After making the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference last year, the Knicks entered the 2021-22 season with high hopes. New York began the year with a 7-4 record, but by Christmas day were in full collapse mode.
Julius Randle struggled to replicate his 2020-21 All-NBA success, and Derrick Rose suffered two separate injuries. At the same time, new imports Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker failed to make the type of impact the Knicks front office foresaw when they signed each player to multi-year contracts. RJ Barrett also struggled to make the leap from an above-average wing to an All-Star, and Nerlens Noel missed most of the season with a foot injury.
The Knicks finished the season 37-45, a starless mess outside of the play-in tournament. Making matters worse, New York enters the offseason with only two unrestricted free agents on their roster, which means barring a major shakeup via trade, they’re set to bring back the same lineup next year.
Here, we’ll examine the Knicks players’ status for next season and decide what the front office should do with each member of the team.
Julius Randle - $23.8 Million
Entering 1st Season Of A 4-Year, $117 Million Contract (2022-23: $23.8 Million, 2023-24: $25.7 Million, 2024-25: $27.6 Million, 2025-26: $29.5 Million Player Option)
Julius Randle’s one-year drop-off was Wile-E.-Coyote-falling-off-a-cliff, disastrous. He transformed from an All-Star and All-NBA player who led his teams to a surprising playoff berth in 2020-21 to a fringe Least Valuable Player candidate, guiding this year’s rendition of the Knicks to a sub. 500 record, miles away from the playoffs. Even more alarming, New York was a dreadful 9.4 points per 100 possessions worse with Randle on the court, a mark that was in the 11th percentile among all forwards.
Julius Randle put up similar year-over-year assist and rebound numbers. His defense was also nearly the same as the previous season. The only significant difference between 2021-22 Randle versus 2020-21 Randle was his shooting, especially his three-point stroke.
He took nearly identical long distance shots this year as in the previous season:
2020-21: 3.8 catch and shoot three-pointers per game, 1.9 wide open (no player within 6 feet) three-pointers per game, 2.9 open (a player within 4 to 6 feet) three-pointers per game
2021-22: 3.2 catch and shoot three-pointers per game, 1.9 wide open three-pointers per game, 2.9 open three-pointers per game
Opposing defenders didn’t crowd Julius Randle during 2021-22. He took exactly the same open or wide open shots as the previous season. And he didn’t suddenly start jacking wild pull jumpers from 33 feet away from the basket. He mainly took catch and shoot three-pointers, just like last year. Yet, Julius Randle slid from a 41.1% three-point shooter the previous season to a 30.8 three-point shooter this season.
Did Julius Randle spend the summer of 2020 (before his contract year) shooting 2,000 long distance shots daily, building the type of muscle memory he needed to shoot over 40% from deep before deciding to take the 2021 offseason off traveling and resting, eventually losing his outside touch?
Was the 2020-21 season a massive three-point outlier, a shooting feat Randle will never replicate again?
Did Randle begin 2021-22 in a standard shooting slump that turned into a season-long issue at the hands of the jeering Madison Square Garden crowd that collectively wouldn’t give the power forward a chance to collect himself?
The New York Knicks will have to answer these questions this offseason. If Randle merely needs to hit the gym and put up shots over the offseason to regain his shooting form, he’s on an excellent deal. However, if Randle’s 2020-21 season was a one-off, or if the New York fans jumped inside his head, the front office should consider trading him while he still has some value left around the league.
RJ Barrett - $10.9 Million
Entering Final Season Of A 4-Year, $43.6 Million Rookie Contract
RJ Barrett is eligible for a $181 million contract extension this offseason. While he certainly thinks he is worth the money, his statistics should give the Knicks front office pause.
With point guards Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker playing in only 26 and 37 contests, respectively, the Knicks desperately needed playmaking throughout the regular season. Instead of stepping up, RJ Barrett flopped hard in the passing department, averaging 3.0 assists per game and 2.2 turnovers per game as the Knicks’ offense typically stuttered into a stagnant mess during half-court possessions. Barrett has also never shown the kind of takeover chops teams covet in their maxed-out players. Per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, 69 players have attempted 800 layups and dunks since Barrett entered the league in 2019-20. He ranks last in field goal percentage on those shots among that group at 49.9%.
The defensive stats don’t favor Barrett either. He has a career -1.0 Defensive Box Plus/Minus, and he’s garnered only 6.5 Defensive Win Shares throughout his three NBA seasons, two of which he played under defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, a coach who gets the most out of his players on the less fun end.
The Knicks don’t want to piss off RJ Barrett this summer by denying him a contract extension, but they also don’t want to hand out a massive unwarranted deal to their young wing. New York should let Barrett play out the last season of his rookie contract without extending him and see if he can at least transform into an average finisher/playmaker/defender.
Alec Burks - $10.0 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 3-Year, $30.0 Million Contract (2022-23: $10.0 Million, 2023-24: $10.5 Million Team Option)
Alec Burks converts in the lane like a JV high school freshman driving on a D-1 university defense, connecting on only 44.4% of his shots within three feet of the basket and an ugly 34.2% of his shots from 3 to 10 feet of the rim. Still, Burks gave the Knicks all they could ask for from a $10 million-ish 3-and-D wing during the 2021-22 season. He shot 40.4% from deep off 4.8 attempts per game (22nd in the NBA), providing excellent floor spacing for Randle and Barrett to work within. Burks also held his assignments on defense to a 44.9% clip from the field and ended the season ranked inside the 80th percentile in Dunks and Three’s Defensive +/- metric (+0.8).
Alec Burks is on a team-friendly contract, and unless the Knicks can package him along with, let’s say, RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin for a player like Donovan Mitchell, they should hang on to him for the next two seasons.
Evan Fournier - $18.0 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 4-Year, $73.0 Million Contract (2022-23: $18.0 Million, 2023-24: $18.6 Million, 2024-25: $19.0 Million Team Option)
Unlike Alec Burks, Evan Fournier is not on a team-friendly deal, nor did he give the Knicks all they could ask for. All things considered, Evan Fournier’s contract has become borderline tragic, and if the French wing doesn’t level up across the board next season, he could have one of the ten least desirable deals in the NBA.
The Knicks paid Fournier a little over $18 million last season, which was roughly 14% of their cap percentage, and he provided one, and only one, above-average skill-set, three-point shooting. He hit a 38.9% clip from deep in 2021-22, good for 42nd in the NBA, off mainly catch and shoot jacks. Everything else was a stew of blehness. Fournier rarely ventured into the lane, rarely shot from mid-range, rarely passed the ball, and rarely played lockdown perimeter defense.
Here are the numbers:
He took 8.1% of his shots at the rim.
He took 7.9% of his shots from 10 to 16 feet.
He averaged 2.1 assists per game and only 23.9 passes nightly.
He allowed his assignments on defense to shoot 1.7% over their normal average and finished the season with a -0.3 Defensive Box Plus/Minus.
The Knicks would love a redo on the $73 million contract they handed out to Fournier last summer. Perhaps the wisest course they can chart is to bite the bullet next season by sending a package centered around Fournier and Randle to the Lakers for the final year of Russell Westbrook’s massive contract. The Knicks would crater towards the top pick in the draft and clear their cap sheet for the summer of 2023 when they could look to bring in a genuine superstar.
Immanuel Quickley - $2.3 Million
Entering 3rd Season Of A 4-Year, $10.8 Million Rookie Contract (2022-23: $2.3 Million, 2023-24: $4.2 Million Team Option)
The Knicks are apparently and justifiably interested in signing unrestricted free agent Jalen Brunson this summer, but without the cap space to sign him to the type of $20 million-plus per year agreement he’ll want, New York reportedly tried to unload Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel ahead of the deadline to open up cap space this summer. However, the Knicks failed to move Burks and Noel as rival executives insisted they include Immanuel Quickley or their first-round draft pick in the deal as a sweetener. New York refused, which lets you know how high they are on Quickley, their 25th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Immanuel Quickley features one of the quickest first steps in the league, a deadly floater in the lane, and a solid three-point stroke (36.5 career 3P%). He’ll need to improve his playmaking skills (only 3.5 APG in 2021-22) and his defense to become a genuine two-way impact player, but he’s flashed an All-Star skill set at times throughout his first two NBA seasons. And by all accounts, he’s an eight-pound gym rat who grinds hard in his free time to improve his game.
Only time will tell, but it seems like the Knicks were wise to hang on to Quickley instead of moving him just for a shot at Jalen Brunson during the offseason.
Obi Toppin - $5.3 Million
Entering 3rd Season Of A 4-Year, $22.1 Million Rookie Contract (2022-23: $5.3 Million, 2023-24: $6.8 Million Team Option)
The New York Knicks drafted Obi Toppin with the 8th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, 17 spots ahead of Immanuel Quickley. Quickley exceeded expectations during his freshman campaign, and Toppin mainly belly-flopped, averaging 4.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.5 APG, and 30.6 3P%. Through most of the 2021-22 season, Obi Toppin was underwhelming again. However, Julius Randle missed the Knicks’ final ten games, which allowed head coach Tom Thibodeau to insert Toppin into the starting lineup. Obi Toppin proceeded to break opposing soles, averaging 20.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, and 44.8% from deep off 5.8 attempts per game as he helped propel New York to a 7-3 record during his short stint as a starter.
Toppin flashed an intelligent cut game and a surprisingly clean three-point stroke combined with his typical aggressive and switchable defense during his time as a starter. Perhaps equally significant, he and fellow sophomore Immanuel Quickley formed a solid connection.
Ten games are about as small a sample size as you can get. Still, Toppin was a small sample size God during the Knicks’ final ten games, giving Knicks fans a slither of hope for the future and instilling the few optimistic aficionados still left in New York with the belief their squad should trade Julius Randle and insert Obi into the starting lineup permanently. That plan might be a bit extreme. The Knicks could indeed have a gem in Toppin, or they might have a lump of coal. They should give Obi Toppin more playing time next season, and if his final ten games weren’t merely a no-shot-at-a-playoff-berth garbage time romp, then New York can consider him as their long-term starter at the power forward position.
Mitchell Robinson - Unrestricted Free Agent
The Knicks have until June 30 to sign Mitchell Robinson to an extension that could go as high as $55.6 million over four years, or the 7-footer will become an unrestricted free agent. According to the most recent reports, New York believes Robinson is a talented young center, but they doubt his commitment to the game after he played through most of 2021-22 in less than ideal playing shape.
Regardless of Mitchell’s ability to do 30 suicides in a row, he was an impact player for the Knicks, finishing the season second in the league in block percentage (7.1%) as he allowed opposing players to shoot only 53.9% within six feet of the room and ended things 13th in Win Shares (8.5 WS), one of only four players in the top-20 who played less than 2,000 total minutes throughout the season.
Mitchell is a top-5 rim protector in the NBA, and it’s hard to imagine the Knicks won’t eventually offer him the very reasonable four-year, $55.6 million extension he’s eligible for. However, if they don’t, several teams will be ready to jump at the chance to sign him.
Derrick Rose - $14.5 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 3-Year, $43.6 Million Contract (2022-23: $14.5 Million, $15.6 Million Team Option)
Derrick Rose played only 26 games for the Knicks during the 2021-22 season due to back and ankle injuries. Derrick Rose was solid while on the court, averaging 12.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 4.0 APG while connecting on 40.2% of his long distance shots. Still, the Knicks owe him $14.5 million next season, which is a lot for a player who seems to miss at least half his squad’s contests with injury. The Knicks will probably look to trade Derrick Rose during the offseason, but they’ll find it challenging to unload their backup point guard without adding future draft compensation to the deal.
Nerlens Noel - $9.2 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 3-Year, $27.7 Million Contract (2022-23: $9.2 Million, 2023-24: $9.7 Million Team Option)
Nerlens Noel missed all but 25 games during the 2021-22 regular season with a left foot injury. When Noel was on the court, he gave the Knicks 3.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 0.9 APG while garnering a 3.3 Defensive Box Plus/Minus, a figure that would have tied him for third in the league if he’d played enough to qualify.
The 2021-22 regular season was the same old story for Nerlens Noel. He offered little in the way of offense but made up for his lack of scoring or playmaking with excellent switchable defense and rim protection, but like in years past, he had trouble staying on the court. With Mitchell Robinson potentially leaving, the Knicks will have to hope Noel can remain healthy next season.
Kemba Walker - $9.2 Million
Entering Final Season Of A 2-Year, $17.9 Million Contract
Kemba Walker’s inaugural campaign in New York didn’t unfold the way most experts expected, but looking back, his slew of DNPs was predictable. Knicks head coach, Tom Thibodeau, loathes negative defenders, and Walker, at 6’0", 184-pounds, is one of the least effective head-of-the-snake ballhawks in the NBA. And after two injury-riddled seasons in Boston, Walker, 32, didn’t feature the same burst to the cup as he did during his prime to make up for his deficiencies on the less fun side. The Knicks will surely look to trade Walker over the offseason, but with a healthy $9.2 million owed to him, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to unload him without adding in a talented young player or a future first-round draft pick.
Cam Reddish - $6.0 Million
Entering Final Season Of A 4-Year, $19.3 Million Rookie Contract
Cam Reddish came to the Knicks in a mid-season trade and mainly stayed nestled on the bench to the confusion of the New York fan base. After several DNPs, Head coach Thibodeau explained why Reddish couldn’t find his way into the Knicks rotation, “Everything was discussed, you know, we like who [Reddish] is," he said. “We like the talent. It’s a long season. You know, we traded someone who wasn’t in the rotation. So, you can’t keep adding to without taking someone out, or you know, you have injuries. Just have to be patient and work our way through it.” Considering we always see players traded in February and find immediate success with their new teams, Thibodeau is essentially giving us coach-speak for “I don’t like Cam Reddish for reasons I don’t want to state to the world.”
Cam Reddish is an uber-talented wing with All-Star potential, playing for a starless Knicks squad in dire need of an athletic shot creator. You’d think he’d get a chance next season as a starter, but it’s difficult to say what type of problem Thibodeau has with the 22-year-old small forward.
Taj Gibson - $5.2 Million
Entering Final Season Of A 2-Year, $10.1 Million Contract
Taj Gibson, soon to be 37, is a Tom Thibodeau favorite. He is a hard-nosed interior defender who is still a plus defender but a negative on the fun side. Next season, Gibson will be ready in a backup center role for the Knicks, spelling Mitchell Robinson or Nerlens Noel at the center position for something like 12 minutes per game.
Quentin Grimes - $2.3 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 4-Year, $11.1 Million Rookie Contract (2022-23: $2.3 Million, 2023-24: $2.4 Million Team Option, 2024-25: $4.3 Million Team Option)
Quentin Grimes flashed a solid 3-and-D skill set during his first NBA campaign, connecting on 38.1% of his three-point attempts while finishing the season with a 0.9 Defensive Box Plus/Minus. Grimes has the prototypical size to become a lockdown perimeter defender, but he struggled to contain the league’s top offensive wings throughout the year. He’ll need to hit the video room to increase his basketball IQ and work on his playmaking to become a genuine impact player.
Miles McBride - $1.6 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 3-Year, $4.3 Million Rookie Contract (2022-23: $1.6 Million, 2023-24: $1.8 Million Team Option)
Miles McBride averaged 2.2 PPG, 1.1 RPG, and 1.0 APG while knocking down 25.0% of his long distance shots and only 29.6% overall from the field during his rookie season in mostly garbage time jaunts. McBride has one year left to prove himself before the Knicks will have to choose whether to exercise his team option. Based on his year-one results, he will have to hit the gym hard (like 14 hours a day hard) to carve out a meaningful role in New York next season.
Ryan Arcidiacono - Unrestricted Free Agent
Ryan Arcidiacono played only ten games during the 2021-22 regular season, averaging 1.6 PPG, 0.8 RPG, and 0.4 APG. It’s hard to imagine the Knicks wasting a roster spot on the little-used point guard next year.
The Future Is Murky For The Knicks
Outside of a nearly impossible trade for Donovan Mitchell, the Knicks’ most optimistic hope for next year is that Julius Randle regains his shooting touch from the previous season, RJ Barrett transforms into an All-Star, Mitchell Robinson returns and shows up in shape, Obi Toppin continues his late-season surge as a super-sub, and Immanuel Quickley morphs into a top-15 point guard. And if all of that unlikely perfection happens in New York, it’s still difficult to imagine them surpassing the double Jay’s down in Boston, or Jimmy Buckets and Bam Adebayo in Miami, or even DeMar DeRozan and (probably) Zach LaVine in Chicago. In a superstar league, the Knicks lack the prerequisite star power needed to make genuine noise in the playoffs.
Perhaps the Knicks would be best off admitting their best-case scenario is still a tier below the more elite squads in the Eastern Conference. Perhaps the Knicks should trade Julius Randle, Evan Fournier, and Alec Burks for Russell Westbrook. New York could send Brodie home to his sofa and give Barrett, Quickley, (hopefully) Robinson, Toppin, Reddish, and Grimes a chance to soak up significant minutes in a blatant tank job. The kids would gain experience, while the Knicks would most likely gain a top-5 draft pick and a massive amount of cap space once Westbrook’s contract came off the books during the summer of 2023 to chase a superstar.