The Knicks are better equipped to accommodate a superstar

The Knicks are better equipped to accommodate a superstar

Sign up for Inside the Knicks, a weekly exclusive on Sports+. The optimism around the Knicks isn’t just about this season. It isn’t about the looming postseason that almost certainly will include them. Or that they have shattered low preseason expectations and even could do some damage in the playoffs and win their first series since 2013. No, the good feelings Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks are generating are fueled by their future possibilities.

There are few teams in the league better suited to land the next disgruntled superstar. From young, affordable players to a cupboard full of draft picks, team president Leon Rose has accumulated a wealth of assets with which to bargain. They are in a better position now to acquire someone of that ilk, in part due to the development of young players such as RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley, and Miles McBride.

Quickley has improved across the board, posting career highs in points (12.9), rebounds (4.0), and field-goal percentage (44.3). Since Thibodeau went to a nine-man rotation on Dec. 4, Quickley has performed so well the Knicks went from looking to move him for draft capital to holding onto him — and expanding his role. In that time, he is averaging 14.6 points, 3.1 assists, and shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. Quickley has emerged as a crucial part of the team’s bench since Tom Thibodeau shortened his rotation in early December.

Then there are the draft picks, 10 first-round selections over the next seven years, even after sending their natural 2023 pick (lottery protected) to the Trail Blazers in the Josh Hart deal. Draft choices, of course, are the currency rebuilding teams covet. The Knicks suddenly look like an attractive destination, a team that is headed to its second postseason berth in three seasons and is one big star away from contending. And now they have the pieces in place to land that player once he becomes available.

On Jan. 22, the Knicks sank to two games over .500 at 25-23. They were out of the main draw of the playoffs. But it wasn’t just the standings that led to so much negativity at the time — it was the upcoming schedule, which so many observers predicted would be their downfall: Ten of the following 16 games would be against teams above .500. That’s what makes this recent stretch, during which the Knicks are 12-4 after Wednesday night’s 142-118 rout of the Nets, so impressive. They’ve done it against a brutal slate. They’ve beaten the Celtics and Nets twice apiece, the 76ers, Heat, and Cavaliers once each.

Of the four losses, two came in overtime (to the Clippers and Lakers), games the Knicks could easily have won. It underscores an even bigger body of work. Since the Knicks truly took off on Dec. 4, going 27-14 over half of a season, they are 11-6 against teams with winning records. They haven’t climbed up the standings by accident, and with just the 20th most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA, according to Tankathon, it seems unlikely they will lose their footing in the standings.

The Knicks and their fans have two playoff races to follow — one involving the orange-and-blue and one taking place in the middle of the Western Conference. At the moment, both are going in the Knicks’ favor. The Knicks own the Mavericks’ first-round draft pick this year from the Kristaps Porzingis trade, and there is a chance it could wind up in the lottery if Dallas either falls out of postseason contention altogether or is bounced from the play-in tournament.

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