Knicks' Complete 2021-22 Season Preview and Predictions
Year 2 of the Tom Thibodeau era looks like it could be close to Year 1 for the New York Knicks.
Their roster hasn't changed much since the end of the 2020-21 NBA season, which is good news if you believed most of what you saw when this club stepped out of a seven-year playoff drought and straight into the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Still, skepticism about sustainability is understandable, if not warranted. The Knicks offense was a mess, and their defense was perhaps elevated by good fortune in the form of opponents failing to convert their three-point chances.
Cautious optimism might be the best mindset for 'Bockers backers to carry into the 2021-22 campaign, which we'll preview with a look at the roster changes, a glimpse at the biggest narratives around this club and a peak into the crystal ball for best- and worst-case predictions.
The Knicks had the cap space to go on a spending frenzy this offseason, and they sort of did. However, rather than chase every big-name on the market like they had in the past, they spent most of their money in-house.
Now, maybe that was due to the fact that there wasn't a true marquee player on the market. Or the Knicks believed in players like Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks and Taj Gibson, and communicated that trust through new deals. If nothing else, taking care of players on the home front is a decent way to buy brownie points with potential big-fish targets down the line.
New York did a bit of external shopping, too. On draft night, it might have found a pair of 2021-22 rotation players in Quentin Grimes (No. 25) and Miles McBride (No. 36). In free agency, it beefed up its scoring options around Julius Randle and RJ Barrett by adding both Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker.
While many of the Knicks' recent summers have been defined by their interest in top-shelf talents (and, inevitably, missing out on such players), this was different. A mindset change can be good, especially for a franchise that has endured as much losing as New York had prior to last season.
If Knicks fans set their hopes on sustained success, they might be in luck. This club projects to be about as good as last year's, which doesn't mean a championship is coming but should mean this is a playoff participant again.
What could change those projections? A few things.
If Walker can put his knee problems behind him, he could give this offense a badly needed jolt. New York leaned too heavily on Randle for scoring and shot-creation last season. A healthy Walker would be a massive upgrade over the departed Elfrid Payton, and this offense could really have legs around Randle if Fournier adds another shooting, scoring and distributing threat to the mix.
The Knicks also have enough young talent to think (or at least hope) that internal development might prop this group up another tier. Barrett should be nowhere near his ceiling, which might stretch to stardom just yet. Sophomores Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin could strengthen this rotation by taking forward steps.
As for what could go wrong, there's unfortunately plenty. The defense might be worse than advertised. Randle and Barrett might show the wear-and-tear from ranking first and second, respectively, in minutes last season. Randle might revert to his old, non-All-Star form. Injuries could be a constant issue with Walker.
Save for a midseason move for a megastar, the Knicks won't enter the championship conversation, but they could play their way into the East's No. 3 seed.
What would need to happen? Randle retaining his All-NBA spot is step one. From there, the Knicks probably need Barrett to take home the Most Improved Player award (with one or both of Quickley and Toppin earning votes), Walker and Fournier have to add layers to this attack and the defense can't regress.
It's possible the Knicks don't return to the playoffs. That isn't the most likely outcome, but there's a chance it happens, as this roster has question marks and the conference has depth.
New York could find itself without an All-Star if Randle slips, which seems possible since last year's breakout seemingly came out of nowhere. Walker and Derrick Rose could make frequent appearances on the injury report. Fournier might get a mention in some midseason free-agency regrets columns. The young players might struggle with inconsistency and lose Thibodeau's trust. It's all on the table.