New York Knicks Report Card: Little Magic, Tons Of Frustration

RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks

The New York Knicks are 25 games into the 2021-2022 NBA season, which is a little less than one-third of the NBA season. With a record of 12-13, it’s a large enough sample size to evaluate the team’s performance and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the roster.

There are a lot of weaknesses. Spoiler alert!

Time to break out my red pen because it might get messy.

Julius Randle – C+

The Most Improved Player from 2020-2021 put up career highs in almost every statistical category during last year’s magical season. Regression was bound to happen, but some of the numbers are alarming. Randle still leads the team in points/rebounds/assists with averages of 19.8/9.8/5.2. Those numbers would be stellar if Randle were the second option on the team. However, he remains the team’s best player, and anything less than 22 and 10 is unacceptable. What’s alarming is the dip in three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. Last year, Randle shot 41% from 3 and 81% at the line. This season, it’s 33% and 75%, respectively. Randle will be the first to tell you that he needs to elevate his game because if his play doesn’t improve, the Knicks will miss the Play-In game.

Kemba Walker – D+

This hurts, man. I wholeheartedly agreed with signing Kemba Walker after he took a buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder. 2 years, 18m was a good flyer for a player that averaged 19 points a game since 2016. Besides a few scoring outbursts in the first quarters of multiple games, Kemba’s tenure with the Knicks has been a disaster. All of the defensive metrics with Kemba on the court are atrocious. Now, Kemba is out of the rotation, and will probably be traded or bought out at some point aka “The Austin Rivers.” I wish Kemba nothing but the best.

Evan Fournier – C-

Let’s get this one out of the way. I stand by my “Fournier is a solid player” take. His play will never live up to the contract, but I believed he could be the second-best player on this team. As of Dec. 10, I’m wrong. Fournier is Murphy’s Law. For every 20-point performance, there has to be a <10-point performance where he sits on the bench during the fourth quarter. Plus, Fournier is a liability on defense. If Fournier can’t make shots, he’s unplayable at the end of games.

RJ Barrett – C+

It’s been a roller-coaster season for RJ Barrett. He started the season with a bang, averaging 19 points per game with the highlight being a 35-point performance in New Orleans. Then, he forgot how to shoot especially from behind the arc. It’s actually painful to watch at times. I’m convinced he’s the best guy in the NBA at hitting the front end of the rim. However, Barrett has been more aggressive over his last two games including a 32-point performance in San Antonio. I like RJ a lot, but he’s been way too inconsistent for a guy that many believe should be the second-best player on the team.

Alec Burks and Derrick Rose – A-

The two most consistent players on the Knicks are Alec Burks and Derrick Rose. That is a real sentence I just typed. Both of these guys can create their own shot on the offensive side of the ball, which can’t be said about 80% of the roster. I hate to bring up “manalytics,” but as someone that’s watched every game, Burks and Rose never hide from the moment. They continuously want the ball in their hands at the end of games. Without these two, the Knicks would have less than 10 wins.

Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin – B

Bench mob, stand TF up! Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin have been godsends off the bench all season long. The duo are plus/minus standouts with IQ at +97 and Obi at +88 (second and third on the team). These young guys are both gym rats, and both improved on both ends of the floor especially Obi, who doubled his points per game from 4 to 8. Thibs has to consider giving more minutes to both IQ and Obi going forward.

Tom Thibodeau – B-

It’s unfair to put the team’s disappointing start solely on Thibs. This is a severely limited roster with no true closers at the end of games. However, the rotations to start the season did the team no favors. The defense is nowhere to be found at times. After ranking third in defensive efficacy last season, the Knicks are 23rd. The Knicks still play hard on a nightly basis, but the team has gotten exposed in the third quarter and at the end of games especially in close losses. That’s on Thibs.

Team Grade – C

Did I expect the Knicks to be the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference again? No. Did I expect the record to be over .500 at the one-third mark of the season? Absolutely. It’s been a disappointing start to the season so 12 wins feels like a blessing with how poorly they’ve played at times. The Knicks will need to make a few trades to compete for a playoff spot. I still think this is a Play-In team, but the idea of returning to the playoffs will evoparate quickly if this doesn’t change over the next month. I believe in the Knicks, but I’m worried.

What are your grades for the Knicks? Leave them in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

2021-2022 NBA Week 1: Fair Reaction or Overreaction?

DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls / NBA

After the first week of the NBA season, the Lakers are missing the playoffs, the Warriors are winning the title, and the Timberwolves have the best version of the Big Three.

Are these fair reactions or overreactions?

Fair Reaction: The Bulls And Knicks Can Both Crack The Top 6 In The East

The Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks both have good, competitive teams at the same time. Is this the 1990s? After last night’s 104-103 win, the Knicks moved into a tie for first place in the conference along with the Bulls, Hornets, and Wizards.

Both the Knicks and Bulls have vastly improved on both sides of the ball. The Knicks are now shooting more 3s than last year and it’s paying off as the team is fourth in three point %. For Chicago, Zach LaVine finally has a good supporting cast in Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vučević.

It’s still a long shot for both teams to avoid the NBA Play-In Tournament, but it’s not out of the question. If the Bulls and Knicks continue to stay competitive all year, they have a legitimate shot to kick a team out of the Top 6. The two likely candidates to fall out of the Top 6 are the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

For the Sixers, the status of Ben Simmons puts the Sixers in no man’s land. Simmons needs to play, or the organization needs to trade him because Embiid desperately needs help. Sitting on the sidelines helps no one. For Boston, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are studs, but they lack a true point guard. Have fun taking turns with Marcus Smart and Dennis Schröder running the point. If the Celtics do not trade for a PG, they are in danger of making the Play-In tournament.

Overreaction: The Nets And Lakers Should Panic

We are just over one week into the season, and things could not be any worse for the two finals’ favorites. Brooklyn is still missing Kyrie Irving due to the vaccine mandate, and James Harden can’t get to the free throw line if his life depended on it. In Los Angeles, LeBron has already begun his load management, and the team blew a 26-point lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder in an overtime loss to the fighting Josh Giddeys.

Both teams sit at 2-3 with clear roster problems that need to be fixed. The Nets need another scorer while the Lakers cannot figure out their rotations. (Why does DeAndre Jordan start?) Luckily for both teams, their stars will help right the ship on their way to the playoffs. There’s no need to overreact, but let’s revisit this at the end of November.

Fair Reaction: The Utah Jazz Are A Good Regular Season Team

The fact that the Jazz are undefeated should surprise no one. Utah has all the pieces to be a good NBA regular season. It’s why I picked Utah to be the #1 seed in the West going into the playoffs. Utah is Top 10 in scoring and second in defensive rating. Say what you want about Rudy Gobert, he’s a monster on the glass and defensive end. Gobert is grabbing 17.8 (!!!) rebounds per game. The Jazz will have to conquer their playoff demons in the Spring, but for now, this team should continue to roll.

Fair Reaction: The Golden State Warriors Can Be A Top 3 Team In The West

I predicted the Warriors would hover around .500 until Klay Thompson’s return, and they would end up with an 8-seed. Hand up, I think I’m going to be wrong. The Warriors are 4-1 and look like a completely different team from a year ago. Steph is, well, doing Steph things (43/40/96 % splits), but unlike last year, his teammates are shouldering the offensive load. Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, and Damion Lee are all averaging over 14 ppg. If the Warriors can stay in the top 3 by the time Klay returns, then championship expectations return to the Bay area.

Overreaction: The Minnesota Timberwolves Are A Playoff Team

Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell are accounting for two-thirds of the team’s points per game. It’s great to see their version of the Big Three healthy. I don’t want to rain on Minnesota’s parade, but can we pump the brakes just a bit? Towns and Russell have played less than 30 games together. Edwards, who is an amazing player and personality, is only in his second year. The Wolves have had one winning record since 2005. Let’s see if all three guys can stay healthy before talking about the playoffs.

Fair Reaction: The Mavericks Should Trade Kristaps Porzingis

I’m a firm believer in players needing a “fresh coat of paint” to revitalize their careers. Kristaps Porzingis looks lost in Dallas. He’s far removed from his “unicorn” days pre-ACL injury in New York. Porzingis is averaging 12.7 ppg, 6.0 RPG, and 0.7 apg. Those are good numbers for a backup, not a top player in the third year of a $158 million contract. The sooner the Mavericks can find an offer for Porzingis, the better.

What are your thoughts on the opening week in the NBA? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.com.

2021-2022 NBA Season Preview: Are The New York Knicks Back?

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks

Are the New York Knicks back? Let’s ask Amar’e Stoudemire.

Amar’e might have been 10 years too early on his declaration. But after a 41-31 record that resulted in the team’s first playoff appearance since 2013, the Knicks very well might be back.

In 2020, the Knicks were the scrappy underdogs under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau. The Knicks clawed and battled their way to the fourth-seed in the Eastern Conference through the defense (top 5 in defensive ratings) and rebounding (top 10 in rebounds per game).

On the offensive side of the ball, Julius Randle shattered expectations by becoming a dynamic playmaker on his way to a stat line of 24/10/6 and a trophy for Most Improved Player. Derrick Rose was a godsend at point guard, RJ Barrett improved in almost every statistical category including 3P% (32% to 40%), and Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and Reggie Bullock all became solid contributed.

Last year was full of surprises. After a successful year, those surprises have now turned into expectations. The days of praying for a 30-win team are over, or at least fans including myself believe those days have passed. Now is the time to build on the momentum from last year and grow into a consistent playoff team.

Things That Must Happen For The Knicks To Take The Next Step

– The Knicks must make the playoffs: I can’t stress this point enough. If the Knicks don’t make the playoffs, then last year was a fluke. All of the building blocks put into place last year mean nothing if this team can’t play meaningful basketball in April. I don’t expect the Knicks to be the four-seed again, but if they don’t make the Play-In Tournament, then the season will be a failure.

– RJ Barrett must become a playmaker: If RJ Barrett wants to become a star in this league, then he must become a playmaker on offense. What do I mean by playmaker? Throughout last season, the go-to play for the Knicks was a Randle isolation. That either lead to a tough make, a missed shot, or a pass for a three. While Jules was amazing for most of the year, his playmaking was nowhere to be found in the Atlanta series. This is where RJ comes in. RJ needs to be able to take his man off the dribble and either get to the rim, pass for an open three or hit a pullup jumper. His 2020 game averages of 3 assists and 3.8 free throws are not going to cut it. Those need to get to 4.5 and 5 at the very least.

– Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier must ease the offensive load for Randle: It sounds obvious, but Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier were paid to play offense. They were brought in for their ability to create offense, especially off the dribble. As I stated above, the go-to play was a Jules-iso. Kemba is the best opening day point guard for the Knicks in over a decade. If he stays healthy, the Knicks have a true starting point guard. With Fournier, he must shake off his preseason shooting woes and become a threat from behind the arc. Anything less than 40% is a failure and I’m being generous with that number.

The Bottomline

Superstars win championships, and right now, the Knicks don’t have any superstars. That’s ok for now. The Knicks must return to the first round of the playoffs and play a competitive series. If the team ends up playing the Nets or Bucks in the postseason, then their season will most likely come to an end. However, if they run into a team like the Hawks, Heat, or Sixers, then the Knicks must last more than 5 games. If the Knicks win a playoff series, I’m doing cartwheels outside of MSG. I’m expecting 42-45 wins.

It’s time to take the next step towards becoming a winning franchise once again.

Playoffs or bust.

What are your predictions for the Knicks? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

NBA Free Agency: Lakers And Nets Improve While Pelicans Take Step Back

Lonzo Ball

The NBA has the best offseason out of all the major sports. The draft and free agency are full of trades, surprises, and WTF moments. It’s the only sport where a simple emoji could spark free agency and trade rumors. The offseason is a reality show that belongs on Bravo.

We’re a few days into free agency and some teams have totally reshaped their roster in both good and bad ways. Here are my biggest takeaways.

Lakers And Nets Somehow Get Better

The rich truly get richer. The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets have the two highest odds to win the championship, and rightfully so. The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Nets have Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Superstars can win you championships. This ain’t rocket science. That being said, the Lakers and Nets both improved their roster over the past week.

Let’s start in Los Angeles, where the Lakers traded Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and a first-round pick for the most polarizing player in the game, Russell Westbrook. With LeBron and AD choosing to load manage throughout the regular season, Westbrook and his insane motor will be able to carry the load on nights where the top stars sit out. LeBron might need to talk with Russ about how he needs to perform in the playoffs, but Westbrook’s talent will be necessary if the Lakers want to reach the NBA Finals.

Being a championship contender means attracting ring chasers or guys who want short-term “prove it” deals to cash in next offseason somewhere else. The Lakers added Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, and Kent Bazemore. How they were able to sign Monk to a minimum is beyond me.

Across the country, the Nets added crucial pieces of their own. First, they drafted Cam Thomas from LSU, a walking bucket to serve as “Kyrie Insurance.” Despite losing Jeff Green and Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets re-signed Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown to one-year deals. Brooklyn also signed Paddy Mills, who can still light it up in big moments. Expect the Nets to add more pieces through trades and the buyout market this season.

The Pelicans Failed Zion Williamson Once Again

The Pelicans front office is in the middle of writing a novel titled “How to Lose Your Franchise Superstar.” Seriously, what in the world is going on in New Orleans? I applauded the David Griffin hire. Truth be told, I wanted the New York Knicks to hire Griffin to run the team. I’m glad that never came to fruition.

The Pelicans entered this offseason with two major decisions looming: finding a new coach and re-signing Lonzo Ball. Firing Stan Van Gundy was the right decision, but Griffin should have never hired him in the first place. I like Stan as a commentator, but hiring him to coach was basketball malpractice.

Then, the Pelicans completed a sign-and-trade with Ball that sent the 23-year-old to the Bulls in exchange for Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, and a second-round pick. This comes a week after trading Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, and two firsts (one top-10 protected pick via the Lakers in 2022) for Jonas Valanciunas and the 17th and 51st pick in last week’s draft. To top it all off, the Pelicans acquired Devonte Graham in a sign-and-trade for a 2022 lottery-protected first-round pick. Graham signed a four-year, $47 million contract. Was any other team willing to pay $47 million for Graham?

How do any of these moves help Zion? Spoiler alert – they don’t. It’s not an overreaction to say that Zion could pass on signing the rookie extension with the Pelicans and leave in free agency. That’s how badly the Pelicans have botched his first two years in the NBA.

Knicks Offseason Starting To Make Sense

It wouldn’t be an NBA article if I didn’t talk about my team, the Knicks. As usual, the Knicks offseason has been a roller coaster of emotions. Let’s start with Day 1, where many fans including myself were puzzled with their first four moves. On Day 1, the Knicks signed:

  • Nerlens Noel – 3 years, $32 million
  • Alec Burks – 3 years, $30 million
  • Derrick Rose – 3 years, $43 million
  • Evan Fournier – 4 years, $78 million

Without knowing any of the guarantees and options, all of these moves left me confused.

This was not about the players. I love Noel, Rose, and Burks. I can defend overpaying for Fournier in today’s NBA. However, who were the Knicks bidding against for these players? Who was going to pay Noel over $30 million? The same goes for Burks and Rose. It reminded me of the time the Knicks outbid themselves by almost $20 million for Tim Hardaway Jr. Why not sign these guys to 1-and-1 deals or even 2-year deals to keep flexibility for the future? I like Noel and Burks, but it’s fairly easy to find defensive-minded big men and microwave scorers off the bench.

After a day, details started to come out about the contracts. The Knicks were only on the hook for 2 or 3 years because the last years of each deal are a team option. I still wasn’t thrilled with the contracts, but my outlook started to become more positive.

Then, the Knicks signed Kemba Walker, who was bought out by the Thunder. The number is 2 years, $8-9 million. This is a great flyer for a point guard that’s averaged over 19 ppg since 2015. Is he an injury risk? Sure. But Kemba and Rose are the two best point guards the Knicks have had in over 15 years. Kemba is a low-risk, high-reward point guard. It’s a huge upgrade, and that can’t be overstated.

Finally, Julius Randle signed a team-friendly 4 year, $117 million extension. Randle could have bet on himself, played out his option, and signed a max extension worth more than $200 million next year. However, Randle wanted to give the Knicks flexibility to bring in another star.

The Knicks weren’t going to get the franchise-altering superstar this offseason. However, the culture continues to improve. The team now has young assets, draft picks, and tradeable contracts that could bring in a superstar within the next two years. That’s a win. I feel much better about the Knicks offseason this morning than I did on Monday night.

Quick Hitters

  • The Chicago Bulls are trying to become a playoff team. So far, they’ve added Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and DeMar Derozan in addition to Nikola Vucevic, who they aquired at last season’s trade dealine. With Zach Lavine as the centerpiece, the Bulls should make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
  • The Miami Heat might have soldified themselves as the third best team in the East. The Heat traded for Kyle Lowry, re-signed Duncan Robinson and Victor Oladipo, and signed PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris. The Heat are going to be insufferable with the refs, but they’ll also fight the other team on any given night.
  • Do the Celtics know free agency started this past Monday night?

What is your biggest takeaway from the start of NBA free agency? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

New York Knicks Must Show Patience This Offseason

New York Knicks

Should the New York Knicks extend Julius Randle? Which playmakers should the Knicks sign in the offseason? Is Chris Paul, Lonzo Ball, or Kyle Lowry realistic targets to bring in next season?

We all need to settle down.

It’s been less than 24 hours since the Knicks ended their season with a 103-89 loss to the Atlanta Hawks and the Knicks fanbase is thinking about next year. Instead of taking a minute to appreciate the team’s best season since 2013, fans are trying to make fake trades and free-agent signings without any regard for the rules of the salary cap.

I’m not here to shit on the dreams of unrealistic fans just yet. New Yorkers are happy about a promising season so they’re ready to create a better Knicks team. I’m guilty of looking ahead to next year, too.

Fans can look ahead and plan for the future right now because our decisions don’t affect the team. However, the organization needs to take a different approach in the next couple of months.

The Knicks front office must show patience this offseason.

The culture is in place thanks to Leon Rose and Tom Thibodeau. A team that plays good defense and plays hard every night has been established. Now, it’s time to take upgrade the roster with playmakers and stars.

The Knicks can’t run it back with the same group of guys. That doesn’t mean they should let veterans like Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson enter free agency. But the lack of talent throughout the Hawks series was alarming, and the Knicks need stars to win in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, this won’t happen overnight. Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul are legitimate stars that would improve the Knicks significantly. However, does Kawhi want to come to the East Coast after buying his third house in California? CP3 has the connection to Leon Rose, but why would he leave the Suns if they offer him the 3 year, 100 million contract he’s seeking?

If the Knicks strike out on Kawhi and Paul, which will probably happen, the worst thing New York could do is to panic and spend their 60 million in cap space on good, not great, players.

Dennis Schröder would be an upgrade at the point guard position, but is it worth paying him close to 90 million over four years?

Probably not.

DeMar DeRozan is an above average scorer. On a short term deal, DeRozan is a viable option. However, should the Knicks give a longterm contract to a guy that shoots 25% from behind the arc?

Probably not.

Lonzo Ball would start for the Knicks immediately. Ball improved his shooting from three and provides court vision that the Knicks haven’t had at point guard in over a decade. But, the price is probably going to be around 100 million over four years. Is it worth it?

Maybe.

Making the big splash in free agency might not happen this offseason, and that’s OK. The aforementioned cap space to go along with two first round picks (19 and 21) signify the Knicks are headed in the right direction. The team has the flexibility to improve in the backcourt and acquire more shooters.

In today’s NBA, stars get unhappy all the time. Just ask Kyrie Irving, who told the Boston media he would re-sign with the Celtics only to bolt for the Nets months later.

It’s only a matter of time before the best player in a lousy franchise grows tired of his situation and wants out. Bradley Beal, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Brandon Ingram could all be in potential trade discussions this summer. To a lesser degree, Collin Sexton and Buddy Hield would be fix a good amount of the Knicks’ problems.

Then, there’s always the dream scenarios where fans will photoshop players into Knicks’ jerseys. The prime target for the dream scenario would be Damian Lillard. We should all probably keep dreaming because it’s unlikely to happen, but it’s important to remember that situations constantly change.

The Knicks will need to acquire multiple superstars to compete for a championship. It may not happen this summer, but be patient. If the Knicks continue to rebuild and improve, it’s only a matter of time before a star forces his way to New York.

What should the Knicks do this offseason? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

Knicks Series Preview: How New York Can Defeat The Atlanta Hawks

RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Derrick Rose / Knicks

After a stellar regular season, the New York Knicks secured the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and will play the No. 5 seed Atlanta Hawks in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs.

This is not a joke. Hell, it’s not even a dream.

To quote Amar’e Stoudemire, “The Knicks are back.”

Thanks to Tom Thibodeau and Julius Randle, the Knicks not only made the playoffs but have a great chance to win a series, which is unfathomable considering the team hasn’t made the playoffs in eight years. The Knicks won all three matchups against the Hawks during the regular season. But this is the playoffs so throw the records out the door.

The Hawks are a different team since Nate McMillian took over for Lloyd Pierce. On paper, the Hawks have the more talented roster with Trae Young, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Deandre Hunter, and Clint Capela. However, the Knicks are the embodiment of toughness and grit, ranking third in team defensive efficiency.

For the Knicks to win the series, they must accomplish three things.

Julius Randle Must Assert His Dominance

To say Julius Randle dominated the Hawks during the regular season would be the understatement of the century. There’s dominance, and then there’s Randle against the Hawks. In three games versus the Hawks, Randle averaged 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists on 58.1/50.0/81.8 shooting splits.

The Hawks are an average defense so Randle should be able to exploit matchups regularly. If Deandre Hunter isn’t 100%, then Solomon Hill is probably the best option to defend Randle. I’ll choose Randle in that matchup eleven times out of ten. Even if Randle puts up his season averages of 24.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, and 6.0 apg, the Knicks will be in good shape to advance.

Alec Burks Must Be A Scoring Threat Off The Bench

The Knicks’ three best scoring options are Randle, RJ Barrett, and Derrick Rose. If all goes according to plan, those three will lead the team in scoring. Reggie Bullock will chip in some threes, but he’s more of a catch-and-shoot player, not so much a creator. There has to be that fourth guy to create offense and provide some scoring off the bench especially when Randle and RJ sit. The best player to fill that role is Alec Burks.

Burks has been one of the bargain signings of the past season. Burks signed a one-year contract worth $6 million, and he’s completely exceeded expectations. Burks provides the Knicks with a guard who can create his own shot, shoot over 40% from three, and provide solid defense. Pairing him with Rose and Immanuel Quickley gives the Knicks three viable threats to create offense off the bench.

In Burks last three games, he’s scored 30, 14, and 17 points in just under 30 minutes per game. If Burks can score over 10 each game of the series, that’s one more option the Hawks need to worry about, which will help open up the offense.

Stop Bogdan Bogdanovic

Trae Young is going to score at least 20 points per game. Young is good at drawing fouls and hitting bombs from beyond the arc. John Collins will also provide some matchup problems for the Knicks.

That being said, the Knicks must stop Bogdan Bogdanovic. McMillian deserves a ton of credit for the Hawks’ turnaround, but Bogdanovic sparked their success on the court. Since Bogdanovic returned from a fractured knee, the Hawks are 27-11 including seven wins in their last eight games. McMillian has allowed Bogdanovic to create off the dribble and get to his spots instead of serving as someone to space the floor for Young. When Young’s off the floor, the Hawks don’t miss a beat with Bogdanovic serving as the primary ball-handler.

The Knicks are expected to play good, team defense. They’ve done it all year so there’s no reason why it would disappear now. However, the Knicks must contain Bogdanovic or risk getting into shootouts, which isn’t their strength.

Bottomline

No matter what happens, this season will go down as a success. The Knicks shattered their projected win total of 22.5 games with 41 wins. They finally have a stable front office, an above-average head coach, a star in the making with Randle, and a definitive identity.

The Knicks were not supposed to be here. But, since they are here, they might as well win it, right?

Knicks in 7.

Who do you think will win, Hawks or Knicks? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @danny_giro.

New York Knicks: My Love-Hate Relationship With Tom Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau of the New York Knicks

The main catalyst for the New York Knicks turnaround is Tom Thibodeau. Hiring Thibs as the head coach is the best thing to happen to the franchise since 2013.

Thibs has been better than advertised. Not one single soul on planet Earth thought the Knicks would be in the playoff hunt this season. I’m an optimist and even I didn’t predict this much success so early.

Back in December, I said, “If the Knicks can stay in the race for the 10th seed, I’ll be happy.” Now, I’m expecting to secure a spot in the play-in game at the very least. The expectations have changed and a lot of that can be contributed to Thibs.

From Day 1, the defense has been the Knicks’ calling card. Wait, the Knicks play defense? Yes, the Knicks play good, team defense. The Knicks rank first in points allowed, field goals allowed, opponents field goal %, and opponents three-point percentage. Overall, New York is third in defensive efficiency.

On the offensive side, Julius Randle is in the midst of a career season that could lead to a substantial payday at the end of the season. RJ Barrett continues to improve his jumper especially from behind the arc. RJ’s three-pointer was a liability a season ago at 32%. Now, he’s shooting 38% from three including an incredible 45% in his last 40 games.

There’s no doubt that Thibs has instilled a winning culture in a franchise that’s been allergic to success for most of the 21st century. What they lack in talent, the Knicks make up for it with effort and hard-nosed defense. As a fan, it’s refreshing to see a Knicks’ team that loves to compete and will be in dogfight nine out of every ten games.

As great as Thibs has been, there are a few fatal flaws to his coaching style. Frankly, these flaws have cost the Knicks numerous games. The Knicks own a putrid 2-8 record in games decided by three points are fewer. At 25-27, the Knicks are below .500 for the first time since Feb. 23.

Thibs’s rotations at the end of games are head-scratching. Being a defensive-minded team keeps the Knicks in most games. However, the Knicks struggle to generate offense especially late in the fourth quarter. The Knicks don’t have “the guy” who can generate offense and get a bucket. Randle has been awesome, but he’s not the guard who can create his own shot that the Knicks so desperately need.

When is the last time the Knicks had a point guard that defenses had to gameplan for? Who is the last point guard that could get his teammates easy baskets in the final minutes? If my calculations are correct, Stephon Marbury, who hasn’t played for the Knicks in over a decade, is the answer.

This lack of a true point guard is a huge problem, which is why playing Elfrid Payton over Derrick Rose at the end of games makes my blood boil. I don’t want to turn this into the “Shit On Elfrid Payton Hour.” Payton is a nice player, but he’s extremely limited on the offensive side of the ball. Thibs plays Payton at the end of games for his defense. In theory, that’s a good decision, but when Randle is getting double-teamed and RJ can’t create off the dribble, do you trust Payton to make a play on the offensive side of the ball? Rose is the closest thing the Knicks have to an offensive threat at point guard. Rose needs to finish games, especially with a struggling offense.

Then, there’s Randle, who doesn’t look healthy. Randle suffered a thigh injury a few games ago and hasn’t looked the same since. Despite recording a triple-double against the Nets, Randle did not shoot the ball well against the Celtics (9-23 from the field). I am NOT saying Thibs caused Randle’s injury. However, I can’t help but think logging 37 minutes a game has taken a toll on Randle’s body. If the Knicks want to win in May, they will need a healthy Randle at full strength. I hate leading the charge for the “Minutes Police,” but would it kill Thibs to rest Randle during a blowout?

Tom Thibodeau is an exceptional coach who knows how to get the most out of his players. If the Knicks can land a star and an offensive point guard, this team can be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

There is a lot more love for Thibs than hate. In fact, I don’t hate Thibs whatsoever. It’s frustration, not hate. I don’t want Thibs to change his personality, but some minor adjustments to his strategy could be the difference between a playoff loss and a playoff win.

Do you love or hate Tom Thibodeau? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Julius Randle Deserves To Be An NBA All-Star

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks

I love the NBA, but I hate the All-Star Game. That might come off as dramatic so I’ll adjust. I don’t hate the All-Star Game, but it doesn’t excite me anymore. As a kid, I adored All-Star weekend especially Saturday night’s festivities. The idea of the game’s best players teaming mirroed an NBA Live game so I tuned in.

As I got older, the All-Star Game lost its luster. I don’t expect guys to guard each other for 48 minutes, but the lack of anything resembling defense made it unwatchable. I’m not a Grinch. I like alley-oops and deep threes, but I wouldn’t mind the occasional blocked shot or steal.

I may dislike the exhibition game, but being an All-Star matters. It’s fun to joke about the level of competiion during the game, but it’s still an honor to be named one of the 24 players chosen to represent the NBA.

This leads me to Julius Randle, one of the biggest surprises of the season. Randle’s all-star status is not up for debate. Randle deserves to be an all-star this season.

So far, Randle’s numbers are all career highs with averages of 23.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. It’s Randle’s playmaking that’s significantly improved. Randle’s never sniffed four assists per game in his career. Now, he could realistically surpass six per game. That’s unfathomable for a guy that usually turned the ball over after a spin move.

Randle’s numbers are not being put to waste for a revitalized New York Knicks team. The Knicks currently sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 14-16. Sure, it’s below .500, but last season, the Knicks needed 50 games to record their 14th win.

Coming into the season, the majority of Knicks fans would struggle to say anything positive about Randle. Most, including myself, were counting down the days to trade or buy out the 26-year-old. I was completely wrong. Randle is making us all eat crow. After Monday’s win over the Hawks, Randle said, “Hard work is undefeated.” Could not have said it better myself, Julius.

Due to increased competition, Randle’s spot on the team is far from a guarantee. The five starters were announced tonight, which means seven spots are up for grabs.

Randle finished seventh in fan voting, which isn’t ideal, but not a huge blow. Randle tying for fifth in the frontcourt media vote strengthens his case to become a reserve.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the East takes five guards, five forwards, and two wild cards (guard or forward). Here are the players that are leading the pack and will make the team.

Starters: G Kyrie Irving, G Bradley Beal, F Giannis Antetokounmpo, F Kevin Durant, F Joel Embiid

Next Set of Locks: G James Harden, G Jaylen Brown, F Jayson Tatum

With four spots remaining, there’s room for one guard, one forward, and two wild cards. I’d expect the reserves to come from this pool of players.

  • F Julius Randle
  • F Khris Middleton
  • F Domantas Sabonis
  • G Trae Young
  • G Zach LaVine
  • F Bam Adebayo
  • F Jerami Grant
  • F Jimmy Butler
  • F Gordon Hayward
  • F Tobias Harris
  • F Ben Simmons

Right off the bat, I’m giving one spot to Sabonis, who’s averaging 21.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 5.7 assists. Sabonis is the best player on a Pacers team that’s fourth in the Eastern Conference. He’s making the team.

At least one more guard is making the team so pick either LaVine or Young. With two spots remaining, there are few ways this could go. Simmons, Harris, and Middleton could be rewarded for being second-level stars on top teams. (In the Eastern Conference, Sixers are first and the Bucks are third.) Will they reward Bam, Grant, or Hayward for making sizable jumps in their numbers from a season ago?

Full disclosure, I’m a Knicks fan so I’m biased. However, besides numbers and the team’s success, the All-Star game is about narratives. With Randle at the helm, the Knicks went from a projected lottery team to sixth in the East. Randle is the reason why the Knicks are one of the best turnaround stories in the NBA.

The Knicks are back right now, all thanks to their future All-Star, Julius Randle.

Do you like Tom Brady? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

New York Knicks: Is This The Start Of Something Special?

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks

The New York Knicks are a competent basketball team.

Say it again with pride.

The New York Knicks are competent and entertaining basketball team.

After a 112-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, the Knicks hold a record of 5-3 despite an 0-2 start. For any other team in the NBA, a 5-3 record would be nothing to celebrate. Because it’s the Knicks, it calls for cartwheels.

The Knicks are over .500 for the first time since 2012-2013. As a fan of the team who’s watched every game this season, wins do not tell the whole story. There is an attitude and swagger to this team that hasn’t been present at Madison Square Garden since the 2013 Playoffs.

It all starts with Tom Thibodeau. Not hiring Tom Thibodeau earlier when the team had multiple chances this past decade now looks silly. Thibs has the Knicks buying into his system of team defense and playing hard every possession.

The Knicks are seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency with 104.0. Last season, they ranked 23rd with 110.6. It’s early, but the improvement on the defensive end is eye-opening.

Then, there’s Julius Randle, who is on an absolute tear to start the season, averaging career highs of 23.1 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. Thibs calls Randle the “Engine of the Knicks.” If you were to ask any Knick fan as to what would happen first, Randle becomes an efficient stud or Randle gets traded, every single fan would pick the latter. Does Randle still take questionable shots? Yes. Does he still commit dumb fouls? Yes. But, the good finally outweighs the bad.

Speaking of improvement, RJ Barrett looks like a completely different player from a year ago. In my season preview, I said Barrett needed to showcase the all-star potential in his sophomore season. After back-to-back 25+ point games against Indiana and Atlanta, the “Maple Mamba” is gaining confidence quickly.

Did someway say quickly? I’m referring to Immanuel Quickley, the first-round pick out of Kentucky. Quickley might be the most fearless rookie to lace it up for the Knicks in the 21st century. He was an integral part of the come-from-behind win over Atlanta, tallying 16 points. Plus, he went to the “James Harden School of How to Draw Fouls.”

Every night, a different player seems to step up. Against the Jazz, Austin scored 14 straight points in the fourth quarter. Against the Hawks, Randle, Barrett, and Quickley combined for 70 points. When the Knicks played the Bucks, Elfrid Payton dropped 27 points and 7 assists. Obi Toppin and Alec Burks have barely played this season so once they come back, the Knicks will have a solid bench.

Maybe I’m drinking the Kool Aid too much. It’s only been eight games. If there’s one thing about the Knicks, they let you down in the worst way. For a team that hasn’t finished with a .500 record in eight years, do I even have a right to be an optimist?

After listening to an inspiring quote from Rivers, how can I not have believe this year might be different?

This emotional high won’t last forever. There will be a rough patch at some point. With that being said, something about this year gives me the confidence to believe the Knicks will persevere.

It’s early, but this could be the start of something special.

Do you believe the New York Knicks can sustain this success? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

New York Knicks: Realistic Expectations For 2020-2021 NBA Season

rj barrett New York Knicks

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.

Final Prediction

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.