The 2021-22 season isn’t over yet, but these are three moves the Knicks have to make.
Contrary to popular belief, the New York Knicks are not a disaster this season. Underwhelming? Yes. Disappointing? Sure.
But a disaster? Not quite. The foundation of a contender is there, even if it didn’t work out this year.
RJ Barrett is developing into a legitimate star with a handful of other young players emerging as well. In order for the best version of the Knicks to emerge, president Leon Rose needs to rejigger the roster. There’s no need for a full-scale teardown, but a few bold moves are in order.
Trade Julius Randle or Obi Toppin
Julius Randle‘s numbers are going to look fine when all is said and done. He’s averaging 20-10-5 on 41/31/76 shooting splits. The eye test is a different story entirely.
Randle’s All-NBA dream season turned into a nightmare in a heartbeat. It seems like the New York energy he fed off of last year is turning his head inside out now. He’s had beef with the Madison Square Garden fans, referees, and the media.
Fans don’t need a master’s degree in body language or psychology to see that Randle is unhappy in New York. He chucked the ball and walked off the court instead of celebrating Monday’s win over the Chicago Bulls. Bizarre behavior from a guy who was the leader of this team not so long ago.
Randle knows that buzzer means we WON right??? pic.twitter.com/RYxDEDySm3
— Knicks Memes (@KnicksMemes) March 29, 2022
A change might be best for everyone involved. Randle can still be a great player, but it’s looking less and less likely that it’s in New York. However, his recent four-year, $117 million extension complicates things.
If the Knicks can’t (or won’t) trade Randle, they are wasting Obi Toppin as a 15-minute-per-game player. He needs a bigger role that isn’t going to be there for him if Tom Thibodeau is coaching Julius Randle again.
As long as Toppin is backing up Randle, fans in MSG are going to be chanting “OBI! OBI! OBI!”
Trade one or the other.
Find a Lead Guard
Alec Burks can flourish in a role as one of the first guys off the bench, but he’s not fit to be the primary ballhandler.
The term “lead” guard is intentional. The discussion almost always centers around a “point” guard of the future for the Knicks, but that isn’t what the situation calls for in New York.
“Point” guard implies a floor general who can distribute for his teammates. “Lead” guard is more like the current prototype of success in the NBA. Think Chris Paul for point guards and Ja Morant for lead guards. Morant is score-first while Paul is pass-first. The league is trending more towards the score-first guard.
Pauls and Morants don’t grow on trees, but they could use the latter over the former. Although it seems unlikely that the Knicks are in a position to draft him, Jaden Ivey out of Purdue would fit nicely alongside RJ Barrett.
Why is Barrett entering the conversation? His upgraded playmaking chops this year means he’s going to be doing more of it in the future.
Jalen Brunson is an option on the free-agent market and Collin Sexton might be available via trade.
Extend RJ Barrett
Speaking of RJ Barrett, he should be the top priority this year. He’s eligible for an extension this offseason, which seems like a no-brainer. The question is how much are the Knicks willing to give to Barrett?
He can sign a max extension for five years and $181 million. That looks like a massive number, but if the Knicks think he can be a top-two star on a contender, he deserves every penny.
Over his last 17 games, Barrett is averaging 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. The efficiency could be better, but he’s taking a lot of tough shots in big spots. Volume scorers can scare executives from handing out big contracts, but New York is 7-4 this year when Barrett scores 30 or more points.
When Barrett plays well, so do the Knicks. Surround him with a lead guard and figure out who is the future at power forward.