With the start of preseason, the Knicks will try to begin answering some questions about rotations and roles as they face off against Detroit.
The Knicks are back! After a long offseason where the Knicks quietly added some quality players in Jalen Brunson and Isaiah Hartenstein and then were loudly lapped in the Donovan Mitchell saga by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Knicks enter this season with some modest expectations. The high of the fourth-place spot two years ago and last year’s 11th-place finish, along with conference-wide improvements, have created a fair expectation of ninth or 10th in the East this year. `
When we last checked in with the Knicks on “Content Day,” we left with some intriguing conversation leading into the regular season. Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau seemed firm against more small-ball tactics, i.e. playing Obi Toppin and Julius Randle together, and even stated that Evan Fournier is once again the forerunner for the starting shooting guard spot over Quentin Grimes. Neither of these things sound great, but it’s early and Grimes is currently in a walking boot. As far as Toppin-Randle lineups? Thibodeau seems adamant about not playing them, so I’m not expecting them, sadly.
Our first opponents this preseason? The Detroit Pistons. The Pistons come into the 2022-23 season looking to accelerate their rebuild while remaining bad enough to enjoy the fruits of the lottery. Cade Cunningham has the makings of a superstar and Saddiq Bey had some moments as an outside threat. Both players will be joined by rookie guard Jaden Ivey and center Jalen Duran. Ivey was one more of the most electric players in the draft last year, while Duren was one of the youngest. Both are expected to get a sizable amount of minutes this season.
What intrigues me about Detroit is their addition of veterans around this team. In their trade/salary dump with the Knicks, the Pistons added Nerlens Noel, who should be able to start if needed while adding a defensive presence, and Alec Burks, who could play alongside either and/or both of Cunningham and Ivey in various lineups. Last week’s trade for Bojan Bogdanović gives them another high-level shooter on the wings. All three are proper veterans who can help the young players on the way up before the Pistons either trade them or move them to slightly smaller roles to accommodate the kids.
Detroit still lacks proper seasoning, but between the trades for veteran talent and the constant influx of good young players, the Pistons have a fair grasp of where they stand and how to properly add players around their future core. If their talented young core continues to grow, the next playoff appearance will be sooner rather than later.
Let’s talk about what to watch in this game
- The (early) rotation looks: Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau’s preference always leans towards hockey-style substitutions, but the hope is that with a team as talented and deep as this one, he goes away from that just a little bit this upcoming season. I’m looking for brief Jalen Brunson-Immanuel Quickley minutes, some Julius Randle-Obi Toppin minutes, and Hartenstein getting some minutes with the starters.
- A glimpse into the early offensive pecking order: The addition of Jalen Brunson gives New York a starting point guard, but Brunson isn’t afraid of getting buckets either. Color me curious to see how the trio of Brunson, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle work on offense. Will it be harmonious with Brunson providing proper balance, Randle working more off the ball while Barrett gets a few more on-ball reps to attack off-balance defenses, or do we see some early record scratches?
- Cam Reddish minutes (?): Cam Reddish has felt like the odd man out for a bit now. The former Duke Blue Devil is the 11th man in a 10-man rotation, leaving him fighting for minutes. With Quentin Grimes out with an apparent foot injury, a solid preseason game or two could put him back on the radar leading up to the regular season.
- Deuce McBride: When Tom Thibodeau mentioned point guards in his recent press conference, he mentioned that he had three: Jalen Brunson, Derrick Rose, and Miles “Deuce” McBride. Consider me curious about McBride’s future role and what that will be on this team as a defensive-minded lead guard.
In short, I’m excited about Knicks basketball, but there’s a nagging feeling that I will be watching a different version of the same team as last year. There are new elements, like Brunson’s driving ability and Hartenstein’s passing as a center, but the model is still the same, highlighted by Randle and his overall offensive game. Combine that with Thibodeau’s principles and it feels like the Knicks just ran it back.
If RJ Barrett takes a leap forward, or Immanuel Quickley gets more minutes and trust from Thibodeau, the math could change, but for now, let’s see where the Knicks are and if those play-in projections are valid.