Knicks’ RJ Barrett. Via. Mike Stobe: Getty Images
By: Jayden Racca
Following a 2020-2021 campaign that rejuvenated a city’s love for basketball, there is one phrase that can be used to describe N.Y. right now: The Knicks are back.
Heading into last season, there were very little expectations surrounding this team. With veteran head coach Tom Thibedou (who would go on to win NBA Coach of the Year) taking the reins, a culture shift was evident from the moment they took the court in preseason. It was clear that this team was not simply overperforming. They were for real.
Winning the Most Improved Player title, earning an All Star selection and being voted to the All-NBA Second Team, Julius Randle carried this roster, truly emerging as a star under the bright lights. However, it was also through the much-improved play of second year wing RJ Barrett and the acquisition of veteran Derrick Rose, that proved this team was not to be taken lightly. Alongside a bench that ran 12 men deep, this team clawed their way to the fourth seed in the East, clinching their first playoff berth in eight years before losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
After captivating the NBA in the previous season, the New York Knicks look ahead to 2021-2022 in hopes of continuing to make strides in the right direction. Whether it has been through key offseason additions, returning players who were at the forefront of last season’s success or a talented youth looking to improve, it is safe to say that this roster has only gotten better.
The most notable move made by general manager Scott Perry this offseason came through the acquisition of hometown point guard Kemba Walker. Most known in N.Y. for his UConn days in which he hit an iconic step back jumper to win the Big East tournament, the 31-year-old Bronx native provides this roster with an incredibly valuable one-two punch to go alongside the rejuvenated Derrick Rose.
Referring to Rose, Walker stated on New York Knicks media day that he was, “one of the biggest reasons [Rose] came here. I wanted to see how he prepares himself every day. I wanted a chance to pick his brain and build a special rapport with him.”
Alongside Walker, their second big move came with the addition of former Celtics teammate Evan Fournier. Thought to be on the Knicks radar at last year’s trade deadline, the pure scorer and extremely reliable three point shooter will act as another nice piece to take some scoring weight off of Julius Randle.
Despite losing three and D-wing Reggie Bullock, contracts were re-upped not only with Rose, but with a microwave type bench player in Alec Burks, rim protector Nerlens Noel, and veteran leader Taj Gibson.
Increased production is hoped for out of second year players Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley, who both showed extremely positive flashes during their rookie seasons. Following strong offseasons in which both players played extremely well at the Las Vegas Summer League, they look to take the next step towards becoming consistent, reliable parts of the rotation.
This year’s 2021 draft introduced us to scoring off guard Quentin Grimes, scrappy point guard Miles McBride, and high flyer Jericho Sims all selected with the 25th, 36th and 58th picks. Although none of the rookies are expected to make a significant impact this season, it will be interesting to see whether or not N.Y. may have once again found another diamond in the rough.
The final and possibly most important piece of this roster’s puzzle, is fourth year center Mitchell Robinson. Missing a large portion of last season with a foot injury, Robinson has struggled to stay healthy throughout the course of his NBA career thus far. Serving as an elite shot blocker and above the rim presence down low, a healthy Robinson can truly change the dynamic of this team. He can defend any opposing teams big, act as a lob threat and provide a great deal of energy. The 23-year-old appears to have taken one of the much needed steps to reaching this goal, being that he has put on some serious weight.
Robinson claimed at New York Knicks media day that he simply “can’t stay out of the weight room.”
Although the defensive principles are strong within this team, much like any Tom Thibedou-led squad, the next adjustment that must be made is their three-point shooting clip. Last season, the Knicks were fourth in the NBA in three point percentage, but were towards the very bottom of the league in the volume of shots attempted.
The solution to this issue? None other than Coach Thibs’ masterful game plan: To shoot more threes. We can expect to see these Knicks firing up many more long balls in order to match the modern NBA style of play and it is for good reason. The personnel that has been either obtained or retained is more than capable of making this happen.
Before last year, it had been quite some time since the New York Knicks had truly provided fans with a team to be proud of. Through an improved roster, great depth throughout their bench and hard-nosed coaching, this Knicks team looks to push past the roadblock of the first round and once again give the fans of New York City something to root for.