough depth and talent, but without a clear coherent vision.
They are a solid offensive team without a true perimeter threat. Case in point, Offensively, they sit 12th in points per game, but last in 3-point percentage.
Their true problems are all on the defensive end, sitting 24th in points allowed. Mostly due to their inability to defend the three-point line.
There is one positive, however, and that’s the All-Star level of Jalen Brunson. He’s already looking like the best Point Guard the Knicks have had in two decades. He shows a ton of desire on the court, and his work ethic is going to make him a beloved figure on Broadway.
As for the rest of his teammates? It’s been a mixed bag. Some stock has gone up like Brunson, but in RJ’s case, his stock has dropped considerably.
We’ll grade the main players in the Knicks rotation, also Leon Rose and Tom Thibodeau in my Knicks quarterly report card.
Knicks Quarterly Report Card- The Players
RJ Barrett- Grade: F
To kick off this Knicks quarterly report card is RJ Barrett. He was extended to just short of a rookie-max extension in the offseason, and there were high expectations from him when he became the Knicks’ best player last year. He’s been everything but this season, though.
The Knicks allow 117.6 points per 100 possessions with Barrett on the court this year. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Defensive RAPTOR rating, Barrett is the worst of all NBA players who have logged 500+ minutes. He has a -4.4 defensive rating, and a negative WAR (wins above replacement).
Prior to the Grizzlies game on Sunday night, RJ had missed 78 of his 114 shot attempts. Overall for the year, RJ is shooting an utterly abysmal 26% from three. This is hardly a short sample size, as he’s tried 112 three-point attempts making just 30.
Overall from the field, he’s shooting a career-low 40%.
Despite 18 points per game being fairly reasonable- it’s an extraordinarily inefficient 18 points.
RJ has developed tunnel vision when driving into the paint. His moves are predictable, he can only finish with his left hand, and his handles are limited. He hasn’t developed any athletic moves in the paint. RJ needs to develop a better euro step for instance.
Considering he has absolutely no midrange game and shoots 26% from range, defenses are willing to give him these shots. RJ hasn’t adjusted to the way teams are defending him. Barrett is tending to force drives to the paint- leading to turnovers and bad shots.
I still expect him to improve somewhat, but he is an inefficient scorer and looks lost beside Randle and Brunson. It’s hard to argue that the team wouldn’t be better off with Cam Reddish starting ahead of Barrett, which is a huge indictment on RJ this year.
Jalen Brunson- Grade A
Prior to Brunson, only three Knicks Point Guards since 2000 have had four games of 30 points or more in a season. Brunson has that already a quarter into the year. He’s already the best Point Guard the Knicks have had in at least 20 years. Brunson is playing out of his mind to keep the Knicks in games. Single-handedly carrying the Knicks in most games. Brunson has 21.8 points per game and just under 7 assists. He has the most field goals from between 5-9 feet in the NBA (more than Jokic). 53% effective field goal percentage, and a 2.5 win share putting him among the league leaders.
Brunson is also in the top 10 in the NBA in the assist-to-turnover ratio. Showing he’s steadily running the point, creating for others, as well as scoring. In his last three games, he has 30 points, 9 assists; 32 points, 4 assists; 34 points, 9 assists. Dominant.
Brunson is making a serious case for an All-Star spot this year and it’s well deserved. He needs some help though.
Evan Fournier- Grade F
Evan Fournier has been such a disastrous signing from Leon Rose for $73 million. He was one of the worst defensive players in the NBA this year when he started, and has since been benched, and isn’t even in the Knicks rotation. Looking at the Real Plus-Minus metric Fournier’s -3.06 puts him 340th among active players.
Huge mistake of a signing.
Julius Randle- Grade B
A nice bounce-back year thus far from Julius Randle. He’s worked hard on his game and his body in the offseason and it’s paid off. He is a much more positive influence on the court and seems to be enjoying being Brunson’s co-star. Whilst his defense is still sloppy and costly, his offensive game is much improved from last season.
He also carried the Knicks to a few wins on their recent West Coast trip. He helped them beat Denver with 34 points and 11 rebounds, and OKC with 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Overall for the year, Randle is averaging 20.8 points per game and 8.7 rebounds. He’s been one of the bright spots of the season so far. His struggles on the defensive end stop this from being a higher grade.
Mitchell Robinson- Grade C-
When Mitchell Robinson is on the court he’s extremely valuable. He’s the only rim protector and by far the highest defensive IQ on the Knick roster. He’s a beast on the offensive glass, and great at finishing lobs. Unfortunately, he’s rarely on the court.
Whether it’s through injuries or constant foul trouble, these have been fatal flaws plaguing Mitch in his career to date. With this in mind, it made him a risky investment for the extension he received in the offseason. For instance, he’s shooting an abysmal 44% from the free-throw line. He also needs to improve at setting high screens, and his lack of offense affects spacing for those around him.
However, his presence on the defensive end of the court can’t be denied. He is often among the league leaders in shot-blocking. He needs to be smarter to avoid foul trouble and avoid injuries if he’s to help this Knick team move forward.
Cam Reddish- Grade B+
Cam Reddish is a real bright spot this season from the wing. It is all the more impressive as he didn’t have a role going into the year. This is a prove-it year in the final year of his rookie deal. He’s stepped up, forcing Fournier out of the rotation. So far he’s shown athleticism and is one of the only plus defensive players for the Knicks this year. He’s much more creative and smooth in his handles and finishing than RJ for instance. His Effective Field Goal Percentage of 53% is a career-high for him. He needs to start or continue to have a major role off the bench for the Knicks.
Quentin Grimes- Grade C+
Quentin Grimes is one of the few two-way players on the Knicks roster. He can defend and shoot the three-ball, and his handles and play-making are really developing in his sophomore season. He has just come back from a foot injury that affected his pre-season, missing the early portion of the season. Now that he’s healthy, his performances earned him a spot as the starting wing in the lineup. He needs to get his three-point percentage up, but I’m not concerned about that, he has a very smooth shooting motion- so it shouldn’t be a problem. He should be valuable from here on out and gain a higher grade.
Immanuel Quickley B
Immanuel Quickley has been the Knicks’ best defensive player this season statistically, leading the team in steals. He’s having a strong season off the bench. His shooting numbers are down across the board (38% from the field, 32% three) yet he continues to have a major contribution when things go well for the Knicks. Prior to the Memphis game, he had back-to-back 18-point games off the bench. He also had a 16-rebound game against Atlanta earlier in the month. His name has been banded around trade rumors, but he looks like a piece worth keeping so far.
Isaiah Hartenstein- Grade D
Hartenstein has the skillset to be valuable on this Knicks roster. He can protect the rim, sets screens, and can be a stretch five. He also is a nice passer as a big man. Unfortunately, he’s played soft this year to date. He is unable to keep his man in front of him, and he’s been getting cooked on defense. Last year for the Clippers he shot 46% from three, this year he’s shooting 22%. More importantly, he’s struggling to rebound on the defensive end and protect the rim like he normally can. A disappointing year so far from the free agent signing.
Obi Toppin- Grade B-
Obi started the season on fire, but it’s tailed off slightly recently, especially on the defensive end. Overall though, he’s improved his game. He’s shooting a career-high from three (35%) and free throw percentage (90%). He continues to be a human highlight reel of dunks and finishes from the reigning NBA slamdunk champion.
His role continues to be confounding, however. When he’s on the court good things tend to happen. They play faster, he moves off the ball, back door cuts, sets screens, and doesn’t require the ball to be effective. Yet he’s limited to Randle’s backup in Thibodeau’s plans. Obi struggles to break 15 minutes a night, and it’s hard to carve out a role that way.
In fairness to the Head Coach, he’s played him and Randle together a few times to generally favorable results, but by and large, he is strictly Randle’s backup. Considering Randle is the Knicks’ second option scorer and an All-Star two seasons ago, Toppin will continue to have a limited role while he’s here. Something has to change. Either he starts alongside Randle or one of them is moved.
Jericho Sims- Grade B
The second-year center doesn’t have a defined role in the rotation despite largely outplaying the two centers ahead of him on the depth chart when he does. He has leap-out-the-gym athleticism and is a solid rebounder on both ends. Per 36 minutes he averages 11 points, 11 boards, and 2.7 blocks. Yet only averages 14 minutes per game. Per Basketball Reference
He needs to play more.
Derrick Rose- Grade C-
Rose still has the game to be a valuable role player off the bench, he still hasn’t lost much of a step on the offensive end and is a valuable veteran presence in the locker room. Rose has generally been ok in his limited minutes, but his spot in the rotation is the bigger problem. With the vast number of guard options, where can they find enough minutes for the former MVP with his age and injury history?
Knicks Quarterly Report Card for Head Coach and President
Coach Tom Thibodeau- Grade C-
Still plagued with issues in terms of template substitution patterns. His offense isn’t the prettiest to look at, as it is very isolation based. Yet in fairness to him, the offense is above average. The problems are all on the defensive end. Much of it is less to do with coaching, and more to do with the lack of defensive players on the roster provided by Leon Rose.
Thibs did well to come out of the West Coast trip with a winning record despite being steamrolled at home by the Nets and OKC prior to the trip. Upon their return to New York, their problems resurfaced. Case in point, the Knicks had no problem scoring against Portland and Memphis, yet were completely unable to make any stops, dooming them to one-possession defeats.
Credit to him for making adjustments in terms of removing Fournier from the rotation and carving a bigger role for Cam Reddish. However, his lack of flexibility in this modern era of positionless basketball has likely cost them a few wins. Toppin should be playing alongside Randle, and he should ride the hot hand more than he does. Sims not playing against Memphis on Sunday was a mistake.
Overall, the team has largely played to its limited ceiling. However, considering how well Brunson has played, being two games below .500 is worrisome. They should be slightly better than this.
President Leon Rose- Grade D
The Knicks executive has avoided a straight F purely for the excellent signing of Jalen Brunson. Apart from that, he’s shown little proclivity that he can build a roster. This roster has talent but lacks wing defenders and two-way players. Most importantly, it lacks a direction.
It’s also fair to conclude now he was primarily at fault for messing up the Donovan Mitchell negotiations. It started with him sitting at the front row in the Jazz playoff game last year, reportedly infuriating the Jazz front office. He then had numerous voices involved in the trade talks which proved problematic. Yet despite these missteps, he was still hours away from the deal until he curiously removed RJ Barrett and extended him. Ainge never called the Knicks back after that stunt. It felt like damage limitation when the Knicks broke the extension news just as the Cavaliers announced the Mitchell trade.
The problem wasn’t necessarily that he believed in his young players, or that he didn’t want to give up the farm for Mitchell. It’s that he’s over-valued players with limited ceilings, and clearly undervalued what a star-caliber player like Mitchell does for an organization. By extending RJ and Mitchell Robinson to large extensions, Randle to a max extension, and Fournier to $73 million, the Knicks are severely hampered by cap flexibility for a .500 caliber team.
Knicks Quarterly Report Card: Overall Grade C-
Their current 9-11 record is only slightly off what I expected at this stage. Generally, the players (apart from RJ Barrett) are playing largely as expected.
Fans can nit-pick about rotations, but at the end of the day, the roster has a major construction flaw. They lack elite on-ball defenders. Plus the starting lineup doesn’t have any elite perimeter shooting.
Fixing these issues will be more difficult. Julius is having a good year, but his value is limited due to his contract. To remove Fournier’s contract at all, Leon Rose will need to attach assets just to move on from the mistake. RJ and Mitch have only recently been extended, they won’t be moved this early. It’s a necessity to make some trades if only to clear the decks for the younger players.
The Knicks should be thankful for Jalen Brunson, who has been quite heroic on the court for the most part. He’s their best chance of making it to a play-in spot.
To sum up the Knicks’ quarterly report card, they top out as a low play-in seed or a team that just misses the 10th spot, as previously predicted. They have talent and depth, but their poor construction hampers their upside.