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What should each New York Knicks player seek to accomplish in the 2021-22 season?

Josh Benjamin

The New York Knicks will take the court for the 2021-22 season in less than a week and for the first time in over 20 years, there’s excitement in the air.

No, I’m dead serious this time. The New York Knicks are actually good heading into a season. Making the playoffs last year wasn’t a fluke. The pregame beers are ready to flow at Stout. Amadeus Pizza is staffed accordingly for the postgame rush.

Most important of all, Madison Square Garden’s energy is bringing the noise louder than New York’s own Anthrax‘s guitars and Radio Raheem’s boombox combined.

It’s clear the New York Knicks are back for more and they mean business. The whole roster is a year older, wiser, and wants a bigger taste of the playoff hoops we received in 2021. They’re reloaded and ready.

Oh, and have we mentioned Kemba Walker has come home to claim his destiny as a New York Knicks legend?

Simply put, after winning 41 games last season, the Knicks know they can keep up with the best in the NBA. Even as growing pains humbled them in the playoffs, coach Tom Thibodeau has retooled and adjusted accordingly. This team has one goal for the season: keep pushing forward.

As the team has goals, so should the individual players for the upcoming year. Let’s take a look at each of our New York Knicks and see what they need to do for a successful season.

 

Kemba Walker: Embrace your destiny

Kemba Walker was born to be a New York Knick and everyone knows it. He was born and raised in the Bronx. He played high school ball in Harlem. Even better, MSG’s raucous crowds are no stranger to the former UConn Husky and Big East Tournament star.

It may have taken pitstops in Charlotte, Boston, and a quick layover in Oklahoma City to happen, but it’s official now. Kemba Walker, a true blue New Yorker, is the starting point guard for the New York Knicks. Let’s see him step up and take the team even farther.

 

Evan Fournier: Lots of 3, but improve the D

Unlike he was during his days with the Orlando Magic, Fournier isn’t in New York to be a primary scorer. Rather, he’s here as a pure shooter in the mold of last year’s popular three-and-D Reggie Bullock. Cut to the Atlanta Hawks’ backcourt roasting Bullock like a Halal Guys kebab, and the Knicks signed the Frenchman to a $73 million deal in free agency.

Fournier has shot nearly 38% from three for his career, but has never been known for his defense. Playing for Thibodeau’s New York Knicks, he’ll have to learn quickly how to strike that balance.

 

RJ Barrett: Let your Maple Mamba shine

It’s really not that farfetched to compare Barrett with the late, great Kobe Bryant. Both were considered raw prospects in their respective draft classes, albeit with incredible upside and pure ice water in their veins on the court. Barrett espoused this quality several times in his second New York Knicks season, showing more confidence and grand improvement in his long-range shooting.

This season, Barrett should look to take another big step forward, and this time towards superstardom. He averaged 17.6 points last season and with a major payday on the horizon, look for him to post at least 20 per game and then some in 2021-22.

 

Julius Randle: Three letters. M-V-P.

Randle did it all last year. He ran the point, was an excellent rebounder, and put the New York Knicks on his back more than a handful of times. Instead of getting proper Most Valuable Player consideration, the All-Star forward’s breakout season was instead named the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

Such disrespect. Randle, now a motivated team leader with a brand new contract is out to prove last year was no fluke. Forget regression. He’s out hunting for a championship and he’s bringing the Knicks with him. That means bringing the MVP trophy home to MSG, or at least being a finalist.

 

Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel: Stay dominant, but stay healthy first

Even as Robinson missed most of last season with hand and foot fractures, the New York Knicks’ defense held firm thanks to Noel. His overall numbers were modest at 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game, but he also led the league in DBPM. By modern analytical standards, he could have been the Defensive Player of the Year.

Yet, neither man has played in the preseason and both have a history of injuries. More crucial is Robinson could be due a contract extension soon. These two are great defensive anchors when they can play, which makes it all the more important they stay healthy even if it means some load management here and there.

 

Derrick Rose: Mentor the next generation of Knicks leaders

Derrick Rose came over in a trade with the Detroit Pistons last season, and something just clicked. The New York Knicks became a better-rounded team and learned how to communicate better on the court. Even with injuries and now 33 years old, Rose’s return was barely a question in the summer.

Given his confidence playing for Thibodeau, Rose’s goal’s this year are better focused off the court. He’s already a great leader, so his goal will be to bring out similar qualities in younger players like Obi Toppin and RJ Barrett. If he can further mold a budding leader in Randle, all the better.

 

Alec Burks: Play your game

Burks did it all in his first season with the New York Knicks. Had it not been for the Rose trade, he easily could have been a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year. He was an absolute spark plug off the bench and also showed marked improvement on defense.

It’ll be interesting to see if he regresses on D, but Burks knows his job off the bench. Score points in bunches. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

Immanuel Quickley: Move beyond the 3

There’s zero doubt that Quickley was the steal of his draft class. His NBA 2K-like range blew the roof off of MSG more than once, even in a game without fans in attendance. Yet, despite being New York’s new favorite shooter not named Joe Harris, many insisted Quickley could be a point guard.

Though Quickley showed he could handle leading an offense in the Summer League, he was still a bit too three-dependent. He averaged 17.8 shots in the Summer League, more than half of which came from beyond the arc, and he shot just 33.7% from the field. He’s still young at 22 but if Quickley is serious about being a point guard for the Knicks, he’ll expand his offense outside the three-pointer.

 

Obi Toppin: Work hard, fly high

It was truly an experience watching Toppin’s development in his rookie year. He went from having firm hands and zero court awareness to a focused bench big with a high basketball IQ. Be it throwing down a dunk or sinking a three, Toppin is due for a huge leap forward this season.

Toppin is clearly a hard worker and a conscientious guy based on how much he stepped up his game over the course of his rookie season. As a sophomore, look for him to demand the ball more off the bench and, knock on wood, enter the Slam Dunk Contest.

 

Taj Gibson: Stay strong and enjoy the ride

Brooklyn-born Taj Gibson is living the dream: playing for the New York Knicks he cheered for as a youth. He’s 36 and on the back end of his career but can still be a great rim protector. Playing behind Robinson, Noel, and maybe rookie Jericho Sims, Gibson’s job this season is simple: enjoy every single second on the court.

 

The rookies: Watch and learn

Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims are the most likely rookies to make the New York Knicks roster, as Miles McBride hasn’t played much in the preseason. Grimes is a scrappy three-and-D who rocketed up draft boards after a strong performance at the Combine. Sims, meanwhile, is a high-upside center who could be an interesting prospect as he learns to play down low.

That said, it’s hard to imagine either man playing significant minutes for the Knicks this season. Rather, they’ll spend more time listening to Thibodeau and their teammates instead of playing. They just need to embrace and accept their roles this year, learn from their peers, and use that towards becoming better players.