The New York Knicks started as one of the biggest question mark teams to start the offseason. During the draft, they had a fantastic 6'10 prospect Ousmane Dieng out of France and immediately flipped him for future assets to OKC.
Then, they acquired former Memphis big Jalen Duren and sent him to Detroit with Kemba Walker's $9 million contract for more future assets. After viewing Twitter and hearing everything said about the Knicks, not many fans were happy about the moves. Fans were excited to bring another exciting lottery prospect to the Big Apple but walked out of Chicago with no new prospects.
Instead, they cleared enough cap room to sign former Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson to a four-year, $104 million deal. This makes Brunson the highest-paid player in the history of the NBA to never make an All-Star Game. It also makes the Knick's big three of Brunson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett one of the best big three's the Garden has seen in years.
The Brunson Signing
Brunson is an exceptional player, as he showed that during his performances against the Jazz. In three games with superstar Luka Doncic out with a calf strain, Brunson averaged 32 points, five rebounds and five assists on 50/41/85 percent shooting splits. Throughout the entire Mavericks Western-Conference Finals run, Brunson averaged 21 points, five rebounds, and four assists, on 46/35/80 shooting splits while being the secondary ball-handler next to Doncic.
The Knicks are signing Brunson, hoping he makes a Fred VanVleet leap - going from behind a secondary ball handler to expanding into a playmaking shot-creator. VanVleet went from being an undersized shooting guard to making the jump to an all-star.
Brunson will join a Knicks team with no true playmakers outside Derrick Rose, who only suited up for 26 games last season. Alec Burks started 44 games for the Knicks as point guard the previous season and averaged just three assists a game. Without a true playmaker, Barrett and Randle had to take over as the half-court playmakers, forcing them to play roles that didn't perfectly suit them. Brunson will bring great poise offensively and put top scorers in better positions to score.
As previously discussed, Randle was put into a position joining the Knicks in 2019 to be the team's primary ball-handler. After a rough first year, he had an All-NBA second team outing averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, while shooting 41% from three and leading the Knicks to the fourth seed in the East. Coming off his miraculous season, the Knicks star had a tough year, dropping four points and shooting four percent (ten percent worse from three) from the field.
Now comes a big season for Randle. He was one of the most inconsistent players in the league this past season, hence why the Knicks reverted to Barrett at the point. Brunson will help take the ball-handling pressure away from Randle and allow Randle to work out of the post and get to his spots.
Without having the pressure of being the top guy every night, Randle could have a bounce-back year. He's shown he can contribute off the ball, as he converted on 41% of corner threes in his miraculous 2020 outing. Randle is not a big enough star to run an NBA offense through but could thrive being a part of a big three without one defining star.
Having to run Burks at point guard for most of the season and Randle struggling to control the offense, Tom Thibodeau ran Barrett as the primary ball handler. He had the best season of his career, putting up a consistent 20 points a night. Barrett also had the highest usage percentage of his career, even though he played fewer minutes a night than last year, at 27.6%. His role for the Knicks is continuing to grow, and at only 22 years old, he still has time to develop.
Even if they liked what they saw out of Barrett, expect his role to look slightly different next year. With Brunson becoming the primary playmaker, Barrett's usage percentage should go down, along with being in fewer isolation situations. Last season, 91% of his threes were assisted.
When Randle was the primary ball handler in 2020, Barrett shot 40% from three, primarily on catch and shoot opportunities. With Brunson carrying the load, Barrett should get more catch-and-shoot shots from downtown, as he will have fewer isolation possessions.
Although his counting statistics might decrease due to his usage rate going down, Barrett might have the most efficient season of his young career due to his properly utilized off-ball abilities.
The most Underrated Signing of the Offseason
The Knicks opted to re-sign their young center of the future, Mitchell Robinson, to a four-year, $60 million deal. Robinson stayed healthy for the majority of last season, averaging 8.5 points and 8.6 rebounds on 76% shooting. He also contributed 1.8 blocks a night, the fourth highest in the NBA. His height and wingspan allow him to be a fantastic lob threat and rim protector, but he hasn't shown much potential of being anything better than that.
So, to compensate for his lack of versatility, the Knicks signed Isaiah Hartenstein to a two-year, $16 million contract. This signing is what makes the Knicks a play-in team next season. Rather than running Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel as the backup five, they have a true big man that does everything right on the court. Hartenstein can score out of the post, get rebounds, play make and defend well. People say that Hartenstein is a "mini-Jokic," due to his ability to do everything on the court.
A remarkable statistic is win shares to show how much of an impact Hartenstein had on the Clipper's season last year. It shows the estimated number of wins contributed by a player. Hartenstein had 5.5-win shares last season. That number is higher than players like Khris Middleton, Andrew Wiggins, Nikola Vucevic, Anthony Edwards, and De'Aaron Fox. Hartenstein is a backup that will come in and make high-IQ plays for New York, something the second unit doesn't have much of.
Development of their Young Talent
One thing everyone knows about Thibodeau is that he does not play young talent. Last season, 36-year-old Gibson averaged more minutes than 21-year-old and former lottery pick Obi Toppin. If the Knicks want to capitalize on their picks, this is unacceptable. The Knicks traded for Cam Reddish at the deadline and only played him 14 minutes a night despite previously being a quality bench player in Atlanta. If the Knicks want to return to the postseason, Thibs must roll out their young guys. There is no reason for Gibson, who averaged four points a game on 52% from the field, to get a bigger opportunity than Toppin, who in fewer minutes averaged nine points on 53% shooting.
Predictions for the 2022-23 Knicks Season
Even with all the Knicks' troubles this past season, they finished as the 11 seed, only six games behind Charlotte. With playoff/play-in teams like Brooklyn and Charlotte most likely dropping out of contention, they will be fighting with young teams like Detroit and Orlando for a play-in spot. With the addition of Brunson and continuing to develop their young players like Quickley, Toppin, and Grimes, the Knicks should secure a 7-10 seed and bring the "Knickerbockers" back to the postseason.