Midseason evaluation of the Knicks, from Jalen Brunson to Leon Rose

Midseason evaluation of the Knicks, from Jalen Brunson to Leon Rose

The Knicks crossed the halfway point of the season earlier this week, reaching the 41-game milestone with a 22-19 record before adding a victory against the Pacers on Wednesday.

The Knicks’ midterm grades are in, and their bell curve reflects a roller-coaster first half — including eight- and four-game winning streaks sandwiched around a five-game losing skid in the past month — that has them vying for their second playoff berth in three years after last season’s regression to 37-45.

Remember that in Tom Thibodeau’s first season in New York, the Knicks were a.500 team (18-18) before finishing 23-13 and earning the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Thibodeau subsequently garnered Coach of the Year honors.

As a result, let’s give them a respectable B or maybe a B+ as an overall team grade, with the second half and probable postseason success determining if they earn accolades.

Brunson has been praised by Thibodeau for providing the Knicks with whatever they need on a game-to-game basis, including leading the team in fourth-quarter scoring. Brunson’s play as a point guard has been abysmal over the majority of the previous two decades. Easily one of the wisest free-agent signings in the history of the team.

Randle degenerated from the league’s Most Improved Player and a second-team All-NBA power forward in 2020-21 to a brooding player last season, as seen by a decline in counting and rate statistics and a public spat with the Garden crowd. Without missing a game this season, Randle has restored himself as a legitimate All-Star candidate, finishing among the league’s top 20 in scoring and rebounding while improving his floor and 3-point shooting. Since early December, he has been averaging roughly 30 points and over 12 rebounds each game.

The late first-round pick (25th overall) in 2021 has gained Thibodeau’s trust and established himself as a player on both ends, including guarding opponents as diverse as point guards Ja Morant and Trae Young and power forward Pascal Siakam. Since his full-time promotion to the starting lineup on November 20, Grimes has averaged over 12 points in over 34 minutes per game.

The Knicks’ hopes that the former No. 3 overall choice would take the next step toward All-Star status in his fourth season have not materialized despite signing him to a four-year, $107 million guaranteed contract. Barrett was averaging slightly more than his previous career-high of 20.0 points per game before a one-minute stint in Dallas on December 27 dropped him below that mark and led him to lose time with a lacerated finger. Before he was injured, the former Duke star was averaging 23.2 points and making 42.4 percent of his 3-point tries in a dozen December games after a dismal shooting start to the season.

Still the most inconsistent outside shooter on the squad, the third-year combo guard has increased his value, either to the Knicks or a potential trade partner, by starting seven consecutive games at either backcourt position while Brunson and Barrett were out with injury. In excess of 42 minutes per start, he averaged 20,3 points, 5.9 assists (including a career-high 15 assists in one game), and 5.3 rebounds. Additionally, Quickley has the highest individual defensive rating on the team.

Another homegrown player the Knicks invested in over the offseason (four years, $60 million), the 7-foot big is still primarily limited to dunks and putbacks on offense (7.5 points per game). Robinson is a key player in Thibodeau’s scheme due to his presence near the basket on both ends. He ranked second in the NBA in offensive rebounds and seventh in blocked shots.

Since being added to the rotation, Deuce has also made an impact defensively with the second unit, and the second-year guard is beginning to rediscover offensive rhythm and confidence with his shooting. Before Wednesday’s game against Indiana, McBride was shooting just 28 percent from 3-point range and 36 percent overall. However, in his last four games, he shot 54.5 percent from long range and 46.2 percent from the floor.

While Obi Toppin was injured, the second-year big man played opposite Isaiah Hartenstein in the second unit alongside Isaiah Hartenstein, and did not appear out of place when shifting from center to power forward. Given his ability to defend various positions and to rebound, it is somewhat surprising that Sims was not included in the starting lineup against Milwaukee on Monday.

Derrick Rose has established himself as a reliable voice for the Knicks’ backcourt despite his limited playing time.

Rose’s removal from the rotation in November, following his return from season-ending ankle surgery a year earlier, was indicative of Thibodeau’s long-standing working relationship with the former league MVP. The 34-year-old guard still has retro moments when he’s on the court, and he’s still valuable as a coach to the team’s young backcourt players.

On December 7, he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right fibula while shooting a career-high percentage of three-pointers (almost 35 percent). Due to Randle’s return to workhorse mode during his absence, Toppin will continue to struggle to get consistent playing time, as seen by his limited eight minutes of action upon his return to the lineup on Monday.

Hartenstein hasn’t gotten untracked despite playing a career-high 19.1 minutes per game and participating in every game this season (seven starts). Hartenstein was signed to a two-year, $16 million contract over the summer as a big man who can spread the floor and be used as a post-up facilitator. His points (8.3 to 5.3 per game), assists (2.4 to 0.8), field-goal percentage (.626 to.486), and 3-point percentage (.486 to.246) were all significantly lower than they were during his previous season with the Clippers.

Fournier, who has another $18 million remaining on his contract for next season, went from setting the team record for 3-pointers made in a season to sitting on the bench for more than six weeks due to injury before returning to the second unit in recent weeks. The Knicks will continue to look for a taker for the veteran’s 30-year-old contract.

Cam Reddish, who was acquired in a trade with Atlanta less than a year ago, has been a staple on the bench.
Robert Sabo

Barrett’s former Duke teammate began the season with eight starts and 20 appearances, especially while Grimes was sidelined with a foot issue. He scored 22 points in the season opening against Memphis and 26 points against Oklahoma City on November 13. The Knicks will continue to pursue a trade, but they will not receive anything like to the first-round pick they sent to the Hawks for Reddish last February.

Ryan Arcidiacano and Svi Mykhailiuk’s contracts were guaranteed for the remainder of the season last week, but neither has played significant minutes.

Late in November, the defensive-minded coach finally reshuffled his lineup, replacing Rose, Fournier, and Reddish with larger responsibilities for Grimes, Quickley, and McBride. The change appears to have been successful, as the team overcame a 10-13 start with 12 victories in 18 games through the 41st game. After missing the playoffs last season, the Knicks have positioned themselves to earn the coveted sixth slot in the East and escape the 7-10 play-in.

The Knicks are in a promising position to make the playoffs as a result of Tom Thibodeau’s decision to shuffle his rotation.

The Brunson move, which included the addition of his father, Rick, to the coaching staff, proved to be a clever decision by team president Leon Rose, and was well worth the small tampering penalties imposed by the NBA. Fans of the New York Knicks are still awaiting the big-ticket addition promised by Derrick Rose, who could not or would not use their collection of future first-round picks to acquire Donovan Mitchell in the offseason.

The numbers do not always reveal the entire story.

The 28-year-old Arcidiacono has played a total of 25 minutes in 10 brief outings before to Wednesday’s game, but I felt this comment from Brunson regarding his former Villanova teammate’s importance to the Knicks from their recent road trip to Toronto was worth sharing.

“I’ve known Ryan for a very long time,” Brunson stated. “He’s been fantastic. Every day, he arrives to the office and works himself to the bone. He is always one of the first to leave the bench, always arriving early, and always performing the smallest tasks. He is a man of great character. This has always been his nature. Clearly, he is one of my closest pals. He’s just been special. It is a testament to his efforts and how hard he has worked. He has always been this way, and I do not anticipate a change.

 

 

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