The New York Knicks have had an inconsistent season, winning five of their first six before losing 17 of 20 to drop all the way down to 25-38 after Cam Johnson banked in a 30-footer to win the game for the CP3-less, Booker-less Phoenix Suns. This week, the Knicks caught fire, stringing together three straight blowout wins against some pretty solid competition. On Wednesday in Dallas, they allowed only 77 points in their rout of the Mavericks.
The Road to a Knicks Play-In
While just last week, many Knicks fans were ready to dust off and roll out the trusty old tanks, a Knicks play-in appearance is still in the cards. The Knicks have shown why expectations were so high before the season this week, beating a pair of good teams (and the Kings) in convincing fashion. Fans and analysts alike have asserted that the Knicks were playing below their talent level all year, and a good stretch might be all they need to get going.
The Knicks currently sit 12th in the East, 5 games back of the Charlotte Hornets who hold the last play-in spot. The Knicks have some winnable games coming up, and they could make some noise if they play anything close to how they did in 2020-21. For the first time this season, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle are hot at the same time, which has been part of the reason for their newfound success.
Can Barrett’s Rise Lead to Knicks Play-In?
Forget a Knicks play-in appearance; the most important part of this season has been the development of RJ Barrett. Barrett’s scoring totals have increased each year of his career, rising once again to 19.2 PPG this season. Since the beginning of 2022, Barrett has established himself as one of the NBA’s premier young players. In those 28 games, he’s averaging 23.8 PPG (42.2% FG%, 37% 3P%, 71% FT%), 6.0 RPG, and 3.6 APG.
Barrett’s scoring figures have shot up, as has his usage rate. In the first 29 games of the year, Barrett had a 24.2% usage rate. In the last 28, his usage rate has shot up to a team-leading 29.5%. Barrett’s biggest improvement has been his playmaking, as he’s nearly doubled his assist totals in 2022. Not only has Barrett been able to attack out of his trademark pistol, either finishing himself or hitting the roller in stride for an easy bucket. As a result, Mitchell Robinson has upped his scoring average to 9.4 PPG on 77.3% FG%.
Julius Randle shocked the world last season on the way to a Most Improved Player Award and 2nd team All-NBA appearance. It’s been an up-and-down season, which is part of the reason a Knicks play-in or playoff appearance isn’t a foregone conclusion. However, Randle’s last 16 games have been some of the best of his season. In that stretch, he’s averaging 26.7 PPG, 10.0 RPG, and 5.4 APG despite the Knicks winning just four of those 16.
Randle’s newfound success seems much more sustainable than last year’s, as he’s still only shooting 36% from the 3-point land. The key for Randle has always been effort and aggression, and he’s shown both over the past few weeks. Randle has been hustling on defense and driving to the rim rather than settling for perimeter jumpers.
The Point Guard Problem
The biggest question for the 2021-22 Knicks has been whether or not they have been able to overcome their lack of a point guard. While early on in the year, Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose held down the position. Now, Alec Burks and Miles McBride have taken on a bulk of the responsibilities. The problem? Burks is not a point guard, and McBride is just a rookie. While Burks has raised his production in the past few games, he’s still adjusting to a brand new position.
As a result, the Knicks have relied on combo guard Immanuel Quickley‘s production off the bench. It’s been an up-and-down season for Quickley as he’s seemingly hit a sophomore slump, but he’s found himself recently. Over the past eight games, Quickley has averaged 27.4 MPG, scoring 14.9 PPG while shooting 44.3% from the field and 40% from three. While only averaging 3.4 APG, Quickley has been more of a facilitator recently, and the backcourt pairing with defensive specialist Miles McBride has done wonders for New York’s bench.
It’s an uphill climb for the Knicks to make a play-in appearance, but if Barrett, Randle, and Quickley can continue their stellar performance, they can make a push. If not, the Knicks can use their lottery pick to strengthen their roster for next season.
Main image credit