The 2020-2021 NBA Season starting on Dec. 22 is nothing short of surreal. It feels like the Lakers won the championship inside the bubble last week. Not every team played in Orlando so their nine-month drought will end. One of those teams is the New York Knicks. Cue the music!
With every New York Knicks season comes hope and despair. Hope revolves around the young talent becoming assets and the new coach asserting himself as “the guy” for the job. After about two or so months, despair hits in the dog days of late February and March, where the product at Madison Square Garden becomes unwatchable.
However, this season may be different… finally. For the first time in a decade, the Knicks made no stupid moves in the offseason. The team hired Leon Rose, Worldwide Wes, and Tom Thibodeau as President, Executive Vice President, and Head Coach, respectively. They weren’t throwing money around and taking on any bad contracts during the offseason, keeping their cap flexibility for next year.
Smart moves can only get a team so far. Now, it’s time to perform. I will be the first to say that the Knicks are not a playoff team with their current roster. For now, that’s ok. The Knicks need to focus on three objectives. If all three are completed, the future will be bright.
1. Tom Thibodeau Needs To Build A Winning Culture
One of the most overused words when describing a team is culture. When teams win or lose, many will attribute the culture as to the reason behind the team’s success or failure. I think that’s half true. You can still win games with a poor culture if you have superstar players. (Ex. LeBron and the Cavs when he was at odds with Dan Gilbert, James Harden and the Rockets, etc.) Culture doesn’t equal wins, but a positive culture lays the blueprint for winning and helps attract free agents. The best example is the Brooklyn Nets, who acquired Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and will be one of the favorites to win it all.
Tom Thibodeau is an “in your face” coach. For the Bulls, it worked. For the Timberwolves, it did not. There is nothing wrong with asking your players to play both ends of the floor. But, there is a problem with relying on your stars to play big minutes for an entire season. Thibs will have to find a happy medium. The Knicks’ poor record the last eight seasons actually works in Thibs favor because a disciplinarian may be what this team needs to breathe life into the city. It worked with the New York Giants under Tom Coughlin.
If Thibs fosters a culture that plays hard on both ends without killing his stars and adds modern principles to his offensive strategy, the Knicks have a shot to create a winning culture and attract players in the future.
2. RJ Barrett Has To Show All-Star Potential
RJ Barrett had a decent rookie campaign, averaging 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. If most rookies accumulated those numbers, it would be viewed as a success. However, Barrett’s in an impossible situation because he will always be compared to the two players selected before him, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Both Zion and Ja flashed superstar potential in their rookie seasons. Unfortunately, RJ did not have any games that showcased a superstar in the making.
In year two, RJ doesn’t need to prove he’s a superstar, but he has to show that he can be an all-star down the road. His shooting numbers must improve. A 40% field goal percentage, 32% three-point percentage, and 61.4% free-throw percentage is unacceptable for the third pick in the draft. If you’re not going to be a knockdown three-point shooter, then you have to consistently hit the mid-range jumper and finish in the paint. If the preseason is any indication of what’s to come, then RJ is due for a breakout season.
3. Wins Must Be Sacrificed If It Means Playing Obi Toppin And Immanuel Quickley
Thibs is not used to losing. In eight seasons as a head coach, Thibs registered two losing seasons and made the playoffs in six out of seven full seasons. Thibs wants to win games so I expect a lot of veterans to dominate the early season minutes. I’m ok if that’s a temporary strategy.
However, if the Knicks are losing games and giving big minutes to veterans, then we’re going to have problems. Both Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley showed promise during the preseason. They must be rotation players. For the betterment of the organization, those two need to play meaningful even if it means sacrificing wins. Developing young talent should be priority number one.
In terms of record, all I want the Knicks to do is compete for the 10th seed. If the Knicks can stay in the race for the 10th seed, I’ll be happy. If they fail to register 20 wins, then it’s back to square one for the eighth straight year.
What are your predictions for the New York Knicks? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.