In 2021, the New York Knicks had a surprisingly fantastic season, finishing 41-31 and making it to the NBA playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
In doing so, they greatly surpassed expectations, as many predicted they would win less than 30 or so contests.
New York appeared to have an even better roster this season, but it sagged to a 37-45 record and missed the play-in tournament.
Now the Knicks are back to the unpleasant but familiar spot of needing a massive roster overhaul in order to become relevant.
The big rumor in the Tri-State Area is that Jalen Brunson, a fast-emerging guard with the Dallas Mavericks, is about to sign with the Knicks for a nice payday.
The Knicks have cleared $30M in salary cap space to offer Dallas' Jalen Brunson in the neighborhood of a max contract. The unloading of assets and contracts clearly shows the Knicks' confidence that they can secure Brunson once free agency opens on Thursday.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 29, 2022
If what the basketball world has seen from him in recent months in no fluke, he can significantly help the Knicks improve.
But it will take more than Brunson to make them a squad that will not only make the playoffs but has a chance to get past the first round.
Who the Knicks think Jalen Brunson is pic.twitter.com/hbKUt51Ytx
— HaterMuse (@HaterMuse) June 29, 2022
Brunson Could Become A Borderline Star
Brunson, who was born in New Brunswick, N.J., was drafted by the Mavs with the 33rd pick in 2018.
His first two NBA seasons were quiet, and although he started to show signs of being a reliable contributor last year, he didn’t appear to be anything special.
But in 2022, he improved to 16.3 points and 4.8 assists a game while shooting 50.2 percent overall from the field and 37.3 percent from 3-point range.
In the playoffs, people from outside the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex took notice and realized that Brunson has become a very good player.
The 6-foot-1 guard put up 21.6 points per contest, and in Dallas’ first-round victory over the Utah Jazz, he averaged 27.8 points a game.
In the Mavs’ massive Game 7 upset of the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the next round, Brunson had 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field.
Even if he isn’t a true point guard and floor general and turns out to be more of a combo guard, he will help the Knicks by giving them a consistent offensive option who can attack and force the issue early in possessions.
But he won’t exactly be the second coming of Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
What Else Needs To Go Right For New York?
A lot went wrong for the Knicks this season, and their to-do list is pretty long.
After playing well in 2021, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, the team’s two best players, shot a very low percentage this year, and both need to pick that up in 2023 for New York to get back to the postseason.
But more than anything else, it needs to get back to basics.
It reached the playoffs a year ago by forging an identity as a team that won with defense and forced its opponents into an ugly, slow, grind-it-out affair.
The Knicks can also help themselves by improving their 3-point shooting as a team – they ranked third in 3-point shooting percentage in 2021 but just 13th this year.
Although Brunson should help with that, it will have to be a team-wide effort.