For the first time in eight years, the Knicks enter a season as a playoff team from last year. Can they keep the dream alive in 2021–22?
Last season, the New York Knicks shocked the world with their first playoff berth in eight years. Few people predicted it. Actually, zero people from this site predicted such.
This time around, it looks like The Knicks Wall staff is more bullish on New York repeating as playoff mainstays off the backs of last year’s Most Improved Player Julius Randle, Year 3 RJ Barrett, and newcomers like the Bronx native Kemba Walker’s orange and blue debut.
Let’s see what TKW is predicting for 2021–22 in our annual roundtable.
1. How many games does Kemba play and will there be wear and tear felt by Julius Randle/RJ Barrett after last season?
Nick Scolaro: Kemba Walker will suit up in 62 games. Given his recent injury history and anticipated rest, I believe he will miss a decent chunk of the season but still be available enough to contribute significantly. In terms of wear and tear for Randle/Barrett, I don’t believe they will be subject to fatigue. Despite the heavy workload for both of those guys, Randle is in excellent physical condition and Barrett is young and has fresh legs. Also, the roster is deeper this season, giving them some more breaks.
Cameron Black: I think the addition of Kemba Walker will pay off in many ways for the Knicks this season. Last year, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett not only lead the Knicks but the league in minutes per game. We saw a little bit of that fatigue from Randle last year in the first round versus the Hawks when he just didn’t seem to look like the same guy who carried the Knicks to that spot. With the addition of Kemba, Evan Fournier and the deeper roster will take some of the weight of the offense off of Julius and RJ. Tom Thibodeau should look to work different rotations to hopefully lessen their workload and minutes. This Knicks team, thanks to Leon Rose, has the deepest roster in recent memory since 2012–13. That should also allow for Kemba to only be relied on for 20-25 minutes a night to keep him fresh all year. When you look at the schedule, if Kemba were to sit the first game of all back-to-backs that would still have him playing in 73 out of 82 games. Taking all of that into consideration I would not be surprised to see Kemba play in 60-plus games this year.
Jesse Cinquini: Walker will play 60 games, give or take. He’ll miss a handful throughout the long season due to rest and a few more because of his injury-ridden left knee. Additionally, fans shouldn’t be worried about wear and tear with Randle or Barrett. The former no longer has to carry such a heavy offensive workload, and the latter is a spring chicken at 21 years old.
Quentin Haynes: Kemba will play about 65 games, which should be fine with Rose and McBride backing him up. Don’t see much wear and tear felt by Randle and RJ now that you have other players who can cover for them on off nights.
Tyler Marko: Kemba plays in at least 60 games. Because of his time in Boston, people forget he played all 82 games in 2018–19, but even with the Celtics, 43 games (in a 72 game season no less) is the fewest he’s ever played in. The Knicks will have to watch him closely, but expect him to bounce back. Randle missed just one game last year, but with Kemba and Fournier’s arrivals, I don’t think that will be necessary this year. The offense will be able to survive better without him this year so anticipate a few more nights off for Julius, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if RJ plays all 82.
Pat Kiernan: Kemba’s gonna hang around plenty this season! I see him playing in at least 60 games if healthy, and I don’t even think Thibs gives him consistent off nights on back-to-back games. Now is he going to have the lowest minutes per game of the starting five? Absolutely, he’ll be lucky if he hits 20 minutes per game.
I honestly don’t think Randle and Barrett will be affected by their heavy play last season since the Knicks (sadly) had a long offseason to recover. Just hope Thibs doesn’t ride them too much to start the season and they end up looking sluggish by the All-Star Game.
Candace Pedraza: Kemba Walker is going to start most games this season. Specifically, I’m going to predict somewhere around 70-72 games played. He’s hungry to ball for New York, and Thibs is not going to stop him. As for Randle and RJ, I see Randle finally getting some much-deserved rest as Thibs trusts Obi more. RJ will probably still see something around 38-40 minutes a night. He’s young, and he’s going to be a primary defender almost every night. So, I don’t see Thibodeau limiting his play at all. If anything, he’ll probably surpass Randle in minutes played.
Sam DiGiovanni: I think Kemba will play between 55-65 games. Whether legitimate injury or load management will be the reason, I can’t guess. I don’t think the wear and tear on Randle and Barrett will be as bad, as even with Walker missing games they’ll have plenty more help than last season. I think they’ll both see a dip in minutes per game as Thibs leans on his reserves more.
Will Bjarnar: I see 64 games for Kemba this year. He’s played no more than 56 since 2019, and while I’m a bit more sold on his health given that Boston managed his injury their way last season, he’s still nowhere near the Kardiac Kemba of yore. As for Randle and RJ, wear and tear are inevitable given their workloads, but I don’t see it resulting in anything too traumatic. Some sore nights should sum it up—in an ideal world.
Patrick Diaz: Kemba Walker will play at least 70 games. His workload won’t be as heavy with Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley as backups. Julius and RJ played 71 and 72 games respectively. They also logged the most minutes in the preseason, the only two playing over 30 a game. We know that Thibs doesn’t believe in rest, so I expect them to play even more barring any setbacks. I think players know what the coach expects so they’ll be prepared to grind it out.
Mike Cortez: 63 games. I don’t know where that number came from but it feels right. The team certainly needs Kemba for the majority of the season but also has the depth to rest him where possible.
There will be no wear and tear for Randle or Barrett; androids do not get fatigued.
Nick Carannante: Kemba played 99 games combined in his two (weird COVID years) seasons in Boston and is not getting any younger. I think he will continue at that pace and play 50 games this season. RJ and Randle pride themselves on their toughness and will continue to play and work at the level they did last season, including a leap for Barrett.
Ned O’Bryan: Walker suits up and starts in 60 games, but his absence can be mitigated by continued development from Immanuel Quickley. It is entirely reasonable to suspect Barrett and Randle will face issues relating to fatigue; however, with the free agency addition of Fournier and what looks to be significant improvement from Toppin, the Knicks can again persevere with their depth.
2. Will the Knicks land a star by the trade deadline or push with this roster?
Nick S.: My gut is telling me that the Knicks do not make a big splash at the trade deadline. I think Rose and co. roll with the current core and see how younger players like Mitchell Robinson and RJ develop and see what the team’s ceiling is in terms of playoffs. Also, this season can serve as an audition to prospective free agents, proving that last season wasn’t a fluke. If the Knicks make big moves, it will likely be in the free agency summer of ’22.
Cameron: This Knicks team has a good chance to be competitive in the East this year while also having the ammo to pull off a blockbuster trade. So will they be able to? The first domino that would have to fall would be a star player becoming disgruntled and demanding a trade. As of right now, there are not many options on the market for them to pick from. Obviously, there is the Ben Simmons situation, but he wouldn’t be a worthwhile fit for the Knicks as they are currently constructed. Some potential players to watch would be Damian Lillard in Portland, Bradley Beal in Washington, or Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, but there have been no recent indications of either being motivated to move to a new situation. I think in all likelihood the roster the Knicks have set now is what we will see at the Garden this year, but you never know what could happen!
Jesse: It’s unlikely the Knicks will make a significant splash before the trade deadline. The core four (Randle, Barrett, Robinson, Quickley) are all in their 20s and aren’t going anywhere; they all guided New York to their best season in nearly a decade. And without trading one of those four, the Knicks don’t have the assets to secure a star.
Quentin: I think New York will snoop around the likes of Damian Lillard if things in Portland start rocky, but ultimately, I think this is the team heading into the playoffs.
Tyler: Unless (God forbid) a major injury debilitates one of the East’s top contenders, I don’t think the Knicks push for a star. Not that they won’t be looking for the right move, but I don’t expect them to pay the hypothetical price that, let’s say Dame would cost. At least not during the season, but they are prepared if such an opportunity arises once all newly signed players can be moved on December 15th.
Pat: It all depends on how fast Leon Rose and co. want this team to be a championship contender. If they want to wait it out a couple of years with the current framework, I think they have two perennial All-Stars in Randle and Barrett that can bring the team there with a bit more experience under them. If they want to be contenders starting now/aren’t happy with the team’s record by midseason, pick up the phone for Bradley Beal and see how many of our prized youngsters the Wizards want.
Candace: The Knicks did not blink in free agency this summer, and got exactly what they needed in Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. I see them holding true to that pattern barring any major injuries to key players. Only one player, I think, can force them to actually put a package together, and that is Zion Williamson. But until that fantasy becomes reality, I see no blockbuster trades down the line.
Sam: It seems like the Knicks are in a position to land a star, but Leon Rose and Brock Aller seem to have eyes for the future as well as the present. I think that the Knicks will end up not wanting to meet the high price tag that big stars demand in trades. If they do land a somewhat big name, I think they’ll use their vets’ contracts and load up on draft capital to do so.
Will: I just… I don’t see it. And frankly—come after me if I’m wrong—I don’t think they need to, nor that it’s worth it. If they made a move for Lillard or Bradley Beal, for instance, it’d require the mortgaging of the team’s future. Instead, why not take the Atlanta approach of building a homegrown core and acquiring plug-and-play perfect fits as needed? I’d rather that than ship out multiple potential studs for one once-beleaguered, disgruntled star.
Patrick: I’d prefer if the Knicks continue to build with this roster on what they accomplished last year and fully embrace the youth movement because the young guys have so much potential. But if they do choose to make a splash at the deadline, I fully believe this front office is more than capable of getting the most bang for their buck. If they’re a top-four seed again I can see them pulling the trigger on a big-time player, if available, to try and make a deeper playoff run. I just hope it’s not someone too old. Everyone who’s currently available isn’t worth the baggage or price, from Ben Simmons who’s despised by his own teammates to Bradley Beal unwilling to get vaccinated, ruling out New York.
Mike: They push with the roster. If Kemba plays at the level he and we expect he is a solid enough addition to not want to play with the special chemistry with this group. The title window is not yet here, Giannis Antetokounmpo is hitting jump shots all of a sudden and seems to have mastered Khris Middleton’s release. Hang back, build slowly, and plot on securing a disgruntled star.
Nick C.: The Knicks will not land a star. However, they will push with this roster, looking to make the team better on the margins by bolstering the bench.
Ned: New York will stand pat in terms of swinging for the fences by the mid-season cut-off. No doubt Leon Rose and company will be monitoring situations across the Association and moves for rotational, contributing pieces like Derrick Rose last season will certainly be on the cards. The Knicks valued their continuity last year and there seems to be no immediate need to change it.
3. When does Mitchell Robinson come back, and is he on this team beyond this season?
Nick S.: I believe we will see Mitchell Robinson return and play in some capacity on Opening Night. I do think the Knicks will do whatever they can to keep Robinson, given his immense talent along with the fact that Noel and Gibson are limited athletically/old and that Jericho Sims doesn’t seem ready to contribute at the NBA level. Expect Mitch to work his way back and have a nice season.
Cameron: Mitch looked good in his first live game action in over seven months last Friday Night against the Wizards. He showed a couple of glimpses of his old self. When healthy there are not many players in the NBA who can match Robinson’s skill set. He is a true seven-footer with the ability to anchor a defense, run the floor, and has emerged as one of the top lob threats in the NBA. He is young and still getting better with room to improve his game. If you are just looking at how he produces when he is on the court it is a no-brainer to extend him. He does have a bit of a concerning injury history, but if he is able to stay healthy this year and play in 65-plus games the Knicks would be crazy to not offer him an extension to allow him to grow with this core.
Jesse: Robinson will be back in a few weeks, anywhere between two and four. He’ll remind fans why he was a linchpin to the NBA’s best regular-season defense in 2020–21. Considering all that Robinson does for the Knicks at a high level, New York won’t let him walk in restricted free agency unless another team hands him a godfather offer. But I don’t see the two sides coming to terms on an extension before the offseason.
Quentin: I’ll say Robinson comes back on December 15th and starts for the Knicks. I don’t see him back with the team because Robinson will find a better deal on the market rather than with the Knicks.
Tyler: With Nerlens under contract, Taj’s preseason dip in the fountain of youth, and Thibs experimenting with a Randle-Obi frontcourt, Mitch feels like a luxury right now. Should the Knicks find a team willing to ship out a star, he’s absolutely gone, but otherwise, he and Noel seem like insurance policies for one another this season. Beyond that, if Mitch makes it to the end of the season, I think they’ll try to keep him around, but I also think they have enough faith in Thibs’ defense that they won’t overpay and look elsewhere for surplus rim protection. Be that free agency or the draft.
Pat: Mitch is back and bulkier than ever! If the market for centers has shown us anything, give him a four-year deal right now. He should fall right in the Wendell Carter Jr./Robert Williams camp of about $12 million per year, a price the Knicks would easily be willing to offer him.
Candace: Mitchell Robinson is going to play against Boston, and he’s going to be out there until Tom Thibodeau says he’s had enough. He played major minutes in their last preseason bout after Thibs said he’d be on a minutes limit. If the Knicks want to preserve Taj Gibson for the bench in the future, they’re going to get Mitch some conditioning and reps. I also see him staying with us past this season. I think that Robinson will have something to prove and will want to stick with New York after experiencing a winning season as a contributor.
Sam: I think Big Meech (remember when that was his nickname?) will be back for good by November, barring further misfortune. I feel like the Knicks will bring him back for next season because he has the ideal skill set for a role player center. With Nerlens’ injuries and Taj’s age, I don’t see the reason they’d move off their established, young big man.
Will: If Rose, Perry, Wesley and co. haven’t at least considered the possibility of trading Mitchell Robinson by now, they’re a band of fools. Mitch has some serious talent, but some serious injury issues can render those talents useless. Draft capital and role talent might be more valuable—but only if he can’t stay healthy. If Mitch can play 60-plus games this season, start drawing up another contract.
Patrick: Well, we know Mitch is already back. Bigger and stronger. He just needs to get used to playing at his new weight and get up to speed on conditioning. If Mitch can stay healthy and replicate what he did two years ago, I believe he will come back. I can also see him being a trade chip at the deadline especially now with Jericho Sims being drafted and with the recent news that Deandre Ayton was unable to reach an extension with the Suns, the Knicks could make a play there.
Mike: Mitchell Robinson should play a key role on this team. When he got hurt he was really becoming a force on defense despite it not being totally reflected on the stat sheet. Few coaches will appreciate what Robinson brings like Thibodeau. As long as Robinson’s range stays at $12 million or below I do not see why the Knicks lock him down for the next three seasons at least, especially if they can snag him below $10 million per year.
Nick C.: It appears that the Knicks are waiting to see how Robinson returns from injury to decide on his contract situation. He will be given an opportunity on the court this year to prove that, but ultimately he will chase more money elsewhere.
Ned: Robinson returned from a seven-month absence in the final preseason game and if it is any indication there’ll certainly be a re-acclimation period in terms of getting back to game shape and finding a rhythm in the frontcourt alongside Randle and Barrett plus the brand-new backcourt. He will be with the team all season and a contract not dissimilar to Robert Williams III or Daniel Gafford would be fair in eight months’ time.
4. Record prediction and outstanding prognostications
Nick S.: 49-33. I’m not quite ready to put them in the 50-plus win category yet until I see the offense to be more lethal and consistent, but they will be a very good team with a chance to make some noise in the postseason.
One bold prediction I have is that Miles McBride will be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year, due to his ability to contribute in all aspects of the game.
Cameron: When you are looking at the Knicks on paper this year, it is noticeable that they improved over the offseason. Replacing Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock with Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier will provide more scoring options. The loss of Bullock and his defensive work is being talked about regarding the Knicks team defense this upcoming year, but I think RJ Barrett will be able to fill that role and excel over time. The addition of Mitchell Robinson back into the lineup will improve on the already elite defense and inject that rim-running threat they lost last year when Noel and Gibson were filling in. All in all, I do expect the Knicks to make the playoffs and for Toppin to breakout and look like the player drafted out of Dayton with the eighth pick last year. My final record prediction will be 45-37 giving them the sixth seed in the East.
Jesse: A 45-37 record and the sixth seed in the East seems realistic. The Knicks got better over the summer, but so did their conference rivals (Boston, Miami, Chicago). My (somewhat) bold prediction for the 2021–22 campaign is that New York will have two All-Stars, Randle and Barrett. Barrett will establish himself as one of the better two-way players in basketball.
Quentin: I have the Knicks at 46-36. I think they’ll be good. My one prediction is that RJ Barrett plays well, but doesn’t have the breakout season my think he will. I see Barrett averaging similar points per game while having better defense.
Tyler: This is the first Knicks team I can be optimistic about in almost a decade and I am not missing my chance to go overboard. 50 wins and the four-seed again, I refuse to go backward. Either we stay put or we climb the standings. Randle is in the All-NBA conversation again while RJ makes second-team All-Defense and earns at least a few Most Improved votes. Obi and Quickley both continue to make strides culminating in New York having one of the most exciting young cores in the league. Let’s go crazy, the Knicks are back baby and none of us are ever going to die!
Pat: I think this team just touches the 50-win threshold at 50-32. They’ve got the depth to hang around with the NBA’s best and, of course, father-of-two Julius Randle. My outstanding prognostication is that Immanuel Quickley averages over five assists per game to finally quell all the “not a true point guard” talk. IQ will be the starting point guard of the Knicks in the near future, and this season will prove why that needs to happen.
Candace: I think this team does better than literally all the Eastern Conference predictions I’ve seen drop in recent days. I’m going to say they finish with the fifth or sixth seed, and with a 51-31 record. The East is tough, but that’s nothing new to the New York Knicks of last year. But my big and bold predictions? They end up with the best home record of any team in the NBA. Also, RJ for MIP and Rose for 6MOTY.
Sam: Last season, the Knicks had everything going in a year where a lot of other teams didn’t. I think New York’s record will definitely improve— I’m guessing 48-50 wins—but they may fall in the standings in an improved Eastern Conference. I’m so excited to see RJ’s progression as well as what Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride can do when they get the chance.
Will: 43-39, a spot in the play-in (as the seventh seed, don’t man the pitchforks just yet), and all because while the Knicks improved, much of the East’s elite and fringe-elite did, too. This team rode a heater last season, and though I don’t see Julius Randle coming back down to Earth, per se, I don’t necessarily see a blistering All-Star turn, either. What I do see? An Obi Toppin breakout. He is beauty, he is grace. He is the Knicks’ next rotational staple.
Patrick: I think the Knicks go 45-37. I believe Quentin Grimes will insert himself into the rotation early on, especially if Thibs begins to experiment with small-ball lineups. Also, RJ Barrett becomes a defensive stopper as the Knicks continue to play him on the opposing team’s best perimeter players.
Mike: 48-34. The Knicks blow past that foolish 41.5 over/under and shut the charlatans up about this regression. RJ Barrett takes another quantum leap and makes his first All-Star team, shocking the national audience who will suddenly think Barrett’s rise to stardom is a miracle.
Nick C.: 45-37 and the sixth seed. Obi Toppin will receive votes for the MIP award after showing improvement in shooting and offensive game.
Ned: It is famously said progression is not always linear, which is true, but the Knicks got better, deeper, and more experienced. I’m tipping the Knicks to go 49-33, coming third in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. My scorching take from the scorching land down under is Kemba Walker averages 20-plus points and six-plus assists per game and is a borderline All-Star if not for his injury/rest absences.
Hear from the rest of our staff!
Dean Joannou, social: 51-31, best bench in the NBA. Rose-IQ-Burks has the best Net Rating for a trio of reserves.
Peter Saclarides, social: Knicks go 48-34 and win a playoff series. Why not. I think the addition of Kemba and subtraction of Elfrid make a big difference.
Drew Acam, social: I’m most intrigued to see Thibs fully embrace analytics & encourage a higher volume of three-point attempts from the club. Also, between Walker & Rose, the team is always going to have a drive-and-kick presence on the floor, thus I’m interested to see how much easier the offense will be for the rest of the team. My prediction for the season is 48-34.
Joshua Richards, social: Can I have a 50-piece… 50 exactly. Not 51. Not 49… Yes, FIFTY”—Giannis Antetokounmpo at a Chick-fil-A drive-thru
A team led by Tom Thibodeau will make a random game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in January feel like a Christmas day matinee. As a result, the Knicks should squeeze out a couple of extra wins.
My “large drink, no ice—half Sprite, half lemonade” bold prediction is RJ Barrett having a breakout season posting a 20-6-5 stat line on 46/42/80 shooting splits. Yes, quite lofty.
Dominick Alcantara, producer: The Knicks are going 47-35 this year. Julius keeps the numbers up. RJ shoots over 40% from three. Mitch leads the league in blocks. 🙂
Kyle Maggio, podcast co-host: 49-33. I wanted to put 50 wins. I did. I think the Knicks are going to surely be better and based on their 41 wins in 72 games last season, I think projecting anywhere from 45-50 wins is reasonable in a tougher East. Much has been made of the Bulls and teams that missed the playoffs improving, but I expect it to be another dogfight between the Knicks, Heat, and Hawks most of the year. The Knicks will very safely be a playoff team out East.
Jess Reinhardt, site administrator: 41 wins. Kemba sets the garden on fire once or twice. I get mad when we don’t see enough Deuce or Grimes.
Alejandro Garcia, social: 48-34 record and Julius is a two-time All-Star/All-NBA player again. Don’t know if RJ becomes an All-Star this season, but I think he’ll make a good case for it and wake some people up.
Josh Silverman, social: After a promising 2020–21 season as one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, the Tom Thibodeau-led Knicks will try to build on their momentum from last season. After an active offseason and continued development of their younger players, the Knicks over of 41.5 wins seems like a lock and RJ Barrett at +3000 for Most Improved Player and Mitchell Robinson at +5000 for DPOY are fun dart throws if you’re into that sort of thing.
Reid Goldsmith, managing editor: 43-39. Mitchell Robinson is gone by February and the Knicks are in the playoffs (or play-in, if you count that as playoffs).
Ryan Gray, lead design: The Knicks improved their record by about 128% last year. If they keep that growth rate this year they’ll finish with roughly 109 wins. That many wins in an 82-game season seems a bit unrealistic (though I’m not ruling out any regular-season marks for a Thibodeau-coached team), so I’ll go slightly lower and say 70-12.