Writer’s Note: This article was written directly after the New York Knicks Monday night away game against the Boston Celtics.
While the 2023-24 NBA Season is too young for the New York Knicks to be planning any Fifth Avenue championship parades, they have had their moments where they play like an NBA Finals squad.
RJ Barrett is finally embracing the role that New York envisioned when they drafted him five years ago, as the former Duke star is putting together a solid campaign so far. The Knicks have an excellent 5-2 record when he plays and have failed to win a game while he has been injured. However, while all seems to be going right in “The City That Never Sleeps,” that isn’t the case. Julius Randle is amid a historically poor start to a season, albeit with only 10 games in. I will discuss this and other Knicks news in this week’s edition of Sargeant’s Orders.
Tom Thibodeau’s squad has faced an uncomfortable truth for half a decade now. If Barrett, the player brought in to resurrect the struggling franchise, was on the court, odds are the team was worse off with him playing those minutes. The Canadian player’s efficiency at his position last season was near the bottom of the league, as the team was 12.3 points per 100 possessions worse when he was on the court last season. It was not just the advanced statistics saying this. By watching the Knicks’ games, all too often, fans could see the veteran guard take low-percentage shots, turn the ball over and make poor decisions on the defensive end. However, this season has been a different story for the 23-year-old. The 6-foot-7 forward looks better than ever, and the stats back that up. Through 10 games, New York is 21.2 points per 100 possessions better when the Toronto native is in the game. While this is encouraging to see, he will more than likely not be this efficient come April.
Barrett has only played seven games and it takes nearly 20-25 games before you can envision how a team’s season will shake out. Despite that, 21.2 is a massive number; only Nikola Jokić had a better total last season. These stats are not an MVP endorsement 10 games in; they are merely an observation of how large of a jump he has made in this young NBA season. His on/off numbers will likely become less inflated as time progresses. However, with his growth as a decision-maker and how Thibodeau has shifted him between rotations, it’s hard to see him regress to the poor efficiency levels he was at last season.
If New York wishes to make a deep playoff run this season, they will need their nearly $30 million-a-year man to perform up to expectations. Randle has struggled with all aspects of his game and many fans have compared his shooting lines to concert tour dates. It is hard to see the former All-Star continue to struggle as he recovers from an ankle injury and his numbers improve. It took the 6-foot-9 forward until the start of training camp before he participated in five-on-five drills, so it may take him a minute to get back into the swing of things. While his shooting touch will sharpen over time, something of encouragement for New York is his relentless effort in the paint. Randle has been excellent on the glass with over 10 boards a game, helping his squad create offensive opportunities even if he isn’t able to.
Alongside Barrett and Randle, Quentin Grimes has been an underused player in the Knicks’ offense. The 23-year-old has been a starter this year, averaging 24 minutes a game. Despite his extended time, the Texas native has not put up glamorous scoring numbers, averaging less than eight points per game. However, Grimes capitalizes on the few chances he does get, shooting 40% from downtown. Since he typically shoots from beyond the arc, looking at his points per shot attempt is the best way to gauge his shooting efficiency. With that criteria, Grimes is an efficient shooter, scoring 124 points in 100 shot attempts. Therefore, the more shots he puts up, the better off New York tends to do. Despite that, it isn’t uncommon to see him finish the night with only 4 or 5 shot attempts. Last season, the New York guard finished second on the team from beyond the arc behind Jalen Brunson, so his early shooting success isn’t just a fluke.
It makes sense why he isn’t getting as many looks. The squad has a loaded frontcourt, with Immanuel Quickley and Josh Hart both bringing in nearly 25 minutes per game. The different looks that Thibodeau gives opposing teams will be something to look out for, as he has done a decent job so far against a strong schedule.
While we are only 10 games in, the Knicks remain a fascinating team. The season is young, with only three games separating the top-10 Eastern Conference teams. The Knicks have played well, considering their schedule. It will be interesting to revisit these questions 10 games from now because it is early in the season. If Barrett plays a fraction of how he is now and Randle returns to full health, it is hard to see many teams competing with New York. Since they have so much draft capital, it’s hard to see them not putting themselves in the sweepstakes to acquire a star, whether in the draft or at the trade deadline. This start is encouraging, and the Knicks are in the best position yet to win their first NBA title in over 50 years.