The Knicks have established themselves as an above-average team at this point of the year. How will they fare as the schedule gets harder?

As we approach the halfway mark of the 2022-23 regular season, the New York Knicks find themselves in the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Their 21-18 record through 39 games is around where most fans thought they’d be at this juncture of the year and might even be considered exceeding expectations, given their subpar performance last year and all of the offseason noise. The ‘Bockers are 15th in the NBA in points per game and 11th in points per game allowed, per NBA Stats, which is kind of what you would expect from a team with their record.

We all know the Knicks aren’t a great team; they simply don’t stack up to the Bucks, Nets, Cavs, Celtics and even the Sixers, who are all ahead of them in the standings. After that, the East is mired in mediocrity and underachievement, a bevy of chaos that leaves the Knicks with a very realistic shot of making the playoffs. With 43 games left on the schedule, let’s take a look at how they could potentially fare with the way things are going now.

Lifted by the Lefties

Prior to December, the Knicks were circling the drain and looked to be headed towards another lost season. However, in the last calendar month, New York revived their season, posting an 11-5 record, primarily due to their lefty studs: Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and R.J. Barrett. Randle has had an incredible season and has won back the New York faithful, averaging 28.3 points and 11.4 rebounds in December, per ESPN Stats. Brunson, viewed by many as an offseason overpay, looks like an absolute steal, becoming not only a steadying presence the Knicks haven’t had in 20 years, but also a certified bucket-getter. Barrett, who was extremely disappointing to begin the season, also turned his season around, prior to his finger injury. In his last 10 games played, RJ scored 22.2 points per night on an impressive 44.8% from behind the arc, per ESPN Stats.

It will be imperative for these three to continue their great play if the Knicks want to find themselves invited to the dance. I fully expect JB to continue his great season, as he has the temperament and historically consistent play to back it up. Randle’s renaissance seems to be more than just one good month of ball and I believe Brunson’s presence has a lot to do with his improvement from last year, but it remains to be seen if Randle can keep this up.

Barrett, who has run hot and cold in his first four seasons in the Association and hasn’t quite yet reached his ceiling, is making strides in the right direction after a concerning beginning to the year. Barrett’s offensive contributions will be important, but don’t sleep on his defense, an area where he can make an impact that few other Knicks can. Per Stat Muse, the 22-year-old’s defensive rating this season is the worst of his career. This is where Tom Thibodeau comes into play and can be instrumental in Barrett’s defensive improvement. Although this aspect of his game will not appear in many box scores and stat sheets, the Knicks will need him to be better on that end of the floor, as he will likely resume taking on a high workload of guarding elite offensive players when he’s back from his finger injury.

Remaining Schedule

As currently constituted, the Knicks have the fourth-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, per Tankathon, with the defending East champion Celtics and red-hot Nets on the docket for three more games apiece, two times each between now and the end of February.

Looking ahead, the Knicks play the aforementioned teams currently ahead of them in the Eastern Conference a total of 11 times for the remainder of the season, per ESPN. You never want to expect/ask for too much from a team like the Knicks, so I think a reasonable expectation for them is to win four of those games. Thus far, New York is 2-6 against the Bucks, Nets, Celtics, Cavs and Sixers, so based on their improved play I think that would be fair to think they could win four of those.

Aside from those 11 games, the Knicks play 32 more games, 17 against teams currently below .500. My prediction would be the Knicks post the following records against these groups of teams:

4-7 (Bucks, Celtics, Sixers, Nets, Cavs)

12-5 (teams currently below .500)

6-9 (teams currently above .500)

This means the Knicks in their remaining games are projected to finish 22-21, which would give them a 43-39 record. I think it is a relatively safe and reasonable prediction for a Knicks team that is not bad, but not exceptional by any stretch. There is increased optimism heading into the 2023 portion of the year, but the schedule does get tougher and the Knicks will be underdogs in a good percentage of their remaining matchups.

Barring any major injuries and with Obi Toppin’s return immanent and some potential trade deadline roster tweaks, I think the Knicks being a 43- to 46-win team is very fair and would position them to likely be a 6- or 7-seed in the East. Depending on who they matchup with, we might even see them win a playoff series for the first time since 2013.

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