After finally getting back to the playoffs, the New York Knicks are looking for much more in 2021-22.
The Knicks went seven years without a postseason berth, but they broke through in a big way last season with a 41-31 record that was good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. Julius Randle stepped up to become the NBA's Most Improved Player, while RJ Barrett became a reliable perimeter scorer.
New York fans still want more, and the team responded by adding Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to help make an even deeper run next season. With a mix of proven veterans and promising young players including Immanuel Quickley, Mitchell Robinson and Obi Toppin, the Knicks have a chance to be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
The biggest challenge will be playing with expectations after having low stakes over much of the past decade.
The Knicks won't be able to sneak up on anyone this season, which could create a tougher path back to the playoffs. Here is a breakdown of the schedule they must navigate on the way to potential postseason success.
2021-22 Knicks Schedule Details
Season Opener: vs. Boston Celtics, Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m. ET
Championship Odds: +10000 (FanDuel)
Brooklyn Nets (First matchup: Nov. 30)
The Knicks have made great strides over the past couple of years, but they are still expected to be the second-best team in their own city.
The Brooklyn Nets will still have the best selection of offensive players in the league between Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. These players barely had any time to develop chemistry last year with each of them missing time with injuries, but they still took the eventual champions Milwaukee Bucks to seven games in the second round.
A few different bounces and we could be talking about Brooklyn as the 2021 NBA champions.
They will certainly be a team to beat next season if their top three players can stay healthy. The depth should also be improved after retaining Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown while adding Patty Mills and Cameron Thomas.
After the Knicks went 0-3 against this team last season, getting a win will be even tougher in 2021-22.
New York will have to win with its defensive ability, shutting down the key players while doing just enough offensively to stay ahead on the scoreboard. If they can pull off an upset, it could give the team a lot of confidence going forward in the season.
Atlanta Hawks (First game: Dec. 25)
The Knicks might have earned home-court advantage against the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, but Atlanta was the clear better team during the five-game series.
Trae Young was near-unstoppable in the series with averages of 29.2 points and 9.8 assists per game, while Clint Capela made a major impact on the defensive end with 13.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.
The more important issue was Randle's struggles while shooting 29.8 percent from the field. Without Derrick Rose, the series would have been even more embarrassing for New York.
The Knicks will thankfully have opportunities to redeem themselves over the course of next season, most notably the one on Christmas Day.
A win can't erase the playoff loss, but it could give the squad some positive momentum as it tries to challenge for a championship.
The Knicks defense is what carried them last season, finishing fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. As long as Tom Thibodeau is on the sideline, this should continue.
The entire team was committed on that end of the court and the squad's approach will help compete with anyone in the league. It will especially help against offensive-minded teams like the Nets and Hawks.
This year will still come down to the offensive production of a few key players.
Can Randle prove last year wasn't a fluke? Will Barrett continue his improved outside shooting? Can Walker return to his All-Star form?
If the answers are "yes" to these three questions, the Knicks will be a scary team in the East.
There is still enough upside on the roster for New York to again be a top-four team in the conference, with more success within reach.
Record Prediction: 49-33
Must be 21+ and present in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, West Virginia, Colorado, or Tennessee. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER. See sportsbook.fanduel.com for details.