RJ Barrett
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Even in a likely non-playoff season, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the New York Knicks in 2019-20.

It isn’t easy being a New York Knicks fan.

Every season begins with a modicum of excitement in some form, only to turn to grave disappointment. The playoffs, more often than not, are a pipe dream. Strong draft picks are a rarity.

Free-agent signings, more often than not, become reasons not to spend money despite how much the Knicks may need to add a big name.

The 2019-20 season expects to offer more of the same, but there’s something different about these New York Knicks. They have swagger. Nobody is afraid to be tough on defense, even if some actions are frowned upon. It’s as though everyone understands this season is not so much about winning it all but working towards the common goal of being a winning team again.

The point is, for as rough as the upcoming season may be at some parts, the Knicks will be fun to watch.

Moreover, fans have plenty of reasons to be excited, especially the following five.

No. 5: The rebirth of the Knicks/Nets rivalry

Remember when the Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn in 2012? This was supposed to be the great schism of New York hoops. Built around a feisty core, the Nets would usurp the Knicks as the city’s true basketball power. It was Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed: NBA Edition.

Questionable moves from both teams turned the rivalry more into Knoxville vs. Butterbean, but things are different now. The Nets made the playoffs last year and played an exciting game with their fast-paced offense.

And even though Brooklyn fell in the first round, they put the rest of the NBA on notice in free agency. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were both signed to max contracts. Durant may miss the season as he recovers from a torn Achilles, but the Nets definitely shoved the Knicks out of the spotlight with these moves.

However, don’t expect the Knicks to go down without a fight. Their moves didn’t turn many heads, but mean enough for the Nets-Knicks rivalry to be alive and well once again.

No. 4: RJ Barrett

The Knicks didn’t win the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, nor did they land dynamic point guard Ja Morant in the NBA Draft. No, New York landed Duke swingman RJ Barrett with the third pick, and the future may be now.

Barrett is still just 19 years old and has a lot of work to do on his game. His jump shot and three-point game leave a lot to be desired, though they are slowly improving.

But the fact of the matter is, even though Kristaps Porzingis wasn’t that long ago, RJ Barrett is the most exciting Knicks draft pick in years. He has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone and has drawn comparisons from Jalen Rose to Kobe Bryant.

It’ll require patience but just watch. Once he learns to slow his roll, Barrett could be a special Knick for years to come.

No. 3: Julius Randle

The Knicks made up for whiffing on Durant, Irving, and every other A-list free agent in adding Randle. The former Kentucky Wildcat had a career year for the New Orleans Pelicans last season, posting 21.4 points per game on 52.4% shooting. Randle also showed an improved three-point shot while averaging 8.7 rebounds.

This was enough for the Knicks to give Randle a three-year deal and he is, for all intents and purposes, the new star of the team. He is all but certain to shoulder the lion’s share of scoring and should prove a great frontcourt partner for second-year center Mitchell Robinson.

He has a dominant presence, is a hard worker, and can be exciting in several different ways. New York fans should have no problem embracing him so long as he stays healthy and consistent.

No. 2: Defense, defense and more defense

The worst part about the Knicks’ recent rough stretch is that throughout it all, the team hasn’t had an identity. Despite having a wide array of notable players pass through Madison Square Garden’s hallowed halls, little more than bad play and drama has designed the Knicks teams of the 21st century.

Not this year, ladies and gentlemen. If there’s one thing GM Scott Perry and coach David Fizdale have done, it’s making sure everyone knows these Knicks are a tough defensive squad. The 1990s squads have called and, no, they do not want their swagger back.

Rather, they surely want this team to bring back the tough defense and never-say-attitude which made the ’90s teams great. A full reset means sometimes going back to one’s roots, where it all began. New York has always been a defense town, so watch as guys like Randle, Robinson, Taj Gibson, and Marcus Morris bring it back.

No. 1: Because we have to be

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. It isn’t easy being a Knicks fan. Every season begins with the faintest sliver of hope, and fate snatches it away almost immediately.

Yet, even though the Knicks won only 17 games last season, they never stopped playing hard. Even in not making the playoffs in 2019-20, the win total is a near-lock to go up. Just by how much is unclear, but it’s not as though New York will enter the season with a defeatist attitude.

Anyway, what I mean is this team knows it isn’t perfect and still believes in itself. Everyone is just excited to play together and wants to take a step towards being a winning team again.

All of that is impossible without the support of the New York faithful. As much as the Knicks’ players need each other, the fans are needed just as much.

Thus, when you go to a game this year, cheer just a little louder than usual. You won’t regret it.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.