The 2021-22 NBA season is set to tip off on Oct. 19 (ET). In preparation for the upcoming season, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Next up? The New York Knicks.
2020-21 season record
41-31, fourth in Eastern Conference
Quentin Grimes, No. 25 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Rokas Jokubaitis, No. 34 pick in 2021 NBA Draft - draft and stash
Miles McBride, No. 36 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Jericho Sims, No. 58 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Dwayne Bacon, free agency
Evan Fournier, free agency
Kemba Walker, free agency
Reggie Bullock, free agency
Frank Ntilikina, free agency
Elfrid Payton, free agency
|PG||Kemba Walker||Immanuel Quickley||Miles McBride||Lucas Vildoza|
|SG||Evan Fournier||Derrick Rose||Quentin Grimes||MJ Walker|
|SF||RJ Barrett||Alec Burks||Kevin Knox||Dwayne Bacon|
|PF||Julius Randle||Taj Gibson||Obi Toppin||Aamir Sims|
|C||Mitchell Robinson||Nerlens Noel||Jericho Sims|
3 key storylines
After missing the playoffs in seven-consecutive seasons, Knicks fans and New York media became accustomed to watching the team fail. Going into last season, those expectations weren't any different than the seven previous years. However, in the first season under head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks established an identity built around a defensive-minded culture and shocked the NBA world by not only making the playoffs, but claiming a top-four seed in the East and home court advantage in the first round.
New York would fall to the Atlanta Hawks in five games, but the team still received a resounding applause on their home floor upon their elimination as a credit to a surprisingly great season.
Now, heading into the 2021-22 season, the expectations have changed. The Knicks are now seen as a perennial playoff team behind All-Star forward Julius Randle and a deep supporting cast and the city won't settle for anything less.
Can New York manage those expectations and return to the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2013? Or will they fold under pressure and return to a place outside of the playoff picture?
Can Julius Randle replicate last season?
The Knicks rewarded Randle for his stellar season in which he was named Most Improved Player of the Year and a first-time All-Star by signing the 26-year-old to a four-year, $117 million extension this offseason. Moving forward as New York's franchise player, Randle will be expected to produce at the same level he did a season ago.
Averaging a career-high 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game while shooting 41.1 percent from 3 sets the bar very high, but it's more than just stepping up during the regular season. Randle had a very forgettable postseason, only averaging 18.0 points per game on ugly shooting splits of 29.8 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range. That lack of production played a huge role in the Knicks' first-round exit and the star forward will need to bounce back in order for his team to maintain their level of play from a season ago.
This is a massive season for Randle, who looks to replicate what he did in 2020-21.
MORE: The Knicks are making moves to remain relevant
Figuring out the backcourt
One of the Knicks' biggest voids to fill heading into the offseason was that of playmakers and shot creators. The front office did just that, drafting a pair of rookie guards in Quentin Grimes and Deuce McBride, re-signing Derrick Rose and Alec Burks, and adding Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker and Dwayne Bacon in free agency.
Add RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley to that list of players and coach Thibodeau has a number of guys he can rely on to make plays and create offence. The question now is how will he manage to find playing time for all of these players?
It's likely that Walker, Fournier and Barrett will start in a three-guard offence of sorts (depending on if you consider Barrett a small forward). After that, it's safe to assume that Rose, Burks and Quickley take priority over the two rookies and Bacon, but there could still be some reserve guard minutes up for grabs.
The Knicks' backcourt battle will be something to follow in training camp and preseason.
5 games to watch
Oct. 20 vs. Boston Celtics
Opening Night versus a team they were jockeying with for seeding for most of last season. The Knicks and Celtics had some battles and this year, there's even more fuel added to the fire. With Kemba Walker being traded from Boston to the Oklahoma City Thunder, then bought out and signed by the Knicks, the former Celtics point guard will have a chip on his shoulder. The Knicks also swiped Evan Fournier from the Celtics in free agency after Boston failed to meet the Frenchman's asking price, so there's plenty of storylines to go around here.
Nov. 23 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The first look at the trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook as teammates on the Madison Square Garden floor, this matchup should be must-see TV. When you take into account that All-Star forward Julius Randle began his career with the Lakers, it adds another layer to a star-studded matchup.
Nov. 30 at Brooklyn Nets
The NBA's version of the Subway Series. The Nets are expected to be the favourites to win the NBA title, seemingly taking the crown as the best team in New York. The Knicks' scrappy demeanour may have something to say about that, though. There will be no love lost between these two teams in any of their matchups.
Dec. 25 vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Knicks' first chance to get revenge on the team that knocked them out of the playoffs comes on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden. Trae Young versus the MSG crowd became the best storyline of their first-round playoff series a year ago, and you know Knicks' faithful will be out in full force for this one. Can Julius Randle bounce back from a poor first-round performance against the team that appears to be his kryptonite?
Jan. 26 at Miami Heat
The new-look Heat should be one of the Knicks' biggest rivals this season, with the expectation that they'll be fighting for playoff seeding just like last year. As two gritty, defensive-minded teams, each meeting will be a dog fight between these two teams.
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