Before we look at the upcoming season, we have to first look back at the Knicks’ spectacular 2020 season. ESPN had the Knicks projected to win 24.7 games with a 2% chance of making the playoffs. The Knicks shattered those expectations by winning 41 games and making it to the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Going into the 2020 season, the Knicks did not look very exciting, as most hoped for bigger names in free agency. We have a similar trend leading up to this upcoming season.
In this upcoming season, the Knicks have a projected win total of 41.5. While these expectations are more accurate than last year’s, it once again undervalues their free agency moves. The Knicks added Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, and Dwayne Bacon in free agency along with three new rookies in Miles McBride, Quinten Grimes, and Jericho Sims. In turn, the Knicks only lost Elfrid Payton, Frank Ntilikina, and Reggie Bullock. The Knicks’ losses seem very minor as they were able to add players who should guarantee better performance than the players lost in free agency.
The Knicks acquired major upgrades at both starting guard positions while keeping the players who played a bulk of the minutes last season. While the history of the Knicks makes it seem like they are a losing team who just got lucky last year, be assured that the Knicks are here to stay as a playoff team. With the Knicks’ current roster, with both new and old players, this season is sure to be a good one. This year’s additions to the Knicks are going to have some big effects, both on the court and for your fantasy teams.
The addition of Kemba Walker gives the Knicks their best point guard on opening night in quite some time. He is an immediate upgrade at the point guard position after they struggled to find stability at the position last season. He should assume a large ball-handling role and, after posting his two lowest assist-per-game totals since his rookie year in his two seasons with the Celtics, he could see an uptick in that department. The Knicks could opt to give him rest days like the Celtics did, but head coach Tom Thibodeau has already said that he should play back-to-back nights giving him more fantasy value than in the past two years.
Evan Fournier spent last season between the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. He only played 42 games because of Covid-19, so it is difficult to judge him based on the past season. Fournier averaged 18.8 points per game with the French Olympic team. He adds a talented scorer to the Knicks’ starting lineups with hopes that he will be an upgrade from Reggie Bullock. Fournier is a player who could end up being a great value in fantasy this season.
After a subpar 2020 season, which was mainly due to covid, Fournier could bounce back with a Knicks team that needs offensive help. It would not surprise me if Fournier finished third or even second in scoring this upcoming season. Fournier will provide above-average numbers in points and three-pointers this season, but his fantasy value will be limited to these.
Behind Walker and Fournier will be Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley who will both be coming off the bench. They will undoubtedly be the top options off the bench and will provide a spark to what appears to be one of the better benches in the league. Rose will be the main ball-handler and is a far more reliable fantasy option than Quickley, but it is Quickley who provides a bit more upside with his boom or bust ability. Rose may see a small decrease in minutes while Quickley should remain in the same role he held in the 2020 season with the possibility for a slightly larger role.
Dwayne Bacon was signed later in the offseason and will likely play a depth role for this Knicks’ guard unit. He would be the first reserve guard to get minutes if there was ever a serious injury to any of the guards listed above.
Miles “Deuce” McBride, and Quentin Grimes round out the Knicks guard unit. Like Bacon, they will serve reserve roles but could be used situationally. McBride is a well above average defender and fits well into Thibodeau’s system so he is the most likely to see minutes in situations similar to the way Frank Ntilikina was used in past years. The two rookie guards are all off the radar except in dynasty formats.
Wings and Forwards
Of all the Knicks players, I am most excited to see RJ Barrett in this upcoming season. Barrett will be 21 years old coming into this year and is being undervalued across the league and in fantasy. He will be one of the top options for the Knicks this year and I see him and Fournier competing for the second spot in scoring behind Julius Randle. After an excellent second half of the season, Barrett saw improvements in all categories last year except for steals, which have the potential to be on the rise this season. Barrett will be poised to guard the other teams’ best wing players and/or guards, now that Reggie Bullock is in Dallas. With more responsibilities defensively, Barrett should see an uptick in those categories. Barrett will look to provide fantasy managers with a steady stream of stats in all categories with well above average 3-point shooting.
Julius Randle is coming off the best season of his career and will, no doubt, be looking to continue. While some regression is inevitable, I believe Randle can replicate similar numbers with some of the team’s additions helping to take the load off of Randle. With an improved starting lineup, Randle could see similar scoring with a slight drop in rebounds and assists. Although Randle does not have the fantasy value he had last season, he still should be top 5 in minutes and the main player on this offense which is going to lead to stats. He is a good fantasy option but only if he falls a bit in Average Draft Position (ADP).
The first two forwards behind Barrett and Randle will be Alec Burks and Obi Toppin. Neither of these players should be looked at in fantasy as they play behind two players who receive some of the most minutes in the league. Burks played a guard role last year and, for a long period, he was the closing point guard. With the Knicks upgrading at both guard positions, Burks will play more of a wing role on this Knicks team. He will be a key part of the bench unit along with Rose and Quickley.
Toppin was taken as an NBA-ready player, but he could not showcase his talent because of the amazing season that Julius Randle had. Toppin showed his value as the year went on as he proved to be a valuable asset in his limited minutes. Toppin’s main path to playing time will come in relief minutes for Julius Randle, but he could see some minutes at any of the frontcourt spots because of his versatility and athletic ability.
Coming in right behind RJ Barrett as the Knick I am most excited to watch is Mitchell Robinson. Robinson missed most of last season with two separate injuries but will slot back in as the Knicks’ starting center, moving Nerlens Noel back to the bench. The most exciting thing about Robinson’s return to the starting role is his reported weight gain in the offseason. Robinson was listed at 240 pounds, but according to Instagram posts in the offseason, he is now up to 275 pounds. This weight gain will allow Robinson to defend the bigger centers in the NBA, an aspect that led to the Knicks’ demise in the playoffs last season. Robinson has the potential to be one of the best suppliers of blocks in this upcoming season and should be a very nice value for a starting center.
Not enough can be said about what Nerlens Noel did for the Knicks in their playoff run last season. He was an amazing fill-in for Robinson and at times made us forget that they had even lost their starting center in the first place. As great a contribution as he was to the Knicks during that time, he also showed us how important it was to keep Robinson when the Knicks were decimated inside the paint by the Hawks in the playoffs. With Robinson’s return, Noel will move back to the bench and will lose significant value. Although he is not starting, he should see his bulk of minutes when Robinson is off the court. My only worry with Noel is that I do not see a situation where he and Robinson are on the court together. This puts a damper on Noel’s value, but he should continue to see a steady stream of blocks and steals off the bench.
Rounding out the center rotation will be veteran Taj Gibson and rookie Jericho Sims. Gibson will provide depth at power forward and center, but I think he was brought back for the vet presence in the locker room. He will likely hold no value in fantasy and, unless there are multiple front-court injuries, he probably won’t have much playing time. Jericho Sims was the Knicks’ last pick in this year’s draft and provides athleticism and bounce to a strong frontcourt. He flashed this athleticism in the summer league with some high-flying dunks and alley-oops. He is a good stash in deep dynasty leagues but, besides that, he is just a fun rookie to watch out for in garbage time.
The Knicks are coming into the year with what looks to be one of the deeper rosters in the league. Although this might seem like a headache, Tom Thibodeau keeps one of the tightest rotations in the league and will, no doubt, continue that into this season. Expect Knicks starters to play massive minutes in close games in what is sure to be a memorable season.