The Knicks are set to tip off their season on Wednesday in Boston. Here are some important things to optimistically watch for early on.

The New York Knicks finally realized the best way to restore the feeling. No, we are still waiting on the throwbacks jerseys, although it appears that this year is the year. What I’m talking about is the team returning to their winning roots, returning to Charleston, South Carolina for their training camp.

Opening camp on the College of Charleston campus is a throwback to the 1990s under Pat Riley, when the Knicks would leave the metro area to get ready for the season. Charleston was not about glamour, it was about iron sharpening iron. 

“We didn’t come in there bullshitting. When we got to Charleston, it was, ‘Let’s go and win this title.’ And if you’re not on board, ask for a trade,” Chris Childs, the former Knicks point guard, told Stefan Bondy of The New York Post. “Or we’re going to beat your ass every day in practice.”

The tradition was the bedrock of the Riley teams and one that Tom Thibodeau eventually got to experience firsthand. Thibodeau bringing it back after laying the groundwork for a hard-nosed team feels too perfect. The Knicks are essentially running it back with the same team, only this time the pieces fit this year and beyond.

The decision to flee the NYC was a smart one. The Yankees and Mets both crash-landed in the summer, with playoff baseball taking a year (or two off). The Jets are barely afloat, the Giants are well, yeah– and let’s be real, as good as the Rangers are this will never be a hockey town. This is a Knicks town now more than ever, and it would be easy for the team to get lost in the hype, much like the Mets or Jets.

Relocating away from the media capital seemed to pay dividends. Through their first two preseason games, the team has looked sharp. Thibodeau has yet to unleash Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and to a lesser extent, Josh Hart, but there is unmistakable cohesion with whoever is on the court.

A hot shooting night from the Timberwolves on Saturday night sunk the team, but even then, there is still a toughness. There have been few defense lapses, heightened chemistry, and overall, the type of enjoyable basketball the team made its standard last spring. Even Evan Fournier has looked good.

The preseason has done nothing to tone down expectations for a big season. With a full, healthy, roster, all eyes are on the Knicks.

The Leap to Keep the Core Together?

As is normally the case with the Knicks, once they start to win games, star trades become the topic of discussion. This summer included names like Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokunmpo, James Harden, and most recently, Karl-Anthony Towns.

The logic behind trading some good pieces for a great piece is sound–if the Knicks are going to go even further in the playoffs, they need a star-level scorer. But do they actually?

Right now, yes. Jalen Brunson is the only one who can be relied on to get buckets no matter the circumstance. However, if spacing drastically is increased, others, chiefly Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, will have much more room to operate. That is where Quentin Grimes can play a huge role.

A Grimes leap, a true leap, could quell all concerns about the redundancy of Randle and Barrett. Grimes was solid in his first season as a starter. He was the best perimeter defender in the starting lineup by a considerable margin, and will likely guard the opposing team’s best player this season, too.

Offense is where Grimes left a lot to be desired. The pieces are there for a great two-way player. The shot looks good, the drives look good, and even the underrated playmaking looks good. Now, it’s about Grimes putting it all together consistently.

He averaged 11.3 points per game last season and shot 38.6% from three. Still, there is clear room for improvement which speaks to the level Grimes is capable of reaching.

His performance in the team’s third preseason game in Boston was an example of what can be the norm this season. Not necessarily hitting seven threes a game, if he does that, the Hoop Gods have blessed the Knicks with the next generation Klay Thompson. No, it was more about the shots he took and how he found them.

Sharing the floor with Brunson and Randle will keep Grimes open more times than not. He can play the low-maintenance catch-and-shoot role, and he can also put the ball on the floor and actually do something–he is already a better finisher at the rim than Barrett.

But again, it’s about Grimes consistently putting it together. If he can average 15 to 20 points per game and bump that three-point percentage into the 40s, the Knicks as well as Grimes can take a major leap forward. A leap, that could negate the need to part with assets to add a bigger name.

Staying Power

Mitchell Robinson may be the leap we are not talking about. Robinson finally got the national recognition he deserved following the team’s playoff run, mainly dominating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.

He has not taken his foot off the gas in the preseason. He looks well-conditioned and ready to prove he is as much a force as the bigger names in the starting lineup. Robinson has the look of someone with a legitimate chance to make an All-Defense team, and perhaps even throw his name in the ring for Defensive Player of the Year. He has to crawl and walk before he can run, however, anyone who has taken in any of his preseason minutes can see a conditioned and focused Mitch.

The other young veteran who hopes to reintroduce himself is RJ Barrett. In his second preseason game, Barrett laid out the blueprint to work off from this season.

It was the perfect blend of off-ball cuts, controlled drives, and catch-and-shoot jumpers that resulted in 23 points. Efficiency continues to be Barrett’s fatal flaw, which makes his ability to get to the line that much more important. Only Golden State’s Jonathan Kuminga took more free throws through the first two games than Barrett, and if he can continue to hit at 85.7% from the line, Barrett can churn out 20-point games in his sleep.

Free throw shooting is the key for Barrett and Robinson to reach their next levels, and prove they are key pieces for the Knicks well beyond this season.

Next $100 Million Man

The clock continues to tick on Immanuel Quickley’s extension, or lack thereof. Quickley led the team in scoring in the preseason opener with 21 points in the win. It felt refreshing to see Quickley back to his old self after a postseason worth forgetting a few months ago.

Quickley did disappear at the worst possible time, however, that should not negate how good he was up until that point, nor should it dissuade team brass from backing up the Brinks truck. Jalen Brunson blocks Quickley’s shortest path to a promotion, and thus far, Thibodeau has not rolled out any lineups for a long period of time to suggest he is comfortable with a small backcourt of Brunson at the point and Quickley at the two.

Still, the immense value Quickley brings is well worth the six-figure price tag he is said to want. He is the only player on the roster who has decent floor chemistry with the full roster, given his role as sixth man and spot starter. The funny thing is, his stats as a starter are even better than his stats as a reserve, averaging close to 22-5-5 in 27 career starts.

Right now there is no room for him, but as star rumors swirl if Quickley is not used as a major piece in a potential trade, he will no doubt be the immediate beneficiary of any blockbuster that sees multiple players get dealt.

If the October 23 deadline comes and goes, that does not necessarily doom and gloom for Immanuel Quickley in NYC. It would be a little head-scratching given the consistent displays of usefulness and the fact that Quickley is the second-best perimeter defender on the team.

Quickley will get his bag eventually. If Leon Rose is smart, he will be the one supplying it.

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