The New York Knicks rang in 2023 with a 19-18 record, with many questioning if this year would be any different from previous seasons: either a small playoff run or another long offseason. In February, a switch flipped. They went on a nine-game win streak that galvanized the city and gave them a 39-27 record. They ended the regular season 47-35 and made the playoffs as the fifth seed. Though their journey ended with a second-round loss to the Miami Heat, New York surpassed expectations and gave fans that winning feeling that they’d been missing for a couple of years.
However, despite that hope, Stephen A. Smith thinks otherwise:
Stephen A. Smith goes off on RJ Barrett and Julius Randle. 😳
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) May 13, 2023
Smith’s comments coupled with various glaring mistakes signal major changes that could come to the Knicks as they build on a relatively successful season.
New York Knicks: Big Changes in the Big Apple
For starters, Jalen Brunson proved to be New York’s newest shining star. He was the Knicks’ big fish in free agency, and he certainly did not disappoint. The 26-year-old guard out of Villanova averaged 24 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game while shooting 49% from the field, 41% from three and 83% from the line in the regular season. He then broke out in his third career postseason, putting up 27.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game on 47-31-91 splits. Even though the Knicks came up short, Brunson did everything he could to keep their hopes alive, dropping 38 in game five and 41 in game six.
RJ Barrett, despite a change in his role, continued to thrive for the Knicks. After a regular season that saw him average nearly 20 points per game on 43-31-74 splits, he showed growth in his second career postseason. Barrett averaged 19.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 43-32-76 splits—a good sign until his subpar game six. His fourth season in the league showed a lot of promise, but as Stephen A. mentioned, improving his jump shot should be a priority for the 22-year-old this offseason.
Lastly, guard/wing Josh Hart, who came to the Big Apple at the trade deadline, fit right in with New York. He put up 10.2 points, seven rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 58% from the field, 51% (27/52) from three, and 79% from the stripe. He put up similar numbers in his postseason debut (despite a decline in shooting splits), and his hustle was simply unmatched.
The Role Players
There were other role players—guards Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes, forward Obi Toppin, and centers Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson—who all had starred in their roles during the regular season. Some of them were better than others in the playoffs. All of them have bright futures with the Knicks, and after an offseason full of putting in the work, should continue to have a positive impact on New York next year and beyond.
Is it Time to Move On?
Where some Knicks are more likely to remain with the team, it looks like others will be on the move.
A Frustrated Frenchman
One player who has accepted that fact is forward Evan Fournier, who made $18 million this season while averaging 6.1 points on 33-30-86 shooting splits. In a recent interview with the New York Post’s Stefan Bondy, Fournier said he doesn’t expect to be back after being buried on head coach Tom Thibodeau’s bench, going from a rotational player to a garbage time guy.
“There’s no way they’re gonna keep me,” Fournier said. “I would be very surprised if they do. So, we’ll see. It’s obviously not in my hands though.”
Fournier added that his season has been over for a while, falling out of the rotation in November and only reappearing once injuries to key guys piled up. His current contract includes a $19 million Team Option in 2024 that likely won’t be picked up, in addition to another $19 million that’s guaranteed for next season. The 30-year-old could prove useful to a team looking for a veteran three-point shooter, and he could get his wish if the Knicks want to go in a different direction of player development.
Julius Randle: From All-NBA to All Done with New York?
As great as he’s been in the regular season, Julius Randle goes into a different gear come playoff time—and not a good one, either.
After a regular season that saw him boast a career-high 25.1 points per game on 45-34-76 splits, worthy of an All-NBA Third Team selection, Randle regressed in the playoffs. He put up measly averages of 16.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, a far cry from the help that’s needed from a young team with lofty goals.
Despite Randle’s growth in an 82-game season, he showed that, for whatever reason, he hasn’t been ready for the postseason. In an environment like New York, filled with passionate sports fans who will sometimes go to the extremes, that can’t happen. Randle’s been on the bubble of trade rumors for a while, and despite his desire to stay with the team last season, the situation is a lot different now. Stephen A. Smith’s desires of a Damian Lillard or Karl-Anthony Towns to New York may be realistic depending on the situation. The bottom line is: if the Knicks decide to swing for the fences again, Randle’s name may be the first to pop up.
The Curious Case of Derrick Rose
As inspiring as Derrick Rose’s story has been, it appears his time in the league could be over in a few seasons. With the Knicks pushing for the development of their younger players and Rose’s $15 million Team Option on the table, the veteran’s brief appearance in game 3 of the first round may have been his last in a Knicks uniform.
With that in mind, people are speculating about where the 34-year-old could ride his career into the sunset. One of those spots? The Chicago Bulls.
How fitting would it be for D-Rose to end his career with the franchise that gave him his first shot? With Lonzo Ball’s future up in the air due to injury, the Bulls are still in need of guard depth, and adding another vet wouldn’t hurt, either. If no other team considers him and he doesn’t retire immediately, it would be nice to see a Rose reunion in Chicago.
The Last Word on the New York Knicks
As bright as the future is in New York, improving it will come at a cost. Moving on from players who either don’t want to be there or don’t step up when it matters the most will be critical for the Knicks as they add better pieces to a young core with potential. All eyes will remain on the New York Knicks as storylines hover over the city that never sleeps.