The Knicks have once again made their interest in trading for a star known. They may need to recalibrate expectations to avoid another letdown.
It is that special time of year. No, not the holiday season. The time of year when the Knicks let it be known they are plotting on the next available star, after falling short of expectations out of the gate.
The team is currently the definition of mediocrity and the antithesis of consistency. They handle, though usually don’t dominate, the bad teams, get beaten up by the good teams, and are a coin flip against the fellow middling teams. The offense started out strong but has since regressed, settling in the lower middle of the league.
There have been plenty of lows, but also some promising highs. Obi Toppin’s shooting has vastly improved from three-point land, connecting on a career-high 36.5%. Cam Reddish has been a pleasant surprise, putting his two-way talents to use and carving out a starting role before being sidelined by a groin injury.
Jalen Brunson has been a godsend for the offense. Brunson is shooting nearly 50.0% from the field, 49.6% if you wish to be exact. He and Julius Randle are a true scoring partnership, tying for the team lead in points per game at 20.8, and both have scored exactly 374 points this season.
Once you move past Brunson and Randle, the scoring becomes a crap shoot. RJ Barrett has struggled to find his offense. Immanuel Quickley has had highs and lows, and Obi Toppin does not get nearly enough minutes. Evan Fournier has lost his rhythm since being relegated to a bench role, and Derrick Rose has not been himself, all culminating in the 18th-ranked offense.
Still, the offense has not been what has held the team down – that privilege belongs to the defense. The defensive performances have been an atrocity by Tom Thibodeau standards. The 23rd-ranked defense in the league, the team has been hard to watch against most competent offenses.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander strolled into Madison Square Garden and led an assault unbecoming of a church day. The Thunder put up 145 points, the most points the Knicks have surrendered in a regular season game since 1979. The most horrifying part? This was not completely out of the norm this season.
Through 18 games, the Knicks have not been able to hold an opponent under 100 points. A major contribution to the defensive woes is the absence of Mitchell Robinson, who missed eight games and left Monday’s game after 13 minutes of court time. There have been other considerable factors – lack of communication, effort, and a scheme that protects the three-point line. The Boston Celtics connected on a franchise-record 27 three-pointers, and every other night it feels like opposing teams enjoy career nights from three.
That brings the team to 9-9 heading into Thanksgiving, with a new rumor to read too much into. The subject of this rumor is Quickley, who could be had for the right price. Despite his shooting struggles, Quickley has flexed his defensive superiority and has quietly become one of the team’s best rebounders, making him a walking triple-double threat given expanded playing time.
Immanuel Quickley locks up Jamal Murray on the final possession 🔒 pic.twitter.com/zNrlINuXID
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 17, 2022
Quickley is averaging a career-high 4.6 rebounds per game, hauling in 82 so far, and has mastered tracking down defensive rebounds. Quickley’s ability to read rebounds has played into his knack for starting a break. The Knicks average 1.22 points per possession on plays immediately following Quickley’s defensive rebounds, The Athletic’s Fred Katz found, according to information tracked by Second Spectrum.
When Quickley gets out on those breaks he has Pat Mahomes to Travis Kelce-level chemistry with Toppin and has consistently shown to have good vision despite his chaotic style that also results in turnovers. For all those reasons, Quickley should see more than his current 22.9 minutes per game.
For all of those reasons, Quickley has also become a name of interest. Shams Charania reported the Knicks were listening to offers on Quickley or veteran Derrick Rose. The reported ask for Quickley is a first-round pick, an asset the Knicks say will go toward the next star trade.
That is correct, word is once again going around, for what feels like the seventh straight season that the Knicks want in on the next available star. This same rumor has come out every year Scott Perry, Leon Rose, and William Wesley have worked in the front office. And every year the front office seems to get cold feet when the time comes.
This past summer, Donovan Mitchell and the Knicks felt like destiny until it didn’t. Before that, Jaden Ivey felt like he was going to be a Knick somehow some way, but the Pistons would’ve been crazy to pass up the chance at pairing him with Cade Cunningham. Before Mitchell, there was Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and after that, you can play six degrees of separation until your heart gives out.
The reality is the Knicks do have enough to land a star (though probably not a superstar), yet do not have the ability to land a second star. This is a reality the team should also embrace, as they let it known they are willing to deal Quickley, who is approaching an extension opportunity.
Extending Randle was a mistake when you curb emotional connection to his ridiculous 2020-21 campaign. Randle has been good to this season, finally settling into his norm of 20 points a night, but it feels like his ceiling as a scorer has been reached. Paired with Barrett’s struggles, the team does not have a reliable second star ready to be paired.
One thing the team must come to terms with is that Barrett and Randle are redundant, and neither performs at a high enough level to justify the redundancy. Leon Rose avoided the temptation to swap the young Barrett for Mitchell, betting on Barrett to grow into a star, even if it is as a 1B. Barrett can easily grow into that, he just hasn’t shown so thus far.
That leaves the Knicks in the spot you never want to be in: purgatory. The roster is not bad enough to tank their way into the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, leaving the only viable option to try to make a small jump or look to sell players that do not fit.
The Knicks seemed to have missed their shot on Gilgeous-Alexander if there ever was one. Sam Presti does not strike me as someone who would trade a guy averaging 31.1 points per game before he even enters his prime. Kevin Durant will never be a New York Knick, and neither will Anthony Davis. Zach LaVine is the type of player the team needs, but gambling on his health is far from a safe bet.
Staying in Chicago, there is another Bulls star who should be a name of interest in New York if the Bulls continue to struggle and decide that blowing it up is the best path forward. DeMar DeRozan was allegedly someone Scott Perry pushed for, eventually losing the power struggle against the faction of the front office that prioritized Evan Fournier, who has deteriorated to the point his value has been iced until he becomes an expiring contract or the team attaches him with a younger player or pick.
DeRozan is the type of scorer, and more importantly the level of star player, that the team needs to pair with Brunson. His bag is strong enough to carry the burden of being the top option. He and Brunson would bring the midrange all the way back, and the hope would be that he and Barrett can find a way to thrive next to each other.
He may be reaching his latter years but DeRozan can become a one-to-two-year option who can help the young players grow, while at the same time not wasting the team’s investment in Brunson.
The cost for DeRozan could be some variation of picks, young players, or both. An ideal scenario is Randle being included in the deal in some form, although a separate deal feels more likely.
Randle’s value is reportedly on the upswing, making offloading him a higher priority before moving on from someone like Quickley in preparation for an offer for a player that does not yet exist.
The front office should always be looking at ways to improve the team. That sentiment rings particularly true for this season, with the team struggling to find an identity. What the front office needs to do is admit their previous significant moves aside from Brunson have fallen short.
The common denominator in those signings was mistaken expectations. Fournier was not the missing piece. Randle is not the star player to slot next to Barrett and Brunson.
There is a player out there that can help the Knicks take a step forward. Before that, the team has to come to terms with who they are, and most importantly, where they are in the grand scheme.