When Tom Thibodeau took over the New York Knicks, several things were sure. The Knicks would play hard basketball, they would play defence and the starters would play 450 minutes per game. Nobody expected the Knicks to be anything else than a disappointment though. The only light at the end of the tunnel was considered the fact they would bag a good pick at the draft. The Knicks playoff chances were not even discussed.
After failing to sign any of the bigger free agents and after once again not getting the top 3 picks, a classic tank season was expected in preparation for better years. But the Knicks surprised everyone ensuring playoff basketball for the Big Apple.
Knicks Playoff chances
Had you asked anybody in the NBA what the Knicks playoff chances are in the offseason, everybody would say zero. If you asked Knicks fans they would probably be a bit more optimistic but not by much. Vegas set the over/under at 22.5 wins which ranked them among the worst teams in the League.
As everybody knows by know, Vegas was terribly wrong as the Knicks ended up winning 41 games which was good enough for the 4th seed.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Knicks did not aggressively pursue any free agents this summer. The new president of basketball operations Leon Rose put all the emphasis on the development of the young core.
Once again the balls did not land in their favour so the Knicks selected Obi Toppin with the 8th pick. It was a solid pick widely regarded as a good selection but what turned out to be a home run was the number 23rd pick which became Immanuel Quickley.
One notable trade was the one that landed them Derrick Rose with Detroit because, well, Thibodeau. They signed Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks which were great moves especially considering the contracts are very team-friendly. The biggest offseason move was the hiring of Tom Thibodeau who once again showed how good of a coach he really is.
In terms of departures, the Knicks did not lose much. They got rid of Dennis Smith Jr. They also got rid of Ellington, Dotson and Bobby Portis and they did not regret any of those moves.
How the season went
The Knicks entered this season without too much optimism and you could see why in the first 15 games.
On February 10th, the Knicks had an 11-15 record which was good enough for 11th in the Eastern Conference. However, things were slowly starting to work out. By the All-Star break, they had a 19-18 record.
The biggest driving force behind that was Julius Randle who deservedly became an All-Star and soon you started to sense optimism in the Big Apple. After the break, they mostly played .500 basketball until April. From April 10th to April 24th they won 9 games in a row pushing their way over .500. In the end, their great play continued and they ended the year with a 41-31 record. A huge boost in that heroic effort was Derrick Rose who played his best basketball in years during that stretch.
The undisputed key player for New York is Julius Randle. He played the best basketball of his career this year and he should easily win the Most Improved Player award.
Randle completely exploded on the Knicks showing his full potential. His numbers across the board are career highs.
Another impressive thing is his three-point shooting which jumped from .277 to .413 this year. And he is shooting two threes per game more than last year.
The Knicks will enter the postseason with the starting unit they trusted most this season. It’s a unit that shared the floor 29 times this season. It’s Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julis Randle and Nerlens Noel. A key component will be Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson from the bench. Both should see increased minutes in the postseason.
Knowing Thibodeau, the rotation will be short (7-8 players) with Toppin, Quickley and Ntilikina possibly getting minutes. A noted absence will be Mitchell Robinson who will miss the postseason due to injuries.
Knicks playoff chances: Final thoughts and expectations
The New York Knicks are the biggest surprise of the 2021 season. When you compare predictions by analysts and sportsbooks one can’t have a different conclusion.
Proper basketball returned to MSG and all seems well. Thibodeau managed to create a playoff team from the eternal losers. The roster overachieved looking at it on paper but their postseason position was earned. The Franchise finally embraced developing young players instead of chasing free agents.
The job coach Thibodeau did must not go unnoticed as he will certainly be on the shortlist for the Coach of the Year award.
The Knicks playoff chances are not huge this year but neither are their expectations. The fact that they will play postseason basketball is a success in itself, and not a minor one. However, they should not be underestimated and they can create problems for any team in the east. They can advance to the 2nd round as the Hawks are a decent matchup for them. However, that would probably be the ceiling for such a young and inexperienced team.