tom thibodeau
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s New York Knicks Opening Night and to kick off the 2022-23 season, the Knicks head south to face Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies.

It’s a challenging first matchup for New York, who’d love to leave without a case of the Beale Street Blues. The Knicks have a newer look this year, way more balanced than last year’s underachieving group that once again kept New York from repeat playoff appearances.

Memphis, on the other hand, won 56 games en route to the No. 2 seed in the West. Yet, the young Grizzlies were dispatched by the Golden State Warriors in the Conference Semifinals. They’re prepared to run it back after a relatively quiet offseason.

Running it back is what the Knicks failed to do after winning 41 games and making the playoffs in 2020-21. After falling to just 36 wins last year, and with new point guard Jalen Brunson along for the ride, New York is a team on a mission. Forget running anything back, maybe it’s best to just run through opposing teams, and Memphis is first on the list.

Time: Wednesday, Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET


Injuries: Quentin Grimes (foot, day-to-day), Obi Toppin (foot/ankle, expected to play), Jaren Jackson Jr. (foot, out) Ziaire Williams (foot, out)

Betting line: Knicks +6.5, O/U 226 (via Sports Betting Dime).

Key Storyline: Just how good are the newest New York Knicks? The Knicks and their fans have known nothing but losing and the occasional playoff appearance for the last 20 years. Expectations are high this year considering Brunson is the team’s most effective starting point guard since, arguably, Raymond Felton. Julius Randle is in better shape and also seeking to bounce back following his step back after winning Most Improved Player in 2021.

New York is, on the whole, a younger, better, and hopefully healthier team than last season. Memphis, despite only having one star player in Morant, is a championship contender ready to take the next step. But for as good a coach as Grizzlies gaffer Taylor Jenkins is, he hasn’t been around the block nearly enough times as Tom Thibodeau.

The veteran coach is in his third year in New York and has proven he can get results out of his young team. Look for him and his men to come out swinging on Opening Night.

Key matchup: Jalen Brunson vs. Ja Morant Knicks vs. Grizzlies features a tale of two point guards, both athletic and unique. Ja Morant is probably the best young point guard in the NBA and posted a career-high 27.4 points per game. The downside is that he has been injured all three of his pro seasons, playing in just 57 games last year and never more than 67 in a full year.

Jalen Brunson, oppositely, is getting his first chance as a full-time starting point guard. He posted 16.3 points and 4.8 assists in Dallas last year, both career highs, and only started 61 of 79 games. Early returns look promising, with the Knicks playing +60 basketball with him on the floor in four preseason games.

Brunson won’t out-athlete Ja Morant but it’s clear his new teammates are warming up to him quickly. Ja doesn’t need to be perfect to win the matchup, but he might have his hands full.

X-factor: Julius Randle Like it or not, Randle is the engine that makes the New York Knicks go. We saw it firsthand when he won Most Improved Player two years ago. He set the tone and the rest of the Knicks just followed. It made his regressing last year all the more jarring, especially fresh off of his signing a $117 million contract extension.

The good news for New York is that Randle appears to be in great shape again and completely focused this year. Thibodeau has already complimented Randle’s marked improvement playing off the ball. Having Brunson feeding him the ball will help Randle tremendously but make no mistake. Where he goes, the rest of his Knicks teammates follow.

Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Evan Fournier (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)

Grizzlies predicted starters: Ja Morant (PG), Desmond Bane (SG), Dillion Brooks (SF), Santi Aldama (PF), Steven Adams (C)

Prediction: This is going to be a high-scoring game and having home-court advantage absolutely favors the Grizzlies. Memphis also ranked second in total offense last year, plus Morant is healthy. The Knicks, by comparison, are still learning how to play with a new group that features not only Brunson, but floor-spacing center Isaiah Hartenstein.

Yet, the Grizzlies are banged up in the paint. Jaren Jackson Jr. led the league in blocks last season and is still recovering from foot surgery. That leaves Memphis with freshly extended (but undersized and offensively-limited) Brandon Clarke, a slower Steven Adams, and an inexperienced stretch 4 in Santi Aldama.

The Knicks’ scoring attack will need to be on point, but Thibodeau is a defense-first coach. Mitchell Robinson will dominate under the basket while Jackson’s absence will be felt harder than Elvis Presley’s. On Wednesday night, in a stunning upset, Memphis will be Graceland for the New York Knicks.

New York Knicks 111, Grizzlies 102

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.