For the last decade, the New York Knicks have been the laughing stock of the NBA, the recipients of jeering and mocking from fans and players alike. This off-season, General Manager Scott Perry successfully managed to gain small steps in their rebuild to become serious playoff contenders.
During the 2019-2020 season, the Knicks finished with a pathetic 21-45 record, good for 12th in the Eastern Conference. Under ex-coaches David Fizdale and Mike Miller, the Knicks suffered through many offensive woes, particularly from their lack of perimeter shooting.
During the off-season, Perry made some key changes to the roster to propel his team to a possible playoff seed for the 2020-2021 season.
One of their biggest moves was drafting Dayton’s forward Obi Toppin with the eighth pick in the NBA draft. Right out the gate, Toppin made a strong impression with his athleticism and physicality. In his preseason debut, he finished with 11 points, along with seven assists. Although he has room for improvement on the defensive end, Toppin is looking like an early Rookie of the Year candidate.
In addition to Toppin, the Knicks secured another young talent with the 25th pick in Immanuel Quickley. The rookie from Kentucky posted a 23 point performance on Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. His confidence, work ethic and stellar ability to create space and hit mid-range shots make him a valuable player on the roster.
Despite not landing any big-name free agents, the Knicks added guards Elfrid Payton and former Rocket Austin Rivers. As the primary ball-handler in the starting lineup, Payton runs the offense and contributes decent mid-range shooting. Bringing leadership and experience to the second-unit backcourt, veteran Rivers serves as an offensive spark, with his playmaking and scoring abilities.
Replacing Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis, the Knicks brought in big man Nerlens Noel on a one-year, $5 million contract. Albeit a somewhat limited role on the bench, Noel generates energy and provides much-needed rim protection.
In late July, the Knicks also named Tom Thibodeau as the new head coach of the franchise. His last stints as head coach were for the Chicago Bulls and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Thibodeau immediately establishes a winning culture with his notable 0.589 career win percentage.
The Knicks are showing potential to make a run for the playoffs. With Julius Randle, a Most Improved Player candidate as of now, New York is looking like a much-improved team in comparison to their abysmal showings last season.
In their first eight games of the season, they held a 5-3 record, including a surprising upset against the Milwaukee Bucks. Although they now sit at 5-7, good for the ninth seed, the franchise has a great chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
After their game against the Nets yesterday, Thibodeau said, “Disappointed that we could have played better, defensively, yes, but more determined to get it right. We have to get back to practicing. I liked the fight we showed at the end, but it was too late. ”
The Knicks still have a lot of room for improvement but with their adequate front office decisions during the off-season, they may no longer be the embarrassments of the East.