We’re now over a month into the new NBA season, and New York is in the thick of the East’s play-in race. Here are five things we learned about this Knicks team a quarter way into the year.
Jalen Brunson is their best player
If the Knicks' front office could only pick one thing to include on their resume from this tenure, it would have to be the Brunson signing. The diminutive guard has put up All-Star production: 21.5 points and 6.6 assists a night on just under 50 percent shooting from the field.
While his three-point and clutch shooting is still coming around, Brunson is elite from his preferred in-between range, with Kevin Durant-esque efficiency on a nightly basis. He became the third Knicks guard to put up three consecutive 30+ point outings (joining Stephon Marbury and Walt Frazier) in recent days.
All season, the Knicks have been able to rely on Brunson as an emergency bucket-getter when the offense sputters, while he’s remained a natural part of a flowing offense, willing to find the open man. He’s also just 26 years old and on a declining salary that looks like a steal at this point.
RJ Barrett’s stock is at all-time low
Fresh off a breakout half-season and massive contract extension, Barrett is once again going through a slump out of the gates. This one may be the worst of his career, given his role and value to the team.
Barrett is shooting a career-low 27.4 percent from three and still a notch under 50 percent from two, while attempting the most shots on the team. Additionally, his defense and rebounding are come-and-go, compounding the negative impact of his play. He’s due to earn $24 million next year, and the leap that would make him worth it is nowhere to be found.
This isn’t to say Barrett won’t turn it around or the Knicks made a bad bet, only that early returns are disappointing, to say the least. His development is arguably more crucial to the franchise than any other factor this season, including team record.
Cam Reddish is for real
One of New York’s most alluring prospects was lost in the shuffle late last year and coming into this season. Boy, have things turned around.
A mix of injury and poor play allowed Reddish to take hold of a rotation spot, even a starting role at times, through 21 games. It’s paid off nicely for him and the Knicks, as he looks like a winning player when focused.
Reddish is in a toss-up with Quentin Grimes as the team’s best wing defender, and when his offense is limited to anything under two dribbles he’s an efficient addition to the lineup. His athleticism shines in transition or when breaking defenses down away from the ball, and he’s had a couple big 20-point evenings.
Where he once looked like a throw-in for trade negotiations, teams around the league are certainly looking at him differently today. The Knicks should seriously weigh keeping him as part of the long-term core.
The Evan Fournier signing was a bust
When management inked two veteran guards in the summer of 2021 -- Fournier and Kemba Walker -- to bolster the team’s offense, the thought was that they could be easily traded if things don’t work out as planned. A little over a year later and Fournier’s been benched entirely, despite being due another $19 million next season.
It will not be easy to move his deal. After a strong shooting season in 2021-22, Fournier is shooting 36.4 percent from two and 33.3 percent from three this year, offering little elsewhere on the court. Grimes and Reddish have effectively replaced him.
What the Knicks can do with him from here is tough to project. It will take a first-round pick just to dump his contract, if they go that route. Either way, one of the front office’s big transactions has failed miserably.
They can make the play-in tournament
If I told you prior to the season the Knicks would rank among the league’s worst defenses and three-point shooting teams, fail to beat a single healthy playoff team, drop winnable games to lottery teams and get close to zero from Barrett, would you think they’d be in the postseason hunt? Somehow, they’ve managed to eke their way to near .500 ball in the standings, despite their numbers putting them in Oklahoma City Thunder territory.
New York can turn a lot of this around as the season progresses. Barrett won’t shoot terribly forever, and the defense should be much better than this.
The Knicks have done an okay job of beating up on the league’s worst, keeping them in striking distance. Will they build off that, maintaining a .500 record and sneaking into the play-in tournament in a messy Eastern Conference, or will this be a repeat of last season?