What should the expectations be for the Knicks in the 2023-24 season?

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Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Tom Thibodeau, RJ Barrett
Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Tom Thibodeau, RJ Barrett / USA TODAY Sports/SNY treated image

The Knicks ended their 2022-23 campaign on the franchise’s decade-long high note, advancing to the second round of the Playoffs and taking an NBA Finals team to six games with a young roster and cemented culture. Despite having the assets for it, the front office elected to wait out their big trade, entering this season with relatively the same group from last year.

Internal development, injuries, chemistry, shooting and many other factors can sway the trajectory of a season, but barring too many outliers, it’s fair to ask what the proper expectations are for this Knicks team. They should be postseason-bound and seem committed to this improving core, but are they a contender yet?

The majority of books currently mark New York’s over/under in season wins at 44.5. Based on the same odds, this would slot them as the sixth seed in the East behind Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami and Cleveland.

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A Bleacher Report prediction put the Knicks at 48 wins, ahead of the 76ers and tied with the Cavs. ESPN’s Bobby Marks named New York one of his Finals teams recently.

Looking back at last year’s results, after the Josh Hart trade, New York went 17-8 for a 56-win pace. They would have finished third in the East with that record.

They outscored opponents by six points per 100 possessions in that stretch, the second-highest net rating in the league. These aren’t easy figures to keep up over a whole season, but it’s possible the oddsmakers are under-selling this squad.

Eclipsing 50 wins would be no small feat, and isn’t as crazy a possibility as one might think. The East is shaky with Boston moving a core starter for a rickety upgrade, Milwaukee looking weaker by the year, and Philadelphia dealing with another open trade request from a star.

None of the lower-tier teams made huge moves, and the Knicks have a ton of embedded chemistry and developing players. Unfortunately this scenario is still likely closer to New York’s ceiling.

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It’s fair to say the floor should be what they were last season – a mid-to-high-40’s tough match-up. Falling short of 40 without a bevy of major injuries would be devastating and likely cause a shake-up.

Assuming they fall somewhere in that middle range, it’s the Playoffs that will ultimately determine how this Knicks team is viewed.

An embarrassing exit in the opening round or Play-In would call the winning prospects of this core into major question. Losing in the second round would suggest they’re stuck in neutral with this collective, unable to beat the elite of the conference.

But if they can trump one of the upper echelon teams and advance to a Conference Finals or beyond, there would be no question about the franchise’s direction. They’d need strong performances out of the entire roster and some luck to pull it off, but it didn’t feel out of reach last year.

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The only real move of note is flipping Obi Toppin into Donte DiVincenzo. There’s plenty to dissect there, but this ultimately looks like a plus, though not a big one.

Toppin was repeatedly miscast and was central to constant friction in the rotation with Julius Randle. DiVincenzo is another Hart-esque “Tom Thibodeau guy” who addresses a legitimate shooting need that his predecessor couldn’t.

The counter-argument has been the Knicks now lacking in size at the backup four position, with Hart or RJ Barrett likely to fill that role. While there’s sure to be drawbacks, it’s not a big chunk of minutes and there are plenty of pluses counteracting them.

Expectations can make or break a team, and the Knicks going into 2023-24 with mostly tempered ones thanks to a quiet offseason may be a blessing in disguise. The evidence suggests fans should get excited, but the pressure isn’t on to be something they’re not.

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