The New York Knicks are a hot NBA topic as the 2021-22 NBA season begins. The excitement following the Knicks' victory will not subside as Madison Square Garden becomes an electric arena with a postseason and regular season purpose. Tom Thibodeau and his New York Knicks team did everything they could in the offseason to create a consistent NBA winning culture exclusive of just a New York Knicks gimmick, and now that the NBA season is here, will that consistency be real or simply imagined?
The New York Knicks of 2020-21
About halfway into the 2020-21 season, it appeared the New York Knicks changed their perception of the team and the direction of the NBA franchise. As wins were piling up, and NBA writers across the land began to notice, the New York Knicks were consistently mentioned on NBA media outlet television. What was also noticeable about the New York Knicks is that they resembled everything their head coach, Tom Thibodeau, was: hard work, perseverance and integrity. The New York Knicks finished in the top four of the Eastern Conference with a 41-31 record - tied with the Atlanta Hawks. The New York Knicks then lost to the Atlanta Hawks in a gentleman's sweep, 4-1, in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Who is responding out the NBA opening season gate?
Obi Toppin became almost a spot-up three-point shooter last season, and the eighth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft looks decidedly different after one game for the New York Knicks. Against the Boston Celtics, Obi Toppin shot an active 6-9, scored 14 points, and was a +4 in his 28 minutes on the floor. He will be the New York Knicks' wildcard this season, and is looking for his scoring average to hit double figures at least.
Mitchell Robinson was not available for last season's NBA playoffs. If he was, the seven-footer would have affected the New York Knicks' chances of advancing past Trae Young, Clint Capela and the Atlanta Hawks. He had 11 points and a monster 17 rebounds in the double overtime win vs. Boston to open 2021-22. Mitchell Robinson is exactly what the New York Knicks need on the interior when facing the likes of Bam Adebayo and Joel Embiid specifically.
Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic, not the Evan Fournier of the Boston Celtics, showed up vs. his former team in the double overtime win. He scored 32 points, six rebounds and four steals while hitting 6-13 attempts from behind the arc. He adds a proven second scorer dynamic that will push the New York Knicks to win games they otherwise would not have had the firepower to win late.
Julius Randle, the NBA's Most Improved Player of last season, picked up where he left off and scored 35 points, dished out nine assists, pulled eight rebounds and blocked three shots. He must work on those seven turnovers. Julius Randle will have a bullseye on his capable back, and it will be interesting if he breaks the odd perception that he is not the number one option in New York despite his breakout year last season.
Tom Thibodeau the leader of the pack
It's widely known that Tom Thibodeau is a master at developing talent, being loyal to that talent and getting all out of that talent that's necessary to win in the regular season. He's 394-277 in years as an NBA head coach. Spending 20 years as an assistant should give you every skill to win in observant moments when head coaches prove their acumen. Thibodeau's acumen is evident in how he trusts Derrick Rose - despite all the injuries - to be the example he needs to teach his younger players. Derrick Rose is a catalyst, and Tom Thibodeau will thrust Rose into the toughest spots because he's both been there and been astute over his career to execute in the clutch. How Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin respond to heightened responsibility will be scrutinized. Among the numbers Tom Thibodeau seeks to improve the most are his 25-36 playoff record. This could be the year the New York Knicks have a deep playoff run with everything boiling to the surface regarding the players, the excitement within Madison Square Garden, and the NBA's increased expectations for the New York Knicks.
Kemba Walker the Bronx bomber
Remember Kemba Walker at Madison Square Garden knocking teams off emphatically as the focus of the University of Connecticut? It was a joy for college basketball. He was unguardable, and now Madison Square Garden is his NBA oyster. Fast forward, and the career 19.8 per game scorer is home and a dream is fulfilled. There will be an adjustment period for Walker. Kemba Walker had just 10 points in the win vs. Boston, and that should buoy him to greater games moving forward. The New York Knicks brought Kemba Walker in to not only score in bunches but to lead Manhattan to culture-changing and definitive playoff wins by way of the Bronx - as long as he's healthy.
Leon Rose, Scott Perry and William Wesley were brought in to put the New York Knicks back on the map. There has been a lot of dysfunction over the years with the Knicks and that had to change immediately. David Stern once looked me in the face and said he'd do everything in his power to return the Knicks to relevance, and over a decade later, the late NBA commissioner's wish was granted. The Knicks have always been a tourist attraction given Madison Square Garden is the world's most famous arena, and that the Knicks are constantly sold out despite that ineptitude, should most definitely be something to capitalize on and wake up a sleeping MSG giant. The Knicks have done everything they can to win now, and Manhattan fans are as excited as they have been in recent times. If the mission is to be completed in Gotham, all the New York Knicks have to do is finish where they did in 2020-21 first, and win a whole lot more later.
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Q. Will the New York Knicks finish in the top 4 of the Eastern Conference?