The Knicks can enter the new season confidently, boasting a relatively unchanged roster that spurred the best basketball out of this franchise in a decade. Many expect much of the same: a competitive, tough playoff out, obviously susceptible to some variance.
Injuries, development and randomness can tilt any season in an unexpected direction. Here are the three biggest swing factors to watch out for that can shape this Knicks campaign.
One sticking point of the Tom Thibodeau-era Knicks has been their spacing offensively, led by their shaky-shooting stars with lineups constantly featuring rim-protecting centers. New York hardly goes without Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, who shoot in the low 30s from three over their careers.
Even with some solid complementary shooters, regular dry spells and variance can plague the offense, such as in last year’s playoffs. They shot above 30 percent from three in only one of their postseason losses, and they shot 40 percent in their only wins against Miami.
It will take each of the Knicks’ stars stepping up on their catch-and-shoot threes for the team to exceed expectations, such as during their post-Josh-Hart-trade run. They shot 37.4 percent from deep in that 17-8 stretch compared to 34.4 percent prior, which would have ranked near the bottom five of the league.
If they struggle from outside, it could bog down the whole offense. The Knicks have lots of options to play small and increase spacing, if they use them.
Randle bounced back from an ugly 2022, but still finds more efficiency off the bounce. Barrett reworked his jumper once again this offseason, and has been shooting well in the FIBA World Cup.
Jalen Brunson and Quentin Grimes should be dependable, but have room to grow off the dribble. Donte DiVincenzo should be a strong upgrade over Obi Toppin.
It may surprise onlookers how young these Knicks are, entering last season one of the ten youngest squads in the league. They’re likely still in that range, with their best two players only now entering their primes, and three starters 25 years or younger.
Key developments that drove last year’s success included Grimes becoming a starter-quality 3-and-D wing, Immanuel Quickley making a leap to Sixth Man of the Year contender and Mitchell Robinson having a career year. The developments made this season may decide if the Knicks are in the mid-tier again or become contenders.
Brunson is entering year two of being a full-time starter, Randle has the most help of his Knick career and Barrett is due for a big step forward. Deeper in the rotation, Grimes, Quickley, Isaiah Hartenstein, Divincenzo, Miles McBride and Jericho Sims can all make a big impact with the right improvements.
If a large portion of these names plateau or worse, regress, the Knicks won’t show much team growth either. Luckily the evidence thus far suggests the opposite should happen.
A star becoming available
It’s hard to imagine the Knicks being in any situation where a name like Giannis Antetokonumpo or Joel Embiid hit the trading block and they don’t show interest. It would take something drastic happening for someone of that caliber to become available, but the moment they do, expect whatever’s going on in New York to be upended.
This front office has been star hunting from the beginning, and now at the cusp of contention with plenty of assets to deal, they won’t stop now. Upsetting chemistry or worrying about fit won’t deter them from a franchise-altering talent.
If it’s a lower-tier name like Zach LaVine and the Knicks are a high seed chugging along, it becomes a tougher decision. But a true top ten player requesting a trade is the biggest outside factor waiting to throw this season into a loop.