NBA Season Preview: New York Knicks

2019-20 Regular Season Record: 21-45 (.318%), 12th in Eastern Conference, Missed Playoffs
Head Coach: David Fizdale (4-18) & Mike Miller (17-27) 

The Knicks have been miserable for a number of years now (184-374, .329% since 2013-14), and last season was no different. New York has employed 7 different coaches in that span and owner James Dolan always seems to find himself making headlines for all of the wrong reasons. RJ Barrett, the 3rd overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, never found his footing and struggled in his rookie year, shooting 40.2% from the field, 61.4% from the free throw line and generally looking lost at times. Veteran Marcus Morris was the team’s leading scorer (19.6 ppg) but was traded at the deadline in a 3-team trade with the Lakers and Clippers, that landed the Knicks a 2020 & 2021 1st round pick. 2nd year man Mitchell Robinson showed glimpses of promise with per 36 minute averages of 15.0 ppg, 10.9 rpg and 3.0 bpg, playing alongside Julius Randle (19.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.1 apg with little defense to speak of). Unfortunately for Knicks fans, there wasn’t much else to cheer for, again, last season.

Can Tom Thibodeau Save the Knicks?

The Knicks made a high-profile splash in the head coaching market by adding Tom Thibodeau, who has previously led the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves. He has compiled an overall record of 598-352 (.589%) in his career, winning the 2010-11 NBA Coach of the Year award. For Thibodeau becoming head coach of the Knicks is a dream come true, saying:

I think I experienced it during the '90s that there's no better place to be than Madison Square Garden. And so I love challenges, I love that city, I love the arena, I love the fans and I'm excited about the team.  

What exactly can Thibodeau do for the Knicks? He’s known as a tough-as-nails type coach who works his players hard, riding his best players as far as they’ll take him. His practices are

notoriously long and unrelenting and have earned him two reputations: a coach who cares about winning above all else, and a coach who runs his players into the ground. His players logged so many minutes in Chicago that the front office was forced to intervene.

As with most task-master-type head coaches (in any sport), this act inevitably wears thin, and in a major market such as New York, the mecca of basketball, the pressure will mount quickly. Can Thibodeau save the Knicks and bring them back to the playoffs this season? More than likely not. What’s more likely is that NYK will have another high lottery pick for next year’s draft.

Obi Toppin

When the Knicks drafted Obi Toppin as the 8th overall draft pick in this year’s draft, they got a 22 year old player who can make an immediate impact in the NBA. Don't forget, Toppin is from Brooklyn. 
He was the consensus MVP in college basketball last year and is an explosive leaper with good shooting ability. He runs the floor hard, which Thibodeau will like, and is a highlight waiting to happen, as he led the NCAA in dunks last year. There’s no doubt that Toppin will bring excitement to the Knicks with his above-the-rim abilities, and that has to be considered a win for Knicks fans. For the first time in a while, it seems like the Knicks got this draft pick right. 

What Does RJ Barrett need to do to Warrant the top-3 Pick in the Draft?

RJ Barrett didn’t necessarily live up to the hype of being the 3rd overall pick, especially when the first two picks were Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Playing for one of the most iconic franchises in all of sports and in the mecca of basketball isn’t easy either. Try being Auston Mathews in Toronto or Zeke Elliot in Dallas – they’ll tell you what it’s like to be in the middle of a media firestorm. RJ was left off both the 1st and 2nd All-Rookie teams and still isn’t pleased about it, and will be using it to fuel his upcoming sophomore year in the league. The clear and obvious thing that RJ needs to improve is his shooting – all over the court, as his percentages were terrible from the free throw line, the 3-point line and everywhere else. He ranked last among 128 qualifying players last season in both effective field goal percentage (44.5%) and true shooting percentage (47.9%), per ESPN's Stats & Information. New head coach Tom Thibodeau seems to be high on Barrett:

I want him to focus on his defense, his playmaking. I think the scoring is going to come. He's got a big upside to him. But also be a leader. How you practice, how you conduct yourself each and every day. How unselfish you are. Those are important parts of winning. And also to understand when to shoot and when to pass. I think that's a challenge for the entire team. And of course that's a big part of winning.

An extra year in the league, combined with an extended offseason has hopefully remedied his shot mechanics. 

Tom's Take: despite improvement from Barrett, and Rookie of the Year candidate Toppin, the Knicks will be heading back to the lottery next year. 

Photo Credit: Rich Kane/Icon Sportswire