Get ready for another long season. I’m thinking MAYBE 30 wins? For the sake of argument, I’ll go 26-48. The Knicks start their next journey with a new head coach and two exciting rookies along with the possibility of a breakout season for RJ Barrett.
The New York Knicks waited nine months to play another regular-season game, with the 2020–21 NBA season tipping off for the ‘Bockers on December 23rd, 2020.
Let’s not wait any longer. Without further adieu, here are the predictions for the Knicks’ seasons from The Knicks Wall’s staff.
1. Will Obi Toppin be a top contender for Rookie of the Year?
Quentin Haynes: No, but that’s not his fault. With Julius Randle ahead of him, I don’t see Toppin factoring into the Rookie of the Year race that much. I will say, though, that I think he has a much stronger second half of the season, compared to the first half.
Nick Carannante: Obi Toppin will be a ROTY finalist, but ultimately he will not receive any first-place votes.
Sean Carroll: Obi will have the storyline behind him to win the Rookie of the Year award, and it’s probably the safest bet on the board if you’re looking to make money. Preseason games only confirmed that especially if LaMelo Ball keeps submitting 1-of-10 nights from the floor.
Nick Scolaro: Yes, I do believe Obi will be in contention for Rookie of the Year. His flashy and captivating style of play will bode well for him and I think he will get a lot of opportunities as a rookie. His experience, age, and maturity will allow him to make an impact right away, more so than his 18-19-year-old rookie counterparts. I’m not sure if he wins the award, but I anticipate him being in the running.
Jesse Cinquini: Yes. Shot creation is a glaring need for the Knicks, and this will force Tom Thibodeau to play Toppin early and often. Obi will have the green light on the offensive end all season long, and as such expect him to put together several gaudy scoring performances over the course of 72 games. Toppin is quite possibly the most polished scorer of his draft class and he will end the 2020–21 campaign with a legit shot at the coveted Rookie of the Year award.
Michael Corvo: Depends if and when Julius Randle is traded. Toppin has been receiving the heaviest action from bettors to win the award, which is understandable considering his “NBA-readiness” and the fact that the 22-year-old was the best player in college basketball last season.
However, he can’t play the 3 or 5, and Thibodeau has already acknowledged the defensive issues with lineups featuring Toppin and Randle together. For the time being, Toppin will be looking at a “second unit sparkplug role”, likely taking him out of ROY contention. But, if the Knicks can deal with Randle early in the season, Toppin’s chances to compete for the award dramatically increase.
Dylan Burd: Based on what we saw in the preseason, no. While I think Obi Toppin will have several good games throughout the season, I think he’ll come off the bench for at least the first part of it. Additionally, I don’t think he’ll have the same usage rate as a guy like LaMelo Ball, who will likely have more opportunities to put up better numbers. I think Toppin ends up having a solid season, but ultimately don’t think he wins Rookie of the Year. However, I expect him to be borderline top five.
Eugene Rapay: Toppin might play well enough to squeeze into one of the All-Rookie teams, but not sure he will be a Rookie of the Year front-runner or favorite.
Sam DiGiovanni: The Rookie of the Year Award is basically a stat contest/rookie scoring title. If Toppin was starting, I would feel good about choosing him to win, but he probably won’t be for most of the season. I think he’ll be good for about 10 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, but that probably isn’t enough to contend for the award. A lot of other highly touted neophytes might be coming off the bench too, though, so Toppin may be in the race.
Mike Cortez: I believe so, once Obi overtakes Randle at the 4. Toppin did not have any signature scoring nights in the preseason, but remember the rust factor and the lack of warm-up games. In a normal year, Obi has a healthy 8-12 summer league and preseason games under his belt. From what I saw though, the potential for making an impact is clear beyond scoring. He can pass, is active on the glass, and can jump through the roof. With more opportunities that energy can translate to some exciting stat lines. Rookie of the Year may be ambitious unless Obi reaches his maximum ceiling as Blake Griffin 2.0, so the more tempered and clear-minded prediction is a top-five finish.
Tyler Marko: Obi highlights are going to be all over this season, which after opportunity may be the most important factor in working your way into the rookie of the year conversation. He’s NBA-ready enough to put up the requisite numbers, more so if Randle gets shipped out. It’s going to come down to the field, and possibly the Knicks’ record.
Obi Toppin had a solid (pre)season debut 👀 @obitoppin1
– 11 points on 4-9 shooting (3-5 FT)
– 7 rebounds
– 1 assist
– 1 block pic.twitter.com/6VUEnmSRIe
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 12, 2020
Brendan Campbell: There are usually two paths to a player winning Rookie of the Year: elite stats on a bad team or middling stats in an important role on a competitive team. Provided Julius Randle does not eat up too many of his minutes at the 4, Toppin projects as a prime candidate to put up big numbers for a Knicks team that will not be competitive. Still, Toppin’s preseason highs in points and rebounds were 11 and seven, respectively, so he will need to carve out a much more prominent role in the offense to be considered a top contender. For context, the only Rookie of the Year to average under 11 points per game since 2000 was Malcolm Brogdan in 2017, when the Bucks won 42 games and took the sixth seed.
Eli Cohen: When the Knicks drafted Obi it seemed clear he would be, but I’m honestly not sure. For him to be a top contender, Randle would either have to be traded or demoted, and I have a hard time seeing that happening. Also: the three-point shot needs to come along in a major way for his scoring to be potent enough to merit top consideration. It sounds crazy but if one of the Knicks rookies is going to contend for the award, it might just be Quickley.
2. How involved will Leon Rose get in the trade market?
Quentin: I hope he does get active at the deadline. I imagine the Knicks will look to shop the veterans (Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton, etc.) for future second-round picks. I don’t envision a superstar trade at the deadline, even with Thibodeau’s recent comments.
Nick C.: Leon Rose will be active at the deadline but not make any big moves. They will look to sell to playoff contenders as well as collecting assets to help deals go through.
Sean: I’m crossing my fingers and toes Leon gets involved at the deadline to take on salaries. It’s unfair that 29 teams have Sam Presti on speed dial to dump salary, but if they can’t flip Al Horford plus others, the Knicks should be right there to take on the bad money at the deadline. With most of the important free agents re-signing (Giannis, Gobert, etc.) I wonder who’s getting off money though?
Nick S.: I don’t believe Rose will be big game hunting at the trade deadline. I believe any move he is going to make is to try and sell off guys to contenders for more assets, like Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock, Burks, etc. I believe Rose wants to see what he has in terms of young talent, build a foundation, and have another draft in 2021 (likely stronger than 2020’s) and then go out and look to bring in big names.
Jesse: I don’t think Leon Rose and the Knicks are primed to make a major splash at the trade deadline. Expect Rose to attempt to unload veteran floor generals such as Payton and Dennis Smith Jr. should Immanuel Quickley cement his place as a fixture in the starting five. But unless Rose wants to part with a valued member of his young core, the Knicks don’t have the assets to reel in a big fish.
Michael: Somewhat involved. Rose exhibited patience and frugality this offseason, and I see him behaving similarly ahead of what should be a deep 2021 draft and busy summer free-agency period. Rose will trade Randle—even for a less-than-ideal return package—to clear the way for Toppin, and he might make some moves around the edges. For this season, though, no stars will relocate to New York.
Dylan: In the last few seasons, there have been a lot of players who have become available out of nowhere. I expect this to happen again and, if it does, the Knicks will almost certainly be involved. That being said, I don’t think the Knicks trade for a star midseason. Instead, the Knicks will continue to develop the rest of the young core until the end of the season, and instead look to trade guys like Burks, Noel, and Randle. Burks and Noel are on one-year deals, so if they’re playing well and are healthy, contending teams will be interested. Randle may be a lot harder to move due to his contract and playstyle.
Eugene: If Rose isn’t shooting for a big name, he’ll definitely do some selling and maybe clear up the roster a bit. Don’t seem him just sitting idly by or being unproductive.
Sam: I can see Leon Rose flipping any young guy that isn’t playing well/frequently for draft capital. I don’t think he’ll make a serious push for a star. Instead, I think it’ll be more like the moves we saw him make in the offseason. There will probably be a few more second-rounders in New York’s possession after the deadline.
Mike: Not as active as some might hope. There is not much out there after the latest rounds of extensions. Victor Oladipo is only a real target due to the Scott Perry connection, although he would be on the lower spectrum of star status. Rose might be more inclined to try and flip guys for some value and roll cap space over until a legitimate star becomes available. The pool of stars may be empty at the moment but things change quickly. Rudy Gobert just got a whole lot of money and Donovan Mitchell is not his biggest fan. Devin Booker and Karl Towns could still grow tired of small market life. Those are the stature of names Rose and team brass would rather break up this young core for.
Tyler: I don’t see Rose and the front office making a big splash at the deadline. Not out of a commitment to rebuilding, but because there won’t be a good fit. Can’t picture any of CAA’s stars (Booker, Towns, Paul George, Mitchell, or Joel Embiid) demanding out of their current situation.
Brendan: After a weird amount of contract extensions this summer, it looks like the summer of 2021 will be less of a free agency frenzy than expected. The Knicks still find themselves in a good position with regards to cap space next summer, but with fewer enticing free agents posed to hit the market, Rose and Co. should look at this deadline as an opportunity to absorb bad contracts that are attached to enticing assets.
Eli: I would bet on Rose being very involved, but I’m doubtful it’s for a star. Look for him to try to use some of the Knicks ample cap space to facilitate three-team deals or help luxury tax teams try to duck out of some dead money. With the 2021 draft class getting weaker and weaker and few stars available for a price the Knicks would be able to meet, there’s a decent chance he moves more into asset acquisition mode than star-hunting mode.
3. Who is the starting point guard by February?
Quentin: Elfrid Payton, because the trade deadline isn’t until March 25. That said, I think the keys to the car will be given to Immanuel Quickley shortly after. After a strong preseason, I imagine Thibs and the crew will want those extra 1,000 minutes to see if he can handle the position for the long-term.
Nick C.: Elfrid Payton will still be the starting point guard whether we like it or not.
Sean: Immanuel Quickley. Yes, it’s the hot new thing at the moment and I doubt I’m the only one saying that, but rookie point guards are usually bad. And while IQ is probably putting up cheeky 15-point, eight-assist box scores, he won’t help the team win which brings the Knicks closer to [insert 2021 draft prospect].
🗣 PG1 @IQ_GodSon 🔥
– 22 points (7-12 FG, 3-5 3PT, 5-7 FT)
– 5 assists
– 5 steals
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 19, 2020
Nick S.: Immanuel Quickley. IQ has been awesome in the preseason and should get a shot to handle the majority of the point guard duties. I believe IQ will continue to play well and leave Tom Thibodeau no choice but to give him the keys to the offense. Also, the alternatives simply aren’t very good. Smith doesn’t look long for New York, Elfrid Payton is an anemic shooter and questionable decision-maker, and Frank Ntilikina, to me, is a 15-minutes-a-game guy who should only be in for defensive purposes.
Jesse: Immanuel Quickley. The rookie impressed during the preseason and showed off a vast offensive arsenal. He’s a crafty three-level scorer and facilitator who demonstrated he’s capable of orchestrating an NBA offense. Not to mention his outside shot is superior to New York’s other candidates for the starting point-guard job in Payton and Smith Jr.
Michael: Immanuel Quickley. This prediction is as much about Quickley’s character as it is about his alluring preseason performance. You don’t have to read much about Quickley to understand his confidence, competitiveness, and IQ (no pun intended). He’s already articulated a specific understanding of what point guard skills he needs to hone to become the Knicks lead ball-handler, and he’s citing analytics after games.
Perhaps more importantly, Quickley was an elite defender at Kentucky, and his Wildcats teammates raved about his commitment and communication on that end. All that, plus his shooting, will prove him to be more valuable than Payton within two months.
Dylan: Immanuel Quickley. I’m all in on Quickley based on what I saw in the preseason. Quickley is a guy who not only can shoot but is a capable passer and high-I.Q. player. The former Kentucky guard won’t start immediately, but once February hits, I think he’ll be handed the keys. Having a shooting point guard is something that’s a necessity in the NBA and something the Knicks haven’t had in years. Quickley gives them that, and it makes the entire lineup a lot better.
Eugene: Elfrid Payton hangs onto the starting gig going into February, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else takes it after that.
Sam: Immanuel Quickley will probably become the clear best choice, but the Knicks don’t always make those decisions (see: Mitchell Robinson not starting, Elfrid Payton, and Julius Randle starting/sharing the court).
Mike: Immanuel Quickley. Quickley gives the starting lineup a marksman capable of creating for himself when a play breaks down. There is no rational explanation for trotting out any of the Bricks Brothers in place of Quickley, whose mere presence is a larger asset to Barrett than Payton’s table-setting or Smith’s athleticism—even Ntilikina’s defense. Frank should be shifting off-ball anyway.
Tyler: Heart says Quickley, but two decades of experience says Elf.
Brendan: Hate to be that guy, but it would shock me if it were not Elfrid Payton. Quickley will have by far the most fun minutes when his infectious energy spurs backup units to crush other teams’ reserves, but there is a difference between playing Matt Mooney in a preseason game and Chris Paul while his team is in the middle of the playoff hunt. For better or worse, Thibs knows exactly what he will get out of Payton, whose clanky jump shot can consistently lead the Knicks to a slightly below-average league offense.
Eli: My heart says Quickley, but my brain says Payton. It’ll be really unfortunate if Elf is indeed still starting by then, but if there is anything decades of Knicks fandom has taught me, it’s “prepare to be disappointed.”
4. Give your 72-game record prediction and any outstanding forecasts for the season
Quentin: My final win-loss record is 22-50. This team still lacks elements (a good point guard, consistent shooting, consistent defense) of a good team, so they’ll struggle. My one prediction? R.J. Barrett finishes with the second half of the season with 35.0% from three-point range.
Nick C.: The Knicks will finish with the worst record in the NBA going 18-54 but will not win the Cade Cunningham lottery. With the third overall pick in the draft, the Knicks will take Jalen Suggs out of Gonzaga.
Sean: The Knicks win 23 games, equivalent to 26 in an 82-game season and right below their projected over/under from some outlets. The team has an incentive to tank and call it “player development.” My bold prediction is that Eric Gordon finishes the season in a Knicks jersey. Tillman Fertitta can’t help himself but try to save more money, and the Knicks get future assets in return.
Nick S.: 26-46. I believe the Knicks will be not good enough to be in playoff contention but not bad enough to be the worst team in the NBA. Prediction: R.J. Barrett will average 20-plus points per game.
Jesse: 27-45. The Knicks’ team defense dramatically improves from the season prior thanks to the Thibodeau effect, and the trio of R.J. Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Immanuel Quickley establish themselves as the team’s building blocks of the future.
Michael: The Knicks will beat their projected 22.5-win total, largely because of Thibodeau’s rigid approach. R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson will be better in bigger roles. The improved night-to-night defensive focus and attention to detail under Thibodeau, who will not participate in any tanking efforts, will enable the Knicks to squeeze out a few more Ws than expected. 25-47.
Dylan: 18-54. It’s going to be a rough year, but I think the Knicks come out of this season with a clear direction and a solid young core. The 2021 offseason is where I think the Knicks make a splash, whether that be a big trade or multiple impactful signings.
Sam: I think New York will end the season with a 24-48 record. At least two of the following players won’t be a Knick by the end of the season: Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, Ignas Brazdeikis.
Mike: 28-44. Tom Thibodeau has the look of everything the Knicks need this year: a stern leader who will prevent them from prolonged lulls. Barrett seems determined to take a step forward, and the rookies appear ready to contribute right away. These factors, mixed with fresh legs compared to the teams that played in the bubble could lead to some surprising wins early on. All in all, I do not believe the Knicks will be any good this year, yet the young kids give me hope for modest improvement over the past few seasons. Oh, and how could I forget my bold prediction: Barrett will shoot low 80’s from the free throw line and be mentioned in the Most Improved Player discussion. Is that scalding enough for you?
Tyler: Vegas sets the over/under at 22.5. I’d say that’s pretty dead-on, but let’s say just over at 24-48. We’re overdue for a little overachievement.
Brendan: 20-52. Barring a massive shooting leap from Barrett, I do not foresee this season going much better than the last. This would give the Knicks one less win in ten fewer games, so that would certainly be an improvement. One bold prediction: Toppin at center lineups will have an Offensive Rating higher than 118 points per 100 possessions and a Defensive Rating of 120 points allowed per 100 possessions. Sign me up!
Eli: 24-48. They’re better than they were last year, and if they can get Quickley in the starting lineup, while there may be bumps, I think you’ll see an offense that actually makes things easier for the players in it, rather than harder, which would be a step in the right direction. I predict Quickley makes first-team All-Rookie and Obi makes the second team, and that the national media will still refuse to do a mea culpa on Barrett even as his scoring efficiency, defense, and passing take a major step forward.
Hear from the rest of our staff!
John Priest, deputy managing editor: 17-55. Thibs will play the vets too much. Hope you like Elfrid Payton.
Jess Reinhardt, site administrator: 21- 51. Please play the kids and be just bad enough to grab Jalen Suggs in the draft.
Ryan Gray, lead graphic design: 29-43: Is this enough to make the play-in tournament? And if so, can we then say we made the playoffs just like how schools who lose the play-in claim they made it to March Madness? That’s all I want.
Shaun Geddes, social media editor: I was embarrassingly optimistic last year, so I’m hesitant. However, with Quickley at point guard and a well-balanced and spaced floor, in addition to real coaching and young guys (namely Barrett) taking big steps, I feel that we’ll be very watchable. 34-38.
Aaron Summers, social media editor: Get ready for another long season. I’m thinking MAYBE 30 wins? For the sake of argument, I’ll go 26-48.