NBA

New York Knicks 2022-23 NBA preview: Can RJ Barrett become an All-Star? Is Jalen Brunson worth the money?

The New York Knicks wouldn’t put enough assets on the table, or the particular assets the Utah Jazz desired, to get a deal done for Donovan Mitchell, leaving Jalen Brunson as the prized summer acquisition for a team that went from a top-four seed in 2020-21 to failing to even qualify for the play-in last season. 

In addition to the Brunson signing (four years, $104 million), New York re-signed Mitchell Robinson on a four-year, $60 million deal and locked up RJ Barrett through 2027 on a rookie extension that could be worth up to $120 million. That’s a lot of money for three guys who’ve never been close to an All-Star. 

Is New York a legit playoff team? That depends on a few factors, three of which we’ll get into below in something of a Cliff Notes version of a 2022-23 Knicks preview. 

Key changes

Roster

Top of the key: RJ Barrett’s development

The Knicks tried to trade Barrett to Utah but in the end, reportedly, wouldn’t include Quentin Grimes or an extra unprotected draft pick to their offer. So now Donovan Mitchell is in Cleveland and Barrett has a four-year, $120 million extension with the Knicks. To me, the Knicks got a lucky break with Utah not accepting their offer. I don’t think that Mitchell is worth what Utah wanted from the Knicks, and I think Barrett has an All-Star selection in his (perhaps near) future. 

Shooting is Barrett’s swing factor. Last season he shot 40 percent from the field. Two seasons ago he shot 40 percent from 3. That’s the difference between potential All-Star Barrett and the guy the Knicks tried to trade and were reportedly hesitant to reward with a long-term extension before their hand was forced. 

If Barrett’s shooting can solidify, he’s going to be even more impossible to keep out of the paint. After the turn of the calendar last season, Barrett averaged 7.7 shots in the restricted area, which ranked fourth in the league, and 7.4 free throw attempts per game, which ranked 11th. He’s something of a Zion Williamson light in terms of his ability to power his way downhill and to his left hand despite the entire arena knowing he’s going that way. 

With that kind of success breaching the paint, Barrett just needs to seal the deal once he gets there; a 55 percent conversion rate at the rim and 30 percent in the 4-14 foot range, per Cleaning the Glass, isn’t going to cut it. 

Think about this: From Jan. 1 forward, Barrett averaged 23.6 points, six rebounds and 3.5 assists while serving as the Knicks’ prime wing defender and playing 37.1 minutes per game. Now imagine that player with just a league-average effective field-goal percentage. That’s an All-Star, folks. 

Next up: Brunson worth the money?

As mentioned above, the Knicks went big on Brunson: four years, $104 million. Can he be a top option outside the Luka Doncic orbit? For what it’s worth, the Mavericks outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions last season with Doncic on the bench and Brunson running the show, per Cleaning the Glass. Brunson proved, especially in the playoffs, that he can lead a good team as a borderline All-Star-level starting point guard. 

The bad news is Brunson’s 3-point shooting — without Doncic on the court creating open looks for him — dipped by four percent (36 to 32) when he played alone last season. Now factor this: The Knicks don’t figure to have nearly the same kind of spacing that Dallas had last season. If Julius Randle doesn’t warp back to his 2020-21 All-Star campaign when he shot 41 percent from 3 to give drivers some breathing room, It will be very interesting to see how much of his own space Brunson can create in a condensed setting. 

Bottom line: This is a big step up for Brunson. He won’t have Doncic to carry the every-night burden anymore. He’s no longer in the honeymoon period of being a second-round pick playing with house money. Now he’s got the Knicks’ money. Nine figures of it, actually. And he will be under a new kind of pressure to perform every single night. 

One more thing: Trade season? 

New York has eight trade-eligible first-round draft picks between 2023 and 2029. Cam Reddish being traded at some point feels like a formality. The Knicks would most likely be happy to move Randle if anyone would take that contract. What the Knicks kept in not trading for Mitchell is the ability to take a different, potentially even bigger power swing, if the opportunity arises. 

Who knows if some unhappy star is going to pop out of the woodwork around the trade deadline. There are a number of scenarios and potential targets, but the point is New York has options. Lots of them. And various ways to structure an attractive package with draft-pick attachments to salaries that might not be so tradeable on their own — plus young assets like Obi Toppin, Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley. 

When the Knicks passed on Mitchell, that wasn’t an indication that they are fine with the roster they have. It only meant that they believe a better deal — or deals — at some point, will be out there for them. Maybe they look to hit a few singles instead of the home run. Maybe at least one of them happens this season. 

Key games

The reason that the Knicks are in the 10th spot is because we do not feel they’ll be part of the conversation come May. Oh, but it still could be quite the regular season at Madison Square Garden after their season opener on the road against the Ja Morant-led Memphis Grizzlies.

For years, hoopheads have been tracking when LeBron James might eclipse Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the NBA‘s all-time scoring list, and most projections still estimate that the sweet spot for that to occur is some time between mid-January and mid-February, so then it should come as little surprise that James’ Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to visit The World’s Most Famous Arena smack dab in the middle of that span. Then again, it also helps that the Lakers — as they do every year — have a long road trip during that specific time on the calendar when the Grammy Awards take over their house. (Hey, it was just a theory.)

The Knicks, once again, landed themselves a Christmas Day game, and for those of you into the whole revenge-reunion-jilted factor thing — whether real or perceived — a couple of these matchups ought to be fun, too. That is, unless we believe that those Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers contests featuring the visiting Doncic and Mitchell on back-to-back days in early December will just be another couple of games on the schedule.

  • Oct. 19: Knicks at Grizzlies (ESPN)
  • Dec. 3: Mavericks at Knicks
  • Dec. 4: Cavaliers at Knicks
  • Dec. 25: 76ers at Knicks (ESPN)
  • Jan. 31: Lakers at Knicks (TNT)


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