rj barrett
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A new-look Knicks team means there needs to be an equally new-look team effort.

Look no further than last season to see why. For one reason or another, the Knicks never got on the same page as a team and it all devolved from there. RJ Barrett was streaky in an otherwise career season and Julius Randle was lost from the get-go. The clear lack of a proper point guard reared its ugly head again and the Knicks’ losses piled up.

This year should be different, at least on paper. Leon Rose, the king of not speaking to the media, landed Jalen Brunson in free agency and solved the point guard issue. Randle seems focused again. The Knicks’ roster isn’t perfect but it certainly has a clear goal: contend for the playoffs.

And if the projected starting five meet their own goals, then so should the team as a whole.

Jalen Brunson. Learn how to lead the offenseLong-suffering Knicks fans will expect immediate results out of Brunson, who signed a $104 million contract in free agency. He posted a career high 16.3 points and 4.8 assists in Dallas last year and thrived alongside the ball-dominant Luka Doncic. This experience should help him develop chemistry with Randle and Barrett in particular.


Above all else, Brunson doesn’t just need to lead the Knicks’ direction on the court, but learn how. Kemba Walker arrived last year and tried to do things his way with disastrous results. Brunson doesn’t need to light up the scoreboard playing alongside Randle and Barrett. Hopefully, having his father (and former Knick) Rick as an assistant coach will help him settle into his new role on his new team.

Evan Fournier. Know your role and shoot the 3-ball. Fournier was such a poor fit in the starting lineup last year that he might lose his spot to Quentin Grimes this season. Even as he shot 38.9% from three, he was clearly trying to be a high volume scorer instead of just a shooter.

Regardless of if he’s a starter or sixth man, most if not all of Fournier’s game this year needs to be three-point shooting. He doesn’t have to carry the scoring at all. His only job should be getting open from beyond the arc and draining shot after shot.

RJ Barrett. Cement your star status. The Knicks showed Barrett how committed they are to him when they gave him a new $120 million contract. Then, they dared the Jazz to trade Donovan Mitchell for him. Mitchell is now in Cleveland, of course.

Barrett posted a career-high 20.1 points in his third season and should exceed that this year. Barrett is a smart player and just needs to remember to keep playing his game whether his shots fall or not. It’s not unrealistic to expect another career season out of him, and possibly his biggest one yet.

 

Julius Randle. Lead the team.Randle’s decline last season was shocking to the point where his new contract looked like another classic Knicks mistake. The leadership he displayed in 20-21 all but evaporated. Awful shot selection took over instead of his balanced scoring attack from multiple spots on the floor.

Yet, while we still may not know the exact reasons for Randle’s step back, fans can rest easy. He’s in better shape and is clearly motivated to bounce back. Now that he finally has a proper point guard alongside him, Randle’s goal needs to be shaking off last year and leading the Knicks’ attack once again.

Mitchell Robinson. Stay healthy and stay focused. Robinson overcame conditioning issues early last year to turn in a career-high 2.0 VORP (or 5.4 WAR) and landed a new $60 million contract. Now, he’ll face his first real test in proving he deserves it. Remember, last season was the first in which he played more than 70 games.

It’s now on Robinson to prove he’s worth the shiny new price tag. His contract is such that if he stalls and Jericho Sims keeps developing, he could easily be moved in a trade. Thus, Robinson doesn’t just need to stay healthy this year. It’s even more vital that he stay focused and build off of last season.

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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.