After going to the second round of the playoffs, expectations are up for the Knicks. How do they stack up against the beasts of the East?

47 wins and a first-round playoff drubbing of the Cleveland Cavaliers have us fans excited about what the Knicks can achieve this year. It’s been quite a while (11 years) since the Knicks put together back-to-back winning seasons, per Basketball-Reference, and with the team seemingly on a positive trajectory due to a nice mix of stars and young, emerging talent, there is hope that they can that leap to an Eastern Conference Finals trip and maybe, eventually, go even further.

In terms of turnover, the roster remains largely unchanged from the previous season, with the cornerstone pieces of Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and R.J. Barrett back alongside key supporting cast members like Josh Hart, Immanuel Quickley, Mitchell Robinson, and Quentin Grimes. The only real notable addition to the fold was Donte DiVincenzo, who brings shooting, experience, depth, and about 10 points per game to replace the production of Obi Toppin, who was dealt to the Pacers in the offseason and never really got ample opportunity in the Big Apple.

Whether you feel that the Knicks could’ve/should’ve done more in terms of upgrading the roster, there is an expectation that young guys will show varying levels of progress, while Brunson and Randle at least replicate their outputs from last season. There have been rumblings and speculation that the Knicks will finally take a huge swing at a superstar to really catapult them into the elite tier, but at this juncture, New York seems to still sit a notch or two below the juggernauts of the Eastern Conference.

Landscape of the East

Heading into an NBA season, it’s usually relatively easy to tell which teams will either thrive, be stuck in the middle, or be focused on the lottery. Obviously, there is some fluctuation based on major injuries, mid-season acquisitions, etc. but we mostly know where teams will fall in line as far as the standings are concerned.

The Bad

I think it’s fair to assume the teams who will be cellar-dwelling in the East are the Pistons, Hornets, and, likely, the Magic. Detroit and Orlando have exciting young stars like Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, and Paolo Banchero, but don’t seem quite ready to be relevant in terms of making the playoffs. They both have rosters chock-full of young players, along with veteran cast-offs, which doesn’t really translate to being an above .500 team. Charlotte, one of the noisiest teams in the Association, has dealt with off-the-court problems from their players and just were sold. I don’t expect LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller to be able to overcome their talent-deficient overall roster.

The Solid

Most teams in the East fall into this category: the 6-12 range in terms of seeding who will likely be hovering around for a play-in birth when next April comes around. These teams include the Pacers, Wizards, Bulls, Raptors, Nets, Hawks, and yes, the Sixers.

I know Philly finished seven games above the Knicks last season and in my opinion, upgraded their coach, going from Doc Rivers to Nick Nurse. To me, the Sixers look more like a 45-win team this year, as opposed to the 54-win team of last season. Joel Embiid’s health is always a huge question mark, James Harden can’t be trusted to remain committed if he’s even on the team and their depth leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, Tyrese Maxey is awesome and ready to take the number two role on the team behind Embiid, but I just don’t see a world where Philly can match what they did last year. As crazy as it sounds, I could see a team like Washington, Brooklyn, or Atlanta finishing with a better record than Philadelphia this year.

The Very Good

This is the category where I see the Knicks falling into, based on how they’re currently constructed, along with the Heat and Cavs. Funny enough, these are the two teams that the Knicks faced off against in the playoffs last season and I do see them both being on a similar playing field. I still have to give the edge to the Heat in this group, given their NBA Finals trip last season and their championship-level coach and depth, but the Heat are definitely beatable and the Knicks have already proven they can take down the Cavs.

The Contenders

Last, we have a pair of dominant forces that spent the last few weeks of the off-season in a full-on arms race. The Bucks and Celtics are the measuring sticks of the East, and all paths to the NBA Finals seem to go through them. In these two black-and-green squads, the Knicks will be able to test themselves and see how they stack up.

Pump the Brakes

The Knicks are in a very good spot and seem to be poised to make a deeper playoff run if all goes according to plan this season. However, I do not believe they are equipped yet to stack up with the elites of the East in Milwaukee and Boston and advance past the ECF.

To me, with Damian Lillard as a Buck alongside Giannis and Jrue Holiday on the C’s with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, there is just too much superstar talent there, which has separated these two squads from the rest of the conference. In a seven-game series, it is just too early to say the Knicks have more than a slim, slim chance to squeak by either the Bucks or Celtics.

Patience and incremental progress are not always things fans have the bandwidth for, but expecting this team to take a giant leap to be the best in the East is a little ambitious, based on the talent gap and the fact that these teams have Finals experience.

To me, a realistic finishing spot would be the four seed in the East, slightly behind Miami and a little further back from Boston and Milwaukee.

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