NEW YORK (AP) — Before last season, the New York Knicks had few expectations and no real star power.
Julius Randle changed a lot in New York.
He led the Knicks to a surprising playoff berth and turned himself into an All-Star who was rewarded over the summer with a contract extension.
Now, the Knicks believe they are in a good position going into this season and set up for success in the future.
“I think getting established as a team last year, getting credibility by the degree of how hard, how smart and how together, it makes it appealing for other people to look at us,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And we have to win.”
The Knicks did much more of that than expected in 2020-21, going 41-31 to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference and make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Randle was a runaway winner of the Most Improved Player award and Thibodeau was voted Coach of the Year. They could be even better this season after bringing in Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to add more scoring punch to what was already a top defensive club. With veterans Derrick Rose and Alec Burks, and expected improvement for second-year players Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin, the Knicks believe they have a deep bench to back up Randle, RJ Barrett and the starters.
The Knicks say their goal now is to continue to grow, carefully avoiding making any predictions to define what growth is.
“For me, for our team, it’s getting better every day; continuing to develop as individuals and as a team,” Randle said. “Last year ... we did the right things every day. Because we created those good habits, (we) had a belief we could win every night, so it doesn’t change.”
What has changed is the way the Knicks are viewed around the league. Suddenly relevant again, they are back on the Christmas schedule and their season opener against Boston on Oct. 20 is one of the spotlight games of opening week. They can no longer be ignored. “We’re reaping the rewards just like certain players reap the rewards, but it all begins with the team,” Knicks President Leon Rose said. “And what our goal is is to build something here that other players are going to look at and say, ‘I want to be part of that,’ and we’re doing that step by step.”
Things to know about the Knicks:
The Knicks last season were the second team ever to lead the league in fewest points per game allowed, opposing field goal percentage and opposing 3-point field goal percentage. But they were just 26th in the league with 107 points per game, an area they think they can improve with the additions of Walker and Fournier.
“The challenge this year is to be strong on offense and defense,” Thibodeau said. “So we can’t lose sight of what won us games and it was our bench and our defense, but adding the offensive part to it to continue to grow and get better, and also to have our players get better will be a big part of our growth.”
Walker battled knee problems across his final two seasons in Boston, but the New York native said he feels good now and the Knicks say there are no plans yet to have him sit out games, as he did last season.
Starting center Mitchell Robinson was limited to 31 games last season because of injuries and had surgery to repair a broken right foot. The Knicks are comfortable bringing him along slowly while Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson man the center spot.
MORE 3s, PLEASE
The Knicks were third in the league in 3-point percentage at 39.2%, but took only 30 per game and about 400 fewer than their opponents for the season. Thibodeau wants them to average between 35-40 attempts this season.
PLENTY OF PICKS
The Knicks own six first-round and nine second-round picks over the next four years, which they can use either to add more young players or in a package to trade for a veteran one.