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The Knicks Experienced a Remarkable Reversal During the 2020/21 Campaign Under the New Leadership of Head Coach Tom Thibodeau

Image Source: New York Knicks @ Instagram

Following a seven-year playoff drought, the New York Knicks underwent an unexpected transformation in the 2020/21 season with the appointment of Tom Thibodeau as head coach. They concluded the season with a 41-31 record, securing the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference. Despite their early exit after losing to the Hawks in the opening round, it was still considered a triumphant season, primarily due to the significant contributions from Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

Randle excelled by earning his first All-Star selection, making it to the All-NBA Second Team, and being named the Most Improved Player for his impressive averages of 24.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 6.0 APG, shooting .456/.411/.811 (.567 true shooting percentage). Barrett exhibited improvement in all aspects of his game, showing promise with a shooting percentage of .441/.401/.746 (.535 true), silencing doubts about his shooting skills.

In the ’20/21 season, the Knicks boasted the third-best defense in the NBA, with a net rating of +2.4, ranking ninth in the league. Remarkably, the team’s actual win total precisely matched its expected total, as reported by Basketball-Reference.

Unfortunately, the Knicks had a disappointing ’21/22 season, finishing with a 37-45 record and landing the No. 11 seed in the East. Randle’s performance declined slightly, facing challenges both on and off the court, reflected in his underwhelming .411/.308/.756 (.509 true) shooting line. Barrett, despite improving his scoring average, witnessed a drop in efficiency, recording a .408/.342/.714 (.511 true) shooting line.

Comparing the two seasons, the team’s offensive rating remained almost identical (110.6 vs. 110.4, both below average), while their defense slipped to 11th in the league with a -0.1 net rating. The Knicks’ actual win total fell short by four games compared to the expected total, indicating that even with four additional wins, they would likely have missed the play-in tournament, with Atlanta and Charlotte both finishing with 43 wins.

Recognizing the need for changes, the Knicks’ front office engaged actively in the offseason. They initiated significant transactions, for instance, trading the No. 11 pick, Ousmane Dieng, to the Thunder in exchange for three protected first-round picks in 2023. Subsequently, they acquired the draft rights to the No. 13 pick, Jalen Duren, by exchanging one of the obtained picks (the Nuggets’ lottery-protected) and four second-round selections with the Hornets.

The Knicks further traded Duren alongside Kemba Walker to receive the Bucks’ 2025 top-four protected first-round pick from the Pistons. Additional trade activities included a transaction with the Pistons, where they offloaded Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel along with a second-rounder and $6MM in cash for a heavily-protected second-rounder.

These strategic moves provided the Knicks with the flexibility to sign guard Jalen Brunson to a lucrative four-year, $104MM deal, secure center Isaiah Hartenstein on a two-year, $16MM contract, and extend the contract of center Mitchell Robinson for four years at $60MM.

While being heavily involved in trade talks for three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell, who eventually joined Cleveland, the Knicks refrained from sealing the deal, a topic extensively covered elsewhere.

Despite their active summer, former Knicks head coach and current ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy expressed skepticism about the impact of the roster changes in an interview with Marc Berman of The New York Post.

Van Gundy stated, “The Knicks possess talented players, but when compared to the competition in the East, this roster falls short.” He added, “While it’s possible for them to surprise and secure a playoff spot, considering the Eastern standings, they are likely to place between eight and thirteen. Guaranteeing a play-in position is uncertain, as several factors must align.”

According to Van Gundy, the Knicks lack the star power required to pose a significant threat. He emphasized that their resurgence and potential playoff entry could hinge on Randle’s resurgence.

In light of this analysis, the question of the day arises. Do you concur with Van Gundy’s evaluation that the Knicks’ path to the play-in tournament depends on several outcomes falling in their favor? Share your perspective in the comments section.

Image Source: New York Knicks @ Instagram

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