Coming off of a 5-game win streak, the Knicks headed into the week with a tall task ahead with numerous playoff implications. The Celtics, Nets, Heat, and the Celtics again stood in front of New York, and any type of slide could put the Knicks right back in the play-in. That outcome would be far from the case.
Not only did New York manage through this daunting schedule, they destroyed it. The Knicks went 4-0 in these enormous matchups, and each win somehow was more impressive than the last one. The team is now on a league leading 9-game win streak, and has somehow brought themselves within one game of the 4th seed Cleveland Cavaliers. With the way New York has played in this recent stretch, they have now given themselves a real shot at having home court advantage in a playoff series.
Knicks' Astounding Depth
Not too long ago, it appeared that one of the bigger issues the Knicks faced was depth. The rotation was cut to nine players mainly due to there not being a 10th player deserving of minutes. But over this 9-game win streak, there does not appear to be a deeper team than New York.
Immanuel Quickley just had his best 4-game stretch of his career. In the first three games in which he came off the bench, Quickley averaged 19.7 points on an incredibly efficient 55.6 percent from the field, and 52.4 percent from three. None of those games would live up to what he did Sunday in Boston. Stepping in for the injured Jalen Brunson, Quickley scored a career-high 38 points while also chipping in eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and two blocks. This was undoubtedly the best game in Quickley's young career, and they needed every part of it to beat Boston in double overtime.
Similarly to Quickley, RJ Barrett stepped up in a big way on Sunday against the Celtics. Barrett had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists in a game that they needed him to step up in. Quentin Grimes and Josh Hart also continued to provide an impact on the defensive end as both players have given the Knicks an array of bodies to throw at opposing players.
Without the contributions from guys like Barrett, Grimes, Hart, and Quickley this team is nowhere near a 9-game win streak. And that does not even take into consideration the defensive impact that Mitchell Robinson has made since his return from injury. The team is firing on all cylinders right now, and of course the depth plays an important role in that, but a 9-game win streak does not happen without the stars.
Brunson And Randle
There is nothing more important to a long win streak than a team's best players, and Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle have proven that. Over this 4-game stretch, Brunson averaged 27 points and 5.7 assists on a remarkable 63.6 percent from the field and 47.1% from three. Randle averaged 29.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. The duo has shined their brightest all season throughout this streak, and there may be good reason to believe that this is not just a hot streak, rather this team could be coming into their final form.
To fully grasp the connection between Brunson and Randle, it goes further back than when they first started playing with each other this season. It truly starts when the Knicks first signed Julius Randle all the way back in 2019. Randle was coming off of his best season as a pro with the Pelicans, but he did so while starting in only 49 of the 73 games he played in. He sat behind Anthony Davis until he went down with injury which allowed Randle to display his ability.
That display landed Randle with New York on a 3-year ,$63 million deal. This was also the off-season that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant landed with the Nets rather than the Knicks. New York was bombarded with scrutiny for failing to sign the duo, but that did not faze the Knicks' front office from their vision. Randle had his best season of his career in 2021, but fell short of expectations in 2022. But rather than panic and try to move Randle, New York looked to help him.
Of course, Brunson would quickly become a Knick following the end of the 2022 season. When looking at Brunson's history prior to signing with New York, it bares incredible resemblance to Randle's career pre-Knicks. In his final season as a Maverick, Brunson similarly to Randle was not a full-time starter. He ended up starting 61 of 79 games, and had by far his best season as a professional. The Mavericks had the chance to extend Brunson during the season, but they felt that he was asking for too much money.
That indecision from Dallas led Brunson right into the hands of New York. The guard signed a 4-year $104 million contract, and yet again this move garnered skepticism. Many believed it was an overpay for a player who had not completely proven himself to be a star caliber player. The Knicks did not care though, as in reality this move aligns exactly with the Randle signing four years ago.
New York did not want to pay a player for what they did in the past. They wanted to pay for what the player can do in the future. Knicks' scouts and front office personnel believed that Randle and Brunson could become stars if given the chance. New York gave those two players that chance, and they have become everything the front office could have asked for.
It may have taken some time to get there, but this team is playing as well as they are right now because of Brunson and Randle. This is the first year in his career that Brunson has even been a permanent starter, let alone a star level player. It is also Randle's first time as a Knick having a teammate like Brunson. This 9-game win streak is not some type of fluke. It is the coming together of two players who only the Knicks truly believed in and the incredible supporting cast around them.
There is still a lot of season left, but it is really starting to feel like the New York Knicks are a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.
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