Advertisement

Is this a historically great Knicks team?

It’s a good time to be a Knicks fan. The team is 32-18, 15-3 in the new year, and fresh off a nine-game winning streak.

It’s been bedlam at The Garden during this run, as the Knicks have topped some of the NBA’s elite -- Denver, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Miami -- with relative ease. Their net rating is second-best in the league since Jan. 1, and fans have had to ask themselves: when’s the last time we saw a Knicks team this good?

We’re obviously working with a small sample, as this team took off after the OG Anunoby trade, but has only enjoyed 12 games with their entire trio that includes Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson.

When those three have shared the court, the Knicks have outscored opponents by a mesmerizing 24.5 points per 100 possessions. But Anunoby is out due to an elbow injury, and Randle is out for the foreseeable future due to a dislocated shoulder.

The starting lineup just works. Brunson and Randle are the offensive engines who can notch 30 a pop when they wish, Anunoby is the ultimate 3-and-D glue guy, Isaiah Hartenstein patrols the middle while making connections on the other end, and Donte DiVincenzo fills in all the gaps -- including making every other three he tries.

New York will be back to full strength eventually, so it’s natural to question just how scary -- relative to Knicks history -- this team really is.

The Ringer compiled every Knicks team based on Basketball-Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS), which "takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule." This 2023-24 squad came in fifth place behind the two championship teams and two 90s teams that made the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

Behind them? The championship-adjacent ‘69 and ‘71 teams, then the 1953, 1984 and 2013 rosters.

Jan 27, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) reacts after making a three point basket during the second half against the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden.

Even without the rating system, most fans can say they’ve witnessed only one prolonged era of winning Knicks basketball: the Patrick Ewing-led 90s. The Carmelo Anthony era returned three uninspired postseason exits, the 80s were scattershot until Ewing, and obviously nothing trumps the original champs of the 70s -- if you were there to see it.

It feels safe to say this team has eclipsed what it accomplished between 2011 and 2013. Anthony (along with Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Donnie Walsh, and others) brought relevancy back to a franchise that was in the gutter for a decade, but on an unstable foundation.

The Anthony trade, in combination with amnestying Chauncey Billups and going all-in on veteran acquisitions, gave the Knicks a one-year window to compete before their knees started giving out and the lack of assets or young players stunted any growth. The 2013 team, which saw a 54-win, second-seeded Knicks team ride the three-point revolution ride early was awesome, and could’ve made the Conference Finals with a couple more breaks.

Still, in the context of the larger era and this team, it likely doesn’t measure up. These Knicks are poised to make their third playoff trip in four years, have already made the second round and are stacked with capital to push them further into contention.

Even comparing 1:1 with 2013, it’s hard to say this squad wouldn’t win a seven-game series. Anthony and Brunson cancel each other out as unguardable scoring machines, but 2013 didn’t feature a secondary option like Randle. And making the argument for their third-best player and beyond being better isn’t easy.

If you’re in line with this logic, you’re now watching the best Knicks team to suit up since 1999, a quarter century ago. It’s too early to consider them on par with or having exceeded these legendarily tough and stacked rosters, but they one day might.

Should this roster get healthy and make a Conference Finals push, they’ll stand alone with those 90s teams as the only instances since the early 70s. We’re a ways away from that, still working off hypotheticals as this team works to get fully healthy.

But what we’ve seen so far suggests this may not be just an improved Knicks team, but one with the kind of talent and coaching the franchise hasn’t boasted in decades.