Expectations aren’t particularly high for the New York Knicks in 2020-21 – and maybe that’s a good thing for the Bockers.
The Knicks retained most of the young roster, which finished 12th in the Eastern Conference in 2019-20, with a record of 21-45, but the coaching staff and head office underwent a major overhaul. Longtime agent Leon Rose is now the president of basketball operations, and Tom Thibodeau is the head coach.
Thibodeau’s main task will be to develop RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley, while Rose will be overseeing a cultural improvement and building a list that will bring the franchise back to respectability and relevance. That won’t happen this season, but here are some predictions for what might happen.
1) Immanuel Quickley will become the starting point for the Knicks
Knicks Twitter has been extremely dizzy about the first-round pick, Immanuel Quickley, based on his last two pre-season games and with good reason.
Immanuel Quickley presented his effectiveness at both ends 🔥 pic.twitter.com/1SEBa4oJlz
– Knicks Nation (@KnicksNationCP) December 19, 2020
Quickley, which Knicks developed no. 25 generally in November, it is easy to appreciate. He was best known for his regular photos during Kentucky, but he is also a powerful perimeter fighter, enjoying the challenge of stopping opposing guards.
His confidence and competitiveness are evident in the interviews and he has repeatedly expressed his determination to improve his guarding skills. After not playing in the first preseason game in New York and looking nervous in the second, Quickley stole the show in the last two regulation contests.
Quickley had nine points and seven assists on Wednesday, then added 22 points, five assists and five steals on Friday. His energy was contagious and he showed the skill to choose and the skill to set up his teammates.
Immanuel Quickley tonight
Knicks new beginner PG? 👀 pic.twitter.com/WhKdl9NKZD
– NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) December 19, 2020
“I feel like coming in, I’m trying to tell all the NBA teams that I’m someone who just played ball in Kentucky that year, the second year,” Quickley said through Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov. “I can really do both.”
The Knicks will probably start the season with Elfrid Payton as a starting point, and Thibodeau has a history in favor of veterans over beginners. But Quickley seems to be a Thibodeau guy, and the coach has already sung his praises.
“We rely on performance,” Thibodeau said. “If he continues to do the things he does … he wins his way. We will see how it goes “.
Payton can orchestrate, but it is also a known amount that offers zero outdoor shooting. Look for a beginner to claim the role of guardian of the starting point in a few months.
2) Julius Randle will be traded ahead of time
If there was an official wish list for Santa Claus from Knicks fans for 2021, the number one element – perhaps apart from the landing of Cade Cunningham – would be to see Randle treated elsewhere.
Randle plays hard, but constantly angers Knicks fans with his tendency to drive primarily in traffic and miss open shooters.
– Carlos (@ clos7) December 17, 2020
It accumulates double-double, but does not offer positional versatility, rim protection and no outdoor shooting. If the Knicks want to a) play faster, b) clear minutes for the first round pick Obi Toppin and c) improve the space around RJ Barrett and Robinson, Randle has to go.
Rose knows this, given that he has developed a striker ready for the NBA, who, like Randle, cannot play three or five. But unless Randle drastically improves its efficiency, if Rose can find a business partner for the 26-year-old – and receive solid value in return – it can prove to be a challenge. However, it should not be impossible.
Expect him to see Toppin join his fellow debutant Quickley in the top five before the end of the season.
3) RJ Barrett will be much better in year 2
Like Quickley, Barrett impressed in the pre-season for the Knicks.
The former Dukie fought as a rookie, averaging 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists at 40.2%. But he was not put in a position to succeed. He thrives as a drive-and-kick player, and the Knicks have had some of the worst three-point shots and distance between the floor in the league.
The 20-year-old is a legitimate worker by anyone’s standards and, like Toppin, grew up as a Knicks fan. He is motivated to become a fundamental piece in New York and to live until no. 3 draft position. His circle instincts are undeniable and he will have ample opportunities as a team mayor and ball player.
In the pre-season, Barrett shot 86.7% of the free throw line, a major increase over his rookie mark (61.4%). His three-point shot is far from consistent, but his jumper has shown smoothness with improved technique since he began working with renowned shooting coach Drew Hanlen during the extended layoff.
In the four pre-season competitions, the left had an average of 17.8 points per game and shot 50.8% of the field.
RJ Barrett started 0/6 and went 7/10 to end the game 🔥
(🎥 @swishcultures_ )
– NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) December 12, 2020
Look for Barrett to play more confidently this season and win votes for best player of the year.
4) Knicks exceed their projected total wins
Knicks is currently projected to win 22.5 games. Under Thibodeau, they should easily exceed this figure.
Knicks will be bad. But, Thibodeau pushes his teams extremely hard every day and it doesn’t take long for his teams to show an increase in attention to detail, training and defensive effort. (He has already expressed a desire to win now with the inexperienced list.)
If the Knicks will not be in contention for the tournament until the middle of the season, they could return to tank mode. However, this was never Thibodeau’s path and seems completely devoid of character – as well as counterproductive to player development – for Thibodeau to close the players and embrace the tank.
This, combined with the expected improvement from Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, should help the Knicks succeed.
5) Obi Toppin will participate in the dunk contest (if any)
Toppin is already a fan favorite in New York. The Harlem 6’9 native, who has repeatedly expressed his lifelong dream of playing for the Knicks, wasted no time in showing explosive hops.
Obi Toppin (@ otoppin1) dunks this season are crazy 🤯🔥 20 points 7.5 recoveries 63.3 FG% will be a lottery choice if he decides to enter the draft. pic.twitter.com/SAFnWuqvs9
– Swish Cultures (@swishcultures_) March 13, 2020
Assuming Knicks doesn’t produce All-Stars, Toppin will represent the All-Star Weekend franchise in the dunk contest … wherever and whenever it takes place.
OBI WITH FOOT ASSISTANCE 🔥 pic.twitter.com/uKDTg1rfcC
– Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 12, 2020