The New York Knicks will have a brand new starting lineup headed into 2021-22. What should fans expect with the slight changes?
After exceeding expectations last season, the New York Knicks are ready to keep building and moving forward in 2021-22. Instead of going for the big splash in free agency, the front office just focused on maintaining the core and adding elsewhere when necessary. Throw in good drafting, and both Leon Rose and Scott Perry should have several suitors wanting to take them out for a T-bone at Gallagher’s.
Then, just for some bonus New Yorker points, point guard and Bronx native Kemba Walker signed a two-year deal.
Make no mistake, the New York Knicks are going to experience some regression this season. No one expected them to win 41 games last year, let alone make the playoffs. Just because I predicted Julius Randle would be an MVP finalist doesn’t mean he’ll be a triple-double machine again.
We’ll discuss what to expect from the New York Knicks on several levels over the rest of the offseason. For now, let’s kick off with the starting lineup.
PG: Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker was literally born to play for the New York Knicks. He’s from the Bronx, went to high school in Harlem, and starred on Madison Square Garden’s hallowed court when he played at UConn.
But Walker’s a little older and wiser now. At 31, he’s a ten-year veteran who’s battled knee problems for a couple of years. The Kemba Walker coming to the New York Knicks now won’t average upwards of 20 points per game. And why should he? Randle, RJ Barrett, and plenty of others are there to help shoulder the load.
All Walker needs to do is average an efficient 15-20 points per game, shoot at least 35% from three, and help his teammates do the rest.
SG: Evan Fournier
At $78 million over four years, the New York Knicks paid plenty to bring Evan Fournier to the Big Apple. He replaces Reggie Bullock, who posted 10.9 points and shot 41% as a three-and-D last year.
Except Fournier is more than just that. The Frenchman posted 17.1 points for the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics in 2020-21 and shot 41.3% from long range. He immediately boosts an offense that went cold far too often late in games last season.
Fournier doesn’t necessarily need to be a high-volume scorer for the New York Knicks. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll probably go off for 20 or more several times. But if he can just be consistent from three and an otherwise reliable scorer, that’ll be enough.
SF: RJ Barrett
Last season was a perfect example of not only Barrett’s overall potential as a player, but how smart a player he is. The former Duke Blue Devil is still just 21 and still learning, but vastly improved his range in all aspects. Barrett also got more comfortable as a finisher late in games.
In the same piece in which I predicted Randle would be an MVP finalist, I also said Barrett would average 20 or more points for the season. Even with the additions of Fournier and Walker and Barrett moving back to the 3 from the 2, this is still an achievable goal. There might be a dip from shooting over 40% from downtown last year, but definitely look for his growth to continue.
PF: Julius Randle
The last year has been incredibly kind to Julius Randle. He got in great shape ahead of last season and posted 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and six assists, all career highs. The reigning Most Improved Player also made 41.1% of his threes and netted a four-year, $117 million extension earlier this month.
As was said earlier, it’s unlikely we’ll see Randle be the versatile point forward he was in ’20-21. However, the additions of Walker and Fournier probably mean he won’t be double-teamed as often. Cue an uptick in scoring and rebounding, and Julius Randle’s potential MVP season could happen in a New York Knicks uniform.
C: Mitchell Robinson
Robinson’s case is interesting because after another injury-riddled season, the New York Knicks might be ready to move on from him. Nerlens Noel re-signed with the team for three years after stepping up as the starting center. He also led the league in defensive box plus/minus (DBPM). On top of that, ageless wonder Taj Gibson signed on for another year.
That said, in fairness to Mitchell Robinson, he was coming into his own before hand and foot injuries upended his season. The young seven-footer is a phenomenal rim protector when healthy and likely would have set a new career high in VORP if he played a full season.
All this to say that it’s unlikely the Knicks trade Robinson soon. Marc Berman of The New York Post reported the 23-year-old’s fourth-year option was picked up for this season. This means Robinson hits free agency next summer, but Berman added. the team was “hopeful” it could extend him.
A lot can change between now and Opening Night, but count on this. Mitchell Robinson is in his contract year and looking for an extension. If he doesn’t get one before the season starts, look for him to play his heart out on both sides of the court and do literally anything to stay healthy.