Is it fair to say this is a fun time for the Knicks?
No, the season hasn't gone as expected. Missing the play-in
altogether a year after a strong regular season and playoff berth
wasn't on the bingo card for most, especially in light of their
acquisitions this offseason.
If there's a silver lining, it's this end-of-season stretch. The
Knicks have gone 11-11 since the All-Star break, boasting a net
rating (plus-3.1) higher than the Mavericks (plus-2.8), Nets
(plus-2.5) and Warriors (plus-0.8).
As far as the fun goes, it's nice that the young guys are
driving a lot of the success. Immanuel Quickely is making real
strides as a lead ball-handler. Ditto for RJ Barrett, whose
shoulder-chucking drives are putting dents in this chest of his
defenders and the hearts of defenses. And if the Knicks don't have
the most athletic frontcourt in the league with Obi Toppin and
Jericho Sims, they can't be far from the top.
It's hard not to leap off your couch watching these dudes jet
after misses or turnovers. Quickley's bound to pull-up from
anywhere. Barrett is a freight train. Toppin and Sims can highpoint
lobs with the best of them. But from a projection standpoint,
possessions like this one from Friday night's action stand out:
The Knicks push after a miss but pull things back since an early
advantage isn't present. Not yet, at least.
Toppin is defended by Cassius Winston, an unfavorable
cross-match that was formed by a switch on the prior possession.
Toppin goes to the block early in the possession but retreats to
the corner after Quickley makes the call.
This is where the fun begins.
Quickley calls up Sims to set a screen -- a screen that Quickley
doesn't really plan to use. While Sims is coming up to Quickley,
Toppin works his way back to the right block with Winston on
With Sims above the free throw line, his defender (Thomas
Bryant) is able to provide relief on the interior. The only player
who could make a rotation to help on the Winston-on-Toppin mismatch
is Isaiah Todd, though he's occupied by Feron Hunt in the left
With Winston attempting to front and no help on the backside,
there's a lob available for Toppin. Quickley nails the pass,
leading to the easiest half-court bucket of the night for Toppin.
Two of Toppin's career-high 35 points, might I add.
The Quickley-Toppin connection hasn't just been fun; it's been
good. Consider these numbers since the All-Star break:
- The Knicks have generated 1.09 points per possession (PPP) on
trips featuring a Quickely-Toppin ball screen. It's a number on par
with combos like Monte Morris and Nikola Jokic (1.09 PPP), Anthony
Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns (1.08 PPP), and DeMar DeRozan and
Nikola Vucevic (1.06 PPP), per Second Spectrum.
- With Quickley and Toppin on the court, the Knicks have
outscored opponents by 11.1 points per 100 possessions.
The jury is out on what this roster will look like come October.
But at the risk of sounding recency bias-y, it's hard to argue
against prioritizing these young guys.
Toppin has flourished in the non-Julius Randle games, boasting
averages of 23.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists over his
last four contests. The answer may not be to flat-out trade Randle,
but there should be more time carved out for Toppin moving forward
Quickley has shown spark-plug potential since his rookie season,
and we're starting to see him grow more in half-court settings.
Look further down the roster, and you'll remember the Knicks
flipped a first rounder (among other assets) for Cam Reddish a
couple of months ago. It would behoove them to find room for him,
It's time for the younger pieces to be prioritized and
empowered. The next era of great Knicks basketball may depend on
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