Knicks Takeaways from 1st Month of 2020-21 NBA Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2021

Knicks Takeaways from 1st Month of 2020-21 NBA Season

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    New York Knicks fans have been conditioned to avoid optimistic thoughts.

    Securing just a single playoff series victory since 2000 can have that effect.

    But hope-filled breezes are swirling through the Big Apple as the 'Bockers are showing signs of progress under new head coach Tom Thibodeau. This team competes on a nightly basis, the defense sits comfortably inside of the top 10 of the league and certain player trends could be the early evidence of long-term progress.

    So, while this may break from the Knicks' recent norms, it feels OK to digest the first-month takeaways from this campaign with a not insignificant dose of cautious optimism.

Julius Randle Is About to Be a First-Time All-Star

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Julius Randle is entrenched in Thibodeau's Circle of Trust, which, as per usual, means an absurd number of minutes have come his way (37.1 per outing, by far the most of his career).

    But Randle's deft handling of that floor time is the reason 2014's No. 7 pick is on course to secure his first All-Star selection.

    His nightly contributions include 22.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists. Now, skeptics might be wary of celebrating big numbers on a bad team, but that's faulty logic in this case for a few reasons.

    For starters, the Knicks aren't a bad team. They aren't great by any means, but they aren't scraping the bottom of the barrel. Even if they were, though, there's a point at which the statistics are so impressive the team performance can only discount them so much. As one of just two players clearing 22 points, 11 boards and six dimes—MVP candidate Nikola Jokic is the other—Randle's production is impossible to overlook.

    Tack on the fact the Knicks have fared 12.9 points better per 100 possessions with him than without, and it hardly feels like a hot take (or even a lukewarm one) to suggest All-Star honors are headed his way.

Knicks Found a Steal in Immanuel Quickley

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The selection of Immanuel Quickley with the 25th overall pick of the most recent draft was hardly met with universal celebration.

    But there's a reason the most accurate draft assessments aren't the ones immediately compiled after the talent grab.

    While Quickley wasn't a consensus first-round prospect, New York clearly found a keeper here. The freshman lead guard is pumping in 10.0 points and 2.6 assists per night, and those numbers are trending up. Over his last four games, he's averaging 17.5 points and 4.3 assists with a 50.0/45.0/87.5 shooting slash and just 1.0 turnovers.

    "He knows how to draw fouls. He can shoot. He plays with great enthusiasm and energy," former Knicks coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy told Marc Berman of the New York Post. "That's a Charlie Ward-type pick to me. A guy who was drafted low, but can be a good player over a long period—most likely a starter at some part of his career. It's a great draft pick."

Kevin Knox II Is Finally Arriving

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Since being drafted ninth overall in 2018, Kevin Knox II has endured a pair of tough seasons. Brutal might be the better word, actually.

    But the lanky swingman is showing why patience is such a virtue when it comes to handling prospects. Player development isn't linear, so even if progress isn't made on the schedule everyone wants, that doesn't mean it's incapable of occurring at some point.

    That time, it seems, is now for Knox. His shot profile is heading in the right direction—fewer long twos and a boatload of threes—and, not coincidentally, so is his shooting success. His true shooting percentage has enjoyed a nearly 10-point spike from last season (55.3, up from 47.0).

    "From watching the film from last year, I thought when he took good shots, he usually made them, or they were in and out," Thibodeau told reporters. "Shot them well. There were times when he probably pressed, tried to do a little too much. Now, he's allowing [the] game to come to him, and I think sometimes that comes with experience."