The New York Knicks are talented on the wings entering the 2021-22 season. Let’s take a deeper dive into the position.
RJ Barrett is one of the centerpieces of the franchise. The New York Knicks have big plans for the former No. 3 overall pick. Barrett is the team’s top wing, but he will be playing alongside another talented swingman — Evan Fournier.
The Knicks signed Fournier in the offseason to help alleviate some of their shooting woes. The hope is that the additions of Fournier and Kemba Walker open up more space for Barrett in the lane.
It can be difficult to differentiate between guards and wings. Alec Burks, Barrett, and Fournier are all ‘tweeners who could fit into either category. But for the purposes of this season preview series, guards are ballhandlers and wings are off-ball players.
Barrett and Fournier can and will handle the ball at times, but they will be off the ball for the most part. Let’s take a look at the wings in the second part of our four-part New York Knicks season preview.
X-Factor: RJ Barrett
Make no mistake about it, the Knicks can only reach their ceiling in 2021-22 if RJ Barrett takes another leap forward. His jump from his rookie season to year two was significant.
Maintaining his 40% clip from three-point range is going to be key for Barrett. In theory, he should have a ton of open looks with Walker and Fournier drawing far more attention than Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock.
That bodes well for Barrett. The Duke product shot 32.9% on “open” threes and 42.1% on “wide open” threes per NBA.com.
But Barrett’s biggest improvements need to come on the defensive end. By letting Bullock walk in free agency, they lost their top wing defender. Barrett is the likely replacement and he’s up for the challenge.
RJ Barrett is ready to accept the challenge of taking on tougher defensive assignments this season:
"Being a two-way player is something I've always strived for. It's how I want to be known. I'm all for the challenge, and I won't back down." pic.twitter.com/l4shDIT7Ba
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) September 27, 2021
“Being a two-way player is something that I’ve always strived for,” Barrett told reporters earlier this week. “It’s how I want to be known. If Coach puts me in that position to be that guy, guarding ‘the guy’ every not, I’m all for it. I’m all for the challenge and I won’t back down.”
Star in His Role: Evan Fournier
The Knicks paid Evan Fournier a nice chunk of change in the offseason. He’s almost definitely going to be a fixture in the starting lineup for the entire season, but New York doesn’t need him to be a star. They need him to be a star in his role.
A successful season for Fournier will be marked by solid defense, good three-point shooting, and some secondary playmaking to alleviate pressure on the point guards. He’s more than capable of providing this and then some.
His ability to hit threes off of screens is going to be his most valuable addition to the Knicks. For all the love that Bullock (deservedly) got for last season, Fournier is a much better player overall.
Take What’s Yours: Quentin Grimes
Quentin Grimes is a rookie, which generally means one thing on a team coached by Tom Thibodeau — minutes will be few and far between. Thibs is stubborn when it comes to playing rookies. He has guys that he trusts and he sticks with them.
In all likelihood, Grimes is going to be relegated to the end of the bench at the beginning of the season. But when someone eventually gets hurt or needs a day off, Grimes is going to be one of the first guys Thibodeau will consider. When he has his opportunity, he needs to take advantage of it.
Last Shot: Kevin Knox
Speaking of opportunities and advantages, Kevin Knox is on his last legs as a Knick. He has followed a similar career path to Frank Ntilikina. Knox puts together flashes of excellence on one end of the floor, but can’t seem to get it together on the other end. The only difference is that Knox is offensive and Ntilikina is defensive.
Anything can happen in the NBA and Knox might have one more chance to prove himself in New York. More than anyone else on this roster, Knox can’t afford to squander any opportunities he gets. Time is running out on the lottery pick entering year four.