The New York Knicks are riding high into their All-Star break. While Julius Randle represented the squad in Salt Lake City as an Eastern Conference reserve, Jalen Brunson has paced the team with electric play. In February, Brunson averaged a whopping 31.9 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.7 rebounds while splashing an even 50% from three-point range. His stellar play has led the Knicks to a 6-2 February and a three-game winning streak, which was desperately needed after the squad faltered to a 2-6 skid in the latter half of January’s gauntlet schedule.
The Knicks look like a team that could make noise in the playoffs when Brunson and Randle are playing up to their All-Star potential. The acquisition of Josh Hart – Brunson’s running mate from their collegiate days at Villanova – has provided stability to the bench and has allowed Tom Thibodeau to finally jettison Cam Reddish, a player with promise but who ultimately clashed with Thibodeau’s style and personality. Despite the small sample size, Hart has provided a spark with 17.0 points and 5.3 boards in his three games running alongside Immanuel Quickley.
If the Knicks hope to capitalize over the second half of the season and leapfrog over some potentially weakened Eastern Conference squads (their crosstown rivals suddenly find themselves as starless as a cloudy Brooklyn night, and the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat have struggled all season to find consistent play), they will need young players RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, and Obi Toppin to get back on track. All three players have struggled tremendously on the offensive side of the ball over the last ten games, each shooting under 30% from deep. While Barrett was averaging over 21 points and 5 rebounds in December and January, his numbers have dipped to a 17-point average and 39% field goal percentage. The Knicks need their young contributors to regroup and find their stroke to capitalize on the plethora of attention that stars Brunson and Randle draw from opposing defenses.
Tom Thibodeau’s squad hopes to build off an uneven but promising start to the season. The Knicks will face the 8th hardest strength of schedule to close the year when they return next Friday night to face off against the Wizards. Brunson must continue to play at a high level, especially with Julius Randle already second in the NBA in minutes played. The Knicks also hope that Mitchell Robinson will return sooner than later to bolster their struggling interior defense after fracturing his thumb last month. Thibodeau has a reputation for running his star players into the ground, as was seen the last time New York made the playoffs in 2021 and couldn’t match the explosive energy of Trae Young and the Hawks. It is pivotal for Thibodeau to lighten Brunson and Randle’s burden, and the plethora of young talent on this roster will need to step up if the Knicks hope to play past April.
Contributor: Joshua Laufer (@joshlaufer)
Editor: Josh Bhagratie (@jshyb_)