If the Knicks are going to exceed expectations this season, it’s going to be off the strength of good wing play.

Hope springs eternal at the start of the 2021–22 season. Teams on that playoff/play-in borderline are expressing hope in making the postseason, while more solidified playoff teams are hoping recent player acquisitions and/or player development could take them to the next level. For the New York Knicks, the hope is that the team could go from a surprising fourth seed to a team that could take that next step and win a playoff series while also attracting a star player along the way.

In a breakdown of each position, let’s talk about the wing depth for the Knicks. Wing play is critical for a contender, especially if they can play on both sides of the ball. Last season, New York’s wing depth was solid—RJ Barrett was great in his second season while Alec Burks did a great job of coming in and providing a solid veteran presence. Reggie Bullock had tremendous rapport with Julius Randle and finished with over 40% shooting from the outside.

But in turn, the same things that made them a solid trio is the same thing that hurt New York in the postseason. For their success, the Knicks wing class had one fatal flaw: offensive creation. Barrett, known for handling the ball at Duke, was relegated to more of an off-ball scorer, while Bullock offered little as an on-ball offensive threat. Only Alec Burks would offer much as a creator, largely for himself, on the offensive end. 

The Atlanta Hawks, the team that eliminated New York in the playoffs, had several creative players—Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and the likes. It was a stark difference between the two, and as a result, it pushed New York into being aggressive.

So this offseason, the Knicks went and added explosive, ball-handling guards in Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to fix some of those issues. But again, where does it lead the wing group? Largely untouched, the Knicks will need a bit more from them this upcoming season if they want to break away from teams like the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and Chicago Bulls. 

Starter: RJ Barrett

RJ Barrett took a step forward last season, averaging 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. At times, Barrett looked like the player from Duke – carefully shifting through the lane for baskets, using his size to be an effective defender on the perimeter and the post. He could also still pass and find teammates at a solid rate. If New York is going to jump into that elite class in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks will need the Barrett breakout season

But if that doesn’t happen for Barrett, the Knicks should still be fine. With Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier in the backcourt, that’s two more players who control and handle the ball, which could limit some of Barrett’s offensive shine. Offensive creation is Barrett’s biggest question mark and as New York incorporates other additions onto the roster, it wouldn’t surprise if Barrett’s offense remains much of the same—off action and created for him. Time will tell. 

Off the Bench: Alec Burks

Signed for one year, $6 million last season, Burks came in as calming presence off the bench, providing Tom Thibodeau with another weapon off the bench. After averaging 12.7 points and shooting 41.5% from the outside as a key player in New York’s resurgence, the Knicks re-signed the former University of Colorado forward on a three-year deal worth $30 million

Burks gives New York a constant offensive threat off the bench, with a unit that also has Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley. Burks can handle the ball and generate offense, thanks to his outside shooting. His ball-handling allows him to even play point guard in spurts and for a team looking to add more creation, Burks’ return is a welcomed one. The defense is solid, if unspectacular, but his good size allows him to be range to make most average defensive plays. In a world where the Knicks need someone to step up due to injury, Burks’ versatility makes him a valuable player to have.

All in all, Burks is a stable veteran who can give Thibodeau solid minutes at the two and three positions. 

The Rookie: Quentin Grimes

Grimes finished his final season at Houston with averages of 17.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He was a great catch-and-shoot option in college, who also got dirty on defense. The Knicks saw enough in him to make him the 25th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. 

Grimes is clearly a 3-and-D talent, but due to the players on the roster, he might not be able to play right away for the Knicks. Still, much like the selection of Deuce McBride, Grimes is someone on the outside of the rotation, who can clearly enter the rotation and play well with no qualms. Under the tutelage of coaches Tom Thibodeau, Johnnie Bryant, and Darren Erman, Grimes could be a consistent 3-and-D threat for the next decade. That said, don’t be surprised to see him in Westchester for a bit before coming up and getting spot minutes for the Knicks.

The New York Knicks boosted their guard depth with the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier and kept the center rotation more of the same by bringing back Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson. The wing class is where the Knicks remained largely the same and that’s not the worst thing in the world. In a tight Eastern Conference, the Knicks will need something to break themselves from the tier with the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and Atlanta Hawks, and consistent wing play by RJ Barrett and Alec Burks could be what gets them there.

 

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