With the 2020-21 Knicks season about to begin, here are 10 bold predictions on what’s to unfold between now and April.
These are based on what we’ve seen in the preseason thus far, plus lots of conjecture (and some are much bolder than others).
1. Burks or Bullock are shipped for a pick
This offseason was an active one on the asset management side for this new Knicks front office, and they likely aren’t done dealing just because the season is here. Contending teams in need of some 3-and-D help on the wing are likely to eye Alec Burks and Reggie Bullock as possible trade targets, given their on-court contributions and generous contracts. Even if New York finds itself in reach of a play-in game, it would be hard to see them turning down a first-round pick or young piece for one of the two come the trade deadline.
2. The Knicks finish as a top-20 defensive team
This doesn’t sound super impressive or particularly bold, but it’s been four years since the Knicks avoided having a bottom-10 defensive team, and doing so with this roster would be a testament to Tom Thibodeau’s coaching and the development of New York’s younger contributors. Assuming a starting lineup that includes RJ Barrett, Burks and Mitchell Robinson should get them halfway there as those are three dependable guys on that end. It’ll take more to avoid mediocrity on this end, though.
3. RJ Barrett silences the doubters
Knicks fans are likely counting on, more so than boldly predicting, a breakout Barrett year. This is for good reason. Barrett’s rookie year was marred by injury and the statistical profile suppressed a lot of the good we saw from Barrett. After an All-Rookie Team snub and a long break to improve his game, expect the sophomore to come out with a vengeance, as we’ve already seen in the preseason.
4. Obi Toppin’s passing is his best NBA skill as a rookie
If there’s one thing that stood out from Toppin this preseason, it was how effective a passer he was. He was delivering from all over the court, off the dribble hanging in the air, high-posting like Marc Gasol, you name it. Not only does he have the touch but the mentality, coming out of the draft as a scorer you’d expect much more selfishness. His dunks will make more highlight clips, but his vision will be elite among his peers.
5. Insta-Mitch does not make an appearance
The Robinson Knicks fans know from offseason Instagram videos, looking like a freakish Kevin Durant clone crossing over defenders and tomahawking one-handed slams, will not be making an appearance in 2020-21. In four preseason games, Robinson fought for his starting job and we saw nary a jumper nor dribble. Hard to see Thibs letting it fly when games count for something.
6. This is the last Knicks season for Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, or both
Fans of New York’s pair of 2017 lottery point guards may be watching them in the blue-and-orange for the last time. Both of their contracts expire this summer and have had less-than-spectacular tenures thus far. If neither breaks out this season, it’s hard to imagine the Knicks keeping their patience and matching whatever offers come their way in free agency.
7. Immanuel Quickley makes an All-Rookie team
This is strictly based off the preseason and all the very flakey hope it delivered, but we’re doing this. It’ll likely take Thibs giving him the starting point guard position or a hefty role off the bench, neither of which is guaranteed, but it can happen. Quickley is (maybe) the only Knick that can shoot the three and create for others, thus if given the time, can put up a nice campaign.
8. Knox finally emerges
It’s about damn time? Knox looked deadly from three last preseason as well, so betting on a real emergence this time is straight from the gut. The third-year forward has shown flashes in the past but has yet to put it all together or maintain mental fortitude through the slumps. Maybe this year will finally be different.
9. Randle improves his three-point shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio
These were two weak points for Randle last year, though hard to bag him for too much having little help or spacing and a coaching change to deal with. In limited time this preseason, he looked to be more of a team player, forcing less and making the next read for his fellow Knicks. If this was a legitimate change in role/mindset and not just preseason passiveness, expect a much more efficient Randle that better impacts winning.
10. Knicks make the play-in game
This is the big one. Assuming the Bucks, Heat, Celtics, Nets, 76ers, Raptors, Pacers, Magic and Wizards are, in some order, locks for seeds 1-9, that leaves the Knicks in position to battle for one spot between the Hawks, Pistons, Cavaliers, Bulls and Hornets. This is a very difficult challenge, one that gets slightly easier with some injury luck.
The things pushing in New York’s favor are returning much of last year’s rotation, having RJ Barrett on the roster and playing (ideally) strong enough defense under Thibs to play above themselves. There’s always the crazy mid-season trade request from a star in play, too, that can elevate the Knicks into a playoff slot.